Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Face of Capitalism (1977)

Book Review from the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lonrho — Portrait of a Multinational by S. Cronjé, M. Ling and G. Cronjé. (Pelican)

The book attempts to document the growth and activities of the Lonrho Company over the last decade or so. Lonrho has more than 500 subsidiary and associate companies and the range of its overall activities is huge. The ownership of mines, cattle farms, railways, newspapers, pipelines, sugar refineries and commercial properties are some. This makes the writing of a coherent account a difficult task and added to this the authors appear to have derived a great deal of their information from the mass media. Their Notes section at the end of the book quotes articles from several hundred periodicals and newspapers as sources, and their Introduction states that they found it largely impossible to obtain information direct from the highly secretive Lonrho board. For these reasons the book never attains more than that level which interests newspapers, particularly the financial pages.

The result is a complicated record of years of wheeling and dealing which Lonrho and its associates have engaged in, both with other companies and with political leaders — notably in Africa. The increase in profits which Lonrho had shown, from £14.44m in 1969 to £46.44m in 1974 for example, is explained in terms of astute deals, successful takeovers, clever share manoeuvres and so on. There are vague references to the output of various subsidiaries increasing, or of others expanding significantly and becoming more profitable, but the credit for this is placed firmly on the Lonrho board’s foresight, and on occasion, their luck. The chief executive director, “Tiny” Rowland, is given particular prominence and much of the company’s success is attributed to his ability to make personal contacts with men in high places, who in turn gave Lonrho preferential treatment. They quote Roland's own statement:
  When I’m abroad, I am entertained and do business with Rulers, Presidents and Prime Ministers, who entertain me and look after me. (p. 242)
Virtually no attention is focussed on the fact that while Rowland and his board members are busy being entertained, they, and their hosts are supported in their privileged position by thousands of property-less workers. One idea that this is the case is given on the cover design where a cigar-smoking model of Rowland is seen astride a black man and a white man who have both been harnessed. Rowland is holding the reins. When the book was published recently he was annoyed at the inference.

The issue which was provoked by the more hypocritical shareholders over the low wages paid to workers in Lonhro’s South African mines is dealt with briefly. The official Lonrho line was deliberately evasive; though the parent company owned almost 97 per cent. of the offending mining companies, fixing of wage levels at the mines was a matter for the local puppet company, Lonrho South Africa Ltd. The book notes that “South Africa was not the only place where Lonrho paid low wages” and gives the example of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) which in 1974 was the subject of a War on Want pamphlet stating that severe cases of malnutrition were common among its workers. Lonrho’s personnel manager “admitted that conditions were a matter for ‘concern, but said that the company was making hardly any profit in Sri Lanka' ” (p. 86).

The authors repeat the suggestion that Lonrho has been engaged in “sanctions busting” through subsidiaries in Rhodesia — a suggestion leading to the resignation of Angus Ogilvy, and claim that the Rhodesian and South African interests have proved embarrassing to Lonrho when they have been courting “black” African governments — they give several instances — for franchises, concessions and contracts, because of an alleged ideological difference. Again the Company line was ingenious if nothing else; should they sell up these interests the! new owners might prove to be simply a gang of ruthless capitalist exploiters — unlike Lonrho themselves! In this connection the authors casually refer to African states “with a commitment to some form of socialism” (p. 248) who are going to pose what the book concludes is the issue, “whether capitalism is going to have an acceptable face in Africa at all”. The suggestion is that the emerging black leaders who wine and dine men like Mr. Rowland and his “respectable” cohorts have something else in mind, although they offer no evidence for this.

With the virtual absence of Socialist understanding among African workers, and the determined action by the governments of rival nation states to exploit greater masses of the African population in order to accumulate capital for the ruling minorities, it is a naive suggestion to make.
Alan D'Arcy

50 Years Ago: Forerunners of Marx (1964)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The author claims that the great forerunners of Marx—standing between the Utopians and the latter— was an Irishman named William Thompson, who, among numerous notable statements, laid bare the source of value in his work entitled, “An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth most conducive to Human Happiness”, etc., published 1824, where it is laid down that all labour can be reduced to unskilled labour of the average kind at a given time.

Miss Potter says Marx took his notion of “homogeneous human labour” from Thompson and incorporated it in “Capital”.

The author says, “In the English speaking world the work of this Irish thinker is practically unknown, but on the Continent of Europe his position has long him established'" (p 115)

Now what is common to both Connolly and Miss Potter is the curious fact that neither of them state who established Thompson's position and made him known on the Continent. The uninstructed reader may learn with surprise that the person responsible was—Karl Marx!

Many years ago Dr. Aveling pointed out in a little book called “Darwin Made Easy”, that the various “objections” by ignorant Christians and parsons to Darwin's work were all first formulated by Darwin himself in the “Origin of Species”, and no opponent had ever brought forward any other. So with Marx. All the opponents of Marx who are so loud in their claims to have discovered “forerunners” of his work and ideas are all of them—German, English and Irish alike—indebted to Marx, who first discovered and gave full credit to them in his various works, particularly in the “Poverty of Philosophy” and the “Critique of Political Economy”.

And among others he points out that Benjamin Franklin had already in 1721 stumbled on the secret of undifferentiated labour as the source of value, though he (Franklin) did not work the idea out to any extent.

However, it is the fashion today among the shallow critics of scientific Socialism who are unable to refute the case or show a flaw in the arguments of Marx to pretend to demolish that genius by finding someone who “anticipated” him, and keeping “gradely dark” the fact that the very person they are indebted to for such discovery is Marx himself.

(From the Socialist Standard, June, 1914. Extract from a review of “Labour in Irish History" by James Connolly)

Political Notes: King or Queen? (1981)

The Political Notes Column from the December 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

King or Queen?

What progress to report in the historic (well it started in 1918) Labour Party struggle to abolish the British monarchy? Currently in the vanguard is Michael English, MP for Nottingham West, who greeted the news that the Princess of Wales will next June add to the clutch of regal parasites with the threat to draft a parliamentary Bill.

A Bill, the royals might tremblingly ask, to dispossess the House of Windsor, demolish the royal palaces, dismiss the regiments of flunkeys? Well actually, no; what English has in mind is a Bill to give women of the blood royal equal rights of succession to men of that same blood. “We should declare,” said this heroic revolutionary from the Nottinghamshire coalfields, “that the eldest child, irrespective of sex, inherits the throne, not merely the eldest son.”

If this ever becomes law. Princess Anne will be second in line for the throne, after Prince Charles. This is likely to lose English votes among scarred newshounds who have been abused by the gentle princess, usually after she has fallen off a horse.

English has yet to explain why British workers, whose struggle for existence under capitalism grows daily harsher, should be concerned about who is entitled to wear the biggest crown on their heads and about whether, under the longest robe, there is a female or a male body.

The royal family — apart from the fact that in their own right they are exceedingly rich members of the British capitalist class — are figureheads of the class society of capitalism. In their very persons they represent the privilege and superiority of one class in imposing exploitation and degradation on the other.

People who set out to modify this particular aspect of property society — or even to abolish it while retaining capitalism with its class privileges — are wasting their energies. Of course Labour MPs would not agree. All too often, after a lifetime of bolstering the class divided, privilege ridden, inhumane social system of capitalism they get their reward and end up in the House of Lords where, at selected times of the year, they can ape the royalty they once swore to abolish.

Words, words, words . . .

One year ago the unemployment figure stood at 2¼ million and Margaret Thatcher made a statement. “We knew it would be a long, hard slog,” she wrote in the January 1981 issue of Conservative News, “What can we look forward to in 1981? It will be another hard year.”

Well that is one promise the Tories have kept, although it was not very difficult for them since every year under capitalism is hard for the working class. Then what about the problem in communication there seemed to be at the time, between Thatcher and her Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe, who assured all the viewers on independent television that the recession would end in 1981?

With unemployment now above 3 million, and still rising, here is Thatcher making another statement:
  This government has created conditions in which out of recession can come renewed confidence. It is in the coming year that our confidence will be rewarded.
Tory constituency workers, who have the job of persuading voters that unemployment is really prosperity, that falling living standards are really progress, might well wonder if the Prime Minister is quite well. Are we to look forward, at every year’s end, to a parcel of Thatcher fantasy, gift wrapped? To further promises to make yet more promises? Will it ever end?

No great power is needed to perceive that words do not solve the crises of capitalism; that as the words flow the prospects for the working class, who vote to keep the system in being, do not improve. The evidence has never been clearer, or more compelling; the interests of the working class demand that they reject the threats and the promises (often they are the same thing) of political leaders and instead, in conscious action, take their future into their own hands.
Until they do, we can look forward more words. And enough, as Harold Macmillan once said, is enough.

I spy, you spy . . .

The exposure of yet another spy for the Russians in high places adds fuel to the fears of those people who see the British Intelligence Service as being as full of holes as a piece of Gruyère cheese. The latest in the line, Leo Long, admits that there were many others, as yet unrevealed, also at it, all recruited by Anthony Blunt during their time as pretentious, self-deluded Cambridge undergraduates.

Long left the university a thoroughly convinced supporter of the Communist Party — which meant that this self-styled intellectual would support any atrocity, tell any lie, suppress any fact, if he thought it was in the interests of the Russian ruling class to do so.

It was while he was at the War Office that Long actually began passing secret information, through Blunt, to the Russians. This was largely taken from the reports of Allied spies in German-occupied Europe and included details of troop movements.

All this was happening during the war, when Russia and Britain — or rather the ruling class of those countries — were allies. This raises the question of why one ally needs to spy on another — why one ally needs to keep secrets from another. Why weren’t they both helping each other as much as possible — with men, materials, intelligence — in the common struggle for what, we were told, was democracy?

Of course it was not like that. The war was not about freedom. The unity of the Allies was fragile and temporary, against the greater, more immediate threat of German capitalism. All of them knew that when that had been settled the conflict of interests which always operates between capitalism’s states would re-emerge between them. During the war, that conflict was kept under wraps but it was still there and was still carried on.

So there is no need for surprise in the affair of Leo Long. It is more evidence to expose the fact that capitalism cannot be a society of united interests, that it can only exist deep in its own divisive cynicism.

Three Days in Calcutta (1995)

Party News from the May 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
A new party advocating world socialism was founded in Calcutta at the beginning of March when a previously existing organisation, the Marxist International Correspondence Circle, publishers of the Bengali-language Lal Pataka, adopted the principles of the World Socialism Movement and changed its name to the World Socialist Party (India). 
Two delegates from the Socialist Party of Great Britain were present at this conference. One of them, Richard Donnelly, gives his impressions.
The streets of Calcutta are alive with the harsh throb of poverty and desperation. To visit Calcutta for the first time is to experience the sharp pain of human helplessness in the face of such deprivation.

In Sealdah railway station families sleep on the concourse, counting themselves fortunate not to have to face the relentless onset of the monsoon that has to be endured by the pavement dwellers outside.

I have felt the unforgettable rage of seeing young women suckling their young on the pavements of these filthy streets, where dead dogs lie rotting in the sun and rats scamper in the rubbish heaps in competition with human beings.

It was amidst these awful scenes, where starving children follow you from street to street begging for a few coppers, that I arrived at Bankim Jatterjee Street for the inaugural meeting of the World Socialist Party (India).

There I heard young men speaking of threats of violence, of loss of jobs, hounding of their parents, and their pledge to work for World Socialism. It was the most crushing indictment that I have ever heard of the money-grubbing, self-aggrandisement of all reformist parties.

Truly, to have been in that hall was to be proud that you were part of a movement that said "To hell with reformism, we are dedicated to win this planet for World Socialism."

Those days, from 1 to 3 March, may not have been "three days that shook the world", but they have undeniably shaken the writer of these so inadequate words.
Richard Donnelly

Socialism and Anti-Parliamentarism. (1928)

From the January 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Held at Friars Hall, Blackfriars, 20/11/27.

Comrade Fitzgerald commenced his lecture by pointing out the erroneous definitions of Socialism which were being spread about by Capitalist agents in order to breed confusion in the minds of the Working Class. For that reason, he went on to say, it was especially necessary to define Socialism. Two false definitions were (1) that Socialism meant a system of sharing-out; (2) that Socialism was a system of rationing. The word “Socialism" was taken from the word “Society.” The Economic League denied there was any system in society; they claimed that there had always been one method of “getting things done" and that was the present one, which had always existed. They allowed only for changes in the details of the management of society. The Socialist, however, took the evidence in front of him and held that changes in the system had taken place. When the Socialist laid down that he was out for Socialism, he wanted a system of society where those things necessary for the maintenance of life itself would be owned by society as a whole. Socialism meant the social ownership of the things necessary to maintain life—land, railways, machinery, plant, etc. The products would be individually owned and consumed. That definition should be kept clearly in mind. The idea that we would all use the same toothbrush was sheer nonsense. Another bogey put forward was that Socialism would restrict individuality. Individuality was already restricted when it entered Society.

In capitalist society we had the contradiction of over-production with the majority of the people lacking the necessities of life. To-day the present system was known as capitalism, and the troublesome task with which it was faced was the finding of markets for its products. This was due to the fact that the things made were produced for SALE and not to satisfy the needs of society. The things necessary to maintain life were privately owned by a small section in society, a section which took no part in production. The working class changed the raw material into the finished articles. The working class received money—a medium of exchange—for their services, but they could only purchase a small portion of the things produced with that money. The rest of the products which the working class could not buy because their purchasing power was so limited, had to be exported into other countries after the capitalist class had consumed as much as it could. Even the capitalist consumption was limited and so the capitalists were still faced with the problem of over-production. The basic factor of wars was the struggle of the capitalists to find markets and routes for their products. There was no economic solution and the capitalists could only meet the difficulty for the time being by maintaining, as they are doing to-day, but in still greater proportions, those members of the working class who were unemployed. It was a fault in the working of the system. The only solution was to harmonise production and ownership by society taking control of the means of production and the instruments for the converting of the raw material into the articles we require, and owning socially, product socially—i.e., for the needs of Society and not for the profits of a class, The question was how was this to be done—there was only one manner of doing it and that was by the members of society desiring it should be so—it was not going to happen behind one's back as some people fondly imagined. The human factor was necessary to change the present conditions. The only class interested in that change was the working class—it was to their interest that the capitalist system should be wiped out. How', then, to bring about Socialism? In the ultimate—it was power. The workers had, therefore, to examine the situation and decide how they could get that necessary power into their hands. Political power was the essential for bringing about the change. There was a great deal of confusion about the meaning of political power, and a great deal of superstition. Some thought the vote was merely a bauble to amuse the working class. Others that since politics were corrupted, the workers should not dabble in them, but should devote themselves to the pure, dean, atmosphere of economic action. That action did not look so pure now—with its Black Friday of the Triple Alliance and its blacker Wednesday of the so-called General Strike. These notions, whether springing from personal experience or manufactured by people whose interest it was to spread confusion, were due to a misunderstanding of what politics meant. The working class had not grasped the historical side of the matter. They join a political party and they see underhand trickery going on that they sicken of the whole business because they do not understand politics. The ordinary dictionary told you that the word “Politics” was the name given to the “Science of the State”—that was not sufficient. Politics had their basis in the organisation of society itself and in the early days when arrangements had to be made for common purposes, those restrictions, arrangements, etc., were the politics of that time.

The Development of Politics.—In the regulations of the tribal communities we have the first stages of the development of the political machine. The technical term for a meeting of the tribes was “the Phratry.” Tribes would be organised according to their conditions of obtaining a living. Some would live by plunder and others by agriculture. Beyond the Tweed, we find the terms “Highlander” and "Lowlander” still surviving. They had their origin in the two methods of organisation, i.e.. The Highlanders for plunder, and the Lowlanders for agriculture. We have remnants of this type of tribal organisation in India on the North-West Frontier.

In this country we can go back to the days of the Anglo-Saxon invasion when the Anglo-Saxon tribes divided the land between them, probably, into the different “shires” that exist to this day. A unit of division was very often one hundred soldiers, one of these divisions in use to-day is “The Chiltern Hundreds." It was interesting to remark that the only way for an M.P. to resign from Parliament to-day was by applying for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds which are non-existent, otherwise he was technically unable to resign.

The first form of National Council was the Witenagemote composed of representatives of the different shires. In the 13th Century Simon de Montfort summonsed together the first "Parliament" for the consideration of ways and means of carrying on wars. It was then too that the towns were first represented. In King John’s time we found the Barons holding a council and refusing to suffer the despotic John to tax as he pleased, and at Runnymede the Magna Charter was signed, which provided among other things that no man should be sent abroad without his consent.

The Position with Regard to Kings.— Foreign writers were apt to point to the instance of the deposition and beheading of Charles the First as unique in English History, but this king had a predecessor in King Richard II, who was deposed during the year 1399, and superseded by Henry IV, who was crowned by a “general election” of the barons. So the Right of Kings was not only challenged, but brought to its logical conclusion. The 16th century marked intense development in politics. The merchant class was rising; the New World had been discovered; enormous markets were opened for produce and commerce and enormous areas were found for plunder. Trouble began to brew over the demands of King Charles I that finally led to a rupture between the King and Parliament. It is interesting to note here that Charles had formed stores of ammunition near the Border in preparation for a war with Scotland. When the clash between the King and Parliament came, the Parliament sent its officials to seize those stores, which was promptly done. Colonel Hutchinson in his “Memoirs," has reported an amusing incident where the authority of Parliament set the authority of the King at naught, and the official sent to take the supplies for the King was denied by the officer in charge who wanted Parliament’s authority first. The King was beheaded.

The rigid rule of the Puritans led to a temporary reaction, and then the Restoration of Charles II. But the Stuarts had learnt little and James II tried to restore the “Divine Right of Kings." This led to the Rebellion of 1688, and the placing of William of Orange—as William III—on the Throne. But William was only made King on condition that he accepted the Constitution that kept the real power in the hands of Parliament, and he signed a declaration to that effect. This illustrated the power of Parliament and the importance of political power.

In 1832 the Reform Bill was passed, which completed the control of power by the capitalist class. Political machinery, is, therefore, the method of managing the affairs of any given society. It is not a bauble—it is a factor grown out of the development of society itself.

To-day, the workers perform all the useful functions in society. Occasionally a capitalist may amuse himself by going into the office to dabble in business, but as a class, the capitalists preferred to spend their time at the gambling tables of Monte Carlo or yachting in the Mediterranean, etc. Some people said that it was the capitalist class who provided the brains. What, then, happened when a capitalist died? Surely in such a case the business must die with him —but what did we find?—more often than not the business went on better than during his life, at all events it did not immediately die. The truth was that brains were bought, and the brains were supplied by the working class. Since the capitalist performed no useful function, the logical deduction was that those who did all the work should enjoy the results. Why didn’t they? It was not a question of numbers—the workers were in the majority. Why didn’t they take control of the means of production for themselves? Simply because if they had attempted to do so they would have had to meet the forces of the Nation—the army, the aircraft, etc. The army, however, is composed of working men, and even the officers, bar the fashionable regiments like the Guards, are working men—they sell their "professional services” for their livelihood. How, then, did the capitalist control the Army? It was a question of supplies. First, the law sanctioning the Army, etc., is passed by Parliament. Then the supplies necessary to maintain and increase these Forces are voted in the Annual Budget. Lastly, the instructions and general orders are sanctioned by Parliament before they can be put into operation, The control of the Fighting Forces is therefore in the hands of those controlling the political machinery.

Another point, not so well known, is that a Standing Army—for more than a year—is illegal in this country. How then does this Army continue in existence ? By the following method. Every year a Bill called the Renewal of Expiring Acts Bill is passed in the House of Commons. One of the items in that Bill is the renewal of the Army. So that even to continue the Army the control of Parliament is necessary. Since 1867, when the Ten Pound Franchise Bill was passed, the workers have had the majority of votes. The workers, therefore, have ample means to get control of that machine politically. The anarchist says Parliament is no good.

The Anarchists.—There are two sets of Anarchist Groups, one believes that an individual should be entirely free and that action should be confined to economic lines —i.e.. striking, etc. That a General Strike would wipe out capitalism. They ignore the fact that the first people to suffer are the working class, who have the smallest supplies. A General Strike, therefore, means General Starvation.

Moreover they are quite unable to show how unarmed workers could face the fighting forces, particularly with the latter’s powerful modern weapons of destruction.

The other set believes that syndicates should be organised by the workers in the industries for the purpose of taking over these industries and that each section should be confined to its own trade, i.e., the bakers—the bakery, the miners—the mines, etc. This was known as Syndicalism. It was absurd to isolate the workers in that manner—to put the miners in charge of the mines, the sewermen in charge of the sewers, and the lunatics, presumably, in charge of the asylums. (Laughter.) Production was social, the miner depended on the baker for his bread, and the baker depended on the miner for his coal, etc.

About 1905 a scheme was formulated in Chicago that had for its method the “taking and holding" of the means of production without a political party. The body then formed was called the Industrial Workers of the World. When asked how they could hold the means of production the answer usually given was “by locking out the capitalist.” As the capitalist is hardly ever in the factory this did not seem a very hopeful procedure. When asked what power the workers could bring against the armed forces they had no answer, though later on they developed the notion of physical force— a piece of sheer lunacy while the capitalist control political power. The Anti-Parliamentarists, such as Guy Aldred, who ranted about the uselessness of the political machine, were unable to find a substitute. The Socialist Society, in its first stages, may have to maintain a standing army, and it will be the workers then who will determine that question. Having this control, through the political machine, the workers will be able to obtain and distribute what they require.

The Nature of Russian Society (1967)

Book Reviews from the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Unfinished Revolution: Russia 1917-1967 by Isaac Deutscher, O.U.P. 21s.

A Revolutionary Socialist Manifesto by Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski, International Socialism, 4s.

Every Revolution creates its own myths. The French revolutionaries thought that all privilege had been abolished when kings, nobles and priests had been dealt with. Even today in America the dominant ideology denies there is a class system there. And so in Russia where the official mythology proclaims a classless society. But even many who are critical of the government there argue that it is wrong to talk of Russia as a class society. Among these is the late Isaac Deutscher. Deutscher, a freelance trotskyist, was invited to give the George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures in Cambridge this year. He chose to outline what can be called the orthodox trotskyist theory on the nature of Russian society. This may have been new to Cambridge professors but it is old hat to Socialists. All the same, since Deutscher, like Trotsky, can write well the arguments are worth going over again.

Deutscher closely follows Trotsky. [1] Owing to Russia’s economic backwardness and political isolation a bureaucratic caste (not class) was able to usurp power. This bureaucracy cannot be said to be a class as its privileges are not based on property. Their relationship to the nationalised means of production is the same as that of the working class. Its privileges appear in the consumption not in the production of wealth.
  What this so-called new class lacks is property. They own neither means of production nor land. Their material privileges are confined to the sphere of consumption. Unlike the managerial elements in our society, they are not able to turn any part of their income into capital: they cannot save, invest, and accumulate wealth in the durable and expansive form of industrial stock or of large financial assets. They cannot bequeath wealth to their descendants; they cannot, that is, perpetuate themselves as a class.
Deutscher was of Polish origin. By coincidence two young Poles, now in jail, Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski, provide a complete answer to his points in their Open Letter to the Party written in 1965:
  It is said that the bureaucracy cannot be a class, since the individual earnings of its members do not come anywhere near the individual earnings of capitalists; since no bureaucrat, taken by himself, rules over anything more than his mansion, his car and his secretary; since entrance to the bureaucratic ranks is determined by a political career and not by inheritance; and since it is relatively easy to be eliminated from the bureaucracy in a political showdown. This is quite wrong. All the above arguments prove only the obvious: The property of the bureaucracy is not of an individual nature, but constitutes the collective property of an élite which identifies itself with the state. This fact defines the principle of the bureaucracy’s internal organisation, but its class character does not depend on its internal organisation or its mores, only on its relationship—as a group—to the means of production and to other social classes (above all, the working class), (our italics).
That a privileged class could own property collectively seems to have escaped both Trotsky and Deutscher. Perhaps because they attached too literal a meaning to “private property” (after all, in English, private often means individual), they held that nationalisation abolished privilege based on property. Whereas in fact nationalisation is just another form of sectional property. Marx himself, in an early essay discussing the role of the Prussian bureaucracy, showed that he realised a class could own property collectively. [2] Kautsky knew this too. Discussing what, in Western Europe, is the classic case—church property in feudal times— he wrote that after the priests had suppressed the primitive democracy of the early churches “it goes without saying that the property of the community now became in fact the property of their administrators, though not their personal property, but that of the bureaucracy as a corporation”. [3] Some trotskyists even realised this. But the most thorough examination of this species of sectional property was done by Karl Wittfogel. [4] He spoke of “political property”. Kuron and Modzelewski have “bureaucratic property”. But whatever it is called this relationship is clearly a form of class monopoly over the means of production.

In their first four chapters the two Poles brilliantly argue the case that Poland (and, by implication Russia) is a class society; that the working class and peasantry are exploited by the elite “who occupy conspicuous positions in the (Party) hierarchy and who collectively make basic decisions” (a group they call the central political bureaucracy). They show how the working class are propertyless and so have to sell their mental and physical energies to this bureaucracy for wages in order to live. They show too how the peasants are deprived of all surpluses above subsistence so that cheap food is available to keep wages down in industry. They conclude that the way out for the working class is to overthrow by force the bureaucracy and introduce genuine democracy into administration and industry.

Deutscher shares this aim. But because he denies that Russia is a class society he thinks that this change will come about not through a political struggle of the working class but as a result of the evolutionary process he sees now going on. His arguments here are very weak. He says that while managers in the West are responsible to the shareholders
  Soviet managers have not only to acknowledge that all shares belong to the nation, but to profess that they act on the nation’s behalf, and especially on behalf of the working class. Whether they are able to keep up this pretence or not depends solely on political circumstances. The workers may allow them to keep it up or they may not. They may, like a sluggish lot of shareholders, accept bad managers; or they may dismiss them. In other words, bureaucratic domination rests on nothing more stable than a state of political equilibrium. This is—in the long run—a far more fragile foundation for social dominance than in any established structure of property relations sanctified by law, religion, and tradition.
But neither Kuron and Modzelewski (nor we) would argue that it is the managers of industrial concerns who are the privileged class in Russia. They, like those in the West, are really a very highly-paid grade of worker. In Russia they, like the working class generally, must take orders from the bureaucracy (the real equivalent of the shareholders).

Deutscher's argument that the rule of the bureaucracy is less firm than that of the capitalist class in the West has even less merit. For it is true here also that capitalist class rule “rests on nothing more stable than a state of political equilibrium". Here the capitalist class rule primarily because their rule is accepted and endorsed by the vast majority of workers. In fact surely it is they who are in the the weaker position. For as a result partly of past working class struggles and present working class understanding and organisation they are forced to seek, every now and again, a mandate to rule from the working class. The Russian ruling class has to undergo no such indignity. They have all the means they need ruthlessly to suppress any opposition—which they don’t hesitate to use. Kuron and Modzelewski disclose that as late as 1962 tanks were used against workers in Novocherkassk, a small town near Rostov in southern Russia. For the working class to get the ruling bureaucracy off their backs requires quite as much political knowledge and organisation as we need to get the traditional capitalists off ours. Indeed, it requires more for first they must establish elementary rights of expression and association. In fact their struggle, and ours, are part of the same movement of the working class the world over to free themselves from exploitation and oppression.
Adam Buick

[1] Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed.
[2] Marx, Critique et Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.
[3] Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity.
[4] Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism,

Are you a Wage Slave? (1973)

From the June 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Classes can be distinguished by their relationship to the means of production and distribution. In capitalist or state capitalist society, workers have access to farms, factories, mines, railways etc. only as wage-labourers (or salaried employees, if you prefer euphemisms).

The worker owns nothing save his labour-power (manual skills, qualifications, experience, brains) but he has got to live. He doesn’t have free access to food, housing or anything; they all have a price tag. He cannot get a living without money. So he sells his labour-power. At the end of the week or month he is paid according roughly to how much it costs a worker to keep a roof over his head and reproduce, complicated by the need to pay skilled workers at a higher rate and also by varying levels of unemployment. Wages generally are geared to “cost of living” figures. They are not geared to the value of what the workers produce.

The employers make a profit from the value of the work done, over and above what is paid out as wages, cost of raw materials, machinery and other overheads. Everything the workers buy is produced and distributed by the working class themselves. Yet their access to the wealth they produce so abundantly is severely rationed and limited by the money in the paypacket. An obvious example is housing. In the South East unless you earn over £3,500 a year you will not easily find a home you can buy. The result is that most building workers — bricklayers, plumbers, joiners etc. — cannot buy the houses they themselves build.

This is what “cash wages” (or cheque salaries) means in practice: rationing, by a singularly inappropriate process. Our pay packets have no relevance to our level of needs: they only reflect the value of our labour-power — whether we are skilled and scarce, or unskilled and abundant. Old people, handicapped people, women, children, sick people: all these are especially needy, and they are the people who have least money.

This can only mean that our society has the wrong priorities. This problem of the distribution of what man produces can only be solved by Socialism, a common ownership society, democratically controlled by all people, with free access to all mankind’s wealth. Socialism will mean no poverty, no-one suffering hunger or homelessness through lack of money while food and houses are available in abundance.
Charmian Skelton