Saturday, July 21, 2018

Revolutionists in London (1970)

Book Review from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Revolutionists in London: A Study of Five Unorthodox Socialists. By James W. Hulse. OUP 48s.

This book deals with five political rebels living in London in the second half of the 19th century: Stepniak the Russian Nihilist, Kropotkin the Anarcho-Communist, Bernstein the revisionist, Shaw the Fabian and Morris who came nearest of them to being a revolutionary socialist. Hulse is disappointed in the conventional histories of Socialism, Communism and Anarchism: “They are usually so technical, so preoccupied with institutional and doctrinal disputes.”

Yet we are not told how else the subject can be dealt with. After all people who set out to change the world (revolutionaries) arc bound to be concerned with questions of theory and organisation. As a result the book does not have anything to offer to anyone interested in the development of the theories of scientific socialism. Not that the subjects of Hulse’s study are likely to be much help. Although wary of theory contact with it cannot be avoided, as in this passage:
Morris found it necessary to make the break because Hyndman’s faction was too authoritarian, too wildly militant, and too opportunistic — in short, too Marxist.
A description no doubt that fits some of to-days would-be Marxists as well as the Social Democratic Federation from which Morris and his associates were breaking away to form the Socialist League.

Had Hulse gone into theoretical matters a little deeper he might have concluded, as we do, that Marxism is the opposite to what Hyndman and the SDF, made of it. It is concerned with basing its action on political principles deduced from a scientific study of society, organising democratically as a political party to win over majority support for Socialism. That has nothing to do with authoritarianism, wild militancy or opportunism.
Joe Carter

Political Notes: Any Advance? (1982)

The Political Notes column from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Any advance?
There are certain promises without which no political manifesto is complete. For example there is the housing problem: not so long ago there was a kind of auction going on between the Labour and Conservative parties, with each trying to outbid the other in the numbers of working class homes they were going to throw up 300,000; half a million . . . Where would it have ended?

Well of course for the working class there is still a problem of housing, but this now is to some extent overshadowed by another—the issue of unemployment. This is particularly susceptible to an auction, in which the promised figures are always falling.

The first bid comes from Peter Shore, who is likely to be Chancellor of the Exchequer if there is another Labour government in the near future. Shore has easily forgotten his time in the last Labour administration—how they were quite unable to control the economy and were reduced to watching helplessly while unemployment rose. “The task,” he now says with the confidence of a born auctioneer, “. . . is to cut unemployment to below the million mark . . .  we shall need over the lifetime of the next five-year Parliament to create at least 2½ million jobs.”

Next to raise a finger is Roy Jenkins who, by the time these notes appear, will know what the voters of Hillhead think of his bid. In fact it is a pretty cautious one; Jenkins promises to create only 600,000 jobs and to cut unemployment by only one million, although this within two years. Perhaps Jenkins is cautious because he is still smarting over the memory of his own failure to control unemployment when he was Labour’s Chancellor.

There is no reason to believe that this auction has any sounder basis that that over housing. If it were that easy to abolish unemployment, of course Shore and Jenkins would have seen to it when they were in office. They were unable to do so because the economy of capitalism can’t be controlled: its problems can't be abolished or even, very often, moderated. It is not possible to “create” jobs, to conjure away unemployment.

The vital question is, how long will the working class encourage the auction to continue?

Whom did Butler serve?
When the Tories twice turned down the chance of making R. A. Butler their leader—and so Prime Minister—it seems we had a narrow escape from being governed by one of the greatest men in the entire history of the human race.

Just look at some of the tributes paid to Butler, when he died last month.
". . . great intellectual qualities . .  .” (Lord Home)
“. . . one of the finest politicians of his generation.’’ (Ted Heath)
". . . one of the outstanding minds in politics in this century." (Enoch Powell)
“. . . always had it in him to be Prime Minister. . ." (Harold Wilson)
Butler will be remembered for his work on the 1944 Education Act, which the working class were very grateful for because it contrived a more efficient way of schooling them for their life of wage slavery.

Another of his notable achievements was to regroup the Conservative Party after their crushing defeat in 1945, to push through a reassessment of their programmes and to recast their image. In some ways this was a curious business; workers strolling out of a Saturday evening were often startled to find one of these new look Tories speaking up for capitalism on a platform at a street corner. Some things, they might have reflected, can be taken too far.

But Butler’s schemes worked and when the Tories came back to power in 1951 it was to be for a very long time. It was then that Butler illustrated so well the basic affinity between the two big parties of capitalism. His policies as Chancellor were so alike those of his Labour predecessor, Hugh Gaitskell, that The Economist coined a new word for them—Butskellism.

Butler’s place in the history of politics will be that of a man who worked with surpassing skill and devious imagination to persuade the workers that capitalism does not have to be the degrading, insecure, murderous society that it is. He stood to gain much by this, as he was himself a very rich member of the ruling class.

No worker should mourn his end; their task is urgently to organise the death of the society of class privilege which Butler so slyly represented.

Golden anniversary
In the days when Macmillan’s wind of change was sweeping across Africa, the new state of Ghana was widely admired as the finest example of the alleged benefits of alleged freedom from colonial rule.

Ghana, which had been called the Gold Coast, had a lot going for it; apart from anything else there were rich natural resources in gold, bauxite, timber and cocoa. It was ruled by Kwame Nkrumah, the supposedly incorruptible hero of supposed freedom fighters everywhere.

And then things began to go wrong. Nkrumah’s life style was anything but that of a humble voice of the world’s oppressed peoples. He lived, remotely, in a castle which stood as a derided symbol of the deposed colonial power. Symbolically too, one of his ministers raised a storm by buying himself a massive gold-plated bed.

It was not long before Nkrumah’s personality cult developed into a dictatorship, corrupt and—as many dictatorships are—ramshackle. Prestige projects collapsed into disarray; factories stuttered along on a trickle of raw materials. Food and other essentials were in desperately short supply. Ghana was in chaos.

In 1966 a military coup overthrew Nkrumah but this did nothing to lessen the corruption until, 13 years and several other coups later, there was touch of farce—a coup led, not by a general but by a lowly Flight Lieutenant with the demotic name of Jerry Rawlings.

Last month Ghana celebrated—if that is the word—25 years of independence (again, if that is the word). As an embryo capitalist state it is bankrupt and exhausted. Rawlings has a classical remedy; only “hard work” (by which he means more intensive exploitation of the Ghanaian workers) can save the country (by which he means the ruling class there).

It has been a quarter century of corruption, terror and confusion an object lesson to those who mistakenly believe that there is anything for a country’s people to gain from changing one set of oppressive exploiters for another.

The "Hungry Forties" and Now. (1912)

From the June 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

Liberals, when discussing the present condition of the working class, or upholding their social reform legislation, are very prone to point to the “hungry forties,” and the condition of the working class under Protection.

While admitting the badness of the condition at that period, we might also ask ourselves: “Are we so much improved since then ?”

The so-called saviours of the working class— the Liberals to wit— have held the reins of Government for the major portion of the last sixty years, and the Conservatives have been in power for the remainder of the period. Starvation and misery were rife in the forties, no doubt, but are they appreciably less in evidence to-day?

Do not forget that wealth is produced twenty times as fast as it was in 1840, owing to the development of machinery. Yet where do the workers stand?

Let us take a few statements from capitalist economists and statesmen.

Mr. Chas. Booth “There are 32 per cent. of the population of London living on 6d. per day.” 

Mr. Seebohm Rowntree:—“8.5 per cent, of the families of York have incomes of less than 21s. per week ; average family, six persons.”

Mr. D. Lloyd George, M.P.:—“ You have got, side by side with most extravagant wealth, multitudes of people who cannot consider even a bare subsistence as assured to them. What do I mean by a bare subsistence? I don’t mean luxuries. I exclude even comforts. I mean that minimum of food, raiment, shelter, and practically the care which is essential to keep human life in its tenement of clay. The wolves of hunger prowl constantly round millions of doors in the land.”

Mr. C. F„ Masterman “What was the use of building cathedrals and great central halls of worship when under their very shadow life was being upreared under conditions more intolerable than the world had ever seen.”

Mr. L. G. Chiozza Money .—“I do not think it is generally realised that during the last 15 years the wages of the British workman have fallen. The Board of Trade knows nothing of a certain class of boot workers who earn twelve shillings in a seventy hour week.”

30,000,000 people of the United Kingdom own no land.

Seven London landlords draw £14,640,000 per annum in ground rent.

Can anything be worse than this? Are Free Trade and Protection worth talking about? Is not there some deeper cause of the workers’ poverty? Is it not time that the working class awoke to the fact ?

Our duty is plain. Why are we poor? Because we are robbed by the capitalist—whether by a rack-renting landlord or a sweating company. We are robbed of a large portion of the wealth we produce.

Britain, with all its vast resources, belongs to a few people. These few own our jobs; owning these they own our lives.

We, the workers, provide the finest of clothes and wear the shoddy. We build the palaces and live in the slum. How long will we stand this producing for profit instead of for use? A baker does not produce bread to feed people— be produces it for profit. Profit is his incentive, not use.

The working man or woman who depends from week to week upon wages is face to face with hunger and misery as soon as employment ceases. Why should there be starving people in a land of plenty?

When our masters talk upon wages or work they speak not as Liberals or Tories, but as exploiters. The workers send the masters or their representatives to Parliament, where they control the armed forces which shoot you down when on strike for better conditions. Remember what Liberals and Tories have done at Peterloo, Belfast, Featherstone, Llanelly, Liverpool, and Mitchelstown. Give up your blind faith in the Liberal and the Tory; use your political power for the benefit of your wives and your children, yourselves and your class. Study Socialism and find out what it is, not from your masters’ hirelings, but from the Socialists.
J. Cushing

Marx and Darwin (1983)

From the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two figures dominated the nineteenth century — Charles Darwin, the Englishman, and Karl Marx, the German. Both men achieved fame through the written word, although neither was a great public figure or great orator. They never addressed large public gatherings, except once when Marx spoke to the Congress of the International Working Men's Association at The Hague. Darwin would have been horrified at the very thought.

Marx and Darwin were the original “back-room boys", interested only in science and books. In The Origin of Species, Darwin disposed of all religion; in Das Kapital, Marx put paid to capitalism. These two books circulate today in more editions and more languages than ever before. Marx was the seer of the future whose writings explain the rise, evolution and destiny of human society; Darwin was the discoverer of Evolution — the process of tiny variations resulting in basic changes and new species. Revolution and Evolution are complementary, resulting in scientific socialism.

Both thinkers were the products of their own peculiar and very diverse social backgrounds. Darwin came from a prosperous family, his father being the most popular physician in Shrewsbury. Marx came from a long line of distinguished Rabbis and his father was the local recorder in the Rhineland town of Trier on the banks of the Moselle. Both men spent a care-free childhood and youth in the bosom of comfortable families and indulged in the usual student larks — Marx being gated for rowdiness in a pub, and Darwin declaring that he drank too much at Cambridge. They were of different builds. Marx, although described by his son-in-law Paul I.afargue as "of powerful build, with broad shoulders and a deep chest", was no athlete. Darwin was tall, slim, and a crack shot and expert horseman. Both, however, were tireless walkers.

Both Marx and Darwin were at loose ends following their college careers. Darwin was reluctant to become a country parson. as his father wanted. Marx did not want to follow his father's footsteps and become a lawyer. Marx was forced into journalism and subsequently acquired the editorship of the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne in 1842; Darwin became a naturalist. Both professions were somewhat precarious, but Darwin never had any money troubles while Marx never had anything else.

Both were dedicated family men. Marx married relatively early on leaving Berlin University. Jenny von Westphalen was a beauty with a remarkable intellect, a woman to whom the poet Heinrich Heine would submit his finest lines. She had a remarkable father, Ludwig von Westphalen. descended from the Dukes of Argyle. But this aristocratic upbringing was not the best qualification for the appalling deprivation that Marx’s family were to suffer in the slums of Soho and Kentish Town. Darwin married his cousin, Emma Wedgewood, grand-daughter of the famous potter, and settled at Downe House in Kent with ten servants.

Both men were inspired by previous writers: Marx by the German philosopher Hegel, Darwin by the geologist Charles Lyell. But Marx's militant materialism proved too much for the German academic authorities and he was forced to emigrate to Paris. He had early acquired the habit of long spells of night work, copying out the classics by candlelight and teaching himself French, English and Italian with phrase books and dictionaries. Unfortunately Darwin never read the copy of Das Kapital sent to him by Marx. Instead he read Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population and swallowed it whole, writing “At last! I have a theory on which to work”. Malthus had ascribed a geometrical increase to human societies and an arithmetical one to food supply; Darwin transferred the first to the animal world to become “the survival of the fittest" — thus turning Malthus on his head.

Both men had their champions. Frederich Engels kept the Marx family alive and wrote a series of articles which Marx signed to earn one guinea a time from the New York Herald Tribune. He later even accepted the alleged paternity of Marx’s illegitimate son by Helene Demuth. Darwin was championed by Thomas Huxley, the ex-naval surgeon who had also made lengthy voyages aboard H.M.S. Rattlesnake. He was popularly known as "Darwin's Bulldog".

In their style of writing Marx and Darwin differed greatly. Darwin carefully built up an irrefutable weight of evidence, piling fact upon fact. He concluded The Descent of Man thus:
  For my part, I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey who bared his breast to save the life of his keeper, or from that old baboon, who descending from the mountains carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs, as from the savage, who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
On the other hand. Marx has never been excelled as a political polemicist and creator of powerful and rich language. In The Civil War in France, for example, he writes:
  Working men’s Paris, with its Commune, will forever be celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. Its exterminators History has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priests will not avail to redeem them.
 And Isaiah Berlin says of the Communist Manifesto that much of it is written in “prose which has the lyrical quality of a great revolutionary hymn, whose effect, powerful even now, was probably greater at the time" (Karl Marx, 1964).

Darwin was the most conciliatory and accommodating controversialist, devoting whole chapters to recapping the attacks of his opponents and stating quite frankly that their refutation faced him with great difficulties; succeeding, nevertheless, in doing so brilliantly. Marx, however, was frequently exasperated by the absurdities of criticisms, most of all by those from people claiming to be his supporters. These included his sons-in-law Jean Longuet and Paul Lafargue, who he described sarcastically as “the last Proudhonist and the last Babeufist”.

Darwin’s ideas of the future never get beyond his dreams of a Eugenic Society and "the prosperity of the Arts by the Accumulation of Capital". Important though his work was for the establishment of truth and the refutation of religious dogma, it was nevertheless Karl Marx who transcends all thinkers by the audacity and confidence of his prediction of socialist society.

Global Capitalism - The Facts (1996)

Party News from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party Research Department has recently been considering how, as a movement, we can be more organised in our effort to get up-to-date facts to support our case against capitalism. Our new project aims to build upon the strong tradition of Socialist Party members and supporters conducting independent research into the many aspects of capitalist society and the case for socialism, firstly, we are starting a more systematic way of getting information and secondly we will present the results in regular reports. The reports could be used by socialists as a source of facts for leaflets, posters, letters to the press, articles, debates, etc.

We have prepared a research plan which includes some of the most important themes that are touched upon by the socialist analysis of capitalism. On each topic there is the potential to find recent statistics and examples to illustrate the socialist case. If you are interested in helping please write to the following address for more information.

Research Department, Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Who Will Do The Dirty Work? (1953)

From the December 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the common questions put to the Socialist, and a question that troubles many who are sympathetic to Socialism, is “Who will do the dirty work under Socialism”; that is who will be coalminers, sewermen, dustmen and the like. The question is based upon the assumptions that there is work that is dirty, that this work will always have to be done in the way it is done today, and that it is only done today because the doers of it are forced to do it in order to get a living.

Before answering the question let us look at the subject a little closer. First of all let us see if we can define what is meant by dirty work.

Is it handling dirt? A doctor and a sanitary engineer handle a considerable amount of dirt with the object of preventing the spread of disease—so does a sewerman, a dustman and a sweeper. Think of the work doctors and nurses do not only at home but in plague and disease-ridden areas, the horrible conditions in which they have to work and the horrible work they have to do. Yet no one suggests that a doctor does dirty work but most people are convinced that the sewerman, the dustman and the sweeper does do dirty work. Why?

Is dirty work that which makes a man dirty? A motor engineer gets dirty with the object of ensuring the smooth running of machinery—so does a stoker in the bowels of a ship. Yet whilst no one suggests the one is doing dirty work they accept that the other is. Why?

Is dirty work working amongst foul smelling material? A chemist does so with the object of improving the quality of food—so does a fish curer. Yet the latter is doing dirty work and the former is not. Why?

Is it the nature of the work itself that makes it dirty work? A bacteriologist works among decayed food with the object of improving hygiene—so does a dishwasher in a restaurant Yet again one is dirty work whilst the other is not. Why?

Is work that injures your fellow men that which is dirty? If that were true just think who would come under it! Soldiers, producers of poison gas, munition workers, producers of atom bombs, politicians, monopolists (including Governments), lawyers who defend the predatory, financiers, advertisers who take in the innocent, those who tell fairy tales about heaven and hell and tell children they must believe them or be damned for all eternity, and hosts of others who immerse themselves in the dirt of Capitalism. Yet who but the socialist would claim that these people are doing dirty work? Why?

Fine gentlemen and dainty ladies move happily amidst the odours and the manure of racing stables without any feeling that they are doing dirty work, but they would be astonished at the suggestion that it was not dirty work to shift that manure. Why?

An airman risks his life and gets coveted in oil and grease breaking a record and he is treated as a hero. A coalminer risks his life and gets covered in coaldust bringing coal to the surface for the good of mankind and he is treated as doing dirty work! Why?

Now that we have cleared the ground a bit let us answer the “ Whys? ”

“Dirty work” has nothing to do with the work itself or the dirtiness thereof. A man will shift manure on to his garden and his friends will look on admiringly and proffer advice; but if he shifts manure for a living it is quite a different matter. It is not just “menial” work for what is more menial than the politician kissing babies and smirking at their mother, the shopkeeper fawning on his customers, the financier kow-towing to the lenders of money, or the clergyman accepting a tip at a funeral? No! Generally speaking the work that is looked upon as “dirty work” is that which is laborious, ill-paid, offers no opportunities for the ambitious, and provides the only opening the less fortunate can find of earning a living. People of all kinds of social status willingly do the same kind of work when the aim is satisfaction, pleasure or prestige; it only becomes dirty when it has to be done for no other end than gaining a living. The term is tied up with wage slavery and those that perform this work are by that fact branded as lower than their fellows. In other words dirty work is solely a product of Capitalism because it leaves the worker where he is, tied to the tread mill of monotonous labour with faint hope of relief. The phrase has only a disparaging social significance; a significance that at one time in the past applied to all forms of labour. Thus with the passing of wage-slavery the phrase will have no meaning.

We can now answer the question by placing it in its proper perspective in the light of the foregoing remarks.

Under Socialism no work that is necessary for the good of mankind will come under the heading of dirty work. People will do it as wholeheartedly as doctors and nurses work today in battle and plague-stricken areas. When industrial areas, cities and swamps have been cleared; when people can live wholesome and healthy lives with plenty of fresh clean air; when the rush and tear of life has departed, then most of what is regarded as dirty today will have disappeared. Quite apart from this, when all the people stand upon an equal footing towards each other the snobbery that attaches a label of nastiness to some forms of human activity will disappear; no one will be afraid of his neighbour looking with scorn upon the work he is doing. Finally nobody objects to doing work that is dirty when he knows that it is necessary in order to obtain some desirable end, that he can clean himself afterwards, that he is not bound to do it all his working days, and that no stigma attaches to it.

The answer to the question then is a simple one. Under Socialism everyone will take part in all the necessary social work and no one will worry a bit.

A Socialist dictionary (1981)

From the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

1) ANARCHISM: Strange specimen of philosophy which fears power itself more than capitalism. To the anarchist the termites are the state, the police, the prisons, the family . . .  all forms of repression rather than the system which breeds them. Though claiming to be revolutionary, most anarchists support reforms.

2) BALLOT ELECTION: Socialists see the ballot as a crucial weapon for the working class to use to gain political power. When we become a majority, socialist delegates will be elected to Parliament with a mandate to abolish the wages-prices-profit system and replace it with common ownership.

3) CAPITALISM: A worldwide social system which evolved from feudalism. A minority class owns the means of production yet produces no wealth; and a class that lacks that ownership produces everything. Production under capitalism is purely for profit, not to meet human needs.

4) CAPITALIST: A member of the class that monopolizes the means of producing wealth and lives off profit, rent or interest.

5) COMMUNISM/COMMUNIST: Often confused with state capitalism, in which the means of production are owned by the state. Communism is synonymous with socialism, a system of common ownership and democratic control with production solely for use. Wealth is taken freely, in quantities self-determined by each individual. One who adheres to this doctrine is a Communist. The Communist Party and the left wing are therefore not communist.

6) DEMOCRACY: Rule by and for the people. Today wealth is created by most of the people, yet owned by very few of them. Socialism will be democratic in that production will be geared towards satisfying society’s needs, while ideas will be given the fullest opportunity of expression.

7) JOB/EMPLOYMENT: The producers of wealth—the workers—are also the non-owners. So their existence is determined by their selling of labour power (their ability to work) to the capitalist class for a wage or salary. Wherever there is employment there is capitalism, and vice-versa.

8) MATERIALISM: The doctrine that matter is the primary substance of all things. Materialism explains all existence in evolutionary terms, even Humankind’s social organisation, known as Historical Materialism. The antithesis of Materialism is Idealism, which because it stresses ideas as the basis for all existence and processes sees everything upside-down.

9) RELIGION: Not just idealist, but even sillier. Suggests all life was created by one god, or several of them, and is a force which controls us or judges us. “Goodness" or “badness" in life determines reward or punishment in the after-life. God is normally on the side of the country that supports it financially and has proven to be a very untrustworthy source of help to the sufferers in wars and miseries. Not only has no god been found, but the socialists hope they’ll positively go away so the workers will focus their attention on themselves.

10) RIGHT-WING: Like the Left-Wing it suggests that capitalism can be run in the interests of all, generally on condition that there is minimum state interference. But they don’t mean the state shouldn’t fight wars when profit demands or that the state should stop interfering with workers’ struggles for higher standards of life.

11) SCHOOL: A place where children between the age of four and eighteen years learn how to respect authority, and how to become useful workers (or capitalists, depending on the school). The appalling quality of this education is such that when children don’t like the outside world they'r being trained for, they have to look for the SPGB to learn how to get rid of it.

12) SOCIALISM/SOCIALIST: A system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing and distributing wealth. Production not for profit, but for use. There will therefore be no money, wages, prices, nations or social classes. A socialist is an adherent of socialism, which clearly the Labour Party, SWP and so on are not.

13) STATE: The machinery of government (armed forces, police, judiciary system) which operates in the interest of capitalism, of profit, of those who live off profit. It is supported by taxes, a burden on the capitalist class (not the working class, who must receive enough money to reproduce themselves as a class anyway). When the world is socialist, states will no longer be necessary as the interests of each individual will be maintained by social organisation itself (free goods, free speech, freedom of movement).

14) STRIKE: The essential weapon of the working class in a world of owners and non-owners. Recognising the limits of industrial action, however, will induce the majority to resort to a political alternative.

15) TRADE UNION: Organisation of the working class to resist the encroachments of capital. It can bargain, it can strike, but it can’t bring socialism. Trade unions are significant historically since they reveal the potential power of a united working class. Time for such a majority in the SPGB working not for higher wages but the end of the wages system itself.

16) WAGE:/SALARY: The object of our work in capitalism—our source of income. The wage is actually a rationing device which allows us just a small proportion of what we have produced. There will be no wages in socialism because common ownership means free access to wealth.

17) WAR: A nation’s resort to violence to procure or protect markets, raw materials, trade-routes or political prestige. Yet we workers do the killing and the dying despite having nothing to protect. We have nothing to lose and a world to win—so let’s abolish the market system which causes so much misery.

18) WORK/WORKER/WEALTH: Work is the application of our mental and physical energies to raw materials. In capitalism the wealth-producers are working in order to live. Isn’t it time we abolished class, and therefore employment. and established a society in which we labour for our individual ends, and for society (both synonymous interests then as the contribution to society will create the abundance we may draw from freely)? Let’s end this mad system and replace it with a society of common ownership

Changing Lives: 200 Years of People and Protest in Sheffield (2018)

Exhibition Review from the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1795 local militia fired on a crowd in Sheffield, killing two people and injuring many others: this is the earliest example mentioned in an exhibition at the city’s Weston Park Museum. In 1819 fifty thousand attended a meeting to show solidarity with the victims of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, while in 1840 Samuel Holberry attempted to organise a Chartist uprising in Sheffield, but he was betrayed to the authorities and imprisoned; a bust of him is displayed.

And so the protests and struggles continued, from the Sheffield Women’s Suffrage Society (formed 1882) to the gay-rights campaigning of local resident Edward Carpenter. In the last century Sheffield and surrounding areas played an important role in the fight for access to the countryside; G.H.B. Ward, one of the main organisers, referred to the ‘gentle art of trespassing’. The miners’ strike of the 1980s naturally gets a lot of attention, but so does a less well-known but even longer-lasting strike, at the Keeton engineering firm from 1986 to 1994 (38 workers were sacked after a secret strike ballot).

More recent protests covered here include current campaigns against the council’s tree-felling policy, and anti-Trump posters, one of which announces, ‘Gi ’Oer Tha Gret Wazzock’ (wazzock is a dialect term with a pejorative meaning).

At the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield city centre is an exhibition ‘Hope Is Strong’, which is claimed to explore ‘the power of art to question the world we live in’. Sean Scully’s ‘Ghost’ is a painting of the US flag, with the stars replaced by a gun. The most powerful piece here is Jeremy Deller’s installation ‘The Battle of Orgreave’, dealing with the most notorious confrontation of the miners’ strike, and making it quite clear how the government had it in for the miners and their union. 
Paul Bennett

China - Mouthing it again (1996)

From the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The eyes of US foreign affairs experts will be fixed firmly on Taiwan during the coming weeks. For this is when nine months of tension between Taiwan and China is expected to come to a head. Taiwan is not fully recognised internationally as an independent state and has no seat at the UN. Many in Taiwan believe this will end during March when the island holds its first all-party elections—elections that could sour Taiwan’s relationship with China to the point of a military strike by the latter should the former opt for independence.

China claims that Taiwan is a Chinese province and has no right to seek independence. Many argue that such a claim ended in 1949, when the Kuomintang took refuge in Taiwan under the protection of the US following defeat by Mao’s forces. Military rule soon followed and was only lifted in 1989, with something resembling liberal democracy appearing during an election held in 1992.

Taiwanese capitalists, many recruited by President Lee Teng Hui, believe Taiwan’s economy is incompatible with that of China and that the years of prosperity they have experienced since the Vietnam war will flounder if the two are re-unified. For Taiwan’s capitalist class, the status quo must be maintained, not least because China is Taiwan’s second biggest export market after the US. Tight import restrictions also mean China in return experiences difficulty exporting to Taiwan. This has resulted in a 1995 trade surplus of $24.20 billion.

China’s sabre-rattling began many months ago and seems to coincide with international calls for Taiwanese independence. In the past six months, China has tested missiles, carried out military manoeuvres and announced that a region of coast feeing Taiwan is a "war zone". In recent weeks it has announced plans to recommence nuclear missile tests.

Taiwan, though overly “confident" it can hold the People’s Liberation Army at bay during a conventional war, nevertheless takes China's threats seriously and has appealed to the US for arms.

The US, which established a military base on the island in the 1950s, has been ambiguous in its response to pleas for help from its former “unsinkable aircraft carrier". When US/Sino relationships soured in 1979, the US withdrew from the island and abandoned a joint defence treaty. However, the US is still, committed under the Taiwan Relations Act, to providing arms of a “defensive nature".

Chinese sabre-rattling appears to be aimed as much at the US as it does Taiwan. With presidential elections coming up in the US later this year, China is hoping that the US will not risk coming to the aid of Taiwan for fear of upsetting US voters— the desired result being that this realisation will force Taiwan to succumb to Chinese calls for re-unification.

In early January Chas Freeman Jr, the US Assistant Secretary of Defence, returned from a trip to China with news that the PLA was making preparations to launch one missile per day for 30 days at Taiwan. In all probability this is hype, aimed at intimidating Taiwan and forcing the US to re-think its policy on Taiwan.

Freeman went on to relate how one Chinese official pointed out that the US care more about Los Angeles than Taiwan, and how another asked if the US were prepared to sacrifice the "millions of men" and "entire cities" over Taiwan that China would.

Not wishing to have been seen internationally as having turned the other cheek, the US responded by sailing the US Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, and five support ships through the Taiwan Straits—the first time a US warship had been near the Chinese coast in 17 years. The upshot has been a slump in share prices in Taiwan, though nothing yet near the 40 percent stock exchange dive when China first began its threats.

All of this might sound familiar—it should. Last March it was the Philippines who were on the receiving end of Chinese threats when China vented its spleen over the disputed Spratley Islands, or rather the oil reserves beneath its reef. Neither is Taiwan alone in trying to extricate itself from China’s territorial claims. The island is in fact one of ten neighbouring states upon which China has irredentist claims.

While the world awaits the outcome of all, this in the Far-East, Socialists remain aware that none of it is to be taken lightly. All, too often small territorial claims—which at the end of the day mean big profits for the real disputants—lead to war. The 20th century is punctuated throughout with such instances, none of which has benefited the working class, the primary casualties in the globo-political search for profit.

The fact that the Chinese capitalists have threatened to expend three million lives over a tiny island, when all China could have a share in a world of abundance and free access with no cost to life, shows that the case for Socialism has never been more pressing.
John Bissett

More Labour dishonesty (1970)

From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

A little over fifty years ago, in the first general election after the First World War, the Socialist Standard had an historic front page. It was an enlarged reproduction of a ballot paper; there were the names of the various capitalist parties—Labour, Conservative, Liberal and so on. And written across all of them was the one word—Socialism.

This cover was saying, with what the public relations men might call instant visual impact, that no working class voter should use his vote to support any of the capitalist parties and since there were no socialist candidates standing in that election, the only thing worth doing was to state a preference for Socialism by writing the word on the voting paper.

Here was an uncompromising stand. There was in fact no point in compromise, since there was no fundamental difference between the other parties and they all stood for some method of running capitalism. No one who understood Socialism and wanted it could vote for any of them.

It is not surprising that this attitude has provoked a lot of criticism. Socialists have been accused of splitting the vote, of refusing to opt for the least, or the lesser, of many evils. This argument was based on the assumption that there was something in common between the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the capitalist parties—that there was a vote to split. It also assumed that there was something to choose between, say, the Labour and Conservative parties—that there was a lesser evil. These assumptions are quite false—and if there were any grounds for doubting this in 1918 the subsequent experiences of Labour governments should have effectively removed them.

Another criticism of our stand was that spoiling a ballot paper was wasting the vote; we were advising workers to waste and abuse a right which had been established only after a long and sometimes bloody struggle. This argument again was based on false assumptions—that workers somehow protected their interests by choosing between one capitalist party and another; and that the vote must be go to some candidate or other, even though he was anti-working class. In fact, all the evidence indicates that the only way to use the vote properly is against all the parties of capitalism and in favour of the establishment of Socialism.

With all this in mind, it is interesting to notice an event in last month’s municipal elections in Wolverhampton, which is already famous enough because Enoch Powell is one of its MPs. In one of the wards there the official Labour nominee forgot ( yes, forgot) to hand in his nomination papers in time and so was prevented from entering the contest. This left only two candidates — a Tory and a member of National Front.

Here was a situation in which Labour Party strategists of expediency and double-dealing should have been in their element. In this straight fight which was the lesser of the two right wing evils—Tory or Fascist? How should the frustrated Labour supporters in St. Peter’s ward cast their votes?

The Conservatives, perhaps expecting the Labour Party to act honestly, promptly appealed to the Labour M.P. Mrs. Renee Short, . . . to do all she could to ensure the defeat of the National Front candidates by persuading Labour supporters to vote Tory.” (The Guardian, 28 April).

Now in accordance with the Labour Party tariff of political virtue there should have been no problem about their agreeing to do this. In fact what happened was the Mrs. Short’s agent replied that she would ". . . never advise Labour supporters to vote Tory in any circumstances.” And just to ram home the point that Labour are confused and dishonest, he said :
  At the same time, we would never advise them to vote for the National Front. They can either abstain or simply mark ‘Labour’ on their ballot paper.
We shall have to stifle our natural feelings of pique at this stealing of our idea and instead try to draw some lessons from it. First, we should notice the bare-faced expediency of Labour tactics. When they feel safe to argue that they are the least of the available evils they want to win votes from workers who are actually opposed to them. But when some other organisation stands to gain from the application of this theory, Labour suddenly finds that it is alright to “waste” votes —even to abstain.

The other, perhaps more important, point is that there is every reason for the Labour Party to extend their argument. It is true that there is no fundamental difference between the Conservative Party and National Front and therefore there is no reason to favour one over the other. But equally there is nothing to choose between Labour and the other parties — Tory, Fascist. “Communist” and so on. That is why workers should vote for none of them. The better, in fact the only, use of the vote is for something basically different from them all—for a new social system.

Which brings us to the final point. Socialism is an idea which implies certain political principles and one of these is an unshakeable refusal to compromise with the enemies of the working class—with any political party, whatever it calls itself, which stands for capitalism. When a worker goes into a voting booth and, where there is no socialist candidate, writes Socialism across the paper he is doing several things.

He is saying that he hates capitalism, is declaring for a social revolution to replace it. He is standing up as the enemy of all the capitalist parties. And in all these he is, simply, stating a principle and when it is all over, when all the votes have been cast and counted, there is no avoiding the fact that expediency can offer nothing to compare with that.

Power & Principle (1996)

From the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists have always argued that the Labour Party is nothing more than a vehicle for careerist politicians to achieve power — Blair and company have merely proved our assertion
It was probably the late Harold Wilson who made Labour’s naked thirst for political power so clearly obvious. In the succeeding years, as Labour leader followed Labour leader, the frustrated urge to become the political king of the castle has forced Labour leaders to abandon utterly any pretence of principle beyond that of achieving power. In Tony Blair, known to Tories as Tory Blair, Labour has achieved its contemptuous zenith.

Neil Kinnock, before he and his wife found rich rewards in European politics, always seemed somewhat troubled by the undignified and unprincipled thrust for political power. Unlike Blair, whose granny would be in decided danger if she stood between him and the realisation of his personal ambitions, Kinnock, stirred, perhaps, by the memory of working class sacrifice that had made the Labour Party, felt obliged to explain. Principle was, he said, useless without power.

In so far as he went, Kinnock spoke the truth—a truth, we must acknowledge, exemplified by the history of the Labour Party and the Socialist Party. The latter was born in 1904 and the former two years later, in 1906. But, whereas the Socialist Party was structured in strong democratic socialist principles the Labour Party came into existence as a coalition of interests, often conflicting interests, whose broad spectrum of principles were scattered to the wind when it first achieved political office in 1924.

But that is not the end of the story, nor does it fully illustrate the valid point Kinnock was making. In the years between, the Labour Party became a “broad church” whose various “wings” espoused those single issues which the Tories—and, sometimes, Labour itself—opposed. It became a party of government holding the reins of power on eight occasions since 1924.

Dismal future
On the other hand, the Socialist Party has remained small and without influence other than the respect it retains, even among its opponents, for its strong adherence to its socialist principles. Consistency, someone said, is a virtue for fools but that is consistency for consistency’s sake. In a situation where the three main parties, Tory, Labour and Liberal, each of which upholds the political and economic status quo, have conspired to ensure that only the case for capitalism is given a voice on the public media, the principled consistency of the Socialist Party is clearly justified not only by the logic of its case but by the unfolding absurdity of the Labour Party’s attempts to humanise capitalism.

Probably many of Labour’s troubled supporters—loyal only because of the utter ruthlessness of the Tories—would argue that adherence to socialist principles is a waste of time if there is no obvious indication that they are going to lead to winning the political power to implement those principles.

If that is the case then the working class, not only here but throughout the world, is confronted with a dismal future. The political vehicle on which they have in the past pinned their hopes for change and a better future, parties of reform such as Labour and Social Democratic parties, have been given power time after time and the outstanding memorial to their wielding of power is their utter failure to solve even one single problem of the working class.

When reform parties achieve political power, when they become the party of government, its members who make up the government have each a personal vested interest in remaining in office and that interest is reflected in the activities of their parliamentary' followers who, if they are to do their job in the terms in which they see that job, must aspire to political influence and promotion within the party. Effectively, the party and its members are in the business of politics, economically harnessed to maintaining their job in the same way as any other person who is dependent on a wage or salary.

Obviously the pressures this puts on the individual member of parliament and on political parties is not conducive to the nourishment of principles. This is not to suggest that every member of parliament is devoid of principle but it does mean that, when there is a conflict between continuing in power and standing by a principle, the greater “principle” of power retention comes into play.

Continued betrayal
Kinnock’s contention that, without power, principle is politically impotent is perfectly right but the achievement of power in conditions in which principles—if they exist, in the first place— have to be jettisoned in the face of the inevitable consequences of power is perhaps even more overwhelming for—as we have seen with Labour, continual betrayal emaciates and endangers even those principles to which the party and its members falsely lay claim.

Given the undemocratic set-up that prevails between the media—especially the powerful electronic media—and the main political parties which effectively imposes a ban on ideas that challenge capitalism, the false claims made by those parties thwarts democracy. Unfortunately, such is the flagrant dishonesty that exists in capitalist politics that most people will find difficulty in countenancing that claim. But the same people will readily accept the need for legislation such as the Sale of Goods Act to protect the public from false claims made by either manufacturers or retailers of even comparatively inexpensive or trivial items. Yet the political parties can inveigle people into parting with their votes—and the democratic determination of their future—on the basis of promises that can be thrown in the wastepaper basket immediately following an election.

Such are the direct consequences but the results are even more destructive of democratic practice. In the ease of Labour and its various Left supporters, the exploitation of supposed socialist principle to achieve political power has not only grossly deceived the working class but has proven vitally protective of capitalism in that it offers an image of “socialism” as something which is vitally flawed in practice. Not only has Labour—and, indeed, the Left generally—perverted the nature of Socialism, but they have been as assiduous as the Tories—and the Right generally—in ensuring that real socialists are not afforded the opportunity to challenge their misrepresentation on the electronic soapbox.

Kinnock’s assertion that principle without power is useless is equally valid when stated in reverse: power without principle is not only useless, as the history of Labour governments shows, it is worse since it is destructive of the principles it pretends to have.

Historical proof
Where, we might ask, does this leave the Socialist Party? Our principles are based on the logic of our socialist theory; on the knowledge that human society has developed to the point where the potential exists to provide for the material needs of every human being on the planet; on the assumption that, faced with the ultimate reality of capitalism’s failure to solve the ghastly problems that it creates, human beings will take into their common ownership the means of life; that common ownership, and the abolition of all the wasteful activities that capitalism makes necessary, will permit society to function on the basis of free labour in the production of goods and services and free access to the fruits of that production.

That is the socialist proposition, the root of our socialist principles and the Socialist Party does not seek power for itself to enthrone those principles. We seek to promote and spread a knowledge of Socialism and whether the majority that ultimately takes the required political action to bring about Socialism uses the Socialist Party or some other political vehicle to take power from the political agents of capitalism and establish Socialism is of no consequence to us. Our task will be completed with the achievement of Socialism; politics will disappear as government over people gives way to a straightforward democratic administration of social production and distribution.

The important thing is the historical proof that the record of reformist political parties gives to socialists: capitalism cannot be made to function in the interests of the great majority of people, the working class, who are the real wealth producers. However long it takes for that truth to percolate the consciousness of the working class, for that period we will suffer the social problems that have been the identification marks of capitalism since its inception.

Conversely, until that consciousness begins to take root, the Socialist Party will retain its principles and seek its purpose in the dissemination of those principles.
Richard Montague

Running Commentary: Refugees (1982)

The Running Commentary column from the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard


The aim of the United Nations at the time of its establishment was to “cut the causes of war at their roots”. But because the causes of war are related to the struggle among sections of the ruling class, organised in separate nation states, for markets, trade routes and natural resources, and because the United Nations was not established to end class-divided society, it is hardly surprising that the organisation has failed completely in its objective.

Since its foundation the destruction and slaughter of war has continued unabated all over the world. Even in recent times, over Vietnam, Korea, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and now in the Falklands, we have seen its manifest impotence to control military disputes with sanctimonious resolutions of the “502” variety.

Another aim of the UN was to deal with the problems of refugees. What are refugees? They are walking, sandwich-board-like indictments of the lunatic way society is presently organised. They are millions of people, both en masse and dissipated, escaping from one part of the globe to another. People from Afghanistan escaping to Pakistan while people from Pakistan escape to the West. People fleeing from El Salvador and Guatemala. People on the run from one part of Africa to another. Recently, the UN Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Poul Hartling, told a press conference that:
  In global terms, we can say that the UN is responsible for some 10,000,000 refugees throughout the world at present. Of these, between four and five million are to be found in Africa, between two and 2½ million in South East Asia and the rest in South America and elsewhere. (Guardian 2014/82)
Unrecognised as “refugees” (although that is what they really amount to) are the thousands of people who depart from places like Britain, particularly in times of economic recession, for Australia and Canada to seek a way out of the grimness of life in their country of origin. But for members of the working class there is no escape from poverty by travelling from one continent to another.

Cashing In

Down in deepest Surrey is a firm called Pubjoy Mint, which is in the business of producing medallions to commemorate all sorts of forgettable events like royal weddings and anniversaries. These are then sold to people who are impressed by Pubjoy’s enthusiastic utterances that the medallions are of lasting beauty, intrinsic value and historic significance.

Nothing is safe from this firm. Any day now, they could announce a medallion—which everyone will cherish and show to their children in its unique plastic clearview cover and handsome display case—marking the achievement of three million unemployed.

Meanwhile they are cashing in on other events. Their latest creation commemorates the Falkland Islands Task Force. On one side are the aircraft carriers Invincible and Hermes; on the other the indomitable Britannia stands, trident across the Falklands.

“It is not an approval of war in any way,” said The firm’s marketing manager. “It is to commemorate Britain’s response to what has happened in our territory.” The medallions cost £600 for the 22 carat gold version and £7.50 for one in silver plated base metal.

The Task Force was sent to protect the property and the investments of a section of the British ruling class (the sort of people who can afford that 22 carat medallion) against the ambitions of a part of the Argentinian ruling class. Workers on both sides (who can afford only the silver plated medallion) have no interests at stake in the struggle, although they take their masters’ part in it and will suffer and die in it.

Such episodes are black tragedy in world history. That they can be further exploited by the sale of ghoulish mementoes is evidence of the urgency to end the social system which causes it all. The only fitting commemoration in these cases would be the workers’ strengthened resolve for a basic change in society.

Sick Pay

Most people who have to spend time in hospital leave the place profoundly impressed by the work of the nurses. Often unpleasant, physically and emotionally stressful, unrelenting, usually under extra difficulties caused by shortages and “economies”. And very badly paid, although it would be difficult to imagine a wage high enough to be “fair” for such work.

The Confederation of Health Service Employees states that nearly half of all full-time nurses, most of them in training or auxiliaries, are getting wages which are below the poverty line the level at which they qualify for Family Income Supplement.

The employers may argue that the union has produced these figures in support of its current pay campaign, in which it hopes to raise the government’s 6.4 per cent offer. This is the latest episode in a long battle over nurses’ pay (remember Selwyn Lloyd in 1961?) in which successive governments have cynically exploited the fact that, when it comes to the point, nurses shy away from the ultimate and in their case the frighteningly powerful weapon of a strike.

Because of this we can expect the nurses always to be among the lower reaches of the wages league. Workers’ pay is not a matter of morality, a reward for the job which they do, a reflection of how stressful or how necessary their work may be. If those guidelines did apply in society at large there would be a lot of members of the Stock Exchange and aristocrats starving to death.

Wages are the price of a worker’s labour power and, like any other price, they move up or down in response to pressures like booms and slumps, a shortage or a surplus of the labour power. This is a hard, unromantic reality of capitalism—a system which must first concern itself with its profitability and leave human welfare a long way behind.

Nurses are not angels. They are just another bunch of motivated, essential—and harshly exploited—workers without whom life under capitalism would be even more unpleasant than it is.

Cartoon by George Meddemmen.
Increasing Poverty

According to a report published earlier this year by the Low Pay Unit and the Civil and Public Services Association the poor are getting steadily poorer. The same day the report was issued (April 3) it was confirmed that the salary of Michael Edwardes, the chairman of British Leyland, had been increased last year from £65,400 to £95,500.

The job which Edwardes performs for this modest reward is to keep down pay rises for the workers and to ensure that the company pays out as little as possible on improving the conditions of the workforce—as little, that is, as is compatible with the best efficiency which can be squeezed from the wealth producers.

The week after the poverty report of the Low Pay Unit, the Department of Health and Social Insecurity released figures which showed that the number of people in Britain living below the official poverty line—supplementary benefit level—has risen to over two million for the first time. New statistics sent to a Labour MP in reply to a series of parliamentary questions disclosed a rise from 1.9 million to 2.1 million between 1977 and 1979.

The Labour MP who requested the information was that self-righteous friend and patron of the poor, Frank Field. On learning the facts, Field became very indignant and described the revelation as “alarming”. One fact that must have slipped his mind, what with all that ringing in his ears, is that there was a Labour government in office between these years.
Gary Jay

The Hungarian Uprising (1965)

Book Review from the January 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hungary 56 (Solidarity book 3/6) by Andy Anderson is an interesting account and analysis of the Hungarian rising of October-November 1956, written from what is basically an Anarchist point of view.

When the Red Army overran East Europe at the end of the war they had to install some sort of government in the areas concerned; in Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary all they could use were the remnants of the previous pro-fascist ruling groups. Eventually, through their control of the police force they were able to set up police states, manned by loyal native stooges, similar to their own in Russia. The countries of East Europe were particularly harshly exploited—even by capitalist standards—to rebuild the Russian economy. As time went on the police state regime began to have an effect on economic growth. Attempts to drive the workers too hard merely resulted in increasing inefficiency, absenteeism and even sabotage.

Following the death of Stalin in 1953 the Russian rulers began a new course; a similar process began to take place in other parts of East Europe. Riots in Poland eventually brought the Gomulka regime to power. In Hungary the Stalinists under Rakosi were a little more short-sighted towards a demand, led by the Petoti Circle and the Writers Union, for a more “liberal regime.” The Russians realised that the situation was explosive and Rakosi was removed. A number of former Titoists, including one Janos Kadar were rehabilitated.

The Hungarian uprising actually began on October 23rd when the Secret Police, the A.V.O., fired on a crowd demonstrating outside the radio station. The next day Russian tanks were called in but were forced to retreat. The government now under Imre Nagy, had lost control. Workers Councils, loosely linked together, organised the distribution of food supplies and the resistance to the Russians. On October 26th.. the rebels, published their programme which included demands for the withdrawal of Russian troops, a popular government under Nagy, recognition for the Workers Councils, higher wages, higher pensions, less piecework, higher family allowances, more houses and so on. During the next week the Nagy government tried to regain control by offering concessions. Nagy himself went so far as to call for a neutral Hungary. This was too much for the Russians, who launched a counter-attack on November 4th. Nagy appealed to the U.N. and took refuge in the Yugoslav embassy. A puppet government under Kadar took over. Eventually, with the help of the Red Army, the central government regained control. Resistance continued for many months but the rising had been crushed. Estimates of how many Hungarians were killed vary between 20,000 and 50,000.

What was the significance of this? There is a lot of truth in the saying that revolution is delayed reform. Political power can't hold back economic forces for ever. In East Europe, bureaucratic state capitalist regimes were standing in the way of economic efficiency. A modern capitalist economy cannot for long be run by police state methods; it demands the consent, even if only passive, of the workers. Skilled and educated workers cannot be coerced into working to the best of their ability. Yugoslavia was the first to move away from this system, when decentralisation was begun there in 1950. The rest of East Europe was held up by Stalin's grip. After his death, however, the Russian leaders were able to act on what must have been obvious for some time: that Stalin’s methods were inefficient. With “de-Staiinization” encouraged in Russia, the satellites also were able to adopt a less onerous policy.

In Poland, the change was achieved by opportune reforms and concessions. In Hungary the story was different. The Stalinist government there left the reforms too late and lost control. In circumstances like this, where the established machinery of government breaks down, a substitute appears. In Russia this took the form of the Soviets or Councils. Something similar happened in Italy in 1921 when the workers look over the factories. What these episodes show is that where the capitalist government machine breaks down and the capitalists lose control, the workers don’t simply let anarchy reign, they do their best to organise something themselves. So it was in Hungary.

Anarchists have always made great play of happenings such as these. They did so over the Paris Commune of 1871, which they saw as the beginning of the dissolution of the State into a federation of free communes. The anarchists were against all permanent machinery and the principle of representation. To imagine that the modern productive system can be controlled without a permanent administrative machine is so much Utopian nonsense. Nevertheless such views are encouraged by events like the Hungarian rising. Anderson tells us that this was:
  far more than a national uprising or than attempt to change one set of ruler; for another. It was a social revolution in the fullest sense of the term. Its object was a fundamental change in the relations of production, in the relations between ruler and ruled in factories, pits, and on the land.
   New organs of struggle were created: the Workers’ Councils. which embodied, in embryo, the new society they were seeking to achieve.
This is going too far. The Hungarian working class were not organised consciously for Socialism.They were organised, certainly, but organised to keep life going and to resist the Russians.

Under capitalism there are many kinds of working class organisations: trade unions, political parties, tenants associations, friendly societies and so on—formed for a variety of different purposes. A working class organisation can only be considered revolutionary when it consciously aims to replace capitalism. The Hungarian Worker,’ Councils do not come into this category. This is not to belittle them; they were examples of what the working class can do in difficult circumstances. The heroic resistance of the Hungarian working class to totalitarian Stalinism will go down in the annals of working class history. There is nothing to be gained from seeing in the Hungarian tragedy something which just wasn’t there; it wasn’t the beginning of a social revolution.
Adam Buick

Oxfam: the alternative (1969)

Book Review from the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Food Resources: Conventional and Novel by N. W. Pirie Penguin, 5s. 

Dr Pirie is head of the biochemistry department at Rothamstead Experimental Station. His short book gives brief indications of some of the possibilities for developing food production in such fields as polar agriculture, distillation of sea water, and the farming of the sea.. He also mentions research on new crops which could revolutionise farming (and eating) as much as the potato did in its day.

But Dr Pirie recognises that there is more to the problem of world hunger than simply producing more food. After all, what is the point of building vast glasshouse systems to grow vegetables during the brief but hot summers in such places as Alaska or Tadzhikistan when in the United States more than 33 million acres of fertile land is now withheld from agriculture because of ‘overproduction’? Or what is the point of India soon having the potential to produce 1.9 million tons of fertiliser a year when the road system throughout the sub-continent prevents efficient distribution ?

As a trained scientist Dr Pirie understands that “the work of charitable foundations such as Oxfam is magnificent and it has relieved a great deal of human suffering, but it is essentially palliative and does not get to the root of the matter". What is really needed, he says, is political action. So why is he donating all the profits on the sale of his book to Oxfam? Presumably because up to now he has seen no worthwhile political alternative to Oxfam’s well-meaning but feeble attempts to palliate capitalism.

This, then, is our job. To explain to thoughtful and involved individuals like Dr Pirie that only Socialism will liberate man's ability to produce a world of abundance—and also to make use of the information which experts like him can supply us with. In their way, books like this are bombshells to capitalism—and socialists have the detonator.
John Crump

Capitalist reformism (1969)

Book Review from the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Functional Socialism: A Swedish Theory for Democratic Socialization, by Gunnar Adler-Karlsson. Bokforlaget Prisma, Sweden.

This is an unusual pamphlet. For it is actually a defence of the reformist policy of the Swedish Social Democratic party in the name of Socialism. This party of course is no more a socialist organisation than the British Labour Party and has managed the affairs of Swedish capitalism for the past 35 years.

What Adler-Karlsson calls 'functional socialism' is basically what was put forward here by Labour Party anti-nationalisation thinkers in the 1950s. Ownership, the argument goes, is made up of a set of functions which the capitalists exercise. If we control these functions in the interests of society then there is no need to formally take all industry into state ownership. "We have", claims Adler-Karlsson on behalf of Swedish Social-Democracy, "limited the rights of the owners of the means of production to use their goods in an unsocial way" and he instances measures like profits taxes, state control of banking, anti-inflation moves, etc., etc. All we can say is that if this is socialist then the Tories must believe in so-called functional socialism too.

The whole argument is absurd. When the modern state intervenes in economic affairs and limits the activities of individual capitalists it does so in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. This has nothing to do with Socialism. Besides, it is based on the false premise that nationalisation is Socialism. Once you realise that it is only state capitalism then you can leave it to the reformists to argue among themselves as to the desirable degree of state ownership and control in a particular capitalist country.

We will leave Adler-Karlsson arguing with the supporters of Russian state capitalism. Unfortunately, he wrongly believes them to be genuine Marxists with the result that his own references to Marx are mostly inaccurate.

The pamphlet ends with a call to "strip and divest our present capitalists of one after another of their ownership functions". We are sure that, after 35 years of Social Democrats rule, Swedish capitalists like the Wallenberg family are trembling at the prospect!
Adam Buick

Lambeth Branch (1911)

Party News from the February 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are running a series of discussions on Friday evenings after their branch meeting closes, at 38, Brixton Road (first floor). All friends or foes are invited to attend and take part. Every facility will be afforded for questions and opposition, and opponents eau rely upon courtesy being extended to them.

On Feb. 3rd the subject for discussion will b “Can Trade Unionism better the conditions of the Working Class?" On the 8th the subject will be “Why John Holmes left the I.L.P. and joined the S.P.G.B." On the 15th : “Reform or Revolution—which?” On the 22nd: “The British Workman and the Alien. Commence at 8.45.”

Party Pars. (1911)

Party News from the February 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Seventh Annual Conference of the Party will he held at Easter. Resolutions for the agenda are now in order. Already there are signs this will be a very important meeting. Every effort should be made to make it worthy of the cause.

*   *   *

A new Branch of the Party has been formed at Gravesend—Secretary, W. J. Wragg, Denton Hospital, Gravesend.

*   *   *

At the special Christmas morning propaganda meeting of the Tottenham Branch held at West Green Corner, the collection amounted to £2. This sum was forwarded to the Party treasury, and the Treasurer, greedy man, wants to know why other branches don’t do better.

*   *   *

The Battersea Branch have already secured the Latchmere Baths for the purpose of a Paris Commune celebration on March 19th. This will prove one of the events of the year. Bravo! Battersea.

*   *   *

Readers in and around Woolwich are invited to attend a course of lectures to be delivered at the A.S.E. Institute. Glyndon Rd., Plumstead, on Sunday evenings at 7.30. Admission free. Questions and discussion allowed.
Feb. 5th   A. Reginald : “The Great Man Theory ”
Feb 19th  H. Newman : “Reforms and Palliatives.’’
Mar. 5th   F. C. Watts : “ Socialism and Religion.”