Sunday, December 23, 2018

What’s Wrong With Dreaming? (2018)

Illustration for the 1516 first edition of Utopia.
From the February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why oppose dreaming? Who opposes dreaming? Those who are supporters of the status quo.

The enemy of the dreamer of better times is the ideologist of the present, out to defend the existing miseries with the claim that the prevailing relationships of oppression are immutable.

You wouldn’t abandon ship in a storm just because you couldn’t control the winds.’  – Thomas More (1478 -1535), Utopia, published in 1516 in Latin.

One man with an idea in his head is in danger to be considered a mad man; two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act; a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer the question.’ – William Morris (1834-1896), ‘Art Under Plutocracy’ 1883, LINK. ).

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) once remarked, ‘We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.’ Also that: ‘The map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth glaring at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.’ (Plays, Prose Writings and Poems, p. 270).

Be realistic – Demand the Impossible’ was the slogan of the active dreamers who gave the ‘realists’ a good shock in the Paris of May 1968. A couple of years later John Lennon (1940 -1980) composed one of the finest modern contributions to utopian literature: the words of Imagine urged the millions who sent the song to Number One in the record charts to share the vision of a world without possessions, commerce, countries or religion. ‘You may say I’m a dreamer’, sang Lennon, ‘but I’m not the only one: I hope some day you’ll join us , and the world will live as one.’

William Morris (who had little time for music) would have had a lot of time for those words. In another lecture he said:
   ‘It is not we who can build up the new social order; the past ages have done the most of that work for us; but we can clear our eyes to the signs of the times, and we shall then see that the attainment of a good condition of life is being made possible for us, and that it is now our business to stretch our hands to take it’ (How We Live and How We Might Live).
In Marx’s words, ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please: they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.’ (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).
Binay Sarkar
World Socialist Party of India

George Julian Harney: Red Republican (2018)

George Julian Harney
From the February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
  ‘It is not any amelioration of the conditions of the most miserable that will satisfy us: it is justice to all that we demand. It is not the mere improvement of the social life of our class that we seek, but the abolition of classes and the destruction of those wicked distinctions which have divided the human race into princes and paupers, landlords and labourers, masters and slaves. It is not any patching and cobbling up of the present system we aspire to accomplish, but the annihilation of the system and the substitution, in its stead, of an order of things in which all shall labour and all enjoy, and the happiness of each guarantee the welfare of the entire community’ George Julian Harney, 1850, Red Republican (quoted in ‘Yes Utopia’ by Ron Cook).
George Julian Harney, the son of a seaman, was born in the squalor and misery of Deptford on 17 February, 1817 and died in Richmond, Surrey on 9th December, 1897.

Harney’s political journey began as secretary of the London Democratic Association which attracted thousands of workers. Harney dismissed the idea of appealing to the morality of the ruling class and rebuffed any alliances with the ‘liberals’:

‘You see now through the delusions of your enemies. Nearly nine years of ‘liberal’ government have taught you the blessings of middle class sway, blessings exemplified in ‘bastilles’ and ‘water gruel,’ in ‘separation’ and ‘starvation’; in the cells of silent horror and the chains of transportation, in the universal misery of yourselves and the universal profligacy of your oppressors’ (London Democrat, April 20, 1839), referring to the effects of the New Poor Law Act on the conditions in the workhouses.

As Chartism took root, Harney gravitated towards the more militant wing understanding that the workers’ franchise needed to lead to much more:
  ‘Unless the People’s Charter is followed by a measure [to] equalise the condition of all, the producing classes will still be oppressed.’
While most Chartists sought peaceful change, Harney was committed to an insurrectionary overthrow of the system and the establishment. In a speech at Derby, 28 January, 1839, Harney declared:
  ‘We demand Universal Suffrage, because we believe the universal suffrage will bring universal happiness. Time was when every Englishman had a musket in his cottage, and along with it hung a flitch of bacon; now there was no flitch of bacon for there was no musket; let the musket be restored and the flitch of bacon would soon follow. You will get nothing from your tyrants but what you can take, and you can take nothing unless you are properly prepared to do so. In the words of a good man, then, I say ‘Arm for peace, arm for liberty, arm for justice, arm for the rights of all, and the tyrants will no longer laugh at your petitions’. Remember that.’
Harney pointed out that the general strike, the Grand National Holiday as it was called, being advocated as a peaceful method of bringing about the Charter, would, if carried through, only end in an inevitable civil war, and for this preparation was necessary. In the London Democrat, for 4 May, 1839, Harney showed how impossible it was for the workers, on their low wages, to provide themselves with food to carry them through the strike, and described how they would be faced with starvation after the first few days, and so be driven to take food from the rich. This would bring them into conflict with the military and, he asked, ‘What would this be but insurrection and civil war?’

He continued:
  ‘I should not object to this plan, but that those who have been its loudest advocates have at the same time denounced the arming of the people. Suppose such a conflict, such as I have imagined, to take place in some petty district, the people, being unarmed, would suffer a murderous defeat. The news of the slaughter of the people in this one district would fly like wildfire throughout the country; the effect would be that the rest of the people (dispirited with hunger and but too conscious that they too were unarmed) would be compelled to return to their taskmasters soliciting again to be enslaved . . . ’
Harney’s efforts to swing Chartism behind physical force and immediate preparations to take power failed, nevertheless he reflected the mood of many workers who expressed revolutionary sentiments. In Birmingham, the workers carried on street fighting for nearly a week with both police and military, only being disarmed in the end by the moderate leaders of Chartism. In Kent, farm labourers revolted and, arming themselves, attacked Canterbury. The Newport Rising showed that certain workers were ready for rebellion. In 1842, the ‘Plug Plot’ took place. The strike, which originated in Ashton and Hyde against a reduction in wages, spread to other parts of the country, to Wales and Scotland. Manchester and other towns were in a state of siege; shops were shut, factories invaded, to bring workers out on strike. In Preston and Blackburn soldiers fired upon crowds, killing six. Hungry strikers marched in various towns, carrying such banners as ‘They that perish by the sword are better than they that perish by hunger.’ Harney’s analysis was vindicated. Armed insurrection as proposed by Harney is, now, no longer an option but the Chartist ‘folded arms’ theory still periodically reappears as a means of emancipation. The workers’ industrial muscle in a general strike against the capitalist class is insufficient and it is political power that must prevail.

In 1844, Harney became involved with the Fraternal Democrats, a society of Chartists and European political exiles which issued a manifesto that proclaimed:
  ‘All men are brethren. We denounce all political and hereditary inequalities and distinctions of castes …. We believe the earth, with all its natural productions, to be the common property of all …. We believe that the present state of society, which permits its idlers and schemers to monopolise the fruits of the earth and, the production of industry, and compels the working class to labour for inadequate rewards, and even condemns them to social slavery, destitution, and degradation, to be essentially unjust.’
In one address to the Fraternal Democrats Harney declared:
 ‘Whatever national differences divide Poles, Russians, Prussians, Hungarians, and Italians, these national differences have not prevented the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian despots uniting together to maintain their tyranny; why, then, cannot countries unite for obtainment of their liberty? The cause of the people in all countries is the same – the cause of Labour, enslaved, and plundered… In each country the tyranny of the few and the slavery of the many are variously developed, but the principle in all is the same. In all countries the men who grow the wheat live on potatoes. The men who rear the cattle do not taste flesh-food. The men who cultivate the vine have only the dregs of its noble juice. The men who make clothing are in rags. The men who build the houses live in hovels. The men who create every necessary comfort and luxury are steeped in misery. Working men of all nations, are not your grievances, your wrongs, the same? Is not your good cause, then the same also? We may differ as to the means, or different circumstances may render different means necessary but the great end – the veritable emancipation of the human race – must be the one end and aim of all.’
At the time, Marx and Engels were also involved in the process of setting up an international association and were invited to preparatory meetings which sought to bring various associations together and as a result Marx met George Julian Harney, now editor of the radical journal The Northern Star. Although the Fraternal Democrats had a distinctly pro-worker make up, it was primarily an organisation that aimed to build a broadly-based campaign to promote democratic reforms at an international level. Such an orientation meant that Marx and Engels could not hope to win the Fraternal Democrats over to an openly communist platform. However, the contacts made through the Fraternal Democrats no doubt influenced Marx and Engels towards the idea of establishing an international communist organisation along similar lines, through which they could spread their ideas within the working class movement, and go beyond the German intellectual circles which had dominated their political activity.

Harney started his own journal, The Red Republican, and attempted to use it to educate his working class readers about socialism. The July 1850 issue explained:
  ‘As regards the working men swamping all other classes the answer is simple – other classes have no right to exist. To prepare the way for the absolute supremacy of the working class preparatory to the abolition of the system of classes, is the mission of The Red Republican.’
In 1850, The Red Republican published the first English translation of the Communist Manifesto and called it ‘The most revolutionary document ever given to the world’.

The Russian ‘Planned Economy’ – What Was It? (2018)

From the February 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

How can we define in Marxian terms the system of ‘planned’ or ‘administrative’ economy that emerged in Russia at the end of the 1920s?

One approach to this question is to examine relevant works written by Bolshevik theorists during the first decade after the Revolution, when freedom of debate within certain limits still existed in Russia. Two of these works are available in English translation:

(1) Nikolai Bukharin, The Politics and Economics of the Transition Period (published in Russia in 1920, in the UK by Routledge & Kegan Paul in 1979 – on internet at;

(2) E. Preobrazhensky, The New Economics (published in Russia in 1926, in the UK by Oxford University Press and Clarendon Press in 1965 – on internet at

These theorists took it for granted that since November 1917 the country had been embarking upon a more or less prolonged transition to socialism. (In 1936 Stalin declared that the transition was complete.) They acknowledged, however, that what was being built in Russia did not correspond to ‘our old familiar ideas about socialism’ (Preobrazhensky’s phrase).

Logically there were two possible methods of dealing with such discrepancies. One method – the one that was adopted – was to change the meaning of ‘socialism’ to conform with the emerging Russian reality. The other method would have been to retain the original meaning of ‘socialism’ and choose another descriptive term for Russian society. But this was politically unacceptable, even in the ‘liberal’ 1920s, as it would have undermined the legitimacy of the Bolshevik regime.

A substitute for capitalism
The key discrepancy concerns the place occupied by ‘socialism’ in the Marxian schema of historical evolution.

According to ‘the old familiar ideas’, it is the function of capitalism to accumulate technologically advanced productive capacities that socialist society then uses to satisfy human needs. Thus capitalist development must precede the establishment of socialism.

In the new Bolshevik conception, by contrast, ‘socialism’ performs the same function as capitalism – the accumulation of productive capacities. ‘Socialism’ is now not so much the successor to capitalism as a substitute for it.

Accumulation was required in Bolshevik Russia not just because capitalist development had still been at quite an early stage in 1913 but also in order to restore the huge losses in productive capacity during World War One and the Civil War. Bukharin regarded such losses as inevitable even in the advanced countries, on the grounds that imperialist war causes capitalism to collapse and proletarian revolution leads to further civil and interstate wars. Thus the new society has to cope with a ‘regression of the productive forces’.

Russia was the first country in which ‘socialism’ served as a substitute for capitalism but by no means the last. Almost all the other countries that later borrowed the Stalinist model, including China, North Korea and North Vietnam, were underdeveloped and ravaged by war.

Primitive accumulation
Capitalism in its mature form extracts the surplus it needs for accumulation in the course of production for market exchange. In its initial phase, however, capitalism jump-started the accumulation process by forcibly plundering resources from the peasantry at home and from colonial populations abroad. Marx calls this phase ‘primitive accumulation’ (Chapters 26-28 of Volume 1 of Capital).

Bolshevik theorists disagreed over whether their regime would have to engage in primitive accumulation. Bukharin argued that accumulation could and should be achieved on the basis of market exchange with the peasantry under the New Economic Policy, even though it would be a slow process (‘riding into socialism on a peasant nag’). Preobrazhensky and others demanded a faster pace and considered primitive accumulation unavoidable. Stalin finally implemented the second strategy by means of collectivisation, which enabled the state forcibly to procure resources for rapid industrialisation from agriculture.

In an attempt to distance Russian practice from capitalism, the theorists stressed a distinction between ‘primitive capitalist accumulation’ and ‘primitive socialist accumulation’. Clearly, however, there is no real distinction here. The whole debate bears witness to the close parallelism between Stalinist development and its classical capitalist prototype.

Extending the concept of ‘capitalism’
If we deny that the Russian ‘planned economy’ was socialism, what can we call it? Can we call it ‘capitalism’ – or, more specifically, a form of state capitalism?

The ‘planned economy’ did not function in exactly the same way as the capitalism that Marx had analysed in Capital and other works.

In particular, the Russian economy did not contain major units that operated as separate capitals, competing with one another to sell their products in the market. Enterprises of any size or significance were subordinate to industrial ministries and ‘planning’ agencies, all of which constituted a single bureaucratic apparatus. Who was to supply how much of what to whom was specified in advance by the state plan, so in most spheres of activity there could be no competition for customers.

The cycles of boom and slump so characteristic of ‘classical’ capitalism had no direct equivalent in the Russian economy.

Nevertheless, there is a strong case for calling the Russian ‘planned economy’ a form of capitalism despite these differences, even if this can be seen as extending the concept of ‘capitalism’. The justification for such an extension is the role that the Russian system played as an alternative regime of accumulation that substituted for capitalism under certain conditions and occupied the same place as capitalism in the schema of historical evolution.

Pluses and Minuses (2018)

Book Review from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy’, by Cathy O’Neil (Penguin. £9.99)

Computers may hold massive amounts of information about individuals, and can process this information to come to decisions which affect people’s lives. But it is often unclear what the basis is for the programs that do this processing, and their consequences can often be quite dire. The mathematical basis of the processing leads O’Neil to call them ‘weapons of math destruction’ (abbreviated, of course, as WMDs). Her book mainly relates to developments in the US, though that does not excuse a reference to ‘the British city of Kent’.

As an example, many job applications and their accompanying CVs are not examined by people at all, but only by WMDs, which among other things make use of personality tests which, for instance, ask applicants whether they are best described as ‘unique’ or ‘orderly’. If you have a bad credit score, that is likely to make you an unreliable worker, as reliable people pay their bills on time. If having a bad credit score stops you getting a job, then naturally that will not help your credit record, so the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moreover, what is used is often not a real credit score but what is termed an e-score, a kind of rough estimate that may use information such as where you live, rather than whether you pay bills on time.

This illustrates a general problem with WMDs, that they analyse you by looking at ‘people like you’, rather than truly dealing with you as an individual. Also, rather than dealing with truly relevant data, they rely on proxies, substitute information that may or may not be accurate, such as a supposed correlation between a person’s postcode and their likelihood of paying back a loan. Add to this the fact that much information that is held on computers is inaccurate: you may be in real trouble if someone with the same name as you, or even a similar name, has a police record.

In a slightly different area, Facebook determines what its members see on its social network, though the algorithms that lead to these decisions are opaque. This is particularly important when people get a lot of their news on Facebook. O’Neil says that Facebook is not a political WMD, as its network is not used to cause harm, but ‘the potential for abuse is vast’.

It is clear that WMDs, and much computer processing of data, emphasise efficiency and cost-saving over any concept of fairness or treating people equally. In this respect they are really just the latest extension of how capitalism works. O’Neil suggests that they could in principle be used to, for instance, identify and help problem families, but that is not what the profit system is interested in. 
Paul Bennett

Rear View: Much Ado About Nothing (2018)

The Rear View Column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Much Ado About Nothing

The capitalist class, as a result of their control of the means of mental production, focus the attention of the working class on things that are often of little concern or consequence e.g. reality television, royalty or republicanism.  In an article titled Meghan Markle Can’t Save the World we read: ‘A just world will not only be one where outmoded institutions like the monarchy no longer exist, no matter how glamorous, charming, and well-meaning today’s royals are. It’s also one where we won’t need any more celebrity humanitarians’ (jacobin.mag, 1 December).  Yet a world without royal parasites would not necessarily be a just world.  Napoleon III ceased to rule France in 1870 and the USA did away with the monarchy a century earlier (although Trump is doing a good impersonation of George III), but neither can be considered just.  That will have to wait until we focus on securing a world without war and want, one without states and their leaders royal or otherwise.

As They Like It

Freedom fighters, past and present, so often championed by the Left for seeking justice, whether successful or not, play Game of Thrones often at the cost of working class lives.  What has the replacement of one set of rulers by another achieved?  Enter stage Left King and Queen Ortega, the recently deposed King Mugabe, and soon to be crowned Evo Morales.  ‘. . . Bolivia, along with Nicaragua, is now the only presidential democracy in the Americas to place no limits on re-election. Last month, a senior minister shared an image of a placard which invited Morales to stay in power until 2050’ (, 3 December). Elsewhere (, 30 November) we are reminded that ‘all three South African Presidents supported Robert Mugabe.’ Socialists would instead point to the election of the Mandela to power.  This event was supposed to see the grinding poverty of the townships ended, but he, Mbeki and Zuma have turned out to be powerless to run capitalism in a way that would end exploitation and poverty.  Mbeki is responsible for the premature deaths of up to 365,000 AIDS victims. King Zuma has his palace.

‘You take my life if you do take the means whereby I live’

Socialists are in agreement with Shakespeare here.  This is precisely the position for the great majority of us today. The means whereby we live — society’s natural and industrial resources — are monopolized by a minority who thus form a privileged class. This is the basis of present-day society the world over,  Workers die slowly or prematurely in the service of King Capital.  Everything is for sale.  ‘The widely condemned slavery in Libya goes beyond the sale of human beings as some ‘slave masters’ engage in organ trade, a private legal practitioner reveals. Organ trade is the trade of human organs, tissues or other body parts for the purpose of transplantation.  According to Bobby Banson, he has seen videos, where at least one person caught up in the slavery alleged that body parts of his colleagues were harvested and sold abroad. “One of the persons I heard, said the truth is that they are not sold to go and work, but their human parts are harvested… kidney, liver are in high demand in these areas”‘ (, 2 December).

First we kill all the lawyers

Tempting, but no: the law is an instrument of the owning class, that pretends to be for everyone, but is only for the rich.  Prince Laurent, brother to the King of Belgium, ‘says proposed pay cut would breach his human rights’ (, 1 December)!  Apparently, the prime minister is threatening to cut his annual £280,000 government endowment.  ‘Laurent’s lawyer insists that “in humiliating ways” the prince has been stopped all his life from getting a job, in a manner damaging to his “image and, dare I add, his health”. “In this traditional view, a prince was not allowed to work (it would testify to ‘a desire for money’, a reproach that some people dare to repeat today, which is the world upside down!),” the lawyer writes.’  Anatole France knew better, writing of ‘the majestic egalitarianism of the law, which forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.’ The law isn’t an ass. It’s an instrument of class domination, a very powerful one which will continue until a majority of us come to understand and desire socialism.  Then the world will be truly turned upside down.

50 Years Ago: Not Another Labour Party (2018)

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

Some trade unionists, fed up with Labour’s increasingly obvious anti-working class stand, have suggested that the unions should once again set up their own party. For, of course, this was how the Labour Party began. At the turn of the century union leaders, alarmed at the anti-union bias of the Courts, took up the suggestion of men like Keir Hardie for a party, independent of both the Liberals and the Tories, to represent Labour. It was not until 1918 that individuals could join the Labour Party. Before then the Party was little more than a trade union parliamentary pressure group (generally backing the Liberal government).

It has always been Labour’s claim to be the political arm of the Trade Union Movement. This claim is wearing a bit thin now. But many unionists still accept that the unions needs some political arm. If the Labour Party no longer represents them, why not set up another party?

In May 1966 Danny McGarvey, the boilermakers’ leader, said that the unions might have to put up their own men against some official Labour candidates. Last November, Joe Gormley, the Lancashire miners’ leader, suggested that, in view of the Labour government’s policies, the miners and others might have to consider forming a new party — “a trade union party”. Of course Gormley, a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, did not really mean this. Only a few days later he was elected chairman of the NEC’s organisation sub-committee (which deals with discipline). All the same he did start off some discussion. A few miners’ lodges did break with Labour. Pottery Workers’ Union secretary Alfred Dulson, whose union has already stopped financing Labour, said:
“I am sure this is the way trade unionists have got to go. The Labour Party no longer represents the interests of trade unions” (Financial Times, 13 November 1967).
(from Socialist Standard, January 1968)

Feed the World: Overthrow Capitalism (2018)

From the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
As usual, over the Christmas period, we were bombarded with images of starving children and urged to donate money to stop a few of them dying. These are appeals to try to empty the ocean with a teaspoon, as the following – adapted from an article that appeared in Wildcat some thirty years ago – explains.
The problems of hunger and starvation are inescapable consequences of the present world system of food production but it is well within the potential power of the world’s working class to destroy this system, and replace it with a totally different one, in which such problems could soon be eradicated.

Production for Profit
Under the existing world system – capitalism – food isn’t directly produced to be eaten. Like everything else, the production of food is geared towards the realisation of profit through the sale of goods on the market. Considerations of price, profit and the market, rather than the satisfaction of basic human needs, are the factors which determine what is produced.

When we hear of record ‘surpluses’ of foodstuffs, therefore, it obviously doesn’t mean that everyone is so full-up they can’t eat another mouthful. It simply means that, in market terms, the supply of food exceeds economic demand for it to the extent that the sellers are in danger of being unable to get a profitable price for their goods.

Production for profit via the market also means that

– if there is no prospect of a profit to be made by producing something, then it simply won’t be produced.

– if goods have already been produced in the expectation of making a profit, and this expectation becomes unfounded for some reason, then these goods will not be sold, and might even be destroyed.

These absurdities are inevitable consequences of the market system itself.

Production for Use
Since mountains of ‘surplus’ food and millions of starving people exist side-by-side because under capitalism there is no direct link between the production of food and the satisfaction of basic human needs, it follows that the only way to solve the problem of world hunger is to do away with money, prices, profits and all other trappings of the market system, and replace it with a society in which everything, including food, is produced directly for use.

This will entail wrenching all means of wealth-production out of the hands of the minority which owns and controls them at present, and establishing world communism based on the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s resources. If everyone had an equal say in how the world’s resources should be used, it would be hard to imagine a majority of the world’s population voting to continue to devote resources to the production of harmful or unnecessary crops such as tobacco, for example. The basic requirements of the most needy would be the first and most urgent priority.

Lenin and ‘State Capitalism’ (2018)

From the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

On several occasions Lenin wrote or spoke about a phenomenon that he called ‘state capitalism’. He took a favourable view of this phenomenon, regarding it as progressive. State capitalism, he argued, was not socialism but it was (or would be) a step forward toward socialism, especially for backward Russia.

Lenin first expressed this view in September 1917, the month before the Bolsheviks seized power, in a pamphlet entitled The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It. He reiterated it in March 1918 in an article on the ‘Brest Peace’ with Germany. He asserted the same view repeatedly during the last three years of his life (1921–24) – for example, in January 1923 in an article for a Russian √©migr√© newspaper (‘To the Russian Colony in North America’).

But what did Lenin mean by ‘state capitalism’? To answer this question we must study his statements carefully and place them in their contemporary context, as Lenin’s theorising was always a response to an immediate situation.

Three phases
We must also bear in mind that between the revolution of October 1917 and Lenin’s death in January 1924 the Russian economy passed through three distinct phases:

From October 1917 to the middle of 1918 the situation was very complicated. In March 1918 Lenin speaks of an ‘intermingling’ of five elements: natural economy (households producing for their own consumption), petty commodity production, private capitalism, state capitalism, socialism).

From the middle of 1918 to early 1921 (the period of the Civil War) the Supreme Council of National Economy attempted to administer industry directly –that is, without using money where deemed possible. This system was later dubbed ‘war communism’.

In March 1921 the regime introduced the New Economic Policy (NEP), under which formal market relations were restored and industry was run by private enterprises and state trusts.

Lenin’s statements about state capitalism all appear in the first and third of these phases. He does not discuss the subject during the period of ‘war communism’.

The German war economy 
The earliest works in which Lenin discusses ‘state capitalism’ appeared when World War One was still raging in Europe. Here he declares that ‘the most concrete example of state capitalism is in Germany’. In order to ensure the reliable functioning of the war machine, the German government had imposed strict controls over industry. The state not only regulated prices and subsidised the building of new factories but also reshaped the corporate structure and coordinated the allocation of materials. For instance, the Raw Materials Section of the War Ministry set up ‘war corporations’ –eventually about 200 of them –that though privately owned operated under state supervision. Neither private ownership nor production for profit was abolished, but the state directly involved itself in running the economy to an unprecedented degree.

Lenin acknowledged that the German state and its war economy remained subordinate to the German capitalist class and ultimately served its interests. Similar collaboration between private capitalists and the state could play a much more progressive role in Russia because there state power belonged to ‘the working class’. State capitalism in Soviet Russia was ‘a form of capitalism deliberately permitted and restricted by the working class’. For Lenin this made it not merely a form of capitalism but also a transitional form between capitalism and socialism (we leave the reader to ponder the logic or illogic of this position).

Here, of course, Lenin mystically equates ‘the working class’ with his own party. The real working class soon lost any identification it had initially felt with the Bolshevik regime.

In March 1918 Lenin described ‘state capitalism’ as just one of five elements in the economy of Soviet Russia. The significance of state capitalism increased enormously with introduction of the NEP in March 1921. Lenin called state capitalism ‘one of the principal aspects’ of the NEP.

Attracting foreign capital
State capitalism under the NEP took various forms. One major form was long-term leasing of productive assets to domestic or foreign capitalists under specific conditions. Lenin attached special importance to the leasing of assets—so-called ‘concessions’—to foreign capitalists (concessionaires), for ‘without foreign capital to help develop our economy its rapid rehabilitation is inconceivable’. Assets offered on this basis included the oilfields at Baku and Grozny in the Caucasus (although local ‘communists’ evidently did not like the idea).

Lenin was disappointed that so few takers could be found. One early concessionaire was a young American doctor named Armand Hammer, whom Lenin persuaded to take an asbestos concession in the Urals. Later in his life, as chairman of the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Hammer was to forge new commercial links between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The NEP also led to the creation of trusts that brought together groups of similar enterprises located in the same region. These trusts were wholly state-owned but were run as autonomous profit-making units selling their output on the market. The system of state trusts was at that time considered a form of ‘state capitalism’. (In 1968 a similar system was established in Hungary under the name of the New Economic Mechanism and labelled as ‘market socialism’, but Lenin still assumed that the market and socialism were incompatible.)

Debate on ‘the nature of the Soviet system
The Marxist debate on ‘the nature of the Soviet system’ has focused almost exclusively on the system of the so-called ‘planned economy’ that was created under Stalin at the end of the 1920s and which lasted about sixty years, finally collapsing as a result of Gorbachev’s reforms. Lenin never said anything specifically about this system—for the simple reason that it did not arise until four or five years after his death. No one knows what he would have thought of it. Although it too is a form of state capitalism, it can be argued that it differed in certain key ways from the phenomena that Lenin had in mind when he wrote about ‘state capitalism’ at an earlier stage of the development of capitalism in Russia.

Proper Gander: Out Of The Blue (2018)

The Proper Gander Column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Programmes like Blue Planet II (BBC1) make us feel a bit less begrudging if and when we cough up for our TV Licence. A follow-up to 2001’s Blue Planet, the epic documentary series is a fascinating look at life in the world’s oceans. Its production involved 125 expeditions across four years, using the latest camera technology to record more than 6,000 hours of underwater dive footage alone. The lengths which the researchers and camera crews took to get the right shots shows an impressive amount of determination, such as staking out places over months waiting for rare events, like the Marbled Grouper Fish’s annual spawning in French Polynesia. The end result is both a jaw-dropping spectacle and a valuable piece of research, which has netted over 13 million viewers for Auntie Beeb.

David Attenborough is our guide as each episode takes us somewhere different, from coastlines to the deepest depths, with their own colourful, interconnected, varied ecosystems. The more we learn about the creatures which live in and around the oceans, the more complex they turn out to be. Who knew, for example, that Clown Fish make noises and apparently communicate with each other, almost like they do in Finding Nemo? Or that Orca Whales perform backflips into shoals of herring to stun them before eating them? Both of these species are impacted upon by the ways we use and abuse the seas: noise from boats confuses Clown Fish by drowning out their own sounds, and Orca Whales have been killed by the fishing fleets they’re competing with for herring. Blue Planet II’s last instalment concentrates on these and other threats to the oceans caused by society. The programme’s tone remains optimistic, though, by highlighting people who have dedicated their lives to protecting the seas and what dwells within them.

One major threat to the oceans is plastic waste: around eight million tons of plastic a year end up in the sea, whether through shoddy disposal practices or cargo falling overboard, which happens more often than you might think; on average, four shipping containers a day fall into the drink. In 1992, a container ship 1,000 miles off Alaska lost a consignment of rubber ducks, and their journeys across the seas have usefully been tracked, with some reaching as far as Australia and Scotland. The durability which makes plastic so useful isn’t a good thing when it’s thrown away. A rubber duck–or a drinks bottle used for a few minutes one lunchtime–will take many centuries to biodegrade naturally. If it ends up floating around an ocean it will eventually break down into smaller pieces which get mistaken for food by marine life. Even plankton ingest tiny fragments of plastic, and when other creatures eat plankton and they in turn get eaten, plastic travels up the food chain. Deposits of plastic build up inside larger creatures, and these toxins contaminate their offspring. The programme includes sad footage of a Pilot Whale carrying its dead child, probably poisoned by pollution, and a collection of debris regurgitated by a declining Albatross colony. Discarded fishing nets, six pack rings and carrier bags entangle birds, fish and whales. It’s estimated that tens of millions of sharks are killed by nets every year.

Not mentioned in the programme are the ‘garbage patches’, where ocean currents have swept up plastic rubbish to form islands. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be at least the size of Texas, and may even be over twenty times larger. Cleaning this up is just one of those problems which we’re leaving for our grandchildren to deal with, along with radioactive waste and landfill sites. It’s difficult to turn a profit out of dealing with detritus, so there’s little incentive to address this now. And it seems that the garbage patches aren’t threatening the smooth running of capitalism enough for legislation to be put in place to deal with the problem. Less than 1 percent of international waters are protected by law, because laws to safeguard the oceans require agreement across states with their own commercial interests. Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Paris Agreement about climate change was presumably made because he recognises that the treaty could limit profitable-but-polluting industries.

The effects of climate change are most apparent at the poles. In the Arctic, the amount of ice during its Summer months has reduced by 40 percent over the past 30 years. Oceanographer John Copley gathers data for international research into changing global temperatures and flies over Antarctica to see the massive splits in ice shelves caused by their melting. As ice thaws and breaks up, stored water is released, leading to a gradual rise in sea levels. It’s estimated that by the end of the century the sea could have risen one or two metres, displacing millions of people.

As well as the rise in sea levels, climate change is also leading to an increase in sea temperatures. One result of this is to damage the algae which lives in coral, leading to the coral being weakened until it dies, a process known as bleaching. In recent years, half the world’s reefs have been affected. Underwater cameraman Dr Alex Vail, who regularly films around the Great Barrier Reef saw a bank of coral ‘turn to rubble’over a period of just a few weeks. This also had a disastrous effect on the countless other creatures which lived on the reef.

Climate change and garbage patches have both come about because capitalism encourages us to produce and consume in ways which make money for the few rather than make sense for the environment. Fossil fuels remain more profitable to produce than renewable energy, and it’s doubtful if the tide will turn quickly enough to reduce climate change. And it’s in commodity manufacturers’ interests for us to use more plastic, such as with the cycle of throwing out a Coke bottle so we can then buy another one. The consequences of our wasteful, short-sighted society are being played out in the world’s oceans. How much sea ice and coral will be left by the time they start filming Blue Planet III?
Mike Foster

The Cool (2018)

A convenient album cover.
The Wood for the Trees Column from the December 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the longest surviving superlatives within the lexicon of youth is the word ‘cool’. Why is a word used by my generation in the 60s still respectable among the adolescents of the 2010s? Was it always just a superficial affectation or can it also represent something of aesthetic or even political value? Recently whilst considering a contemporary religious icon I conceded its beauty but criticised its meaning. A young woman said that I might be right but what was important about it was that it was so ‘cool’. Her aesthetic sensibilities had completely overwhelmed her critical facilities. Marketing has always relied on this formula and so has given us a world of superficial consumerism where appearance always seems to triumph over substance. Let’s visit the history of the ‘cool’ and see if it can be rescued from the clutches of the advertisers and their obedient youthful customers.

In 1957 Miles Davis conveniently, for our purposes, released an LP called Birth of the Cool. Black American counterculture was the birthplace of much of what we can describe as ‘youth culture’ and to a degree it still is. The music, the language and the fashion wear can all be understood as a counter to white ‘middle class’ culture. Listening to that album you hear an emotionally detached sophisticated urban sound with a restless under rhythm. A black perspective is commenting upon a strange and foreign culture as it passes through, never resting and always alienated. It is the counterpart of the blues of the South. All of this, of course, is a result of 300 years of slavery in the Caribbean and the Americas. Someone once said to me that we should forget all that and ‘move on’ believing that he could sing the blues because his woman had left him and his dog had died. Needless to say that particular white guy could never be considered as cool. Somehow the hundreds of years of cruelty and exploitation had given black people a pride and strength that, although it could not be directly articulated in their everyday working life within a racist culture, was expressed in their music.

White working-class culture also fed into this music with its folk traditions but the main players were all black males until Elvis. It can be debated whether Elvis Presley established a wider audience for black music or if he and his record company merely stole from it to make money – probably a mixture of both. But now rhythm & blues and rock & roll had a young white audience. Besides the rhythms they also adopted the cool that went with it culturally. This kind of ‘white cool’ is exemplified by Marlon Brando in the film The Wild Ones when while getting a drink at the bar the barmaid asks him: ‘What are you rebelling against?’ Brando answers: ‘What have you got?’ The white young male member of the working class was just as alienated as his black counterpart but not being politically conscious he rebelled against anything and everything that was considered to be part of the cultural establishment of his parents (aka a contempt for things ‘square’ – a term also from the jazz culture of the 40s and 50s referring originally to the rigid motions of a conductor following the conventional four beat rhythm). Not that the average black ‘cool dude’ was particularly political but it was impossible to be unaware of the racism that surrounded him and so this became the centre of his identity.

The cool is to be emotionally detached but with a deep contempt and anger; it is to have a power and confidence generated by the suffering of yourself, your community and those who went before; it is to be always self-aware; it is to live by your own rules and it is, perhaps above all, to be terrified by naivety and weakness. It is what feminists would call ‘a macho thing’. For all of us it is, of course, an impossible aspiration that cannot be defined. We may see it in ourselves and others occasionally but it is impossible to sustain in the face of a sick and corrupted world. It has, after all, been debased by marketing and advertising to a point where a religious icon can be considered cool! Religion and its myths and images are a lot of things but they are quite definitely not cool.

There was a time when the wearing of a cap with the Oakland Raiders legend on it would guarantee a conversation about American football or that when meeting someone with dreadlocks you could indulge in a long discussion about reggae music, but those days are over. These have all become mere fashion accessories which guarantee the wearer a level of ‘coolness’ that he or she has not earned. When Richard Dawkins used the reversed baseball cap as his first example of a cultural ‘meme’ in his best seller The Selfish Gene we should have known that we were in for an uncool future.

'Our Enemy At Home.' (1915)

Pamphlet Review from the December 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Our Enemy At Home' by Mr. Cecil Shirley (Anti-Socialist Union, 1915)

If the above-quoted phrase were mentioned to a Socialist in "peace" time or in war time his (or her) mind would immediately incline toward a consideration of the capitalist class. An anti-Socialist would obviously place a different construction upon the phrase from that placed upon it by a Socialist.

That this is so is apparent from a pamphlet, bearing the title : "Our Enemy at Home," issued by the Anti-Socialist Union, and the authorship of which is claimed (or admitted) by a Mr. Cecil Shirley. The cover is a colourable imitation of that now familiar eye-sore, khaki, and it bears two crossed Union Jacks on a white background—the latter symbolical of purity, and the former of—England.

The pamphlet is ostensibly an exposure of Socialist activities during the present war, but the "Socialist" character of the activities exposed can well be measured when it is discovered that the sources of the majority of the extracts are given as "The Daily Herald," "The Labour Leader," "The New Statesman," and “Forward." Some of these papers may be anti-war in character, but they do not thereby assume a Socialist aspect, just as a hatred of pork does indicate an adherence to vegetarianism. Two extracts are given front the Socialist Standard, as a saving grace, presumably.

The author's knowledge of and acquaintance with Socialism is admirably illustrated by the following gem, which appears on the title page: 
  The Socialists demand that the State should provide them with all the necessaries of life.
  Yet the Socialists are the least willing to help the State when its very existence is threatened.
  The Socialist idea of Patriotism seems to be to obtain as much as possible from the State, but to give nothing.
In view of this the person who induced Mr. Shirley to pose as a pamphleteer against Socialism has a heavy responsibility lying at his door. Much water has flowed under Westminster Bridge since Louis XIV remarked "The State: I am the State"; but that the introduction of Socialism means the disappearance of the State is a truism for all who have taken the trouble to understand the meaning of the terms "State" and "Socialism." From this it will be seen that to talk of Socialists demanding benefits FROM the State would be on a par with a demand that the "No Lights" order should be applied to the harvest moon. All that Socialists demand OF the State is its supersedence by Socialism. Simply that and nothing more.

The head and front of our offending seems to be that we have remained Socialists during the war. Therein lies our crime. Had we fallen into line with the great political parties as regards the war, our peace-time transgressions could all have been forgiven. The pamphlet says (p. 20) : "All honour lo those Socialists who have put the claims of their country before those of their political doctrines." Mr. Shirley has been at great pains to discover that which is self-evident, namely, that Socialists are not patriotic. Dr. Johnson has laid it down that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, and it is to be hoped that the learned lexicographer will not turn in his grave when I add that it is the first refuge of a capitalist.

At the outbreak of the war much was heard of the political truce and the united front, which front, incidentally, has been well laundered with the soft soap of orthodox politicians. This political truce resulted in the formation of the Coalition Government and merely means that the two political parties of employers have agreed to see the war through to a fitting conclusion, the time for and fitness of such conclusion to be adjudged by them. Their one-time implied understanding has yielded place to an open and avowed coalition. The traitors and traffickers in dishonour of yesterday have become the patriots of to-day. It is still "Business as usual," but no longer under the guise of "It is the duty of the Opposition to oppose." Mr. Shirley complains (p. 20) that "Socialists advocate politics as usual." Had we, as Socialists, decided to side with the liberal or Tory patriots we would have reaped a harvest —and a whirlwind. We could have been patriotic, but hear let the late Lord Roberts speak. I quote from his “Message to the notion” (1912). On page 43 he said : "The conditions amid which millions of our people are living appear to me to make it natural that they should not care a straw under what rule they may be called upon to dwell, and I can quite understand their want of patriotism."

And again on pp. 44 and 45: "Yet recent unimpeachable evidence makes it clear that, to tens of thousands of Englishmen engaged in daily toil, the call to ‘sacrifice' themselves for their country must seem on insult to their reason ; for those conditions amid which they live make their lives already an unending sacrifice.” Thus the late Lord Roberts — a patriot whose integrity Mr. Shirley will not question. It it the "unimpeachable evidence” and the causes thereof that have given ground to the Socialist attitude of which our pamphleteer complains, which give rise, in fact, to the whole Socialist propaganda. Remove them, and there will be no anti-Socialist complaints, for there will be no anti-Socialist to complain.

The pamphlet gives two extracts from the Socialist Standard, as follows : "The working class is not in our masters' schemes except to afford the latter riotous luxury and, in time of war, providing food for cannon" (July 1915) and "Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism” (September 1914). Of these extracts, needless to say, we are unashamed. And strange though it may seem in the circumstances, both the quotations are verified at the sources given.

We are told (p. 26) : "But the opponents of Socialism can never forget what has been done and said by so many Socialists at a time when the country and the Empire were struggling for their very existence,” and again (p. 28) ‘‘Patriots one and all . . . will certainly remember what has been mud and written during these critical times by Our Enemy At Home." This remembrance will serve its purpose (if it comes to pass), and it is as well that the extracts from our paper are recorded, for in the future we need to justify our attitude, not in the eyes of the capitalist class, but only in those of the working class. It is hoped that these foreshadowed memories will be active when the present awful holocaust has ended. And not only this, but those patriots who are to-day so smitten with war-fever may remember also what has been said by their present day friends. The promises made; the attractions offered; the glittering appeals; the honourable thoughts: let these be remembered and contrasted with the conditions which will then be experienced.

Mr. Shirley goes into the questions of pre-war diplomacy, of opposition to recruiting, of Socialists’ sneers at Belgium. He protests against jeering at the German atrocities, forgetful that the war is in itself, one huge atrocity—a necessary concomitant of that human bane called capitalism. Against the Socialists be uses all those weapons that are to-day used by each sect against all others because they do not see eye-to-eye on certain war transactions. Against the Socialists these weapons fail. The powder is wet or else the gun has a faulty bore.

Our attitude, from a working-clam standpoint, will bear the light of day and the test of time and truth. Were we to hang our beads in shame at what we have said and done our opponents would immediately be half-victorious. But we are not ashamed; we glory in the fact that during one of the greatest catastrophies that has yet overwhelmed mankind, we nave kept our heads—and our feet; we have remained true to our principles. The war is not yet over, and our victory has not yet come, but our present attitude augurs well for the future. and it is the consciousness of this that disgruntles the capitalist Shirleys.

Perhaps, after the war, one bright little urchin will approach our pamphleteer with the well-rehearsed question : "What did you do, Daddy, in the great war?” and Daddy, filling hit chest with pompous pride, might reply : "I wrote a pamphlet. I helped to crush Prussian militarism by telling Socialists that which they already knew and convincing those who were never in doubt”
A. L. Cox