Monday, January 29, 2018

Letter: Human Nature or Human Behaviour? (2018)

Letter to the Editors from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dear Editors
I enjoy reading your magazine every month. It would seem wherever socialism is tried it ends up as state capitalism, probably because socialism is opposed to human nature. Humans are greedy by nature and are lovers of money.
I believe money [guilty] of 95 percent of the world's evils and problems and it will be money that eventually destroys the planet.
Like you I want a moneyless world based on the needs of all humanity and of course a peaceful world but again humans are aggressive by nature. How then do you change human nature?
D. Tandy, 
Sittingbourne, Kent

Socialism has never been tried. State capitalism was indeed the result of the revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and the rest but that's what the revolutionists set out to establish and succeeded, though unfortunately they called it 'socialism'.
There is no need to change 'human nature' – the gene-determined biological make-up of humans – as there is nothing in it that would prevent the establishment and operation of socialism
'Human nature' and human behaviour are two different things. What our biological human nature makes possible is for humans to engage in a wide range of behaviours. Basically, human behaviour in general is flexible and can and does adapt to the environment in which humans find themselves and/or are brought up in.
In conditions of material scarcity humans, to survive, need to acquire and secure what resources they can, even sometimes at the expense of others. Hence, in such circumstances, humans tend to behave in ways described as 'greedy', though for most of human existence most people have not been able to acquire much more than the bare necessities.
Capitalism is a system of artificial scarcity – the profit motive, or rather barrier, prevents the plenty for all that has been possible now for years from being produced – and so engenders behaviour that is 'greedy'. As capitalism is a society where people have to buy what they need this takes the form of trying to get more money. But this is more as security against them and their offspring falling into poverty than a desire to accumulate more and more wealth for its own sake.
In a socialist society, where everybody will have a right of access to what they need to live and enjoy life, people won't need to chase and accumulate money, if only because as you point out money will be redundant when there's common ownership and production directly for use. In such circumstances, although people will still be concerned with their own survival, they won't need to be 'greedy'. After all, what would be the point of stockpiling things at the place where you live when you will be able to get them when you need them from the nearest store?
'Aggression' is one of the behaviours that human biological make-up makes possible, but it is not in-born and, once again, is a behaviour which manifests itself only under certain circumstances. It is certainly not a feature of everyday life. This is not a violent struggle of everyone against everyone else. No society could survive on that basis.
Organised aggression takes place between societies, and in class-divided societies between states, and arises from struggles over resources. In past societies it was between tribes for hunting grounds or between herders and agriculturalists. In capitalism it is a struggle between capitalist states over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets which, when the vital interest of a state is at stake, leads to war. So far are humans from being aggressive by nature – natural killers of other humans – that states have to train people to be killers and engage in propaganda amongst the rest of their subjects to support wars and to regard those who do the actual killing as heroes.
In socialism there will be no competition over resources and so no drive that, when push comes to shove, leads to wars. The Earth's resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity, to be used for the benefit of all.
A copy of our booklet Are We Prisoners of our Genes?, which provides the scientific evidence for what we say, is in the post.  Anyone wanting a copy should send a cheque for £5 made out to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain” – Editors

Socialism and the Fascisti (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party accepts the view that it is necessary for the workers before they can begin to introduce Socialism to conquer the powers of Government in order that they may control the Governmental machinery, and through it the armed forces. The fulfilment of our programme requires that a majority of the workers shall understand and want Socialism. Given such a majority and its reflex in a majority of Socialist delegates on local councils and in the House of Commons, the workers will be in a position to impose their will on the present ruling class; an appeal to armed force from whom will be met by the military, acting under the instructions of the Socialist delegates.

This attitude is subjected to many criticisms, one of which is that the capture of the political machinery will not give the power we assert. Those who make this criticism argue that while political power is necessary it can be obtained only by the workers building up a rival organisation and with it overthrowing the capitalist State. They deny that the power of the capitalists rests on their control of Parliament, and point to the Fascist movement in Italy as proof that revolutionary Parliamentary action by the workers is futile. The workers must, they argue, organise armed resistance to the ruling class. They do not explain how the workers are going to obtain possession of the arms and organise in such strength as to offer serious opposition to- the Crown forces, and it seems fairly obvious that the capitalists will easily be able to prevent such organisation within the present system. When pressed on this point the exponents of violence look knowing, and make obscure references to the disastrous Irish insurrection now being crushed by the capitalist Free State Government.

Their chief argument is, however, the rise of the Italian Fascisti, who, they say, robbed the workers by armed intimidation of their constitutional gains. If it were shown to be possible that in an advanced and stable capitalist democracy the ruling class were able to throw aside the recognised forms of government, to ignore the institutions which they had proclaimed to be the basis of society, to rule by brute force and to survive, a condition of things would be created requiring the application of methods other than those we advocate. As regards Italy, however, it just doesn't happen to be true.

What these critics have overlooked is that the Fascist movement existed only by permission of the Italian Government, by the permission, that is, of the people who did control the political machinery and the armed forces.

Nor is there evidence that the Italian workers as a whole had ever reached the stage of desiring Socialism. They had, for instance, not returned a majority of Socialists to the Italian Parliament, nor had they captured more than a minority of the town and other councils.

What is always advanced as proof of their being revolutionary is their seizure of the factories during 1920. But according to the correspondent in Italy of the New York "Nation" (March 8th, 1922) this will bear no such interpretation. The "Nation" article (quoted by the "Western Clarion," Vancouver, May 1st, 1922) gives the following account of the event. The war gave rise in Italy to a new and powerful group of metal industries with banking connections, known as Peronne Brothers, the allied bank being the Banca Italiana Disconto. It was the Peronne factories, the "Ansaldo Iron and Steel Co.," which were occupied in 1920.

This group and its banking allies came into conflict with the older concerns, and at the end of the war, with its consequent slackening of demand for iron and steel for war purposes, the position of Peronne Bros. became acute. Naturally the employers sought to resist the wage demands of their workers, and for this purpose entered into alliance with their rivals. It was their betrayal by their rivals, the Banca Commerciale, which caused their defeat and subsequent bankruptcy.
  "The proletarian seizure of the factories was, in its political and juridical episodes a counterattack of 'safe and sane ' industry upon 'political and new' industry. The Steel operators (Peronnes) were tricked into resisting the demands of the workers on promise of support from all the other manufacturers ; who at once pacified their labourers with reasonable concessions, knowing well that the Steel industries would not be able to follow suit."
It is a noteworthy fact that the government of the day did not at once use troops to eject the workers. The "Nation" suggests that this was because Giolitti, the Premier, was in close friendship with the Banca Commerciale and wanted the factories occupied. It certainly is true that the movement came to nothing. If the responsibility for failure is laid on the shoulders of the men's leaders, this is only another way of saying that the men had no clear idea of their object nor how to attain it : they were, in fact, in a state of unrest, but were not consciously revolutionary, and were therefore not ready to undertake the task of overthrowing capitalism. They decided themselves by ballot vote to evacuate the factories.

As for the Fascisti, a member of the Communist Party of Italy, A. Bordiga. writing in the "Labour Monthly" (Feb. and March, 1923), gives an interesting account of their origin. In brief, he states that the end of the war found the Italian Government faced, like other governments, with the difficult problems of transition to peace. First, there was demobilisation and the absorption of ex-Service men into industry, and then there was the task of disillusioning those who really thought that the workers were going to share in the fruits of victory. To meet the peculiar conditions which arose from having to deal with masses of men who had been under arms for years and had been overwhelmed with flattery and promises, the Government deliberately encouraged the Fascist movement.

That they were able to do so was the result of the unfortunate fact that the Italian Capitalist Government still had the support of the majority of the Italian workers and peasants.
   "After the Nitti, Giolitti, and Bonomi Governments, we had the Facta Cabinet. This type of Government was intended to cover up the complete liberty of action of Fascism in its expansion over the whole country. During the strike in August, 1922, several conflicts took place between the workers and the Fascisti, who were openly aided by the Government. One can quote the example of Bari. During a whole week of fighting, the Fascisti in full force were unable to defeat the Bari workers, who had retired to the working class quarters of the city, and defended themselves by armed force. The Fascisti were forced to retreat, leaving several of their number on the field. But what did the Facta Government do? During the night they surrounded the old town with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of carabineers of the Royal Guard. In the harbour a torpedo boat trained its guns on the workers. Armoured cars and guns were brought up. The workers were taken by surprise during their sleep, the Proletarian leaders were arrested, and the Labour headquarters were occupied. This was the same throughout the country. Wherever Fascism had been beaten back by the workers the power of the State intervened ; workers who resisted were shot down : workers who were guilty of nothing but self-defence were arrested and sentenced ; while the magistrates systematically acquitted the Fascisti, who were generally known to have committed innumerable crimes. Thus the State was the main factor in the development of Fascism."
Further, while it is correct that the Fascisti were not in a majority in the Italian Parliament, they were compelled because of this to accept into their Cabinet representatives of such other parties as would give a combined majority, and Bordiga considers that it is only a matter of months before Mussolini takes Trade Union officials as well into his government.

The critics who argue from the experience of Italy that an armed minority can ignore parliamentary control are also invited to consider Bordiga's statement that :
"Fascism, after having temporarily adopted republicanism, finally rallied to the strictest monarchist loyalism ; and after having loudly and constantly cried out against parliamentary corruption, it has now completely accepted parliamentary procedure."
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: Are the Co-operators Socialist? (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many workers appear to believe that the Co-operative societies are a form of socialism, or at least a step towards the establishment of socialism.

The Co-ops buy and sell at a profit. Otherwise they would cease to exist. This profit is derived from the unpaid portion of the labour of some section of the workers. It is immaterial whether these workers are directly employed in production by the Co-op themselves or by the outside concerns which produce goods in which the Co-op deal. The fact that some of the profit is distributed in the form of ‘divi' among working-class consumers and members blinds the latter to the real position.

Any reduction in the cost of living brought about by wholesale buying, irrespective of whether it is done by Co-ops or other multiple shop concerns, simply enables the master-class to reduce wages accordingly. There is thus no advantage to be gained by the workers in the long run along these lines.

From an article by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard, August 1928.

Russia—dissent under dictatorship (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anatoly Shcharansky (sentenced to thirteen years for ‘spying’), Alexander Ginzburg and Viktoras Pektus (sentenced for anti-Soviet activities) have been interned—possibly to face an ordeal through which they will not live, certainly to conditions of the utmost hardship and cruelty. They have dared to criticise publicly the totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union. In mediaeval England, if a subject criticised or disobeyed the monarch, he was destined to incarceration or death; in Tsarist Russia the Siberian mines or the army was the fate of dissidents. As long as the State has supreme power—that is, control over the army and means of coercion, a monopoly over education, the press and ideology and, above all, the ownership and control of wealth production and distribution—the consequences for those who dissent from the ruling class ideology are bleak.

Shcharansky and Orlov (both sentenced to labour camps) were leaders of a group whose intention was to monitor the Soviet Union’s breaches of the Human Rights clauses in the Helsinki Final Act. The evidence gathered by this group has been of considerable interest to those trying to discover the extent of the tyranny of Russian State capitalism. But the quest for political liberty in a country dominated by a party dictatorship must not be seen as an end in itself. What Russian workers must fight for—as must their fellow workers of the world, be they living under dictatorships or in political democracies—is the genuine freedom which comes with Socialism. What the opponents of the Soviet regime must do is to couple their struggle for political liberties and free trade union organisation with a struggle for the establishment of Socialism. 

Shcharansky, Ginzburg, Pektus (only the most recent of a series of dissidents interned by the Soviet government) will probably suffer in vain. The working class, far from learning the lessons of their efforts, are being fooled on every side. Capitalism is a system of profound hypocrisy and this is no better exemplified than by the world reaction to the trials of the Russian dissidents. From every part of the capitalist world which is presently opposed to the Soviet Union we hear empty cries of outrage at the unfairness of the Russian judiciary. That arch-defender of liberty— especially the liberty of capitalists to make huge profits and workers to take less pay—Jim Callaghan, has spoken of the recent trials as reminiscent of the injustices of the Stalin period. In the days of Stalin Mr. Callaghan was singing the praises of the Soviet system:
  “The rewards given to ability in the USSR at all levels are far greater than those given to the employed in Capitalist Britain. I have seen it and it works”.
Reynolds News 17 March 1946
Under capitalism the State fears criticism; when a majority understands and wants Socialism they will turn criticism into action. Shcharansky and most of the Russian dissidents have so far attempted to criticise, but not to recognise the nature of Russian State capitalism and the need for a revolutionary party to win political liberties for the purpose of overthrowing the dictatorial rule of the Communist party and joining with their fellow workers to organise for Socialism. In this the Socialist Party of Great Britain will give them every possible encouragement.

One step forward, two steps back (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent years the Trades Unions have voluntarily subjected themselves to a policy of wage restraint at the request of the Labour Government. This year, however, the TUC has firmly rejected the government’s proposal of a 5 per cent “guideline” for 1979 which must have been welcomed by many trade unionists. 

It is worth considering exactly what the Labour Government has been trying to achieve with its income policies over the last few years. Is it really all a part of the so-called “battle” against inflation? We think not. Denis Healey has hinted at the real answer: 
  “What we are aiming for is something like the West German system, where Unions, Government and Employers agree each year on the increase in earnings compatible with the needs of the national economy” (Guardian July 22 1978).
What, you may ask, is in the interests of the “national economy”, or to be more accurate a capitalist economy? The answer to that is to have the lowest wage-bill possible.

Socialists have always stressed the need for workers to organize in Trades Unions in order to defend the levels of their wages and conditions (and wherever possible, to improve them). Therefore the decision not to go along with further government wage restraint which by definition can only prevent them from doing this work, can be seen as a step forward.

But it was patently obvious to all concerned that the announcement of this decision would cause acute embarrassment to the Labour Party, and so it was that the TUC also took its two steps backwards.

First of all they declared that the TUC would offer its election fighting services to the Labour Party in whatever way the executive wants to use them”. In the words of Moss Evans, General Secretary of the TGWU, “We will be working exceptionally hard to get the Labour Party re-elected” (Guardian July 31 1978).

Secondly, on the very same day of the TUC Press Conference which announced the decision to reject the pay policy, Callaghan and Murray appeared on a common platform to register their “highest common factor of agreement on social and economic policy” and begrudgingly admit that on a couple of points their views “may diverge rather than converge” (Guardian July 27 1978).

They had, in fact, summoned the press to launch a new document prepared by the TUC—Labour Party Liaison Committee entitled “Into the Eighties”, which was designed to bolster the image of cooperation between the Labour Party and the Unions. From the Socialist point of view it confirms that the Trade Union Movement is (sadly) still committed to support of the stale and useless reformist Labour Party policies.

The TUC argues that it must take an interest in the standard of living of its members which includes “. . . the food on the trade unionist’s table, the clothes on his back, the roof over his head . . .” (ABC of the TUC April 1977). This in itself is an essential attitude, but we must disagree that the Labour Party is the party best able to pursue the interests of the working class. An examination of “Into the Eighties” will demonstrate why.

The statement frequently speaks of “a speedy return to full employment”. We weren’t aware that it ever existed. It promises that the Labour Party will give “high priority” to housing, the health service, education, social services etc. etc. It promises a fairer distribution of wealth, lower prices, care for old age pensioners, the one-parent family, the disabled. In short just about every promise the Labour Party has made over its seventy odd years of existence. During that time it has formed a number of governments and yet we challenge you to name one social problem which has disappeared. There isn’t one. Why is this?

It is because the Labour Party is committed to the idea of running capitalism and believes that this can be done in the interests of the working class:
  We set out below ten points on which we are determined to make progress and we will have to agree on the rolling programme of priorities, having regard to the economic circumstances of the time (“Into the Eighties”, item 37, our emphasis).
  There is no reason why such a policy need be incompatible with proper levels of profitability in British industry. ("Into the Eighties”, item 38).
This is a thoroughly utopian and unrealistic policy. The first and only priority of a capitalist economy is to make a profit. Everything else, including the standard of living of the workers, is subjugated to this aim. We maintain the support of the Labour Party can never satisfy the interests of the working class.

We reiterate the need for workers to organise in trades unions in order to defend their wages and conditions, but at the same time point out that this activity in general can only be useful as a defensive mechanism against the harsh realities of living under capitalism. If living standards can be forced up when market conditions allow, they will just as surely be forced down in times of crises. The last few years has proved this. Trade Union activity can only fight the effects of capitalism, not the causes of those effects, it can retard a downward movement of the spiral, not change its direction.

So if the Labour Party is no answer, and Trades Unions only a defensive mechanism, what is the way forward for the working class? We can only repeat the advice of Karl Marx, who advised workers:
 They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto “A fair days wage for a fair days work!” they ought to inscribe on their banners the revolutionary watchword “Abolition of the wages system!” (Value, Price and Profit).
A resolution will appear on the agenda of the TUC Conference this month endorsing the statement “Into the Eighties". We hope that trade unionists will oppose it and consider instead the alternative of revolutionary socialism.
Ian Westgate

50 Years Ago: Scientists and society (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the socialist, the production of the means of living is a social process in which the professional scientist is but a unit. Whether he be engaged in the study of the stupendous by means of a telescope or of the infinitesimal by means of a microscope, he has to be fed, clothed and housed by the labour of others. Others have to delve and blast, to fuse, grind and polish, in order to provide the materials for his instruments. They have to assemble and adjust these instruments to his exact requirements. Others must collect rags and hew timber to provide paper that others, again, may print and bind in order that the accumulated knowledge of the ages may be stored in a form convenient for his reference.

At every turn he is dependent from first to last upon the active cooperation of millions of his fellow beings, not to speak of those with whom he comes in direct contact and with whom he must compare notes and check his findings.

Seeing, therefore, that the scientist is thus dependent upon society, his status in turn is determined by the particular form of the society which produces him. His means of living are the property of the capitalist class. They subsidise his university and endow his professorial chair; maintain his technical institute, found laboratories and colleges.

Is it any wonder, then, that they exact their pound of flesh; or, to be more precise, that, having provided him with the kingdoms of earth, they demand the surrender of his intellectual independence.

From an unsigned article, The Commercialization of Science, Socialist Standard, October 1928.

Reviewing the audience (1978)

A still from the 1978 NYT production of England My Own.
Theatre Review from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

When I went to see the National Youth Theatre’s production of Peter Terson’s England My Own I spent a good part of the evening watching the audience. The question that concerned me as a Socialist was, what is the play trying to say to the audience and how well does it succeed? Traditional theatre critics evaluate plays on the basis of supposedly aesthetic criteria : they are concerned with the play as such. The concern of this review is with the play as a medium of idea and image projection to the audience. Theatre always involves a separation between the image-projecting performers and the image-consuming audience. This relationship provides considerable power for those who own the means to produce plays for large audiences.

The main criticism of England My Own—and, indeed, of much of what describes itself as ‘political drama’—is that the images it throws out to the audience are all too readily and complacently lapped up, as if the audience has come for its periodic dose of liberal sentiments which it can absorb without having to think. Just as Crossroads panders to those who readily accept its image of society as being real, the National Youth Theatre are pandering to an audience of liberal trendies who know when to boo at the baddies and cheer on the goodies. Good pantomime it is, politically stimulating it isn’t.

England My Own is the story of how a youth, Adam Butler, is driven to join the National Front and is eventually killed while carrying a Union Jack through a West Indian carnival. The events leading to this fatal climax rely on stereotypes (often offensive) and situations which sound as if they were invented by a supporter of the National Front. So, we are shown Adam Butler being badly educated by a trendy teacher (while his Indian classmate who, like all caricatures of an Indian student, wants to become a shopkeeper, studies diligently), refused the position of Head Boy because the liberal headmaster believes that a black pupil should have the prestige, given an apprenticeship under a caricature of a bigoted and indolent cloth-capped worker, sent to borstal where he is disciplined to obey and finally, after his granny is molested by hooligans, is persuaded to join the National Front by a caricature of a repressed homosexual who dresses up in a Nazi uniform. Many of these scenes were amusing and the acting often perceptive, but the question still remains, why did the audience laugh? What’s funny about a racist carpenter who drinks tea all day? This is just another variation on the ‘all workers are lazy’ theme. Why laugh at the illiterate NF Northerner who was conned into the party? Behind this lies the assumption that politics isn’t for the working class. Why have the National Front organiser as a uniformed homosexual? This is only a step away from the logic which says that gays should be kept away from little children. Stereotypes lead the audience to accept certain images about capitalism—images which are just as pernicious as those which back up the National Front.

This is not to say that theatre cannot be used to challenge capitalist values. Political themes can sometimes be dealt with most perceptively in the dramatic form. But in England My Own the audience was simply shown what they expected to see and never anything likely to shake them from the complacent liberalism which is characteristic of the current ‘anti-fascist’ movement. Not once were they told that there will always be the threat of fascism as long as we have capitalism; that leaders are harmful whether they wear uniforms or not; that even if Adam Butler had not become a martyr to a futile cause, his endless problems would still prevail because he is a member of the working class.

England My Own was theatre for pleasure and workers are never going to reject capitalism while they are entertained by it. Consider the comments of Bertolt Brecht, written many years ago. but perhaps the best summary of the inadequacy of political drama today—and its possibilities:
  The dramatic theatre’s spectator says: Yes, I have felt that too— Just like me—It’s only natural—It’ll never change—The sufferings of this man appal me, because they are inescapable—That’s great art; it all seems the most obvious thing in the world—I weep when they weep, I laugh when they laugh.
 The epic theatre’s spectator says: I’d never have thought it — That’s not the way—That’s extraordinary, hardly believable—It’s got to stop— The sufferings of this man appal me, because they are unnecessary— That’s great art; nothing obvious in it—I laugh when they weep, I weep when they laugh.
(“Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction” in Brecht on Theatre, ed. John Willett, Methuen)
Steve Coleman