Saturday, November 3, 2018

'Imperialism - highest stage of capitalism’ (1969)

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
 It is impermissible to draw a common balance between the hard-earned savings set aside by the peoples of the socialist countries to help their friends, and the capital of imperialist monopolies which they expect, sooner or later, to bring them profit. (V. I. Pavlov in 'Economic Freedom versus Imperialism'.)
A Russian delegation has recently returned to Moscow from Indonesia where it spent five weeks putting pressure on the government, in an effort to persuade Jakarta to start repayments on its $700m. debt to the Soviet Union. According to The Times (1 October 1969) “The Russians demanded that Indonesia begin repayment of the debt on schedule next year as agreed in 1966, but the Indonesians declined and explained that to do so would drain the country's foreign exchange and jeopardise her five-year development plan.” The counter-proposal from the Indonesian side was that Russia should allow Jakarta forty years in which to pay off the debt and that the Soviet Union should also forego its interest rights. Nothing was resolved and the talks are to be resumed in Moscow later this year.

Meanwhile . . . an Indonesian mission is travelling to Paris to put forward similar proposals to the Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia which represents the Western creditor nations.
John Crump

Off The Rails (1969)

Book Review from the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Essay on Liberation by Herbert Marcuse (The Penguin Press)

Marcuse’s latest work is an attempt to amplify and elaborate ideas contained in his earlier books such as Eros and Civilisation and One Dimensional Man, in the light of recent developments and trends in world capitalism.

Nevertheless much of the book is shot through with a very fine thread of inconsistency and ambiguity in relation to what he says in some of his other works. For instance, he refers to the Soviet Bloc as “Socialist” without qualifying his use of the terms, whereas in his book Soviet Marxism he explains that although he refers to Russia as being Socialist he does not mean it to be understood as what Marx and Engels meant in their works. His use of the term “repressive bureaucracy” aligns him with those sections of the New Left who look upon Russia as a “deformed workers’ state”—as though a caste of officials are actually responsible for the social system there and not vice versa. Marcuse is too good a Marxist scholar to know that this is not the case. But for all his considerable insight in some fields, Marcuse could not be more out of touch with the real situation when he gives his appraisal of the student insurrection of May 1968 in France and the riots in the ghettos of America. In both of these he sees manifestations of a real, growing anti-capitalist movement. Of course they are nothing of the sort. The only aim of both the May students' movements and Black Power is an amelioration of conditions within the wages-profit system.

According to Marcuse, the working class has been effectively incorporated into capitalist system psychologically and economically. He acknowledges that only a class conscious working class who want Socialism can bring about the socialist revolution. If it is true that they are so committed to capitalism, how are these powerful mental bonds which fasten them to the system, to be broken?

Marcuse’s answer is to point to the students—a new twist on the vanguard and √©litest theories of Lenin and others. Not that Marcuse is actually putting forward the same idea as Lenin, for he knows very well that the working class are capable of understanding the Socialist alternative. However, he thinks that the students can be of help in arousing the workers’ awareness of their repression and servitude in capitalist society, although there is also the danger of them provoking a working class backlash, resulting in Fascist and semi-Fascist regimes. Marcuse stresses that “the established democracy still provide the only legitimate framework for change and must therefore be defended against all attempts on the right and Centre to resist the framework”. Socialists would certainly agree with this.

Creative and cultural possibilities in Socialist society, where repression has been abolished and technology and science serve mankind as a whole and not the interests of a minority class through the intensive exploitation of an enslaved class, are discussed (but a better account of this is to be found in Eros and Civilisation in a chapter entitled The Aesthetic Dimension.)

In spite of some glaring howlers, Marcuse’s work is interesting and stimulating nonetheless, and is far more optimistic in its outlook than much of the turgid drivel churned out by many left wing writers.

Violent Belfast (1969)

Book Review from the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Holy War in Belfast, by Andrew Boyd. Anvil Books 8s. 6d.

Belfast has a tradition of sectarian disturbances which is still alive as the fence the Army has put up between the Protestant and Catholic slums shows. Andrew Boyd gives here a simple blow-by-blow description of major riots that took place in 1857, 1864, 1872 and 1886. He has added a couple of hastily-written chapters which are supposed to bring the position up to date, but his book really ends in 1886.

That was the year Gladstone’s first Home Rule Bill was defeated. It was also the year the Orange Order became respectable. Up till then it was a secret society of poorer Protestants whose parades were nearly always accompanied by disturbances. Their aim seemed to be to provoke the Catholics whenever the occasion arose. As such they were regarded as a nuisance by the government and for many years Orange marches or the display of Orange banners were prohibited. Many of the clashes described by Boyd were between police and Protestants.

The pattern is familiar: raving Presbyterian ministers, gun-fights, mob violence, intimidation, barricades, murder, arson, looting and battles with the police. In nearly every case the aggressors were the Orange extremists. In every case it was the poor, Protestant and Catholic, who suffered the consequences of this violence in terms of death, injury, homelessness and unemployment.

Inflamed by the anti-popery of their preachers, the Protestant workers feared that Home Rule would mean domination by the Catholic majority in the rest of Ireland. The landlords and the rich capitalists knew this was so much nonsense but they had a very real economic interest in encouraging hostility to Home Rule. The landlords wished to protect their right to exploit and oppress the Irish peasants while the capitalists wanted access to the profitable markets of the British Empire. To protect their economic interests they decided, as Churchill’s father Lord Randolph Churchill put it, to play the Orange card. Catholic-baiting and anti-popery became the stock-in-trade of the Unionist Party which emerged in 1886 from the anti-Horne Rule elements in Ireland.

Since 1920 this Party has itself ironically enjoyed a measure of Home Rule over six counties in the North East of Ireland. Lord Craigavon, Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister, declared that they now had a “Protestant government for a Protestant people”, a statement not calculated to encourage the “loyalty” of the non-Protestants who made up a third of its subjects. To deal with those who were likely to be “disloyal” the government soon passed the notorious Special Powers Act; set up a special para-military police force of which the equally notorious B Specials survive; abolished proportional representation in elections and gerrymandered local council wards—all really needlessly since the Unionists had a built- in majority if they could continue to play the Orange card successfully.

Today, however, this has become an embarrassment — with the need to attract overseas investors and with full free trade between Ireland and Britain (including Northern Ireland) due in 1975—and some Unionists are trying to repudiate their past. But this will not be easy since not only do many of their followers still hold to the bigotry their masters once taught them but the records show that what Paisley says today nearly every leading Unionist—Minister, MP, aristocrat, judge or churchman—said yesterday.

For the record (since the publishers do not disclose this) Boyd is a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and is obviously out to discredit the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party. That’s easy, a great deal easier than defending the NILP, which is but a second unionist and loyalist party with an unrivalled record of opportunism including support for the Special Powers Act.
Adam Buick

Second opinion (1969)

Pamphlet Review from the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why We Have Resigned From The Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain by J. and N. Plant  (108 Cambridge Gardens, 1969)

Those who follow American presidential elections closely will have noticed that there is always a candidate for the “Socialist Labor Party”. But they are probably not aware that there is also a party of the same name in Britain which has maintained a precarious existence since its decline in the 1920s. The SLP of Great Britain was originally set up in 1902 by dissidents from the Social Democratic Federation and was one outcome of what has been called “the impossibilist revolt” in the SDF, a revolt which also led to the founding of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. The SLP gained some support up to and during the first world war because of its militant unionism. Many of its members were carried away by the Russian revolution and a breakaway section was one of the founding groups of the Communist Party in 1920.

Over the years we (and especially our companion party in America) have put forward a careful criticism of SLP policy: its industrial unionism, its De Leon worship, its undemocratic meetings, its exact blueprint of future society and so on. Earlier this year two members of the British party resigned and have published their reasons for doing so. Their pamphlet is interesting since it endorses many of the criticisms we have made. For instance:

1. “The Socialist Labour Party does not advocate and work towards a society where the principle ‘from everyone according to his faculties, to everyone according to his needs!’ will operate, but advocates as its goal, as fully developed Socialism, a society where man will still be enslaved by the Law of Value and its consequences.”

2. “The SLP has an opportunist and non-scientific attitude to religion . . . (a revolutionary socialist party) must treat religion as a social question, which it is, and not as a ‘private matter’.”

3. The SLP sees “socialism” existing “on an essentially national scale. It is forever talking about the workers taking over the industries of the nation’ and creating a ‘Socialist Britain’ or a ‘Socialist America'”.

4. “It is not scientific and permissible to lay down an exact blueprint of how future Socialist society will be organised. At most we can enumerate certain basic principles and guidelines, and give an indication in very broad and tentative outline of the way we think society might be conducted. But the exact administrative structure and precise mode of behaviour of people in a Socialist society will be determined by the specific material conditions of that society. What these specific material conditions will be, and how people will react to them, cannot be known to us at the present time.”

5. “Few incidents in SLP history have exposed the Party’s theoretical weaknesses, opportunist tendencies, lack of honesty about its own past and unwillingness to frankly admit mistakes to the full, than its attitude over the years to Soviet Russia . . . By the late 1930s the SLP had become a de facto supporter of , and apologist for, the Stalinist terror regime, albeit a critical supporter and apologist”.

6. “The SLP makes De Leon’s theories and teachings, including the faults and shortcomings, into an infallible doctrine that must not be questioned. De Leon is placed on a pedestal; a higher pedestal than his theoretical abilities and knowledge would warrant, even if it were a good thing to place anybody onto a pedestal.”

The Plants also reveal the undemocratic internal structure of the SLP in America and Britain, and make other criticisms (on the SLP’s attitude to peaceful revolution and participation in demonstrations) that we would not wholly endorse. Nevertheless, this is a very useful pamphlet which shows how correct we have been in consistently opposing the SLP.
Adam Buick

The Wages System Must Go (1969)

From the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most people nowadays have some grievance with this or that aspect of society. Millions suffer the horrors of capitalist wars in Vietnam and Biafra. Mental illness is a growing problem. Old-age pensioners are dying from malnutrition, from cold. Slum violence and riots hit the headlines. Waiting lists for hospital beds and houses outstrip supply. Town planning is without reference to the individual: he has no control over his environment. Every day more strikes, more redundancies, and so on.

Most people would agree that each of these grievances could be remedied with a fair measure of goodwill and intelligence.

Socialists would disagree. They are all inherent in the way this society is organised. Their solution lies in abolishing capitalism, which embraces the entire world and whose motive is not the satisfaction of human needs or the alleviation of human suffering, but the creation of profit for disposal by the privileged few, and the accumulation of capital.

What, then, constitutes capitalism? Capitalism is the society in which a certain group of people, a small minority, monopolise the ownership of the factories, land, mines, transport concerns, and every other point where wealth is produced. In this country they are proud to be called the capitalist class. This appellation is a hallmark of respectability, of privilege, and of alleged superiority. In Russia, China, and Eastern Europe they are proud to be called people’s commissars and members of praesidiums and politburos.

But mere monopoly of these means of production is not enough to give them a privileged position in society. They must employ workers, people who will produce all society’s wealth but never own more than that which their wage represents. Some say that the workers get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, but what is ‘fair’? If the working class produce everything then they should receive all of it. But do they? No. The fact is that the worker’s wage represents only a fraction of the wealth he has created. He is robbed—but legally. And although he constantly struggles to improve his wage, he apparently never dreams of abolishing the entire wages system.

Some radicals think that this is unnecessary. After all, they argue, if you seize all the means of production from the capitalists and institute state ownership, then only the state (and through the state, the people as a whole) will benefit from the wages system.

And if the state machine is managed by people who call themselves Marxists or Socialists or Communists or the National Liberation front, then this is obviously a more just and sane society. A society where people can at last plan their environments; with human priorities to the fore, and unrestricted by the demands of the market economy. But is it?

Will these advocates of state ownership have eliminated the contradictions of capitalism, manifested in a class struggle between the capitalist who strives to intensify exploitation through lower wages, longer hours, and faster production, and the wage slave, whose aim is to raise his wage, slow down production, and lessen his working hours? And forced into competition with other states and their ruling-classes, will housing have priority over defence or more profitable industries like motor cars and cosmetics?

The rulers of Russia, China, Cuba, North Vietnam, and other self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ countries perform the same function as that of the capitalist described above. They must pump surplus value out of the working class or be destroyed in the international competitive process.

Periodically they urge their workers to fight wars for them, sometimes for ‘defence’ (of their capitalist private property), sometimes for blatantly imperialist aims. They crush strikes of dissatisfied workers, ruthlessly, with all the state power at their disposal.

Their workers are exploited and oppressed just as surely as we are. Perhaps more so, for in those so-called ‘workers’ states’, the workers are prohibited from forming their own independent trade unions.

To summarise, capitalism means class monopoly of the means of production—its prime motive is profit, and to hell with the interests of the worker. Its mechanism, the means by which it robs, is the wages system. Solutions to capitalism’s problems can be found only after abolishing this system.

All other solutions, such as the ‘welfare’ state, housing squats, treaties to abolish or localise wars, non-aggression pacts, backing Britain, Labour or ‘communist’ governments or ‘workers’ control’ (of the wages system) are at best palliatives, at worst outright deceit.

And our solution? Don’t follow anyone, don’t believe anyone who offers you paradise—and a wage. And don’t expect us to lead you. We are allergic to sheep. Instead, cultivate your self-reliance and organise yourselves democratically (and that means equal participation in decision- and policy-making, with all tasks not assumed by leaders but delegates) for the conquest of political power. When you have political power as a class, you will be the last class in history to be emancipated. There are none below you, none you will need to dominate to maintain your position as free men and women at last.

Voluntary co-operation on a world scale will replace compulsory economic competition between individuals. Social antagonisms will fade into history. With the abolition of the wages system the interests of the individual will coincide with those of society. Genuine freedom will have dawned.
M. A. B.

Cooking the Books: State Capitalism (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

For a week in September BBC Radio Four ran a series of short lunch-time programmes on ‘The New Age of Capitalism’. On the Wednesday (19 September) the theme was ‘state capitalism’. The presenter, David Grossman, began by reading a dictionary definition of ‘capitalism’:
‘An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than the state.’
And then asked if the term ‘state capitalism’ was not therefore a contradiction. His answer was that it wasn’t. In fact the term is routinely used now, particularly in relation to China as, for instance, by the then Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April).

Grossman’s two guests identified two kinds of state capitalism. (1) where the state controls major companies producing for profit, and (2) where the state intervenes in the capitalist economy to direct and develop it. China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea were given as examples of the first kind. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and, perhaps surprisingly, Norway were given as examples of the second, on the ground of having built up substantial ‘sovereign wealth funds’ (hence Norway’s inclusion) which were used to further develop capitalism in their country. State intervention in general was traced back to the implementation of policies advocated by Keynes.

The term ‘state capitalism’ has been part of the socialist vocabulary since the end of the nineteenth century to refer to industries and services, producing for profit and employing wage workers, such as the Post Office in Britain and railways on the Continent. Marx himself wrote of ‘state capital, in so far as governments employ productive wage-labour in mines, railways, etc., and function as industrial capitalists’ (Capital, Vol 2, ch. 3).

So, the programme was a welcome advance in understanding – as far as it went. Because it didn’t go the whole hog. China was said to have become a state capitalist country only from 1979. So what was it from 1949 to 1979? One of the guests used the word ‘socialist’ in reference to this period. There was certainly a change of policy on the part of the Chinese government in 1979 but what existed before then also had ‘state capitalist’ features – industry and trade were controlled by state companies producing for the market and employing wage-labour.

The difference was that, while after 1979 the remit of these companies was to make a profit at company level, before then the government’s aim was to increase the surplus (make an overall profit) at national level. The same system had existed in the old USSR. Which was why we described both pre-1979 China and the USSR as state capitalism.

The programme, however, exhibited a better understanding of state capitalism than Lenin or Trotsky who, basically, accepted only the programme’s second definition – the use of the state to direct and develop capitalism. This was the policy, which he openly called ‘state capitalism’, that Lenin advocated the Bolshevik government should adopt but which they were unable to implement until after the civil war in Russia was over in 1921.

Although Grossman rejected the dictionary definition of capitalism, he did not offer a corrected version. It would not have needed much change, to for instance:
‘Capitalism is an economic and social system in which trade and industry are controlled by private owners or the state for profit.’
This would also require a change in dictionary definitions of socialism, to eliminate any reference to state ownership and control. But that’s another matter.