Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Things that go bump in the night (2013)

The Halo Halo! column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

During quiet periods when politicians are not accepting bribes, fiddling their expenses and resigning to spend more time with their families, newspapers have the ‘silly season’ in which they fill columns with eyewitness accounts of puma-like beasts stalking the countryside, alien abductions and nuns finding the face of Mother Teresa in aubergines.

But for the Halo-Halo column, because it is dedicated to bringing you the best and latest absurdities from the god squad, life is one long silly season. And when, from time to time, the antics of randy vicars and miraculous occurrences temporarily dry up, it can be difficult to know what to fill the column with.

Take the last few weeks: Religious news highlights have amounted to little more than the on-going child abuse scandal stories, money laundering and tax evasion in the Vatican, and a new miracle from the dead Pope John Paul II, paving the way to his sainthood. This month, then, it’s back to a subject we’ve touched on before: devils and demons.

Just like Santa, Satan too has his little helpers it seems. Last month we looked at the Catholic’s demons, but Catholics don’t have a monopoly on them. In Islam, they have the Jinn. We only have room for a few details of these amazing creatures here, but for an unbelievable account see here. No, seriously, it’s unbelievable. Look it up.

Allah created the angels from light and the Jinn ‘from the smokeless flame of fire’ apparently. And like humans, he created them for the purpose of worshipping him. They are invisible, but in spite of their invisibility‘ can appear as humans, animals, trees and anything else’. And, like the Catholic demons, they have the annoying habit of possessing humans. Not only humans in fact, but also ‘animals, trees and other objects’. ‘By doing this, the evil Jinn hope to make people worship others beside Allah’ it explains. And when this happens ‘the name of Allah has to be used in expelling the Jinn’. ‘We know as Muslims’ it assures us ‘that Jinns possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because the Jinn or its family has been hurt accidentally. It could be because the Jinn has fallen in love with the person. However, most of the time possession occurs because the Jinn is simply malicious and wicked’. To set our minds at rest though, we are assured ‘the next time you see something that looks like E.T. it’s most probably just a wicked Jinn trying to scare and confuse you’. Well if that doesn’t scare and confuse you nothing will.

A bit too far-fetched perhaps? How about goblins? These little devils can be found, apparently, amongst the people of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. And, it seems, can be a bit of an embarrassment. Fortunately for the Halo-Halo column the Bulawayo24 news website covers their activities in great detail. For example:
  • 3 June 2013. ‘Drama as goblin falls out of man’s trousers in a commuter omnibus’.
  • 30 May 2013. ‘Prophet sends goblins to steal woman’s G-strings’.
  • 18 May 2013. ‘Goblin impregnates woman while hubby was away for two years’.
  • 4 May 2013. ‘Drama as goblin demands sex from owner’.
  • 24 April 2013. ‘Goblin visits victim (40) in the form of his dead mother’.
  • 2 March 2013. ‘Goblin seriously burns prophet’s private parts’.

And the list goes on and on. Jinns and goblins not your cup of tea? Oh well, better the devil you know . . .

Letters: Divided society (2013)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Divided society

Dear Editors

It's not surprising that so many of the promises on poverty and inequality made by politicians have been broken ('Empty Rhetoric', Voice from the Back, July). The so-called elite who run society don't really care about the rest of us.

Yet, it doesn't have to be like this. There is masses of research to support the idea that we can choose the kind of society we want to live in, and that includes a more equal society free of poverty.

Researchers like Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson published evidence a few years ago. It showed that a very divided society makes our physical and mental health much worse. Inequality makes us ill. There is also less trust between people too. Their book The Spirit Level pointed out that everyone suffers in that kind of cruel society.

More recently, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu published The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. Once again, the savage decisions made by many governments damaged people's health and well-being. Cutting back on health and welfare increases diseases and creates unhappiness.

We need to create a different future for ourselves.

Graeme Kemp. 
Wellington, Shropshire

Entirely agree. It’s good to know that there are others out there who agree with us.



Dear Editors

I thought your article Resistanbul in the July Socialist Standard was one of the best, most informative and helpful I have read in a very long time. But did you really have to spoil it on the front cover with a trite and infantile reference to turkeys and stuffing?

Your article was extremely respectful and sensitive to the issues and challenges facing Turkish society and the Turkish people. Your cover was cheap and childish.

Andrew Northall. 

Election Statement: People not Profits (2013)

Party News from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Election statement for the local Lambeth council by-election in Tulse Hill ward, London, 25 July 2013

People not Profits

Things are not produced today to meet people’s needs. They are produced to make a profit. And that’s the cause of the problems people in Tulse Hill face.

Under the profit system profits always come first. Before providing basic services like health care and transport, before improving conditions at work, and before providing decent housing.

It’s profits first, people second.

Under the profit system production is in the hands of profit-seeking business enterprises, all competing to maximise the rate of return on the money invested in them. Decisions as to what to produce and how much, and how and where to produce it, are not made in response to people’s needs but in response to market forces.

As a result, the health and welfare of the workforce and the effects on the environment take second place. The profit system can’t help doing this. It’s the only way it can work. Which is why it must go.

I know this is only a local by-election but make no apology for raising this issue. The reduced incomes and cuts to services that people in Tulse Hill are having to put up with are a direct result of the profit system being in an economic crisis.

When this happens governments, whatever their political colour, have to cut their spending so as to give profits a chance to recover. As local councils are largely financed by central government this trickles down to the local level too.

So, what’s the alternative?

One thing is certain. The Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour—and now UKIP—have nothing to offer. They all support the profit system and are only squabbling over which of them should have a go at running it. If we are going to improve things we are going to have to act for ourselves, without professional  politicians or leaders of any kind. We are going to have to organise ourselves democratically to bring about a society geared to serving human needs not profits.

Production to satisfy people’s needs. That’s the alternative. But this can only be done if we control production and the only basis for this is common ownership and democratic control.

I have been put forward by the Socialist Party as a name on the ballot paper you can put an X against to register your rejection of the profit system and your agreement with the alternative.

Blogger's Note:

The result of the by-election
Lab 1575
LibDem 277
Green 177
Con 74
Ind 20
Adam Buick (SPGB) 11

Turnout 2282 (20%).

South Africa: Marikana Miners’ Massacre (2013)

From the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In August last year miners at the Marikana Mine in South Africa were on strike for higher wages. The striking miners were confronted by the South African police, who fired on the miners, using live rounds from automatic pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. 34 miners were killed and 78 seriously injured and many miners were shot in the back and whilst lying on the ground. The South African state even considered charging 270 arrested miners with the Apartheid-era ‘common purpose’ murder of the miners massacred by the police.

The global capitalist class in alliance with the pro-capitalist ANC government of South Africa have shown the working class that going on strike, demanding higher wages involves the risk of death. British capitalists have a major role in the Marikana miners’ massacre. The Marikana mine is owned by Lonmin, formerly the mining division of Lonhro once run by the notorious ‘Tiny’ Rowland. Even Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath in 1973 referred to the activities of Rowland and Lonhro as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’.

South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers has failed to fight for its members which has led to the creation of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) which represents the Marikana strikers.

A Marikana Miners Solidarity Campaign is demanding the creation of an international enquiry into the massacre, the sacking of the Minister for Police and the Commissioner for Police, charging responsible senior police officers with murder, the release of all imprisoned miners and the dropping of all charges against miners. It also calls for compensation for the families of those killed and injured, the Chief Exec of Lonmin to be put on trial for ‘theft of national resources’, and the end to police violence (tear gas and rubber bullets) against ‘those who produce all the country’s wealth’ (the working class).

There is a weekly picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square every Thursday from 5-7pm.
Steve Clayton

Cooking the Books: A History of Slumps (2013)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of its Quarterly Bulletin the Bank of England published an article in the June issue entitled ‘The UK Recession in context – what do three centuries of data tell us?’ This took a look at the booms and slumps since 1701.

Actually, the terms used are ‘upturns’ and ‘downturns’. A downturn is defined as the period between the highest point production reached and the lowest point it falls to before it starts to rise again, i. e., from peak to trough. An upturn is the opposite, the period from trough to the next peak. A cycle is defined as the period from peak to peak or from trough to trough.

A table gives the average length of cycles for various historical periods:

The inclusion of data from the 18th century is interesting but doesn’t tell us much about cycles of capitalist production. Not that the economy of the period could not be described in a sense as capitalist, but because the upturns and downturns were caused not so much by the workings of the economy itself as by the outside factors of war (in this century Britain was frequently at war) and bad harvests (agriculture then accounted for 30 per cent of GDP).

It is the later periods that are more relevant for the study of the capitalist production cycle.

1831-1871 was the period Marx studied in Capital and his other economic writings, though he identified the first crisis of industrial capitalism as occurring in 1825 (which can been seen in Chart 1 in the article). He suggested a cycle of about 10 years, not too far from the 8-year cycle the article identifies. At 2.21 per cent a year, this was a period of relatively rapid growth with the short downturns, a period of confident capitalist expansion.

On the other hand, 1871-1913 was a period of slower growth, with the downturns lasting just as long as the upturns and which misled Engels into thinking that capitalism had entered a period of permanent stagnation.

It is perhaps surprising to learn that the period 1921-1938 was also a period of relatively rapid growth with only short downturns but, apart from the severe but short-lived slumps of 1921 and the early 1930s, in Britain this was a period of growth in output, even if mainly confined to the South East and the Midlands. In the rest of the country unemployment remained high and shaped the popular perception of the 1930s as one big Great Depression.

The authors do not explain why they lumped together 1952-1992 as a single period when it would have been more historically useful to have broken it in the mid-1970s when the biggest downturn since 1945 occurred (as can also be seen in Chart 1). Even so, during both parts of this period the cycles were shorter with fewer deep troughs than in the previous historical periods.

According to the article’s definition, as output is up on the trough of 2008 we are now in the upturn phase of the cycle even though, five years later, production is still nowhere near the 2007 level. It looks as if the current cycle is going to be longer than in the recent past. In fact it looks more like what happened in the period 1871-1913.

Greasy Pole: A Dissatisfied Novice (2013)

The Greasy Pole column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

On being elevated to the Tory leadership a priority for David Cameron was to demonstrate that this was a new age with fresh, historically challenging ideas about the party organisation. Among the first of these was to end the system of choosing candidates to contest parliamentary elections by a secret gathering of constituency worthies and replace it with the American primary system of open preference by all registered voters. To begin with this seemed like a clever move – Cameron called it an ’exciting opportunity’ to engage with the voters, designed to patch up the party's reputation after the Great Scandal Of Expenses – which had yielded a glut of MPs facing either dismissal or attempting to salvage some tatters of their reputation by announcing that they would not stand again for Parliament.

Anthony Steen
Cameron had promised that there would be funds to allow some 200 seats to use the new system but in the event there were only two – Gosport and Totnes. The latter had always returned a Tory MP but it was in need of a fresh Tory candidate for 2010 after the sitting MP, Sir Anthony Steen, had been vividly exposed for his extravagant expense claims. Steen is proud of owning a huge country mansion which he designated as his second home. Over four years he claimed £87,729 for, among other things, the upkeep of some 500 trees, a rabbit fence and a borehole. His response to his exposure was to put it down to 'jealousy' of his wealth and luxury when his behaviour had been 'impeccable' but he had been 'caught on the wrong foot' and anyway 'What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None'. He later apologised but there was a rumour that this did not impress the folk of Totnes, who pride themselves on being bohemian and artistic and independent enough to have their own currency – the Totnes Pound. Perhaps that would explain the rumour that Steen's arrogance had so angered the management of a posh restaurant in the town that they refused to serve him.

In Totnes in 2009 the primary was particularly successful with a 25 percent turnout, which might have been the voters' way of saying 'good riddance' to Steen. From the short list of three there emerged Sarah Wollaston, a local GP offering herself as 'a woman with a real job' who had no previous experience of politics. Tory chairman Eric Pickles declared himself 'tickled to death' and Totnes backed their choice again when Wollaston went on to win the 2010 general election with a majority more than double that of Steen in 2005. But it soon became clear that the route through which Wollaston had come into Parliament was no longer open. In the beginning there had been a promise to extend the primary method to other areas but there is no longer any impetus towards this from Downing Street, where a 'source' has hinted that there has been 'zero debate' of the matter. Wollaston has made her mark as something of a rebel and perhaps Cameron feels that there are enough trouble-makers on his benches without recruiting more through primaries.

Alcohol Victims
Wollaston has informed all those enthusiastic voters in Totnes that 'open primaries are being kicked down the road'. But so far there has not been any sign of her changing her provocative style. As a doctor, one of her enduring concerns is the effect of excessive consumption of alcohol on health and social well-being – she mentions some 8,000 deaths annually – but her campaign to attempt to alleviate this through the price mechanism has not met with any interest. To put the matter into context she voices her concerns at the possibility that the government's reluctance to act is linked with the commercial interests of Lynton Crosby, Cameron's favourite campaign manager, in the alcohol and tobacco firm Crosby Textor. And there are other matters, on which Wollaston has expressed opinions which have raised questions about whether she has chosen to be in the right party or indeed in any of those in Westminster.

She does not warm to the government's drive to 'reform' the NHS and the domination of it by what she calls 'competition economists'; the overall effect, she warns, could be that the NHS will 'go belly up'. On the same theme, after the recent suicide of a benefit claimant, she has reservations about the cuts in welfare benefits: 'When times are tough you really have to focus on what measures help to reduce suicide because we know that this is a pattern in previous recessions … Nobody wants to be unemployed … I've vary rarely ever met people who wanted to be on benefits, but I have met people who are trapped on benefits'. None of this would nourish the career prospects of any MP, let alone a novice like Wollaston. Which may be why she describes Cameron erecting an inner circle of Old Etonians and the like as 'a kind of blindness' and contrasts it with her treatment: 'I am never put on a delegated legislation committee on something which I could contribute to. The classic case was when I was put on one on double taxation in Oman. I know nothing about double taxation in Oman'. She has been continuously frustrated in her efforts to discuss her views with Cameron and regards being in the Commons, where they pride themselves on having human interests at heart, is 'like swimming with sharks. If there is a drop of blood in the water, off they go'.

Wollaston is not the first to be carried into Westminster on a rush of expectation and would not be the first to be tamed by threats to her career or inducements about possible promotion for those who do not rock the boat. Behind the excitement the fact is that like all those others in the past she can have nothing novel to offer and serves only to emphasise how ineffective all of them are. However the system is manipulated it remains in essence the same class-dominated chaos managed by bigots and twisters.

50 Years Ago: Mr. Wilson on Class (2013)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a recent interview published in the Observer, Harold Wilson, Leader of the Labour Party, made some extraordinary statements. Among other things he said:
 ‘The Labour Party must represent the whole country. If you mean what class do I think I am—well, what is the answer? Elementary school, Oxford common room, what does it add up to? There are millions of people—trained, skilled, professional—for whom these phrases about class are becoming more and more meaningless. The white coat, the growing technological character of modern industry is making some of the old battlegrounds unreal.’
Wilson apparently thinks that if a worker can speak grammatically, or do a skilled job, he is no longer a worker.


Earlier in the same series, Wilson actually committed himself to the following remarks:
  ‘Quite honestly, I’ve never read Das Kapital. I got only as far as page two— that’s where the footnote is nearly a page long, I felt that two sentences of main text and a page of footnote were too much.’
This is despite his own claim that ‘economics became his field.’

Mr. Wilson was apparently in such a haze that he could not distinguish page two from page fifty-two, or the beginning of a chapter from the end of it. The first footnotes in Das Kapital which might reduce the main text to this extent are the ones that concern Ricardo, at the end of chapter one, on commodities. In the edition nearest to hand (William Glaisher, London, 1909) these footnotes begin at page fifty-two. In no conceivable edition could they come on page two.

But what a pity that Wilson was not able to overcome the tremendous hurdle presented to his comprehension by some rather long footnotes (he was, after all, only an Oxford lecturer on economics). He might have learned that there is more to a man’s position in society than the colour of the coat he wears. He might even have learned that there are two classes in society—an owning class and a working class. One feels that he might not have survived the shock.

 (From ‘The Passing Show’ by Alwyn Edgar, Socialist Standard, August 1963)

Action Replay: Entering the Straight (2013)

Lolo Jones
The Action Replay Column from the August 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lolo Jones stirred things up a month or two ago. She revealed that seven months as a top US bobsleigh competitor had earned her just over $740.

This annoyed quite a lot of people, mostly other bobsledders (to use the American term for the sport and its athletes). This was far more than most of them earned, they pointed out. Jones’ statement that ‘I’m going to be a little late on my rent’ was seen as particularly offensive, since she is also an international hurdler who receives a lot of money in sponsorships, from Red Bull, for instance. In addition, she’s a devout Christian, but that doesn’t stop her from trading on her good looks for endorsements and pin-up photos.

Behind all this froth are some real issues about how people get to be top athletes and how much financial sacrifice is needed for this. American sportspeople do not receive central government funding, so would-be stars often have to rely on that favourite source of support, their parents. There are stories of people losing their homes or going bankrupt because they tried to pay for their kids’ training. Just as having unpaid interns in large companies more or less limits such posts to offspring of the rich, so something similar might be said of young athletes.

The body UK Sport has a World Class Performance Programme that provides coaches and scientific support, as well as personal awards that contribute to athletes’ living costs; it is backed by the government and the National Lottery. But ‘with a shifting economic environment, it has become increasingly necessary to look towards the commercial sector to provide an additional income stream’ (www.uksport.gov.uk).

Andy Murray, the new national hero, benefited from his mum being a professional tennis coach. Then in 2006 the Lawn Tennis Association paid Brad Gilbert half a million quid to coach him. So there’s plenty of funding for some.

It also helps to be in a high-profile sport, rather than one such as bobsleigh or judo, say. Or an unsuccessful one, with sports such as volleyball losing funding after a poor display in last year’s Olympics. To them that hath shall be given …
Paul Bennett

Monday, April 29, 2019

Officers Looking for Infantry (1968)

From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many political groups fancy themselves as “vanguards” of the working-class. We do not. We say that workers should spurn these would-be elites and organise for Socialism democratically, without leaders.

By fostering wrong theories about what Socialism is and how it can be achieved the “vanguard” organisations are delaying the socialist revolution. It may help to clear away confusion if we list a number of doctrines held by most of these groups, and then state why we disagree with them :

1. State ownership is Socialism, or a step on the way to Socialism.

2. Russia (China, Cuba) is socialist, or on the way.

3. Socialism will arrive by violent insurrection.

4. Socialism will come out of a gigantic slump.

5. Workers cannot understand Socialism, so they must be given bait in the form of “transitional demands.”

6. Workers must be led by an elite, a “vanguard”.

7. There is a middle class in modern society.

It is easy to see that these beliefs interlock and support each other. If, for example, workers are so feeble-minded that they cannot understand Socialism then they need to be led. Socialism will therefore come about without mass understanding, by a disciplined minority seizing power. Minorities are best able to seize power during crises, a fact which renders attractive the notion that capitalism will “collapse”— terminate for purely mechanistic reasons without the necessity for widespread socialist education. Since workers must have some incentive to follow the vanguard, “transitional demands” in the form of reformist promises are necessary, and since these tactics were successful in carrying to power the Russian Bolsheviks, it is assumed that Russia must be on the road to Socialism. The basic dogma on which all this is founded is that the mass of the workers cannot understand Socialism (or at least, not without the constant tutelage of the vanguard) which implies that the vanguard must be recruited from outside the working-class. Therefore, the vanguard groups reject the Marxist contention that there are only two classes in advanced capitalism.

Vanguardists may protest at this summary; they may insist that they are very much concerned with working-class consciousness, and do not assert that workers cannot understand Socialism. But an examination of their propaganda shows that “consciousness” means merely following the right leaders. When it is suggested that the majority of the population must attain a clear desire for the abolition of the wages system, and the introduction of a worldwide moneyless community, the vanguardists reply that this is “too abstract”, or (if they are students) “too academic.”

Indeed, they themselves do not strive for such a socialist system. None of the vanguard groups advocates a world without wages, with production democratically planned to meet people’s needs. Some of them say, when pushed, that they look forward to such a world “ultimately,” but since this “ultimate” aim has no effect on their actions it can only be interpreted as an empty platitude.

Far from specifying Socialism as their aim, they are reticent and muddled about even the capitalist reforms they will introduce if they get power. These also are apparently too “academic” to stipulate. Ironically, Bernstein’s dictum “The movement is everything, the goal nothing” sums up the vanguard outlook very well, as a glance at the Newsletter or Socialist Worker will confirm. It seems fair to conclude, however, that the vanguardists’ ideal is the brutal capitalist regime of Lenin, a fact which causes us socialists some concern, as it means we would be liquidated (a fate which would undoubtedly have befallen us under the Bolshevik tyranny).

The belief that Socialism or something akin to it exists in Russia is common to most vanguard groups. This is to expected: the vanguard strategy has been put into practice many times, and should surely have succeeded once or twice. Russia furnishes fresh proof every day that it is typically capitalist, but all its obviously anti-working-class features are dismissed as the results of “degeneration”. Some look to China or Cuba as less degenerate systems, which sets a useful precedent. By the time the faithful have to write off these nations, other state capitalist paragons will have arisen in Africa or Latin America to replace them.

Thus some vanguardists centre their hopes on capitalist revolutions in backward regions. Inside advanced capitalism reformist politics are seen to be sterile and stereotyped. It is consequently no marvel that a generation reared on TV westerns will lift up its eyes to the Third World, where all the romance of Garibaldi is reborn amidst the waste land of the twentieth century, where the beautiful hero, ten times larger than life, still strides about trusting his life to luck “like a tossed coin”. The Third World Utopians fail to notice that the spectacular energy of change in the underdeveloped zones is precisely a. measure of their spectacular backwardness, and of the telescoped development necessary for them to catch up with Europe, North America and Japan. This acceleration of social growth does result in new, bizarre combinations, both in economic organisation and in consciousness—but these cannot produce a leap forward into Socialism ahead of the more advanced countries. A comparison of Mao with Winstanley, or of Pan-Africanism with the Jacobins, would show how even the advances in consciousness in successive capitalist revolutions are severely truncated by economic backwardness.

There are other vanguardists who have come round to the socialist view that Russia is capitalist, but they still cling to the idea that the Bolshevik revolution was socialist—and by implication, that a future socialist revolution will be run on similar lines. After all, an admission that the Russian working-class never held political power, and that Bolshevism was always a capitalist movement, would call into question the entire mythology of the Left. An increasing number of vanguardists are seriously worried by the question: when did “degeneration” start? More clues to the answer will be found with Robespierre, Bakunin and Tkachev than with Stalin.

In one sense it is true that Russia is progressing towards Socialism—in the same way that all capitalist countries are. But the working-class of the Russian Empire will have to overthrow their state capitalist bosses, and they can only do this after they have won the elementary democratic rights which we have. State ownership is not Socialism, but a major feature of all forms of capitalism. However wage-slavery is administered, it cannot be made to run in the interests of the wage-slaves.

The belief that Russia is socialist or a “workers’ state” has been a source of confusion for half a century. Happily, it is now ebbing away—illusions are usually corrected by material conditions sooner or later. But the fact that such a doctrine could catch on so readily shows the hazy conception of Socialism which has always been popular. Disputes about how to get Socialism usually turn out to be disputes about what it is. For instance, it is apparent that if Socialism is to be a democratic society a majority of the population must opt for it before it can come into existence. Any minority which intends to impose what it calls “socialism” on the rest of the population against their wishes or, for that matter, without their express consent, obviously intends to rule undemocratically. A minority which uses violence to get power must use violence to retain power. The means cannot be divorced from the ends.

Vanguardism often emerges in the minds of people who know that there is a lot wrong with society and aim at something radically different. But they avoid facing up to the fact that the great majority of workers do not want a fundamental change: they grumble, and desire palliatives, but oppose the abolition of those institutions which are so dear to their hearts: the police, the armed forces, money, frontiers—even the Queen. It is the refusal to face squarely that the bulk of the working-class wants capitalism which leads to notions of elitism and insurrectionary violence, to the idea that workers must be manipulated by slogan-shouting demagogues brandishing reformist bait. Discussion, the most potent means of changing attitudes, is treated with contempt. “Action” for its own sake is lauded to the skies. We socialists have never tried to forget the obvious fact that the working-class is hostile to Socialism, but we are encouraged by the knowledge that we, as members of the working-class, have reacted to capitalism by opposing it. There is nothing remarkable about us as individuals, so it cannot be a hopeless task to set about changing the ideas of our fellows—especially as they learn from their own experience of capitalism. How much closer we would be to Socialism today if all those who spend their time advocating “transitional demands” were on our side!

Marx’s (and the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s) conception of the working-class as all those who have to sell their labour-power, from road-sweepers to computer programmers, would be inconvenient to members of vanguard groups, who usually believe that they themselves are not members of the working-class, whilst admitting that it is the working-class which must achieve Socialism. The vanguard people need to chase feverishly down every reformist cul-de-sac, a practice known as “developing consciousness through Struggle.” “Struggle” is apparently a sort of metaphysical driving force which is supposed to turn reforms into sparks of revolution. Such mystification is essential to the curious doctrine that the workers will establish Socialism inadvertently, while they are occupied with something else.

“The workers” cannot grasp anything so “abstract” as Socialism, it is claimed. But the exponents of vanguardism do understand it, or so they say. Evidently then, they are not workers: they are the “intelligentsia” or “middle class”. They constitute the officer corps. The workers are the instrument, but they wield the instrument. Socialism is a paper hoop through which the working-class, performing circus animals, must be coaxed to jump. They are the ringmasters. Or, as Trotsky saw it, the masses are the steam, and the leadership is the piston which gives the steam direction.

This notion that they are not members of the working-class explains why these people sometimes say to socialists: “What are you doing to get in among the working-class?” The socialist worker—who is only too chronically and daily aware that he is among the working-class, and unless he is a masochist would jump at the chance of getting out of it— finds such idealism baffling.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Futility of Reformism (1968)

From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
 "The task before us was formidable. No democratic society in the world — or, for that matter, any other society — has ever succeeded in achieving, all at the same time, full employment, economic growth, price stability, rising wages and increasing social spending" (Labour's mid-term Manifesto, 29 September 1968)

Why Socialists Oppose the Vietcong (1968)

From the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Vietnam is the latest of the left-wingers’ adopted fatherlands. Before Vietnam it was Algeria, before that it was Cuba, and so on back to Russia. This support for the Vietcong does not depend on what is actually going on in Vietnam, but is rather an expression of the left-wingers’’ dissatisfaction with certain aspects of modern society. To that extent it is irrational.

Nevertheless those who support the Vietcong imagine that they are Marxists and it is in pseudo-Marxist terms that they rationalise their support for this nationalist movement whose aim is to set up a state capitalist regime in the South similar to that in the North. The Vietcong is not a socialist movement, and by no stretch of the imagination can it be said to have anything to do with Socialism. But since those who shout for “Victory for the Vietcong” have dragged in Marx and Socialism, we must at least refute their arguments and state why Socialists do not support the Vietcong.

Left-wingers’ use two basic arguments. First, that socialists should support any movement, even if it is not socialist, that weakens “American imperialism” which they say is the main threat to social revolution throughout the world, just as Marx supported moves against Tsarist Russia. Second, and this comes from Lenin, the Vietcong and workers in the West are fighting the same enemy – imperialism – and so we should support each other.

It is true that in the middle of the nineteenth century Marx saw Tsarist Russia, the “gendarme of Europe”, as a great threat to the further social progress of mankind. He felt that if Russia overran western Europe it would crush the democratic movement and put the social revolution back for years. Therefore, he was ready to support any moves that might weaken the power of Tsarist Russia. He supported Britain, France and Turkey in the Crimean war. He stood for an independent Polish state, to be a buffer between Russia and the rest of Europe. He did all he could to expose the pro-Russia policies and intrigues of Lord Palmerston. These may seem odd activities for a socialist – and, indeed, we have criticised Marx for them. Marx argued that before Socialism is possible society must pass through the capitalist stage. But this is no automatic process; it depends on the outcome of human struggles. Russia was “reactionary” in the proper sense of the word in that it was a threat to the development even of capitalism. Marx opposed Tsarist Russia, not because it was the strongest capitalist power, but because it was the strongest anti-capitalist power.

Looking back now we can see that Marx was over-optimistic as to the prospects of a socialist revolution in Europe. In time the capitalist states of western Europe grew stronger and the Tsarist Empire weaker, finally to be destroyed along with Austro-Hungary and Imperial Germany in the first world war. Before that even, Russia in a bid to keep its armed forces up to date had become indebted to the capitalists of France and Belgium. Well before the turn of the century we can say that conditions had changed since Marx’s day. Capitalism was firmly established as the new world order. Russia was no longer a threat. The task of socialists was even clearer: to oppose all wars and nationalist movements and to work to build up a world-wide workers’ movement with Socialism as its aim. This has always been the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Today capitalism quite clearly dominates the world, in Russia and China as well as in the West. To talk of “American imperialism” as the main threat is to play the game of state capitalist Russia and China. Every up-and-coming capitalist power finds the world already carved up by the established powers. If it is to expand its influence it must clash with these powers, as Germany, Japan, Italy and Russia have found and as China is now finding. All of them, in their time, have beaten the “anti-imperialist” drum, that is, have opposed the domination of the world by Britain and France and later America. Mussolini talked of Italy as a “proletarian nation” in a class war against the “bourgeois nations”. Nazi Germany stirred up Arab and Latin American nationalism. Japan advanced the slogan of “Asia for the Asians”. Russia, too, and now China, like Germany before, vociferously denounce Anglo-French-American imperialism.

Naturally socialists, wittingly or unwittingly, do not allow themselves to be used as tools of some capitalist state, as most of those who shout for the Vietcong are (some know full well what they are doing). Socialists are opposed to world capitalism and to governments everywhere.

Lenin could not believe it when he learnt that the German Social Democrats had voted for the war credits in 1914. Later he worked out a theory to try to explain it, his theory of imperialism. Basically, he argued that as profits were greater in the undeveloped parts of the world capitalists were eager to invest there; this brought the capitalist states into continual conflict over the division of the world. Part of the “super-profits” of this imperialist exploitation, were used to pay higher wages and provide social reforms for sections of the workers at home. They were thus led away from revolutionary socialism towards opportunism.

This theory is mistaken on nearly all counts. It has not been proved that the rate of profit was higher in the colonial territories. There is a much simpler explanation for capitalist expansion into the undeveloped world in the forty or so years before the first world war: the need to secure sources of raw material for the expanding industries at home, and then to secure strategic points to protect these sources and the trade routes to and from them. As for Lenin’s explanation of reformism it is the purest nonsense. To suggest that workers share in the proceeds of colonial exploitation is to reject the Marxian theory of wages which says that wages are the price of labour-power.

But this argument was an essential part of Lenin’s theory. For on it he based his strategy of support for anti-imperialist nationalist movements. If they succeeded, he believed, they would deprive the imperialist state concerned of its super-profits and so also of its ability to buy off its workers. Deprived of their share the workers’ standard of living would drop and they would once again become revolutionary, affording a chance for a Bolshevik-type vanguard to seize power.

This is typical of Lenin’s thinking, to rely on some factor outside of the development of the working class itself to create the conditions for social revolution. It fits in well with his contempt for the abilities of workers and his view that they should be manipulated by a self-appointed vanguard. Needless to say this short-cut to Socialism is just as much a dead-end as all the others.

Of course defeat in Vietnam, and the whole of South East Asia, would have serious consequences for American capitalism. That is why they are fighting. It would deprive them of access to many raw materials, but more important it would shift the balance of power around the pacific in favour of Chinese state capitalism.

It is not true that the Vietcong and workers are fighting the same enemy. The Vietcong are fighting American capitalism. The interests of workers are opposed not only to American capitalism but to capitalism everywhere including Russia and China. Victory for the Vietcong, as we have already explained, would shift the world balance of power from America to other capitalist powers. This is not something that is in the interests of workers, or something that they should support. There is no issue at stake in Vietnam worth a single worker’s life.

The Socialist Party, then, is opposed to the Vietnam war, as to all wars. We do not take sides. Nor are we hypocrites like those who cynically use all normal people’s abhorrence of the burning of women and children (as if the Vietcong did not use flame-throwers) to get them to support one side in this war. Such people do not really want an end to the killing; they want it to go on till the side they support has won. Let them at least be honest and stop trying to fool people with their phoney anti-war sentiments.
Adam Buick

Letter: Lenin and Socialism (1968)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Mr Editor

Re the Review of Boudin’s book Theoretical System of Karl Marx, (Socialist Standard, August 1968). Can we have some evidence in support of the statement that the “seizure of power in Russia in 1917 was allegedly with the object of imposing Socialism on a population not ready for it”? With Boudin, I can say “what I have read of Lenin’s says just the contrary”.

In the late Twenties a small volume appeared entitled On the Road to Insurrection. This consisted of a series of letters to his colleagues by Lenin from his temporary hiding place. In one of these he deals with the objections raised by Kamenieff and Zinovieff to his proposal to overthrow the Kerensky government. Among these was the point that, even if the insurrection succeeded it would not be possible to establish Socialism. Lenin’s retort was that it was not a question of establishing Socialism, but of gaining control of the industries in order to prevent the evasion of taxes by their proprietors.

In a critical review of the position in Russia a few years later the Socialist Standard wrote “They (the Bolsheviks) promised a war-weary people peace – and, wonder among politicians, kept their word!”

The slogan of the insurrection was “Peace, Bread and the Land!” If woolly headed people outside Russia jumped to the conclusion that Socialism had been established overnight, that is hardly Lenin’s fault. For the slogan, “Socialism in one country” we are indebted to Stalin, chief executioner of insurrectionists.
Eric Boden 
Cromer, Norfolk

It is quite correct that Lenin did not claim that the object of his Party was to introduce Socialism immediately, but then the article in our August issue (A Marxist Textbook) did not say that he did: the reference to “overnight” is our reader’s interpolation.

What Lenin wrote in April 1917 before his Party seized power, in The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution was:
  Our immediate task shall be not ‘the introduction of socialism’, but to bring social production and distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers Deputies (Italics Lenin’s).
(It might be wondered what ‘Social production and distribution’ could mean if not Socialism, but Lenin attached some other meaning to it.) Lenin’s case was that the introduction of Socialism was not to be immediate, but he and others made it quite clear that the seizure of power was to result in Socialism. The question how this was to happen was dealt with by Maxim Litvinoff in his The Bolshevik Revolution written in March 1918. He wrote: –
  In the meantime it is certain that if left by foreign enemies alone, the Soviet rule will in no distant future establish a Socialist regime in Russia.
On the following page he indicated that it would be “soon”. What is this but the concept of “Socialism in one country”? Litvinoff was not some uninformed looker-on. He was used by the Party as its spokesman abroad and was appointed by Lenin’s government as its official representative in Britain.

There were many other evidences of Lenin’s association of the seizure of power with Socialism. One was the Russian Constitution drafted by the Communists and adopted in 1918. It bore the title “Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic”. Another was Lenin’s own description of the seizure of power as “the Socialist Revolution” (Left-wing Communism by Lenin, May 1920, CPGB p. 44).

Of course we agree that the Communists gained support on the slogan “Peace, Bread and the Land”, not on seeking a mandate for Socialism. They knew that they could not get a Mandate for Socialism, but Lenin scoffed at the idea of waiting for Socialism until “the intellectual development of all the people permits it”.

In a speech he made in November 1917 he said: –
  The Soviet political party – this is the vanguard of the working class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative . . . (Ten Days that Shook the World, John Reed, Penguin edition).
This was the accepted line of his party and Lenin’s government was not deterred by the fact that it could not even get a mandate for its immediate policy – hence the dictatorship. After the seizure of power a Constituent Assembly was elected which produced a majority of deputies opposed to the government, whereupon the government in January 1918 suppressed it. It was after that suppression that Litvinoff was holding out hopes of a “Socialist Regime in Russia” in no distant future.
Editorial Committee

Capitalism Since the War (1968)

Book Reviews from the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Western Capitalism Since the War by Michael Kidron – Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 36s.

Theories of Imperialism by Tom Kemp – Dobson, 42s.

Both these writers are left-wing lecturers at Hull University. Michael Kidron is a prominent member of the ‘International Socialism’ group, while Tom Kemp is editor of Fourth International—the ‘Socialist’ Labour League’s theoretical journal. Kidron’s little book (which he rightly calls an essay) concerns itself with the economic trends which he can see, or thinks he can see, developing in Western Europe and North America. Kemp, on the other hand, has produced a commentary on the theories of imperialism elaborated by a number of writers—Lenin, Luxemburg, Hobson, Schumpeter; but the reader catches glimpses of what the SLL thinks is happening to capitalism today.

Slumps and crises are a permanent feature of the capitalist system. So, for relatively long periods, it often displays a marked tendency to stability. When this happened in the 1890’s one of its effects was to lend weight to the arguments of the revisionists, led by Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein claimed that capitalism was becoming more adaptable and was able to stabilize itself by means of the credit system, employers’ organisations and other devices. In the same way, since the Second World War, other theories have been put forward to explain the fact that no generalised slump has developed and one of the most .fashionable has been the so-called permanent arms economy.

The theory of the permanent arms economy, patented by the I.S. group, is a variety of Keynesism rather than Marxism. Keynes argued that government spending generally could iron out the ups and downs of capitalism. Kidron suggests that a particular type of government spending has achieved this:
  The impact of arms expenditure on stability and investment is no less direct. It is heavily concentrated on the capital goods industries which are responsible for the big swings in the traditional business cycle. It provides a floor to the downswings and has, in the US, been deliberately used in this way.
But the recent build-up in unemployment (which has now remained above the half a million mark in Britain for more than eighteen months) has obviously given quite a knock to the I. S. leaders. Kidron says in his preface that he completed his manuscript in March 1967. At that time he could still write that any “elements of instability are just a smudge on the horizon. So far, the weight of the arms economy has been on the side of stability, charging and recharging the more immediate causes of high employment and well-being.” A year later it is a different story; John Palmer, another of their prominent spokesmen, told a meeting in Hampstead on 13 May last that the permanent arms economy was coming to an end:
  The arms economy is no longer the provider of the capitalist system. Capitalists are now economising on arms spending. The boom years in Europe and America are a thing of the past.
The coming period, he said, would be one of crisis and instability.

The point is that capitalism docs not need a great deal of stabilising anyway— since it is not as unstable as I.S. claims. They subscribe to the underconsumption myth, that left to itself capitalism would collapse as it would not be able to sell what it produced. But, if you hold this view, you must explain why capitalism has not collapsed long ago. The answer Michael Kidron came up with was that capitalism would have collapsed had it not been for arms spending. It is true that consistency is not one of the I.S. group’s strongest points but their statement that the so-called permanent arms economy is coming to an end ought to mean that they think capitalism is about to collapse. For some reason, John Palmer did not give a date.

In fact, what is collapsing is not capitalism but the myth of the permanent arms economy. It has been discredited along with Keynes generally. It is a measure of I.S.’s theoretical bankruptcy that, faced with this, they fall back on the “crisis of capitalism” to create the conditions for social revolution, rather than the growing understanding and organisation of the working class.

The ‘Socialist’ Labour League, of course, never tires of telling us that the capitalist system is in a state of “crisis”. According to them, capitalism has been in this condition for years but recently it did look as though the unbearable tension (and the semi-hysteria it gives rise to in the League) might get some relief when the SLL central committee solemnly announced that the socialist revolution had started, (see Newsletter 25/5/1968). Tom Kemp, however, is relatively restrained in his book and, since he is a Trotskyist, the most interesting sections are those concentrating on Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Lenin came up with the idea that it was imperialism which had given rise to the opportunist trends in the social-democratic movement.
 The receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists in one of the numerous branches of industry, in one of the numerous countries, etc., makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all the others.
Kemp writes that although “there seems no need to accept in a literal way what Lenin wrote about the relationship of the aristocracy of labour to the working class as a whole as valid for the present day”, nonetheless “Marxists have generally followed Lenin in accepting that the ‘aristocracy of labour’ in the metropolitan countries owed its privileged position to the existence of imperialism.”

As with Kidron’s theory, the Socialist Party is in fundamental disagreement with this view. In fact, we reject the Leninist concept of “bribery” as being as crudely mistaken as is the supposedly stabilising influence of the permanent arms economy. For a start, the capitalists have nothing to bribe the socialist movement with. But objections such as this are incidental in any case. The most important error Lenin and his followers made was to imagine that there was any need to bribe the working class into supporting the war effort in their various countries. The workers then, as now, were committed to capitalism. Come war or peace, crisis or slump, their support of the capitalist system has never wavered.

By refusing to face up to this, Lenin contributed to the mystical belief in the revolutionary aspirations of the workers which remains a characteristic of all shades of neo-bolshevism. It is this which accounts for the obsession with leadership which is displayed by groups like I.S. and the SLL. The revolutionary potential of the working class is being diverted by right-wing labour leaders, they argue. Hence the need for alternative “revolutionary leadership”.

The Socialist Party rejects this idea as well. What is needed is not leadership (the labour movement is rotten with “revolutionary leaders” as it is) but a working class equipped with an understanding of Socialism. The left wing are a valuable asset to the capitalist system, thanks to the confusion and disillusionment they produce. As a force for maintaining capitalism they are far more potent than any “bribery” or economic strategy which the ruling class, could resort to.
B. C.

Winstanley – A Man Before His Time (1968)

From the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gerrard Winstanley was born at Wigan in 1609. Little is known of his life. After school he went to London to work in the cloth business. Like many others he was ruined in the Civil War and withdrew to the country. Somewhere in the Thames Valley friends gave him a home in return for which he acted as their cattleman.

In 1648 his interest turned to politics and he wrote The New Law of Righteousness, a sort of Communist Manifesto of his day. In 1649-50 he worked and wrote for the Diggers. In 1652 he published The Law of Freedom in a Platform, a call to Cromwell to lay the foundations of a ‘communist commonwealth’. In this he sketched a classless society, a blend of the radical democracy of the Levellers, the ‘communism’ of More’s Utopia and his own secularism. Like More he advocated an economy without money, organised around public storehouses to which each would bring the product of his labour and from which each should satisfy his needs.

Although his book lacked More’s literary imagination, in the history of the development of socialist thought it was more significant, since not only did it spring out of a ‘workers’ movement, but actually proposed a workable plan. More clearly than any who preceded him, he saw that the source of all exploitation was private property. He said “labour is the source of all wealth and no man ever grew rich save by appropriating the fruits of others’ work”. He also saw that this exploitation was the source of all oppression and war. Economic inequality degrades those who must submit to it and infests them with a consciousness of their ‘predestined’ inferiority. “The enslaved worker looks upon himself as imperfect and so is dejected in his spirit.”

Although Winstanley was sympathetic to the Levellers, he was not one of them. He did not want peasant ownership but ‘community life’, by which he meant both team work and ‘eating at a common table’.

Although he never quite abandoned the idea of a God, this God bore no resemblance to that of any religion; he described God as follows:
  "God is reason. Neither are you to look for God in a place of glory beyond the sun, but within yourself and in every man. He that looks for a God outside himself and worships a God at a distance, worships he knows not what".
He knew organised religion as the instrument of the owning class. In his The Law of Freedom he stated
  “this doctrine (religion) is made a cloak of policy by the subtle elder brother to cheat his simple younger brother of the freedoms of the earth. For saith the elder brother “The earth is mine, and not yours, brother. You must therefore not work upon it unless you will hire it from me and you must not take the fruits of it unless you will buy them from me by that which I pay for your labour; for if you should do otherwise, God will not love you and you shall not go to heaven when you die but the devil will have you and you must be damned in hell. You must believe what is written and what is told you and if you will not believe, your damnation will be greater.” The younger brother, being weak in spirit and having not a grounded knowledge of creation nor of himself is terrified and lets go his hold in the earth and submits himself to be a slave to his brother for fear of damnation in hell after death and in hopes to get heaven thereby—so his eyes are put out and his reason is blinded.
   “So that this divining spiritual doctrine is a cheat, for while men are gazing up to heaven, imagining after a happiness or fearing a hell after they are dead, their eyes are put out that they see not what is their birthright and what is to be done by them here on earth while they are living.”
Thus, two centuries before Marx, Winstanley said in plain English “religion is the opium of the people”.
Eva Goodman

On the Wrong Track (1968)

Arthur Horner
From the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arthur Horner, General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1946 to 1959 and a leading member of the Communist Party died on September 4 at the age of 74. We do not doubt his sincerity but his life shows what mistakenly believing Socialism to exist in Russia can lead to. We give below an extract from his obituary in (The Times 5/9/68) which shows how the so-called Communist Party’s anti-war stand and industrial militancy comes and goes in accordance with the foreign policy interests of state capitalist Russia. Horner incidentally, to his credit, opposed the first World War and was thrown into jail for doing so; but in the second: 
  “When the civil war broke out in Spain, he came out solidly on behalf of the Spanish Government, declaring that it was not merely a rehearsal ground for the next world war but an important stage in the class-struggle which transcended national frontiers. He brought all the aid he could to the International Brigade and on one occasion toured the battlefront. In general his policy was naturally the same as the Communist Party’s which he personally expressed by supporting any move which made for increased friendship with Russia and combined action to prevent aggression.”

  “When the war came he sincerely believed that the situation had suddenly altered and that it began another pointless struggle between rival imperialist powers rather than as a fight to preserve freedom and democracy. However by 1941 and with the attack on Russia he was using all his influence to raise coal production. He attacked the Government’s wartime policy of ‘Dual Control’ of the mines which he said meant that the main responsibility for production remained with the owners, and called for the earliest possible nationalisation of the whole industry and, as an important first step forward, the maximum use of the pit committees. At the same time he was careful to condemn absenteeism and unofficial strikes, saying that although the Government and the owners were usually to blame, the men should resist provocation to strike.”

Power, Politics and Czechoslovakia (1968)

From the September 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The dictators of state capitalist Russia have sent their armies into Czechoslovakia in a bid to impose a puppet regime which will carry out their orders to crush free speech and restore rule by torture and the secret police.

For hundreds of years, as Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, this was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Austria was on the losing side in the first world war and was punished by having its empire broken up. One result was the state of Czechoslovakia, set up in October 1918. As its unwieldy name suggests this was a completely artificial “nation-state”. Besides Czechs and Slovaks it contained within its boundaries sizeable minorities speaking German, Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian, a language close to Ukrainian.

A glance at the map of central Europe will straightaway show the strategic importance of Czechoslovakia. Whoever controls it has access to Russia and the Balkans. This was why Germany wanted, and got it, before the war. But Munich was not the only time that hypocritical politicians like Sir Alec Douglas Home, who now cry crocodile tears over Czechoslovakia, betrayed that state. They did it again at Yalta. This time the buyer was Russia. When the Czechoslovak and Russian rulers met at Cierna and Tisou at the end of July they may have recalled that this was not always a frontier village. Pre-war Czechoslovakia stretched further east with the province of Ruthenia. In 1945 Russia grabbed this area, of some 4,000 square miles and a population at that time of three quarters of a million, and incorporated it into the Ukraine.

Russia may perhaps let Rumania go its own way without making too much of a fuss, but not Czechoslovakia, a dagger pointing right into Russia. No wonder the Russian rulers are worried. The Bratislava agreement confirmed that Czechoslovakia can never have an independent foreign policy. It was the artificial creation of the Great Powers and doomed always to be dominated by them, especially by one or other of its great neighbours, Germany or Russia. The compromise reached at Bratislava seems to have been this: complete subordination to Russian dictates on foreign policy but some freedom in internal affairs.

Even at home the Czechoslovak rulers did not have much choice. Despite what anarchists and Trotskyists believe, rulers cannot turn democratic rights on and off at will. Even ordinary press and radio commentators pointed out that the Dubcek government could not have suppressed freedom of speech even if the Russians told them to. As socialists have always argued: democracy is established and maintained by the working class, not a gift from our rulers. Freedom of speech is something that the Czechoslovak rulers are going to have to live with from now on, as the Russian military has found out. No doubt, in time, this will lead on to freedom of organisation. The Socialist Party of Great Britain wishes workers there every success in establishing the framework within which a genuine socialist movement can grow, namely, political democracy.

The crude power politics of Russia once again expose the myth of Socialism there. Russia is a great capitalist power and behaves like one.

The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain abhors this latest display of imperialist brutality, all the more vile as it has been committed in the name of socialism, and calls upon the workers the world over to oppose capitalism, east and west, and to unite for Socialism.
August 21st 1968

Party News: Eine Welt — Eine Menschheit — Sozializmus! (1968)

Party News from the June 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the theme of the current (April/May/June) issue of the “Internationales Freies Wort”, the German language Socialist journal brought out by our comrades of the Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten in Austria and their friends in Germany and Switzerland. This special 6-page issue is directed at workers in West Germany. There are articles from Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, thus bringing out the international nature of Socialism. Other items discussed are the rise and fall of the German Social Democratic Party and Rudi Dutschke, the student leader and recent victim of an assassination bid. Also the third part of “Russland 1917-1967. Eine sozialistische Analyse”. Order your copy, price 1/- (postage extra), from the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4.

Something to Think About (1968)

From the May 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The case for Socialism is simple. Anyone can understand it. Today you must work for a capitalist to get the money to buy your bread. In Socialism you will have access to everything you need without paying for it. Work will all be voluntary. There will be no money. Things will never be made for profit, but always for people to enjoy.

Socialism is plain and straightforward, but of course most people don’t agree with it. They think it wouldn’t work.

A lot of folk think we are after a perfect world, which is impossible. But Socialism will not be perfect. There will still be many problems, such as earthquakes or disease. We just think that some very bad problems (war and poverty, for instance) are caused by capitalism and can only be solved by getting rid of capitalism.

Then it is argued that “human nature” is against Socialism. This usually means that people will be too greedy and take too much. But people are not always greedy about everything, are they? Water, for example. Do you hoard buckets of water in your attic? Do you take as much water as you can possibly get? Of course not. Water is so cheap and plentiful that you don’t think much about it. You just take as much as you need and no more.

But you laugh at this and say: “That’s all very well with water. But some things are very scarce. There isn’t enough to go round.” You’re right: there isn’t. But why? It’s strange that so much time and effort is wasted on useless things like H-bombs and moon rockets, while all the time people go short of important things like good food and a decent house. The reason for this is that under capitalism everything is made for profits, not for people to enjoy.

Many things which are profitable are harmful to mankind, and the most profitable way to make something is not the best way to make it. There could be enough to go round, but capitalism is very wasteful.

So we think that Socialism would work. But it must be world-wide: you cannot have Socialism in one country on its own. And we cannot get Socialism until most people want it, which means we must bring Socialism by a free and democratic vote. Our first job is to spread ideas about Socialism and convince people that they need it.

Everyone agrees that there is a lot wrong with the world today. But usually people believe that something less drastic than Socialism will be able to mend things. They think that nationalisation (state capitalism) will cure our troubles. Or they imagine that the rich people can be taxed so that there is more for us. Or they believe we can stop war by getting politicians to be more kind-hearted.

But all these plans have been tried many times, and have always failed. They will never work. For instance, in Britain now about 10 per cent of the people own 90 per cent of all wealth. This means that there are two classes—those who live off profits, and those who have to work for wages. Big money, when it is invested, grows so fast that taxation doesn’t stop it growing. If taxes were raised so high that they did do this, the result would just be utter chaos, because nothing would be profitable any more.

In other words, you cannot abolish these two classes, the rich and the poor, just by controlling profits. You must abolish profits altogether. This means you must abolish wages as well, because wages and profits go together. You must make a clean sweep.

Some politicians, who want to make a career out of capitalism, will tell you that the cause of your troubles is your own laziness and greed. Others will tell you that old-fashioned trade unions, nasty communist agitators, wicked teenagers or immigrants are to blame. These politicians are all frauds who try to distract your attention from the real disease—capitalism.

Some of them pretend they are “socialists.” Stalin, Hitler and Harold Wilson did this—though of course all three were capitalist politicians. Anybody can use the word “socialism”, but you have to know what they’re really after. Think for yourself, and you will understand.

Don’t trust what anybody tells you, not even the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Please read our pamphlets, but think about them, criticise them, be suspicious of them.

If you find we are mistaken, please let us know, because we would hate to be wasting our time. If you decide we are right, join us and help us to get Socialism. You will be very welcome.

Inquest on Keynes (1968)

Book Review from the April 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Keynes and After (Penguin Books, 5s.) Michael Stewart, until recently senior economic adviser to the Wilson Labour government, (not to be confused with the Minister of the same name), has given a very readable outline of Keynes’ theories and of their relation to those of the earlier economists, followed by an attempt to prove that Keynes revolutionised economics by providing the governments of industrialised countries with the means to control the economy and provide full employment. According to Stewart, most economists accept and most governments now apply Keynes’ theories and if unemployment sometimes rises above a low level this is by the deliberate action of governments –they could have full employment but choose not to have it.

Those who found it difficult to follow Keynes’ own statement of his views – and Stewart admits the difficulty – will find in Chapter 4 a lucid exposition. The same cannot be said of his scrappy, and in some respects, inaccurate summary of Marx’s views.

The starting point of Stewart’s book is an examination of the belief held by Ricardo, Say and other economists at the beginning of the 19th century that capitalism in its normal operation tends to produce full employment, any failure of a particular industry to sell its products being quickly offset by larger sales in other industries. This rested on the proposition “every seller brings a buyer to market”: meaning that the seller of an article then has the money to buy some other article and will do so.

In spite of evidence to the contrary this belief that unemployment could only be temporary and limited persisted right up to the 1930’s, when, according to Stewart, Keynes astonished the world by showing that the seller who comes into possession of money does not necessarily use it at that time to make a purchase.

Stewart is quite correct about the reception given to Keynes’ rebuttal of the Say doctrine. What he does not explain is why that part of Keynes’ work was treated as an original discovery. For Marx had examined in detail the way in which capitalism produces unemployment and had proved Say to be in error.

Stewart is at least partly aware of this for he expressly excludes Marx from the 19th century economists who were taken in, yet he also writes that it was “left to Keynes . . . to put his finger on the truth”. Not that Marx’s conclusions were the same as those reached by Keynes. For Marx it was a matter of showing how capitalism operates and how it needs unemployment; for Keynes it meant prescribing a remedy. He believed that by appropriate action, including government expenditure to create demand, full employment could be maintained.

Keynes presented his doctrines in 1936, in a book called The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money. Stewart maintains that the money and interest can be discarded “for the book is really about what determines the level of employment”. It is true that in his book Keynes said that we had not yet gone into the practical problems of a full employment society but that certainly did not mean that he attached little importance to the aspects that Stewart dismisses. It is, however, not necessary to prove the point because in the government White Paper Employment Policy, 1944, which Keynes helped to draft, the practical problems were considered and they went far beyond full employment; to include specifically the maintenance of a stable price level and a faster expansion of production.

One can guess why Stewart would prefer his version, for while he claims that the full employment aim has been achieved, he has to admit that the others have not.

The first question is whether in fact full employment can be and has been maintained by the use of Keynes’ methods. Stewart is confident that it has (except where governments did not want full employment). Other Keynesians are not so sure. Professor Alvin Hansen in his A Guide to Keynes (1953) writing about the low unemployment in the early post-war years said “full employment was, however, primarily the result of the war and post-war developments, not of conscious policy”.

And John Grieve Smith reviewing Stewart’s book in The Times of 22 January had this to say:
  Michael Stewart attributes the maintenance of high levels of employment…after the second world war mainly to the widespread acceptance of Keynes’ ideas. This is over-generous. Since 1945 there has been an inherent tendency towards full employment as powerful as the tendency towards heavy unemployment in the Twenties and Thirties. Initially this appears to have been an aftermath of the destruction of war, latterly, perhaps a result of the tendency towards higher public expenditure whether for military or civil purpose.
It should be noted that there is now a fairly clear trend towards an increase of the level of unemployment in Britain as compared with the early post-war years, and Stewart himself is disturbed by the quite sizeable unemployment that has persisted in America in spite of government declarations and policies.

Stewart claims that the first government to adopt Keynes was Roosevelt’s administration in 1933. He then has to explain why, eight years later, unemployment was still 10 per cent representing over 8 million unemployed. His explanation is that although Roosevelt was running a budget deficit of 4½ billion dollars a year (nearly £1,000m) to finance government expenditure on public works, it was not enough, he should have spent more.

It will be seen that Stewart has an answer for every situation. If the Keynes technique is not seen to cure unemployment this must be due either to the government not wanting full employment or to the medicine not being strong enough. It will however be recalled that on a particular occasion, Enoch Powell was able to show that although the recovery from a bout of fairly heavy unemployment did follow a Tory government statement of its intention to dispense financial medicine, the recovery took place without the medicine having been taken.

Having to admit that the other two aims have not been achieved Stewart in effect throws Keynes overboard. He writes that Keynes did not live long enough “to get to grips with the problem of achieving faster growth and more stable prices”and that “the management of effective demand along Keynesian lines, though a necessary condition for solving both problems, is not a sufficient solution of either of them”.

It was not only faster growth they thought they could organise, but continuous growth. In fact in the past twenty or so years what they got was the stop-go, the alternate expansion and contraction, much the same as it was before Keynes was born and when Marx described it in Capital.

Stewart has his own explanation for the rise of prices. It is that with near-full employment workers and employers are both in a monopoly position and have taken advantage of it to push up wages and profits and that this has caused prices to soar. It raises an interesting question. As prices in Britain have increased 250 per cent since 1938, compared with about 125 per cent in the USA and Switzerland, are we to believe that the British workers and capitalists are twice as demanding as the Americans and the Swiss?

As Keynes does not help him Stewart is forced to fall back on an incomes policy –“a policy that would prevent wages, profits and other incomes from being pushed up faster than production” (Stewart would no doubt be surprised to learn that Marx, a hundred years ago, described how wages in a boom rise faster than the production of consumer goods).

This dependence on an incomes policy, and the consequences that will flow from it bring us back to a basic difference between the analysis of capitalism made by Marx and that made by Keynes and Stewart. Marx saw that capitalism is not just an accidental assembly of economic activities, but a class system, with the means of production and distribution owned by one class and the other class, the workers, forced, in order to get a living, to sell their mental and physical energies for wage or salary.

In the inevitable class struggle the government is compelled, if it is to keep capitalism functioning, to come into conflict with the workers. Keynes thought that if he could find means to reduce unemployment to a very low level he could take the edge off the conflict. Yet at the end of the road we find Keynesian governments, Labour and Conservative, trying to impose wage restraint on the workers.

Governments may try for a time to enforce this with increased rigour, or may withdraw in face of opposition, or unemployment may rise to the point at which no incomes policy is necessary, but whichever way it goes they will be reminded of the class nature of capitalism –one of the facts of life they pretended no longer existed.

There is still another difference between Marx and Keynes. It was claimed for Keynes in the Thirties that he saved capitalism; that was certainly his declared intention. Marx of course sought to replace capitalism by Socialism (not, as Stewart thinks, by state capitalism on the model of Russia). The Keynesians, including the leaders of the Labour Party, are still trying to save capitalism. If any member of the Labour Party doubts this he should take note of the fact that Stewart in his book does not even consider the possibility that there is an alternative – Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle