Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Overheard In The Club (1974)

From the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

  Salt of the earth! Grand chaps! Where would we be without ’em? — They run everything for us. I can go away on a three-months’ cruise, confident that when I come back everything will be running smoothly. They make us excellent food, fine clothes, spacious houses, hotels, clubs, yachts, cars. They run our ships and planes and racing stables, keep our country estates fine and neat. All we need to do is look in occasionally — show an interest, express the thanks of the directors and shareholders — they appreciate that. And they never complain — not really. Niggles about wage rates sometimes, of course, but they never actually begrudge us our wealth or complain about how we use it. Proud to work for us, and yet not bitter when we have to lay them off or when they get too old to be useful. That shows real dignity. No doubt about it — hard work, and even hard times, breeds grand people! I’d be proud to be one of ’em — if I had to. Some of the nicest people I know are workers — my valet, for instance.

50 Years Ago: Who are the brain workers? (1974)

The  50 Years Ago column from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
In order to combat working-class discontent the Daily Mail had urged “the men who do the brain work of this country” to give up their Sunday golf and devote the day to teaching the workers and correcting their “misapprehensions”.
How artfully the case is put! The manager, the professor, the cleric, the M.A., the B.A., and all the other lettered gentry; in other words the “Intellectuals” or salaried officials are obviously those to whom the Daily Mail points a reproving finger. How these people will swell with importance on reading such complimentary remarks. And yet it is nothing but “spoof”. “Spoof” for the “intellectual” and “spoof” for the worker.

* * *

Who are the intellectuals, the salaried officials anyway? They are simply a particular section of the working class, the most backward section, the most abject slaves — they who kiss the hand that smites them. They receive “honourable mention” when their performances assist the interests of the employers and the sack when their performances are unsuccessful. Like other workers they depend for their living upon the sale of their energies, and, like other workers, they go under if they can’t find a ready sale for such energies.

All work done by workers under capitalism requires the use of brains, and each kind of work is equally necessary.

The term “brain worker” is only a sop thrown to a particular section to ensure the continued support of capitalism by that section. The sop is thrown with the old principle in the mind of the thrower — “Divide and conquer". Set one section of workers against another and each will be so taken up with their sectional quarrel that they will overlook their fundamental solidarity as wage-workers.
[From an unsigned editorial 'King Canute Up-to-date' in the Socialist Standard, May 1924.]

Letter: Answers To Correspondents. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. H. Baker (Wickford, Essex) writes, objecting to the statement that there will be a period of transition after a Socialist working class have gained control of the machinery of government. He says that ”the moment Capitalism is abolished Socialism will start.” He forgets, however,. that economic re-organisation is not a task to be completed in a moment by the simple issue of a decree, even although the majority of the population support the re-organisation. You cannot in a moment convert industries from the production of luxuries for the leisured few to the production of. necessaries for the population as a whole.

Mr. Baker adds that the change-over will involve "as little fuss” as a general election. This, of course, depends largely upon the attitude of a dissentient minority. But whether there is fuss or not, there certainly will be very difficult economic problems requiring to be solved before society will be running smoothly on a Socialist basis.

Mr. Baker also states that a Plebs League speaker at Southend asserted that Socialism has been established in Russia. The statement is totally untrue, and the Bolshevists in Russia do not now make any such claim. We have repeatedly invited those here who ignorantly repeat this statement to produce their evidence, which they are, of course, unable to do. The Russian working class do not "own and control the factories and run them for their own benefit.” The Russian workers are wage-earners, like the workers here. Rent, interest and profit are in Russia as here, paid to home and foreign Capitalist investors.
[Editorial Committee]

What Shall We Do With Our Votes? (1928)

Editorial from the December 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the approach of a General Election the “Left Wing” Labour groups are asking themselves how they ought to vote. All the rebels and near-rebels and would-be rebels are wondering whether they ought to carry their opposition to the Labour Party to the extent of telling their supporters to vote for Communist candidates or the candidates put up by branches expelled from the official Labour Party. They are, of course, in a difficult position. Having dubbed the Labour Party programme a “Liberal” programme, they must now choose either to support that programme and the candidates who fight on it, or, in effect, put themselves outside the Labour Party; for the Labour Party Executive is taking vigorous action wherever the dissident elements infringe the Party constitution and rules. Probably many of the Left-Wingers would like to take a definite stand, but they are deterred by the consequences. Whatever they may say about the discontent of the Labour Party membership with its leaders, a practical test soon convinces them that it is MacDonald not Maxton, J. H. Thomas not Arthur Cook, who have the support of the mass of the Trade Union members. A recent and illuminating test was the Borough Council elections.

In England and Wales the Communist candidates polled in the areas contested by them 10.5 per cent. of the Labour Party vote, and in Scotland 19.5 per cent. For the whole country their poll was 17.7 per cent. of the Labour votes in these selected constituencies (Sunday Worker, November 18th, 1928). The Editor of the Sunday Worker points out, too, that the Communist vote has declined since the Communist Party recently adopted the policy of openly opposing Labour candidates. He says that “in places where Communist candidates previously contested seats, before the adoption of the party’s new electoral policy, decreased votes for the Communists are frequently recorded.”

The Sunday Worker offers what is no doubt a correct explanation. Even many voters who are dissatisfied with the Labour Party programme will not vote against its candidates because they want to “get the Tories out.” To indicate the unsoundness of this policy of voting for one capitalist party in order to prevent another capitalist party getting in, the Sunday Worker recalls the 1906 Election, when hundreds of thousands of workers who had no faith in Liberalism voted for the Liberals in order to keep the Tories out. The Liberals got in and eight years later led its dupes into the War.

Truly a fatuous policy, but who have done more to propagate it than the Communists and the multifarious “Left Wing” groups? The Communists from 1920 to 1927, and the other “ Left Wing " groups still, have persistently denounced the Labour Party and simultaneously told the workers to vote for it because, in some way never explained and now (by the Communists) emphatically denied, it was supposed to be better than the other capitalist parties. If the workers still have faith in the Labour Party’s programme of reforming capitalism, the responsibility cannot be shelved by the Communists and the Sunday Worker.

Even now, while opposing some Labour candidates, the Communist Party members are required to go on paying the political levy to the Labour Party through their Trade Unions. Could anything be more productive of confusion in the minds of the workers?

Mr, J. T. Murphy, a prominent member of the Communist Party, writes on this in the November issue of the Communist, and  points out the absurdity of asking the miners to contribute £10,000 a year to the Labour Party and then appealing to the miners again for more thousands to fight the Labour candidates. He also condemns the confusing relationship between the Communists and the Left Wing groups, which, he says, has made the Communist Party a “laughing-stock.”
  Our party members are not quite sure when they should be recruiting for the Left Wing and when for the party. It appears that we can carry the programme of the Left Wing in one pocket and that of the Communist party in the other, and, according to the audience we are addressing, use one or the other without contradiction, for . . . the Communist programme and the Left Wing are identical in all essentials. The only people who ought to be bewildered, apparently, should be the audience who are to be led into the Left Wing according to circumstances (i.e., whichever meeting they have attended—if a C.P. meeting, then into the C.P.; if a Left Wing meeting, then into the Left Wing). This may be considered by some of our comrades to be tactical, but I am sure that' our party members are unhappy about it, and cannot get results whilst such a policy exists. (Communist, November 1928.)
We see, therefore, that the Communists are still unprepared to accept and act on the recognition of the fact that the workers' economic position of subjection is the result of capitalism and will continue as long as capitalism continues, irrespective of whether the system is administered by Tories, Liberals, the Labour Party or by anyone else. Similarly, the Sunday Worker, having disposed of the fallacious argument that the workers should vote Labour to “keep the Tories out,” proceeds to throw up another smoke screen in order to hide its retreat from the position to which its argument would logically lead it. The editorial lamely concludes:—
  We shall give our votes only to the working-class candidates whose programme is the end of imperialism and the end of war.
Capitalism and the danger of capitalist war will not be brought to an end by voting for the Labour Party programme of reforms of capitalism. Labour candidates are compelled to fight on the Labour Party’s general programme, but this, of course, will not prevent every single Labour candidate from saying that he is in favour of “ending Imperialism and war.” Probably all the Liberals and most of the Tories will equally willingly subscribe to the same vague and unhelpful declaration. So that, having given good reasons why the workers should vote against the Labour, candidates, the Sunday Worker evades the issue with a piece of advice which is meaningless.

In contrast with the trifling of Communist and Left Wing groups, the Socialist Party gives a bold answer. If the workers vote for capitalism, then they will get what they vote for. Workers who want Socialism will vote only for Socialist candidates. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is unique among the political parties in this country in being prepared to put forward candidates fighting on that issue alone, Socialism or Capitalism. At present the number of workers who want Socialism is few in comparison with those who want Liberal capitalism, Tory capitalism or Labour Party capitalism. That unfortunate position can be remedied only by Socialist propaganda. It is not helped, but hindered, by voting for one in preference to another of the parties which stand for private or state capitalism. There are differences, and real differences, between the capitalist parties, but the differences do not touch the subject condition of the working class.

Is there a Capitalist System? (1928)

From the December 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

“There is no such thing as the capitalist system!” exclaimed a public speaker in the hearing of the present writer recently. “A system (such as the solar system, for example) implies law—fixed, rigid, unalterable, tyrannic; but to-day you have infinite variation in exchange, with currency conditions in a state of chaos. No, there is certainly not a capitalist system.”

This method of trying to combat Socialist propaganda is not original, and it is difficult to imagine any fairly well-informed opponent using it; but, knowing that the workers are seldom well-informed on matters outside their jobs, many champions of capitalism seem inclined to convey the impression that the Socialist is attacking a phantom of his imagination. In case any of our readers take them seriously, let us examine their case.

In the first place, it is not true that the solar system is “fixed and unalterable.” It is in constant motion, radiating energy into space and thus altering its own composition. If astronomers are any guide, it had an origin and must have some end. Its lengthy existence (judged by human standards) does not alter the fact that it is a product of evolution.

Being composed of definite quantities of matter, its motions can be measured and expressed in the form of laws, and the same is true of other parts of the universe, including human society.

The prices of goods, for example (upon which we depend for our existence to-day), are regulated by economic forces, no matter what the variations in those prices may be. If a shopkeeper marks his goods too high, he is left with them on his hands; should he sell at too low a figure, he will not clear his expenses. In either case he will fail to realise a profit and will find himself on the way to the Bankruptcy Court. But what determines the figure at which he should sell?

The basic factor is the value of the goods, which is the expression of the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them. Other factors are supply and demand. Sometimes the conditions will favour the seller and prices will tend to rise; at other times the reverse will obtain; but always there is the compelling force of competition, on one side or the other, or both simultaneously.

The effect of this force is felt most keenly by the workers. They have but one commodity to sell, that is, their power to labour. The value of this power, embodied in their brains, nerves, muscles, etc., depends upon the value of the necessary elements of their subsistence. The cost of the food, clothing, and shelter, etc., that the worker must have in order to go on working are reflected in the wages that they receive. In the long run and on the average, they cannot accept less without causing their energy to deteriorate and become unsaleable. They cannot get more, because there are machines on the one hand and unemployed workers on the other ready to take their places.

With the workers, the existence of economic law is not a matter of speculative theory; it is a painful, everyday experience. If there were no economic forces operating according to some discoverable law, nothing could prevent the workers claiming what wages they fancied, and the same would apply to the capitalists in fixing their prices. Nothing would be determined; all would be chaos; but human beings cannot exist on chaos and such a state is simply inconceivable.

At first sight, the realm of exchange presents an appearance of anarchy. The fluctuations of prices, including wages, are occasionally so violent that they seem capricious to the superficial observer.

In the same way, superstitious sailors, even today, attribute storms to spirits, etc., but for every wave there is a corresponding depression and the general level of the ocean remains unchanged. So with the world market. The rise in prices at one time encourages greater production till the market is glutted; then, with the consequent fall in prices, the less economically conducted concerns go out of business. Always there is going on a ruthless, blind, automatic selection of the fittest types of machinery and organisation for the production of the wealth, with the result that the social powers of production are greater today than ever before in human history.

How are these powers controlled? They are in private hands, in spite of their social character. Consequently, they are only set into operation for the production of private profit. There is no organised social plan. Competition asserts itself at every turn. Even the narrowing of the circle by the concentration of capital, the forming of world trusts, international combines, etc., only makes the struggle fiercer.

The larger the output, the greater the importance of minute economies; yet the conflict in the market is as nought compared with that in the factory. If the capitalist is an anarchist in the realm of exchange, he is a despot in that of production, which is carried on amid the smouldering revolt of wage-slaves needing but little to fan it into open flame; but this revolt, again, is for the most part blind. It is only against the effects of the system, because the workers have not yet learnt to understand the cause, i.e., the system itself.

Hence their efforts at improvement take the form of demands for higher wages and shorter hours, valuable enough if other things remained the same. Capitalism, however, constantly develops a greater power of exploitation. No programme of reforms can alter that. The workers cannot interrupt the development of industry; they can only take advantage of it by obtaining control of it through the common ownership of the productive forces themselves; but that would be Socialism—and “the end of all things.” That at least is what those who pretend that “there is no capitalist system" would like us to believe. 
Eric Boden

Trotsky States His Case (1928)

Book Review from the December 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Real Situation in Russia, by Leon Trotsky. Translated by Max Eastman. 364 pages. 7s. 6d. George Allen & Unwin.

This book consists for the most part of the statement submitted by Trotsky (and 12 other minority members) to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in September, 1927. The document was suppressed by Stalin and his supporters, and the opposition group – both in the Central Committee and in the country at large – was broken up by the imprisonment, persecution and exile of its prominent members. As might have been expected a copy of the statement was smuggled out of Russia, and now appears in an English edition. It is translated by Max Eastman, who is an American admirer of Trotsky, and was himself recently in Russia.

Trotsky describes in considerable detail the serious problems which face the workers in Russia under Stalin’s Government, the charges which his group level at the dominant section in the Communist Party, and the remedies which they propose.

The richer peasants in the country, and the trading and money lending capitalists in the towns are increasing in wealth and are becoming a more powerful factor politically. One-fifth of all trade, 50 per cent. of retail trade and more than 20 per cent. of industrial production is in private hands (page 27). The profits of the trading capitalists, the middle men, are big and growing while the workers’ share in the national income has been falling since 1925. The introduction of methods of rationalisation into State industry results in an increase of unemployment, a general intensification of labour, and a lowered standard of living.

The fear of unemployment is such that the workers resist the efforts of the Government to increase production in the factories by machinery and more efficient methods.

Among the 3½ million rural wage workers the rates of pay are often below the legal minimum even on the Soviet State farms. Housing for the town workers grows steadily worse.

Workers’ control is more than ever a mere catch-word without real application. “Never before have the trade unions and the working mass stood so far from the management of the Socialist industry as now” (page 57).

The immense majority of delegates to Trade Union Conferences are people entirely dissociated from actual participation in industry. Factory committees are mistrusted and discontent is driven underground because the man who voices a complaint knows that he will lose his job. Men and women are not equally paid.

Capitalism on the land
During the previous four years Trotsky alleges that from 35 per cent. to 45 per cent. of the landless rural workers and small peasants were unable to continue making a living, while the rich class of peasants (more than 28 acres) increased in number by from 150 per cent. to 200 per cent. (p. 61). In a typical district 15 per cent. of the peasants own 50 per cent. of the land machinery, cattle, etc. Renting of land is on the increase, and the army of landless rural labourers is continually being recruited from the poor peasantry.

The new bureaucracy
Under Bolshevik administration there has grown up a new bureaucracy, divorced from working class life and not subject to any effective control from below. “The city Soviets have been losing in these recent years all real significance.” “The Soviets are having continually less and less to do with the decision of fundamental, political, economic, and cultural questions. They are becoming mere supplements to the executive committees and the praesidiums. . . . The discussion of problems at the full meeting of the Soviets is a mere show discussion” (pages 98 and 99). Elected delegates are promptly removed from office if they express on behalf of the workers any criticism of the official element.

The composition of the Communist Party is deteriorating. At the beginning of 1927 only one-third of the members were shop and factory workers, while two-thirds were peasants, officials, etc. In 18 months over 100,000 industrial workers were lost to membership and an equal number of peasants admitted. The majority of these were “middle” peasants, the percentage of farm labourers being insignificant.

Inside the Communist Party “the genuine election of officials is in actual practice dying out” (page 115). Terms of office are being increased to two or more years. The Party machinery is used to secure the dismissal from their employment of workers who criticise the leadership.

Communist Party groupings
There are, in Trotsky’s analysis, three main groups. First, a right wing group, which combines the aims of the middle peasants with those of the Trade Union leaders and the better paid clerical and other workers. Secondly, there is the ruling section of the Communist Party, the members of the Government and the administration. Their object is to avoid if possible any change in the present balance of forces such as will disturb their own position.

And, thirdly, there is the Trotsky group, which claims to represent the mass of the industrial workers.

Lenin worship
Quite a large part of the book is given up to the personal issues between Trotsky and the members of the Government. Each section and all of the individual disputants try desperately hard to prove not only that their views are in accord with Lenin’s general line of policy, but that during his lifetime they possessed Lenin’s personal regard. These personal issues may be of interest to the English reader, but are not of great importance. They are, however, significant in that they indicate what both Stalin’s group and Trotsky’s group think of the degree of understanding possessed by the members of the Communist Party in Russia. Whatever may be the real opinion of Stalin and Trotsky as to the value of this “Lenin worship” and controversies about personal merits (it is noteworthy that Trotsky specifically credits Stalin’s faction with “sincerity,” p. 185), they both plainly realise that in the life and death struggle which involves the political careers and the very existence of the oppositionists, they have got to canvass support by “arguments” based on abuse and on the kind of trivialities which are the stock in trade of every demagogue appealing to a politically ignorant electorate. This, more than Trotsky’s assertions, indicates the low level which rules among the so-called Communists in Russia. It is not, therefore, surprising to be told that the majority organise regular bands of “Communists” to break up opposition meetings by means of catcalls and whistling in chorus.

Trotsky’s programme
The reader will have noticed that the evils which afflict the Russian worker are very much the same as those which afflict us here or in any other country where the basis of the economic system is capitalism.

Trotsky presents a long list of remedies which serve only to confirm what we have always said as to the necessity for Russia to go through capitalism. Trotsky does not admit this in so many words. In fact, he vigorously denounces Stalin’s “capitalist tendencies.” But when we examine his programme we find that it is all based implicitly on the continuance of capitalism in Russia until such time as a developed capitalist industry and a Socialist revolution outside Russia make Socialism possible.

Most of his proposals might have been lifted out of the programme of any trade-union in Germany or England; “Equal pay for equal work,” less overtime; more unemployment pay; no more Government faking of labour and industrial statistics; retail prices to be brought down to the world price level; no profiteering by capitalist middlemen; no increase in the rents of” working class houses; every effort to be made to lower the cost of production in order to promote the growth of industry ; more taxes on rich peasants; abolition of the State sale of Vodka, etc. A long programme of reforms, but no mention of the abolition of capitalist farming, capitalist trading and capitalist investment. Both Trotsky and Stalin draw up their programmes within the framework of state and private capitalism which prevails in Russia.

By far the most important demand made by Trotsky is for the unfettered expression of opinion by members of the Communist Party, and this does not go far enough. In the past Trotsky, Stalin and Lenin all agreed that “democracy” was merely a capitalist trick for hoodwinking the workers. With their dictatorship of a minority they were going to suppress the defenders of capitalism and impose Socialism on the apathetic majority. Experience has now taught Trotsky that dictatorship is incompatible with sound working class organisation.

It is also still necessary for him and other Bolsheviks to learn that they have not found a substitute for democracy. Without in anyway idealising it, the fact remains that modern industrial society, whether on a capitalist or on a Socialist basis, cannot be run with any degree of smoothness and efficiency without democratic methods. In no other way can the necessary social stability and the indispensable minimum of general interest in administration be secured.

Sooner or later the whole apparatus for suppressing opinion and political propaganda and organisation in Russia will have to be scrapped. The attempt to stifle criticism and hostile propaganda does not hasten the end of capitalism; it may for a time drive the propaganda underground, but the effect of that is to produce a false sense of security and a rapid deterioration among the organised workers themselves.

Trotsky’s errors about England
One fatal weakness of the Bolshevik leaders 10 years ago was their appalling misunderstanding of conditions outside Russia. There was at that time much excuse. Now there is none; but the ignorance remains. In face of the plain evidence of every election and the absurdly small membership of the English Communist Party, despite the waste of hundreds of thousands of pounds on propaganda, Trotsky still bases his hopes on an early revolution in this country. With 85 per cent. of the electorate members of the working class, there is no single constituency where a candidate has yet been returned to Parliament on a Socialist programme. The great majority of the workers still pin their faith to capitalism, a majority of them even continue to vote for the Liberal and Tory parties. To suppose that workers who vote for capitalism will at a signal from Moscow rise in revolt against the Government for which they vote, either in peace time or war time is sheer delusion. If Trotsky or anyone else bases a programme on that fantastic supposition they are in for certain disappointment.

Trotsky deals also with the complete failure of the Third International in China, and lays the blame on their tactic of supporting one after another of the capitalist nationalist leaders.

The book as a whole is valuable as a first-hand and authoritative impression of the recent condition of Russia, although of course we cannot accept Trotsky’s facts or his conclusions without further independent evidence, and this is not available. It is absolutely certain that the means do not exist in Russia for obtaining statistics on prices, production, etc., on a sufficiently general and precise basis to warrant the use made of them by both Trotsky and his opponents, and if Trotsky is as prone to rashness in drawing conclusions about Russian affairs as he is about England, then his views must be treated with considerable caution.

Nevertheless we can confidently assert that Stalin’s group is in the wrong. Not Trotsky’s book, but its treatment by the Russian Government proves this to be the case. Competent, self-reliant Socialists are not produced in an atmosphere of censorship, and Socialism is not to be promoted by the violent suppression of critics and criticism. Party unity which is based on the avoidance of discussion, is a fictitious unity, and a membership which is recruited by the bait of jobs in the State factories is worse than useless. Trotsky’s exile is the Russian Government’s plea of guilty to the charge of hindering the spread of Socialist knowledge and the growth of the Socialist movement. His exile does not prove Trotsky to be in the right, but it does prove his opponents to be in the wrong.
Edgar Hardcastle

A Lesson in Futility (1961)

From the July 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marches from Aldermaston and Wethersfield, treks from London to Holy Loch. Sit downs and arrests in Whitehall. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Direct Action Groups seem to be more intensely active as the days go by.

What is the Socialist attitude towards these demonstrations? No one can reasonably oppose a spirit of protest against intensifying hideousness in the instruments of war. But to treat the subject, as do the campaigners, in isolation from its causes is to make of C.N.D. an endeavour of impotence and futility. Here, on occasions like the Aldermaston and Wethersfield marches, were organised public protests against nuclear weapons. Yet throughout the whole proceedings there was no expression of antagonism towards the social system of capitalism which imposes upon each of its national capitalist groupings the need to have the most effective means of successfully waging war against their rivals. The leaders—supporters without exception of the existing social order—were cheered to the echo for their references to a capitalist world turning to nuclear disarmament for humanitarian reasons.

It is not inconceivable that governments will eventually give up the thought of waging nuclear war. The latest development in H-bombs has made these weapons so widely destructive that the use of them might well mean the destruction of the coveted markets and the extermination of the coveting capitalists themselves. Thus, to avoid the danger of destroying themselves and the very market expansion they are seeking, the various capitalist groupings, through their governments, may revert to “conventional” warfare.

This, however, is no solace. The colossal funds which governments have provided for the development of nuclear weapons reveals the financial lengths to which they will go to ensure the armament supremacy which, in the capitalist struggle for markets, alone offers a reasonable chance of triumph over rivals. And, now accustomed to greatly increased provisions for defence, they would be quite prepared to spend huge sums on “conventional” weapons.

Who can tell but that these weapons, if multiplied and further developed, would not be just as disastrous as H-bombs? We know, in any case, that with or without the bomb, war takes a sufficiently hideous toll in bloodshed and misery. And in a capitalist system which compels, from time to time, a resort to force, wars will inevitably arise. To denounce “the bomb” whilst acquiescing in the social set-up that brings it into being is contradictory and absurd.

It is for that and the added reason that it draws popular attention from the vital necessity of changing the social order that the Socialist Party of Great Britain opposes the C.N.D. The object of the working class should be the ending of a system which, at worst, offers universal annihilation through H-bombs and, at best, brings death to millions through other destructive alternative weapons.
F. W. Hawkins

The Cuban Cockpit and Castro (1961)

From the July 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

(1) The Background
In April, the American backed invasion of Cuba by a force of U.S. trained exiles became yet another issue that could have triggered off world war. As the invasion was under way, the American President warned Russia that “in the event of any military intervention by outside force the U.S. is ready to protect this hemisphere against external (our emphasis) aggression ” (Time, 28/4/61.)

America's “egg-heads” had hardly recovered from their exertions in campaigning for the election of President Kennedy, the bright young “progressive", before they were to be distressed and dismayed by the dishonesty and hypocrisy of his policy towards Cuba. Much more important still has been the harmful effect upon the American alliance and the less committed countries within its sphere of influence. The Guardian editorial of the 22nd April summed up these feelings and did not mince its words in the process. “American policy towards Cuba” it said, “has lead to resounding and deserved humiliation. . . .  the Kennedy administration appears to be guilty of deliberate intervention in the internal affairs of another country”. The editorial went on to say as a result the United States had made Dr. Castro stronger than before; she had made his régime still more oppressive and dictatorial; and thrown him still farther into the arms of the Soviet Union. . . .  Neutral governments have universally condemned him (Kennedy). Even in the Western Alliance he has wantonly thrown away much of the good will he previously enjoyed". What the Guardian regretted most of all was that American policy has facilitated Russia’s aim of posing as the “protector of small nations” struggling to free themselves from foreign tutelage. “He has made the watchwords of democracy sound like a camouflage for imperialism ”.

The Guardian summed up the feelings common to most of the junior partners of American Capitalism but we must point out that evoking democracy as a camouflage for attaining normal capitalist objectives pre-dates the Kennedy administration by many, many years. Two hideous world wars were allegedly fought to safeguard “freedom” against dictatorship and militarism but we know otherwise. Now that Russian economic development has reached such a high pitch, who need be surprised that her ruling class attempts to disguise its sordid objectives by hypocritically evoking the ideals of Socialism?

Like Germany and Japan before her, Russian capitalism is a latecomer in the world arena. Necessarily she is on the offensive. The American bloc, of which West Germany and Japan at present form part, is on the defensive. But it is not democratic rights nor the aims of Socialism that motivate their policies. It is the maintenance or enhancement of power, trade and class privilege that each government has as its function.

In January, the Socialist Standard carried an article which pointed out that for a small power to attempt playing off the great powers as a means of fostering its own economic development involves very considerable risks. The chief risk is that in freeing itself from subservience to one overlord it may well be forced to succumb to another. How is Castro faring in this respect? And, much more important so far as the Socialist is concerned, has the working-class in Cuba strengthened its bargaining position and extended its civil rights in the period in which the new ruling élite has been consolidating its position? Certainly, experience elsewhere in the held of bourgeois national revolutions of recent times has not been encouraging.

Throughout the former colonial or semi-colonial world, embryo capitalist classes or would-be capitalist intellectual-military élites are asserting themselves. Their aim is to supplant the foreign interests who, in the process of exploiting the natural resources of those parts, brought into being this rival social class. But just as the old powers find it necessary to disguise their rapacious motives under the cloak of the “struggle for democracy ”, so the new local exploiting class must obscure its cruel rôle in terms of the self-determination of small nations, their national liberation and the establishment of human dignity. As regards the claim of human dignity, it is true that with the ousting of the former colonial power, many an African, an Asian or a Latin American need no longer feel humiliated just because he was born where he was born and was what he was. That is an advance. But is he aware that in becoming a member of the working-class he is to face the greatest humiliation of all? That is that in the eyes of his employers he will not even be an inferior man. He, that is to say his ability to work, will become a mere commodity, to be bought and sold on the market. A cog in the productive process. Such is human dignity in the society into which he is entering.

The Socialist measures working-class progress in terms of its heightening awareness of its needs and aspirations. Consciousness in short, of its liberating rôle in history. Do workers realise the necessity of their building trade-union organisation that is independent of the employing class? Do they know the value of the strike weapon—and its limitations? Do they value and exercise hard won electoral rights and the right to dissent? Do they become more and more convinced of the need for a change in the very basis of present society if humanity is to survive and to reach its proper stature? These are our criteria.

The Nationalist teaches the worker to identify himself with his ruling-class. The Socialist says that the worker has no country and should recognise his common bonds with workers everywhere. Each new state that is set up has as its number one task the inculcation of a sense of differentness into its school-children and of their loyalty to a piece of territory quite arbitrarily arrived at. 

For the past year or so fierce argument has raged amongst Castro's admirers as well as among his critics in the outside world. Those who have viewed the scene through Bolshevik eyes have felt the necessity of “explaining” the social forces behind the Cuban revolution in the set terms of Leninism. Hence efforts have been made to show that, like China, it was the peasants' support that made victory possible as the workers played no great part. Then realising, perhaps, that the peasant's classic demand is for the land he worked and that state-farms (called cooperatives) would replace estate farms more efficiently, a new angle was developed. Truly speaking, they said, those working on the sugar plantations were not peasants at all but sharecroppers hired and fired by the three month season. Concerning the other end of the social scale, it is being debated whether it was a middle-class revolution betrayed because so many of its staunchest professional and managerial supporters have been alienated by now.

These knotty problems can be unravelled, however. According to Geografia de Cuba, a book quoted by Theodore Draper in his well documented article in Encounter last March, the population was more urban than rural and increasingly so. Of the 40 per cent who were dependent upon agriculture for a living over a quarter were classified as farmers and ranchers. The urban population was mostly literate but nearly half the rural population was not. But whatever their category, the mass of the people have readily given their support to a régime that promises to put an end to seasonal unemployment by diversifying agriculture and which is making strenuous efforts to raise the educational level of the people.

India and Brazil stand out as exceptions of great significance but since 1917 virtually every country entering upon the threshold of capitalist production has been failed by such middle-class elements as existed when the change came. Rarely has nature related the perfect juxtaposition of coal and iron that so favoured the pioneers of British capitalism. Coming so much later onto the scene there is the problem of important sections of the working-class being already organised to resist encroachments. Vast sums of money are needed to establish communications. Tariff walls are all around. In these circumstances and bearing in mind the extent to which the middle-class is compromised to the metropolitan power, it falls to a determined and far-sighted section of that class to actually throw off the fetters, often at the expense of some of the comforts and privileges of the class as a whole. Cuba’s capitalist system is being ushered in by a revolutionary élite of this kind who had grasped power on the strength of popular discontent.

(2) Political Democracy
How do the trade-unions fit into all this? Except for a pioneering few that were built up under anarcho-syndicalist influences at the turn of the century, most unions date from a much later period and were set up under Stalinist influence. Nevertheless, within their limits they became quite valuable working-class instruments. Under very great pressure they carried on through the Batista dictatorship and came out more or less intact. This was partly due to the fact that in the early days of the guerrilla war the trade-union movement remained neutral. Support for Castro came from professional and managerial circles who still lacked the constitutional rights promised as long ago as 1940 and from an increasing number of the rural population who saw him as the man who would at last enact the land reforms that had been promised in the same constitutional proposals.

The Communist Party (PSP) at that stage was deeply compromised by its history of collaboration with the Batista dictatorship. As late as April 1958 it broke, in effect, the general strike called by Castro since the key transport workers under CP leadership did not join in.

A few months after Castro’s triumphal march into Havana, the union elections that were held put most of the country’s union branches firmly in the hands of his 26th July Movement National conferences of various union federations during June, July and August secured him control over most of these groups. It should be noted that the new government had debarred from the elections trade-union figures belonging to several groupings other than the 26th July Movement who had managed to retain office in their unions even though they had fought against Batista and this was because of the solid rank and file support they enjoyed.

At the congress of the local TUC (CTC) early in 1959 there was a struggle between the pro- and anti-communist elements within Castro’s movement, the anti-communists having held power since his victory. According to Robert J. Alexander in his new book, The Struggle for Democracy in Latin America, both Fidel and his brother Raul intervened on behalf of the pro-communist elements. As a result all but one of the leading anti-communist figures were purged from the Executive. Since then the government has taken stringent measures to regiment the organised workers. By decrees promulgated early in 1960 all collective bargaining was abolished and all matters previously dealt with through joint negotiations were to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour for arbitration. Already troops have been used to bring recalcitrant workers into line. When a Conference of the Building Workers Federation in April 1960 refused to obey the orders of the CTC purge committee to dismiss its leaders, soldiers were moved into the meeting hall and the conference was brought to a summary conclusion.

Political democracy has been part of the price of the Cuban revolution notwithstanding that its reintroduction was the rallying cry of the "bearded ones” in their fighting days. On 1st May. Cuba declared itself on a level with Czechoslovakia by becoming a “Socialist Republic”. In the Soviet hierarchy it presumably ranks higher now than mere “Popular Democracies” which is what most of the satellites remain. Freedom of dissent whilst not entirely gone has been drastically curtailed. No opposition parties or newspapers have survived. Adlai Stevenson was reported by Time (28/4/61) as saying at the United Nations that nearly two-thirds of Castro’s first cabinet now form the leadership of Cubans in exile. It can be seen that those who fought with Castro in the belief that it was a struggle between democracy and dictatorship are silenced, in prison or in exile. Political freedom is something of such overwhelming importance to the working-class that it loses it at its peril. It does not exist in Cuba.
Eddie Grant

Armaments and Unemployment (1961)

From the July 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

The disarmament conference organised by the Labour Party in January 1911 passed a resolution in favour of a campaign to secure the mutual gradual reduction of armaments; with a view to the ultimate disbandment of all armies and navies. It rejected a proposal for a general strike to prevent war and would not even discuss an amendment to the main proposal, which declared that disarmament could only be brought about by the abolition of capitalism and establishment of Social Democracy. Many interesting things were said at the Conference, including a declaration that the British Government was absolutely responsible for the world armament race, made by Will Thorne, M.P., who three years later was heartily supporting the war “against the German militarists". But what concerns us here is an amendment, debated at the Conference, which would have postponed any effort to reduce armaments until such time as a law had been passed providing full maintenance for workers who lost their jobs in the armaments industries. The amendment was defeated but the attitude persisted and is with us still: there are still many workers who believe that it is only armaments that keep capitalism busy, and that if governments reduce armaments, employment and trade and wages will collapse. How much truth is there in this belief?

It can be answered categorically from past experience as well as from general considerations that capitalism is not kept going simply by armament expenditure and therefore the effect that reductions of armament expenditure will have depends on all sorts of other factors as well. To start with, except in war-time, expenditure on armaments and armed forces represents only a small proportion of total national income and production—in Britain it is now about 7½ per cent, in U.S.A. about 11 per cent, and in other European countries very much less than 7½ per cent.

It is of course obvious that if the British Government suddenly destroyed all arms, gave up arms production and disbanded the armed forces, thus saving an annual expenditure of £1,400 million, it would create immediate problems for hundreds of thousands of redundant soldiers and armament workers, as well as for manufacturers with cancelled contracts. If trade conditions were already depressed at that time the effects might he severe and prolonged, but they would not be different in magnitude from the effects produced by any other sudden cessation of demand for labour and goods totalling £1,400 million a year. One factor to he remembered here is that what is called “defence expenditure" is not wholly or mainly on weapons of war; about half is on the food, uniform, buildings and pay military and civilian staffs.

In 1945 war expenditure was equal to nearly half the total national income. Then in two years it was cut from £5,000 million to under £850 million, and the size of the armed forces was slashed from 5 million to 800,000. The effect of this on unemployment was negligible though it involved millions of men changing their work and millions of others finding jobs after demobilisation. All that happened was that as the armed forces dwindled the numbers of workers m civilian employment grew, for capitalism was in a vigorous phase of expansion. Experience after the first world war was not the same. There was much more industrial disorganisation when the troops were demobilized and within three years came the acute though short lived slump of 1921.

British capitalism was still expanding in 1951 when the Labour Government launched the re-armament programme which more than doubled defence expenditure from £740 million to over £1,400 million. To make it possible other activities, including building and the capital expenditure on the Post Office and nationalised industries, had to be cut down because there were insufficient reserves of labour and raw materials to carry on the existing volume of civilian production plus the expansion of armaments, Within a year the Government reported that the planned expansion of armaments was itself falling behind because of these limitations.

America immediately after the end of World War It had much the same experience as Britain when it demobilized most of its war-time armed forces, but unemployment did not fall to so low a level.

Germany and Italy had a quite different experience. They were not going through a phase of expansion in the early port-war years and their demobbed soldiers and redundant munition workers largely went to swell the very heavy unemployment that lasted for ten years or more.

But later, though Germany's armament expenditure still represented only about 2 per cent or 3 per cent of national income and production, German industry has had several years of boom conditions with more vacancies than workers to fill them and hundreds of thousands of workers being brought in from neighbouring countries.

We can therefore say that though arms and armies play a considerable part in the whole field of production arid employment and can ax times exercise a considerable influence on the total magnitude, expenditure on them is no more decisive than any other expenditure of similar size, i.e. on average about 5 per cent to 10 per cent of total national production and expenditure, It all depends on whether capitalism is in an expanding or a contracting phase.

To put it in perspective, it may be added that while capitalism continues no government is in fact going to abolish its armies and armaments though, as in the past, there may be occasions when expenditure is reduced.
Edgar Hardcastle