Friday, August 31, 2018

This Month's Quotation: William Morris (1941)

The Front Page quote from the July 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Healthy and undomineering individuality will be fostered and not crushed out by Socialism ”
William Morris

This Month's Quotation: Gerrard Winstanley (1941)

The Front Page quote from the June 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "Riches give men power to oppress their fellow-men and stir up wars.”
Gerrard Winstanley—(“The Law of Freedom,” 1652)

This Month's Quotation: Karl Marx (1941)

The Front Page quote from the May 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “To appeal to the working men without strictly scientific ideas and concrete doctrine is tantamount to empty-headed and conscienceless play with propaganda."
Karl Marx, 1883

This Month's Quotation: Socialist (1941)

The Front Page quote from the April 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
   Forces have been released in the world the working out of which no fraction of society can control. Only under the conscious control of society itself can these forces be harnessed for the common good

This Month's Quotation: Wilhelm Liebknecht (1941)

The Front Page quote from the March 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
   “Ever advancing with science and economic development, we are what we were and we will remain what we are”
Wilhelm Liebknecht

This Month's Quotation: Wilhelm Liebknecht (1941)

The Front Page quote from the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  “Every power outside ourselves on which we seek to lean is for us only weakness ”

This Month's Quotation: Charlie Chaplin (1941)

The Front Page quote from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful—to make this life a wonderful adventure ” 
(Charlie Chaplin in the film "The Great Dictator”)

Rear View: The Mainstream Media Matrix (2018)

The Rear View Column from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Mainstream Media Matrix
One of many examples is the BBC – Broadcasting Bourgeois Canards since 1922. Their advertisements want us to believe otherwise, to swallow the lies with little or no question. 'Take away the noise, the fury, the fighting voices, the distortions, cosmetics, the colour and the flashy effects, but most of all, you can take away the lies, the slander, the misrepresentations that seek to pull us apart, and then ... you can find out what is actually happening, and when you find that, then you will find BBC News[peak].'

Stop consuming their canards – take the red pill of socialist understanding instead.
'All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind' 'He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance, and for the propagation of his race' (The Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Campaign for real socialism
'Lookups for socialism spiked on June 27, 2018, following the Democratic primary victory for a congressional seat in New York City by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, defeating 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley' (, 27 June). 
But unsurprisingly the same dictionary defines socialism as 'a way of organizing a society in which major industries are owned and controlled by the government rather than by individual people and companies,' and democratic socialism [there is no other kind!] 'is a form of government in which state regulation (without state ownership) would ensure economic growth and a fair distribution of income.' Socialism, as originally used by the followers of Robert Owen, appeared for the first time in their Co-operative Magazine of November 1827 and later made famous by Marx, will be a system of society where production takes place directly for human needs, where money, governments and states do not exist. This is still the only sensible way of understanding socialism, and not the Alice in Wonderland world where words mean whatever anyone says they mean. Ocasio-Cortez is better defined as a social democrat, a term associated with the German politician Eduard Bernstein. He rejected socialism's revolutionary and materialist foundations and advanced the position that it should be grounded in ethical and moral arguments and achieved through gradual legislative reform.   

Not so strange bedfellows 
“There’s no way around it, Socialism and Communism are kissing cousins. The only difference is when this concrete strategy begins to fail, that’s when somebody grabs a gun and Socialism goes to Communism. Socialism really is just diet-Communism,” said Glenn. “Putting ‘democratic’ before Socialist … makes it seem, I dunno, a little less Stalin and more Bernie Sanders” (, 29 June). The spectre haunting the likes of Glenn Beck is not that of socialism or communism but state-capitalism. He and Ocasio-Cortez are clueless. During one of her interviews she at 'first tried to argue there was a significant difference between her beliefs and socialism.' Indeed, but finding herself in a hole she started digging: '. . .  there's a huge difference between socialism and Democratic socialism . . . Democratic socialism, and really what that boils down to me, is the basic belief that I believe that in a moral and wealthy America and a moral and modern America, no person should be too poor to live in this country' (, 29 June).

Defenders of the status quo
Main stream media, Beck and Ocasio-Cotez support the status quo. They are opposed to the revolutionary nature of socialism (or communism – Engels & Marx used both terms interchangeably). Here the 170-year old Communist Manifesto again remains relevant.
'There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc, that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical experience. ' 'The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.' 'Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries unite!'

The Trump Circus: Don in Trumpton (2018)

From the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

And he went Trumpety, Trumpety, Trumpety, Trumpety, Trumpety, Trumpety, Trump! Trump! Trump!  The ever predicable Trump was in inimitable trumpeting form during his – almost, but not quite – state visit to the UK.  After a little warm-up trumpeting at the NATO conference in Brussels, demanding European countries increase military spending to 4 percent of GDP - none of that wishy washy 2 percent target of his predecessors – he was in trumpeting hyper-drive by the time Air Force One touched down on British soil, announcing: Theresa you’re fired!  ‘I told her how to negotiate Brexit but she just wouldn’t listen!’  Boris you’re hired!  ‘I think he would make a great prime minister!’  Sadiq Khan you’re fired!  ‘I think he has done a terrible job as London Mayor.’

 Trump came over to the Old Country determined to demonstrate that he was the Supreme Leader and hardly any of our feckless politicians put up a fight.  His torrent of trumpeting generated the usual theatrical outrage amongst commentators and pundits.  But why all the fuss?  Trump was merely affirming the Special Relationship, whereby the UK is America’s poodle, but in more brazen fashion than former US presidents.

The highlights of the buffoonery
 Trump’s trip amounted to a golfing weekend at his beloved luxury resort in Scotland, preceded by the berating of all and sundry in line with his idiosyncratic style of diplomacy: shoot first and ask questions afterwards.

 On arrival Trump flew over London to the sanctuary of the US embassy fortress in Regent’s Park, the helicopter rotors drowning out the chants of protestors on the ground and the giant baby blimp grimacing at him through the porthole window; an organiser of the London demonstration excitedly proclaiming: ‘It’s going to swamp his Twitter feed!’  Revolutionary foment no less, but only of the virtual kind.

 Then on to the reception at Blenheim Palace (but not a Royal Palace of course) with hosts Theresa and investment banker hubby kept waiting ignominiously in the courtyard, looking like a couple of schoolchildren nervously anticipating the arrival of the headmaster to give them a good spanking.  Then on to Sandhurst the following morning to see the US and UK’s Finest in action; to Chequers in the afternoon for what was described as ‘bilateral talks’ – i.e. Trump gives Theresa May another good talking to – followed by a press conference, an opportunity for even more trumpeting; then afternoon tea with the Queen.  Then to Scotland and down to the serious business of golfing, replete with a cordon of 700 Scottish Bobbies to contain a group of 50 placard waving protesters, including an impromptu fly past by a Greenpeace paraglider with banner streaming below displaying the incendiary message: ‘Trump, well below par.’ Early to bed on Sunday evening ready for yet more trumpeting with President Putin on Monday.  And that was that!

 After all the shilly-shallying around – would he, wouldn’t he, should he, shouldn’t he – it was all over in a flash; the millions of words of print and thousands of broadcast hours consigned to the wrappings of a fish and chip supper.  But not before the mainstream media had dutifully spewed their superlatives to bolster the anachronistic spectacle of pomp and pageantry that sought to flatter The Man Who Would Be King; although, given the narcissist that he is, Trump will not forget the snub of the less than Regal welcome.

 Notwithstanding the insipid character of this un-Regal occasion the mainstream media was at its obsequious best in the main, trying to whip the punters into a frenzy of adulation.  This included on the BBC, where the woman commentator was almost orgasmic:  ‘We now have the pictures of The Beast coming up the hill.  Look at that!  The Beast roaring over the horizon!  If you want a projection of power around the world there are few better ways than…’  It wasn’t clear until the end that she was referring to the armour-plated limousine rather than its occupant.

 Amid all the hyperbolic superlatives thrown around like confetti no one seems to have stopped to consider whether this mock aristocratic spectacle is any longer appropriate fodder for the public in the twenty first century.  But what do the media care about such niceties.  They are too busy using Trump as a cash cow, whilst berating him for his buffoonery; salivating like Pavlovian dogs awaiting the next early morning Tweet so that they can splash it around as click bait.  One certain legacy for Trump is that he will have received the most media coverage of any person in history.  Like the wicked witch in the pantomime he might get the most boos, but he also gets the most reviews.  Whilst the media chew over every Trump morsel the man himself is deliriously happy, astride his monopoly board of world proportions, rattling the dice and taunting his opponents that he always throws a double six, with the dice suitably weighted of course.

 His latest wheeze to fix the game is the flatulently named: Fair And Reciprocal Tariff Act (ordinarily referred to by its acronym, the FART Act) which if passed (no pun intended) by Congress will give Trump dictatorial powers to vary any US tariff on any country at will; thus effectively tearing up WTO rules.  The other players in this giant monopoly game could be forgiven for throwing in the towel.  Trump is a man who knows how to play hard ball.  He cut his teeth in the days when he was building Trump Tower in New York, doing deals with the Mafia to secure the huge amount of concrete he needed to erect his phallic symbol.  But those who describe Trump as an imperialist or a Fascist bestow upon him too much of an accolade.  He doesn’t have the intellectual acumen or ideological inclination to be either.  He is just a simple businessman - with all the pejorative connotations that the word entails - and a second rate one at that; albeit one that has some big toys to play with nowadays.

So what does all this Trumpery amount to?
Trump is a racist, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexual predator, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an Islamaphobe, a reprobate and, to cap it all, a birther to boot; with his incessant taunts about Obama’s pedigree.  As the Yanks say: ‘he might be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch!’ and that makes all the difference.  Trump is the 45th president of the United States and the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful nation on Earth, with a multi-trillion dollar arsenal of deadly weapons at his fingertips which he is prepared to lever into any deal to make an offer that can’t be refused.  Trump might yet achieve the ultimate legacy - if anyone is left to write it - as the president who, through nuclear Armageddon and/or climate meltdown, had the most profound impact on the world of any that came before him.  No, Trump should not be written off as an irrelevance.

 Putting these apocalyptic possibilities aside Trump is relevant in other ways too.  In the early days of the presidential campaign the capitalist elite – the bankers, the military industrial complex and other ne’er-do-wells – realised the dangers of a Trump presidency.  Like the drunken slob at a wedding they knew that he could embarrass them by exposing their game; especially when they had wallowed in the luxury of the smooth operating front man, Obama, for the previous eight years; a consummate performer capable of delivering the most bitter pills of capitalism with a sugar coating.  On the other hand Trump, not being one for decorum, will say and do anything to make a fast buck, as will any good capitalist.  But Trump does it with a megaphone.  It is this raw meat characteristic of Trump that has the capacity to inflict damage on the capitalist brand.  

 But as all good entrepreneurs know every problem can be turned into an opportunity.  Ironically, whilst Trump has been busy scapegoating everything in sight to explain away the ills of United States society, the liberal media, egged on by their corporate paymasters, have been moulding Trump into their very own scapegoat by branding him as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ and thus subtlety inculcating the corollary: that there is an ‘acceptable face of capitalism.’  As with all marketing ploys it matters not that it is a fabricated concept, so long as it sells well.  And it seems to be selling like hot cakes, as indicated by the burgeoning movement of anti-Trumpeteers.  Under cover of this flak the ruling class hope to buy time to select, or manufacture, another snake oil salesman like Obama to re-launch the brand.  

 This is not to say that the demonstrators are wrong to protest against Trump.  For some it might be cathartic.  But they should not succumb to the fiction that Trump is the product of some evil gene.  Some of the more discerning commentators are beginning to eschew this genetic interpretation in favour of a more nuanced position.  Owen Jones, of Guardian columnist notoriety and an organiser of the London anti-Trump protests, is the latest to pick up this new baton, imploring us to: ‘don’t just protest against Trump, but protest against Trumpism’, which he loosely characterises as neo-liberal globalisation.  But it’s not Trump or Trumpism, or neo-liberal anything.  The problem is capitalism, pure and simple.  Alternative explanations only lead people down blind allies and encourage them to take their eye off the ball.

 Whether or not the establishment succeed in giving capitalism a temporary facelift its pernicious features are hardwired into the system and its apocalyptic course is set.  Capitalism is incapable of taking into account the need to preserve and nurture the essential live-sustaining elements of our society.  Its destructive force on humanity has been well documented over the years: the enslavement of people in a system of production where the wealth produced by the workers is creamed off by a decadent elite, thus perpetuating an antagonistic mode of existence which impoverishes the human spirit by chaining it to this perverse economic machine.  But it is only in recent years that the full cataclysmic implications have been understood.  Capitalism fetishises money by knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.  The obliteration of the rainforest, the acidification of the oceans, the pollution of the air, the annihilation of species, the contamination of the soil and all the other destruction unleashed upon the natural environment are euphemistically referred to as ‘external costs;’ that is they don’t appear in the profit and loss account and so, as far as the capitalist is concerned, they are of a no consequence.  The abolition of capitalism is no longer merely socially desirable, it is an ecological necessity.  

 Despite this the death cult of capitalism continues unabated, like a raging bull, oblivious to the destruction it leaves in its wake.  The corporate capture of the faux democracies of the world ensures that our elected representatives shamefully step aside and allow the bull to stampede unhindered.  Like a demented rodeo cowboy Trump is astride The Beast, digging his spurs into its belly and urging it to go ever faster.  And the modern day Roosevelts – the Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyns – who promise to step into the path of the bull to slow it down or deflect its course will find that they are quickly trampled underfoot.

Is Trump good for socialism?
Trump should not be dismissed as a parody, or a caricature, or an aberration.  He is the real McCoy.  He is the manifestation of raw unadulterated capitalism.  But Trump is only a carrier of the disease, he is not the disease itself.  He is the child of the system, not the parent and, in this sense, Trump is a victim like everyone else.  But it is not Trump or Trumpism, or any other contrived representation of our current malaise that ought to be the focus, it is the system of capitalism itself.

 Trump helps the cause of socialism by ripping away the sticking plaster to expose capitalism in all its raw festering septic state.  The capitalist elite is busy trying to put the sticking plaster back.  The task for those who advocate socialism is to dig away at the wound to ensure it remains open and exposed.  This should be made easier by the ever accelerating concentration of wealth amongst a tiny degenerate elite and the relative impoverishment of everyone else.  As Marx argued, unfettered capitalism is potentially a revolutionary force.

 But Trump’s usefulness, in exposing the raw meat of capitalism, is only one side of the coin.  The other side is the opportunity he presents to promote socialism as a positive alternative and to ensure that it comes about before the social and ecological tipping point is reached and before people’s conception of life becomes so muted by the oppressive weight of capitalism that, like the caged hamster on the wheel, they can conceive of nothing else.

 As a species we have the intelligence and the imagination to create a better society, if only we had the will to do so.  Throughout history we have demonstrated our incredible resourcefulness and creativity and, in recent times, capitalism has been a significant driver of such progress, but always at an unacceptable cost to society and, we now know, with catastrophic consequences for the planet itself.

 The alternative cannot be found under such fatuous labels as ‘liberal’ ‘progressive,’ or ‘radical.’  Nor is it going to come about by bandying around lazy slogans such as: ‘real change’, ‘real democracy,’ ‘change we can believe in’ or jingoistic calls to ‘make our country great again!’  Systemic failure requires systemic change and that change is socialism: a class-less, moneyless, borderless, state-less, society where private property is abolished in favour of being held in common for the benefit of all; where power is widely diffused to facilitate participative democracy; where work is an integral and enriching part of life, rather than a necessary chore to sustain it and where everyone can choose the way in which they contribute to the community: from each according to ability, to each according to need.  Under socialism war becomes impossible because there are no nations to wage it and no private property to fight over.  Without nation states and borders the so called ‘migrant problem’ evaporates.  Without money there are no markets, no debt, no poverty, no financial hardship and none of the huge wasteful financial state and corporate apparatus through which the money system is controlled.  Every person has the opportunity to become what they have the potential to be, rather than what the capitalist machine tells them that they are.  This is the positive socialist message which the Trump era can facilitate.  Trump bashing should be a side-show for therapeutic and recreational purposes only.  It should not be the main event.

 What of Trump and the rest of the capitalist class after the socialist transformation?  They will be liberated from their chains like everyone else; free to take up more wholesome pursuits like painting and basket weaving and probably much happier and content for it.  Trump might decide to learn to play the guitar and become a folk singer; in which case he could be welcomed back in his rehabilitated form.  Until then it would be preferable if he stays away.
Tim Hart

Nationalisation is Still Capitalism (1969)

From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many trade unions had a warm regard for the apparently benevolent, paternal State Electricity Commission (SEC). Even its own employees did, believing that under its wing they had a snug, safe refuge from social confusion, insecurity, and discomfort. However, militancy is now becoming a noticeable feature of these state employees.

The onward rolling wheel of capitalist development and expansion is forever killing off illusions, and unionists, militant or otherwise, are continually having to face, on widening fronts and at increasing speeds, the nasty reality of the class struggle, even against their own illusions about 'Socialism’.

Increasingly during the past year the SEC, the main source of industrial and domestic electrification of the state of Victoria, has made no bones about assuming the traditional ’bad guy’ role of the master capitalist in its dealing with its employees.

Dr. Connolly, in an address to the Morwell Chamber of Commerce last October 31, directly lends us his aid in the task of exposing some of the "widely held misconceptions about the SEC.” Says he:
   On the capital side, we have the continuing problem of raising enough money in an increasingly competitive money market. We have also to service our capital expenditure and. pay interest on money borrowed, and this enters into our operating costs—it is perfectly obvious that the SEC cannot operate inefficiently simply to provide employment: nor build a new power station that is not economically justified simply for the purpose of making a job for contractors to maintain a high level of construction employment.
Thus, in the holy name of ’problems and efficiency of capital’ invested in the SEC, he justifies the shutting down of briquette-coal-processing factories and removal of old plant from service, the closing down of camps or raising of accommodation rates, and the downgrading of workers to lower jobs with a corresponding fall in the hourly rate of wages.

Conditions of employment, accommodation, industrial and trade status, and wages fought for over many years and gained during periods of labour scarcity now are cut back as labour scarcity becomes changed into a glut as a direct result of rising productivity. Here again, state capitalism, on an impressive scale, exposes the once popular fiction that wages can be raised only as a result of rising productivity. On this Marxists have always been aware that increasing productivity has never been for the amiable purpose of raising wages, but for increasing profits and protecting capital. Ceaselessly we have exposed the fact that the workers' share of wealth produced constantly has to fall. In the present case, rising productivity leads directly not merely to a relative but also to an actual fall in living standards and a deterioration of working conditions.

How does this SEC treatment of its wage workers differ from that of the traditional capitalist? There is no difference. And why? Dr Connolly advises the Chamber of Commerce on the nature of State Capitalism and in doing so repeats what we have long been shouting from the rooftops. He says:
   We have the same problem, the same challenge as every other manufacturer in this competitive age;—we must hold down our unit cost of production and distribution. We must, in fact, strive by every means possible to reduce the cost of supplying a kilowatt hour of electricity to consumers.
C. P. Furey 
(Socialist Party of Australia) 

Branch News (1963)

Party News from the July 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

With excellent sales of the May Socialist Standard plus sunny weather, comrades in many branches are greatly stimulated and are very busy keeping the circulation figures high. Canvassers are out regularly and in many instances are having record successes. Our roving salesman in the West Country reports "bumper” sales of Socialist Standards and pamphlets during his travels in Cornwall. In addition he distributes Party leaflets.

Ealing Branch. The outdoor meetings at Earls Court have got off to a promising start, with reasonable weather, good audiences, and encouraging literature sales. All members are asked for their support to these meetings which are held every Thursday evening at 8 pm. Will members kindly note that the Branch will, as usual, be closing down for a brief recess this summer. There will as a result, be no meetings on Fridays during July.

Lunch-time meetings at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. These are held between one and two o'clock and the meetings are well attended, and if literature sellers supported the meetings they will be assured of excellent results. Literature is always available at the meetings, it only needs a few members to spare a little of their lunch hour to sell it!

Bloomsbury Branch will meet as usual during July but will close during August as Conway Hall is closed for that month. Wood Green & Hornsey Branch has changed its branch meeting place, full details in the Branch directory. From this month the addresses of the Branches and Head Office of the World Socialist Party of Ireland will appear regularly in the Socialist Standard which is now the official Journal of the WSPI as well as the SPGB.

With the arrival of the May Socialist Standard, Wembley Branch stepped up their canvassing. Manpower was limited, unfortunately, but despite this, three canvasses were run and over six dozen extra copies sold, this time in Fulham. The Branch will visit the area again later, for obviously there is plenty of scope here and it was most encouraging to see how well the May issue sold. The Branch has kept busy in other ways, too. There was a public meeting on "Housing” in May and a film show scheduled for June 24th—title: “Nine Centuries of Coal." The outdoor season started in June, with meetings at Earls Court every other Friday. Two propaganda trips to Southsea have also been planned, one in June and one in August. 

Please note.—There will be no branch meetings on July 8th and 15th—holidays!
Phyllis Howard

You Have Got What You Voted For (1974)

From the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the last few weeks the politicians and commentators have been disputing about what the electors wanted, what the new Government will do, what will be in its next budget, will the policies work and will it mean more “socialism” or less. They are wasting their time and yours. The main outlines of your future in the next few years are already determined, and it would be just the same with a Tory Government, a Tory-Lib. coalition or a three-party government — a little more there, a little less here but nothing essentially different.

Thirty one Million Voters all Agreed
On a superficial view the electors who voted on 28 February wanted different policies, Tory, Labour, Liberal; or Scottish, Welsh and Irish Nationalism. What in fact they voted for is capitalism, with small variations of no importance. Capitalism with a face lift; capitalism inside or outside Europe; capitalism with a degree of autonomy in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The electors wanted capitalism not Socialism. They have got what they voted for.

What about Nationalization ?
But isn’t the Labour Party different? Does it not stand for more nationalization? Indeed it does. As a result of the work of the Attlee Government after the war we have had a quarter of a century of nationalization in a number of major industries. A quarter of a century for the workers to discover that it doesn’t make a ha’porth of difference. Nationalization is State Capitalism; the so-called “mixed economy” is a mixture of private and State capitalism. Nationalization solves no problem for the workers either here or in Russia and other State-capitalist countries. It has nothing to do with Socialism.

One small event in the recent election shows what kind of party the Labour Party is, for that life-long Tory, Enoch Powell, a dedicated supporter of capitalism, found it possible to vote Labour and tell others to do the same merely on the issue of keeping British capitalism out of capitalist Europe.

Back to the "Good Old Days''
A farcical aspect of the present situation is that these parties of capitalism, Tory, Labour, Liberal and Nationalist, have been forced by capitalism itself to abandon their belief in the futile doctrine of managing capitalism so as to make life better for all. In fact, if not in words, they have had to admit that they can’t manage it and that the best hope they can offer is to go back to the mythical “good old days”.
  • Replace a prospective 15 per cent rise of prices by perhaps getting it down to 12 per cent or 10 per cent. Back to poverty on £20 a week instead of poverty on £25 a week.
  • Get unemployment down to the level it used to be.
  • Go back to the “happy” days before the Prices and Incomes policy and the Industrial Relations Act.
  • Get house-building up to the levels of a few years ago.
  • Not forgetting that permanent feature in the speeches of every Prime Minister at all times and in all countries — call on the workers to work harder!

Nothing can be done to make capitalism satisfactory for the working class. Socialism is the only hope, not only for Britain but for the world.
Edgar Hardcastle

William Morris Quotations (1934)

William Morris (1834-1896)
From the August 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard
“We Socialists are often reproached with giving no details of the state of things which would follow on the destruction of that system of waste and war which is sometimes dignified by the lying title of the harmonious combination of capital and labour. . . .  To this Socialists answer, and rightly, that we have not set ourselves to build up a system to please our tastes, nor are we seeking to impose it on the world in a mechanical manner, but rather that we are assisting in bringing about a development of history which would take place without our help, but which, nevertheless, compels us to help it; and that, under these circumstances, it would be futile to map out the details of life in a condition of things so different from that in which we have been born and bred. Those details will be taken care of by the men who will be so lucky as to be born into a society relieved of the oppression which crushes us, and who surely will be, not less, but more prudent and reasonable than we are. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the economical changes which are in progress must be accompanied by corresponding developments of men's aspirations; and the knowledge of their progress cannot fail to rouse our imaginations into picturing for ourselves that life at once happy and manly which we know social revolution will put within the reach of all men.

" . . . Serious occupation, amusing relaxation, and more rest for the leisure of the workers, and withal, that beauty of surroundings, and the power of producing beauty which are sure to be claimed by those who have leisure, education, and serious occupation. No one can say that such things are not desirable for the workers; but we Socialists are striving to make them seem not only desirable but necessary, well knowing that under the present system of society they are impossible of attainment—and why? Because we cannot afford the time, trouble and thought necessary to obtain them. Again, why cannot we? Because we are at war, class against class and man against man; all our time is taken up with that. . . . Under such conditions of life labour can but be a terrible burden, degrading to the workers, more degrading to those who live upon their work. This is the system which we seek to overthrow and supplant by one in which labour will no longer be a burden."
(From "A Factory as it Might Be."—1884.) 

#    #    #    #

SPGB Pamphlet 1907.
"Well, I will now let my claims for decent life stand as I have made them. To sum them up in brief, they are: first, a healthy body; second, an active mind in sympathy with the past, the present and the future; thirdly, occupation fit for a healthy body and an active mind; and fourthly, a beautiful world to live in. . . . It is not we who can build up the new social order; the past ages have, done the most of that work for us; but we can clear our eyes to the signs of the times, and we shall then see that the attainment of a good condition of life is being made possible for us, and that it is now our business to stretch out our hands to take it. And how? Chiefly, I think, by educating people to a sense of their real capacities as men, so that they may be able to use to their own good the political power which is rapidly being thrust upon them; . . .  to get people to see that individual profit-makers are not a necessity for labour, but an obstruction to it. . . .  I admit that the work is long and burdensome; . . . people have been made so timorous of change by the terror of starvation that even the unluckiest of them are stolid and hard to move. Hard as the work is, however, its reward is not doubtful. . . . That claim for equality of condition will be made constantly and with growing loudness till it must be listened to, and then at last it will be only a step over the border and the civilised world will be socialised; and, looking back on what has been, we shall be astonished to think of how long we submitted to live as we live now."
(From “ How We Live and How We Might Live."—1888.)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Sting in the Tail: Death Ships (1993)

The Sting in the Tail column from the April 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Death Ships

When the oil tanker Braer sank off Shetlands in January it was a media event. It was great TV. Storm-struck shores, dying sea birds and earnest local politicians looking grim and concerned.

What is not generally realized is that it was not an isolated episode.
   In the past three years alone, 38 vast hulk carriers, have either sunk without trace or suffered severe structural damage. Around 40 oil tankers . . . have also been lost during the same period. (Observer, 14 February).
In a Panorama programme Scandal at Sea (BBC1, 15 February) it was reported that in the last three years 300 seamen had lost their lives in “accidents" in bulk carriers. As one bitter seaman said “people are concerned about the plight of birds but little is done about dead seaman”.

It's just another example of the callousness of capitalism. What are the lives of workers worth compared to the insatiable drive for profit?

Menace of the Mob

The killing of James Bulger was a dreadful event but so was the behaviour of some of the crowd outside Bootle magistrates' court. This lynch-mob mentality has shown itself on many similar occasions. Indeed, the mob wanted the blood of an innocent 12-year-old boy who was wrongly detained by the investigating police.

Are these people so blind that they have never noticed how often the police hold suspects during murder enquiries only to later release them? After the murder of the young woman on Wimbledon Common last year the police held several unfortunate men w ho had nothing to do with the killing.

All this plus the numerous examples of people being “fitted-up" for crimes they did not commit should be warning enough for anyone that an arrest is proof neither of guilt nor of police infallibility.

Services Rendered

Two men got a pay-off in February for services rendered. One was a Glasgow man who had worked for 47 years at Albion, part of Leyland-DAF. He never had a day off sick but his severance pay was £6,150 (£135 per year), the very minimum he could get. To add insult to injury the company thanked him for his “exemplary conduct and faultless timekeeping” (Daily Record, 18 February).

The other man got £5.2 million. He was Thomas Ward, an American lawyer, and the money was his “success fee” for the part he played in helping Guinness take over Distillers in 1986.

One man spends a lifetime creating real wealth and is sent packing with a pittance while another is paid 845 times as much for a spot of legalistic ducking and diving. There could hardly be a more accurate measure of capitalism's values than this.

Market Madness

Like every other car-maker, Mercedes of Germany have problems. Because of falling sales and profits the company wants to cut production from 600,000 cars to 505,000 in 1993.

This has meant the introduction of short-time working plus plans to cut 15,000 jobs. Problems solved? Not one bit because Mercedes workers are so worried by all this that they are refusing to go sick and are, as a company official put it, “working like madmen”. i he result is that output has increased so there will have to be even more short-time working!

In socialism cars will be produced for use instead of for sale, so the madness of the market won't come into it. Enough cars will be produced to satisfy society's requirements and the people who make them can then do other things and not be reduced to “working like madmen".

Advice to a Prof

Professor Alan Walters, Mrs Thatcher's former economic adviser, has accused John Major of lacking “any firm set of ideas” and of not having “understood markets at all" (A Brief History Of Our Time, C4, 14 Feb).

Who does, prof, who does? For example, did all those stock market dealers and analysts understand their market was about to collapse before Black Monday in October 1987?

And it’s easy for the prof to lecture politicians, but they, unlike him, have to take political as well as economic considerations into account and all too often the two simply don't mix. Just look at all those ideologues, left and right, who came into office armed with a “firm set of ideas” and then had to throw the lot overboard!

The prof should stick to his ivory tower and give heartfelt thanks that he doesn't have to wrestle with capitalism in all its bewildering complexity.

A Familiar Tale

Everyone knows how the recession has hit people in the inner cities, the black community, the big council ghettoes and even business executives, but how has it affected Britain's Jewish population?

An article in the Jewish Chronicle on 29 January makes clear that Jews are faring no better than any other group, with 10 percent unemployed, people forced to give up their homes, many appealing to charities for help, money problems causing marital breakdown, and school leavers unable to get jobs.

And this applies especially to those who come from the leafy suburbs of London and other major cities, people who had thought themselves immune to hardship:
   In 1993, the stereotype of the community, successful, wealthy and middle-class is far removed from the reality.
The common idea that all Jews are rich always was nonsense, but many who were at least “comfortable” are no longer even that.

Marx in his Time (1973)

From the September 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marxism is not a dogma, not a record of the sayings and doings of Karl Marx to be carefully preserved and uncritically applied whatever the circumstances. Marxism is a method of assessing what, at any particular time, is in the best interest of the working class and should be done to hasten the establishment of Socialism.

Marx was born in 1818 and died in 1883. He became a Socialist around the end of 1843 so his period of socialist political activity covered nearly forty years between 1843 and 1883. Inevitably, and in accordance with his own theories, Marx’s political activity to further the cause of Socialism was shaped by the conditions of this time. Let us recall what those conditions were.

Capitalism was then a comparative new social system, still in its phase of expansion. By today’s standards its technology, though immensely productive compared with what went before, was backward being based on coal and iron. The electric motor and the diesel engine were unknown; transport was by steam locomotive or horse-drawn carriage; houses and streets were lit by gas; many — no, most — workers were still employed in small workshops not the large factories we know today.

On the political side too capitalism was still in its growth stage. Capitalist political forms — parliamentary control, a wide suffrage, a professional civil service — only existed in a few countries, and then incompletely. Most of Europe was governed by openly anti-democratic regimes under hereditary rulers supported by a landed aristocracy. The three most powerful of these — Tsarist Russia, Hapsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Prussia — constituted a permanent threat to capitalist political forms wherever they had begun to be established.

Marx, in short, was politically active in an age when capitalism had yet to become the dominant world system, economically or politically. This decisively shaped his political tactics. Since he believed that capitalism paved the way for Socialism and that it still had part of this work to do, he advocated that, in this circumstance, socialists ought to work not only for Socialism but also for the progress of capitalism at the expense of reactionary political and social forms. This involved Marx in supporting campaigns to establish political democracy or which he felt would have the effect of stabilizing or protecting it. So we find him supporting independence for Ireland in order to weaken the power of the English landed aristocracy, who were an obstacle to the development of political democracy in Britain, and Polish independence in order to set up a buffer state between Tsarist Russia and the rest of Europe so as to give political democracy a chance to develop there.

Marx in fact was very anti-Tsarist Russia, so much so that it led him to support the British-French side in the Crimean war (a clear error of judgement in our view) and to be lukewarm about Slav movements for independence from Austria or Turkey (which at least shows that Marx never supported independence movements because he believed in some mythical abstract “right to self-determination for small nations”). Marx supported the establishment of centralized States in Germany and Italy as he felt this would allow a more rapid capitalist development in these countries; and he supported the North in the American Civil War since he felt that a victory for the slave-owning South would slow down the development of capitalism in America.

These policies made certain sense at a time when capitalism had not yet fully created the material basis for Socialism as a means of hastening this. But once capitalism had done this, as it did within thirty years of Marx’s death, then they became, in accordance with Marx’s own theory, outdated and reactionary. The thirty years following Marx’s death saw the electrification of industry, the invention of the internal combustion engine, the coming of radio and other technological developments which clearly showed that the problem of production had been solved, that scarcity had finally been conquered and that mankind could at last begin to enjoy the benefits of the forced labour of past generations of toiling producers — provided they abolished capitalism and established Socialism. Then in 1914 came the aptly-named first world war which marked the emergence of capitalism as the unchallenged and predominating world system and ended in the break-up of the three reactionary Empires Marx had seen as threats to democratic and socialist advance in his time.

In these changed circumstances, an application of the Marxist method showed that Socialists need no longer help capitalism prepare the way for Socialism — it had now done this and so became a completely reactionary social system — but should rather concentrate exclusively on encouraging the growth of socialist consciousness and organization amongst the working class. This has been the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain since our formation in 1904 and why we have always refused to be sidetracked into advocating or supporting democratic or social reforms or movements to set up new States or to take sides in wars.

There is one other problem that concerned Marx which the further development of capitalism since his day has solved: the transition to Socialism. Living in the age he did when, as we saw, capitalism had not yet fully created the material basis for Socialism, Marx stated, when pressed on the question, that had the working class won political power at that time (which we can now see was most unlikely in view of its political immaturity, indeed in view of the fact that many of them still worked in petty industry) there would have had to be a longish period during which, first, control of the not yet fully socialized means of production would be centralized in the hands of society and then, this done, the means of production would be rapidly developed towards the stage at which they could provide plenty for all. In the meantime, even on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, consumption would have to be restricted (Marx mentioned labour-time vouchers as a possible way of doing this). Free access according to individual needs could not be implemented till the means of production had been further developed. Marx did not mention how long he felt this might take but, judging by the subsequent technological advance under capitalism it could have been up to thirty years.

Once again this perspective made some sense in Marx’s day, but not now. Today “transition periods”, “revolutionary dictatorships”, “labour-time vouchers”, “first phases of socialism” are irrelevant, nineteenth-century concepts. Full free access to goods and services can be introduced almost immediately after Socialism has been established, and Socialism can be established almost immediately after the socialist-minded working class wins political power. This is what Marxism implies today and why we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain feel fully justified in claiming to be the Marxists of the twentieth century .
Adam Buick

Middle East Diary (1956)

From the March 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tory Nationalisation

Nationalisation—that is the state control and regulation of industry on behalf of the Capitalist owners—has, as our pamphlet “Nationalisation Or Socialism” shows, been advocated or put into practice by most political parties. Of recent years, it has become the almost exclusive prerogative of Labour and Communist parties. (Since the recent election defeats, however, the British Labour Party have soft pedaled it, as it is not the vote-catcher it used to be, some workers presumably realising that nationalisation doesn’t solve their problems). So that when one hears of a Conservative Party putting forward such measures, one feels the wheel has swung full circle!

One of the most recent and rather curious examples to appear on the nationalisation scene, is the Israeli General Zionist (Conservative) Party. They want to nationalise the various Israeli water-schemes, the Health Service and the Labour Exchanges.

Strangely enough the Mapai (Labour) Party, who have been in power since 1948 are bitterly opposed. Through their domination of the Jewish Agency and the Histadrut (roughly analagous to the T.U.C. but also owning and controlling the major part of Israel’s industry) the Mapai control most of Israel’s economy and are extremely loth to give up their political plums!

The General Zionists, on the other hand, want nationalisation measures to break the Mapai Party’s hold on the state machine, all of which we can well understand, sectional struggles amongst the Capitalist class being a regular feature of Capitalism. The tragedy is that Israeli workers take sides in this struggle between these parties, (both of whom are only interested in perpetuating Capitalism) instead of organising for Socialism.

Two Classes in Israeli Society

In March of last year the Jewish Observer and Middle East Review (25.3.55) informed its readers that
   “Israel has become divided into two nations . . .  an upper crust and a lower layer. The privileged crust is composed of a variety of substantial and mixed elements who enjoy a privileged position in the country. They are made up by the plutocracy of some three hundred families, by the Government ‘aristocracy’ which includes a wide range of officialdom, the Histadrutocracy with its manifold operations, the business pressure groups entrenched in the upper reaches of the General Zionists, the old Kibbutzim, such workers' organisations as the Dan and Egged Bus Co-operatives, the upper reaches of such institutions as the Jewish Agency and of the main political parties—Mapai, the General Zionists . . . ”
   “The four per cent.: These are the people in the swim. They can get things—flats, cars, trips abroad, the comforts and conveniences of life, or the profits of business, or the positions of power, according to the category to which they belong. . . .
  “Newcomers since 1948 comprise 60 per cent. of the population and occupy one per cent. of all Government posts and virtually none in the high grades.’'
The article goes on to point out that the personal consumption budgets of the above mentioned 300 families is “around £50,000 per year per family at a time when the income of the highest official is less than a tenth of this amount.”

All of which was pointed out by the Socialist Party of Great Britain years ago and only goes to prove our contention, that national struggles—whether of the Zionist (Jewish Home) category or otherwise, are not in the interest of the working-class.

"Socialist” Egypt

On Monday, the 16th of January, Mr. Nasser, the Egyptian Premier, announced Egypt’s new constitution. The constitution, according to Nasser, provides for the establishment of a “Socialist democratic system of government," (Jewish Observer and Middle East Review, 20.1.56. All quotations in this article are from the above dated journal).

With this announcement we see yet another ruling group ushering in Capitalism under the name of Socialism.

The idea of introducing Socialism in Egypt is even more ludicrous than the idea was in Russia in 1917. For (apart from the fact that Socialism must be world-wide) Egypt, like Russia in 1917, is still largely feudal in character, with an agrarian economy—very little industry and an illiterate peasantry and a landowning class, but not the vast resources, mineral and other, that Russia had. This is certainly not the sort of soil in which one would expect to sow successfully the seeds of Socialism—let alone establish it.

Nasser and his Liberation Rally have their historical counterparts in Cromwell and the Roundheads, and of course the Moslem Brotherhood (which supports them) is not unlike the Puritanical sects that backed up Cromwell initially. In his speech. Nasser said that “Capitalism shall not be allowed to control the Government” but one can take that with a pinch of salt, for Nasser and his confederates, like Cromwell and his gang before them, arc acting as the handmaiden of Egyptian Capitalism.

The legislation (decreed by them) on land reform to limit the power of the Landlords; the dethroning of Farouk and declaration of Egypt as a Republic; have all been part of the process. The announcement of this constitution and the ideas contained within it are a continuation of that ineluctible process which is establishing Capitalism in Egypt. The constitution in line with Capitalist ideology declares the “sanctity of private property,” but “limits land ownership . . . ” “Private economic activity,” that is the right to rob (exploit) wage labour, “is free from state interference providing it does not prejudice public interests, endanger the people’s security or infringe upon their freedom and dignity.” All of which must give any Socialist a big laugh, for who can imagine a wage slavery-capital set-up where the wage slaves are free and dignified. Obviously it is a contradiction in terms; people who have to prostitute their mental and physical capabilities in order to get a wage or salary so that they can live, are not free, except to starve. They are dependent on the Capitalist, and those who are dependent in that sense are certainly not dignified.

The constitution apparently has many of the Labour, Communist, nostrums, such as equality of opportunity (whatever that may be), abolition of social distinctions and social justice, none of which mean anything to a worker under Capitalism. Also provided for are social insurance, public health services and free compulsory education, the last measure of course, being a truly Capitalist “must,” for how can one have an efficient Capitalist State without a literate working-class?
Jon Keys

The Pilgrims to Peking (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the nastiest aspects of the fake-socialist revolution perpetrated against the Russian workers and peasants was the slimy stream of western intellectuals who, in the '20s and ’30s, made their pilgrimages to Russia (almost always paid for, on VIP level of course, by the Bolshevik government out of the surplus-value wrung from the Russian masses who were literally starving in those days.) The pilgrims returned to the west to tell (and sell) their stories of Russian “socialism” from the comfort of their western-capitalist armchairs. Such execrable names as the Webbs (who wrote a great monstrous book in praise of Stalinism), Shaw and Kingsley Martin spring to mind, but there were innumerable others. They could have known all about the anti-Socialist tyranny of Lenin and Stalin (and Trotsky, of course, despite the latter-day idiots who call themselves Trotskyists) without leaving these shores. It was all in the Socialist Standard of those days (and quite often in the newspapers too).

The miracle did happen at least once, oddly enough, The French writer André Gide went to Moscow as a propagandist for their cause (he would not have been invited otherwise) and the eyes which he had kept closed in France refused to stay closed when he saw Stalinism at close quarters so he spilled the beans when he got back. The CP’s answer was to revile him as a homosexual. (Oddly enough, Hitler did the same trick when he murdered his henchmen Roehm, Heines and company. He said they were homosexuals — as though unaware of this when they were his faithful lieutenants. Just another instance of the close relationship between red-fascism and the other kind.)

In recent years, specially since the Khrushchev “secret speech” in ’56, the new generation of intellectuals have been busy writing books like Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror which have exposed the turpitude of the western fellow-travellers of those days. But does that mean that the present lot of academics and other politicians and scribblers have learnt the lesson of history? You must be joking Having learnt only that Moscow is no longer the Mecca for leftist hypocrites to visit, they have looked around to find “a substitute for a prostitute” as an old joke has it. There is the pudgy face of Mao Tse-tung beckoning benignly to them just as Uncle Joe did in days of yore. The East is Red, so is the carpet; the grub is better than the Chinese Take-away and you can come back from your free holiday and make your fame and fortune scribbling and gibbering about your first-hand knowledge of the Utopia which has replaced Russia. (Up to a decade ago, the word was “supplemented,” not “replaced”. But now the two “socialist” giants are calling each other fascists as loud as they can. And how right both are!)

If it were not that so many students and workers in the west fall for the lies about Socialism in China (as their fathers did about Russia), “hilarious” would really be the word for it. An article in the June Socialist Standard referred to the leftist intellectuals like Professor John Galbraith and Baroness Barbara Wootton, both of whom returned from VIP trips to China to sell confusion to the western press. The former said “it works for the Chinese”, thus using practically the same words as a previous generation Yankee intellectual, Lincoln Steffens, who came back from Moscow to pronounce: “I have seen the future and it works”. Presumably even Galbraith wouldn’t dare to say that it would work for the west where only a handful of half-baked students seem to respond to the call.

It is also worth noting that neither Galbraith nor Steffens before him ever dreamt of living in the paradises they described, but put 10,000 miles between themselves and Utopia. (Which recalls the case of that other modern scribbler Graham Greene who said he would rather live in Russia than America. And merrily carried on living in his fabulous villa. On the French Riviera!)

It was more than interesting to learn from that same Standard (our 70th Anniversary number) that this same Baroness Wootton, who says she agrees with Mao for not allowing trade unionism among his 700 million blue ants, debated against the SPGB. She was then a youngish economist and Labourite. Now she is an old Baroness and clearly more pseudo than ever. How sad that the comparatively free workers of the west should then and now permit this monstrous nonsense to be talked at them.

As the latest prime example of the genre a Labour MP, Joel Barnett (a year or so ago when he was in opposition; now he is in Wilson’s government) had the luck to get on one of the jaunts (which must be worth a few thousand quid in any language — quite apart from the fact that you can’t get into China without being approved by the red-fascists who rule the roost, the fact that there are about 700 million who can’t get out). Joel made sure that he copped for a spot of extra publicity which would be read by his friends and relations and constituents, not to speak of us. When the time came for him to be red-carpeted around the Great Wall of China, which is one of the highlights of all these picnics, Joel told them he insisted on seeing some genuine Chinese workers instead. This may not have been reported in the Peking Daily Liar but imagine what a sensational scoop it would make for the local rag in Rochdale or whenever. Our Labourite friend not only wanted to see real workers — he actually insisted on talking to them. What did he want to say? Nothing less than the 64-dollar question: “What do you really think about Mao Tse-tung?” Well, that’s what I read in the Guardian. But, I fancy, not quite. Because our Joel doesn’t speak much Chinese (seeing that most MP’s don’t speak English very well, this must not be regarded as surprising).

So what happened was that Joel popped it to the interpreter, who, as in Russia, is just another minion. Whether the minion really asked Joel’s question I can’t really say. Neither, of course, can Barnett. For all either of us knows, he may have merely mouthed the ancient Confucian proverb (before Confucius was arrested as an ally of Lin Piao): Ooh flung dung? Equally, we don’t know what the wage-slave replied. All we know is that the minion told our visitor that the reply was in the affirmative. Of course, Barnett was quite aware of the charade he was acting — at the expense of the Chinese working class and of the British working class too. What did he expect the worker to say under the noses of Mao’s very own thugs? And what could this poor devil have thought Barnett was? To a Chinese slave, a bespectacled accountant from Manchester would appear to be a different species. He might have been a Dalek from Outer Space. No matter, the purpose was served.

The Chinese workers are there for the purpose of producing all the wealth of the state-capitalist system so that the rulers can live high off the hog, as they do in Russia. And to provide good propaganda for the privileged trippers who are allowed to make the pilgrimage. The odd thing is that (as the writer happens to know), Barnett is by no means the most obnoxious type of politician. He may even think himself to be honest. But it comes to the same thing in the end. As long as the workers in England, China, Russia and the rest of the capitalist world, fail to grasp the true meaning of their class subjection and to realise that only a revolutionary change to Socialism (as distinct from the monstrosity that exists in China and Russia) will free them for a life worth living, then they will continue to be battened on by the jackals of capitalism.
L. E. Weidberg

Irish Partition Discussed (1970)

Party News from the February 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following a lecture on Ireland on 13th August, Westminster branch members discussed Partition with members of the Irish Communist Organisation, a Maoist group. The ICO argued that Irish workers should support the abolition of Partition (i.e. the incorporation of Northern Ireland into an all-Ireland Republic) as this would, they thought, remove the cause of the sectarian division of the working class of the Irish Nation. Party members replied that the Border was irrelevant from a working class point of view since its removal would not solve any working class problem: it would just be a change of masters for the workers of Northern Ireland just as independence for the 26 counties in 1922 was for the workers of the South. Socialists in Ireland should keep off the Anti-Partition bandwagon and campaign for Socialism. Members also challenged the ICO on their concept of “the Irish Nation”, saying that like all so-called nations this was a myth. The nation was a capitalist idea that originated with their rise to political power in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Propertied groups used a common history and culture as a device to get their workers first to help them to power and then to submit to their rule. Marx had long ago pointed out that the workers had no country. This was the socialist position.

Stalin's Successors & Censorship (1972)

From the November 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
  In this, our age of infamy, 
Man’s choice is but to be  
A tyrant, traitor, prisoner. 
No other choice has he.
Under the capitalist system we are not free from material want, and neither are we free from intellectual oppression and the blue pencil of censorship. “All over the world censorship is being employed as an instrument of government”, writes the editor of Index, a journal published by the Writers and Scholars International.

Index performs a useful rôle in exposing those who seek to burn and ban books or to purge and prohibit art. Its first issue indicates the universality of this mediaeval practice, as universal as the social system which leans on it so heavily. There are laws to prohibit publications “that threaten the national interest” (Antigua) and in Brazil “the discussion of ideas” may land you in jail. French journalists are given a police chaperon when covering demonstrations and Portuguese journalists have to be state-registered, like prostitutes. So much for parts of the “free world”. What of the rest of this planet? It is worth examining practices in the so-called “socialist countries”.

Russian censorship has been blatant and crushing in its effects, both cultural and political. It has enabled the so-called Communist Party and its collaborators to portray Russia as a Workers’ Paradise throughout the Thirties and the post war years and even, it must be said, right up to now. Long ago, Orwell attacked the Left on this point. The sin of the Left, he said, is that it wants to be anti-Fascist without being anti-totalitarian. This is still true: even now, the Left concentrates its attacks on Greece and Spain, Portugal and South Africa. Yet there is no form of atrocity practised by these governments which is not practised by the Russian State. Imprisonment of opponents, torture, deportation, forced labour, exile, racism—all these are common practices in Russia.

It is almost incredible that people still accept Soviet lies at their face value even now, even after Krushchev and “de-Stalinisation”. Evidently many left-wingers practise doublethink. They knew of Krushchev’s revelations about Stalinism made at the 20th and 22nd Congresses of the CPSU (1956 and 1961) but gradually, as “neo-Stalinism” took over in Russia, as Krushchev fell and was replaced by Brezhnev and Kosygin, they gladly accepted the comforting new dogma that those regrettable mistakes and massacres were all a weird consequence of the “cult of personality”, a relic of a bygone age.

Unfortunately for the Kremlin’s fan-club, there are many Russians who are not content with such facile explanations. They want to know who were the jailers, the prosecutors, the judges; like Yevtushenko they demand to know where these “heirs of Stalin” are now, and they want guaranteed protection from State terror. They publish underground journals such as the Chronicle of Current Affairs and circulate samizdat (do-it-yourself) copies of unpublished novels, poems, plays and essays. They have also formed a Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Union and have built an active alliance of writers, historians, musicians, film-makers, artists and scientists. Together they effectively expose and publicise the régime’s policy of terror and despotism.

Illusion of Freedom
It is doubtful if such a movement could have developed without the thaw. This term relates to the period of “de-Stalinisation” which started in 1956 and, in terms of cultural freedom, began to die in 1962.

But why did Stalin’s heirs find it necessary to "de-Stalinize” in the first place? Certainly not from feelings of benevolence or remorse! And equally certainly, not very willingly either—they knew they ran considerable risks in this policy.

When Stalin died in 1953 the economy was stagnating and the people were sullenly apathetic. Something was desperately needed to jog them into co-operation and increased efficiency. This applied especially to workers like engineers, managers, planners and bureaucrats, since their apathy or its reverse must have a considerable effect on the economy. Stalin’s old method had been the stick—fear of the camps and the KGB—but this had evidently lost its former effectiveness. So the new bosses decided to try the carrot. They promised material incentives—better living and working conditions—and at the same time they offered political reform—more personal freedom and security. Reassurance was needed that this was for keeps (Stalin had a bad record in such matters) and, as Abraham Rothberg comments wryly in his The Hours of Stalin: Dissidence in the Soviet Union 1953- 1970, “One startling and effective way of reassuring the people was to inform them of some of the truth about Stalin’s tyranny’’ (p. 5). Very reassuring indeed!

What About the Others?
The first startling revelations were made only to the Party and a few key people outside the Party. But in 1961 Krushchev washed the dirty linen publicly, to use his own expression. The shock produced by the 22nd Congress showed how little the general public in Russia had been told in the eight years since Stalin’s death. Significantly the crimes that Krushchev was exposing were “repressions against Party, government, economic, military and Komsomol personnel” (our emphasis) — not against Ivan Denisovich, proletarian, and the millions like him who perished without record in Stalin’s extermination machine. As Yesenin-Volpin said of Sinyavsky and Daniel: “They are lucky for their case has been taken up by the whole civilised world. There were so many others about whom the civilised world knew nothing—knew as little as people know of a rabbit eaten by the wolves in a forest” (quoted in Rothberg, p. 158).

The reforms were first conceived as an internal Party and top management concern, in the hope that these people would succeed in galvanising the economy. The connection with economic policy is underlined by the Twentieth Congress’s approval of the Sixth Five Year Plan and the announcement of the campaign to catch up America in the production of meat, milk and butter, which “would mean at least trebling Soviet output”.
Freezing Again
The thaw in cultural life resulted from the régime’s mobilisation of writers to illustrate the theme of “de- Stalinisation.” Many key works appeared, notably Dudintsev’s novel Not by Bread Alone, Ehrenburg’s novel The Thaw and his memoirs, Yevtushenko’s poems Babi Yar and Heirs of Stalin, Bondarev’s novel Silence, and, in November 1962, Solzhenitsyn’s prison-camp story, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This became a barometer registering official attitudes to “de-Stalinisation” and is now almost unobtainable in Russia. However at that time, backed as it was by Krushchev personally, it received accolades from most official publications.

Soon however the regime began to crack down. At the Manezh art gallery, Krushchev announced bluntly: “Gentlemen, we are declaring war on you!” Since then the Kremlin has tried persistently to close the slightly opened door. There have been trials of writers like Sinyavsky and Daniel, of historians like Amalrik and scientists like Medvedev. The penalties have been draconian, including hard labour in Arctic concentration camps, psychiatric prison and perpetual exile. And, just to make things quite clear to all concerned, in 1966 Brezhnev and Kosygin added to the Criminal Code two new articles to make spreading “slanderous inventions about the Soviet State and social system, and disturbance of public order punishable offences”—a portmanteau law which conflicts with Article 125 of the Soviet Constitution which theoretically guarantees “freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings” and “freedom of street processions and demonstrations”.

Question and Answer
Next year will be the twentieth since Stalin’s death and these questions are still debated in Russia.. Were the instruments of repression—the secret police, the camps, the bureaucracy—were they caused by the “cult of the individual” and, if so, why are they still operating nearly a generation after that cult officially ceased?

The régime’s answers are contradictory and muddled. For instance, in 1956 the Central Committee’s resolution On Overcoming the Cult of the Individual and Its Consequences (Soviet News Booklet No. 50) speaks again and again of the “grave consequences of the cult of the individual”, “the cult of the person of Stalin, with all the attendant adverse consequences” and “the negative consequences of the cult of the individual”. But it also significantly disputes this superficial view:
  To think that one personality, even such a great one as Stalin, could change our social and political system is to lapse into profound contradiction with the facts, with Marxism, with truth, is to lapse into idealism.
Precisely! Stalin alone was not the cause of the terror, any more than he was the ultimate cause of the leadership cult. The cult and the terror were both resultant from the “social and political system”—the state capitalism used to industrialise backward Russia. So that the Russian State of the twentieth century continues to repress the intelligentsia who have continued their traditional rôle—one of lament and protest, the mouthpiece of political and social debate under the new despotism just as they were under the old.
Charmian Skelton