Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"In the Twilight of Socialism" (1958)

Book Review from the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

"In the Twilight of Socialism" by Joseph Buttinger (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London.)

The Socialist Party has always maintained that the Labour and Social-Democratic parties were useless for the purpose of introducing Socialism. We saw that their reformist programmes would permit them to enact measures of reform and no more and that to enact their puny reforms these parties would be forced to cooperate openly with capitalist governments, or would have to form governments themselves. In either case they would be involved in the administration of the Capitalist system.

We saw further that the voters and members behind these parties lacked political knowledge and were befogged by pro-capitalist illusions, such as the necessity for Leaders, the impartiality of the State, the permanency of the Wages System, etc., in short, the boasted strength of these parties was but a sign of their fatal weakness. Since their massive support was fugitive in nature it could only be kept by pandering to the backwardness and the prejudices of the supporters; thus the progress in numbers was but the building up of political inertia. An inertia that could not be overcome by brilliant or forceful leadership, since the leaders that would be permitted to rise would be precisely those who most faithfully corresponded to the needs of these backward masses.

From the very foundation of our Party we were able to demonstrate that unenlightened, reform-seeking masses were unfitted for the Revolutionary Act and the years that have passed since then have piled up proofs of the accuracy of this Socialist analysis. Further proof of the soundness of our position is provided by Joseph Buttinger (alias Gustav Richter) in his Twilight of Socialism.

In this work, sub-titled, “A History of the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria,” we have an absorbing and highly detailed account of the Social Democracy of Austria, from the formation of the Dollfus Government in 1932 until the early post-war period. The bulk of this book deals, therefore, with the impact of Austrian and German Fascism on the Social Democrats and with the bodies they set up in exile and underground.

After 1918, we learn, the Austrian Social Democratic Party grew to be a “mass organisation of unique size and vigour,” so much so that when in March, 1924, the police announced the ban on Social Democratic bodies, they could list no less than fifteen hundred associations as falling under this ban. Here Buttinger, himself one of the two top leaders of the Social Democrats during their underground period, gives an account of the nebulous basis on which this giant party grew. “Its broad organisational structure had room for all trades and professions. It enabled all ages to organise their entertainment requirements, their educational plans, their purposes in life, their cultural desires, their hobbies, even their follies, and to fuse them ‘ideologically’ with the aims of the party, in serious or ridiculous fashion. Labourers and Bohemians, white-collar workers and moral reformers, winegrowers and teetotallers, soldiers and nurses, physicians and prison guards, lawyers and policemen, writers and innkeepers, newspapermen and rabbit-breeders, actors and generals, educators and acrobats, philosophers and football players, boy scouts and free thinkers, Catholics and nudists, economists and psychiatrists, pacifists and arms smugglers, stamp collectors and funeral orators were what they were, and they did what they did, not as such but ‘ ideologically ’—in the real or imagined behalf of the party and ‘ Socialism'.” (Page 21.)

When Dollfus moved against the Social Democrats and arrested their leaders (and here it was the possession of arms by the Social Democratic Defence League that provided him with the pretext for action), the impotence of masses who, lacking political understanding, had left their thinking to leaders, became at once obvious. Dealing with the leaderless, disorientated Social Democrats Buttinger says that, “All their lives, these people had experienced political events through their work for the party, had acted in line with party directives, and thought only in a fixed framework of party doctrines. Now was the moment when they most urgently needed the voice of party authority—and now, for the first time in their lives, it was mute. The members ran to their organisers, the minor officials to intermediate ones—who were helpless, for they, too, were given to functioning in line with revelations furnished for every event by the supreme authorities of the party, and now these revelations failed to arrive.” (Page 29.)

Buttinger sums up the pathetic plight of these people thus, “It was not the weakness of their social philosophy, but a lack of insight, determination and strength, to take responsibility . . .  that brought about the sudden helplessness of thousands. . . .” If by ‘social philosophy’ the author means those vague yearnings for a better form of life that are present in the 'Labour’ movements, and the criticisms in this book seem to confirm that this is his meaning, then we can agree with him, for 'insight, determination and the strength to take responsibility,’ are exactly the qualities that our class needs in order to emancipate itself, and it is only on the basis of Socialist Consciousness that such qualities can arise. Hence our insistence on the need for understanding.

This book is a moving and tragic history of workers so saturated with the ideas of the ruling class and so confused by the failures of their reformist movements, that instead of seeing that their destinies lay in their own hands, they approved of the very system that thwarted and warped their lives, even to the extent of surrendering what democratic institutions they had and embracing Fascism. It is a history of worker against worker, but because it is History, it is something we can draw strength from in the struggle to unite worker with worker. Properly used, the lessons drawn from this and other chapters of working class history, can help non-socialist workers to rid themselves of their induced servility, and their immature need for guidance from above.

The author himself has learnt and is still willing to learn, as he makes clear in his last pages. His final political position is not too clear cut, but then he admits that he is still trying to clarify his ideas. He declares that he still adheres to basic Socialist ideas, but rejects the view that the mass ’Labour’ movements are the guardians of these ideas, and for him, “Socialism is no longer advanced by the Socialist Party (of Austria).” On nationalisation his 'new spirit’ of enquiry, “no longer reliably told him whether nationalisation of key industries was necessarily already a step on the road to Socialism.” He is convinced, however, that “the policies of Leon Blum or Clement Attlee were wrong.” He confesses that he is, “unable to reach reliable conclusions about Soviet economy, the social structures of the new Russia,” what he does find, nevertheless, is that the Soviet system. “Retained the most objectional characteristics of the capitalist system.” He. is convinced. “That Soviet society was no Socialist society. Soviet Socialism, to him was no more genuine than the democracy claimed by Stalin’s regime.” The view that the Soviet dictatorship is the inevitable result of “ Marxist doctrines,” he finds contemptible.

Of the claims that the last war would bring freedom and justice to the world he has this to say, “At best a restoration of pre-Hitler conditions in parts of Europe could be expected, which meant the restoration of all the evil conditions and contradictions which made Hitler and the war possible.”

The book ends with Buttinger looking for a new way to Socialism, that is one distinct from the futile paths trodden by the Leninists and the Social-Democrats, but whether or not he will discover his 'new way’ to be in fact the old and only way as pioneered by our Companion Parties, one cannot be certain, but of one thing we can be very certain and that is that the lessons of this book will help others to find the will and the way to the Classless Society.
Melvin Harris

Class Interests, Not Morality, Determine Policies (1958)

From the September 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the Sunday Times on the 10th August Rebecca West wrote an article in a series “The Destiny of Man” that commenced with an article by Julian Huxley.

We are not here concerned with her contribution to the discussion apart from a particular paragraph in her article. After referring to certain statements of Ovid on morality and comparing them with statements by Julian Huxley, Rebecca West makes the following comment:
   “Sir Julian is perfectly right; this idea is bound to inspire men to mighty moral and intellectual efforts; and that is just what it has done, People throughout the centuries have gone on and on, lending an ear to the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount and the pagan moralists, building hospitals and homes for the old, treating children kindly and trying to establish justice, instead of taking the easy path and turning into handsome young bulls and going off after Europa.” (The last phrase is a reference to Ovid’s statement.)
Now let us take a glance at these “mighty moral and intellectual efforts.” But before doing so let us make it clear that we are concerned with what has in general happened, and not with the well-meaning efforts of a few people here and there who have been inspired with a desire to help humanity to better things.

In the early years of the present century Lloyd George, a British cabinet minister, admitted the shocking conditions of the aged poor in what he called the richest land under the sun. The origin of hospitals was largely due to the need to renovate soldiers wounded in battle so that they could rise and fight again. When Britain was undergoing the industrial revolution that made it the most powerful country of its time children of tender age were working long hours in factories that have been described as veritable hells. Every capitalist government, as well as those on the way to being such, have claimed, when embarked upon imperialist policies, that they were “trying to establish justice.” But what justice was meted out to the hundreds of thousands of Africans that were transported in coffin ships to America and elsewhere during last century for the profit of slave-owners and slave-traders? Where do the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount apply there?

Coming to more recent times we may ask what moral motives were behind the two wars that have devastated the world, or the Korean war, or the other instances of armed savagery that have devastated vast areas and brought misery to millions of the earth’s inhabitants..

On the same page of the Sunday Times the Prime Minister of Australia, R. G. Menzies, has a defence of the sending of British and United States forces into the Middle East. He uses the old threadbare argument that it was “purely defensive.” Every nation taking armed action makes the same claim. It is true they are defensive actions, but not in the sense that Mr. Menzies wants us to believe. They are actions for the purpose of defending the profit hunting of sections of the capitalist class.

The United Nations Charter was supposed to provide an assembly that would settle disagreements between nations and thus prevent the recourse to armed conflict. All disagreements were to be submitted to this body before action was taken. In fact the opposite has happened ever since the Assembly was founded.

Mr. Menzies, who claimed to be aiming at true national independence and ordered peace, makes the following statements in his article:
    “That Great Britain and the United States had a right, without any violation of the United Nations Charter, to send forces for purely defensive purposes into the Lebanon and Jordan is, I think, clear. The reasons for this view are essentially practical, and are affirmed by many actions already taken by leading members of the United Nations, without challenge in that body. . . . With the invitation or consent of the established Government of the receiving country, it is quite clear that the 'sending in’ of forces is completely legal and proper.”
That let's out Russia's action in Hungary and also shows what a complete fraud the United Nations Charter is. But it also shows up the hypocrisy of the propaganda by Western official spokesmen in favour of national groups oppressed by a tyrannous government. For instance it would be “completely legal and proper” for the Western powers to send armed forces into Russia at the request of the Russian Government to quell any rising against the Government of Russia! But of course Mr. Menzies would probably reply. “Ah. that’s different!”

The ex-president of the United States, Mr. H. S. Truman, also made a contribution supporting the armed intervention in the Middle East. In an article in the Daily Express, 21st July, 1958, he said:—
  “The President has made a momentous decision and proclaimed a policy which every citizen of the United States should support."
In his enthusiasm he goes further, stating that it ought to be made clear to Nasser and the Arab leaders that the Western nations were not going to be blackmailed because of their need for oil.
   “The fact is that the free world now has access to ample oil resources outside the Middle East, from which they can supply all their industrial, domestic, and strategic requirements.”
Behind this statement is the fact that America has a surplus of oil—but American capitalists are still determined to keep a firm grip on Middle East oil, and any other sources they can get their hands on.

He slipped up on one point, however. He says:—
   "Nor is there any hope of a better future for the Arabs if, on the pretence of freedom, so-called republics are set up by brutal military coups such as occurred in Iraq.”
Since he wrote that the Iraq republic has been recognised by the U.S., Britain, Italy, Japan, and others. With cold-blooded cynicism the British Government stated its recognition two days after the memorial service to King Feisal. The reason for the speed? According to the diplomatic correspondent of the Express (Daily Express, 2nd August, 1958) the reasons were as follows:—
   “The first is that Britain wants to give every chance to the new regime to prove its loyalty to 'international obligations,’ like oil agreements and membership of the Bagdad Pact. The second is that the Government is determined that Britain shall not be beaten by Germany—one of the first to recognise the new regime—Italy, Japan, and other countries in the trade race in Iraq."
There it is in a nutshell without any humbug. The kind of inspiration that is behind the policies of all capitalist nations. As another correspondent put it, even more bluntly, the matter of prime importance is “ to keep the oil flowing.”

Rebecca West’s moral uplift moves in curious ways. Another illustration of them is contained on the same page of the Sunday Times from which we have already quoted, but this time in its editorial column.

Commenting on the cruise of the “Nautilus” under the Polar ice, the editorial column has this observation:—
   “The strategic implications of the voyage are revolutionary and will fundamentally alter concepts of global warfare,"
Historically Rebecca West’s idea of moral uplift may be fantastic but there is a moral in all this; that as long as the actions of governments are determined by economic class interests there will be cynicism, brutality and war. The only way to remove these evils is to abolish the source of class interests—the private ownership of the means of living. Only the establishment of Socialism can do this—there is no other way.

WPA Strikes (1939)

From the December 1939 issue of The Western Socialist

Karl Marx, in his writings, predicted that some day the capitalists would have to take care of their slaves; that they would be forced to feed and otherwise keep alive an ever increasing army of unemployed workers. Modern capitalism has fulfilled this prediction with a vengeance.

In this era of chronic depression millions of workers are forced to remain idle. Their mental and physical energies cannot he utilized in a society based upon production for profit. These unemployed workers and their dependents must be either left to starve or be given a handout in the form of a dole or work relief. Handouts become the order of the day because the exploiting class cannot kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Furthermore, it is impossible to place these millions of workers in cold storage until they are again needed. The problem of what to do with these "useless” slaves would be rendered much simpler to the capitalist class if a few million were killed off in a war. (It must he remembered, however, that the capitalist nations do not wage wars with the object of getting rid of the unemployed.)

The following "solution" was actually proposed by John D. C. Weldon in the Magazine of Wall Street, Dec. 1935, who said. "Ten million potential workers and a total of possibly 30,000,000 people are outside the circle of work, production, and income. They are not only a burden — they are an economic loss — to speak with grim realism, the country would be relatively prosperous if they were annihilated.”

One of the mockeries of capitalism is that in the midst of this growing reserve army of unemployed, there exists a shortage of skilled workers. This is quite conspicuous in Great Britain and Germany. Only this month the N. Y. Times has been carrying British advertisements for skilled engineers. Thousands of industrial workers and farmers are being shipped into Germany. Even in the United States, there exists a shortage in many trades, notably airplanes. shipbuilding, and toolmaking.

Experience demonstrates that the old method of private charity can no longer cope with the conditions resulting from widespread unemployment, and thus the government is forced to administer relief. Though many capitalists oppose relief expenditures by the government as “wasteful extravagance” “harmful to business’, and that vague abstraction, “demoralizing the recipients”, unfolding events compel the capitalist class, through its executive committee, Congress, to hand out a dole. Buying off the discontent of hungry workers is more efficient than maintaining an enormous police force or employing other repressive apparatus to keep the workers in subjection. Disorders, riots, and possible insurrections of desperate workers are thereby averted.

Despite the realization by the property owners and their political representatives of the effective role that government-sponsored work relief and welfare play in the continuance of the status quo, their efforts are directed toward the reduction of the cost of relief. Economy measures are pushed in an effort to reduce the amount of dole paid welfare recipients and work relief employees, tending to bring the payments down to the bare subsistence level. Added to this is the old attempt to discourage the taking of welfare by placing a moral stigma thereon. The most recent application of this policy manifested itself in reduction of the rolls by quota cuts, extension of the work month to 130 hours, pay slashes and "30-day starvation furloughs.” These, together with the red tape, and the contemptuous attitude adopted toward welfare clients and WPA workers, are the typical methods employed to rid the relief rolls of idle workers. The result of these constant harrying attacks is to impair the precarious and already too low economic standing of the workers.

The tendency is to drive the standard of living towards and below the subsistence level. Yet, at the same time, for obvious reasons, they must see to it that this standard of living does not fall below the starvation level. There does arise, however, a point where the workers must and do resist. Through their limited WPA unions and unemployed organizations they attempt to withstand the pressure. This determination not to submit is inevitable and is the result of necessity and experience. Success can and has been obtained for the limited objective of resisting this pressure. Resistance has taken on various forms of activity including mass demonstrations, delegations, work stoppages, and strikes. In regard to the A. F. of L. strikes on the WPA in July 1939, there arises an interesting situation. The capitalist government ruling the U. S. A. refuses officially to recognize strikes on the part of WPA workers on the trumped-up grounds that "the people” can not strike against themselves. F. D. Roosevelt said, "You can’t strike against the government.” This statement becomes absurd in the face of the antagonism between workers and capitalists.

The real objection by capitalists to strikes of this kind is that they indicate a tendency that may develop into a threat to the capitalist state. This situation can be compared to the sit-down strikers disregard for private property. Though it is not a clearly formulated threat to the capitalist system, it does constitute a definite measure of loss of respect for the sanctity of the state. Confronted with these WPA strikes, the New Deal government loses some of its glamour and "benevolence.” The F. B. I. investigations, threats of arrest, removal from jobs, and the barring of home relief to WPA strikers betrays the real character of the New Deal. Whenever it becomes necessary, the capitalist state, as employer, confronting recalcitrant workers, is quick to strip off the velvet glove and wield its naked iron fist.

In view of this fact, it become apparent that victory for the working class depends upon control of that power, the state, which now strives to keep the workers in subjection and attempts to allay their discontent by offering them work relief and doles, which are. as other reforms, insufficient. The capture of “state power”, rather than the resisting of "state pressure”, must become the objective of the workers.

The concessions in the nature of reforms given to the workers under capitalism may temporarily alleviate hut will never eradicate the misery of the working class. The continuation of capitalism with or without relief will only serve to perpetuate the hardships and suffering of the workers, both employed and unemployed. Capitalism has to have relief in order to exist. Ridding society of capitalism with its inevitable unemployment is the only solution. It can be seen that no amount or variety of reform will ever be able to abolish the workers' discontent. On the day that this discontent becomes crystalized into socialist understanding, we will see the end of capitalism and all its evil effects.
Peter Martel