Letters to the Editor from the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Glaring Light
The coincidence of my handling a copy of New Statesman rummaging through as though the print actually suggested thoughts led me to the end rather suddenly. Your column had the effect of a sharp glaring light unsheathing suggestive substance. You’ve stated your goals clearly, I’m interested in your means to obtain this equalitarian world community. Principally if you view this action from a scientific basis or from a derivative nature espousing fragmented Marxist excerpts. If the latter don’t feel obliged to reply.
To establish socialism the working class must wrest control of the machinery of government and of the armed forces from the hands of the capitalist class and use them to convert the present class ownership of the means of production and distribution into common ownership by the whole of society. In other words it is necessary to take political action to establish a free society.
This conclusion is reached from an analysis of society which is scientific rather than Utopian, and is based on the pioneer work of Marx and Engels. We maintain, and can demonstrate, that Marx’s analysis of capitalism is still valid today, and applies to the West and to the State capitalist economies of Russia, China, Cuba etc. We also hold that his theory of history — the materialist conception of history — is the key to the way in which societies change. The different stages of social development are the result of classes in society pursuing their material interests. Socialism will be the outcome of this class struggle. It will be the outcome of the conscious political action of the vast majority of the working class — the last class in history to achieve its emancipation. It cannot be the work of "enlightened” élites or of a vanguard party of intellectuals.
We also hold, as did Marx and Engels, that Socialism means the abolition of the wages system and the institution of a classless, stateless, moneyless world community with common ownership and democratic control of the means of life with production for use not for sale.
Shut Up and Shut Out
At the meeting of the "Hackney Committee Against Racialism”, controlled by the IMG, I explained to the chairman that I wished to explain the Socialist case. Though I was invited, as my name is in the Hackney Council brochure, the chairman stated that I was not to speak. I did not quarrel at all but suggested a speaker from the Socialist Party. "Oh dear no, Tariq Ali is our man.” In brief, red fascists are no different from black fascists.
Recently a poster on the wall at the London School of Economics announced a meeting of IS. I knocked at the door and asked if it was all right to sit and listen. They knew I was a member of the Socialist Party. The answer was "No”. I suppose they’re a secret society.
Ourselves and the CP
I am writing to protest at your waste of good Socialist space in the S.S. I refer to your continual obsessive carping on the misguided thinking of the CP in comparison to yours. Surely, with all the futile waste, almost criminal of the capitalist system, this includes state capitalism masquerading as communism, you could leave the CP to its usual smearers in the Labour and Conservative parties. After all there must be something wrong with the CP to warrant this continuous smearing — apart from yours.
A member of the CP can never expect honours from the establishment while still an active member. In order to attain these he must leave and get control of a Union if possible, and duckshove his way to the top, to manipulate its business in capitalism’s favour. A case in point is the ETU where three communists with the help of the present Lord Feather secured controlling positions in that key Union. One became Sir Leslie Cannon — if that was any consolation to him. The establishment know how to reward working-class treachery in their favour.
We have never gone in for the “smearing” of other political parties. Our criticisms are always based on verifiable fact and never on smear, guilt by association or any of the other tactics employed by capitalist parties.
Our criticism of the so called “Communist" Party is quite different to those used by the Labour and Conservative Parties. We are unique in attacking the CP on the grounds that they are, whatever their proclamations may be, an anti-working class party. The CP advocates not Communism or Socialism (the terms are the same thing although the CP confuse the issue by differentiating them) but State Capitalism.
Nothing that the CP advocates can change the economic position of the working class. When they contest elections they do so on a reform platform talking nonsense such as “The British Road to Socialism” or more nationalization. The suggestion that they want a fundamental change in the basis of society can easily be refuted. For example John Mathews writing in their fortnightly review was full of “criticism” for Labour chancellor Denis Healey’s recent mini-budget because it failed to deal adequately with the problems facing British capitalism. Mathews suggested that Britain should go in for selective import controls, planned investment and that self contradiction in terms “planned trade”. And what did he have to say about capitalism?
There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the size of the [trade] deficit, and the interest charges to be paid on loans, but no solution — only appeals to make a "national effort”, etc. It needs to be said that the British economy is running down not because of shoddy workmanship, or absenteeism, or any of the pseudo-explanations advanced but because of the economic sabotage of the owners of capital. It is the management of the economy which is at fault, not the economy itself. (Comment August 10, 1974 — emphasis in the original.)
Our unmasking of these political frauds masquerading as revolutionaries is fully justified. The fact that some ex-CPers seek places of privilege and power in the capitalist establishment is not surprising but does not alter the case. Once in power Communists pursue anti-working-class policies. Ken Gill, newly elected to the TUC general council brags that “. . . this mighty Congress has committed itself to wage restraint . . . we hated restraint under Heath but we welcome it under Wilson” (Daily Telegraph 5 September 1974.)
Need we say more?
Russia and the Abyss
The otherwise excellent piece on Russian elections (August Socialist Standard page 133) concludes that 200 collective farm workers and 50 others automatically means 1,000 non-workers. But be careful! Russian classifications are abstruse and devious, many are classified as “Peasants”, several “Intellectuals” (Intelligents) even “Technicians”. I readily agree that it’s all baloney anyway, even a Peasant member of the Supreme Soviet is an “Apparatchik”. Perhaps it’s better to say this, or that we are well aware of Soviet nomenclature.
Secondly with reference to the series on the famous books. Good idea and sure to take. But can we be careful to point to the fallacy of facile comparisons between then and now otherwise we fall right into the Labour Party trap — “There you are how much better now . . .”
So long as we emphasise that in a 1970 world of electronics the “Abyss”, as it was, could no longer exist. Or as we say about The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, many similarities still exist.
The new high-rise flats are an abomination and disaster.
Joy in Living
Reading the SPGB pamphlet Art, Labour and Socialism persuades me that in his Joy in Labour theory, William Morris’s failure to pose and answer a simple but pertinent question restricted the development of his subject.
He has convinced us of the joy useful labour will give, but why? Surely the joy serves a biological end, and is nature’s reward for the fulfilment of that end. But the primary aim is the perpetuation and improvement of life, of which labour is but an ingredient. Our Joy-in-Labour concept could perhaps be logically amended to Joy in Living.
Denied its expression in wage-labour, the impulse finds a compensating gratification in spurious pleasure drawn from the vast arts, entertainment and sports industry. An industry quite distinct from productive processes, that surely provides overwhelming evidence of alienation. An industry much of which, possibly all eventually, a healthy Socialist society will make obsolete.
One quality this industry seeks to express is vitality: an interesting commentary on the condition of its audience. Much of literary and theatrical fiction is clearly vicarious living. A bogus satisfaction rewards the reader of the popular “Whodunit” in which is exploited a perversion of the evolutionary impulse — effort which should be directed to improving life involving the tackling of problems (“challenge”) is reduced to a trivial mental exercise.
F. C. West