Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pathfinders: Stars Like Us (2018)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

 Stars Like Us
Last month a black woman was ‘crowned’ Miss Universe Great Britain, a first in the beauty contest’s 66-year history, and called it ‘a great achievement’. Somehow, apparently, being selected as the country’s showpiece exhibit in an annual sexist meat parade is to be considered a success for black women everywhere. 

Recently there have been a lot of stories about female and minority representation in ‘the arts’ (meaning TV and cinema). Huge excitement came earlier this year with the first all-black superhero film, which proved that you can make money out of utter bollocks regardless of ethnic considerations. This followed the success of a female-led superhero film, and UK viewers can soon look forward to the first female Doctor Who and the first lesbian Batgirl TV series, all of which prove that . . . anyway, you get the picture.

Where this gets a bit weird is the ongoing discussion about ‘representation’ in the arts. The broadcasting watchdog Ofcom reported last year that "lots of people feel there are not enough programmes on TV that "authentically portray their lives and communities".

 Why is this weird? Because in expecting, nay demanding, that made-up stories should be ‘authentic’ people seem to have lost sight of the essential difference between fiction and reality. This is not to belittle the genuine human need for social affirmation. We all crave a sense that we are not some lonely isolated freak in a hostile and indifferent world, and that others like us exist. Socialists know that feeling too, indeed it’s behind a lot of the things that we do as an organisation. If you’re reading this magazine, you probably feel the same way at times. But one thing we definitely don’t do is go round complaining about our ‘under-representation’ in the arts and demanding our own superhero. It would never occur to us that the ‘arts’ were anything other than a fictional construct owned and controlled by the capitalist class and used mainly for the oppression and psychological manipulation of the working class. If it ever tried to ‘represent’ a socialist character it would not be as a superhero  but more likely a stoned 1970s hippy or else an unhinged Bond villain. Much as we all love artistic creativity, we should not lose sight of the fact that capitalist art is generally a weapon used against us, even when it’s just for entertainment.

 So, not only is this question of ‘representation’ a fundamental illusion – as if the success of some black beauty queen can ever be an achievement for you – it is also a hopeless expression of passivity, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where we love the thing that enslaves us so much that we want it to look like us too. 

This is what the capitalists want – a population of brainwashed automatons who don’t know what’s real anymore. They want us to sit indoors and let the capitalist TV construct our world for us, removing every jarring trace of cognitive dissonance that might alert us to the fact that we are in dream-mode. 

Entertainment is supposed to be escapist, to give us a break from reality. By dressing our entertainment in faux-liberal credentials we’re not affirming our ‘liberty’ or ‘diversity’, we’re fusing reality with fantasy and locking ourselves more inextricably into a prison of our own making. Better to get out there and construct our own world, for real, and with the TV off.

Voting for the Electric Chair
Here’s a work-place experience not unfamiliar to many. The meeting grinds on, chaired by a boss too clueless to be any use but too senior to be challenged, while the air is filled by the drone of tedious gobshites who love to hear themselves talk. The agenda lies forgotten, the plot lost, the will to live gone, and still another hour before anyone can go home. Not surprisingly, a recent informal BBC study discovered that many people doodle during such meetings, or write haiku, or play ‘meeting bingo’, a secret competition to throw in as many pre-agreed random words as possible. Imagine, the article goes on to suggest, if all this were not so, the meeting made effective, and the bores told to shut up. What would it take to effect such a miracle? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an artificially intelligent meeting bot could take over?

Wait. What? An AI bot? An electric chair? Yes indeed, says a computer scientist quoted in the article, ‘if no new points are made after a while, the AI could suggest to wrap it up’. Apparently this is an ability which humans don’t have, according to a meetings consultant: ‘while it’s a lovely idea to think everybody will be fabulous at running meetings, everybody is not’. 

 This will be news to socialists, who have been running their own meetings, fabulous or otherwise, for over a hundred years, and have never yet felt the compulsion to introduce an artificial robot to chair any of them. How is this miracle possible? Because, despite what the ‘experts’ think, humans are perfectly capable of learning how to do things like running meetings, even, dare we say it, whole democratic societies. We do these things with the help of what are known as ‘rules’ and then by following these ‘rules’, more or less strictly according to circumstance and preference, we manage to get through a whole list of ‘decisions’ that need making. Really, it works surprisingly well. These AI enthusiasts ought to try it some time. They might be amazed what humans are capable of, especially when the useless boss is removed from the picture. 
Paddy Shannon

A Parliamentary Joke. (1929)

From the August 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard

Captain D. W. Gunston is Tory M.P. for Thornbury and also a humorist. It is the aim of those who combine these two features to try to trap unsuspecting ministers with questions which are only seemingly innocent. It will be remembered that immediately after the General Election Sir W. Jowitt, K.C., M.P. for Preston, who had been elected as a Liberal, accepted the office of Attorney-General and joined the Labour Party. Below is Captain Gunston’s question and Mr. Clynes’ reply (Hansard, July 11, ’29):—.

Captain Gunston asked the Home Secretary if he will consider the introduction of legislation to prohibit the practice of the payment of sums of money on the transfer of professional football players from one club to another?

Mr. Clynes: The answer is in the negative.

Captain Gunston: While appreciating that the Government do not want to interfere with the transfer of talent, may I ask the right hon. gentleman if he is in a position to inform the House of the transfer fee, if any, in the case of the Attorney-General?

Notes by the Way: Laski's Error. (1930)

The Notes by the Way Column from the August 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Laski's Error.

Professor Harold Laski, writing in the current number of the Political Quarterly, refers to the “well-known” view of Marx and his followers that capitalism can only be overthrown by violent means.

This may be well-known to Professor Laski, but it is unknown to us, and was unknown to Marx. It is a pity that Professor Laski does not give the evidence for his extraordinary statement. When, about three years ago, his book on "Communism" was reviewed in these columns, attention was drawn to other mistaken views about Marx which are held by Laski, but although a copy was sent to him and acknowledged, he did not attempt to defend his statements. He continues to repeat them, still without evidence.

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The American Socialist Party Gets Further Away From Socialism.

About a year ago the American Socialist Party, in its endeavour to become more popular, dropped from its constitution the mention of the class-struggle. It is now considering the advisability of dropping the word Socialist from its title and calling itself the "Independent Labour Party." We are sure that all Socialists, both here and in the U.S.A., will be quite enthusiastic about the idea. The American Socialist Party was never in any respect Socialist, and the proposed change of title would clear the way for our colleagues of the American Socialist Education Society to form a real Socialist Party.

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The S.L.P. in Trouble.

The Australian S.L.P. has broken with and been repudiated by the parent body in America. The Australians claim that "the American S.L.P. has weakened from the Principles, Policies and Tactics advocated by Daniel De Leon.”

The trouble appears to have arisen largely out of the insertion in the American Weekly People of advertisements of books containing matter contrary to the S.L.P. position.

The whole controversy, as described in the Australian Revolutionary Socialist is, however, so clouded under a stream of personal abuse that it is a little difficult to tell what really is the matter. Anyhow, they are annoyed, and describe Peterson, of the American S.L.P. as a "demented being," the associate of "assassins," "slanderers," "larceny - mongers," "thieves," and "thugs."

Movements Abroad. (1931)

Party News from the August 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our companion party, the Socialist Party of Australia, reports very successful propaganda meetings in Melbourne. During May two debates were held, one with a free-lance Communist on the existence of capitalism in Russia, and the other with a Single-Taxer. The two halls were filled to overflowing. A large and interested audience attended at their platform on the Public Forum on May Day.

The S.P. of A. are trying to get larger premises to cope with their growing activities.

New Zealand.
We learn with interest that supporters of the S.P.G.B. in Wellington, New Zealand, got together early in the year and formed the Socialist Party of New Zealand. After holding public meetings for some weeks these had to be suspended for the time being. The result of the efforts of these comrades has been shown in a considerable demand for our literature. Efforts are now being made to organise study classes and speakers’ classes in Wellington and Auckland.

Who Are The Fatalists? (1932)

From the August 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

In its issue of May 19th, the Daily Worker published, without dissent, a letter from a correspondent (C. I. H., Manchester), from which the following passages are taken:—
   During our May Day Meeting I heard a local party speaker say that capitalism is responsible for the world economic crisis, but that the individual capitalist is not to blame.
   In the May number of the revisionist Marxist (tea) party's paper, the Socialist Standard, the conclusion of an article on Kreuger states that he was a victim of the capitalist system.
   This view is held by many workers and is a source of much confusion. . . . This philosophy of blind circumstance, somewhat similar to that of divine predestination, is the philosophy of mental and physical paralysis . . . Where is the system?
The first paragraph quoted seems to indicate that the Communist Party possesses at least one intelligent speaker with some understanding of the nature of capitalism.

Let Karl Marx reply to the second paragraph :—
   To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history can, less than any other, make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them. (Preface to Capital, p.xix. Sonnenschein edition.)
From the third extract one gathers that the correspondent not only fails to understand the difference between Marxism and Calvinism, but that he is ignorant of facts known to most schoolboys.

Are we to regard the Puritan rebels of the seventeenth century (who regarded themselves as the predestined “servants of the Lord,” wreaking his vengeance upon the unholy Cavaliers) as examples of paralysis? Were the fatalistic disciples of Mahomet, who overran Northern Africa and invaded Spain, samples of passivity? On the other hand, is the modern Pleasant Sunday Afternoon brother, who prates of his “free will" and tamely acquiesces in his exploitation by the capitalist, a fair specimen of virility ?

True, under certain social conditions we do find fatalism associated with servile submissiveness to the will of the ruling class. Oriental countries offer numerous cases in point; but this apparent contradiction illustrates in a forcible manner the principle that the political life of a given country or epoch can only be explained by reference to its stage of economic development, and not merely by its philosophy. The Puritan movement in England offers an admirable example of the way in which a class, forced to the surface by economic conditions, can revive antiquated ideas in order to express new needs, pouring new wine into old bottles, usually with disastrous results to the bottles.

Marx, however, was the product of a scientific age. People who ascribe their activity, or lack of it, to chance, fate or God, only show thereby that they do not understand the real forces which mould their conduct. It was the task of Marx to lay those forces bare and to show that the development of social life, like every other aspect of evolution, takes place according to certain discoverable laws. In particular, he demonstrated that the accumulation of capital follows a definite and inevitable course (inevitable, that is, in the sense that while it can be retarded or accelerated, it cannot be avoided), and that this accumulation has certain definite and equally inevitable results, including constantly recurring crises and intensified suffering for the workers.,

Those workers who have grasped the teachings of Marx, however, are far from being blind creatures of circumstances. They are class-conscious; conscious, that is, of the class nature of the system which has made them what they are. They recognise the social character of the productive forces which has reduced the present system to an obsolete absurdity which can be swept away when the producers will it. As a result, they endeavour to co-operate with those social forces by persuading their fellow- workers to take the necessary political steps. They do not foolishly imagine (as does C. I. H.) that they can “ fight the system by struggling against the conditions imposed by the individual capitalist.” They know that the system is the cause of these conditions and that one does not get rid of causes by tinkering with effects.

The policy advocated by C. I. H., like that of all reformers (so-called Communists included), resembles that of individuals who, when faced with a house on fire, try to prevent the flames blistering the woodwork. They are just as blind as any fatalist in their violent revolt against the effects of capitalism.

The basis of present-day society is the ownership of the means of living by the capitalists as a class. It is the class that holds the power; not a number of isolated individuals acting independently of one another. Capitalism survives as a system because it is organised. Communists, however, encourage the workers to fritter away their energies in sectional conflicts, thus reducing the ability of the workers to organise as a class for the establishment of a new system. They teach the workers to regard strikes as the weapon of their emancipation.

A hundred years or more of strikes have failed to shake the capitalist ownership of the means of living. They are necessary and useful from time to time as measures of defence against capitalists, but they do not, and cannot, alter the fact that the workers are compelled to go on producing profits in return for wages so long as the capitalist class retains its ownership of the land, factories, railways, etc.

The workers cannot gain possession of the factories by walking out of them, nor even by staying in, so long as the capitalist class controls the coercive forces of the State. The class struggle, therefore, necessarily assumes a political form. In the words of the declaration of principles of the Socialist Party : "The working class, must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that .this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation.’’

This policy, consistently advocated by the S.P.G.B. for nearly a generation, is not that of fatalists or paralytics. It is the policy of those who understand their environment and adapt their efforts intelligently to it. It is no more blind than the attitude of the electrician or engineer who uses his knowledge as a tool to enable him to take advantage of a natural force instead of submitting himself to annihilation by it. 

As for paralysis, nothing is more futile than the attempt to work miracles or to find a port by means of a weathercock. Nothing finally produces greater apathy than the expectation of the impossible; yet these are the characteristic attitudes prevalent in the Communist Party, whose leaders have affected, in the past, such hearty contempt for patient study and organisation. Signs are not wanting that "ruthless self-criticism” is about to give way to reckless self-destruction. Morbid introspection generally leads to a fit of the blues!
Eric Boden

Mr. Lansbury's Solicitude for the Capitalists (1933)

From the August 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Lansbury is often regarded by many misguided people in the so-called Labour movement as a “sincere” worker in the cause of the workers. Sincerity without knowledge or intelligence is useless to any cause, but Mr. Lansbury clearly indicated his concern for the capitalist class, euphemistically referred to as “the taxpayer,” on the occasion of the discussion in the House of Commons on the subject of the £400,000 loan to Newfoundland to enable that state to pay interest on its external debt. “He was very disturbed at the lack of evidence of the future ability of Newfoundland to pay the money. The Government were accepting a responsibility for which, sooner or later, the taxpayers would have to foot the bill.” (News-Chronicle, 29/6/33.) Is it of any interest to the members of the working class whether their masters choose to finance the capitalist class of Newfoundland or not? The burden of the taxes falls on the capitalist class, and it is their concern, and theirs alone, whether they should lend money to foreign states. Mr. Lansbury, deliberately or otherwise, endeavours to get the workers interested in their masters’ troubles, and so lead them away from getting a correct understanding of their position in society.
R. M.

More About Roosevelt's "New Deal" (1934)

From the August 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

An important element in the N.R.A. is the provision in Section 7a;
   “That employees shall have the right to organise and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labour, or their agents, in the designation of such representatives or In self-organisation. . . .” 
The N.R.A. was, of course, framed in such a way as to seem to uphold the prevailing American myth that the interests of capitalists and workers are, at bottom, one and the same. Certainly, Roosevelt, in several broadcast speeches, has attacked certain unnamed, selfish capitalists, who wickedly exploited their workers, but he has made it clear that these are an insignificant minority, that the great mass of employers" are thoroughly fairminded, sound at heart and good Americans to the core. The American Federation of Labour has always officially accepted this absurdly false view of capitalism, and so its leaders saw nothing anti-working class in offering the N.R.A. the fullest co-operation. They openly gloried at the chance to obtain for the first time in American history a sort of quasi-official status for themselves and their organisations.

Under the stimulus of what seemed to be benign encouragement from the President himself, there began a period of intensified activity on the part of the labour unions, and a great drive for membership. Within a few months millions of workers had been recruited, raising the number of organised from about 2½ millions in January, 1933, to around 5 millions in May of this year. Optimism filled the breasts of the unionised workers and their sympathisers amongst the Liberal Radicals. However, within a few months it was dear that the “collective bargaining” guarantee was to have very different consequences from those expected by Roosevelt’s worshippers.

The interpretation of “Section 7a” has led to the bitterest conflict between the unions and employers, more particularly in the Steel and Automobile industries, which have for many years maintained an “open-shop,” anti-union policy with the strongest persistence. Alarmed at the great strides in unionism, and determined to brook no interference from outside organisations, the great capitalist concerns in these and other industries have insisted and acted upon the assumption that “company unions,” largely financed and controlled by themselves, properly complied with the provisions of the N.R.A.

The A.F. of L. has repeatedly urged the Government to come out uncompromisingly in support of the workers’ “rights” under the N.R.A. and against the “open-shop” and company unions. But, as was to be expected, the Government spokesmen, though making rhetorical speeches, apparently favourable to the workers, have sat on the fence on this question, neither daring nor desiring to break the power of the strongest industrial capitalist groups in the country. In the meantime the organisation of company unions has gone on apace, and they now embrace several millions of employees. It is certain that in granting their workers an unsolicited 10 per cent. wage advance recently, the Steel and Auto industries were motivated chiefly by the desire to win over their workers to the company union idea.

The N.R.A. has greatly strengthened the employing class for industrial conflict with the workers. The advantages which they normally possess have been enhanced by the almost complete organisation by industry which the N.R.A. automatically gives them. The workers, on the other hand, are for the most part unorganised. Even after their recent growth the labour unions only embrace about one-tenth of the total number of workers. For purposes of genuine collective bargaining the growing company unions are sheer fakes, having limited “rights” of negotiation, but no means of applying adequate pressure on the employers. In the April, 1934, issue of “The Nation’s Business,” issued by the United States Chamber of Commerce, the chief advantage of company unions over trades unions from the capitalist point of view was stated quite frankly: “The company union does not affiliate in any manner with organisations outside that industry, and generally not outside the operations of a single employer. The employers demand this aloofness or isolation, because its abandonment would mean the strength of alliance for his employees and the ability of his employees to have counsel not dependent upon that company’s pay roll.”

In the numerous strikes that have occurred during the last year a dominant motive has been the desire of the workers to enforce union recognition, which many had naively assumed to be settled once and for all with the coming of N.R.A. In the main, the A.F. of L. leaders have co-operated with the N.R.A. authorities through the Labour Boards in efforts to persuade strikers to return to work on the strength of promises. Where persuasion has been ineffective and the strikes have been prolonged, the State forces have, in the manner usual to pre-N.R.A. days, been used against the struggling workers. The following brief, vivid digest hardly suggests that the workers under the benign wings of the Blue Eagle are on the verge of a millennium:—
   “The New York Sun reported in November that 1,176 policemen were on continuous strike duty, the highest number on record in the department. In the Pittsburgh area the great steel, coal and automobile companies have struck back at their militant workers with the use of armed thugs, barrages of tear and bombing gas and lead. In the coal fields of central Illinois there have been beatings and lawless raids by armed men. In New Mexico the State militia was brought in to break the coal strike, led by the left wing National Miners' Union, and strike leaders were tried by drumhead court martials. In the fruit and cotton strikes, under radical leadership, in the San Joaquin Valley in California, night riders have terrorised Filipino workers; Mexican workers have been threatened with the bull pen and deportation; men have been kept in jail without trial for weeks and then their cases dismissed for want of evidence. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that more than 16 strikers have been killed. 200 injured and hundreds arrested since July 1st, and that more than 40 sweeping injunctions have been issued against workers.” (The Social Questions Bulletin, February, 1984.)
The source of the above quotation is interesting as indicating the intense interest in economic and especially in “labour” questions that four years of depression and the world situation have developed in this country even in the most unlikely quarters. The Bulletin is issued by The Methodist Federation for Social Service.

With the industrial improvement of the past few months has come a rising wave of capitalist criticism directed at the N.R.A. One business house after another has attacked the administration, claiming that its measures are strangling rather than helping recovery. A growing number of capitalists now regret their panicky stampede of a year ago. At that time, as Mrs. Roosevelt in a recent address put it with, shall we say, a little dramatic licence, “Industrial leaders were coming to the government at Washington and saying: ‘Take our business and run it for us.' ” Now, with the first whiff of revival, she complains of their eagerness to throw off all government interference. 

In a summary of the reports of over one hundred local organisations of the Chamber of Commerce throughout the country it is stated that, “There was a large group of complaints about unequal consideration for employers and employees, with so much favour to the latter as to cause disturbances, the effect of which upon recovery locally was feared.” (New York Times, May 1st, 1934.) We have indeed seen how thoroughly the philanthropic policies of the N.R.A. have “favoured” the workers!

The heads of the N.R.A. are wide awake to the rising tide of opposition, and prominent Democrats (who will have to fight the forthcoming elections on the strength of the "vast benefits” the recovery administration has brought to the "common man”) are replying to the attacks with vigour. One class of attack, as, for instance, the much publicised report of the committee headed by Clarence Darrow, claim that the N.R.A. is fostering monopoly and strangling the small business man. There is obviously much truth in this, for by their very nature the clauses in the codes limiting competition mean the virtual suspension of the so-called anti-trust laws. There is abundant evidence that many big industrial concerns which may have strong objections to the labour clauses in the N.R.A. very decidedly approve of the standardisation of trade practices under the control of self-goveming trade associations which the code system provides. From the first, prominent industrialists have been solidly behind the “New Deal,” and have held high official posts in its administration. Charles M. Schwab, head of the Iron and Steel Institute, has declared, “The action of the automobile, textile and other industries in formulating and executing their various codes is . . . the great practical result which has been accomplished thus far. The principles which they adopted are in line with what we have advocated and hoped for over these many years.” (N.Y. Times, May 25th, 1934.) The Nation, which dubs the Steel Code the Magna Charta of Monopoly, points out that “plural voting based upon volume of sales is such as to ensure control by two or three largest steel producers.” "Price cutting loopholes of almost every conceivable variety have been foreseen and corked up.” (May 23rd.)

By the usual irony of history the swarms of petty and middling capitalists who rushed to the support of Roosevelt during his campaign, and who were, according to the rousing speeches of the New Dealers, to be amongst the chief beneficiaries of the recovery programme, are now turning out to be its victims. Many of them must be bitterly wondering if after all they have been but pawns in the game of the powerful interests. They, along with millions of disillusioned workers, will be ready material for the next swing of the political pendulum.

In the old traditional manner, the New Deal is being attacked and defended by appeals to the historical sentiment of the electorate, to their supposed attachment to the ideal embodied in the “glorious constitution.” Ogden L. Mills, cabinet member with Hoover, thunders the awful warning that "the New Deal conflicts with the fundamental principles upon which our government is founded, and to the extent that its philosophy overrides or supplants them it is a revolutionary one.” (N.Y. Times, May 20th.) On the other side of the fence, Richberg, legal counsel for the N.R.A., glowingly proclaims the N.R.A. to be a ”counter revolutionary movement definitely and deliberately designed to perpetuate our American institutions and instrumentalities of individual liberty and self-government.” (N.Y. Times, May 13th.)

All signs point to the developing of a first-class political fight in the near future. Many conflicting capitalist interests are involved, and the form of industrial regulation eventually adopted will necessarily be a compromise between the differing sections. It is impossible to forecast the outcome with any assurance. Much depends on the degree of industrial recovery reached. To any considerable revival of foreign trade there are many obstacles, of which the great growth of artificial trade barriers is only one. Any serious attempt to reorganise American agriculture and manufactures on more nationally self-sufficient lines will entail vast and destructive conflicts, arousing readjustments including the scaling down by government aid of the industries built up primarily on an export basis.

The N.R.A. is involved in a tangle of antagonisms and contradictions. These are a product of the normal development of capitalism the world over. The Socialist does not say that the trends of capitalism cannot be hastened or slowed down by legislative measures, but he does emphatically declare that such modifications are slight and that the general problems of the system can neither be overcome nor circumvented by such methods. This is not to say that America has not now reached a new stage in its evolution, an epoch of still more highly monopolistic and centralized and state regulated capitalism that will bring special problems of its own.

One thing can certainly be said of future developments—that, whatever they may bring, the workers will continue to get the worst of the bargain until they cease to be deluded by the red herring of reform, by attempts to patch up capitalism, and until they unite for the only programme that can solve their problems—the abolition of the whole rotten system itself and the establishment of Socialism.

Though there is abundant discontent, and though the Communists, with their usual cockeyed vision, profess to see “a revolutionary upsurge stirring the American masses,” there is in actual fact a lack of class-consciousness and an abundance of the most confused thinking amongst the workers. This, to a Socialist, is lamentable— but understandable. Economic developments are producing conditions that make the case for Socialism more strikingly clear than was possible in the past era of rampant individualism, and collectivistic ideas of sorts are floating around and being discussed in the most unlikely circles. But in the building up of a sound and powerful party of Socialists, for which The Workers' Socialist Party affords a nucleus, a very great amount of work remains to be done, and must be done. If you are interested, fellow worker, study our principles. If you are convinced, join our ranks.
R. W. Housley
Workers' Socialist Party of the United States

Answer to Correspondents (1935)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Defence of Reforms by K. Kautsky.

A correspondent sends us a copy of the New York New Leader, dated May 4th, 1935, containing the last of a series of articles by K. Kautsky in which he reaffirms the view that democracy is essential to the Socialist movement. Our correspondent is interested chiefly in certain conclusions drawn by Kautsky regarding “reformist" and “revolutionary" measures. 

The relevant paragraphs are given below: —
   Once it comes into power, all measures undertaken by our Party assume a Socialist tendency. The determining consideration of all social measures and innovations then becomes centred in the question whether or not they contribute to the material and moral well-being of the masses. In evaluating such measures it would be absurd to draw a line of demarcation between “reformist” and “revolutionary” measures, to exclude the first, or to draw a distinction between two kinds of Socialists—to condemn the reformists and to hail the revolutionists. Reformist measures are those compatible with the existing system of production. Revolutionary measures are those designed to promote its abolition.

The extent to which any measures we may undertake are to be regarded as reformist or revolutionary depends at all times upon the historic circumstances. To be sure, it would be ridiculous to remain reformist at all times and on all occasions. But no less ridiculous is it to confine ourselves at all times to revolutionary measures. When we achieve power we shall be called upon to institute both reformist and revolutionary innovations.

Needless to say the S.P.G.B. differs fundamentally from Kautsky on the above-mentioned questions. The point of view expressed well illustrates what it is that divides the Labour and Communist Parties on the one side from Socialists on the other—and this, in spite of the fact that Kautsky's criticisms are addressed primarily to Communists. What Kautsky and the Labour Parties in general fail to appreciate is that basically there is, and can be, only one revolutionary measure for Socialists: that is, the dispossession of the capitalist class of their ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and the transfer of these to society as a whole. That act once accomplished, all the rest of the adjustments necessary after the abolition of capitalism will fall into line. But if that act is not accomplished then there can be no question of Socialism. Kautsky fails to recognise this vital distinction and does not see that the parties he has in mind, the Labour Parties, have no such purpose. Even if some leaders understand what is required the rank and file of such parties do not, but have been recruited on reformist programmes, “those compatible with the existing system of production." Parties of that kind cannot in any circumstances whatever serve as instruments for the entirely different purpose of the one revolutionary act for the accomplishment of Socialism. If Kautsky cannot see what is the nature and composition of the Labour Parties, that is no doubt because he has long accustomed himself to cultivating illusions about the real strength and growth of the Socialist movement. He is still living in a fool’s paradise.

One simple test is provided by Kautsky's statement that “once it comes into power, all measures undertaken by our Party assume a Socialist tendency." Apply this to the British Labour Party, the German Social Democrats, the Austrian and Scandinavian Labour Parties. Is it true that the mostly futile and often dangerous and hostile acts committed by them “assume a Socialist tendency"? It is transparently untrue.

Moreover, we need not wait until they achieve power to measure up their actions. What a party does in power is only a continuation and repetition of what it has been in the habit of doing out of power. The compromising, vote-catching, and essentially non-Socialist activities of the Labour Parties show the fallacy of Kautsky's argument.

Despite the weakness of his argument on this question it must not be forgotten that Kautsky has made valuable contributions to Socialist theory in many directions.
Editorial Committee

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J. S., Toronto.—We fail to understand the point of your questions. The real question at issue in the correspondence with J. Hawkins was whether or not Marx constantly stressed the need to gain control of the political machinery. None of your quotations from Socialist Standard and Engels touches on this point. When Engels wrote of the need to suppress any “pro-slavery rebellion," he envisaged doing so in the only way possible, i.e., through control of the political machinery. That is why the S.P.G.B. throughout its existence, has agreed with Marx and Engels that it is absolutely essential for the working class to gain control of the political machinery, including the armed forces.
Editorial Committee

All Aboard for "Progress" (1936)

Editorial from the August 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

Communists seek a Lib-Lab Alliance
The electoral victory of the Lib.-Lab.-Communist “Popular Front" in France has quickly made the question of a similar movement in this country into a live issue for the parties concerned. Those leaders of the Labour Party who oppose any alliance with Liberals or Communists are at the moment going against the popular tide, even in their own ranks. Mr. Herbert Morrison, who is one of these, put a straight question to the Communists. Are they, he asked, prepared to work with the Liberals? Mr. William Gallacher, the Communists' one Member of Parliament, wrote to the News Chronicle on July 18th, replying to this and other questions. Read what Mr. Gallacher says: —
   Will the Communists work with the Liberals? Surely, if the Liberals are prepared to fight for peace and for the practical proposals that will mean an advance in the health and well-being of the workers.
  Already we have been on peace platforms with Labour, Liberal and Co-operative representatives. What’s wrong with that?
  If we can get unity of the workers’ forces, the strength gained thereby will attract more and more the middle class towards our movement.
 The Liberals who represent these middle-class forces will have to come towards us. If they are prepared to support the campaign that we are making —such campaigns, for instance, as the fight against the Unemployment Regulations, shorter working week, peace, etc.—it would be political folly not to accept their co-operation.
Mr. Gallacher also explains in his letter that the Popular Front in France was “directed towards the fight against Fascism and war, for peace and progress."

Now, at least, we know precisely how far the Communist Party has moved from what were once the distinctive characteristics of the Communist movement. The "Statutes of the Communist International," which are the fundamental basis of the Communist International and of each of its separate parties, demand of the Communist Party of Great Britain that it shall “denounce not only the capitalists, but also their allies, the reformists of every colour and shade"; that it shall “systematically and regularly . . . remove from all responsible positions . . . all reformists and supporters of the ‘centre' ; that it shall “recognise the necessity of a complete and absolute rupture with reformism and the policy of the centrists' "; furthermore, that it declare war upon “the old Yellow Social-Democratic parties" (meaning the Labour Party) and “conduct a relentless struggle against the Yellow Amsterdam 'International' of Trade Unions" (meaning the International Federation of Trade Unions, to which the Trades Union Congress belongs).

On the positive side, if a policy so fatal to the working class can be called positive, the Communist Party of Great Britain is bound by its allegiance to the Communist International to assist that body “to organise an armed struggle for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie."

Now, instead of preparing for that armed struggle, the Communists are anxious to line up with Labour or Liberals, or anyone else who is "against Fascism" (say, 90 per cent. of the population), "against war and for peace" (say, 99 per cent.) and "for progress" (surely all the woolly-headed would say they are “for progress" ?).

In other words, the Communists are willing to fight on a programme which consists of a few slogans so vague and general that hardly anyone would disagree, plus a few detailed proposals (shorter hours, and opposition to the present Government’s means test regulations) so restricted in scope that sufficient concessions could be made to satisfy large numbers of workers without causing any serious inconvenience to the capitalist system.

The Communists will no doubt reply that any manoeuvre is justified if it prevents war. The answer to which is that capitalist wars arise from capitalism, and are not to be waived away by reformist groups solemnly protesting—while maintaining capitalism—that they are in favour of “peace, democracy and reform," or any other nebulous phrases. If Mr. Gallacher would look up the "Statutes" again he would find this argument was foreseen, for the Communist Party of Great Britain is there pledged “ to demonstrate to the workers that, without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, neither international arbitration nor conferences regarding the limitation of armaments, nor the 'democratic' reorganisation of the League of Nations, will be capable of saving mankind from new Imperialist wars."

It appears then, that the Communists, under Moscow orders, are now committed to a policy of Liberal-Labourism, which makes an absurdity of every theory and every proposal in the Statutes on which the whole Communist movement rests. There is no logical reason why the Communist Party should continue to exist, except that the turn of the year may find Moscow initiating still another change of direction, when Mr.. Gallacher will perform his customary feat of swallowing his own words. The fact that he is now a Member of Parliament recalls that, not so many years ago, he was not only outside Parliament, but the most uncompromising opponent of the whole Parliamentary system. If Parliament has had a degenerating effect on him, he will hardly be surprised, since he used to say that Parliament has that effect on those who reach its cushioned seats.