Friday, November 2, 2018

Hippies: An Abortion of Socialist Understanding (1969)

From the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everybody seems to think I’m lazy. I don’t mind – I think they’re crazy. Running everywhere at such a speed. Till they find there’s no need . . .
Ever since the explosion of “Flower Power” in Summer 67, the world’s working-class has been aware of the Hippy movement, or as it is now more frequently called, “The Underground”. Attitudes to the hippies have varied from amused fascination to angry revulsion.  Many people have grown more hostile to them over the past two years, as their emphasis on such harmless-sounding words as “Love” and “Beautiful People” has declined, and their tendency to smoke pot has become more widely publicised.

In Britain the occupation of 144 Piccadilly confirmed the hippies’ bad reputation—though the occupiers were not typical of the Underground by any means. TV news announcers put on their frowns for this item, were careful to identify the occupation with soccer hooliganism (both were “violence to property”), and equally careful to avoid dragging in irrelevant details like the fact of empty houses alongside homeless people.

A wave of horror swept the country at the realisation that there were people who not only wore long hair (and obviously smelt foul, as anyone could see by looking at their TV screens), but actually believed they had a right to live without working. In one television programme, David Frost, Hughie Green and Robert Maxwell—those highly productive labourers who toil so usefully to justify their existence—led an attack on the hippies for their conscientious objection to work. When Richard Neville (editor of the Underground magazine Oz) suggested that the idea of work as a duty hadn’t a very ancient historical pedigree, that work in the modern world was “really a form of slavery,” and that with today’s productive techniques there could easily be more than enough wealth for everyone, he was devastated by Frost’s crisply intelligent retorts: “Very high‑flown I’m sure” and “I really am an old fuddy-duddy you know.”

Hippy characteristics
The hippy phenomenon is a movement, a set of attitudes, a subculture or a nuisance, according to your point of view. It consists of several hundred thousand people, drawn mostly from the working class, in the advanced regions of Capitalism. It is vaguely defined, fuzzy-edged—no one can draw up a hippy manifesto; no one can specify who is a hippy and who isn’t. It differs from country to country: in America, for example, there are relatively fewer semi-hippies or weekend hippies than in Britain, for the simple reason that long hair is a much greater obstacle to getting a job in the States than in Europe. All the same, we can list some of the features which distinguish hippies from what they call “straight” society.

First, there is age—or rather, youth. Hippies are predominantly under-thirties. Second, they have an unorthodox pattern of drugs consumption—mostly pot, with occasional recourse to acid (“pot” is now common parlance for cannabis (marihuana), and acid for lysergic acid (LSD)) and minor use of amphetamines and other pills. Or as “straight” society (gaily swilling down immense quantities of alcohol, nicotine, barbiturates, aspirin, etc.) usually puts it: “Hippies take drugs.” Whatever may be the medical properties of the hippies’ chosen stimulants, they do have the important social property that their use is, for the time being, prohibited by the State.

Third, hippies possess a typical style of appearance: long hair, casual-to-scruffy clothes, beads, etc. And fourth, like all minority groups they have their own language: “mind-blowing” (stimulating to the point of powerful hallucination); “hang-up” (unfortunate disturbance of tranquillity); “fuzz” (policemen), and so forth. It is a measure of the commercial cashing-in on hippies that virtually all of their jargon is very widely-known through its dissemination in pop music. Most of it was borrowed from other sources, not coined, by the hippies.

Fifth, hippies are preoccupied with certain forms of art, for example beat music accompanied by displays of coloured, flashing lights. Sixth, they aim at an inversion of the values of “straight” society. They embrace spontaneity rather than self-control; childlikeness rather than sophistication; love rather than power; “dropping-out” rather than careerism; “doing your own thing” rather than imposed uniformity; admiration for the destitute rather than for “affluence”; disorder rather than method—and of course, Indians rather than cowboys. Seventh, hippies often show a greater than average susceptibility to superstition. They are generally against established “organised religion,” but fall for all sorts of religious and mystical clap-trap which have an exotic flavour ; astrology, transcendental meditation, palmistry, sunspots, or Krishna-consciousness.

Lastly, many hippies advocate a revolutionary change in society, though both the manner of achieving this, and the nature of their proposed new system, (sometimes described as “tribal” or “communitarian”) are extremely vague. An example of this vagueness was the slogan advanced in one Underground paper: “Alternative Society Now!”—its urgent tone somewhat cancelled out by the woolliness of its descriptive content, which could scarcely be less informative. At least many hippies are clear that the major social evils of today are all bound up together, and can be removed only by a total social change. Both of the important politically-oriented offshoots of the hippy movement, the Diggers and the Yippies, make specifically Socialist proposals, such as the abolition of wages and of money. In our opinion, both these groups are doomed to futility because of their methods, but they do constitute an advance on the previously fashionable assortments of youthful radicals. This groping towards Socialist understanding is particularly impressive when set against the temporary direction of trendy Leftism in the US: flirting with black racism, romantic idolising of Guevara and similar state-capitalist prophets, or the demagoguery and vanguardism the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Causes of hippies
The Socialist argument that the majority of workers must arrive at a clear understanding of Socialism before they can get it, that a Revolution in ideas must precede the Revolution in politics and economics, is often sneered at by those who say that the mass of the population (except, for some reason, the extraordinary people who make this statement) are brainwashed robots, puppets manipulated by TV, and the press.

But Capitalism is not a conspiracy. It cannot be controlled by set of individuals, not even the Capitalist class.  Current ideas provide a support for capitalism (though the “mass media” are only a part of their reinforcement), yet Capitalism is dynamic, constantly advancing and frequently unpredictable in detail. The very ideas which defend capitalism have to be adjusted or replaced, to fit new conditions. Workers must be trained, not only to do their jobs, but also to be versatile, because their jobs are changing all the time, and also to make radical criticisms of the way capitalism is run, because otherwise inefficient and unprofitable blunders would result. As the Communist Manifesto put it:
  The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production . . . All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their trains of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned . . .
Today, traditional ideas about work, leisure and “the purpose of life” are under attack, and in retreat. Capitalism has killed God stone dead, and is stamping on the twitching corpse. Capitalism extends the juicy carrot of the “Leisure Society”—a golden age of short working-hours and automated abundance, which is ever imminent yet never arrives. Capitalism holds aloft an image of glamour, high-powered pleasure, rest and freedom—whilst the worker’s mind and body are reduced ever more thoroughly to instruments of accumulation. From the belief that work is a grim duty, consumption its reward, capitalism is shifting emphasis to the view that consumption is a duty, work something to be made rewarding.

It is in this context of irresistible change that confused vortices of rebellion like hippyism must be seen. The hippy movement has been centred in California—the most technically advanced region of the world, the window on the future. That is not an accident: it is just what Socialists and historical materialists have predicted. The embryo of Socialist ideas is constantly gestating in the womb of advanced capitalism: the foetus is aborted repeatedly, but the fertility of working‑class consciousness cannot be lost, and the insemination of Socialist organisation must grow more copious. The hippy movement is one of those abortions.

Hippies are a product of the youth cult, the commercialisation of young people and the “generation gap.” But this gap is not only a construct of the publicity men: the new generation does live and think differently from its elders. Many of the things our fathers and mothers were grateful for (and that is a measure of the servile depths to which the working-class has sunk), we take for granted. Young people in the advanced countries have never been brought to heel by a major slump, nor by a war at home.  Their standard of consumption has generally risen steadily throughout their lives, and they confidently expect it to go on doing so indefinitely. Given this outlook, mere technical progress and fatter wage packets lose their capacity to impress. Young workers are more likely to ask “What’s it all for, this endless treadmill? When do we start to live?”

The rapid dissemination of hippyism throughout the advanced world is a consequence of the similarity of conditions in these counties, plus the globe-shrinking communications network: any fad, fashion, doctrine or cult, once it has popped up in one nation is almost instantly mirrored in all. This buttresses our case that the notion of a Socialist revolution in a single country is ludicrous.

The hippies’ deliberate irrationality, and their earlier Love worship, are a protest against “straight” reasonableness and logic. (In fact the very term “straight,” like the archaic “square” reveals this). Capitalism manifests very thorough rationality in the service of inactive irrationality—scientific means to insane ends. Those who don’t understand capitalism’s structure often find its “logic” oppressive, and retreat into gooey, mindless sentimentality. This is a very common modern theme, exemplified in things like Godard’s early films, such as Alphaville.

Mysticism is favoured by a reaction against modern institutional Christianity, seen as a cover for the “straight” virtues of ambition and conformity, and mysticism links up with drug-induced hallucinations which provide escape from an aimless and insecure reality. It is romantically pretty, a source of poetry, in attempt to give back to life a lost “depth,” and in its imported forms it has the flavour of more primitive societies in which alternatives to the score-card mentality of “straight” achievement compulsion can be found.

The hippy movement is now virtually finished. Certain aspects—the dress, the jargon, the music—are steadily incorporated into a much broader and less rebellious area of commercial youth culture. “The Underground”, always a term with a more political slant, becomes infiltrated by Leftist reformists and insurrectionaries. It is to be hoped they will learn something from the Underground, for they have little to teach it. (1) A feeling of community, and a common set of values, will persist among those who smoke pot (and therefore dislike policemen), but this becomes vaguer as the habit spreads. The really important question of future movements, perhaps partly hippy-derived, perhaps bigger, perhaps more explicitly antagonistic to the economic system.

Criticism of hippies
A few young workers, whose anti-Capitalist tendencies were initially stirred by the Underground have progressed in their understanding to the point of embracing revolutionary Socialism, and joining the Socialist Party of Great Britain.  But much more could have been accomplished if there had existed a bigger Socialist movement with the resources to put its case more loudly. As it is, a potentially fruitful upsurge of critical and anti-authoritarian idea has in the main been diverted into reformism, anarchism and mysticism.

The hippies’ emphasis on a style instead of a programme, whilst in many ways endearing, and possessing an obvious advantage for propaganda, is a grave obstacle to their progress in understanding. Distinctions of dress, hairstyle and musical taste are, after all, fairly trivial—and many hippies come dangerously close to regarding them as fetishes. Flickering lights, a psychedelic design, a whiff of incense, a Clapton guitar phrase—such things can be combined into a powerfully unified appeal to all the senses, yet Capitalist society has no difficulty in prostituting this as it prostitutes all art and all enjoyment. Whereupon the market, having squeezed the Underground dry, moves on to the next short-lived modish fad. As Wilde put it, the trouble being very modern is that you become old-fashioned very quickly.

With the first, naive realisation that a new society is necessary, three elementary errors are committed in turn. First, it is supposed that the adoption of attitudes appropriate to the desired society will bring it closer—hence the “Love” phase. This is quickly seen to be largely unsuccessful, since the conditions of the present system generate completely opposed attitudes. To the extent that it is successful it merely helps to reconcile people to the existing state of affairs. The next stage is to go beyond mere attitudes, to try and act as though the new society were already here. This is like trying to get out of a prison by ignoring the bars, and equally futile. After this, attempts are at last made to overhaul the system, but only piecemeal, by changing bits at a time.  However the nature of the bits is mainly determined by the nature of the whole, not vice versa—as student militants are among the most recent to discover. Thus, what started out as something really radical, and in its implications revolutionary, has been shepherded back into the fold of orthodox reformist politics. Only clarity of thought, and courage in the face of the jeers about “sectarianism” which are always hurled at revolutionaries, can break out of this vicious circle.

Now the Underground veers between two courses of action: assaults on Capitalism and attempted withdrawal from it: respectively symbolised by the occupation of 144 Piccadilly, and the move to Saint Patrick’s Isle. But Capitalism will not fall before sporadic demonstrations and happenings, however defiant or amusing these may be.  Neither will it let anyone drop out.

It may be argued in defence of the Underground that this is the age of exploration rather than of Principles, and that there is much value in looseness, informality, and even incoherence. But exploration is worthwhile only if it leads to discovery, looseness if it leads to firmness, informality if it leads to definable formal organisation, and incoherence if out of it emerges a new coherence. The Underground is incapable of making these advances because, though often expert at dramatising its criticism of “straight” society, it seems quite incapable of criticising itself.

Hippies then, are only the symptoms of a sick society: Socialists the cure. Yet to those workers infuriated by the hippy way of life, we say: Don’t look for scapegoats. A few “spongers” are nothing compared to the vast wastage of Capitalism: the arms/space race, built-in shoddiness, the unnecessary monetary system, the “sponging” of the owners of industry. To blame hippies (students, immigrants, unofficial strikers) for your troubles is to lose sight of the actual cause—which is precisely what your masters the capitalists want. Anyway, the view that people ought to work to “earn” their subsistence is out-of-date in a world which could easily provide more than enough for everybody, with a tiny fraction of the work done today. Everything should be free; all work should be voluntary—that is Socialism.

To hippies themselves, we say: Pulling faces at Capitalism is not enough. Even talking about “tribal” alternatives is not enough. An uncompromising stand on Socialist Principles is required before we can start to bring about the new moneyless world society.
David Ramsay Steele

(1) One of these Bolshevik reactionaries, D. Widgery, recently remonstrated with the Underground, via the columns of International Times (Oct. 10):  “IT would still be publishing its twee pop-star interviews two months after workers’ soviets were declared on Merseyside and Clydeside.”  Widgery’s delusional system is so fantastic that he imagines an administrative apparatus which was a symptom of Russian backwardness half a century ago has some relevance to the working-class problems in the 1970s!  Notice how his two chosen regions are centres for manual workers, that proportionately declining  section (soon to be a minority) of the working class – a section which the Bolsheviks invest with unlimited Romantic potential.  Compared to the fairytale world of the Bolsheviks, Tolkien’s fables are scientific sociology, twee pop-star interviews the last word in revolutionary politics!

What’s the Problem? (1969)

From the January 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

A familiar problem faces the Agricultural bosses of the European Common Market: too much food. This time it’s butter, a surplus of 350,000 tons. The annual cost of just storing it is equal to a third of its value, so the EEC are desperate to get rid of the stuff.

"In effect the butter surplus seems to be a problem almost beyond the wit of man to solve.” That is the conclusion of the Financial Times (30 October 1968).

One suggestion is to feed the butter back to the cows. This was seriously considered, but it has the drawback that the cows’ milk yield would zoom up further, causing an even bigger crisis.

An alternative idea is to put the stuff on the market at half its present price (at a cost to the Common Agricultural Fund of 500 million dollars) but even such a drastic cut wouldn’t increase sales enough.

Yet another proposal is to treat 27,500 tons so that it can’t be spread on bread, then sell it as something other than butter. That scheme would cost 43 million dollars (Guardian 19 October, 1968). The Agricultural Ministers have also considered selling the butter at cut prices to barracks, hospitals and boarding schools, or to food manufacturers for use instead of cooking fat.

Comments the Financial Times
  In the last analysis, these measures are merely palliatives because the Community seems faced with an inexorable surge in milk production. Output in France, with 10 million cows, is rising fastest of all. But per animal it still has a long way to go from the present 600 gallons per year to the level current in Holland of over 1,000 gallons a year. 
One likely course of action is that four million cows, out of the Common Market s total of 22 million, will be slaughtered.

Other diary products present a similar problem of superfluity. In September the Financial Times mentioned the "alarming increase” in UK skimmed milk stocks to 34,000 tons at the end of June 1968 compared with 20,000 in June 1967. This is a world problem, hitting the UK, the US, the EEC, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As in the case of butter, it is especially aggravated by the heavily-subsidised farming interests in the Common Market. The Financial Times freely admitted that:
  there is not an overall surplus if the theoretical needs of the developing countries are taken into consideration.
  It is estimated that a daily ration of only 10 grammes of skimmed milk powder for populations suffering from severe protein deficiency would on today’s basis require more than 3m. tons of skimmed milk powder annually.
  The problem is that the surplus countries would have to supply the produce free and probably pay for the cost of distribution too— a less attractive economic proposition than selling even at very low rates or paying the cost of storage.
  The immediate outlook for skimmed milk producers is, therefore, a gloomy one. They can either encourage consumption at rock bottom prices, pay to give away vast quantities to developing countries in the form of food aid, or face the prospect of massive, and costly, stocks continuing to undermine world markets.
  In the long term, however, it should be remembered that it was not many years ago when there was an acute shortage of dairy produce. The wheel may well turn back sooner than expected, as the pressure of low prices eventually discourages output and encourages consumption.
The Common Market also has a problem with sugar: a million ton surplus of which 600,000 tons will have to be exported and the rest "denaturised.”

"Coffee Prophets Gloomy” was a recent 11 November Times headline. Sadly the Times explained the source of gloom: "There is too much coffee in London or on its way here, while manufacturers appear to have covered their requirements well into the new year. The painful erosion of prices is likely to continue.”

Last summer brought the usual complains of too much fruit from many parts of the world, France in particular. The Scotsman 16 August informed us that the fruit glut:
  has come to be something of an annual event in France, but it is an event which gets bigger and more worrying with every passing harvest.
  This year half a million tons of fruit and vegetables have already had to be destroyed and with a bumper apple harvest about to aggravate the crisis, the Government has just banned the sale of all but top-quality apples.
  Nobody benefits from the situation. The growers earn, for example 50 centimes (about 10d) for a kilogramme of peaches and make up their incomes with Government subsidy. The consumers in the towns pay three times or more what the growers get. And the taxpayers contribute to an agricultural subsidy which next year is going to cost France an extra £83 million.
Tourists passing through the fruit-growing country of the Vaucluse and the Gard had to drive over piles of peaches tipped onto the roads by the lorryload. Fruit-growers handed them free gifts of the unsaleable fruit together with tracts which stated: "We can no longer put up with this destruction, while you, the purchasers cannot buy at reasonable prices and while there are people suffering from hunger.” 

Overproduction hit grape growers too. Excess grapes were dumped into rivers, abandoned at the roadside and sometimes thrown by frustrated farmers at Government buildings. The farmers are reported to have claimed: "it is more a problem of marketing than producing." But it's doubtful whether they realised the full significance of those words.
David Ramsay Steele

The Review Column: Another Crisis (1969)

The Review Column from the January 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Crisis

Ever since the Labour government came to power they have mounted a continual campaign to persuade the British working class that their belts must be tightened because the pound sterling is under attack by international currency speculators.

At the same time Labour ministers, not reluctant to dabble in nationalism, have contrasted the sickliness of the pound with the indecent health of other currencies like the franc and the deutsch- mark.

When the latest currency crisis broke the official story had to be rearranged. Now it was the franc and the mark which were under pressure; new arguments had to be used to explain away the latest round of restrictions.

In the process, Roy Jenkins joined the list of Labour Chancellors whose catch- phrased promises have*been exposed. Only a year ago, Jenkins was talking about “two years’ hard slog” to see us through. Now, as James Callaghan snidely indicated, the two years have been extended indefinitely.

Jenkins was applying measures which have already failed. They have failed while he has been Chancellor, they failed when Callaghan held the job and they failed under the Tories who were at the Exchequer before October 1964. The problems of British capitalism, in other words, are long term and fundamental, not to be cured or even affected by short term tinkering with taxes, exchange rates and the like.

Long term, too, are workers’ problems. Soon after Jenkins' cuts the House of Lords discussed poverty—no mean feat, since most of them have had no personal experience of it. Lord Beaumont, for example, told us that one person in every ten in this country falls into what he called “the general poverty bracket”.

Problems like that are not caused by currency difficulties, nor by an imbalance in a country’s trade. Poverty is an inescapable curse of capitalism and to eradicate its needs a fundamental change in society. That may be some way off but we can start by discrediting the politicians and their persistent, futile efforts to manage capitalism.

Powell Again 

Nobody should have been surprised at Enoch Powell’s second outburst on immigration. He was bound to try to repeat the success of his Birmingham speech in another, equally well timed and stage- managed.

This time the opposition were readier for him and within a few hours the counter attack had started. Powell had changed his figures on the predicted level of immigration; he had refused the chance to speak on the subject in the Commons a few days before; his evidence was dishonestly selective.

Of course most of this was true but it ignored one vital fact Powell was not addressing the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor workers in race relations, nor his fellow politicians.

He was playing the old trick of speaking over the heads of his opponents, to the people with the votes. He was stimulating the smouldering racialism of the Midlands and of places like Brixton and Southall.

In these places the frustrations and restrictions of working class life are acute and have in some cases seem to have been accentuated by the arrival of the immigrants who, because they are so easily identifiable, make the perfect scapegoat for a demagogue.

Powell is bidding for power and, having chosen his path, he will probably stick to it. His Eastbourne speech must surely be followed by others, in the same evil vein.

At the moment, he is having no perceptible success; the working class show no sign of voting for an openly racist party. But if conditions change — if Labour’s unemployed pool should grow any larger — the resentments which now smoulder could burst into fire.

The workers, unaware of their class standing and interests, bewildered by the continual crisis of capitalism, disillusioned at their leaders' failures, are inflammable material. The threat is always there. Had Enoch Powell never been born, some other politician would be doing the same work, blowing on the embers of panic and prejudice.

Biafra Tragedy

The pitiful victims of Nigeria’s civil war are the latest in a long line, preceded by such as Palestine, Algeria, Korea, Vietnam . . .

One estimate is that about one million children alone will die each month in Biafra unless they are evacuated or given proper food and medical attention.

The civil war has roused compassion all over the world and to many people, concerned at the death and suffering, the situation is full of perplexing questions.

Why won’t the Nigerian Federal government, as an act of simple humanity, allow food and medical supplies into the surrounded and shrinking Ibo land?

Why does the Labour government, which assured us that moral grounds caused them to prevent the sale of arms to South Africa, not take a similar stand over Nigeria, and stop sending weapons to the Federal forces?

Why can’t both sides simply call off the war?

These questions, and many others, are valid enough, except that they all assume capitalist states are guided by concern for human welfare.

When we realise that this is not so— that capitalist governments act as the property interests of their ruling class demand—the questions are not so perplexing.

The civil war in Nigeria, for example, is partly a struggle to flatten the tribal structure which was a part of the old society and to replace it with a national unity which is so essential for a modern developing capitalist state.

This is a ruthless struggle. Everyone is in the firing line; the Nigerian government are deliberately starving children because such tactics are an accepted and necessary part of modern war. The British government, for example, did it in both world wars.

It is futile, then, to wring our hands over Biafra. War is an inescapable part of capitalism and it cannot be removed by charity, no matter how sincere. The killing will not stop and Biafra will not be the last great tragedy.

What Happened in France Last May (1969)

Book Reviews from the January 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Obsolete Communism: The Left-wing Alternative. by Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit. (Andre Deutsch. 25s.)
France: The Struggle Goes On by Tony Cliff and Ian Birchall. (International Socialism Special. 2s. 6d.)
French Revolution 1968. by Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville. (Penguin. 6s.)
Mai 1968: La Brèche. by Morin. Lefort and Coudray. (Fayard, 10 Frs.)
La Révolution Trahie de 1968. by Andre Barjonet. (John Dldier.)

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is just an ordinary anarcho-syndicalist. In their hastily-written book he and his brother advance the old theory that the direct action of a militant minority can expose the repressive nature of the state and spark off a general strike that will lead to the overthrow of capitalism. They explain the failure of last year’s French strike by the fact that in the last week of May when the government was at its weakest the crowds after trying to burn the Paris stock exchange did not go on to take the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Interior, but were dissuaded from doing so by, among others, trotskyist leaders. If they had done this, the claim is, and the workers in the factories had restarted production under their own control the revolution would have succeeded.

This is a simple, and not very plausible, explanation. The real reason capitalism was not overthrown was because the vast majority of French workers were not in favour of this. True, they were greatly discontented with rising prices, lagging wages, unemployment, long hours, harsh discipline, but they were not socialist. So, whatever the outcome of the strike it could not have been the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. There never was any revolutionary situation and the attempt by anarchists and trotskyists to turn the general strike to defend living standards and working conditions into an insurrection against capitalism was doomed to fail. Its main result has been to strengthen the hand of the Gaullist government.

This book (whose French title Leftism: A Remedy for the Senile Disorder of Communism is a clever play on a title of one of Lenin’s pamphlets, obviously considered too subtle by the publishers) is in four parts. The first has some sound stuff on universities as capitalist institutions geared to turning out a managerial élite to run capitalist industry. The second is the usual anarchist attack on the state and praise for direct action and the general strike. The third is an exposé of the dirty, anti-working class role of the French Communist Party (PCF) from the thirties onward. The fourth—obviously aimed at those who fought side-by-side with Cohn-Bendit on the barricades—is an attack on the Bolshevik theory of the vanguard party. Cohn-Bendit and his brother show quite clearly how Lenin and Trotsky, by means of a policy of state capitalism, began the repression of the Russian workers which Stalin continued so brutally.

This should be essential reading for trotskyists like Cliff and Birchall who still defend the Bolshevik coup and minority dictatorship and call for a centralised and disciplined party. Their pamphlet is not really worth reading as all the facts, and a few common sense observations, can be had by reading the much better-written Penguin Special, despite its misleading title.

Morin, Lefort and Coudray are also basically syndicalists but of a less orthodox kind. Capitalism, they say, has changed into “techno-bureaucratic society” (Morin), “bourgeois-bureaucratic society" (Lefort) or “bureaucratic capitalism” (Coudray) in which the conflict is no longer between the property-owners and the propertyless but between the controllers and the controlled. The main features of this society are bureaucracy and hierarchy: those at the top know best so those at the bottom must obey. The revolutionary students, they say, in challenging this set-up in the universities have pointed the way for the rest of society. Because of the key-role played by the technical and professional groups today their discontent has revolutionary potential. They and their trainees, the students, not the industrial workers, are the force for Socialism.

Since it is an old anarchist myth that the class struggle has always been between rulers and ruled rather than producers and non-producers, it is not surprising to find the three fall back on the syndicalist tradition. Morin is clearly carried away by the whole affair. He talks enthusiastically about the students’ actions as a return to “original communism, purged of all Stalinism, marxism-leninism and bolshevism” which will lead to what Coudray calls the grève gestionnaire (a significant change from the old syndicalist grève expropriate, reflecting the shift of emphasis from ownership to control).

Barjonet’s pamphlet is interesting in that for over twenty years he was head of the Communist trade union centre’s (CGT) research department, a post he resigned in May in protest against the cowardly attitude of the CGT and PCF. He felt (mistakenly, we might add) that a potential socialist revolution was betrayed by the failure of the PCF to act even to overthrow the Gaullist regime. let alone capitalism.

Barjonet traces the defects of the PCF back to Lenin. Leninist practice has always been to try to lead the workers by placing attractive slogans before them. But this merely allots them a passive role and inevitably leads to the Leninist vanguard thinking that it always knows best. “Marxism-Leninism”, says Barjonet and we couldn’t agree more, “has been an historic misfortune for the international working class". He calls for a return to Marx who clearly understood that the workers themselves, not any leaders, must play the creative role in the socialist revolution and that working class organisations must be thoroughly democratic.

The three books from France show an encouraging rejection of and contempt for Bolshevism. We can only hope that this is the beginning of its demise in western Europe where it has had such a pernicious effect on working class thinking. If the May events have helped this they will have done something.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: The Suffragettes (2018)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January 1918 Punch signalled the end of the struggle for female suffrage, which had provided it with so much material, with one last cartoon. There was a woman, looking like Joan of Arc, holding a banner with the words “Women’s Franchise”. The caption read simply “At Last”.

In February that year an amendment to the Representation of the People Act gave the parliamentary vote to those women over thirty who held a £5 occupation qualification, or were householders, the wives of householders, or graduates. That was the beginning; in 1928 the Baldwin government, despite one or two diehards still resisting from the last ditches, conceded the vote to everyone over the age of twenty-one, man and woman.

The campaign for the vote was part of a great surge of female discontent which had gathered its force at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, the full effects of industrialisation were being felt; the old type of home life had been undermined and women had been forced onto the labour market in competition with men. Wherever they could —in the craft unions and, for the better off in the so-called professions—the men organised to resist this competition.

For most women, the one hope of escape from the labour market was by marriage which, since it involved the exchange of conjugal rights for some sort of livelihood, was sometimes stigmatised as legal prostitution. Marriage, in any case, had its problems; the old melodramas about wife beating were based on more than the authors’ imagination. (….)

If women are to do something about their place in society, they must first face the fact that most of them are workers, with labour power to sell, just like the majority of men. They must realise that their vote has solved nothing, changed nothing, because—again like the majority of men—it is a vote not backed by an understanding of society. But with that understanding the vote can do more than any Suffragette ever dreamed of — it can bring “. . . the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.”
[Socialist Standard, November 1968]

A Rebel’s Guide to Lenin (2005)

Book Review from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Rebel’s Guide to Lenin. Ian Birchall. Bookmarks. £2.

This is an odd, 58-page top-pocket-size pamphlet. Odd because it is written in very simple language and seems to be aimed at schoolkids who might be influenced by anarchist ideas.

Thus, Birchall tells us, “Lenin’s goal was the same as the anarchists’, but he recognised that the path it would be complex”. Yes indeed, by means of the dictatorship of a vanguard party which would last for years and which would, supposedly, in time give up its power and privilege and abolish the state.

Birchall quotes from ex-anarchists who came over to the Bolsheviks such as Alfred Rosmer and Victor Serge and tells us that Lenin “spent hours discussing with anarchists such as Emma Goodman from the US and Makhno from Ukraine” and argued that “the syndicalist idea of an ‘organised minority’ of the most militant workers and the Bolshevik idea of the party were the same thing”.

This may have worked in the aftermath of the first world war and the Russian revolution to temporarily win over a number of anarchists and syndicalists, but it is hard to see it working today to get any budding anarchists to join the SWP.
Adam Buick

The Great Russian Fake Off (2018)

The Proper Gander column from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tread carefully if you venture onto YouTube to find out about left-wing ideas. While there are plenty of interesting and lively short films produced by leftists of all persuasions, you can also stumble across mean-spirited uploads from their opponents. A video with a title like ‘triggered snowflake cringe compilation’ or ‘social justice worker fail’ isn’t likely to provide a nuanced, balanced critique of left-wing views. There are dozens of videos like this, posted by smug right-wing outlets, intended to show the left, and especially feminists, as naively misguided. They tend to be selectively-edited clips from vlogs, interviews, and interventions featuring leftists with weak arguments or whose emotions overshadow the point they’re making. Just one example is the uploaded footage of a mostly incoherent heckler at a University of Massachusetts Amherst lecture. When the heckler was nicknamed ‘Trigglypuff’, a meme was born and the video quickly attracted hundreds of thousands of views, shares and (invariably negative) comments.

Something different and more unsettling was going on with a more recent viral video, though. This one showed a woman ‘activist’ pouring diluted bleach over the crotches of men who are ‘manspreading’ while sitting on a Russian tube train. The video provoked thousands of online responses, with many saying that her actions were more of an assault than a protest. But then it was exposed as a fake. One of the men shown getting his trousers soaked told the St Petersburg-based online magazine Bumaga that he and the others were actors hired by a film company, suggested to be one with links to the Kremlin. The video was first posted on In The Now, an English-language social media channel owned by Russia Today, itself state-funded. It might have originated in the Internet Research Agency, based in St Petersburg. Despite its bland-sounding name, this is a ‘troll farm’, which produces propaganda for the Russian state to be spread across social media. Another product of the farm was reportedly the ‘Saiga 410K Review’ video, which caused controversy for apparently showing an American soldier shooting bullets into a copy of the Quran. A BBC investigation in 2015 concluded that the footage was faked, as the uniform wasn’t genuine, and the ‘soldier’ was most likely a St Petersburg barman.

Why would the Russian government produce and distribute staged videos? ‘EU Vs Disinformation’, an anti-Kremlin website run by the EU, claimed the bleach stunt was designed to stir up people against feminism. Its aim would be not only to show feminists in a bad light, but also to increase divisions between people and groups through their responses to it. Similarly, the ‘Saiga 410K Review’ video was made to incite Muslims against America. The filmed acts were seen as extreme, and led to the extreme reactions the producers intended.

This kind of tactic isn’t only linked to the Kremlin. In 2016, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism website reported that the American military had commissioned a British Public Relations firm to produce bogus Al-Qaeda videos. CDs of these were planted by soldiers operating in the Middle East, not only to spread disinformation about Al-Qaeda but also to track where the CDs later turned up.

Making fake propaganda is a dirty enough trick, but a technique allegedly used by the Kremlin to influence the American Presidential Election is even more devious. Their approach here was apparently to create propaganda supporting both Democrats and Republicans, as well as other groups ranging from white supremacists to Black Lives Matter activists. For example, in May 2016, two competing rallies were held in Houston, Texas to protest against and defend the recently opened Library of Islamic Knowledge. Both were organised through Facebook groups later revealed to be accounts from the Internet Research Agency.

This method follows the approach of ‘Political Technologists’, such as Vladislav Surkov, a close ally of President Putin. In Russia, Surkov sponsored fascist groups, anti-fascist groups, and even groups opposed to Putin. Then he let it be known that he was doing this, so that no-one could tell how genuine these organisations were. By simultaneously backing opposing ideologies, the intention isn’t to boost support for any particular one of them, even whichever is more consistent with state policy. Instead, the aim is to stir up confusion and also mistrust, not only of particular groups, but of what’s real. Political Technologists want to manipulate political debate by undermining it. So, exposing the bleach footage as phoney can’t even be seen as a loss for the Kremlin, as this just lays on another layer of cynicism. Cheekily, the video itself includes the caption ‘some say it’s all staged’. If anything, the trend for fake videos can be a useful lesson, a reminder that it pays to be sceptical.
Mike Foster