Sunday, October 21, 2018

First Things First (1961)

From the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is nothing more that devoted well-meaning people could have done. Over the years they have altered, added and improvised to try to meet the requirements of changing knowledge and needs. But as it stands now. the structure of this early Victorian hospital has outlived itself and what the place really needs is to be pulled down and rebuilt.

Surely, ask the very innocent, that would cost too much money—there isn't enough of it about, you know? And this is echoed by many an "economic expert" who would deny any claim to naiveté.

Not enough money about? Stick your head out of the ward window and watch the giant machines tearing into wet London clay and the skeleton of a flyover taking shape before your eyes. Don't leave the window open too long, though—the drilling, bulldozing and blasting of the great new road development scheme must have a devastating effect on the poor patients. They did think about spending some more money on the scheme, to make it quieter and so easier on the patients' nerves. But in the end they decided that roads come first and sick human beings somewhere after that.

Perhaps many motorists agreed with this decision. Certainly, they grumble enough about the need for new roads and the amount of tax which goes into licences, petrol and so on. Yet they would be wrong to think that the flyovers, underpasses, motorways and the rest are built for their especial benefit and enjoyment.

Let us begin somewhere at the beginning. Our society is based upon private property, which means that a few people own the means of life. This leaves a lot of people who are virtually propertyless. and who therefore have to work for the few owners. In this work they create a surplus which must be sold so that the capitalists can realise their profits. These profits are used by and at the discretion of the international, wealthy ruling class.

This set up raises some tricky problems for the capitalists. Traffic jams prevent profitable goods being moved efficiently; they even stop workers getting to work on time, which means that they might not turn out as much surplus as they should. So traffic jams, in the name of profit, must go.

Again, if motor cars are to be stuck forever in jams and queues, a lot of potential buyers may decide to use some other form of transport. The motor car market is already none too healthy; if there was a developing hardness against the industry's sales jargon there would soon be panic stations in the plushy showrooms. So would there be in the al fresco salons on old bomb sites, where many workers obtain their latest model.

And what about that other great commercial group which has motoring interests clutched to its bosom? What of the oil companies? We all know that the noxious, smelly fluid can overnight turn a flyblown, sandy waste into a world danger spot. It has lined the pockets of shareholders all over the world, and enabled a handful of Eastern potentates to count their wealth in Cadillacs instead of the traditional camels. No need to point out that the oil boys think an efficient road system, with lots of cars using it, is very important.

These are the reasons why the excavators scrunch outside the hospital walls, and why ordinary, decent people think it right to put motor cars higher up the scale of values than sick and ailing human beings.

For sick workers contribute little, or nothing, to the profitability of capitalism. They are, in fact, an expense, which is covered by taxes on property, the National Insurance levy and philanthropy.

Capitalism can be attacked coldly, with fact and arguments on economics, history and the rest. This does not mean that we do not see through the cloying mess of moral standards and human values which capitalism foists on us. It is useless merely to try to be humane; for many an uphill struggle to implement a reform has been followed by capitalism's unhappy knack of encroaching upon the reform, when it clashed with some sectional economic interest.

No, we need a bigger change than that. Something to make human beings free and secure. We'll have roads under Socialism, and we will have sick people too. But both of them will be in their place.
Jack Law

Branch News (1961)

Party News from the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Delegate Meeting held at Head Office on Saturday and Sunday, October 7th and 8th. was well attended and proved to be one of the most interesting for some time. The keynote of the discussion was that comrades were anxious to get on with the work of the Party and used the time in discussing how best to serve the Party’s aims. Many interesting ideas were exchanged and there is no doubt that comrades left the meeting with renewed enthusiasm to make even greater efforts to spread the word of Socialism.

We are awaiting the full report of the sales of literature at the Blackpool Labour Party Conference. Our energetic and resourceful new Literature Sales Committee hired a caravan and sped up to Blackpool, where they bombarded the delegation there with literature of the Socialist case. The Committee made these arrangements quickly and efficiently and obtained the EC’s blessing while the work was actually in progress. This Committee is doing excellent work, attending rallies and meetings of other political organisations, apart from seeing that our own meetings are well supplied with literature with well organised sales. They were in force at the Caxton Hall Meeting on October 18th. Details of sales will be given in our next issue, together with the Blackpool report.

Glasgow Branch series of meetings have got off to a good start. These meetings will carry on throughout the winter, and Glaswegians should hasten to get in at the start and so benefit from the continuity of the series dealing with the Sixties.

General propaganda meetings! Many branches have a full programme for the winter. Head Office films are being well attended and debates have been arranged. The meetings list in every issue should be one of the first items for perusal, so that members can tell friends and sympathisers in plenty of time.

Ealing Branch's programme of winter activities really gets under way this month with two lectures, one general and the other theoretical, as well as a film showing. The new meeting room (but the same building) is much more comfortable than the old and is a first-rate place for these activities. Members are asked to make a special effort to be prompt and to note especially the time of the film show (7.45 pm) made necessary because the film lasts almost an hour-and-a-half. The Branch is doing very well. Two new members have been made in recent months as well as several other contacts. Branch members are looking forward to a really successful winter season.
Phyllis Howard

Letter: CND and SPGB (1961)

Letter to the Editors from the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

I note the news item on page 96 of the June issue and am glad, but not surprised, that CND members figured prominently at the St Pancras Town Hall meeting earlier this year. Many CND members are sincere Socialists. Some are Labour Party members, others belong to the Communist Party and I suspect that there are a few members who carry a Liberal card. However, Mr. Gaitskell and Mr. George Brown have yet to apply for membership.

Parties have been playing at politics for a long time, but now the sands of time are running out. The threat of an universal nuclear war grows daily. CND members are always trying to persuade people that a nuclear war would be the final chapter in the world's history. We are trying to restore sanity to a divided world in which even the USSR finds it necessary to stockpile nuclear weapons. So, of course, does America. Before long, many smaller nations, regardless of their political systems, will possess the secret of thermo-nuclear mass destruction.

All sensible people realise that an international Socialist society, democratically elected in the true sense, is the main political hope for the future, but in order to allow and encourage the forces of the Left, we must ensure that there is a world left in which to preach our propaganda, create a Socialist society; to fulfil basic human rights and thereby do the countless things that are still ignored by various political systems. Moreover, sensible people realise that a capitalist system is a complete contradiction of our aims.

Much more could be said and written about the anomalies of modern society but the contention on page 103 of the July Socialist Standard is disappointingly reactionary in its opposition and condemnation of CND. I would have expected certain elements in the staid Labour Party to believe in patchwork social democracy based on existing values of society, but for the SPGB to adopt an anti-CND stand, can hardly do your cause any good, but will have the effect of ensuring its insularity. If the SPGB succeeds in becoming a museum piece, such as the Labour Party seems destined to become, it will be because of this sort of confused, short-sighted policy.

No organisation which concerns itself with putting right the problems now confronting us, could be justified in maintaining this sort of opposition. I must assume, therefore, that the author of a “Lesson In Futility” (page 103) is not representative of his fellow members. However, the last sentence of his article is obviously faultless.
R. F. G. Radford.
Bristol CND.

Let us dear up one point straight away. There arc no Socialists in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. A Socialist wants a new social system based upon the common owncrehip of the means of wealth production and distribution. He is not in favour of capitalism of any sort because be knows that, whatever efforts are made to reform the system, it will continue to produce problems like war with its fearsome weapons.

How do the members of CND line up with this? Mr. Radford, when he writes that he suspects the organisation contains some Liberals, confirms that a member of CND may hold any sort of political views provided he is agreed that wars should not be fought with nuclear weapons. Because of this, CND can only be another organisation which stands for a reformed capitalism; in its case, capitalism in which wars are conducted with what have come to be called "conventional" weapons. No Socialist could belong to such an organisation. There may be many CND members who sincerely think that they are Socialists, but they are not the first to get themselves involved in that particular bit of muddle-headedness.

It is rather late in the day for CND, with its Labour and Liberal members, to tell us that time is getting short. For nearly sixty years the Socialist Party of Great Britain has been explaining the cause of modern war and pointing out that the means of waging war could be expected to become more fearsome as the years went by. But in this we have always been opposed by the very parties which, as Mr. Radford says, have supplied many members of CND. Whilst we have been explaining and opposing capitalism's wars our opponents have been busily fighting them and working to make them more destructive. Who is to blame, if we are now on the brink of " . . . the final chapter in the world s history.”?

But our correspondent has to offer only the old plea that we should drop our work for Socialism until we have sorted out one more of capitalism’s problems. We have heard this plea many times before, from organisations which were worried about unemployment, or Fascism or some other side-effect of capitalism. Indeed, some of these organisations have had the chance to apply their reformist ideas. How have they turned out? Both Labour and Communist governments have built op massive armed forces for their capitalist class and they have made sure that those forces were equipped with enormous stocks of powerful weapons. They have also played their part in keeping the divisions of the capitalist world which Mr. Radford mentions by their export drives, patriotic propaganda and so on. Here is evidence enough to support the Socialist claim that reformist policies are futile.

And why does Mr. Radford say that even “. . . the USSR finds it necessary to stockpile nuclear weapons”? Russia is as much a capitalist nation as any other and cannot be expected to react any differently in face of international competition. Does Mr. Radford think that there is Socialism in Russia? And if he does, do the other “Socialists” in CND agree with him?

It is the reformist organisations which, in their support of capitalism, uphold what our correspondent calls “. . . the existing values of society.” For any social system is inseparable from its values; to support one is to uphold the other. The SPGB hat always stood for the social revolution which will sweep away capitalism and all its false social values.

This will be the complete, only and once-for-all cure for the problems of capitalism. To stand for anything less could mean that we would end up by supporting the very thing which we originally professed to oppose. That is why a one-time pacifist could serve as a Minister of War and why old opponents of the peerage system sometimes end their days in the Home of Lords. It is why people who are now members of CND will, if capitalism requires them to, fight in a nuclear war just as the pacifists of the nineteen thirties took part in the last war.

As far as the last paragraph of Mr. Radford's letter is concerned, we need hardly add that the anti-CND attitude expressed in the article “Lesson In Futility” is representative of the viewpoint of all members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Editorial Committee

50 Years Ago: Trust Busting in America (1961)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many worthy people have fondly cherished the notion that Roosevelt and his fellow Republicans meant “doing for" the trusts. Our Liberal advertisement sheets have praised him for his "great fight" and accepted him as the enemy of monopoly. But, true to capitalist methods, when something more than mere words and rhetoric is required, he turns round and defends the trusts and ridicules the idea of destroying them. In the current issue of the Outlook, Mr. Roosevelt says:
  "The big business has come to stay and it is futile to expect to return to the old days of laissez-faire. The government must see this and refrain from keeping American industries on tenterhooks and permitting foreign rivals to reap an advantage.”
In the course of his article he denounces the government for interfering with the Steel Trust and calls President Taft's policy a “chaotic" one.

So much for capitalist politicians. When they seek office they tell their poor followers that trusts can be smashed by anti-trust laws. But in the calm of other days the truth so often driven home by Socialists emerges—that combination and concentration of capital is an inevitable result of economic laws. That is the tribute of Theodore Roosevelt to Karl Marx. 
[From the Socialist Standard, December 1911.]

Twenty Five Years After (1961)

Book Review from the December 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas, Eyre & Spottiswood. 42s.

The Spanish Civil War began 25 years ago and Mr. Hugh Thomas thinks that the time has come when a study could usefully be made of a tragedy which though dwarfed by subsequent world events, nevertheless cost 600,000 lives, including about 100,000 “who may be supposed to have died by murder or summary execution”

He has made a very good job of collecting and presenting information on the complex and fast-moving events of the three-year Civil War. In his 720 pages he carries the reader forward from the election of the Popular Front Government in 1936 to the revolt that faced it soon afterwards; through the military campaigns with their alternating advantage first to one side then the other, to the final collapse of the Republican forces in March, 1939. Six months later the principal governments that had helped or hindered the Republican forces in Spain were involved in the World War—all except Spain itself, under the-victor of the civil war, General Franco.

The League of Nations which had been impotent to do anything about the “local” war was brushed aside by World War II. Yet when that war ended and the United Nations inherited the shabby mantle of the League, Spanish Republican Exiles had still learned so little that they were hoping that the new organisation would dispose of Franco.

It might have been expected that the world war and all that has happened since would have destroyed interest in the Spanish Civil War, but the steady stream of books proves otherwise. It is not the size and destructiveness of the war, but the passions aroused in participants and onlookers alike that make it still memorable. There is also the inevitable speculation about what would have happened if only some politician or party had turned in a different direction at the crucial moment.

It is memorable, too, for the flood of outside volunteers who wanted to help.

Some adventurers were bound to be attracted to Spain in the Civil War, but the majority of the 40,000 volunteers from France, Germany, Britain and U.S.A. and many other countries who joined the International Brigades were men anxious to fight and, if necessary, willing to die, “for democracy and against Fascism.” (Doubtless the same idealistic motives sent Irish and other Catholic volunteers to fight for Franco “in defence of religion").

Many soon became disenchanted when they found that war is not just dying, but living in mud and blood and hardship, and enduring the indignities of army discipline—they were learning again what their fathers who volunteered for war in 1914 could have told them. Mr. Thomas writes of early 1937:
  The volunteers had discovered in battle that “a War of ideas” is much the same as any other conflict. In Spain, or elsewhere, there was confusion of orders, jamming of rifles at the critical moment, uncertainty about the whereabouts of the enemy and of headquarters, desire for cigarettes (or sweet-tasting, things), fatigue, occasional hysteria. . . . From the start, the wilder volunteers had got into trouble with the authorities, if only for drunkenness. But now trouble was incessant. Those who wished to return home were not permitted to do so when they wished. Some complained that they had volunteered on the assumption that they could go home in three months time. Here the principles of a volunteer army conflicted with military needs. (P. 390.)
Some deserted and landed up in military detention camps (“re-education camps") and some were shot as deserters.

But, of course, the war was not won and lost by the volunteers, but by the intervention of foreign governments Germany, Italy and Russia. And the fighting men were to discover then, or alter the war, that governments have reasons of State and of profit that have little to do with the slogans and speeches about democracy and religion. 

The Anarcho-Syndicalists and others on the Republican side, who quarrelled bitterly with the Communists, were particularly incensed because Russian military aid had to be paid for; partly with the £63 million of Spanish gold that was early sent to Russia for safe keeping.

Mr. Thomas dismisses as unreal the charge that the Russians "cheated” the Republicans of the money, but concedes (p. 310) “that Russia drove a hard bargain for her goods. In addition to the gold, Spanish raw materials were despatched to Russia in bulk.”

Typical of the beliefs of Spanish critics of Russia was a statement published in London in 1941 by their Anarchist friends, in a pamphlet The Russian Myth:
  No arms or food were sent to Spain before the end of October—three months after Franco had rebelled. Immediate payment in gold was insisted upon by Stalin for such arms as were sent.
The writer of the pamphlet went on to contrast Stalin's insistence on cash down, with “Hitler and Mussolini, who gave Franco long-term credits—still in part unredeemed." He was quite wrong; German Capitalism might bait the hook with long-term credits, but not out of charity; only because a really big fish was to be caught, Spanish mineral wealth. It was German aid that was finally decisive in the autumn of 1938, but the price exacted for the arms “was German participation in all the important iron ore projects in Spain. In return for this rich prize Germany committed enough war material to Spain to tip the balance finally towards the Nationalists” (p. 612).

Mr. Thomas notes that in August, 1936, after German military help had already reached the Republican Government’s enemies in Spain, the Government was trying to buy war planes in Germany (p. 235). There is no evidence to show that Germany considered supplying the planes. If they had been in doubt they would have been duly influenced by the fact that the mineral wealth they were after in Spain was in Franco-controlled provinces.

Apart from foreign intervention with war material, troops, planes and pilots, and naval action, Mr. Thomas contrasts Franco's success in getting a high degree of unity among his supporters with the way the Republican Government was "terribly hampered by the disputes between the parties who supported it" (p. 611). He goes on:
  One excuse might be that all the parties felt so strongly about their own policies that defeat itself seemed preferable to a surrender of the purity of their individual views. It would perhaps be more truthful to say that no one was able to forge a real unity out of the Republican warring tribes as Franco and Serrano Suner were able to do among the Nationalists. (P.611.)
Failing to get aid from the West the Spanish Government had to rely more and more on Russia and the Communists —which only increased the division in its own ranks.

In April, 1939, the National Committee representing the Spanish Confederation of Labour (Anarcho-Syndicalist), the Anarchists and some other bodies published a statement, Three Years of Struggle in Spain, giving their version of events and the reason for failure. The virulence of their charges against Russia and the Russian-directed Spanish Communists shows that Mr. Thomas has understated the impossibility of Republican Unity. The National Committee bluntly declared, on the strength of their experiences in the just-ended civil war:
  Neither in war nor revolution has anti-fascist Spain had a worse enemy than Stalinism. . . . What unity did the Communist Party expect or attempt to establish? None whatever—Agents of the U.S.S.R. murdered thousands of non-Stalinist Comrades who had come to Spain and joined the International Brigades. . . .
They accused the Communists of almost every crime that they had charged against Franco, plus desertion and cowardice. They still half-believed that, but for the Communists, they would have won against Franco and his allies.

Along with evidence on which the reader can base an opinion, Mr. Thomas sums up his own by saying that most of the governments were using the opportunity of the Spanish conflict to test out weapons and study tactics for future use in larger wars. This included Republican France, and it was Léon Blum who at his trial in 1942 spoke of the Spanish war as a “test for French aviation material” (p. 615). Of course, Germany, Russia and Italy were exploiting the same opportunity, though it is one of the ironies of the situation that most of the observers appear to have drawn the wrong lessons or failed to profit by the right ones. The exceptions were the Italians and Yugoslavs who learned a lot about the kind of war the Partisans were to carry on later in both countries.

Other than that, the intervening and non-intervening governments were thinking about alignments and manoeuvring for position for the threatening world war. Each government, however, seems to have been hesitant about pushing intervention so far as to provoke that war immediately.

When the Spanish democrats complained about the governments of Britain, France, Russia and U.S.A. not being prepared to take all measures to save Republican Spain “for the sake of democracy," they were forgetting that all Capitalist groups (Russia included) are motivated by the same kind of economic and strategic interests: deciding policy on the basis of ideologies is not to be expected of any of them. If any Republicans still held this illusion in the Spring of 1939 when the Republican armies collapsed they had only to wait six months to see Germans and Russians who had been warring in Spain for three years, hobnobbing together to celebrate the Stalin-Hitler pact of friendship.

But though all the other Powers were sooner or later caught up in World War II, Franco reversed the roles—he was willing to give aid to Germany, at a price, but he was not drawn into the war as a combatant Power. This did not save the Spanish Blue Division from sharing the horrors of the war in Russia, fighting alongside the German armies. On the Republican side, Mr. Thomas relates that Russian officers who fought in Spain were among those liquidated by Stalin in the purges (p. 621), and “nearly all veterans of the Spanish Civil War in Eastern European countries were arrested and many were shot.” Later on, after the death of Stalin in 1953, they were ” rehabilitated.”

In the Epilogue in which Mr. Thomas briefly notes the subsequent fate of those who came to prominence in Spain, he tells of the Republican general El Campesino who as an exile was welcomed to Russia, but fell foul of the authorities. He escaped and in appalling difficulties made his way to Persia; only to be handed back by the British. He escaped again and is still hoping to unseat Franco. In El Campesino's own memoirs he says that what queered him with the Russian authorities was that, on being asked at a military academy which was the world's most effective fighting machine, he named the German army!

Mr. Thomas's material shows how heavily the scales were weighted against the Republicans in the international field. He expresses the opinion that “the financiers of Europe and America not only expected the Nationalists to win but desired them to” (p. 273). A vital help for Franco was that of the Texas Oil Co. was at once willing to supply oil on long-term credit, without guarantee.

Nevertheless, Mr. Thomas’s implied criticisms of the American and British Governments seem designed to invite speculation as to what might have happened if, say, American Capitalism had had big and immediate interests endangered by a Republican defeat, or if those British Conservatives who supported the Republicans had been able to persuade the Government that long-term British Capitalist interests were involved and that they should support the Republicans and risk major war with Germany and Italy. In which event the world war may have come a little sooner.

Those who, for whatever reasons, hold the view that the workers should support war can say that in 1936 that risk was worth taking. But those who reject it had and have another aspect of the Spanish conflict to consider.

It is not merely being wise after the event to say that the Republicans’ position was impossible and that civil war could not solve their problems. Many observers saw this at the time. The Popular Front which, by a bare majority of votes, won the 1936 election, was composed of such divergent elements that the aim of some of them, a sort of Labour-Liberal Parliamentary democracy, was at that time as much out of the question as the establishment of Socialism. There were the Communists, aiming to establish dictatorship on the Russian model; the Basque and Catalonian separatists inspired by hatred of central government; and the very large body of Anarcho-Syndicalists who repudiated politics and parliamentary methods, which they called "empty phrasemongering,” and who believed in direct action, violence, and armed revolt, as much against a Republican Government as any other. Their support for the Popular Front and the Popular Front Government was a denial of all their principles, regretted almost as soon as it was given.

If we concede that by some different balance of international Capitalist interests the Popular Front could have emerged victorious at the end of the civil war, what could they have done with victory that would have borne any resemblance to the democratic Spain they, or some of them, had hoped for?
Edgar Hardcastle

Marxism: an anti-capitalist view? (2004)

Book Review from the December 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anti-Capitalism. A Marxist Introduction. Edited by Alfredo Saad-Filho. Pluto Press.

If you proclaim yourself to be “anti-capitalist”, it is a good idea to have some idea of what capitalism is. Alfredo Saad-Filho has gathered together here contributions from people considering themselves Marxists to produce “a Marxist introduction” to capitalism and anti-capitalism. His opening article on “Value, Capital and Exploitation” is excellent as is the closing article by Paresh Chattopadhyay, who understands that the abolition of capitalism involves the disappearance of money, wage-labour, commodity production and buying and selling generally and that “Marx does not distinguish between communism and socialism. Both stand for the society succeeding capitalism. (The distinction was first to be made famous, if not introduced, by Lenin)”. A number of the others make valid points, as, for instance, Ellen Meiksins Wood when she points out that many in the “anti-capitalist movement”:
  “are not so much anti-capitalist as anti-‘globalisation’, or perhaps anti-neoliberal, or even just opposed to particularly malignant corporations. They assume that the detrimental effects of the capitalist system can be eliminated by taming global corporations or by making them more ‘ethical’, ‘responsible’, and socially conscious.”
Others, despite their reputations, are obviously mere reformists, especially two ex-members of a Communist Party, Ben Fine and Suzanne de Brunhoff. The former, who can’t have known about Chattopadhyay’s contribution, talks of “some form of wage labour persisting” in the first stage of socialist/communist society while the latter opines that “a new public regulation of markets and financial institutions is necessary”.
In fact, all through the book there is an underlying tension between an analysis of capitalism as a profit-driven system governed by its own economic laws which preclude it working in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers and proposals to try to make it do precisely that.
You would have thought that the main aim of an anti-capitalist movement would be to end capitalism and establish socialism (as the sort of society described by Chattopadhyay). Apparently not. If this book is anything to go by, this is not advocated, except rhetorically, even by those within it who consider themselves Marxists. The aim seems to be to bring pressure on existing governments to introduce reforms and to change their policy so as to tame multinational corporations and/or return to the state interventionism of pre-Reagan and Thatcher times. Even Saad-Filho himself claims, in his introduction:
“Pressure for or against specific policies can be effective, and the ensuing policy choices can improve significantly the living conditions of the majority” (his emphasis).
“Improve significantly”? We can only retort “Prove it”, since all the evidence of experience as well as a Marxian analysis and understanding of capitalism goes against this. That’s why, in our view, coherent anti-capitalists should be campaigning for socialism not changes of policy.
Adam Buick