Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Marx’s Conception of Socialism (1973)

From the December 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx usually referred to the society he aimed to see established by the working class as “communist society”. Precisely because he believed that “communist society” would be the outcome of the struggle and movement of the working class against its capitalist conditions of existence, Marx always refused to give any detailed picture of what he expected it to be like: that was something for the working class to work out for itself. Nevertheless scattered throughout his writings, published and unpublished, are references to what he believed would have to be the basic features of the new society the working class would establish in place of capitalism.

Voluntary Association

It must be emphasised that nowhere did Marx distinguish between “socialist society” and “communist society”. As far as he, and Engels, were concerned these two words meant the same, being alternative names for the society they thought the working class would establish in place of capitalism, a practice which will be followed in this article. As a matter of fact besides communist Marx employed four other words to describe future society: associated, socialised, collective and co-operative. All these words convey a similar meaning and bring out the contrast with capitalist society where not only the ownership and control of production but life generally is private, isolated and atomized. Of these the word Marx used most frequently — almost more frequently than communist — was association. Marx wrote of future society as “an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism” (PP, p. 197) and as “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (CM, p. 82). In Volume III of Capital Marx writes three or four times of production in future society being controlled by the “associated producers” (pp. 428, 430-1 and 800). Association was a word used in working class circles in England to mean a voluntary union of workers to overcome the effects of competition. This was Marx’s sense too: in future society the producers would voluntarily co-operate to further their own common interest; they would cease to be “the working class” and become a classless community.

No Coercive State

In these circumstances the State as an instrument of political rule over people would have no place. Such a social organ of coercion was, in Marx’s view, only needed in class-divided societies as an instrument of class rule and to contain class struggles. As he put it, in socialist society “there will be no more political power properly so-called since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society” (PP, p. 197) and “the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another” (CM, p. 81).

Socialist society would indeed need a central administration but this would not be a “State” or “government” in that it would not have at its disposal any means of coercing people, but would be concerned purely with administering social affairs under democratic control. Marx endorsed the proposal of Saint Simon and other early critics of capitalism for “the conversion of the functions of the State into a mere superintendence of production” (CM, p. 98), and also declared that “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it” (CGP, p. 32). In other words, once Socialism had been established and classes abolished, the coercive and undemocratic features of the State machine would have been removed, leaving only purely administrative functions mainly in the field of the planning and organization of production.

Common Ownership

Natural resources and the man-made instruments of production would be held in common: Marx speaks of “a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common” (Vol. I, p. 78) and, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, of “the co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production” (p. 22) and of “the material conditions of production” being “the cooperative property of the workers themselves” (p. 25). It is significant that Marx never defined communist society in terms of the ownership and control of the means of production by the State, but rather in terms of ownership and control by a voluntary association of the producers themselves. He did not equate what is now called “nationalisation” with Socialism.

Planned Production

Another feature of communist society, in Marx’s view, would be consciously planned production. He writes of a society “in which producers regulate their production according to a preconceived plan” (Vol. Ill, p. 256) and of “production by freely associated men . . . consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan” (Vol. I, p. 80).

Conscious planning, conscious control over the material conditions of life, was for Marx clearly the essence of Socialism. In the 1840’s, when he used to express himself philosophically, Marx was continually emphasising this point. This was what he meant when he said that real history would not begin till Socialism had been established; human beings were not behaving as human beings so long as they were controlled by blind historical and economic forces, ultimately of their own creation but unrecognized as such; Socialism would allow men to consciously regulate their relationship with Nature; only such a consciously planned society was a truly human society, a society compatible with human nature.

But Marx’s approach to planning in Socialism was not just philosophical. It was practical too. He was well aware that to regulate “production according to a preconceived plan” would be a huge organizational task. Indeed, that it would be, if you like, the economic problem of Socialism. Matching production with social wants would in the first instance be a huge statistical exercise. Marx emphasised that for this sort of reason “book-keeping” would be more necessary in Socialism than under capitalism — not that he envisages the books in socialist society being kept in money. Socialist society, he felt, would use some direct measure of labour-time for its statistics and planning (Vol. Ill, pp. 184 and 830). Calculations would have to be made of how much labour-time would be needed to produce particular items of wealth; the real social (as opposed to monetary market) demand for the various items of wealth would also have to be calculated; and all the figures put together to construct a definite plan for the allocation of resources and labour to the various different branches of production.

In a number of places Marx compares how capitalism and Socialism would tackle the same problems, for instance a long-term project which would not bear fruit in the form of finished products for some years but which in the meantime would have to be allocated labour and resources. Under capitalism, said Marx, this creates monetary problems and upsets; but in Socialism it is only a question of “preconceived” planning, of making allowances for this beforehand (Vol. II, pp. 315 and 358). Similarly with miscalculations, say overproducing: under capitalism (where overproduction means in relation to market demand) this causes a crisis and a drop in production; in Socialism (where overproduction would be in relation to real social demand) there would be no problem: it could be corrected in the next plan (Vol. II, pp. 468-9).

In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (p. 22) and in Volume III of Capital (p. 854) Marx lists the various major uses to which the social product would have to be put in a socialist society:

  1. Replacing the means of production  (raw materials, wear and tear of machinery, etc.) used up in producing the social product.
  2. Expanding the means of production so as to be able to produce a larger social product.
  3. A small surplus as a reserve to provide against accidents and natural disasters (and planning miscalculations, we might add).
  4. The individual consumption of the actual producers.
  5. The individual consumption of those unable to work: the young, the old, the sick.
  6. Social consumption: schools, hospitals, parks, libraries, etc.
  7. Social administration not connected with production.
This is obvious of course but it is as well to spell it out so as to show that Marx did discuss some of the practical problems of totally planned production.

Abolition of the Market

Socialist society, as Marx repeatedly made clear, would be a non-market society, with all that that implied: no money, no buying and selling, no wages, etc. In fact it was his view that proper planning and the market are incompatible: either production is regulated by a conscious previously worked-out plan or it is regulated, directly or indirectly, by the market. When Marx talked about men under capitalism being dominated by blind forces, which were in the end their own creations, it was precisely blind market forces he mainly had in mind. For him capitalism was essentially a market economy in which the allocation of labour and resources to the various branches of production was determined by what he called “the law of value”.

Although production under capitalism was not consciously controlled, it was not completely anarchic: some sort of order was imposed by the fact that goods exchanged in definite proportions, related both to the amount of socially necessary labour-time spent in producing them and to the average rate of profit on invested capital. Under capitalism it was the averaging of the rate of profit on the capital invested in the different branches that regulated production. But this was an unplanned hit-and-miss process which was only accurate in the long run; in the short run it led to alternating periods of boom and slump, labour shortage and mass unemployment, high profits and low profits. The assertion by society of conscious control over production, and the allocation of resources to the various branches of production in accordance with a previously settled plan, necessarily meant for Marx the disappearance not only of production for profit, but also of the whole mechanism of the market (including the labour market, and so of the wages system), of production for the market (“commodity-production”), of buying and selling (“exchange”) and of money.

The Communist Manifesto specifically speaks of “the Communistic abolition of buying and selling” (p. 72) and of the abolition not only of capital (wealth used to produce other wealth with a view to profit) but of wage labour too (p. 73). In Volume I Marx speaks of “directly associated labour, a form of production that is entirely inconsistent with the production of commodities . . .” (p. 94) and in Volume II of things being different “if production were collective and no longer possessed the form of commodity production . . .” (p. 451). Also, in Volume II, Marx in comparing how Socialism and capitalism would deal with a particular problem twice says there would be no money to complicate matters in socialist society: “If we conceive society as being not capitalistic but communistic, there will be no money-capital at all in the first place . . .” (p. 315) and “in the case of socialized production the money-capital is eliminated” (p. 358). In other words, in Socialism it is solely a question of planning and organisation. Marx also advised trade unionists to adopt the revolutionary watchword “Abolition of the Wages System” (VPP, p. 78) and, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, stated “within the co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products” (pp. 22-3) for the simple reason that their work would then be social not individual and applied as part of a definite plan. What they produce belongs to them collectively, i.e. to society, as soon as it is produced; socialist society then allocates, again in accordance with a plan, the social product to various previously-agreed uses.

Distribution of Consumer Goods

One of these uses must be individual consumption. How did Marx think this would be organised? Here again Marx took a realistic view. Eventually, he said, the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” would apply (CGP, p. 24). In other words, there would be no social restrictions on individual consumption, every member of society being free to take from the common stock of consumer goods according to their individual need. But Marx knew that this presupposed a higher level of productivity than prevailed in his day (he was writing in 1875). In the meantime, while the productive forces were being expanded, individual consumption would unavoidably have to be restricted. How? Marx made the simple point that how wealth would be allocated for individual consumption in communist society would depend on what and how much there was to allocate: “The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers” (Vol. I, p. 78).

This was another obvious point, but on three or four occasions Marx went further and referred to a specific method of regulating distribution: by “labour-time vouchers”. The basic idea of such a system is that each producer would be given a certificate recording how much time he had spent at work; this would entitle him to draw from the common store of wealth set aside for individual consumption an equivalent amount of consumer goods, likewise measured in labour-time. This, as Marx himself recognised, was only one of many possible systems Socialist society could democratically agree on for allocating wealth for individual consumption in the temporary conditions of relative scarcity here assumed — realistically for 1875 — to exist. As long as the total number of vouchers issued matched the total amount of wealth set aside for individual consumption, society could adopt any criteria it chose for deciding how many vouchers particular individuals, or groups of individuals, should have; this need bear no relationship at all to how many hours an individual may or may not have worked. Similarly, the “pseudo-prices” given to particular goods to be distributed need bear no relation to the amount of labour-time spent on producing them. Marx himself described some of the defects of the labour-time voucher system, but also made the point that any voucher system of allocating goods for individual consumption would surfer from anomalies, being forced on socialist society by the not-yet-developed-enough productive forces in what he called “the first phase of communist society”.

When Marx mentions labour-time vouchers in Capital he always made it quite clear that he was only assuming such a system as an example: “merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities” (Vol I, p. 78) or that the producers “may, for all it matters, …” (Vol. II, p. 358) receive labour-time vouchers. He also emphasised that these vouchers would not be money in its proper sense: “Owen’s ‘labour-money’ … is no more ‘money’ than a ticket to the theatre” (Vol. I, p. 94) and “these vouchers are not money. They do not circulate” (Vol. II, p.358). (See also his discussion of so called “labour-money” in The Critique of Political Economy, pp. 83-6.)

Marx’s point here is that the vouchers would merely be pieces of paper entitling people to take such and such an amount of consumer goods; they would not be tokens for gold like today’s paper money; once handed over they would be cancelled and so could not circulate. Besides, they would be issued as part of the overall plan for the production and distribution of wealth. Finally, we repeat, any voucher system, whether on a labour-time or some other basis, was seen by Marx only as a temporary measure while the productive forces were developed as rapidly as possible to the level where they would permit socialist society to go over to free access according to individual need.

This is why this is now only an academic problem. The further development of the forces of production since Marx’s day has meant that the system he always said was the final aim of Socialism — free access to consumer goods according to individual need — could now be introduced almost immediately Socialism was established. The problem Marx envisaged labour-time vouchers as a possible solution to no longer really exists.


We have seen, then, that Marx held that future communist society would be a classless community, without any coercive State machine, based on the common ownership of the means of production, with planning to serve human welfare completely replacing production for profit, the market economy, money and the wages system — even in the early stages when it might not prove possible to implement the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, which, however, always remained for Marx the aim. Marx, and Engels, never drew any distinction between “socialist” and “communist” society, using these (and other) terms interchangeably. He did, however, believe that this society would only be established after a “period of … revolutionary transformation” (CGP, p. 32) of a number of years duration during which the working class would be using its control of political power to dispossess the capitalists and bring all the means of production under democratic social control — but, here again, the further development of the productive forces since Marx’s day means that the socialist revolution can now be carried through very quickly with no need for any lengthy period between the capture of political power by the working class and the establishment of socialism.
Adam Buick


CGP.  Critique of the Gotha Programme. Marx-Engels, Selected Works, Vol II Moscow, 1958.

CM.  Communist Manifesto, Moscow, 1954.

PP.  Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, 1956.

Vol I.   Capital, Vol I, Moscow, 1961.

Vol. II. Capital, Vol II, Moscow, 1957.

Vol III. Capital, Vol III, Moscow, 1959.

VPP. Wages, Price and Profit, Peking, 1969.

Critique of Political Economy, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971.

Exhibition Review: Lion Salt Works (2016)

Salt Workers  © Cheshire West and Chester
Exhibition Review from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Cheshire salt towns lie near the valley of the River Weaver, on two bands of salt laid down over two hundred million years ago. Brine had been extracted by evaporation from them since the Iron Age, and rock salt mining began in 1670. Only in the nineteenth century did the salt industry become really large, though, as exports via Liverpool increased and the chemical industry needed more supplies. By the end of that century, open-pan salt making was in decline, as the modern method of vacuum evaporation took over. Large companies now produce salt cheaply and with far fewer workers. The 125 employees of British Salt at Middlewich (owned by the Tata Group) produce about 800,000 tonnes of salt a year.

Traditional salt production was environmentally very unfriendly. In addition to air pollution, with the nearby towns covered in soot, one consequence was subsidence, as land was undermined by the removal of salt below and gave way, sometimes resulting in lakes known as flashes. A special method of building houses with timber frames so they could be lifted up after subsidence was developed.

The work of producing salt was extremely physically demanding, largely because of the excessive heat and humidity required in the pan houses. Clothes, and even clogs, rotted very quickly. There were complaints of scandals when women in shifts and petticoats worked alongside men stripped to the waist, which happened down to the 1870s. Salt workers worked long hours and the work was seasonal. Unions did their best to ensure that in slack periods work was shared round, rather than workers being laid off. A strike in 1889 led to some workers having more say about their hours but less overall control of their work.

The Lion Salt Works, at Marston near Northwich, alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal, opened in 1894. It closed in 1986, after the Nigerian Civil War had meant the loss of its main market. It is now preserved as one of only four open-pan salt works in the world, a museum with original buildings, machinery (pumps, boilers and steam engines), exhibits and informative displays. Some of the galleries are in the former Red Lion Inn, built to quench the workers’ thirst. The Manager’s House was where the owners, the Thompson family, worked, taking orders and handing out wages. Recordings of workers talking about their labours are included, and there is information on how some of the flashes have become wildlife havens. There is an attempt by means of special effects to replicate the steam rising from the salt pans, but inevitably it is difficult to give any real impression of what the working conditions must have been like.

The Lion Works is a fitting tribute to the workers who toiled in a now-vanished method of labouring.
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: Fashion and Fighting (2016)

Exhibition Review from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

One First World War poster proclaimed that it was unpatriotic to dress extravagantly during wartime. This was mainly, if not exclusively, aimed at women, of course. Now an exhibition ‘Fashion and Freedom’ at Manchester Art Gallery looks at some of the ways that the war affected women’s clothes and other aspects of their lives.

As one and a half million women joined the industrial workforce, the need for looser clothing became clear, even though there had been plenty of women workers previously. The tight corsets of previous decades were hardly practical, though some changes along such lines were already taking place (and women cotton spinners had worn shifts at work anyway, because of the heat); the war accelerated these changes, rather than initiating them. By the 1920s more women were wearing make-up and sporting simpler dresses with hemlines up to the knee, as well as smoking cigarettes and being able to vote.

The exhibition consists of four sections. Examples of clothes from the first part of the last century are displayed, though one question not raised is whether most of these were the reserve of richer women. Some well-known modern women designers show pieces inspired by working women from the war period. A couple of these make use of the colour yellow, with reference to the way that working with chemicals such as TNT turned women’s skin yellow (the disease was known as toxic jaundice, and could be fatal). Also, some fashion students have produced designs of their own, and some short films reflect on changes brought about by the war.

A few miles away at Salford Quays, the Imperial War Museum North is staging a larger exhibition ‘Fashion on the Ration’, looking at the impact the Second World War had on fashion, primarily but not exclusively that for women. Many people on the home front, perhaps as many as ten million, wore uniforms, for instance for the Auxiliary Fire Service. In some cases these were the first set of new clothes they had ever had. The uniforms of sailors in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (the ‘Wrens’) were apparently seen as particularly smart, though it must be debatable whether this really served to attract more recruits, as is suggested.

To avoid price rises and the poor being unable to afford them, clothes were rationed from June 1941. ‘Make-Do and Mend’, with clothes being repeatedly repaired and re-used, became official policy in 1942, but had been in fact practised for a couple of years before. ‘Utility’ clothing was produced the same year, with leading designers employed to make these standardised garments rather more stylish. Clothes had to be largely unadorned, with men’s jackets limited to three pockets and three buttons, and no turn-ups on trousers. Elastic was in short supply, but could be used in women’s knickers, and silk stockings were particularly missed. No coupons were needed, though, for the clogs often worn by munitions workers.

Cosmetics continued to be produced, though in smaller quantities, as a way of keeping up morale. Manufacturers and retailers managed to cash in on new kinds of demand such as handbags with room to keep a gas mask, and white hats and shawls to make the wearer visible in the blackout. As in the First World War, clothing became more relaxed and informal, a trend continued after the war with the ‘New Look’ from Paris, though clothes rationing continued till 1949 and the Utility scheme till 1952. Both exhibitions make it clear that even in times of extreme austerity, people will do their best to maintain some self-expression and individuality.

Alongside her design at the Manchester Art Gallery display, Vivienne Westwood writes, ‘Our rotten financial system creates poverty for the many, riches for the few. We have a war economy. … We now know that this system – and the arms trade – helps create climate change – we are facing mass extinction. Fight the system and replace it with a green economy.’ Westwood’s politics might be politely described as confused, but this at least shows some attempt to see through the standard view.  
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: Standedge Tunnel (2016)

Exhibition Review from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Travel between Lancashire and Yorkshire generally requires crossing the Pennines, whether by road, rail or canal. Some routes follow the hills and valleys, and were much used by pack-horses carrying cotton, wool and other goods, but as transport and other technology improved it became more practical to dig tunnels. The tunnel at Summit (near Littleborough) was, when completed in 1841 and for some years, the longest railway tunnel in the world. But some of the most interesting tunnels are those at Standedge (don’t pronounce the first ‘d’), between Diggle and Marsden.

There are three rail tunnels, built at various dates between 1848 and 1894 as the rail network expanded enormously. Only the 1894 tunnel, which is just over three miles long, is still in use. Earlier than these is the canal tunnel, which after several abortive attempts, was completed in 1811: it is often described as ‘the longest, deepest and highest canal tunnel in Britain’. It carries the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and for financial reasons, like a number of other canal tunnels, was built without a towpath, so narrow boats could not be pulled through it by horses. Instead, men called leggers had to lie on their backs and push against the tunnel roof or walls to move the boats. Usually two leggers worked together, and it took on average four hours for a loaded boat to go through the tunnel. As with many others, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal fell into disuse as canals became less popular for transporting goods and so ceased to be profitable, and closed in 1943. It reopened in 2001 for recreational use, largely through the work of volunteers, and trips through the tunnel are now possible (not powered by leggers).

At Marsden on the Yorkshire side is the Tunnel Visitor Centre. This contains some helpful display boards and a few original bits of equipment. The hard work of the navvies who built the canal and tunnels is referred to, but there seems to be no mention of those who died building them, and to be honest the centre is rather underwhelming. However, some fine walks on Marsden Moor and surrounding areas do allow you to explore the industrial and transport history of the local area, and so of Britain more generally.    
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: Portraying a Nation – Germany 1919–1933 (2017)

Exhibition Review from the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Weimar Republic, from Germany’s defeat in the First World War to Hitler’s capture of power: a time of economic crisis, hyperinflation, massive unemployment, cultural innovation, increasing nationalism and repression. An exhibition at Tate Liverpool, on until the middle of October, attempts to capture some of these dramatic developments by exhibiting the work of photographer August Sander and painter Otto Dix.

Sander (1876–1964) is represented by photos from his project ‘People of the 20th Century’. In one sense these are straightforward depictions of people who are looking into the camera; they are nearly all anonymous and described in terms of their work (e.g. farmer, doctor, blacksmith). There are photos of blind people and others who are in some way ‘excluded’ from society, such as those with learning difficulties. As the years pass, there are photos of Nazis in uniform and, from 1938, of ‘victims of persecution’. In 1934 Sander’s son Erich was arrested and imprisoned for political activity; he died in prison in 1944. A few photos of political prisoners, taken by Erich, are included.

In 1936 the Nazi authorities had the plates of one of Sanders’ books destroyed and copies removed. A similar fate applied to the work of Dix (1891–1969), who had paintings confiscated and displayed in the exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ from 1937 (though in truth it did not take much to be categorised in this way). Dix had fought in the First World War, and some of his depictions of fighting and the The Seven Deadly Sins’ (not included in this exhibition), which contains a caricature of Hitler embodying greed (or perhaps envy), is fairly easy to read nowadays, but Hitler’s moustache was only added after the war, so it was originally not so clear-cut.
trenches are extremely powerful. He painted some of the many women who had been widowed by the war, also prostitutes, beggars and the rich. Dix refused any political allegiance, and concentrated instead on showing what was going on around him, but, as with Sander, this was inevitably too much for the totalitarian regime he had to live under. His 1937 painting ‘

A photo of Dix by Sander links the two, but they are already connected in the visitor’s mind by their honest representation of a Germany that was on a path of suffering, from one traumatic war to another.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: The Douglas Scheme (1974)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the days of Marx and Engels, Socialists have pointed out that the improvements in the instruments of production, added to the continual increase in the applications of science and discoveries to industry, were resulting in the means of production out-running the effective demand for and consumption of markets. The periodical crises of the nineteenth century that resulted from these facts brought forward various “remedies”, many of a financial character . . . But the great favourite idea was the one of supplying “cheap” credit to the small producer or capitalist who was being beaten in competition by the large capitalist. As this "credit” could not—for obvious reasons—be obtained through the usual financial channels, the municipality or the State was called upon to supply it.

The work now under consideration is one of these attempts to save capitalism from catastrophe by means of “credit” manipulation. This statement may surprise those members of the ILP etc. who have been mystified by its confused exposition into supposing that its object was to provide a scheme to benefit or even to emancipate the workers. In fairness to the author it must be stated that he makes no such claim himself, for while he says capitalism is breaking down, he proposes the scheme to save society from crashing into chaos. The workers are to remain workers and the capitalists are to continue to be capitalists.

(From a review by J. Fitzgerald of Credit-Power and Democracy, Major C. H. Douglas, Socialist Standard, December 1924.)

The International Socialists and Parliamentary Action (1975)

From the December 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “International Socialists” and their journal Socialist Worker declare that “There is . . . no parliamentary road to Socialism”. (See “What We Stand For” in any issue of Socialist Worker.) They use several different arguments to support their position. One of them was put in an article by Paul Foot published in The Times of 14th August 1975.

Mr. Foot’s theme was that “the parliamentary road to Socialism has turned into another blind alley”. To support this argument all that he had to do was to give us his example of a socialist working class having tried to use the parliamentary road to achieve Socialism and having failed. But Mr. Foot and I.S. do not know of any such example. What he did give was the British Labour Government, that is to say a party which rejects Socialism and tries to run capitalism. In his typically confused way Mr. Foot is half aware of this, because his description of Labour ministers and their supporters is that they are people “who have imagined that capitalism could be reformed by the periodical election of Labour governments”. But what has reforming capitalism got to do with Socialism?

In another muddled passage Mr. Foot wrote that these are dreadful times “for socialists who put their trust in Labour governments”; but Socialists did not and do not put their trust in Labour governments. It isn’t Socialists who have been led “down another blind alley” but the unfortunate workers who are bamboozled by Foot and is into voting for the Labour Party at each General Election.

But I.S. has another case against the parliamentary road. It was set out in Socialist Worker (21st July 1973) in an attack on another organization which, like I.S., urges the workers to vote for the Labour Party — the Communist Party of Great Britain. There it was argued that the working class cannot gain control through parliamentary elections because the working class is only a minority.
A majority of workers may want a complete transformation of society . . . but in parliamentary elections, with the middle class and ruling class voting against them, they would lose.
This is of course a nonsensical statement. The working class consists of all who get their living by selling their mental and physical energies, their labour-power, for a wage or salary. With dependents and working-class pensioners they constitute at least 85 per cent. (34 million) out of the 40 million electors on the parliamentary register; and on the same percentage basis they constituted about 25 million out of the 29 million who used their votes at the last General Election. (The remaining 4 million voters consisted of capitalists, the “self-employed”, and their dependents.)

So how did 4 million outvote 25 million? Even if we assumed that all of the 11½  million electors who voted Labour were working-class (and that is certainly not true) it would mean that more working-class voters (over 13 million) voted Tory, or Liberal or for the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Nationalist parties, than voted for the Labour Party. (To avoid possible misunderstanding, all of these 29 million supported private capitalism or state capitalism.)

Ruling out the possibility that I.S. cannot count, the basis for their peculiar conclusion appears to be the probability that for them “working-class” means only those workers actually producing goods, to the exclusion of the big majority of workers not so employed. (On this basis of course Mr. Foot and many of the members of I.S. would not be working-class.)

However, what is of most importance is the conclusion that follows from the I.S. view of “working class”. It is that is I.S. consciously basing its case on minority action, the forcible imposition of the will of the minority on the majority. This is carried a stage further in the I.S. declaration “What We Stand For”, where it is stated that the achievement of Socialism is to be by the organization in a revolutionary socialist party of “the most militant sections of the working class” — in other words, a minority of a minority. It is significant that “What We Stand For” never once uses the words “democracy” or “democratic”.

I.S. has in fact largely taken over from the Communist Party what was that party’s position half a century ago. Like the Communist Party then and now, the objective of I.S. is not Socialism but a variety of state capitalism. It differs from traditional Labour Party ideas on state capitalism, the nationalized boards, in that I.S. lays emphasis on workers’ councils — capitalism run by shop stewards.
Edgar Hardcastle

Exhibition Review: Syria – Story of a Conflict (2018)

Sergey Ponomarev
Exhibition Review from the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nearly half a million people have been killed in Syria since the current fighting began in  2011, and around 11 million forced from their homes. An exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North in Salford Quays, on till the end of May, examines some of the history and issues involved. As noted, it is ‘a war of narratives’, with all sides competing to tell their own version of what is happening. Whether particular groups are described as rebels or terrorists can have a major impact on how other people see the conflict.

Western media coverage of the fighting and its consequences has tended to focus on the number of refugees who have come from Syria to Europe, especially Greece. But this applies only to a minority, as there are many internally-displaced people in Syria, and over four million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The fighting is complicated by the various forces ranged against the Assad government, from Kurds to ISIS to those who objected to Assad’s repressive rule. Some souvenir plates and mugs are displayed that show Assad and Putin together, in a reminder of how outside forces are playing a role in the conflict. Nearby is a gruesome replica of a barrel bomb.

Perhaps the highlight is two series of photos by the Russian photographer Sergey Ponomarev, ‘A Lens on Syria’. The first shows life in government-controlled areas, where things are supposedly ‘normal’ but clearly are not. Homs, for instance, has more or less become a ghost town: one unforgettable image shows a ruined shopping mall with a large election poster of a smiling Assad on it.

The other series shows the plight of refugees, especially those who have been refused entry to countries such as Macedonia. They wait in dreadful conditions in camps, often having risked crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. The misery and hopelessness displayed in these photos show very clearly the human cost of this appalling conflict. 
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: The Sea Is the Limit (2018)

Exhibition Review from the August 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

With a title that refers to the saying ‘The sky’s the limit’, York Art Gallery is currently running an exhibition dealing with issues of migration, refugees and borders, on until early September. It contains works by a number of artists from various countries, using several types of installation.

The sea can be both a barrier to travel but also a means of escape, and the works on display refer to both these concepts. Nidhal Chamekh (who is from Tunisia) emphasises the barrier aspect with drawings of the refugee camp in Calais, including tents and other self-built shelters. Nick Elwood depicts those who live or lived in this camp, focussing on them as individuals rather than just as part of the influx of migrants that so scares some people. As a reminder of what some people are escaping from, Brian Maguire displays paintings of ruined buildings in Syria, which show graphically the devastation caused there by many years of fighting.

Brian Maguire - Apartments Aleppo 2016
Halil Altındere offers a novel idea of a ‘Journey to Mars’, using a virtual reality headset to show a possible sanctuary for refugees in space: demonstrating perhaps how unrealistic some of the demands of those who want to clamp down on migration are.

It is not a large exhibition but it is a thought-provoking one. In the library at Manchester Metropolitan University is another small but informative display, ‘Oceans Apart’, dealing with transatlantic travel between 1870 and 1940. The direct link to the York exhibition is that of emigrants, many from Ireland, who travelled in crowded conditions in ‘steerage’. At one time such migrants were welcomed as a way of populating the unworked fertile lands of the so-called US cotton states, but later it was claimed that many of them lived in unhealthy conditions in the big cities.

In contrast were the grand tours for the wealthy, on liners run by companies such as Cunard and P&O, advertised on colourful posters, a variety of which are displayed here. The ultra-rich passengers enjoyed suites with their own bathrooms, a far cry from the crowded conditions endured by most travellers.
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: Women, Work and War (2016)

Exhibition Review from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cotton in Lancashire and wool in Yorkshire was the traditional division. What was once the world’s largest woollen mill, at Armley, is now the Leeds Industrial Museum, with the expected displays of machinery for weaving and so on, but also covering various other areas. Part of the site is still closed after the floods last Christmas.

An exhibition ‘Women, Work and War’ is currently running there, dealing with the impact that the First World War had on women’s working lives. It consists of a series of displays in various parts of the museum, rather than a single exhibition.

Many women had of course worked in wool and other textile industries before the war, but the need for men to fight, kill and be killed led to many women taking jobs in mills for the first time. They were generally less well-paid than men, but earned more than they had previously at cleaning and sewing. The need for uniforms for those in the armed services resulted in increased demand for clothing and so to an even larger workforce.

Leeds was also a centre of the printing industry, with many war propaganda posters produced there. Women came to take on a central role in this, for instance as keyboard operatives. They also worked on the railways, as porters, cleaners and guards, but not as drivers. They worked as conductors on the city’s trams, earning the same as men but required to wear long skirts rather than trousers.

From 1915, women working on the railways were allowed to join trade unions for the first time. The National Union of Railwaymen (sic) campaigned for women to receive the minimum wage for a man (presumably involving a pay rise). The number of women in the United Garment Workers’ Union also increased during the war, but the vast majority of women workers were not in a union.

Women in addition played a prominent role in the munitions industry. In 1915 the first National Shell Factory was established at Armley, but the biggest works was in the Leeds district of Barnbow, which produced over half a million tonnes of munitions. On 6 December 1915 there was an explosion at Barnbow that killed thirty-five women workers. Two further explosions there, in 1917 and 1918, killed five more workers, men and women. Guns and bombs did not kill just on the front line. 
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: The Return of Memory (2017)

Exhibition Review from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Outside the Home arts centre in Manchester stands an unsubtle statue of Frederick Engels, removed from Ukraine. Inside the centre is an exhibition The Return of Memory’, of contemporary works from the ‘New East’, relating to the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and on till early January.

It includes a number of displays, from videos and murals to photographs and an installation that involves cabbages grown from one of the world’s oldest seed banks. Gluklya presents ‘Clothes for Demonstration Against False Election of Vladimir Putin’, which contains slogans relating to Putin’s re-election as president of Russia in 2012: for instance, ‘Two terms in office – make the next one in prison’, ‘Your election is a joke’ and simply ‘No’.

In ‘On Republic’s Monuments’, Yevgeni Nikiforov shows photos of the fate of statues and other monuments to Bolshevik rulers in Ukraine, a process known as ‘Leninfall’. Many were pulled down or otherwise vandalised; some were painted in the Ukrainian national colours of blue and yellow. ‘Freedom Village’, by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho involves photos and a video relating to Taesung, a village isolated in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea: it is under UN control and has remained basically unchanged since 1953.

In ‘One Day the Sadness Will End’, Declan Clarke and Sarah Perks present names of people or places who were supposedly betrayed by revolution. Names are added to the list daily, but it seems odd to include Marx and the Luddites alongside Robespierre. The booklet accompanying the exhibition notes that ‘revolutions invariably turn on themselves’, though with no explanation of this.

In connection with the Engels statue, the same booklet continues these simplistic political views by claiming that the ideas of Marx and Engels ‘changed the course of history by inspiring the Russian revolution' . . . . 
Paul Bennett

Exhibition Review: Annie Swynnerton – Painting Light and Hope (2018)

The Young Mother (c 1887)
Exhibition Review from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Painting was one of many cultural areas from which women were once all but prohibited. Training was difficult, and women were generally barred from classes with nude models, which were seen as an essential part of artistic education. A number of women who did succeed were born into artistic households, often the daughters of painters. Annie Swynnerton (1844–1933) was one of the few women who overcame these problems, and in 1922 she became the first female Associate Member of the Royal Academy, which had been founded in 1768. She attended the Manchester School of Art and in 1879 helped to found the Manchester Society of Women Painters. However, she has been relatively neglected and a fair number of her works are either lost or untraced. An exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, on until 6 January, is the first major display of her work in almost a century.

Swynnerton was also politically active, and joined the Manchester Society of Women’s Suffrage. The subjects of her portraits include prominent supporters of women’s suffrage, such as Millicent Garrett Fawcett, and also Swynnerton’s friend and fellow-artist Susan Dacre, who is in turn represented by a portrait of Lydia Becker, who had set up this society, the first of its kind. An early portrait by Swynnerton is of William Gaskell (widower of novelist Elizabeth Gaskell), where his face and hands and a newspaper are highlighted against his black suit and a dark background.

Swynnerton also painted many other depictions of women, from both Manchester and Italy, where she and her husband spent part of their time. Some of these were of poorer women, such as a young mother carrying her child while collecting water, and another of a convalescent. Her own nude studies can be quite powerful, as in one of Cupid and Psyche, which includes bodily features such as veins, so rejecting the conventional idealisation of the body. In Italy she also painted a number of landscapes and town scenes.

She was influenced by various artistic schools, including the Pre-Raphaelites and Impressionists, so her work can seem, as the accompanying catalogue notes, ‘perplexingly eclectic’. But the exhibition demonstrates both the merit of Swynnerton’s work and her role in increasing women’s presence in art.
Paul Bennett