Friday, November 30, 2018

50 Years Ago:The Decline of May Day (2001)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism pollutes almost every institution with which it comes into contact. Whether such institutions are absorbed from a previous social system or whether they grow from the foundations of the capitalist system itself, they are either moulded to suit the interests of the capitalist class or are deflected from their original purpose to meet the needs of capital. May Day is no exception.

. . . May Day today has little of its original character left. It is not taken seriously by many workers. Whereas it was once an opportunity for an outing with a definite purpose in view, it is now merely an opportunity for an outing, which few are prepared to take.

The national political parties that formed the Second International lined up with their respective capitalist gangs in the 1914-1918 war and urged their members at each others throats in a war they said would end war. No May Day demonstrations were held in this country during the war. The discontent amongst the workers following that war caused a brief revival of the May Day demonstrations spirit. On May 2nd, 1920 the Daily Herald estimated that “not less than 8,000,000 workers took a full day’s holiday” and the London demonstration was estimated at nearly one million. Similar demonstrations were held in Japan, China, India and other eastern and colonial countries where they had not been previously organised. 1926, the year of the General Strike in this country, was another year of large May Day demonstrations, but, apart from these occasional bursts of enthusiasm, May Day as a day of demonstration of working class solidarity has steadily declined. The labour and trade union leaders have assisted this decline and helped to ensure that May Day shall not embarrass the capitalist class by providing an opportunity for international working class activity. Because, if the workers can act in world wide co-operation on one day in the year, there is no reason to suppose that they will not do so on the other 364 days.

As class consciousness grows amongst the workers in all lands, co-operative action will be planned. It will not stop at the organisation of marches and demonstrations to the parks and squares of the great cities. It will be co-operation to speed the abolition of capitalism.

(From front-page article, Socialist Standard, May 1951)

Polyani (2016)

Book Review from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reconstructing Karl Polyani’. By Gareth Dale. Pluto Press. 2016.

Karl Polyani (1886-1964) is best known for his 1944 book The Great Transformation about the emergence of the market economy and market society in which, contrary to all previously existing societies, everything including land, labour and money has a price and is bought and sold. He demolished the arguments of his fellow Austro-Hungarians (he was from Hungary), Von Mises and Von Hayek, that an unregulated market economy was natural and the most rational economic system. He called it a ‘capitalist utopia’ and showed how the state had played an active role in promoting its coming into being.

Dale’s book will tell you all you want to know about him and his other ideas. Polyani was a Social Democrat who believed that political democracy opened up the possibility, even the inevitability, that popular pressure would transform into ‘socialism’ as a society in which state planning would subordinate the market (he did not envisage the abolition of the market).

Dale also records how in the 1930s he was a fellow traveller of the worst kind, justifying Stalin’s ‘terror trials’ believing the clearly fabricated ‘evidence’ presented by the prosecutors.

Despite this, The Great Transformation remains a classic criticism of laissez-faire capitalism.
Adam Buick

Cooking the Books: Jack London Was Wrong (2016)

Cover of the first edition
The Cooking the Books column from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The writer Jack London died a hundred years ago last month. He is more known for his adventure stories than for his economics but The Iron Heel published in 1907 has a chapter ‘The Mathematics of a Dream’ in which the hero, Ernest Everhard, sets out to ‘develop the inevitability of the breakdown of the capitalist system’ and ‘demonstrate mathematically why it must break down.’

Everhard summarises his argument:
‘We found that labour could buy back with its wages only so much of the product, and that capital did not consume all of the remainder of the product. We found that when labour had consumed to the full extent of its wages, and when capital had consumed all it wanted, there was still left an unconsumed surplus. We agreed that this surplus could only be disposed of abroad. We agreed, also, that the effect of unloading this surplus on another country would be to develop the resources of that country, and that in a short time that country would have an unconsumed surplus. We extended this process to all the countries on the planet, till every country was producing every year, and every day, an unconsumed surplus, which it could dispose of to no other country.’
When this point was reached, he argued, capitalism would break down. This was a popular view amongst members of the old Socialist Party of America (of which London was a member). They expected that in this event capitalism would be replaced by socialism. London’s fantasy was that it would be replaced for at least three hundred years, by ‘Oligarchy’ where all industry would be controlled by a single trust and its directors, who would use up the ‘unconsumed surplus’ by building magnificent cities for themselves and a labour aristocracy and by maintaining a large standing army, while suppressing all dissent and brutally oppressing the rest of the population under an ‘iron heel’.

It was a fantasy, though some people have seen it as an accurate prediction of fascism (in fact Russia under Stalin would be a better example). But what about the mathematical demonstration that capitalism will inevitably break down at some point?

It’s flawed. Everhard assumes that, under capitalism, all production is for personal consumption whereas in fact some is used to replace and expand productive capacity. Obviously the workers can’t buy back what they produce, otherwise there’d be no profits. He assumes that capitalists can only consume so much, which is true, but ignores the fact that they can use the ‘surplus’ that is left over after this to invest (buy raw materials, energy, new factories, etc). This in fact is the aim of production under capitalism – to accumulate profits as more capital. It is not to satisfy the consumption needs of the capitalists any more than of the workers.

Once this is taken into account, there is no built-in, permanent unsaleable surplus under capitalism. In theory, all that is produced can be bought, by the combined purchases of workers for their consumption, of capitalists for theirs and of capitalists for investment. In practice, however, this doesn’t happen all the time. If the profit prospects are not good enough, then capitalists will not collectively invest all the surplus and there will be a slump, as regularly happens under capitalism when overproduction in one key sector of the economy results in falling prices and so falling profits. This is why from time to time an unsaleable surplus does appear, but this is never permanent.

London was right on one point, though. If capitalism were to break down automatically then the outcome would not necessarily be socialism. That can only happen when a majority want socialism, understand its implications, and organise themselves democratically to bring it into being.

Red Round-Up (2013)

Picture via Libcom.
Pamphlet Review from the October 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spanish Anti-Fascist ‘Prisoners of War’ in Lancashire, 1944-1946. By Richard Cleminson, Northern Earth, 2012 (£2.50)

This short pamphlet, although primarily of local interest, is of considerable value in highlighting wider issues. After having escaped Franco’s victorious armies in 1939, most Spanish Republican fighters were interned in ‘democratic’ France, often in appalling conditions. After May 1940, those lucky enough not to be shot on site were ‘volunteered’ as slave labourers by the Nazis.

1944 was far from the liberation many had expected: Condemned as collaborators, many of the ‘Spanish Reds’ were again rounded up and imprisoned, this time by the Allies. By various convoluted routes, some 226 of these ‘POWs’ ended up in Hall o’ the Hill Camp near Chorley. The disrespect shown to the credentials of these honourable individuals is a clear indication that the Second World War was by no means a clear anti-fascist struggle.

Particularly interesting are the pictures, which were mostly taken by Marie-Louise Berneri, the famous anarchist, and the all-too-brief personal stories of the individuals involved. The message is somewhat undermined by the copious references, a result of the text being taken verbatim from an academic journal. The publishers would be well-advised to adapt any future texts, bearing in mind that literature intended for the general reader does not have to be as rigorously sourced as scholarly works.
Keith Scholey

Material World: Bolivia – Morales comes up against capitalism (2018)

The Material World Column from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many, the years following Evo Morales’s 2005 election in Bolivia were marked by jubilation and hope. For Bolivia’s indigenous people, support for Morales appeared to be paying off. The poverty rate dropped from 59.9 percent in 2006 to 36.4 percent. Access for indigenous communities to electricity, sewerage and water service all grew.

Morales presided over an economy that has grown by an annual average of 4.6 percent since he took office, more than twice the rate for all of Latin America. After nationalising the country’s natural gas reserves, he pursued market-friendly economic policies and invested export revenue in social programs that helped lift more than two million people.

Now Morales faces growing opposition from the diverse ethnicities that made him Bolivia’s first indigenous president. After clashes with native groups over development, and constitutional manoeuvres to stay in office, across Bolivia, indigenous people are increasingly turning against Evo.

‘His way of thinking and his actions aren’t indigenous,’ said Gualberto Cusi, a former judge and ethnic Aymara, an Andean tribe from which Morales himself also hails. ‘He always said he would consult the people,’ said Salles, the former Conamaq leader. ‘Now he doesn’t.’

Two major indigenous rights organisations, Cidob and The National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, left the Unity Pact. Government supporters began to stage what some described as coups within the organisations. Politics and loyalty to Morales began to matter more than the indigenous cause and pro-Morales activists said those organisations’ previous leaders were tools of American imperialism.

‘I have heard many debates in the UN where presidents condemn climate change but they never say – cowardly enough – what causes it. We say clearly that it is caused by capitalism,’ Morales declared in 2009.

Lake Poopó, once Bolivia’s second largest body of water covering 2,400 sq km, dried up completely by late 2015. The government blamed climate change exclusively for the lake’s disappearance, allowing it to avoid taking any responsibility for the lake’s drying and ignoring the effects of irrigation schemes and water taken for mining which Morales is reluctant to regulate.

Morales has accused developed countries of pushing ‘colonial environmentalism’ in Bolivia when NGOs criticise the construction of a highway through protected ecosystems. The 190-mile (300km) road would cut through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, known as Tipnis.

‘This is the beginning of the destruction of protected areas in Bolivia and indigenous peoples’ territory,’ Fernando Vargas, a Tipnis indigenous leader, explained, ‘Evo Morales is not a defender of Mother Earth, or indigenous peoples. He’s in favour of extractivism and capitalism.’

Opponents of the road say it will open up the park to mining and oil and gas exploration, as well as loggers.

Morales has also lost another pillar of his support. Historically the mining cooperatives have been allies of the President. With the global commodities downturn in prices such as in zinc, tin, silver and gold it has reduced the income of the miners and the miners want a larger share of the mining revenues. The pie is smaller for the cooperative miners’ returns. The pie is smaller for the state and its taxes. The cooperatives want the right to form partnerships with transnationals. As the Guardian put it (28 August 2016): ‘They want to be able to associate with private companies, which promise to put more cash in their pockets, but are currently prohibited from doing so.’

A cooperativista is willing to risk poor health and water pollution in the hopes of benefiting. With commodity prices well down the outlook is for fewer prospects for co-operatives to make a living — and thus more anger, discontent and unrest. An article in Dissident Voice reached the same conclusion as the World Socialist Movement:
‘…like many cooperatives in the US that arose out of the 1960s, they have turned into small businesses. Regardless of their initial intentions, cooperatives existing in a surrounding capitalist environment must compete in business practices or go under’ (our emphasis, LINK).
As we now see from the series of articles here on Latin America, capitalism is a global system and no matter how genuine politicians may be or how well-meaning their policies may be, capitalism has its own laws which must be eventually submitted to and which cannot be disregarded for very long. In Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia, each nation may have encountered issues unique to them but all three shared one common problem – capitalism dominated their economy. Declaring that your government is anti-capitalist does not make it so and they are most definitely not examples of socialism or even aspiring to be.

A Prophet Who Faded Out (1937)

From the December 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The passing of Ramsay MacDonald prompts comment on the career of one whose life reflected much of the history of the Labour movement in this country. That movement mirrored many of its weaknesses, its mistakes, in MacDonald.

MacDonald’s political career commenced in the Liberal Party. He later joined the I.L.P. and fought an election for them at Southampton, when he obtained a few hundred votes. He joined the I.L.P. because, as he stated in a letter to Keir Hardie, the Liberals would not adopt him as their candidate for Southampton.

In 1900 the Labour Representation Committee was formed; and MacDonald became its Secretary. It has been suggested that when the delegates at the first conference voted for him, they did so in error, confusing him with a J. MacDonald, who was a Northern trade union official. The aim of the L.R.C. was to promote Labour representation in Parliament, primarily to gain security for trade union funds after an adverse court decision in the Taff Vale case. The aim was not at first a new political party, nor of evolving a policy of opposition to the capitalist parties. Some of the delegates, in fact, that year, contested elections as Liberals. It was in 1906 that the Labour Party was formed out of the L.R.C. That year 29 Labour candidates were returned to the House of Commons. It thenceforth attempted to formulate its own policy. One of the 29 was MacDonald, who was elected for the double-barrelled constituency of Leicester, running in harness with a Liberal. MacDonald stated after the election that practically all those who voted for him voted also for the Liberal.

Circumstances favoured MacDonald. As Secretary of the L.R.C., and, after 1906, of the Labour Party, he was in a position to exert a powerful influence on the incipient Labour movement. His impressive appearance and powers of oratory served him as great personal assets, and, with the possible exception of the War period, he maintained his spell over the Labour Party until his break with them in 1931.

Unquestionably, the Labour Party was flattered by the man, as early literature shows. His writings and utterances were like papal encyclicals; they suggested, almost, the divine word from the sacred presence, an authority that should silence criticism, a withering, pitying disdain for unbelievers. Yet how superficial it all was! Underneath that appearance of brilliance there was no grip, no real understanding of the events of which he was the central figure.

Socialists Saw Through MacDonald
Socialists were never taken in by MacDonald. Those who were taken in were his reformist associates in the I.L.P. and the trade unions, who, like himself, were Liberals at heart and dependent on Liberal votes. It is now 32 years since MacDonald’s “Socialism and Society” was reviewed in the Socialist Standard (November, 1905). It was there pointed out that MacDonald utterly repudiated all the essentials of Socialism. He repudiated the class-struggle, devoted a quarter of the book to criticism of Marx and Engels, and claimed that “the ethics of Socialism are provided by Evangelicalism; its politics by Liberalism.”

His own boast was that he brought respectability to the Socialist movement. “Respectability,” yes; deference to the prejudices of the so-called middle-class; but not to the “Socialist” movement. Only to the I.L.P. and Labour Party.

Yet the leaders of the Labour Party and I.L.P., from Maxton to Attlee, who knew MacDonald’s writings as well as he did himself, say they only discovered that MacDonald was not a Socialist in 1931!

MacDonald made some harsh criticisms of Marx and offered an admiring Labour Party a system of his own for the improvement of society, but he never understood Marx as well as Marx understood the MacDonald type of politician. Our reviewer in November, 1905, quoted the following passage, written by Marx in the “Communist Manifesto,” years before MacDonald was born:–
  A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances, in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists; humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working-class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole and corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of Socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems.
MacDonald and the War
On the outbreak of war MacDonald acquired a reputation for being in opposition to it. All that he did, in fact, was to oppose the then Liberal Government’s foreign policy, which he claimed was responsible for the outbreak of war. This was soundly in line with the strategy of an opposition leader. But the capitalist government then was confronted with a critical situation. They wanted unconditional support for the War, not pious platitudes. Before MacDonald was able to recover from the infatuation of his own ponderous opposition speech he found himself branded as pacifist arid anti-war and an outcast from capitalist political and social circles. He was caught napping. It is difficult to draw any other interpretation from his speeches in the House of Commons at the outbreak of war in 1914. Still he sat the fence and managed to write ambiguous letters in favour of recruiting. Many times we drew attention to this. Indignant denials came from Labour quarters in the years after the War, when reaction to the carnage was on the upgrade and pacifist sentiment popular. MacDonald did not give unqualified opposition to the War on Socialist or any other grounds. He was, however, never the stamping jingo that many prominent Labourists were. He suffered the obloquy of political friends and foe alike.

Continuity in Foreign Affairs
There is no doubt that up to a point capitalist politicians feared him, not because of his “Socialism,” but because he might interfere with their long-established administration of capitalism. They were quickly to learn from nine short months’ office (1924) that they had nothing to fear. For years MacDonald had sedulously fostered the notion that he was an authority on foreign affairs and would introduce drastic changes in British foreign policy when he took office. In 1924 the opportunity came. Rumour had it that a certain Trade Union leader wanted to be Foreign Secretary. The Daily Herald, The New Leader and prominent “left-wingers” urged him to take the job himself. He did. Foreign office permanent officials were nervous. But let us quote from an article published in the Labour Monthly (January, 1925), written by an anonymous author, V.D.C., whom it was suspected was an old adviser and colleague of MacDonald’s:–
  He came to the Foreign Office, he saw, and was conquered. Those skilled dealers with men took his measure swiftly. They praised him to his face and paid seeming deference to his love of authority. Behind his back they smiled and wondered at the anxiety with which they had looked forward to his coming. “He is the easiest Foreign Secretary I have ever had to manage,” was the complacent summing-up of one of the most powerful of them. They flattered him, deluded him, despised him, and, finally, by a shrewd stroke which his foolish confidence in flatteries made easy, brought him crashing to his political ruin. That would have been a tragedy – but the fall of little men does not stir our tragic senses, which demand that our pity shall not be mingled with contempt.
  He has written his own epitaph in that amazing article in the Spectator in which he boasted naively how he – who had been sent to Downing Street to change the whole current of our Foreign Policy – had preserved its continuity.
Those nine months nearly eclipsed MacDonald. His stock sank, but, safe again as opposition leader, he recovered his prestige. The Labour Party could not take his measure as easily as these wily Foreign Office officials. In 1929 he was again the Premier.

From MacDonald to Morrison
In the 1929-31 Labour Government he started off amid the plaudits of his colleagues and followers. In 1931 he parted company with them and formed the National Government, the composition of which was predominantly Conservative. A few Labour M.P.s followed him. Many others would have done so but for the fact that he made it quite plain that he did not want them, and the fact that the T.U.C. had given out threatening hints to those that did. He sold the pass. Millions of Labour votes went over to the National Government. Each vote a measure of his worth to his new masters. How jubilant were the Conservatives. How bitter the Labourites. Even constituencies they had held since 1906 had deserted them. How they loathed him, how they sneered. Yet not one serious criticism could they make which did not at the same time mirror their own lack of Socialist principle and their intellectual poverty. He, the man they had made, the leader who was to lead the workers to “Socialism,” led them instead into the camp of the enemy. Had they the intelligence to understand, the experience would have destroyed the illusion of leadership for ever in the Labour Party.

Not a bit of it. The mugwumps are at it again. Mr. Hamilton Fyfe tells us that Mr. MacDonald was a leader of the “old school” and that “Mr. Morrison is the new type of leader, as MacDonald was the old.” Poor Herbert! Will he refuse to wear the Court dress and the cocked hat? Will he refuse to kiss the hands of kings and bow to the mighty? Will he, unlike MacDonald, whose chief sin was that he liked it, plead expediency and pretend that he does not approve really. And even if he does, will it make a great deal of difference? Is Herbert’s “Socialism” any different to that of MacDonald? MacDonald, in his book, “Socialism and Society,” said in 1905: “Public ownership, after all, is Socialism.” Morrison says the same. Another Labour leader of the “new school,” Mr. Arthur Greenwood, M.P., says: “Local government is, in essence, Socialism in action” (Manchester Guardian, November 15th, 1937). There is no real difference between the “new” and “old” schools. MacDonald incurred the hatred and displeasure of Labour leaders because he broke the rules of the Party game. He led his men into the enemy ranks. He tore down the discreet lace curtains that hid the petty reformist outlook, the jealousies, the limitations, the incompetence of these ambitious men in the Labour family who had deluded their sheep-like following (as they perhaps deluded themselves) that they were storming the citadel of capitalism’s rights and privileges. There is no difference. He led, now they lead. And if present international tendencies develop to that sharp point they will yet lead their followers into the bloody carnage of another war.

MacDonald’s life exemplified the immaturity of the working class in its painful march towards Socialism. As it grows stronger in understanding so it will move forward more independently, and the less opportunities will there be for men like Macdonald.
Harry Waite

Some aspects of Russia (1937)

Book Review from the December 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Russian Revolution took place in 1917, the Socialist Party of Great Britain pointed out that it would not result in Socialism, but in a development of capitalism. We laid great emphasis on the fact that Russia, being still very backward, was not ripe for Socialism. The population of Russia was composed chiefly of peasants. How could they, illiterate and individualistic in outlook, have any understanding of Socialism, or any desire for it?

Whilst we were urging these views, other parties, claiming to represent the working class, asserted that the Bolsheviks had discovered a short cut to Socialism. They ignored the lessons of history, which show that there are no short cuts, that society passes through various phases and that none of these phases can be “jumped” in the course of society’s evolution. They ignored the past failures of workers to establish Socialism by intelligent minorities. After claiming to be “Marxists”, they paid little real attention to the theories of Marx and Engels.

Alas, thanks to these parties (chiefly the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party) a legend was created, a legend that Russia was Socialist. It was a harmful legend, too, for many workers began to imagine that they could copy the Russians, and establish Socialism with-out first having a Socialist working class.

When the S.P.G.B. said that soon the opponents of Socialism would be pointing to Russia and telling the workers to see what evils Socialism (!) had brought, in order to make them hostile to it, the C.P. and the I.L.P. just smiled (to put it mildly) and told us to be patient. “Soon,” they said, “everything in the garden will be lovely."

Unfortunately for these optimists, every so often facts about Russia are published, which prove the S.P.G.B.’s case up to the hilt.

Recently the French writer, André Gide, has written a book, Retour de l’U.R.S.S (“Return from Russia,” by André Gide; pp. 152; 6 francs; published by Gallimard), after a visit to Russia. This book is the more significant because its author has, on several occasions in the past few years, announced his sympathy and admiration for Russia.

Now, however, Gide shows himself to be disappointed with the state of affairs there. This disappointment is largely due to his having been misled by Communists into believing that Russia is the fatherland of Socialism. Even after his visit, he writes: “The exploitation of a large number for the profit of a few no longer exists in Russia” (p.46). Thus he expected to find poverty abolished from the land and was shocked to find it so rampant (p.65). We told the Communists long ago that disillusionment would be the effect of their extravagant propaganda!

Gide observes that, even now, twenty years after the Revolution, the problem of production has not been solved, and he thinks that, for a long time to come, the supply of goods will not satisfy the demands (p.38). Hence the necessity imposed on the Russian State of paying attention to quantity at the expense of quality (p.39).

Social contrasts are easily seen in Russia, and Gide fears that these contrasts will grow more pronounced as time goes on, especially as these tendencies are encouraged by the State.

“I fear,” he writes on pp. 62-4, “that soon a new kind of ‘working-bourgeoisie,’ satisfied (and indeed even conservative), will be formed, too much like our own class of small capitalists. Everywhere I see symptoms of this.” And again: “I am greatly disturbed to see in the Russia of to-day these capitalistic instincts indirectly flattered and encouraged by recent laws.” (Gide refers to such laws as those authorising the possession of private property, legacies, etc.)

Gide gives us a picture of the social differences one sees next door to each other. He describes (p.60) the Hotel of Sinop, near Soukhoum, where everything is up-to-date. Each room has its bathroom attached, its own terrace and furniture of perfect taste. The food is supplied from an up-to-date farm, where one must sterilise one’s shoes before entering. Yet, separated by a stream from all this luxury, are houses where poorly paid workers live. Here four share one room less than nine feet by seven, and they are compelled, through poverty, to live on bread and dried fish.

In the Appendix (p.118) Gide gives us some idea of the vast differences in wages that prevail on the collective farms (Kolkhoses). Here he says: “These privileged persons can earn 600 roubles a month.” The “qualified” workmen receive very often much more. For the “non-qualified workers, who form the immense majority, the daily salary is from five to six roubles. The simple workman earns still less.”

Gide describes also the scorn or indifference that the relatively rich show towards their “inferiors”, and the servility of poor work-people towards their “superiors”. No equality here!

The ruling clique in Russia pursues a policy similar to that of all ruling classes. It tries to keep the poor quiet by persuading them that they are as happy as they can be till better times come, and that they are more happy than people in other countries (pp.50-2) “The citizen of Russia is extraordinarily ignorant of other countries. More than that, he has been made to believe that everything abroad goes on less well in every respect than in Russia. This illusion is skilfully upheld” (p.52).

All criticism in Russia is confined to deciding whether or not theories or things are orthodox. Anyone who expresses views differing from those held by officials is considered a Trotskyist. “To-day,” says Gide, “it is a spirit of submission, orthodoxy, that is demanded. All those who do not declare themselves satisfied are considered ‘Trotskyists’” (p.76). Woe betide those people who cannot hold their tongues, or who cannot always raise a cheer! “What is desired and what is demanded is applause for everything that is done in Russia . . . The least protest, the least criticism is punishable by the severest penalties” (p.67).

Other interesting things in this book could be dealt with (e.g., the “deification” of Stalin, the influence of the official newspapers on the minds of the people); but enough has been said to show that, for one admirer who went to see Russia, it is a capitalist state with wide contrasts in economic and social status, and that the ruling clique maintains its power by ruthless suppression of criticism.

With Gide, however, we agree that social contrasts in Russia will become more evident as time goes on. Then the masses will become impatient and criticism will spring up on every side. May this criticism be directed, not so much against persons, as against the exploiting nature of capitalism!
Clifford Allen

Greener Grass (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a very popular and common saying. I do not know its origin. What I do know is that it can only apply to yester-year, today and as long as you will let it. The saying is: “The grass always SEEMS greener on the other side.”

It implies that we must always be thankful for what we have. New ideas must be rejected, they may lead to worse troubles. Rubbish! The grass IS greener on the other side.

Applying the saying to today’s social system, capitalism, does not mean a thing because there is no such place as the other side. The vast majority of the population of the world are born wage-workers. Whichever way they turn it is the same old pastures — struggle and insecurity.

But taking it from the Socialist angle, of course there is another side. The other side is the abolition of capitalism and the founding of Socialist society — where the grass will be as green as the effort you put into its cultivation.

Freedom and abundance are not unobtainable. The fruits of life can be ours if we work for Socialism.
David Wright

Letters: " . . . they don’t need Socialism". (1974)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

. . . they don’t need Socialism.

I have read much of your literature and I’ve found it very interesting and I think you’ve got a good point to make. But I also think that most people in this country get along O.K. and they don’t need Socialism. The workers get very reasonable wages as far as I can see, and the unemployed can easily get a job. It’s no longer a situation as Robert Tressell described in his book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

I don’t reckon Socialism satisfies the people because most people don’t want to just live in a peaceful, brotherly way as they would in Socialist society, but people want to do something or be somebody. I argue with my mates at home and school and a lot of them say that “it’s all very good and peaceful but I’m quite happy how I am”. However, I reckon that one time when there is a terrible crisis or something people may rebel for Socialism but then they may easily follow the ideas of Mao, Trotsky, Lenin Che or some pseudo-Socialist, or somebody just wanting a state-capitalist society like China, but I don’t think that would last too long with an Imperialist place like the USA hanging around.

Anyway, could you please send me your ideas on this?
Geoff Goss

Are people contented today because they have a sufficiency? If they were there would be, as you say, no need for Socialism. But the evidence from everyday life, leaving aside industrial struggles, suggests nothing of the kind. Millions would not hang on the weekly football results and the premium-bond draws if they were so comfortably-off. The figure for nervous and mental illness has been for several years that one person in five undergoes treatment for those complaints at some time. That does not show a universal state of being O.K. and “happy as I am”.

As for workers getting “very reasonable wages” and the unemployed having no problem: where have you been? Of course there are differences in conditions between now and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, but the main reason for that book’s continued popularity among building workers particularly is that there are substantial similarities too.

Agreed that people want, as well as peace and security, to achieve things and be appreciated (“do something or be somebody”). We all do — and capitalism does not allow it to the great majority. The great mass leading humdrum disappointed lives all began, like your friends, with great hopes. The case for Socialism is about the fulfilment of human needs that the capitalist organization of society denies.

On your final point, people who do not understand Socialism may support any party or leader promising them a “different kind” of capitalism. That has happened many times (see the article on fascism in this issue). But you are wrong in assuming that the USA would be bound to come down on a state-capitalist regime which called itself Communist. What has Nixon been doing in Russia and China?

Women's Movements

It is seldom that the Socialist Standard gives cause for complaint on factual grounds, and also it seems rather churlish to quibble at anything in the lavish, and extremely interesting, 70th anniversary issue.

But in The First and Only Liberationists I read that “the idea that (women) might need a wider horizon than could be provided by a home and family had scarcely dawned”. And the writer also asks, “Who else (other than the founders of the Socialist Party) in 1904 was interested in the freedom of women?”

The answer is, women. The modern assumption that the women’s movement only started up recently is false. The evidence is that there have been women demanding “emancipation” or “equal rights”, as a sex, since the Eighteenth century. In America the First Woman’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls in 1848 and resolved “that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities”.

Other national conventions were held annually in America right through the nineteenth century and the Washington Convention in 1900 was dominated by the question of working class women and women’s position as wage-earners—“without political expression woman’s economic value is at the bottom of the scale . . . She must do better work than men for equal pay or equal work for less pay”. (Voices from Women’s Liberation) That such a situation still prevails today is proof of our Party’s contention that it is nothing to have a vote if you don’t use it properly.

If I can add something personal on this question, it is that as a women I am proud to be a member of this Party which has never treated me as a (mere) women, has never pigeon-holed me into some specifically “woman’s” work, but has always treated all members, white or black, male or female, as comrades in a common struggle.
C. Sultan 

Thanks for the compliments, which are among very many received, on the Anniversary Issue.

In the context of that article it was not possible to enlarge on the point but “scarcely dawned” was not meant to imply that no one had questioned the  rôle of women in society. Rather that this questioning was not widespread. It is of course true that some women, and a few men, had been actively involved in campaigns for women’s rights over many years. For example the first leaflet on female suffrage had been issued in 1847. The vote was originally seen as a way of obtaining “social justice”. To the sometime scorn of the modern women’s movement its attainment became an end in itself.

The question “who else” was, at that time, interested in women was about political parties. Here the position taken by the SPGB at its formation, in 1904, was unique.

Truth & Politics

Just to conclude the matter of the labour-time vouchers, I don’t see that Horatio’s remark in the May issue gets us any further. We are still stuck at the point that you can’t time a Shakespeare as you can a miner and you can’t get a Schubert to clock on when he jots down an inspired tune in the middle of the night. We must just leave it that now the Socialist position holds good — to each according to his need. Without measuring.

May I express a little surprise that in his otherwise most percipient article on Logic, Truth and Politics, R. Barltrop lapses into naivety when he says there are such things as honest politicians and he immediately proves the opposite by reference to some “thoroughly decent” C.P. leader — who nevertheless “told . . . whopping . . . lies”. But the example of another “honest liar”, Stafford Cripps, is even more odd. The suggestion that he really believed in ’49 that the pound would not be devalued when he swore this right until the day it happened is untenable. To say that the “government” did the devaluing is meaningless. As Chancellor, in this matter, for practical purposes he was the government and he lied because he had to (otherwise speculators would have reduced the pound to waste paper).

I am afraid your writer has rather misunderstood Churchill’s reference to Cripps (“There but for the grace of God goes God”). He did not mean that he thought Cripps was honest — merely a puritanical humbug. The proof is almost contained in the article which refers to the lies about the regime in Russia when Stalin became our glorious ally. Churchill needed as an ambassador someone who would be able to go there and see the atrocities which Stalin was committing against the Russian workers — and send enormous lies home which would be swallowed by the British workers. So the old cynic sent the most plausible leftist liar he could find. Cripps. I agree with Barltrop that the psalmist’s “All men are liars” is wrong. The correct position was stated by the late Crossman (who knew!) when he once wrote in The Guardianall politicians tell lies” (my emphasis). Lying is one of the evils of capitalism which Socialism will render unnecessary along with greed, envy, etc.
S. Gamzu

Other letters and replies held over to next month through pressure on space.

Logic, Truth and Politics (1974)

From the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socrates taught that all men desire the truth. If they do not, it is because they do not know the truth; once it is told to them, their eyes are opened and they will naturally pursue it.

The briefest look at history and current events makes plain that Socrates was wrong. In all kinds of situations men learn the truth and then act as if it were an unfounded rumour. Indeed, the simple dicta about truth are turned by everyday experience into untruths themselves: “honesty is the best policy” (well, IS it?) and “the unrighteous never prosper” (manifestly, they do). Three public figures have recently said this should not be so, and that truth should prevail in politics. Because most readers of their statements would agree, and at the same time not dream of acting accordingly, it is worth examining what they said to see where the fallacy is.

On 11th March The Times published an article by Enoch Powell on why he did not stand in the General Election. He wrote:
. . . the assumption so widely, even unquestioningly prevalent now, that any correspondence between the proclaimed intentions and policies of political parties and their actions in office cannot, and perhaps even should not, be expected, is certainly unhealthy; for if accepted, it reduces elections and Parliament to a charade.
Powell instanced his own Conservative Party in 1972 introducing a wage-control policy “which at the 1970 election it renounced and repudiated in the most thorough manner”, and pointed out that this required Conservative candidates to be liars:
What is more, it was universally expected (so far as I could tell) that come an election, the same member would find no problem in presenting himself to the electors as the official candidate of a party seeking support and approval for the actual policies he had consistently denounced.
It seems strange that Powell in the 1974 election supported Labour, whose policies he had “consistently denounced”; and who did exactly the same thing in reverse, introducing a wage-control policy in 1966 and then repudiating it. Powell’s support was given because of one over-riding reason, the belief that a Labour government would get Britain out of the Common Market. But this highlights the whole question of political practicality, and why leaders eat their words. Necessity drives. One of the most famous lies of modern times was put down to a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, in 1949 when he affirmed repeatedly that the government was not going to devalue the pound — right up to the moment when the government did so. The pious Cripps, of whom Churchill said “there but for the grace of God goes God”, simply did not believe it would be done and was left with the consequences of his own utterances.

Looking for an Honest Man
A different version of Powell’s plaint was given in an article on Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, by the Financial Times Ottawa correspondent on 4th January. Trudeau, it was said, had “undergone a change in his thinking about politics”:
He said that he used to think it would be sufficient to put ‘a reasonable proposition to a person for that person to look at it reasonably, without passion’. He had now learned that this is not true. Nine-tenths of politics . . . appeals to emotions rather than to reason. He said he was sorry about that, but had accepted it as a way of life.
The article also described how Trudeau’s minority Liberal government responded to policies which might have affronted their principles but were successful:
The Tories were astounded at how far Mr. Trudeau had gone . . . Some Liberals concede privately that the PM went further than they would have gone, but they are not complaining. They won the confidence vote . . .
The third condemnation was made by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in a statement to foreign journalists before he left Russia. Answering the question “How can your compatriots and youth show their support for you?” he said:
Everyone must decisively stop co-operating with the lie everywhere he sees it himself-: where they force him to speak, write, quote or sign, or even simply to vote or even to read.
  In our country the lie has become not just a moral category, but a pillar of the state.
  In breaking with the lie, we are performing a moral act, not a political one and not one that can be punished by criminal law — but an act that would immediately have an effect on our way of life.
(The Times, 22nd January)
The attack on Russian state-capitalist politics may be accurate, but the inference here and elsewhere in Solzhenitsyn’s speech that “truth” holds sway in western countries is very naive. Possibly the foreign journalists he addressed included some whose business in the last war was to show Russia as a land of freedom and warm hearts, Russia then being an ally against Germany. And there are those who think Solzhenitsyn (like Pasternak, who was awarded a Nobel Prize) is a not-much-more-than-mediocre novelist being declared a “great” one for propagandist purposes. What then of truth and lies?

It is easy to assume that irrationality and cynicism rule the world and this is what man is like. Further examples could fill many pages. The politicians who, on retirement, publish memoirs revealing “all” (yes, I knew MacDonald was a fraud — I was his right-hand man). The getting young men to die horribly for “peace and honour” when only trade and profits at at stake. The idiotic religious beliefs still clogging people’s minds (talking of truth, the Catholic Truth Society and the Protestant Truth Society spend most of their lives calling each other liars, and both do the same to other religious “truths”). The fact that most people want to hear not what is logical but what is gratifying.

Making Sense
But in fact it is rational. The talk about truth is equally misleading as the lies and distortions. It can be said that all truths are relative — this view is what separates the scientist from the religious philosopher who sees them as absolute and eternal. However, despite their lofty language it is the relative, practical view which Powell, Trudeau and Solzhenitsyn are expounding. They want "truths” which will lead, respectively, to the Conservative Party adopting different policies; to the Canadian Liberals getting firmer support; and to the overthrow of the regime in Russia. Their policies are going to be continued anyway, and it is justification on logical or moral grounds that is being sought.

What is pursued in a class-divided society is not truth or reason, but interests. If that is understood, the prevarications and sleights-of-hand are not unnecessary departures but rational actions towards certain ends. It is commonly — and mistakenly — believed that politicians know the truth about the economy and what is going on, and choose not to reveal it or use it to feather their own nests: most people will have read into Enoch Powell’s statement that we need honest men in Parliament.

That is altogether irrelevant. Some politicians are Horatio Bottomleys, but there is no substantial difference between their running of capitalism and that of others whose love of fair play is a byword. Of course there have been honest politicians. At least one leader of the Communist Party has had the reputation of being personally a thoroughly decent fellow — but he told the same whopping and self-contradictory lies as if he had been a rogue.

The contrary statement “all men are liars” is as meaningless as Socrates’ axiom that they seek the truth. Statements about the nature of “all men” — or individual “man” — see human beings stripped of their social conditioning and motivation. As Marx pointed out:
Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.
(Grundrisse, p. 265)
Within those relations the individuals rationally follow their interests as members of a particular class. It is Powell, Trudeau and Solzhenitsyn who depart from rationality in their statements by proposing that it can be otherwise. Powell’s article says he found that to ask for consistency and truthfulness was “supposed a subtle and tortuous machination for self-advancement”. No doubt it can be — but what is more to the point is that it machinates to conceal the class division and class interests in society.

As for Solzhenitsyn, the belief that people will adopt policies of non-cooperation against the Russian state in the cause of truth alone is pitiful. Undoubtedly working people do and will seek change in Russia — for almost any reason but that, and specifically to defend or further their material interests. It is always possible to imagine revolts there against poor living standards and lack of democratic expression, but not as “a moral act” against the iniquity of lying.

Capitalist society is corrupt from the viewpoint of its pretended morality, dressing up property-protecting laws as high ethics and at the same time making trust between man and man improbable. This is part of the degradation it imposes: what kind of world is it that calls its own going-to-work everyday activity “the RAT race”? We have the paradox of knowing it should not be thus but having like Trudeau to accept — and practise — it “as a way of life”.

The alternative is to establish Socialism. This can and will be done when the majority decide they have had enough of capitalism. The movement for Socialism does not commit the irrationality of seeking truth; what it represents instead is the material interest of the working class. However, it is a fact that the Socialist Party does not have to tell lies to exist, because its object is not domination of one section by another but the emancipation of all mankind. And in the same way, truth will be not debated under Socialism — but will characterize all relationships in society.
Robert Barltrop

Stimulating Party Conference (1974)

Party News from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Easter saw our 70th Annual Conference take place; and how different the Socialist Party’s conferences are from those of other organizations. There are no secret sessions, block votes, rigged decisions, or ovation-seeking speeches by leaders to servile followers. Our conferences consist of men and women deciding democratically on the Party’s work and policy. They are open to the public, and all members’ views count equally.

On Friday and Saturday there were lengthy discussions of the Socialist Standard. Resolutions were passed asking for more material about trade unions and reiterating members’ desire for lively cover designs. Proposals to increase the price were defeated, despite concern about the large annual deficit: our greatest need is to find ways of increasing the circulation. Pamphlet publications were discussed too— the Party wants priority given to re-issuing The Case for Socialism and The Socialist Party; its Principles and Policy

On Party organization, proposals for a change of name and to establish an “association” structure for individuals in countries without Socialist parties were lost. Another resolution, to have the possibility of regionalizing Central Branch examined, was carried. The Conference also heard reports from Branches on their activities and problems, in a variety extending from Edinburgh to South Wales — all reflecting the tireless enthusiasm of members everywhere.

Sunday featured a full discussion of electoral activity and plans for candidatures and propaganda work in future elections. Time was spent on a detailed report on the Women’s Liberation movement prepared by a committee which has been at work nearly a year, and the outcome was Conference passing overwhelmingly a resolution that membership of Women’s Lib is incompatible with membership of the Socialist Party. This was followed by debate on trade unions . . . and then we ran out of time.

There were many other questions between these major ones: whether members’ dues should go up, the need for more speakers and writers, leaflets, press correspondence. And some additional good things. On Friday the Conference was addressed by a Socialist from Rome who had come specially to be with us, and fraternal messages from our Companion Parties abroad were read. The same evening, a large audience gathered in Conway Hall for the lecture on “The Powers of Government”; a stream of questions, and immense interest generated. Saturday night, a cheery social at the Head Office.

As always, it was a good-humoured and fruitful Conference, full of ideas. Now the delegates have returned to their Branches to work on its decisions in the continuing struggle for Socialism.

70 Years of the S.P.G.B. and the Socialist Standard (1974)

Party News from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The General Strike of 1926 (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Death-Knell of the British Communist Party

Have you ever wondered, dear reader, why so many prominent trade-union leaders are ex-Communists? Lawrence Daly of the Miners, Scanlon of the Engineers, Frank Chapple of the Electricians, and others: all ex-Communists, one-time members of the CPGB — but now, having attained high union office, no longer so.

The explanation is quite easy, when you know the history of the Communist Party; not as written by its hired hacks, but its real history. It goes back to the very inception of the Communist Party in this country in 1920, when Lenin wrote a little book called Left-Wing Communism. Lenin, knowing the slender thread by which the Bolsheviks’ power hung, insisted that Communists everywhere should penetrate other organizations to remain existent in the face of persecution.

The most important organizations which the Communists had to infiltrate were the trade unions. There were no lengths to which they would not go to “remain in and influence the Trades Unions”. All methods, including if necessary “lies, trickery and deceit” (Lenin), had to be used for this.

Left-Wing Communism quoted a letter written by W. Gallacher from Scotland to Sylvia Pankhurst’s Workers' Dreadnought, stating that workers’ political parties were useless and that workshop Committees were the answer. Obviously Gallacher, working in Glasgow heavy engineering, was strongly influenced by American De-Leonist industrial-union propaganda (he had spent some time in the States) which was specially attractive in the conditions of the first World War. Lenin got Gallacher to Moscow (and Jack Tanner and Dick Beech — who, however, didn’t buy it) and made him promise to go back and help form a political party pledged to the Bolsheviks’ insurrectionary methods, to try to eventually seize power on the Russian model.

The inevitable side-effect of this policy is secret conspiracy (the so-called “illegal activities”) and the organization of undercover “fractions” to influence and, if possible, control neutral organizations. This the British CP immediately started to do; with, it must be admitted, considerable success. These activities were run by the so-called “Industrial Dept.” of Harry Pollitt and were his first major assignment in the Party.

At first the unions were a sitting duck for the treatment. It was too dead-easy. Notoriously, the vast majority of union members join to protect their jobs. In many trades, the union card is the job-ticket. Frequently, a union branch with several hundred members would attract (and still does) a small handful to its business meetings. Except those intent on office, or who liked the sound of their own voices, the membership was (and still is) dormant. It was partly for this very reason that Gallacher, Murphy and others were right in pointing out the superiority of workshop committees, where everybody was present and could discuss and vote on the spot.

Side by side with the organization of the CP “fraction” went the ostensible aim at the trade-union branch meetings. This was dead-easy too. All you had to do was move “militant” resolutions demanding action for more money, shorter hours, or easier conditions; or, more popularly, the replacement of notoriously corrupt officials (e.g. Jimmy Thomas) — and you had it made.

Part of this process was inevitably nomination of your “progressive”, “militant” type against the old “reactionary”, “indolent”, “corrupt” sitting tenant. Your Goodie against “their” Baddie! Obeying Lenin’s instructions lies, trickery and deceit were unscrupulously used (as in the notorious case of the ETU where Communists were caught red-handed destroying opponents’ ballot papers). The CP apparatus in the unions offered a ready-made band waggon for careerists and job-hunters — until the reaction set in, and anti-CP fractions ousted the CP’s own. Before this, a dozen or so resolute organized Commies could pass resolutions in the name of hundreds, even thousands.

In the early days the CP boasted that it had effective control of most of the influential District Committees in London, and the London Trades Council, besides the Glasgow Trades Council and many similar bodies up-country. And so, on the face of it, what could be simpler? The Party would control the unions; the unions would become more “militant” as the Party stepped up their demands; and eventually the “Dual Power” (on the model of the Petersburg and Moscow Soviets) would be established. After an intervening period of conveniently inept Labour (Kerensky-type) government, “all Power” would pass to the British Soviets — controlled, of course, by the CP. Like that — hey presto !

Then suddenly, History took a hand. The economic situation worsened, a slump occurred after the Labour Government of 1924, the Baldwin government had to subsidize coal production. By 1925 the employers were demanding wage reductions and longer hours for the miners. The trade-union movement tried to counter this by forming the “Industrial Alliance” of the biggest unions to support the miners. After a statement by the Government that it intended implementation of the terms of its Commission on the Mining Industry, the special meeting of TU Executives called for joint action in support of the miners on 3rd May, 1926. The General Strike was on.

This was the CP’s heaven-sent chance, its golden opportunity. As the official historian of the CP wrote, “they were now going to challenge the power of the political State machine.” The Theses of the Comintern “On the Lessons of the British General Strike” declared:
  The Councils of Action organized by the Trades Unions developed into district Soviets; its departments resembled the departments of the Petersburg Soviet in the period of the so-called “Dual Power”.
(History of the CPGB, J. Klugmann)
On 5th May 1926 the second issue of the Communists’ Workers’ Bulletin stated:
  According to the Government wireless a few soldiers at Aldershot refused to entrain for an industrial centre.. From another source we learn that it was nearly the whole battalion. It is reported that the Welsh Guards are confined to barracks for insubordination.
(J. Klugmann, ibid.)
Of all the self-deluding moonshine put out by the CP, this probably ranks among the biggest lumps of wish-thinking it ever achieved. There was not the slightest evidence for the statement that the troops supported the strikers. In fact, then as now, all the evidence sustains the opposite view — that in the event of a head-on clash between unions and the State, most people (the electorate) would support the government. But this would not worry the British (ersatz) Bolsheviki; for, to do it like the Russians, you did it with a minority anyway.

What actually happened? The 1926 General Strike was the death-knell of the CPGB. Its policy a ghastly failure, the miners driven back after six months’ self-starvation, it now denounced its erstwhile darlings the miners’ leaders A. J. Cook and co. (and Cook an ex-CPer !) as “traitors”. From 1926 on, its membership steadily declined. It has now officially adopted Parliamentary methods as “the way to Socialism in Britain” (no Soviets !) and become the target of the numerous Trotskyite split-away groups who, learning nothing from mistakes, denounce it as “reformist" which it always was anyway.

In his History of the CPGB J. Klugmann still flogs the ridiculous notion that the workers "learn more in a few hours” by striking than they do “in normal times” from Marxist theory. What they should have learnt from the General Strike was that it ended in disaster. The CP has paid the price of its stupid, mistaken ideas. Political strikes to oust governments are futile. If the strike is strong enough to win, it is unnecessary. The idea that working-class political power can be won or maintained without conscious political knowledge by an electoral majority is a costly fallacy.

What then remains of all the sound and fury of those hysterical halcyon yesteryears? Only Frank Chapple, Hugh Scanlon, Lawrence Daly and several Uncle Tom Cobleighs who, having been helped to their jobs by the CP “fractions”, promptly left the CP.

50 Years Ago: No Socialism in Russia (2006)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is very important to the Socialist Party of Great Britain that there should be no confusion about the state of affairs in Russia. The aim of the S.P.G.B. is to see Socialism established everywhere but our propaganda for Socialism is hampered by the belief, held by some people, that Socialism means the kind of social arrangements that existed in Russia under Stalin and exist still. There is no truth in this whatsoever. There is no Socialism (or Communism) in Russia, nor has there ever been.

What Russia has is a régime of dictatorship, administering what can best be described as a largely State Capitalist social system. The State apparatus is controlled by the Communist Party of Russia, the only political party that is allowed to exist in that country. Farcical so-called elections are held, but, as the workers of Russia are not allowed to form political parties of their own choice, only members of the Communist Party and those approved by them are permitted to stand at election and be elected. This is an issue by which to assess the recent talk of changed conditions in Russia. Stalin is dead and some of his actions have been repudiated but it is still the case that no political party is allowed to exist in Russia except the Communist Party. It was over 20 years ago that Stalin had to admit to some visiting Americans that in Russia “only one party, the party of the workers, the Communist Party, enjoys legality.” (“Interviews with Foreign Workers’ Delegates”. Published in Moscow 1934, p.13.)

The same idea had been pithily put still earlier by Bukharin, who declared that in Russia there is room for any number of political parties, as long as one is in power and the others in prison.

The British Communist Party has just reaffirmed its confidence in the Communist Party of Russia. Let it clearly be understood that this is a renewed declaration of support by the British Communist Party for a regime that suppresses all independent working class political activity. While this condition remains it is idle to pretend that the new rulers of Russia are showing evidence of a changeover from dictatorship to more democratic arrangements.

In asserting that there never has been Socialism in Russia the S.P.G.B. is not making a late discovery. Right from 1917 when the Communists were able to get power in Russia it has been emphasised by the S.P.G.B. that Socialism has not been established in that country.

(From editorial, Socialist Standard, May 1956)

Letters: Redirecting production to meeting needs (2006)

Letters to the Editors from the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Redirecting production to meeting needs

Dear Editors,

An important part of the Socialist Party’s case for socialism as a world wide system where production takes place on the basis of need and for social use with free access to goods and services, is that there is sufficient productive capacity to produce such an abundance of socially needed and useful goods and services so as to enable free access, thus eliminating scarcity and the need for money. At the present time there is self-evidently no such abundance in the actual production of socially needed and useful goods and services and it would appear on the surface that the gap between current reality and your aspiration is enormous.

I would be interested to know if there has been any work to try and prove that the required capacity to generate such abundance is in fact already in existence and that all that is required – as you imply – is that the existing means of production and distribution be simply redirected to socially useful ends, once a socialist majority takes power out of the hands of the capitalist class? It ought to be relatively  straightforward to – in albeit speculative and approximate terms – quantify the sort of total productive capacity, presumably in terms of required labour hours, required to generate an abundance of essential goods and services, to meet the basic needs of every human being in the world.

Then compare that with total productive capacity at the present time. Then show how much of existing productive capacity would be released upon the cessation of wasteful, non essential and dangerous activities e.g. military production, state bureaucracy, finance related activities, shoddy consumer goods etc and therefore potentially able to be redirected to socially useful and needed production. Then build in an assumption about much existing productive capacity could then be increased through the  employment of labour saving technologies and at the same time show how massive reductions in  working lives, working weeks and days – which must be one of the prime outcomes of the successful establishment of socialism and the true liberation of the working class – would be delivered, and still leave sufficient labour power to generate abundance.

To do this would be to surely produce an extremely decisive and compelling case for immediate social change, instead of having to rely on rather glib and optimistic assumptions, which to most people at the moment seem completely unreal.
Andrew Northall, 

It is true that the growth and expansion of capitalism has developed a structure of global production that could be a basis for a socialist system. However, this is very different to saying that it is currently adequate to provide for needs. The main reason is that under capitalism production is determined by market capacity for sales and taking the system as a whole, market capacity is always much less than would be required to satisfy needs. It follows that people in socialism would need to expand useful production and practicality means that it would take time. However, the freedoms that would be enjoyed which would make this straightforward.

The bringing in of new means of production would be free from the constraints of  capital investment; the abolition of the market would mean that it could no longer determine what could be produced; with voluntary cooperation replacing the wage-labour relationship communities would decide what should be done and would be free to organised their resources to achieve those aims.

This would be democratic control of the organisation of production directly for needs. Some work has been done on the question of how existing useful production should be increased to be able to meet needs. For example, it has been suggested that world food production would have to increased by at least 60 per cent to get to a position of sufficiency for everybody on the planet. In general this is a complex question; a growing socialist movement would no doubt develop its plans for what should be the  priorities action following the establishment of common ownership. What we can say is that a socialist system would release huge powers of production with perhaps the only constraint being that they would have to be used in ways that safeguard the environment
– Editors.

S is for Socialism

Dear Editors,

In an article in The Nation (17 April) entitled “The Left Needs More Socialism”, Ronald Aronson states clearly that it is time for the ‘left,’ ‘progressives’, etc to stop being afraid of using the ‘s’ word, recognise what they stand for and call a spade a spade. He doesn’t actually promote socialism per se but does promote what it stands for and says that progressives are failing to offer a real alternative (specifically in US politics but, by implication, in other parts of the world too). “… the real Marxism, although no longer embodied in movements or governments, has never been truer or more relevant.

Most of the world’s main problems today are inseparable from the dynamics of the capitalist system itself.” He stresses the inevitable dichotomies of the capitalist system and gives examples of socialism’s values “nourishing community life”, e.g. “The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism’s values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.” He states that “…social movements for environmental protection, women’s rights, racial equality sooner or later run up against institutional constraints imposed by capitalism.

Then they discover they can’t achieve their goals without becoming anti-capitalists” and goes on to suggest that as such individuals and groups “try to coalesce around increasingly global alternatives” they should not be timid in naming this ‘socialism’. I read the article with a growing feeling of warmth towards him for putting the case so convincingly to readers, most of whom will call themselves leftists, progressives, democrats or liberals, but most of whom, also, are wary of associating themselves with the ‘s’ word and need to be pushed out of their comfort zone. If they really do want a different world, a different way of living they first have to face up to the facts and see that a little reform here and there will not give them what they’re seeking, and complaining about ‘the others’ won’t do it either.
Janet Surman 

Cooking the Books: Was there an alternative? (2006)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mrs Thatcher always maintained there was no alternative to the policy her government was pursuing in the 1980s of putting promotion of profits before meeting people’s needs. When challenged about cutting benefits and social services, she replied: There Is No Alternative. When confronted with protests about closing factories and coalmines, her reply was the same: TINA.

 Socialists were inclined to agree. We knew that capitalism – the profit system – runs on profits and that all governments, taking on as they do the management of capitalism, sooner or later have to apply its priority of profits before people. The Thatcher government was merely doing this sooner rather than later and with undisguised glee. Not that capitalism can never offer reforms but, since the post-war boom came to an end in the early 70s, previous reforms had become too expensive and had to be cut back to ease the burden of taxation on profit-seeking business.

 Proof that there is no alternative under capitalism to putting profits first has been provided by the Blair government which took over in 1997. They have continued the same policy, even if they have been more mealy-mouthed about it, calling it “modernisation” and even “reform”.

 Now, in a bid to out-Blair Blair, the new Tory leader wants to kill off Tina. The Times (22 May) reported that “David Cameron will tell business leaders today that there is ‘more to life than money’ as he attempts to make a clean break with Thatcherism”.

 The pre-released text of his speech explained: “Wealth is about so much more than pounds or euros or dollars can ever measure. It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general well-being. Well-being can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It can’t be required by law or delivered by government.It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all the strength of our relationships.”

 Most people probably feel like this, but capitalism as an economic system cannot take into account “general wellbeing” precisely because this can’t be quantified in money terms. Capitalism is all about making and accumulating monetary profits and, in pursuit of this, not only ignores but actually degrades “the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and the strength of our relationships”.

 Cameron, naturally, disagrees. The next Tory government, he said, will embrace “capitalism with commitment”  (Times, 23 May), presumably to make it promote people’s general wellbeing. The trouble is that Cameron himself is a product of the degradation of “the quality of our culture”. He’s just an image designed and packaged by the same people who try to (mis)sell us washing powder, deodorants and private pensions, only with the aim changed to attracting votes rather than sales. To expect such a product to change capitalism’s priorities is just absurd.

 The next Tory government will be no different from the present Labour one. It will continue to promote the general commercialisation of life and the reduction of human values to monetary ones. People will continue to be reduced towards becoming isolated atoms competing against each otheron the market place, with the consequent weakening of “our relationships”.That’s the tendency under capitalism, which no government can reverse. There is no alternative. Or rather, there is, but not within the profit system.