Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thatcherism: a PR gimmick (1989)

From the May 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is hard to believe this now, but in 1984 there was some doubt about whether Margaret Thatcher would carry on for long as prime minister. Of course she did not share these doubts and when she declared her intention of carrying on she did so in words which were not only unmistakeable but also illuminating:
I believe that five years ago the British people made me prime minister because . . .
I believe that I was re-elected with an overwhelming majority last year because . . .
This assumption of the status of a sort of president, elected by direct vote instead of relying on the support of her party MPs, could not have been re-assuring to the Tory hopefuls with nervous ambitions to succeed Thatcher. For one thing, she was asserting a line of contact with the voters which was unhampered by those inconvenient and irritating people she had given ministerial jobs to and who would like to insist that they should somewhere, somehow, come into the reckoning. But five years later, with a decade of residence at Number Ten behind her, there are no longer any doubts or questions: with no substantial opposition to her, Thatcher stays as Tory leader for as long as she chooses. The government is now very much her own creation, purged of almost all dissension. If any of her ministers seem to be in a muddle, to be cutting a less than masterful figure in public and so undermining popular respect for the government, Thatcher will quickly move in to take control, setting up some committee in which she is in the chair or herself taking on some negotiation. This may mean that ministers like Paul Channon and Colin Moynihan — even the Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe — are pushed to one side but it does give the voters the impression that decisive action is being taken on some pressing problem and that, in the long run. protects support for the government.

Thatcher Publicity Machine
A minister in a former Conservative government, Charles Hill, once said that the ‘most riotous fun" he ever had was when he was on the opposition benches: "then we could make speeches without responsibility and make proposals that hadn't got to be carried out". Well the 1979 Tories had had a lot of that kind of fun, such was the confusion and impotence of the Labour government in its struggles to protect the interests of British capitalism. Labour's battles with the unions over pay claims had exposed the fact that, no matter how close the ties between the union leadership and a Labour government, their power to restrain rises in workers' living standards had limits. Even so. the Tory manifesto in 1979 was by no means dogmatic or extreme as a statement of their intentions or as an analysis of the problems of British capitalism:
Some of the reasons for our difficulties today are complex and go back many years. Others are more simple and more recent. We do not lay all the blame on the Labour Party: but Labour have been in power for most of the last fifteen years and cannot escape the major responsibility.
There was no mention of any large-scale privatising of state industries although the manifesto did state a clear intention to cut back the bargaining power of the unions, to allow council tenants to take out a mortgage on their home and to look into the administration of the National Heaith Service (some of whose employees may now be surprised to learn that in 1979 the Tories planned to “cut back bureaucracy" in the NHS). A reasonable view of the 1979 election, then, is that the working class in Britain did not so much vote positively for a Tory government as against another dose of the Labour Party in power.

If there is such a thing as "Thatcherism" it has developed since then, as Tory Party propagandists have realised how successful a vote-winner is the image of a strong and resolute leadership and how reality can be distorted to give the impression of a clear-sighted, consistent policy for dealing with the affairs of British capitalism. This is an important political factor. The vast majority of voters are members of the working class, who depend on selling their working abilities for their living. Capitalism works against their interests but they continue to support it, which is another way of saying that they are unaware of the facts of life in this system: they are vulnerable to many kinds of deception. Among the most potent of these is the delusion that workers and their employers have some common cause, that if British capitalism is prosperous then so are British workers. Thatcher's publicity machine has effectively exploited this ignorance: for example she has been depicted as tirelessly travelling abroad in order to handbag foreign leaders who, as foreigners are liable to, have designs on pulling a fast one on the eminently reasonable and patiently peaceable British nation. Of course sometimes handbagging is not enough in which case it becomes necessary to send some British workers dressed up in uniforms and armed with an array of weaponry to do rather more than handbag — to kill other workers and to be killed themselves. But even this, as in the case of the Falklands war, did not damage Thatcher's standing: indeed the evidence is that it had such as appeal to the more absurd depths of patriotism among workers that it actually helped her to win the 1983 election.

Since then there has been an impressive sequence of successes for this government. They have got rid of a number of local authorities, such as the GLC. who were proving troublesome. Although they claim to stand for less state interference they have clamped down some rigid controls on local councils from Westminster. They have privatised a number of state industries, in the process allowing workers to buy a few shares, which again bolstered the delusion of a common national interest. They have killed off the assumption, which at one time had the status of an orthodoxy, that union leaders should hold a central and continuing place in decision making about the economy of British capitalism. They have passed laws which savagely restrict strikers' ability to carry out their part in an industrial dispute; the miners who once fought so long and so bitterly against pit closures now have no choice but to accept them, as British Coal decides. They have, while claiming to improve state benefits for the sick and unemployed, actually cut them back and in some cases, such as people under 18, have virtually abolished them. They have quickly learned to dress up inconvenient statistics so as to present an untrue picture, for example through various ruses which effectively remove workers (like those under-18s) from the right to apply for benefit and so reduce the figures of unemployed. They have promoted the idea that workers should stand on their own two feet (as if we ever did, or were ever able to do. anything else) rather than depend on the state machine to pamper them with its schemes of health care, social services and benefits.

Recession Gains Strength
The list is a very long one but it is a mistake to ascribe it to the whims of one person or to the collective malevolence of a government — to this thing called Thatcherism. Many of this government’s policies were in response to, and were possible because of, the recession. For example, since 1945 successive governments have tried to curtail the power of the unions. The Heath government of 1970-74 began its life with stated intentions towards the unions little different from those which Thatcher's government have been able to carry out. During its final spell the first Wilson government was split over the proposals in Barbara Castle's white paper In Place of Strife, which were aimed at weakening union power. All these attempts came to grief because the British ruling class felt they could not afford a fight to the death with the unions. This situation was changing, as the recession gathered strength and as the unemployment figures mounted, as the Labour government of James Callaghan came to its end. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in that Cabinet. Denis Healey, is in fact credited — if that is the right word — with being the first Thatcherite Chancellor, such were the policies he was implementing and planning for the future. Thatcher came to power as the recession deepened; one union after another was brought to heel and finally the miners, who were always expected to provide the strongest opposition, were beaten.

This type of experience has not been confined to this country. In France, the allegedly socialist President Mitterrand, whose advent to power was greeted so ecstatically by the French workers. did not take long to reverse the policies on which he had won the election. Under the pressure of the problems which the French capitalist class were going through, Mitterrand outdid Thatcher in the zeal of his policies of retrenchment and attacks on working class living standards. It is clear that Thatcher likes no-one so much as a politician who agrees with her; she and Mitterrand are said to have a cordial personal relationship — as she also has with Gorbachev and had with Reagan. 

So this Tory government is not an aberration in the administration of British capitalism, nor a breach in its continuity. It is simply an appropriate response to the conditions of its time. Although it assumes a character of infallibility in fact, in its own terms, it has made numerous blunders and its history is not one of steadfastly pursuing its objective but of a normal amount of inconsistency. For example in her five year anniversary statement Thatcher claimed one of her government's achievements to be that interest rates were at their lowest for 16 years. Be that as it may (for interest rates are not something affecting working class conditions in any significant sense) the fact is that they are now at their highest for seven years and likely to rise even higher during the immediate future. Thatcher claimed in 1984 that low interest rates were a sign of her government's success; how then does she assess the high rates which are now in operation?

Prejudice and Ignorance
The point is that she is not the Iron Lady of Tory mythology. Her achievement (which by any standards is impressive enough, if diabolical) is the guile with which she and her public relations caravan have seized on the historical opportunity to present her in that way. Thus even what have been called her knee-jerk reactions — which are actually finely tuned to exploit working class prejudices and misconceptions about society — are able to be depicted as responses from strength of conviction and rectitude. When another politician might flounder and fumble in face of a crisis Thatcher responds in what appears to be a direct, firm and clear sighted manner. Against all expectations of her, she is able to tap into the issues which preoccupy the voters, which does not mean that she speaks in their interests. In an interview in 1980 with Hugo Young, the political correspondent of the Guardian, she set out how she sees herself:
Deep in their instincts people find what I am saying and doing right. And I know it is. because that is the way I was brought up.
Prejudices and ignorance are, by their very nature, difficult to argue against. When they are in harmony on both sides of the class barrier it becomes even more difficult to deal with them. Perhaps that is why Thatcher seems to think that she is invincible. if not everlasting. However the cosy, pernicious circle in which one prejudice links with another to entrap human progress can be broken by the working class making a proper assessment of their standing in society, of the fact that the unimaginable wealth of a minority rests on the exploitation of the majority and that that majority suffer all manner of indignities and impoverishment. After ten years of Thatcher it may be hard for some people who are desperate about the world, to realise that her rule will not last for ever. But it won't. And if anyone thinks that is reason to rejoice let them take the argument a stage further. Capitalism won't last for ever either

Editorial: What about the Poll Tax? (1989)

Editorial from the June 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

People are already paying the Poll Tax in Scotland while in England and Wales council officials have begun the task of drawing up the register of those liable to pay the tax (nearly everybody) in preparation for its extension south of the border in April next year. The registration forms have been dropping through peoples letter boxes since the end of May.

All the opposition parties are against the Poll Tax and. urged on by left-wing chants of "Fight the Tax, Smash the Tax", a campaign of civil disobedience (refusal to register, then refusal to pay) has been launched to try to prevent its implementation. The claim is that the tax is unfair because, compared with the old system of rates, the rich will pay less and the poor will pay more.

"The rich pay less, the poor pay more", says a leaflet put out by the Camden Stop the Tax Campaign in London. “93% of inner London residents will pay more in Poll Tax than they do in Rates, while millionaires in Hampstead will pay much less". The Poll Tax "redistributes income from the poorer members of the community to the richer members", adds a claimants group from Merseyside, describing this as "Robin Hood’s philosophy in reverse".

The rich owners of big houses and mansions certainly will be paying less, and this was no doubt a deliberate intention of the present government which has never disguised the fact that it is a government of the rich by the rich for the rich. But it by no means follows that what these rich property owners will no longer be paying will have to come out of the pockets of ordinary wage and salary workers, as the anti-Poll Tax campaigners suggest.

Despite the appearances, taxes are not a burden that falls on wage and salary workers. On average, over time, we receive as wages enough to keep ourselves fit to work in the trade or profession in which we have been trained and are working. It is around a level sufficient to cover the expenses involved in this that market forces, helped on by trade union action, will tend to establish wage rates.

This means that if any extra charge is imposed on workers it will tend to be passed on. through the operation of market forces again aided by trade union action, to employers of labour. This was once clearly understood even if it has become obscured today. As David Ricardo, who was an MP and a capitalist, wrote as long ago as 1819 in his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation: "Taxes on wages will raise wages, and therefore will diminish the rate of profits of stock . . .  A tax on wages is wholly a tax on profits, a tax on necessaries is partly a tax on profits, and partly a tax on rich consumers. The ultimate effects which will result from such taxes then, are precisely the same as those which will result from a direct tax on profits".

In so far as the Poll Tax is a tax paid by wage and salary workers it will tend to be passed on to employers. But the speed at which this happens will depend on how determined workers are in fighting the wages struggle. So the way to "fight the Poll Tax" is to press on with the trade union struggle for higher wages and salaries.

The arguments which take place about taxes are about which section of the rich, propertied class should bear the tax burden: employers of labour, landlords or people living on interest. The Poll Tax certainly does shift the burden of local taxation off the shoulders of rich people with big houses, but it shifts this burden not on to us workers but, in the form of higher wage bills and lower profits, on to those who directly employ us. Yes, smash the tax, employers might say. but why should we pull their chestnuts out of the fire?

To pay or not to pay? There is not really any serious choice here as the law has been very cleverly framed so that everybody is going to pay in the end. even if out of deductions from their wages or out of the proceeds of the sale of their furniture. In any event even if the campaign of civil disobedience was successful and the Poll Tax abolished, this would make no essential difference to living standards. In the highly unlikely event of it being abolished and replaced by nothing else, this would exert a downward pressure on wages. In practice, however, the Poll Tax would be replaced by some other local tax (the Labour Party is talking about "a modern property tax and a local income tax”) just as it is replacing the rates and which would also be incorporated into the workers' cost of living.

We are not saying that workers should never defy the law. There are occasions when they should, as over being conscripted into the armed forces to kill fellow workers in some other country or over laws banning trade unions and strikes, but the Poll Tax does not fall into this category. The Poll Tax is not a working class or socialist issue. As Socialists we are not prepared to get involved in arguments about local, or for that matter any other, taxes, as we know from our understanding of the economics of capitalism that taxes, even if they are paid by workers, are not a burden that ultimately falls on them.

Fraud scandal shock horror (1989)

From the July 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s not often I get a lot of fun out of reading the paper. Mostly I read it just to find out whether to get out the spade and start digging the concrete study with the elegant lead panelling they have in Swiss basements and under English council offices.

But there is one feature that always gives me a delicious thrill of pleasure, and that is when some lotus-eater gets caught with their hands in the till. And haven't there just been a clutch of those lately! The Japanese stock market took a $40 billion dollar dive after the Takeshita revelations, while Europe squirmed with embarrassment over a billion pound farm fraud, Britain convulsed over accusations that MPs have been lobbying in their own interest, and that British Aerospace moguls have been doing very nicely in bribes while flogging Tornadoes to Jordan (no doubt for strafing a few ungrateful food rioters), and America . . .  Well, what can one say about America except it's the home of the freebie.

While Bush was failing to emerge, gleaming bright like the former “Teflon President", from the sticky Irangate affair, and also trying to salvage John Tower's dignity (the salacious old slob headed the inquiry which originally acquitted Bush of involvement in the Ollie North business, and one good turn deserves promotion, geddit?), the Democrats were watching their own top dog being grilled over a hot fire of sudden morals. Poor Jim Wright wasn't even a big-league crook but that's politics. Meanwhile 22 futures traders in Chicago got caught rigging deals, and the president of the giant US insurance group St Paul turned out to be an insider mole for certain members of the London stock exchange.

In the face of these goings-on, Panos Koupparis, the man who promised not to gas Cyprus if he got £9 million by return of post, looked decidedly lacking in finesse, as did Adnan Khashoggi, who after acquiring a larger fortune than the GDP of most of the countries he sold arms to. ended up facing an ignominious 20 years in stir for pinching a few crummy oil paintings for his mate Ferdinand Marcos, that well-known humanitarian and art lover.

Funny Attitude to Work
Now I occasionally meet people who think that the way to get rich is to work hard. They obviously read the papers even less often than I do. What with police faking evidence to improve their bust rates, MPs supplementing £44.000 p.a. incomes with interesting little wheezes on the side, and half of the Common Market engaged in phantom farming, one wonders how anyone these days can be that naive.

Some people have a funny attitude to work and consequently to fiddles that go on at work. Our great little number is taking an extra five minutes tea-break (wow). My colleagues seem to think it has a certain sinful appeal, but no other significance. It's a "fiddle" to skimp five minutes of the labour which you sell to your buyer (the boss), with undertones even of "naughtiness" about it, but if the boss skimps in heating the workplace, that is a matter of "economics”. Now we expect bosses to be two-faced, but workers shouldn't fall for it. As a worker you should, arguably, always try to get the most money for the least work—that is the capitalist ethic that all business people scrupulously abide by. If they don't, they are considered to lack "business acumen". Workers, even if they accept this ethic, often think of it as "cynicism" or a "bad attitude". I need hardly say that it is a terrible attitude and thank Christ nurses and firefighters don't take it. If all workers behaved like business executives and yuppies at the Stock Exchange— "screw them before they screw you"—life for all of us would be very much worse than it is already. When it comes to our social "superiors”, we've got nothing to look up to.
Held to Ransom
What puzzles me, though, is why the fat cats bother straying outside laws which were in any case designed with them in mind. If you consider that roughly eighty per cent of all land—on which all property is based—was taken by force (in other words, fenced off and guarded with armies) by about five per cent of the population, whose descendants now are empowered to hold the world to ransom by this "ownership", and if you further consider that nine-tenths of the Law concerns the protection of property, you see how it is that law is for the rich to use against the poor. Khashoggi, one of whose apartments in Manhattan is worth $20 million, must be reckoned to be suffering from limitless greed and reckless stupidity for deliberately stepping outside laws which already allowed him so much wealth at other people's expense.

The fact is, the system some people are pleased to call "free enterprise" is itself built on a gigantic fraud, and that is the notion that one human being should be entitled (by virtue of God. morals or the Maxim gun) to own and control exclusively things which another human being depends on utterly for survival. That is quite obviously an instant recipe for violence and hatred across the planet, and there really isn't any logic to it. The most apt remark I've heard on this subject was made by none other than Crocodile Dundee: fighting over ownership of land is like fleas fighting over who owns the dog.
Now those who benefit by this delusion might be expected to defend its honour almost to the death, but the rest of us (the other ninety-five per cent) don't have to. The whole thing is in the bag for them if we do. They "own" the food, the water, the coal and oil, the land, the sea and when they find a way to bag up the air they'll "own" that too. All we've got left to bargain away is our labour, and that's a lousy situation to be in. It's like being thrown out of your own house by burglars, and then being made to shine their shoes for permission to come in out of the rain.

One final observation. In all the furore over the discovery that Prime Minister Takeshita and ex-PM Nakasone had been taking six-figure bribes and greasing the opposition parties with money so they wouldn't stir things up for the government, it would have been easy to miss the story of Ihei Aoki, one of Takeshita s aides, who committed suicide over his part in the affair. The Reuter report stated:
  It is almost never the bosses who kill themselves: it is the secretaries and low-ranking officials who choose death before dishonour.
You might say that being a boss means never having to say you're sorry. But it's not a very funny joke, in the circumstances.
Paddy Shannon

The British Road to Perestroika (1989)

From the August 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

As a response to the triumphant rise of Thatcherism in the last decade and to what it sees as the failure of the Labour Movement to mount any effective challenge to it, the Communist Party has just released a discussion document Manifesto for New Times. Billed as a “new strategy for the 1990s", it attempts to develop a framework within which “progressive forces" can mount a campaign against Thatcherism which it describes as "the most immediate obstacle blocking the way to progressive change in society”.

At the heart of the document lies the assumption that “Thatcherism" has been able to respond to the idea that the operation of capitalism in modern Britain is vastly different to what it once was. For the Communist Party, Thatcherism is a response to the "new times" where there is a drift in industry towards production based on information technology and micro-electronics and where the traditional bases for trade union organisation are declining; this structural change in the economy, labelled “post-Fordism", has led to a growth in the service sector with a subsequent increase in the number of part-time compared to full-time jobs. The Communist Party also argues that this trend has led to the creation of what it describes as “a two-thirds/one-third society" where the poorest third are reliant on state benefits and part-time employment. Manifesto for New Times says that while Thatcher and the Conservatives have accommodated themselves to these changing conditions the Left has not; so the aim of the Left now has to be to develop a coherent political theory to challenge the dominance of the reactionary Thatcher government.

All Progressives Now
The Communist Party argues that the victory of "progressive forces" is a necessary precondition for socialism:
  Socialism will be created by myriad movements through a long, uneven struggle to change society . . . already they are beginning to find common purpose. Socialist and communist ideas and struggles share much with the green movement, feminists, community groups, internationalists. radical liberals and religious groups.
However, what role religious groups can play in the establishment of socialism is not stated, and it is probably just as well. Just how many trendy vicars and radical archbishops the Communist Party knows of who favour the abolition of capitalism and production for profit and the establishment of common ownership and production for use is again not stated. But we suspect that you could fit them all into a telephone box and still have enough room to swing an incense burner about.

Religion is one of the many forces which divides, mystifies and subjugates the working class. It is for this reason that socialists are opposed to it. Whereas religion means working class subservience to a mythical deity and a pie in the sky ideal, socialism is the real emancipation of the working class here on Earth. Yet such is the Communist Party's desperation that they are prepared to work with virtually anybody who is opposed to the Thatcher government no matter how unscientific and anti-Marxist their views.

Market-based Society
Not only does the Communist Party believe that the likes of liberals and religionists can play a role in the movement for socialism, but they are hopelessly confused as to the nature of both socialism and capitalism. Indeed so confused are they that apparently, like their friends the Labour Party, they cannot see the difference between the two. They think, for instance, that both capitalism and socialism are systems which are based on the market mechanism. Most left-wing organisations tend to put the equally erroneous view that socialism has something to do with state regulation of markets. The Communist Party itself used to put this argument in defence of state capitalist Russia, but now its infatuation with free market forces is clear for everyone to see:
  The market is useful as a tool to co-ordinate lots of decentralised economic decisions. Markets can provide incentives and discipline, and promote innovation, flexibility and diversity.
The Communist Party concedes that markets are not without their deficiencies and puts the view that some strategic state intervention in the economy and industry can be desirable: “many of the most successful capitalist economies in recent years—Japan. Sweden, South Korea— use planning. But they use it in conjunction with the market". So the Communist Party's strategy for socialist renewal aims at the same sort of capitalism that exists in socialist havens like South Korea. Yes, it's all becoming clear now...

Confusion about Class
No less unclear is their conception of class. Manifesto for New Times variously talks of ruling classes, private sector middle classes, working classes, the two-thirds/one-third division and many others besides. It makes statements such as "class remains central to British politics" without showing the faintest understanding of what class is in the first place. Its idea that the working class consists largely of manual workers who are employed in factories based on mass production is completely arbitrary and owes more to confused academic sociology than Marxist analysis.

For Marxists, class is defined in terms of the relationship members of society have to the means of production and distribution. It has nothing to do with whether you work in an office or not, what type of car you drive or whether you own a video recorder. Office workers who work for salaries are just as much a part of the working class as wage workers in factories as they too have to sell their mental and physical energies to their employers in order to live. Even the "better off" sections of office workers are reminded of their true class position from time to time as the following report from the Daily Telegraph (1 July) shows:
   A leading City stockbroker announced job losses yesterday. James Capel made 110 support staff redundant in 30 departments. Mr Peter Quinner, chief executive, said 'we are trading profitably, but we want to trade as profitably as we can, which means keeping a tighter control of our costs'.
So much for Britain's cosy middle classes.

Basic Programme of Reforms
Periodically though, the Communist Party's muddle is tinged with opportunism. Apparently, one of the major avenues now open to “progressive forces" is Europe and the Single Market. Manifesto for New Times argues that “we need to give the meaning of Europeanism a wider and more democratic content". This all fits in with the Communist Party's market-oriented approach, though they actually hit the nail on the head for once when they state that “the EC is the means through which Western European capital is restructuring, creating a single market and setting up an area of exchange rate stability". But, of course, instead of criticising this as something which is only in the interests of certain sections of the capitalist class and which will be used to further the exploitation of workers, the Communist Party is fully in favour of it!

The single European market is seen as a great challenge for Britain and a chance to expose Thatcherism for its narrow nationalism. Furthermore we are told that "a range of alliances can be formed with continental forces of both left and right" in order to pursue a basic programme of reforms. In this new spirit of political co-operation with all shades of opinion, the Communist Party is even prepared to discard that favourite sacred cow and voter-loser of the Left, unilateral nuclear disarmament. Almost thankfully they state;
The foundations for traditional left-right positions on defence and disarmament are being uproooted . . . unilateralism has been made real by Gorbachev's own moves. But he has also lent a new respectability to multilateralism and bilateralism by proving that meaningful disarmament can proceed through negotiation.
By confusing the necessary restructuring of Russia’s armed capabilities with "meaningful disarmament" the Communist Party again shows its lack of understanding of the capitalist system. This restructuring has largely been brought about by the economic weakness of the state capitalist USSR and it will not lead to a nuclear-free world. Capitalist competition over markets, trade routes, sources of raw materials and the strategic positions needed to defend them means that all states need to keep a strong military capability—and where affordable that means nuclear weapons. Only the abolition of the modern cause of war—capitalism—and the introduction of socialism can ensure peace and disarmament.

A Republic—But Not Yet
The Communist Party is not of course interested in socialism. The two most “progressive" measures it advocates are the abolition of the House of Lords and the abolition of the monarchy. In other words, the Communist Party aims to remove the last vestiges of past feudal structures and institutions from the British state in order to make Britain a modern capitalist republic like France or the United States. Even the abolition of the monarchy, though, is not free from the double standards and political expediency that are the party's hallmark:
  In the long run we assert our commitment to republicanism. In the short term there should be a limitation of its [the monarchy's] powers.
So no-one's going to get the Alexander II treatment for the moment. Indeed, it is possible that they see the Queen as part of the "progressive forces" that are out to defeat Thatcherism (after all, they include virtually everyone else in this). Perhaps they should offer her a free trial subscription to Marxism Today.

There can be little doubt that the Communist Party of Great Britain is in a very sorry state. It is committed to a market-based society, further integration between British and European capital, and the dead-duck of Keynesian demand management to “bolster" the economy. This, coupled with support for constitutional reform of the British state and electoral system. amounts to a British glasnost and perestroika, a restructuring of British capital in order to arrest its relative economic decline in the post-war period.

Nine years ago a political party was founded in this country with precisely this aim. Like the Communist Party it is now on its way to the dustbin of history. Its name? The Social Democratic Party.
Dave Perrin

Promised Land (2013)

Film Review from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Promised Land by Gus Van Sant, director of Elephant and Milk, is a morality tale about corporate capitalist Machiavellianism written by Matt Damon, Academy Award winner for Good Will Hunting (directed by Van Sant) and John Krasinski. With Matt Damon's effortless naturalism and the wonderful Frances McDormand, Academy Award winner for Fargo, as sales people for a global energy company, Van Sant directs a Capraesque film about the contemporary issue of natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking.’ Promised Land is an earnest version of the Bill Forsyth comedy Local Hero.

Promised Land was filmed in Pennsylvania where ‘fracking’ is widespread. The 2010 Academy nominated documentary Gasland directed by Josh Fox publicised the methane contamination of thirteen water wells due to ‘fracking’ in 2009 in Dimock, Pa where one well exploded. Cabot Oil & Gas were required to financially compensate residents. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently investigating five cases of groundwater contamination. Another 2010 documentary Burning Water looked at ‘fracking’ in Alberta, Canada, the film's title a reference to the fact that water from faucetscan be lit on fire. The capitalist lobby have countered with their own ‘pro-fracking’ documentary FrackNation released in January 2013.

‘Fracking’ is the pumping of a pressurised mix of millions of gallons of water, millions of pounds of sand and thousands of gallons of chemicals including toxins and carcinogens into deep wells to break up layers of shale rock to release the natural gas inside. But poorly lined wells, contaminated flow-back water coming back up and causing earth tremors or seeping into the water table, and the storage of flow-back water in unlined or leaky storage pits are serious concerns. Terry Engelder, a ‘fracking’ expert at Penn State University: ‘This is not a risk-free industry.’ Robert B Jackson at Duke University believes the likeliest cause of contamination is faulty cementing and casing of wells but also that ‘fracking’ may create cracks upward in rocks that could link up with pre-existing fissures, allowing gas to travel far upward.

The ‘fracking’ of natural gas is seen as a solution to the global energy crisis in the post-Fukushima era where oil is peaking, tar sand oil extraction is polluting, gas reserves are limited and although coal is still plentiful it is a ‘bĂȘte noire,’ and not enough development is taking place in ‘clean coal’ technology. Shale gas extraction is seen as a solution to rising energy prices, the way out of the economic recession and bringing prosperity to struggling rural communities as portrayed in Promised Land. In February 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers said that shale gas reserves could push down oil prices by 40 per cent and boost the world economy by $2.7 trillion.

In April 2013 the WWF-UK said ‘It's simply impossible to keep global warming below 20C and burn all known fossil fuel reserves – let alone exploit unconventional reserves like shale gas.’ Socialists argue that ‘fracking is a mining technology, and if it can be made safe, and if we need it, we may use it in socialism.’
Steve Clayton

Capitalist vs Capitalist (2017)

Book Review from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Hayek vs Keynes. A Battle of ideas'. By Thomas Hoerber. (Reaktion Books. 2017. 150 pages)

This short book compares the ideas of what the blurb on the back calls 'these two giants of the history of economics,' discussing Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) and Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (1944).

But there is no comparison. Keynes's book is a serious work, criticising the workings of the capitalist economy as he saw it and which dominated economic teaching and policy-making for forty years. Hayek's book, on the other hand, was an anti-socialist rant by a reactionary who regretted the growing state interference in the economy under capitalism, claiming that it would lead to totalitarianism along the lines of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. It was on a par with Churchill’s notorious 'Gestapo speech' aimed at the Labour Party in the 1945 general election and may well have inspired it. Hayek was only plucked from his well-deserved obscurity thirty years later and awarded a politically-motivated Nobel Prize for Economics. His admirer Thatcher made him a Companion of Honour.

It is of interest to compare the views of the advocates of unreconstructed laissez-faire capitalism with the reformed capitalism offered by Keynes, but there is no need to elevate a common or garden apologist for capitalism like Hayek to the status of a 'giant of economic thought' to do this.

Keynes's criticism of laissez-faire capitalism was that it could lead – and had led in the 1930s – to a situation where production and income balanced each other at a level below full employment. He proposed to remedy this by the government increasing its spending and redistributing income from the rich to those more likely to spend than save it. This fitted in well with the reforms advocated by Labour and Social Democratic parties who, after WW2, enthusiastically embraced Keynes. Hoerber records that, at its congress in Bad Godesberg in 1959, the SPD publicly abandoned (paper) Marxism for Keynesianism.

For 25 years Keynes's approach appeared to work as there was virtually full employment. But was this due to governments pursuing his policies? A more plausible explanation was post-war reconstruction and an expansion of the world market. The test came with the end of the post-war boom in the 1970s, a test Keynesianism failed as its application led not to full employment but to 'stagflation' (continuing stagnation + inflation). Keynes was discredited, but were those he had criticised vindicated?

Hayek certainly wasn't as there had been no trend towards 'serfdom', or totalitarianism. Even so, others who had argued that the capitalist economy could not be planned to avoid the boom/slump cycle and ensure permanent full employment were proved correct. But this strengthens rather than weakens the case against capitalism – as it can't be mended, it has to be ended.
Adam Buick

Chinese ‘Marxism’: Not Even Trying (2017)

From the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
China has been run on supposedly Marxist lines for nearly seventy years, yet nowadays its rulers do little more than pay lip service to the idea that there is anything Marxist about the social system there. ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is the standard official description of the wages-prices-profits set-up that is really one form of capitalism.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded in 1921. Last year at a conference held to mark its 95th anniversary, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the party’s Central Committee, gave a speech. Xi, who is also the country’s president, argued that Marxist principles had to be adapted to what was happening in China. ‘The changes in the times and the range and depth of China’s development are far beyond the imagination of classical Marxist writers,’ he said. Certainly Marx never envisaged socialism as a society with billionaires, or as one that protected the trademarks of multinational companies, but that is not what Xi had in mind.
According to the CCP’s constitution, the party is based on ‘Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development’. But as for what these actually mean, there is very little information. For instance, the Scientific Outlook on Development supposedly ‘puts people first and calls for comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development’, while ‘Mao Zedong Thought is Marxism-Leninism applied and developed in China’.
China’s constitution, adopted in 1982, states that there are no longer exploiting classes, but that class struggle will continue for some time.  According to Article 6 there is socialist public ownership of the means of production, and the principle of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his work’ applies.
A 1988 amendment added that ‘The State permits the private sector of the economy to exist and develop within the limits prescribed by law.’ This was an official recognition of the growing influence of the non-state economy, with the establishment in effect of a mix of state and private capitalism (not stated in such terms, of course). In 1999 a further amendment accepted the existence of a variety of modes of distribution, so not just to each according to their work: again, no details, but perhaps an implicit acknowledgement that some people became very rich through exploiting others.
As for Deng Xiaoping Theory, this is the idea behind China opening up to the global economy and to the growth of private capitalism. Deng’s statement that ‘It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice’ was a way of saying that economic success is more important than a politically correct policy. Xi Jinping is often seen as overseeing a return to ‘Communist orthodoxy’ compared to his predecessors as leader, but this does not go beyond platitudes such as ‘Marxism … does not end the truth, but opens the door and paves the way to reach the truth’.
In October 2015 a ‘World Marxist Congress’ took place in Beijing, intended to be the first in a series to be held every two years. Four hundred supposed Marxist scholars attended, many from outside China. Xin Xiangyang, described as ‘a research fellow on Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ stated that ‘China faces an increasing number of problems in the midst of its economic slowdown and deepening reform, such as corruption and the growing income gap, which require the country to use Marxism to explain and solve them.’ Presumably these are unlikely to be explained as being part and parcel of capitalism.
Not everyone in China was impressed by the gathering. According to the WashingtonTimes (15 October 2015), some people suggested that Marxism be used to study the murderous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.
‘Marxism’ is taught in schools at all levels, but presumably this is just a Chinese version of Bolshevism. The rulers of China hardly even pretend that there is anything Marxist about the exploitative and unequal society they lord it over. 
Paul Bennett

Competing for Capitalism (1989)

From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

During August, the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham was host to the 1989 International Youth Skill Olympics. 450 apprentices and young trainees up to the age of 22, took part in internationally-agreed work standard tests enabling the countries taking part to compare techniques and training. As in the sporting Olympics, the winners received gold, silver and bronze medals. Working to strict timetables, the competitors were tested in some 34 skills ranging from bricklaying to hairdressing.

Employment' Secretary Norman Fowler said about the event:
If this country is to become world class, training is of the essence. This is why the Skill Olympics are so important They focus the attention of employers and public alike on this nation's performance and allow them to compare it with its competitors. Individuals, employers and the nation in general stand to benefit from them. (Employment News, February 1989)
Fowler was being slightly economical with the truth in his remarks. In the present system of society, capitalism, it is the working class, the vast majority who are forced to sell their labour power to a minority property owning class in order to survive, who have all the skills necessary to run capitalism on behalf of capitalists. The capitalists have the political and economic power necessary to ensure that workers continue to produce commodities for profit rather than for need.

Capitalism is a world-wide system where there is intense competition between different capitalist economic units, or countries, to appropriate as much profit as they can from their particular working class. The value-creating unpaid labour of the working class is converted into money-wealth when the commodities produced are exchanged on the market. The ability of the working class to generate technological advances for their capitalist masters, thus reducing the cost of commodities and increasing profits, is of great importance to capitalists.

Fowler's attempt to invoke national pride on behalf of British youngsters "going for gold" has more to do with the ruling class's need to accumulate even more capital than in any real pride in the youngsters abilities and talents. If capitalism can no longer exploit them for a profit the winners of any medals will be thrown on to the scrapheap. even when a real social need exists for their skills.

Treated Like Mushrooms 
The personal roads that lead to becoming a socialist are many and varied. None of us tumble from the womb shouting. "Hey mum. I'm a socialist." For some the route may lead from activity in one of the political parties committed to reforming rather than abolishing capitalism. Others, active in trade unions perhaps, come to realise that although it is necessary to fight the everyday economic battle against the capitalist class, the war will only be won through concerted political action on the part of a class-conscious working class. Some, like myself, start off as apolitical, but when confronted with the case for socialism agree with that capitalist class fighter, Mrs Thatcher—there is no alternative.

Once engaged in the struggle for socialism, it soon becomes apparent that hundreds of years of capitalist conditioning cannot be easily overcome within five minutes. Every new socialist experiences the shock of discovering that others fail to agree that socialism is the only viable alternative there is to this insane capitalist society. However, attitudes and opinions do change, and it is capitalism itself which creates socialists.

It is normal capitalist practice for small businesses to be swallowed by larger ones. This has just happened to the company which buys my labour power. During the time preceding the take-over. I and the rest of the wage-slaves here were treated, as usual, like mushrooms—kept in the dark and shit on from a great height. Although my work-mates hold deeply entrenched capitalist values, royalist, nationalist, racist and conservative, the threat to their livelihoods from the takeover has resulted in a drastic change of attitude. This doesn't mean they have all become socialists. Far from it. But they have done something which a few months ago would have been unthinkable for them. They have joined a trade union.

If a class struggle between a minority who own most of the wealth, and a majority who are forced to sell their labour power in order to exist, was not taking place then trade unions would be unnecessary. Despite all the capitalist propaganda to make unions unpopular with a large number of the working class, and the futile involvement of the unions themselves in political action through the Labour Party, the only wav that the working class can even the odds a little is through economic strength and solidarity.

Socialists, wherever possible, belong to unions. Besides needing to defend ourselves as workers against employers, there is a need to balance the overwhelming insistence on the part of most trade union activists that support for the Labour Party is the only thing that is in the interest of the working class. The Socialist Party does not, unlike Leninist-Trotskyist organizations, believe that workers are only capable of attaining a "trade union consciousness”. but we don't believe either that it is industrial struggle that will politicise workers. While unions are still fighting for a fair day's pay for a pay day's work, socialists fight for the abolition of the wages system.
Dave Coggan

The Tory Reserve Team (1989)

From the October 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Would you buy a load of worn-out policies from Kinnock, Hattersley and their gang of reformist politicians? Socialists would sooner buy a secondhand motor from Arthur Daley. The Labour Party has never stood for socialism. But now it has come out in its true colours. Its pathetic Policy Review documents leave nobody in any doubt: Labour is out to run the Profit System.

There is nothing new about Labour trying to do the dirty work of managing capitalism. We have had eight Labour governments. They had as much to do with bringing about socialism as the Sun has with bringing you the news. Labour governments have brought in incomes policies to keep our wages down; they have smashed strikes, using police and troops: they have passed racist immigration laws; they have built new bombs—they were the ones who brought into being the British atom bomb; they have supported wars; they have made cuts in essential services, like the NHS; and all of the last seven Labour governments have left power with unemployment higher than when they came in. Above all. Labour has seen to it that profits can be made by the capitalists who own and control Britain. Under the last Labour government the richest 1 per cent increased their share of wealth ownership from 24 to 25 per cent. Labour has a long record of keeping capitalism in "safe'' hands. Just like Mitterrand's phoney 'socialists" in France and the Australian Labour government which is Torier than Thatcher. Kinnock's crew are a bunch of errand boys for the bosses.

Making Capitalism Work
What is new about the Policy Review is that Labour has confessed to the crime. In times past they stuffed their manifestos with pious rhetoric about “democratic socialism" Now they are telling it like it is: Give us your votes and we ll run capitalism better than the Thatcher mob. As Kinnock told the 1988 Labour Conference. ‘. . . the fact is that the kind of economy that we are faced with is going to be a market economy. It will be the one that we have to deal with when we are elected. We have got to make it work better than the Tories make it work . . . " Making capitalism work well means making sure that profits are high; that means milking the workers for as much as they can get out of us.

The millionaire-parasites need have no fear of a Labour government. The Policy Review makes clear that it will serve them well. Profits will be protected: international investors will be free to make money out of a stable economy: the bombs required by the NATO generals will all be kept in readiness for war: the workers will be disciplined, with most of the Tory anti-union laws kept in force. In short, Labour will act as efficient substitutes for the Tories while they take a rest after their long years of holding the harness.

Workers and capitalists do not have the same interests. They are legalised robbers—we are the robbed. It does not take a genius to see that the Tories are on the side of the capitalists. The Labour Party talks as if it is on the side of the workers. But read the new Policy Review and you will discover that:
We shall make it clear throughout the economy that our emphasis is on investment rather than consumption, and that money spent too generously on consumption today could prejudice jobs and services tomorrow.
Now. ask yourself the question: Who invests in the economy? The capitalists do. And who needs to consume? We. the workers. And Labour's "emphasis" will be on assisting which class?

At this year's Labour Conference the delegates will adopt the Policy Review. It will be presented as Labour's secret key to power. Some of the delegates will be asking themselves what it is that Labour is asking for power to do. Many will compromise and convince themselves that anyone running the profit system will be better than the present lot. But is that really so? At least with the Tories we can see the enemies clearly. But under a Labour government of capitalism workers will be asked to put up with all kinds of suffering so that Neil and "our government" can do the job properly. "Back us or sack us" is what Callaghan (now Lord Callaghan—payment for services rendered) told the unions. The workers in the unions went out in 1979 and sacked him. Why elect Kinnock and have to sack him five years after the election? He has told you in advance what he is out to do. Why not deny him your backing before he gets to the top of the greasy pole?

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
Reformist Time-wasting
Countless numbers of Labour members and voters are feeling desperate. Even if they have not read the Policy Review they know that it is blatantly a manifesto for the profit system. They do not want to support this tasteless stew of half-cooked Harold Wilson peppered with some stale David Owen. Vast numbers of Labour supporters—decent, caring, concerned people—can smell the stinking scent of compromise in the air. The wider Kinnock smiles the more they know that their radical hopes are being betrayed. What can they do?

Should they elect a new leader? Kinnock is not the cause of Labour’s anti-socialist outlook any more than it was the captain’s fault that the Titanic sank when it hit the iceberg. The Titanic was not constructed to overcome the hazards it met— and Labour is certainly not constructed to overcome the profit system. Maybe John Smith could do a better job—maybe Gould could, but what matters is the product, not the front-man for the ad. And the fact is that the product is useless. Labour left-wingers say that Kinnock has betrayed them. Just as every previous Labour leader has done. So they need to find a new leader, like Tony Benn. Apart from the fact that Benn was overwhelmingly defeated when he stood against Kinnock last year, what is the point of adopting a lot of second-hand policies for nationalisation (which is State Capitalism) when these have been tried before and failed? State capitalism has been a disaster in Eastern Europe and China and the nationalised industries in Britain have not benefited the workers in them one little bit, as the miners have discovered. So. why change Labour's support for private capitalism for the state-capitalist line?

Some workers will leave the Labour Party. They are right. It is crazy to support an organisation if its policies betray all that you stand for. The new-look Labour Party of open support for the market and the nuclear bomb will be more than many can put up with. As they tear up their membership cards socialists will be cheering.

But where will the workers who abandon Kinnock's team go to? Some will look towards the Greens. They are making radical sounds. But the Greens have no class analysis and think that robbers and robbed should co-exist in harmony: we should all pull together and look after the ozone layer—never mind the profit motive which makes it economically rational to destroy the world. Green capitalism will still be capitalism. What about the Communist Party? Not many will join that: these days even the CP itself does not know what it stands for. The SWP? But why join a party which spends half its time exposing the Labour Party for being just like the Tories and the other half telling us all to Vote Labour? The sad fact is that many ex-Labour members and supporters will drift into apathy. They will vote for no- one. They will give up on making the world decent for its inhabitants to live in. Just think how many active men and women who wanted to change society the Labour Party has demoralised in its eight decades of reformist time-wasting! 

Join the real Socialist Party
However depressed many workers feel about Labour's abandonment of its few remaining principles, socialists say that now is not the time to give up. We should not allow a few pink-rosed careerists to tell us that the time for advocating socialism is over. The truth is that Labour never did put forward a case for socialism—all that has changed is that they have admitted what they stand for. Their admission proves just how right the Socialist Party has been from day one to treat these Labour fakers with complete and utter hostility. It shows how right we were stand our ground and say to our fellow workers: There is more to win than a few welfare reforms; we have a world to win.

We, the Socialist Party, have never betrayed our principled stand for the working-class interest and nothing less. And now. while the Labour Party stands exposed like a bad trickster with the pencil marks showing on the back of its playing cards, it is time to show that you are serious about socialism by joining the ranks of a party which is not out to run the profit system, but to end it. It will be the most momentous and militant political move of your life. The more who make it, the sooner will we be able to tell the Tory reserve team that they will not be required to play because the rules of the game have been abolished and the ground closed down.
Steve Coleman

Letters to the Editors: Destructive Savagery (1989)

Letters to the Editors from the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Destructive Savagery

Dear Comrades,

I daresay quite a few readers were puzzled by the figure of 15 million dead in the Second World War in the article The Economic Roots in the September Socialist Standard.

This figure was based on one of the estimates for the military casualties on all sides. An estimate of the total number killed by the war, in one way or another, would be at least four times as much; some go as high as 200 million.

I am sorry if I misled anyone into thinking that we underestimate capitalism’s destructive savagery.

Ideas and Struggle

Dear Comrades,

I found an old copy of your magazine Socialist Standard at a friend's place. I was very interested to read it and there were several thought-provoking articles.

Have you got anything on Trotskyism? Several of my friends have very nearly joined such parties as the SWP. Militant and the RCP. A few years ago, I was on the periphery of the RCP, but their ruthless party building (and total rejection of real working class issues) turned me off . . . fortunately. I find that the Trotskyists have a very patronising attitude to the working class that I presume results from Lenin's theory that, on their own, workers can only reach a trade union consciousness and thus, hey presto, the need for the guiding light of a revolutionary party—it does not seem to have done that much guiding so far! And what do you think of anarchism? I have occasionally read anarchist papers—some of them are nothing more than liberal rubbish (such as Freedom), but others do have more sense (e.g. Direct Action) in that they emphasise the class rather than the culture!

I must say that I do have my differences with the SPGB analysis, particularly over how socialism will be achieved. I completely agree with you that a majority of the working class needs to be fighting for socialism, but. as Marx said, "ideas change in struggle". To me this means that at any time there is a possibility of real change because in mass struggle the ideas of the working class do change. For example, if the miners strike had spread to other sectors (as it had to in order to avoid defeat), then we might have seen a possible revolution. I think that it is very Leninist to underestimate the abilities and potential of the working class. You say "the democratic conquest of political power”— what about the real power in this society, the economic structure? Thatcher is merely a puppet of the bosses' interests. To talk of revolution in such mild terms makes me think of naivety such as what would you do if there was a military uprising against the new socialist government?

I also think that you emphasise educational activities far too much. I would never deny the importance of propaganda, but getting back to that original quote from Marx: “ideas change in struggle” . . . not through passive book reading. So I would argue that socialists should be fighting back against this rotten system in their own lives in the here and now (for example, agitating for a strike in their workplace, leafletting their community about the Poll Tax and helping to set up Anti-Poll Tax Unions) and supporting all other working class people in their struggles against class society. I think that it is only through such a movement as this that society will be changed—but I am very interested to hear what you have to say
Norman Davis
London, N16

1. Yes, as Marx said, ideas change in struggle. But this does not mean to say that ideas change suddenly. In fact, the process of overcoming the overwhelming conditioning of capitalism is itself a long hard struggle. We do not underestimate the potential of the working class, as the Leninists do, when we say that the majority of workers are at present imbued with support for capitalism. There is a great potential for workers to make the transition to understand and want socialism instead, but we would be kidding ourselves and others if we accepted, for example, that if the miners' strike had spread "then we might have seen a possible revolution". The key precondition for a socialist revolution is that a majority should be socialists, fully conscious of their class position and their interests as workers in ending capitalism. If the miners' strike had benefited from greater solidarity amongst other workers, it would have improved the miners' position, and would have been a sign that class consciousness was growing. But that simple condition, of a majority of genuine socialists, still stands as an indispensable precondition for the revolutionary change we seek, and we continue to work with great determination to build up such a majority.

2. Yes, Thatcher is a puppet of the bosses' interests. But political power within capitalism cannot be overestimated—the bosses spend millions through their parties securing and organising political power. In Britain today, the state forces including the military are, as a matter of concrete fact, under the control of a parliamentary government which is given electoral support by the very workers whose interests it opposes. Many on the Left find it hard to face up to the harsh fact that capitalism, in all of its forms, does depend on the acquiescence and/or apathy of a majority of workers themselves. With the growth of a socialist majority, determined to end capitalism, the notion of a military uprising to prevent this is nonsensical. How would such a military force even exist or survive against the solid and hostile opposition of a socialist majority throughout society? The greater degree of class consciousness which that would entail on the part of the majority would make it more than likely that such a military sect would be starved of food, of power and electricity supplies, of uniforms, of weapons and of credibility.

3. You say that "passive book reading” and educational work are not enough on their own, but must be combined with active campaigning, e.g. against the poll tax, or for strikes at work, as, going back once again to Marx, "ideas change in struggle”. It is false to make such a rigid division between passive reading and active action. Reading and learning is itself an activity. Furthermore, the substance and subject matter of what socialists write and read about is, of course, the subject matter of the class struggle itself. And, on the other hand, a lot of so-called radical actions are actually nothing more than feeble attempts to reform and modify capitalism, to dress up oppression in a new guise. But, as far as trade union and strike action are concerned, or democratic efforts by workers to combine and improve (or just maintain) their wages and conditions of work, the Socialist Party fully supports such action. As active members of a whole range of trade unions, many of our members have worked very long and hard at such active struggle. But as a political party standing unequivocally for socialist revolution our role, which we carry out to the best of our abilities, is to put to our fellow workers the most urgent choice facing the entire human race now in 1989: are we. the deprived majority, going to allow the world's resources to remain harmfully in the hands of about 1-5 per cent of the population, or are we at last going to act on our true interests. and organise politically, consciously and democratically for the overthrow of capitalism, and the establishment of world socialism?

Editorial: Torn Curtain (1989)

Editorial from the December 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a simple and widely-accepted view of the helter-skelter of recent changes in Eastern Europe. People demanded freedom and, because they protested and demonstrated, governments simply collapsed. But that is too superficial an explanation. After all, people in these countries had protested and demonstrated before (in 1956, 1968 and in the Seventies) and had been crushed by armed force. So what is different now? Simply this: because of a change in Kremlin policy. Soviet troops were under orders not to support these puppet regimes. Without force, an unpopular minority regime cannot hold power.

It would be nice, but naive, to believe that workers in any country can achieve almost anything if they just go out, en masse, demonstrating. This is just not true - think back to Peking and the Tiananmen Square massacre. What is necessary is that the state forces do not resist.

Analysis of recent events suggests the following scenario. Russia's economic decline has reached the point where Gorbachev's colleagues are begging the West to invest capital in "joint ventures" and special "enterprise zones". Grave food and power shortages are expected this winter. Economic reforms mean cuts in military spending are essential, and that consequently support could not be guaranteed to Eastern bloc governments. Britain made a similar policy switch, for similar reasons, in withdrawing troops from "east of Suez".

These economic problems also require stringent economic reform. Perestroika is a policy demanding greater efficiency, higher productivity, cuts in government subsidies on food and other necessities, and the sacking of surplus labour. To do this successfully, governments have to appear democratic, representative, responsive, to win the consent and support of the workers. Poland is a clear example of this strategy. The PUWP and Jaruzelski could not solve the economic mess and there was a need for severe measures, including unpopular cuts in food subsidies which would hurt workers. The only way this could be done was a government with genuine popular support. Solidarity fell into the trap and provided a government to do the necessary, backed by their popular mandate.

Conspicuous among the concessions made in Eastern Europe have been those to do with personal freedoms - liberty of expression, freedom of movement and so on. These personal freedoms are a safety valve: they make people feel a lot better while not actually changing anything very much. The most dramatic symbol of this was the breaching of the Berlin Wall. This was tokenism — one frontier breached at permitted points does not spell internationalism, the ending of all frontiers, and NATO missiles are still targetted on specific East German cities such as Leipzig.

A fourth trend is the policy of encouraging greater private enterprise. This has however been apparent for several years, in Hungary especially but also in East Germany (trading in the EEC on special terms), Poland and even in Russia, with the growth of the “grey economy”, particularly in the service sector

So in spite of all the media hype and hot air, the emotional scenes in Berlin and the rapid disappearance of so many government figures, we have to say that really very little has significantly changed. The working class in Eastern Europe are still coping as best they can with the usual working class problems of poverty and poor housing, exacerbated by food shortages. True, we can put in the dustbin of history all those dogmas about the "leading role of the party", and the spurious claim that socialism = state capitalism and is a rather long drawn-out "transition” phase, an interminable prelude before the curtain can rise on Act I of "Communism''.

But when those hundreds of thousands demonstrated in East Germany, how many banner slogans called for the abolition of the wages system? However important the battle for democracy may be for the working class, if concessions are achieved which allow the freedom to say one's piece, it is important to know how to use this enlarged elbow-room, and what to say on that public platform.

The conclusions we can draw are, first, that in times of crisis, if workers are persistent and united in their determination they can win some political and economic concessions. Next, that they should be wary in such a situation: it may be a poisoned chalice. Finally, it must now be clear to all that the Leninist experiment was an historical blind alley, a cul-de-sac. There is no way forward to socialism down that road. A minority seized and held power: what they called the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was in fact dictatorship by the party over the working class.

Changes can be made to capitalism, which adapts to the demands of each age. Only one demand is incompatible with its continuance: the demand for socialism and the abolition of the wages system.

*      *      *      *      *

Special Notice:
In the New Year a special issue of the Socialist Standard will deal in depth with changes in Eastern Europe and reaction to them in the West.

New Publications: Here is Your Opportunity! (1925)

Party News from the January 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are continuously asked why we don’t publish new pamphlets or re-publish old ones that are out of print. Our answer has been to point to that ever-pressing problem of finance. A party like ours, depending upon its members for financial support and faced with the inevitable poverty of a working-class membership—our party is forced to curb its publishing activity within very narrow limits. Such a valuable and much needed publication as our party pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion,” is urgently required at a low price, and its re-publication in that form would find a ready sale. It would have been re-issued long ago had sufficient funds come in.

Amongst other publications very much needed we have in view a pamphlet on the Principles of Socialism. The enormous amount of rubbish printed in the name of Socialism in recent years, with its confusing effect on the workers’ minds makes the scientific and revolutionary pronouncements of The Socialist Party an urgent necessity. We have, therefore, opened a fund called “A New Publications Fund,” which will be reserved for the purpose of new publications. We invite members and sympathisers immediately to send in donations marked for that fund. If you cannot afford much send in the little you can. If the readers of the Socialist Standard who appreciate the soundness of our party position will hurry along their contributions to the fund we can rapidly get to work.

We get letters of appreciation of our literature from all over the world. Here is your opportunity to put your appreciation into a postal order and send it along.
The Editorial Committee

The Real Russia: Its Present Position and Tendencies. (1925)

Book Review from the February 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

After Lenin, by Michael Farbman. 280 pages. 7/6. Published by Leonard Parsons, 24, Devonshire Street, W.C.1.

Michael Farbman sets out to tell the story of Russia since the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921. In doing so he gives us not only a clear and absorbing account of the chief existing economic and political features, together with many glimpses into the future as he anticipates it, but also a useful brief analysis of the forces which have moulded the present out  of the pre-war Russian State.

He is amazed at the almost universal failure in this country to understand what is going on in Russia, and he ascribes it largely to the fact that the continuity in office of the persons and the party made prominent in 1917—the Bolsheviks—has quite hidden from view the radical changes in policy that have taken place. Confusion is deepened by the habit of continuing to use revolutionary phrases long after they have been robbed of all meaning by changing circumstances.

There is a new and stable Russia, but it is not by any means the one desired by the Bolsheviks, although, to a superficial view, they dominate the situation. Looking below the surface, Mr. Farbman concludes that “ the important point to grasp . . . is the fact that a new ruling class is being evolved ” (15) and the real power of the Bolsheviks comes from the circumstance that they saw this “new ruling class emerging in Russia and were astute enough to manoeuvre themselves into the position of its leaders ” (23). They have held that position by making a series of far-reaching concessions to the peasants, and in Mr. Farbman’s view they will continue to govern and make concessions, until divergent interests, crystallising in distinct political parties, break up the apparent unity of the Russian Communist Party which has been so far the only, albeit a very restricted medium for the expression of political opinions.

The overwhelming force which made possible the overthrow of Czardom was the determination of the peasants to have land. In the 40 years following 1861, the date of their “ emancipation ” from serfdom, the number of peasants rose from 45 to 85 million, while over the same period the area of land used by them increased by only one-fifth. The average holding fell in size by nearly one half, and the result was semi-starvation for millions. “Seventy per cent. had not enough fodder for their cattle and produced only the subsistence minimum for themselves" (180). Changing conditions and improved agricultural methods made life still harder for the great majority. After a period of stagnation Russian agriculture in the nineties began to revive—for the landowners—owing to increased foreign demand and higher prices for grain. For the peasants this merely aggravated an already barely tolerable situation by making it harder still for them to rent land. It was now more profitable for the owners to have their land cultivated for themselves by hired labour.

The discontent of the poorer peasants and landless labourers found an outlet during the attempted revolution of 1905 in their endeavour to drive the land-owning nobility off the land by the deliberate destruction of their houses, agricultural machinery, etc. After 1905, Stolypin’s reforms, by assisting the break-up of the village organisation, the Mir, helped the wealthier peasants to buy the land of the poorer, and thus destroyed peasant solidarity against the landowners. Yet discontent grew and received its magnificent opportunity in the breakdown caused by the war. Even before the Bolsheviks seized power the great estates were being taken forcibly and divided up. It was the peasants who carried the Bolsheviks into office, but when once the land was theirs and their position on it reasonably secure, they had no further concern with plans for social revolution. Mr. Farbman records the surprise felt by himself and other observers at the remarkable political insight shown by the seemingly dull peasants. They fought loyally and tenaciously with the Bolsheviks in defence of their land against Monarchist counter-revolutionaries; and when the same Bolshevik government tried to seize their surplus produce in order to feed the towns, the peasants resisted, arms in hand, with equal tenacity. They stringently curtailed production and brought Lenin and his party to unconditional surrender; also incidentally this curtailment was a big factor in multiplying the hardships of the famine. The result of their victory—the New Economic Policy—was that they gained the right to sell their produce freely in the market.

In legal theory the land is national property, but in truth the peasant occupier has security of tenure and in effect the land he occupies is his. The law forbids him to sell his holding, but allows him to lease it out, and Mr. Farbman confidently predicts that improvements in agricultural organisation and technique will be accompanied by growing inequality in the villages. A class of wealthy peasants accumulating larger and larger holdings will be faced by a class of landless rural labourers. In passing, it is worth noticing that a feature of village life unwisely relied upon and exaggerated by Lenin—the antagonism between rich and poor peasants—was brought to an end by the seizure of the land, for the effect was to equalise all holdings. This immediately robbed the Bolsheviks of much of their active support in rural areas.
Other developments equally obnoxious to the Communists have been going on in the towns. Despite their decrees, their propaganda and their state services, the Bolsheviks have been quite unable to check the growth of a powerful capitalist trading class, the state enterprises being helpless in face of the competition of more adaptable private traders.

Mr. Farbman quotes official figures, and goes on to say : These figures “show that even in the wholesale trade private enterprise enters into such serious competition with the State that it has nearly as many shops as the State. They demonstrate further that 92 per cent. of the retail trade is in the hands of private persons, and, what is of gravest importance, they show that from that area in which the masses make their purchases—the market-places—the State-controlled trade is completely absent. In the villages the situation of State trade is still less favourable. Here State shops are practically unknown and even cooperative shops are only 14.6 per cent. of all shops. If we compare State and private trade from the point of view of their respective turnover, we find that 64 per cent, of the entire turnover in the cities is made by private traders . . . the main struggle is being waged, and will continue to be waged, in the important sphere of retail trade. Yet the success already achieved by private capital in the wholesale trade is very remarkable. In the beginning of 1923 the proportion of private capital in this branch of trade was only 10 per cent. By the end of the year it reached 30 per cent' (page 135).

The growing power of this trading class cannot be ignored by those who would govern Russia, and will in due course lead to a great struggle for political control. Another battle-ground is provided by the disabilities imposed on the peasants by the present State control of foreign trade. The value of agricultural produce measured in pre-war prices is 4.7 times as great as the value of industrial produce. Yet agricultural produce obtains in the market only 2.3 times the price obtained for the produce of industry. The remedy for the peasant is the unfettered right to sell his corn in the dearest market and to buy what he requires in the cheapest market, at home and abroad. The issue will be Free Trade versus State control, and the victory of the peasants will mean the destruction of what has been called by the Bolsheviks one of the three pillars of the Soviet State. Of the administration itself Lenin is reported to have said a few months before his death that the new bureaucratic machine was "adopted from Tzarism and only slightly anointed with Soviet oil" (page 6).

Mr. Farbman also sketches the leading figures in the Communist Party; describes the economic crisis of 1923 which foreshadowed the coming clash between agricultural and industrial interests; and gives an account of the successful attempt to stabilise the new currency. Other features we must leave, except to mention that the Trade Union movement has become (as must, of course, happen where the leading party is also the Government and hence the employer in State industries) a great organisation to prevent the workers from striking not only in State but also in private concerns (chap. viii).

While Mr. Farbman has, and deserves, a reputation for careful and unbiased observation, protest must be made against his carelessly inaccurate treatment and curt dismissal of Marx.

On page 34 he tells us that 
   "When Lenin inaugurated the dictatorship of the proletariat he was obviously unhampered by the slightest doubt as to the efficacy of Marxian principles, but the longer he tested them as a practical revolutionist and statesman, the more he became aware of the impossibility of building up a society on a mechanical and exclusively economic basis. When he had to adopt an agrarian policy totally at variance with his Marxian opinions, and when later he was compelled to make an 'appeal to the peasants' acquisitive instincts.and go back to what he styled 'State Capitalism,' he was not only conscious that something was wrong with his Marxian gospel, but frankly admitted that Marx had not foreseen all the realities of a complex situation. The greatest value of the Russian 'Revolution to the world labour movement lies in the fact that it has replaced Marxism by Leninism."
Apart from some obscurities in the above passage, the plain suggestion is that Marx had envisaged the possibility of establishing socialism without socialists; of initiating a proletarian revolution in a country where 80 per cent. of the population were non-proletarian peasants; and of building socialist society in the most backward country in Europe. Lenin, says Mr. Farbman, tried to apply this theory, found it failed, and rejected it. The fact of the matter is that this whole conception (as has repeatedly been shown in the Socialist Standard) is utterly foreign to Marxism, and Lenin has produced no material evidence to prove the contrary. Indeed Mr. Farbman and those like the Daily Herald, who have so gleefully reproduced his opinion, make no attempt to do so. They are wise, for there is no such evidence.

Moreover, Mr. Farbman himself supplies proof that Lenin was not, and could not, have been sent astray by following Marx in this matter. He writes this (page 96):—
   "The most constant charge made against Lenin and his associates is that, contrary to the teachings of their own Marxian Sociology, which told them that Communism could only arise as a result of the most highly developed capitalism, they deliberately proceeded to precipitate this in a country predominantly agricultural and containing only the rudiments of capitalist development. But an examination of Lenin’s struggle for State Capitalism against his Left Communist associates in the spring of 1918 will show conclusively that Lenin worked his hardest to extricate his party from the fatal policy of indiscriminate nationalisation to which they were committed. . . .  As a Socialist theorist Lenin had no manner of doubt that Communism was bound first to arrive in the highly developed countries of the West— England and Germany—and in America. He never made the mistake so commonly attributed to him of imagining that so backward a country as Russia was ripe and ready for Communism."

Mr. Farbman here seems to be flatly contradicting his previous statement that Lenin went astray and had to “go back to State Capitalism." But whether Mr. Farbman thinks that Lenin erred or not, it is perfectly plain that Mr. Farbman, and in his opinion Lenin also, knew well that Marx could not be regarded as an advocate of attempting to establish Communism in backward Russia. If Lenin did at any time believe that this was possible, he held that belief not only in defiance of Marxian principles, but also as a departure from his own view at the time of his return to Russia in 1917.

Mr. Farbman further quotes from a letter addressed in 1917 to the Swiss workers (page 98)
   “. . . the idea that the Russian proletariat is the chosen Revolutionary Proletariat among the workers of Europe is absolutely alien to us. We are fully aware that the proletariat of Russia is less organised, less prepared and less conscious than the workers of other countries. It was the peculiar historical conditions and not the peculiar qualities of the Russian proletariat which made it for a certain period, and probably for a very short one, the advanced guard of the Revolutionary Proletariat of the world. Russia is a peasant country and one of the most backward of European countries. Socialism cannot win at once in Russia. Yet the peasant character of the country may, in view of the experience of 1905, give to the bourgeois democratic revolution of Russia such a swing as may make it a prologue to the World Socialist Revolution.”
Mr. Farbman provides the key to the situation when he writes: “I, personally, think that there was one cardinal error into which Lenin fell, and that was his ardent belief in the imminence of a World Socialist Revolution ” (page 97).

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain continually pointed out both before and after the Bolshevik seizure of power, the German, British and other workers were never for one moment able or willing to fight, work or even vote for Socialism. It was a tragedy that Lenin should have listened to those emotional babblers who mistook their hopeful imaginings for facts, and created the colossal myth of a revolutionary working class in England, Germany and America. It is a tribute to Lenin, amply supported by Mr. Farbman, that he was able to face the unpleasant truth before it was too late, and instead of concentrating entirely on futile schemes for world revolution, was willing to lay his hand to the task of hastening the industrial development of Russia under a system of State Capitalism, modified in favour of the workers to the extent that that is possible.
Edgar Hardcastle