Sunday, June 30, 2019

Answers To Correspondents. (1931)

Letters to the Editors from the September 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. R. Hobsbaum (Tottenham). — We gather from your letters that you believe it to have been proved that a Socialist Party can be built up by emotional appeals. If you will us when and where this often-tried policy has been successful, we will consider the instance. —Editorial Committee.

Mr. J. Osborne. — A reply to your letter will be published next month.

What the I.L.P. Have Done for the Workers. (1931)

From the September 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

When we ask the I.L.P. why they support the Labour Party, in view of its non-Socialist programme and actions, we are always told, in reply, that the justification lies in the fact that the Labour Party helps the workers to obtain “something now.” In the New Leader for June 12th, 1931, is a statement issued by the National Administrative Council of the LL.P. concerning its relations with the Labour Party. It contains the following :—
 It must be noted as a remarkable fact that to wage a Socialist fight against the poverty of the working class is made more difficult when a Labour Government is in power than at other times, and that obstacles are put in the way of, and threats directed against, working-class organisations maintaining that fight.
If the I.L.P. believe this, why did their members in Parliament continue to keep the Government in office?

They cannot even pretend that they try to “wage a Socialist fight,” for Mr. John Beckett, M.P., one of their members, declared in an article in the New Leader (June 6th, 1930) that—
 Every fight put up has been for purely moderate and reformist measures,  strictly in  line with election  promises and  Party policy.
And even if the I.L.P. were to fight for what they regard (wrongly) as Socialist measures, nothing worth while would result for the workers. Mr. P. J. Dollan, a member of the National Administrative Council, writing in Forward on January 10th, 1931, stated :—
 There is nothing in the history of European democracy to equal the progress of evolutionary Socialism in this country within the last quarter of a century. Practically every reform urged by the I.L.P. in the ‘nineties, and many more not in the I.L.P. programme have been realised.
In other words, the present appalling’ condition of the working class is the result after the application of “practically every reform urged by the I.L.P. in the ’nineties.” We have never said anything half so damning of the I.L.P. as this. Yet Dollan, far from being ashamed, far from being prepared to drop reforms and take up Socialism, can actually think of nothing better than to waste a further 25 years on more I.L.P. reforms!
Edgar Hardcastle

Material World: Out of Africa (2019)

The Material World column from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Emigration from Africa has increased dramatically in the last three decades, going from just 1 per cent in the 1990s to 31 per cent by the 2000s. Migration by people has been a fact of life throughout their evolution. At this point in history, we should look at the reasons for such numbers of migrants and the attempts to stop them by the destination countries. Tougher regulations, increasing the number of detention camps and prosecuting the people-traffickers are not solutions. Political ‘courage’ means having the will to dismantle the policies currently being applied against individuals desperate to relocate.

 Socialism is a vision of a world shared among us all, a world of common ownership with free movement for all. The majority of Africans who emigrate remain within Africa, yet as former Liberian president and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf notes, it is time to call for an end to the perception of migration as a ‘crisis’.

Land of the Diaspora by Francis Tondeur
Migration policies are often based on misperceptions, she says. Africans make up only 14 per cent of global migration flows and the vast majority stay within the African continent. About 65 per cent of the world’s migrants come from Europe and Asia. African migrants are mostly young and educated and almost half are women. The decline in fertility rates combined with increased life expectancy in most parts of the world means not only a slowing of population growth but also an older population. Many in the developed world have difficulty in understanding that the current state of welfare in numerous countries is unsustainable. They require young productive workers.

Between now and 2050, Africa will double its population. This will generate a much bigger flow of young Africans looking for opportunities in an ageing Europe and elsewhere. Africa is rich but its people have never enjoyed its wealth. Native and foreign exploiters have subjected its people to abject poverty and endemic misery for generation upon generation. Unchecked exploitation of the continent’s natural resources by global corporations has forced desperate choices upon the people.

Your chance of having better economic prospects than your parents has been relatively low in Africa. If your father is a peasant farmer, and your grandfather was too, what are the chances that you’ll make something different of your life? Because of human misery, because of despair, people have little option but to move even if conditions awaiting them are just as difficult as those they fled. African migration is predominately within the continent, particularly between neighbouring countries. In 2013, 65 per cent of the 20 million sub-Saharan African migrants, who had left their countries, were still living in the region.

However, Africa’s loss of skilled and educated people remains a major negative consequence of migration. ‘Brain drain is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa,’ says the World Economic Outlook (October 2016). While all refugees are migrants, not all migrants are refugees. Whether or not they meet the official definition of a refugee, many desperate people are escaping dire conditions that pose a threat to their survival and already we have a growing number of climate change ‘refugees’.

We are all members of the world working class and have a common interest in working together to establish a world without frontiers in which the resources of the globe will have become the common heritage of all the people of the world and used for the benefit of all.

Innocent men women and children, making impossible choices with few alternatives, are not the villains in this ongoing human tragedy, they are the victims. Migration has been an essential mechanism for survival for as long as people have lived. Today, more of the poor and disadvantaged can now see with their own eyes the wide disparity between their level of living and that of the more advantaged people in the world. They want to share in the wealth. To feed oneself, to provide for one’s family, men and women will always seek other lands, and as long as the grass appears greener on the other side then men and women will endeavour to reach it. The fortunate few may strike it lucky. But for most, it is only a temporary respite before the new conditions and the new exploitation begin to wear them down once again. In capitalism, there is no real escape. Only when it is possible to maintain an adequate living standard at home, will our fellow-workers wish to stay put. That is something capitalism will never be able to offer many people throughout Africa.

Labour's 'social justice' (1969)

From the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party has recently published an interim report of a study group on discrimination against women. It is called, Towards Equality—Women and Social Security.

They use the word ‘Socialism' in at least one of these documents (unusual for the Labour Party these days), but make no attempt to define or explain what it means. Misrepresentation of the Labour Party as a party standing for Socialism has over many years caused untold confusion. The term they more often use and have been peddling for some time is ‘social justice.’ They do not attempt to define this either, which is just as well, as there is no such thing.

Under capitalism, a class divided society resting upon the exploitation of wage-labour, social justice is a contradiction in terms, a vague platitude, a mere piece of political phrasemongering. So-called justice and injustice co-exist within the framework of the private-property relationship of capitalism and are conditioned by the class interest of the people involved. Justice from the standpoint of the capitalist class must equate to the legal recognition and enforcement of their minority monopoly of the means of production. Since this leaves the working dais without means of production, a socially inferior class compelled to sell their physical and mental energies in order to live, the whole edifice of capitalism rests upon built-in privilege and inequality. 'Towards Equality . . .' therefore can only mean making further attempts to distribute poverty more evenly among the working class (in this case, between men and women) and has nothing to do with removing the fundamental inequality between the capitalist class and the working class.

What is really happening of course is that the Labour Party is making advanced preparations for the next election. Having got hopelessly bogged down in the dirty business of running capitalism, they know an election could happen at any time, so they have to dust off all the high sounding phrases and try to refurbish their badly tarnished image.

The Tory Party will, no doubt, study the various proposals made and lift anything they think to be a likely vote-catcher. The reforms and promises of capitalist parties are virtually interchangeable and none of them has patent rights. Also it should be noted that none of the proposals commits the Labour government to anything; they are merely suggestions put forward by a study group.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always maintained that even if all the promises and reform proposals of the Labour Party (and all other reformist parties) were carried out the poverty and insecurity of workers would remain. In fact it is the continuing poverty and insecurity of the working class despite all past reforms and legislation that repeatedly prompts further reform demands to try to keep the worst excesses of the situation under control.

The Labour Party claims that “during the past 50 years an economic and social revolution has taken place. People are infinitely better off, and the darkest stains of severe poverty which disfigured our national life has been removed". This talk about social revolution is just so much bunk. Now, just as 50 years ago, about 10 per cent of the population own 90 per cent of the wealth. The working class still have to sell their physical and mental energies to the capitalist class in order to live, and profit remains the motive force behind production. The only meaningful use of the term ‘social revolution’ is in the context of abolishing this set-up. The Labour Party are in a more contradictory position than usual here; are they arguing that capitalism has been abolished, or that a social revolution has taken place which has left capitalism intact? Words lose all their meaning. To make matters worse for themselves they go on to claim that the Labour Party “was mainly instrumental in bringing about this transformation”. Since over the last 50 years they have only been in power for 15 years the mind boggles. Are we to believe that between periods of Labour government the Tories are in power running Socialism? At what point during the last 50 years did this ‘transformation’ start; was it during the 1929-31 Labour Government while they were presiding over nearly 3 million unemployed? Was it during the war while they were in coalition with the Tories participating in the slaughter of tens of millions of workers? Or perhaps during the post war Labour Government while they were using troops to break strikes, carrying on their wage squeeze and developing nuclear bombs?

Kiss of death
A line-by-line review of Labour Party literature would produce an epic of cynicism and hypocrisy. In their cheap appeal for membership for example, they say “Labour’s belief in the dignity of human life knows no frontiers. It embraces all mankind”. This ‘belief’ was not permitted to stand in the way of their support for two world wars, including the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their ‘embrace’ is like the kiss of death in places like Korea and Vietnam.

It is vital, in order to learn the futility of reformism, to remember that nearly a quarter of a century ago the National Health Service was heralded as a great new dawn. Poverty would disappear and a free health service with pension benefits would be available to all. Quite apart from the overcrowding and chaos in hospitals, the appalling indignities suffered by nurses, repeated increases in contributions and prescription charges, it must be emphasised that all the Labour Party now proposes is a series of modifications along essentially the same lines. Reforms beget reforms. While claiming that the Beveridge Plan was designed to abolish poverty and insecurity, they envisaged another 20 years or more with the pattern of social ‘security’ set by their earnings-related scheme. We could give several quotes from their own report admitting continued poverty, but for space reasons one will have to do:
  "That the present social security position of the unsupported mother can be summed up by saying that more often than not she is condemned to poverty without dignity . . ."
They give examples of many other groups in the same position and give figures in the appendix showing that in 1965, over 1 million women were on National Assistance. So much for the abolition of poverty, generations of reformism and their purported belief in “the true dignity of human beings”.

All this tinkering with effects leads nowhere. After all the wasted years with workers deluded into thinking that capitalism can be made to work in their interest, and the manifest failure for it to do so, the Labour Party seeks to waste more years in the futile pursuit will-o’the-wisps. It still remains for the workers of the world to understand and establish Socialism.
Harry Baldwin

Do it yourself (1969)

From the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism can be practised only when a majority of the world’s population want it and are determined to make it work; in other words, when they are prepared to take equal shares of the responsibilities involved in running it. And working-class responsibility is something the capitalist class, consciously or not, does its very best to discourage.

It does this in various ways. One form of discouragement is the myth of the 'politician'—a specialist in rhetoric, wit, parliamentary procedure, and vote-catching, who is obliged to play ‘a dirty game’, who has no choice but to sacrifice his principles now and then to his party’s interests or to pragmatism, and whose ‘political career' is capable of being ‘ruined’ when his Cabinet colleagues or an ungrateful electorate stab him in the back. “I leave that to the politicians’* is a common phrase.

But unfortunately for the pure-minded who are ‘above such things’ there is no escape that way. An Ancient Greek would have scoffed at this Renaissance myth, which suited the wealthy merchant families of the Italian city-states, and still suits the class whose interests are served by the Westminster and Washington pantomimes of ‘political differences’ which consist of minor issues or differences of degree only. No, in running society each one of us has an equal liability. It is a pity that the political disillusionment so often talked about at present is in most cases an excuse for cynical inaction or incoherent protest rather than a spur to seeking a lasting cure.

Another way of ensuring that the working class lacks responsibility is to deny it opportunities for participation in controlling the means of living. Of course, ‘participation’ is another of those well-worn words in universities, industry, city planning, and all levels of government. But it consists merely of offering suggestions, giving specialist advice, lobbying on behalf of particular groups, or voting for one of a few alternatives —those alternatives which conflict with ruling-class interests having been carefully sifted out beforehand.

True participation means being given all the facts to consider (and Cabinet documents released 30 years after the event show how many vital facts and opinions are concealed) taking into account proportionately the interests of all the people who will he affected by the decision, and helping to work out and vote on all the alternatives.

When people are denied these opportunities it isn’t surprising that they become apathetic, irresponsible, and selfish and that there is political disillusion. We are told that the huge salaries paid to heads of giant companies and nationalised concerns are due to the enormous responsibilities involved, implying that responsibility is for the few, and that the rest are lucky to be able to escape it. their good fortune being expressed in the fact that their pay is a small fraction of that of their bosses.

Not their fight
Responsibility is inseparable from control, and control is in turn inseparable from ownership. "Why should I worry—it’s not my firm" is a common attitude, and not really a surprising one within the context of employment. One usually looks after one’s own property with great care, but to look after someone else's demands too great an effort: one goes easy with one's own car but punishes a hired one; landlords fail (surprisingly) to understand why their houses are neglected by tenants. There is an old Norse saying that "Few among bondsmen have heart for the fight". . .  which is understandable, since it wasn't their fight.

There is nothing unnatural in looking after one’s own. In Socialism there will be common ownership, and therefore everything will be looked after.

No direct voice
Many people will howl with protest at this statement, and point to the neglect of council houses, the dumping of rubbish and car wrecks on common land, and the fact that vandals attack bus shelters, phone boxes, woodlands, and street-lamps rather than objects that are privately owned. The myth that 'human nature’ is not fitted for common ownership rears its head again. But these are not examples of common ownership, rather of state or municipal ownership —a very different animal. Individuals under existing allegedly ‘socialist' regimes or municipalities can (in some, at least) express blanket approval or disapproval of this or that faction of the political, oligarchic, or professional elite who control (= own) ‘their' property. But they have no more than the most indirect say in what is done with that property. Johnny Miner in D. G. Bridson's poem celebrating nationalisation who urges his mates to
Gan in-bye an' cut the Cooal that’s your oawn !
The pit is oors at lasst, man. — oors forivver . . .!
had a nasty shock coming. State and municipal property are vandalised more than most because their owners (=controllers) are 'faceless' and nebulous, or because the vandals think that society has cheated them (which it usually has). True examples of common ownership are rare indeed in our society; the Icelanders, however, who pool their sheep, are not reputed to neglect them; nor did the medieval monks deface the cloisters.

Trivial protests
Socialists do not pretend that the transition from capitalism to Socialism will be easy. It will be difficult. Millions of people must be persuaded to accept an equal sense of responsibility for the world—its people, its resources, its ecological balance, and so on—while they are still prevented from expressing it! Only when the number of socialists reaches a majority will the expression of this responsibility in the form of common ownership and control become possible. There are encouraging signs, of course, that many people are beginning to feel a sense of responsibility to the victims of war and starvation in distant places. But to insist on expressing concern in vague and even trivial ways, instead of attacking the root cause of such evils, is political masturbation. Socialists prefer to work calmly (though not quietly) towards the real thing.

Capitalism does not encourage its workers to be Cincinnatuses. Nor does it encourage the attitude familiar to ancient Greece, where a man might be a general in charge of one expedition and willingly serve as a common hoplite in the ranks on the next, without shame. Capitalism encourages its workers not to think too hard, but to get on with their TV and football pools instead. (In some countries, where people have become lazy and disinclined to think, dictators have been only too glad to deprive them of the necessity—and the right —to do so.) True democracy is hard work for everybody . . . but infinitely rewarding.
A. Barr

NI Labour's sad saga (1969)

From the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perhaps more than any other political organisation, the Northern Ireland Labour Party is a casualty of the civil rights campaign and there can be little doubt that, when the mundane activities of everyday political life emerge again from the cauldron of present events, there will be much recrimination in the Labour Party — indeed, the first salvoes of protest have already been fired within the party and the shaping of events augurs little comfort for the Labour leaden. These leaders have one ally in the conflict emerging in the party; experience. For the puny vote-catching reform policies of Labour have given them trouble in the past, as they will in the future.

More than any other political organisation, the NI Labour Party has never spared either dignity or principle in the search for popular support. Until 1948 the party's parliamentary representation owed its seats largely to Catholic, anti-partitionist support despite the fact that the Labour Party officially ‘sat-on-the- fence' on the Irish Partition issue.

In the early flush of Labour's victory in Britain, in 1945, the local Labourites found hope. They imported a British Labour Party professional organiser, took a decision in favour of Partition, and generally began an attempt to out-Unionise the official Unionist Party in protestations of loyalty to the British monarchy and 'the flag'.

The year 1948 found the Party rent asunder by internal conflict. Catholics and anti-Partitionists—including Labour's parliamentary representatives and most of their local council members—left the party. Some of these formed an Irish Labour Association which was later swallowed up by a Northern Area Council of the southern Irish Labour Party. Which council itself later passed away in the wranglings and disputes of the Labour politicians.

Then followed the period when the NI Labour Party, in a feverish effort to win support in traditionally Unionist areas, jettisoned what little principle it had ever had. Bible-thumping candidates preached bread-and-butter Unionism from Union-Jack-bedecked platforms The King and constitution were safe with Labour!

As a second line of local Unionism Labour finally got four MPs elected. Quite undemocratically they pressed for and accepted the title 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition’, thus helping the official Unionist Party to establish the fiction that normal parliamentary democracy existed in Northern Ireland.

It is interesting to observe that the Labour Party, which now tries vainly to get a piece of the civil rights cake, was then accepting the Civil Authorities Special Powers Act, one of the leading targets of the present civil rights agitation. One Labour MP of the period declared that his party, if faced with the same circumstances as the Unionists then faced, would use the Act. The same spokesman tried to circumvent parliamentary discussion of the conditions of imprisonment of political internees by an Amendment expressing concern for the poor gaolers! When a correspondent in the Belfast Telegraph expressed concern at the party’s attitude to the Special Powers Act, and tried to elicit a categorical statement from Labour on their attitude to the Act, the present general secretary of the party replied to the effect that the correspondent was obviously trying to ‘embarrass’ his party. Neither he nor any other party spokesman replied to any of the half-dozen letters to the Telegraph from people denouncing Labour’s support of the Act.

But even as Unionists the Labour Party failed to improve their parliamentary position and a subsequent election sliced the ‘loyal opposition' in half. In the elections of February of this year they maintained their position, losing a seat in Pottinger and winning one in Falls. But even the two seats they now hold are not held on anything like traditionally accepted Labour policies — they are a reward for the ‘ward-healing’ concessions to local ignorance made by the candidates concerned.

Now it is the civil rights movement that is making the running in the anti-government camp. Labour leaders mumble support for the more ‘respectable’ ploys in the campaign for civil rights but they must be aware that the success of the various ‘rights’ bodies puts them again in a political no-man’s-land, distrusted by most and respected by few; trying to stave off the conflict that must inevitably arise in their ranks.

Already, Labour’s storm clouds are gathering. A resolution calling on the party’s executive to resign was defeated by the Newtownabbey branch, but a subsequent meeting of representatives of a number of constituency parties adopted a resolution deploring the party’s failure to pursue ‘socialist ideals’ and blaming this failure for the public rejection of the Labour Party. Some members are demanding a special meeting to discuss the problem and a few are even daring to suggest that the definition of Socialism which they learnt from the World Socialist Party should be accepted by the Labour Party!

Without political vindictiveness, we say that the predicament of the Labour Party brings us no sadness. Indeed, on the contrary, its demise from the political scene would bring us considerable joy. Like its counterparts elsewhere throughout the world, its hope is to improve capitalism; to patch it up with palliatives and win working-class support for the same old rotten product in new political wrapping. But worse: Labour labels the new wrapping ‘Socialism’ and when the stench of the old muck comes through the new wrapping the name on the label is discredited.

Old, failed schemes
To members of the Labour Party we again state the obvious: you cannot have Socialism without socialists and you know as well as we do that your party is not interested in spreading socialist knowledge. It is too busy playing politics with the other parties of capitalism; too preoccupied with all the old, failed schemes of political reform. Only the WSP in Ireland proclaims the case for Socialism and we will certainly welcome you in the struggle for its achievement.
Richard Montague

50 Years Ago: Peace - Competition
 - War (1969)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the day the Press was gushing and frothing over the spectacular peace-signing business (June 30, 1919) the Daily News published an editorial on the matter:
 And is there anyone who looks to Japan and the Far East without large and vague apprehensions? Or Westward across the Atlantic without wondering what the future has in store there and realising, however dimly, that if the United States is compelled to forsake its historic pacifism for militarism it is sea power which will be its capital concern?
The idea of setting up America with her gigantic naval programme as a pacifist nation is truly comical. In the last 25 years America has been at war with Spain, the Phillipines, China and Germany, to say nothing of the murderous slaughter of American working men in the various strikes.

As the Socialist Party has all along pointed out, the wars of civilised countries, since the birth of the capitalist system, have been caused through the struggle between sections of the world’s capitalist class for the trade routes, raw materials, markets and the like. As long as there is commodity production, buying and selling, with the consequent competition among buyers and sellers and the enslavement of the producing class, wars are of the very essence of things. Lasting peace can only arrive when the private ownership of the means of living has been abolished and common ownership has emerged from the ruins.

(From an article by G. McClatchie in the Socialist Standard, August 1919.)

Reading for profit (1969)

Book Review from the August 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Literacy and Development in the West by Carlo M. Cipolla Pelican Original, 1969

In this short book the author traces the development of literacy from a state of affairs in which it was “the sacred monopoly of small elites” to that in which it is thought of as being an essential skill of industrial society. He points out that “by 1750 at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, almost 5,000 years had elapsed since the first rudimentary appearance of the art of writing, yet more than 90 per cent of the world’s population had no access to the art” and that “historically it appears that the art of writing is strictly and almost inevitably connected with the condition of urbanisation and commercial intercourse. It is not surprising that by AD 1750 the West was vastly more literate than any other part of the world. In the following 150 years the gap grew larger”. In fact industrial capitalism requires workers able to read, write, and calculate. As industrial processes and social organisation become more complex, so the working class have to be trained to think logically and tackle problems scientifically. This led to a situation where spending on education has grown to match that spent on armaments.

More emphasis is placed on statistics than on social theory relating to literacy and the many tables in the book are a goldmine of information for anyone wanting figures for “Illiteracy by age group; in selected European Countries” or “Illiterate brides per 100 illiterate bridegrooms in selected countries between 1880 and 1900” and so on. It comes down to a study in the growth of literacy with the advance of industrialisation. The author ends on a note of concern about the use to which knowledge is put. “Wherever we teach techniques we ought to teach also the ethical implications of their possible alternative uses and misuses.”

What the author and his fellow workers have yet to learn is that capitalism, which developed modern industry, has a set of priorities that allows no discussion, ethical or otherwise, of alternative uses or misuses of techniques. They will only be used if they are profitable to the minority who own the means of production. So that at present life becomes more and more subject to the anarchy of the profit motive. If it is to become more and more a function of human understanding, then a knowledge of how society organises its affairs is more important than techniques. It would be seen that those techniques that are beneficial to mankind would be used and there could be no misuse. 
Joe Carter

Lights of Other Days. (1920)

Book Review from the April 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pioneers of Land Reform, with an introduction by M. Beer, author of "A History of British Socialism." London: Bell & Sons, Ltd. Bohn's Popular Library. Social Economic Section.

The above work comprises three essays; the first, "The Real Rights of Man," by Thomas Spence, published in 1793; the second, "An Essay on the Right of Property in Land," by William Ogilvie, 1789; the third: "Agrarian Justice," Thomas Paine, 1795-6.

Messrs Bell are to be complimented on the tasteful manner in which they have presented these three essays to the public interested in social studies. The volume is a handy size, artistically bound, with clear type on a good paper, and is sold at a reasonable price—a combination not often achieved in the publishing world to-day.

The essays themselves are well worth preserving if only because they exhibit the social problem as it appeared to men of intelligence and sincerity before modern Socialism exposed the real nature of capitalism and revealed the futility of reform.

It was natural that men should see injustice in the extensive ownership of land before they observed the same injustice in the ownership of machines, mills, and other instruments of production. On page 6 Spence says : "It is plain that the land or earth, in any country or neighbourhood, with everything in or on the same, or pertaining thereto, belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in an equal manner."

In his day capitalist industry had already reached the stage where, through division of labour, there were nearly always more workers on the labour market than were required in manufacture, the result being, as now, competition for jobs, which kept wages low. In addition, however, the assizes had the power to fix wages, so that, even when there was a demand for workers, wages could not rise above subsistence level.

These early fruits of the capitalist system— unemployment, low wages, and a general wretchedness of condition of the working class —were viewed by the "pioneers" from the standpoint of the prevailing notions of private property. Private property in land, or the means of wealth production, had, up till that time, not been questioned or challenged. The scientific age had only just begun. The stage where men analyse and sift the symptoms from the essentials, and discovering the cause of abnormal conditions to be fundamental, prescribe fundamental changes, had not been reached. Science was in its teens, feeling its way toward maturity. And social science was the most backward of all, because men do not begin to investigate the basis of their relations with one another until scientific methods in other spheres have demonstrated the necessity for its application.

Spence and Ogilvie wrote when men still living could remember the later enclosures of land that followed the break-up of the Feudal system. They actually lived in the period often described as that of the industrial revolution— the second half of the eighteenth century— when machine industry had its birth. Thus their ideas naturally reverted to the conditions that had so recently been swept away. They asserted that only by laws which would give to every man the right to occupy land sufficient for his requirements could poverty be abolished. Ogilvie's essay on "The Rights of Property in Land" is an exhaustive and detailed plan for giving every man this privilege. Subsequent history has shown that such a plan would have been futile. large capital outlay is just as necessary in agriculture to-day as in manufacture. The man who can neither buy nor hire machinery is a slave to the soil. The first bad harvest flings him into the grip of the moneylenders; and if he is lucky, after long days of drudgery and nights of anxiety he may be able to -pay the interest and live as well as the artisan.

In most European countries a far greater proportion of the workers have been peasant-proprietors than in England, but it has not saved them from the poverty and wretchedness incidental to capitalism everywhere. The small holder cannot hope to compete with the big capitalists ; their position becomes more precarious and their condition more wretched with every advance in machinery and large-scale production.

Tom Paine and Thomas Spence were something more than "pioneers of land reform." Paine is much better known for his splendid efforts against dogma and superstition. Spence was a leader in all working-class movements of his day against capitalist oppression. ''He took part in all revolutionary movements, and was twice imprisoned, for altogether seventeen months," says Mr. Beer. In their day private ownership of land appeared to be the cause of poverty, because the worker had no means of living except by submitting to the manufacturers' conditions, In our day agriculture is not to be distinguished from any other subject of capitalist enterprise. Every industry has been capitalised, and is under the control of capitalists. The next step is the socialisation of industries and their control by the people.
F. Foan

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Gyrations At Glasgie (1919)

From the October 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glasgow has the largest population of any city in Scotland, so it was decided that the largest representative gathering of Trade Union officials – called the Trades Union Congress – ever held should take place there this year. Delegates more or less (less rather than more) representing five and a half millions of organised workers, gathered in the St Andrew’s Halls to discuss a lengthy agenda.

It was to be a great tournament. A mighty battle was expected to be fought over the Parliamentary Committee’s refusal to call a Special Congress at the request of the Triple Alliance. Nationalisation of Mines and other Industries was another great topic. But the supreme struggle was expected to centre around the question of Direct Action. Here the giants would – vocally – spread the ground with each other’s gore.

When the Parliamentary Committee’s Report was taken Mr. Brownlie, chairman of the A.S.E. and a member of the I.L.P.; took the opportunity to repeat to the Congress the clap-trap that the capitalist Press had been so busy spreading since the signing of the Armistice. Following their lead he urged the workers to “increase production” to save the world from ruin. There were five years losses to make up, and we must strain every nerve and muscle to lift production up to, and even above, pre-war level.

We have criticised this absurdity before in the columns of the “S.S.,” but the answer will bear repeating. Let us take one or two superficial points first.

If the great need of the moment is “more production,” why are not the large numbers of unemployed set to productive work? Neither Mr. Brownlie nor his supporter, the notorious Havelock Wilson, attempted to meet this point when it was put to them. Why, also, are large numbers of productive workers still kept in the Army and Navy long after their promised period of release has passed? Above all, why call upon thousands, many of them highly skilled, that are at work now to leave that work and join the “Army of To-day?”

The absurdity of the appeal is emphasised by the fact that at the very moment that Mr. Brownlie was speaking wealthy capitalists were shooting grouse over the Grampians and, in addition to the number of men and women retained to look after their personal needs – cooks, butlers, chauffeurs, grooms, maids, etc. – were employing numbers of men, women, boys, and girls, to act as “beaters” to drive the birds to the butts. In some cases school children were paid 6s. a day for this “productive work.”

The essential point, of course, is the fact that the workers have no control or ownership of production. Both the instruments of production and the products are owned by the master class; hence the first result of increased production would be to pile up a large mass of wealth into the possession of the master class. But it should be borne in mind that the bulk of the goods are produced to sell upon the market. The larger the quantity produced in a given time, the sooner will the markets be filled up, with the necessary result that production will be reduced by the masters and unemployment will increase.

Another false statement of Mr. Brownlie’s was that we can only increase wages by increasing production. This stupid lie is so easily disproved by the facts that only the extreme gullibility of the workers can explain its currency.

Wages are not determined by the amount of production, as every student of economics knows. A hundred years ago, the workers received, on the average, a subsistence wage; to-day, while the production per head has increased more than a thousand-fold, the workers’ wages still fluctuate about subsistence level. It is the cost of maintaining the worker – and an average family – in working condition that forms the centre point about which wages fluctuate. The variations that occur are due to the struggle between workers and masters over the price to be paid.

It may be mentioned that Mr. Brownlie was not representing the views of the Engineers in the above speech, and he was opposed by another A.S.E. delegate, Mr. Mills.

A resolution to refer back the paragraph in the Parliamentary Committee’s Report dealing with the refusal of the Committee to call a Special Congress was moved by Mr. Smillie and supported by R. Williams and others, who introduced a good deal of “Direct Action” argument in their remarks. The strongest speech in support of the Parliamentary Committee was undoubtedly that of Mr. Clynes, despite certain fallacies it contained. His most important point was that the rank and file were not united on the questions that were to be submitted to the Special Congress – abolition of Conscription, withdrawal of troops from Russia, release of Conscientious Objectors, etc – and this was shown by the rejection of the majority of the Labour Party candidates at the General Election. None of his opponents attempted to meet this point during the debate, nor, on the other hand, were his fallacies exposed.

One was that the trade unions had never used industrial action for political purposes. Yet Mr. Clynes had himself taken part in such an action when the trade unions agreed to abandon their working rules and conditions to assist in a political purpose – the carrying on of the war. Another fallacy was that “Direct Action” was something new! Any school child could have refuted this. Direct Action is as old as trade unionism. Its first great example – and ghastly failure – was the breaking up of machinery in the Luddite riots. Equally futile was the “rattening” of the Sheffield grinders that culminated in the notorious “Broadhead” crimes of the late ’60’s, while the failure of such action by the munition workers during the war is well known to all. Direct Action has been tried for over a hundred years and proved a rotten reed all the time.

The congress not only passed the resolution referring back, but later on further emphasised their view of the matter by passing resolutions calling for Special Conferences if (1) the Government refused to nationalise the coal mines, and (2) to abolish Conscription and withdraw from Russia.

The utter uselessness of Nationalisation to alter the conditions of wage slavery was shown later on in the same Congress when a long resolution “strongly protesting” against the Government’s refusal to administer their own “Fair Wages Resolution” brought forward evidence from Post Office and Admiralty workers’ representatives on the poor conditions and low wages prevailing in those departments.

A special resolution on Direct Action was drawn up in the following terms: “This Congress declares against the principle of industrial action in purely political matters.”

The mover – Mr. Shaw – gave a long tirade against Lenin and the Soviet Government in Russia, but said nothing in support of the resolution. Equally beside the point was the seconder’s speech. Then Mr. Thomas gave a really brilliant exhibition of tight-rope walking. At one moment Direct Action and Political Action was diametrically opposed; at another moment they were complementary. When the end of a fairly long speech was reached he had so nicely balanced his remarks that no one knew on which side he stood.

Mr. Hodges, the Miners’ secretary, tried to combat Mr. Clynes’ speech of the Tuesday referred to above, by stating that the present Parliament had been returned by an ignorant working class. He then made the assertion, without the slightest shred of evidence to support it, that they had now arrived at a political consciousness that will cause them to reverse their previous action. He asserted that the Labour Party had done all that was humanly possible, but their failure to accomplish anything showed the need for industrial action. Suppose the Government decided to embark on another war. Should we refuse to use such power as Direct Action might give? Unfortunately Mr. Hodges quite forgot to explain or show what the “power” was that Direct Action might give while the master class retained control of the political machinery that gave them the domination and direction of the fighting forces.

Then the fight was suddenly side-tracked by the moving of the “Previous Question,” which was carried by 2,255,000 votes for to 2,086,000 against. So the great expectations were disappointed in a shuffle.

The most striking incident of the Congress was the presence and speech of Mr. Wadia, President of the Madras Labour Union. In a simple though eloquent address, delivered in excellent English, he described the conditions and wages of various sections of workers in India. About 18 months ago these workers began to form trade unions and to struggle to raise their wages and to improve working conditions. An interesting illustration was given of how the master class use the same tales to deceive the workers in every clime. When the Indian textile workers demanded a rise in wages they were told by the masters that it was impossible to accede to these demands because of the competition of the Lancashire operatives. On arriving in England Mr. Wadia found the English capitalists telling the Lancashire operatives that they could not raise wages because of the competition of the Indian workers!

As showing the awakening of the Indian workers to the necessity of organisation to fight the masters and the understanding of their common interests in these matters with the workers in other lands the visit of the President of the Madras Labour Union was a distinctly hopeful event.

In the course of a discussion on a resolution relating to Ireland a delegate pointed out that the Government had distributed 5,000 armoured cars throughout England last February for the purpose of fighting the miners and railway men. The cars were moved at night and he had met some who had lost their way and obtained this information from them. This fact may assist in explaining the degree of efficiency of the Government’s system of road transport in the present railway strike.

Despite the unrest and discontent existing among the working class, the Congress gave little evidence of any great awakening on their part. If some of the patriotic claptrap of Messrs. Wilson and Cathray fell dismally flat, the selection of Mr. A. Henderson aroused enthusiasm.

More than ever the need for Socialist education forces itself to the front. The delusion of Direct Action and the snare of “Labour Party” politics have to be strenuously combatted to clear the minds of the workers of such befogging nonsense. Not till these delusions are discarded will the workers unite to fight for the purpose history has placed before them – the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
Jack Fitzgerald

Friday, June 28, 2019

With Kid Gloves (2019)

The Proper Gander Column from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

For children, all being well, the world is there to be explored with open-minded enthusiasm. By the time we reach adulthood, much of life has sadly lost its sheen and turned into a series of routines and/or things to be stressed out by. Growing up means learning what society’s expectations are, and how to try and deal with them. As shown by the ITV documentary series Planet Child, an important time is between the ages of four and seven, when children are finding their own personalities and boundaries. In the programme, twin doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken look into what attitudes and values children have, and what they are capable of doing without their parents around. Through experiments disguised as fun activities, it’s revealed how youngsters react and behave in various situations. The kids taking part are a lively, happy bunch from different families around the UK.

Planet Child’s three episodes each focus on children’s autonomy, moral sense and gender identities. In the first episode, how independent the children are is gauged by the van Tullekens asking them to navigate across a city park, buy a souvenir and get a bus to the London Eye all by themselves (apart from the undercover chaperones, cameras, in-on-it shopkeepers and fake bus).All the groups make it to their destination ok, but the footage of them running around London without adults looks strange and even a bit worrying. These days, we’re not used to seeing children out alone as much as before. In Britain, the area in which kids roam away from home has shrunk 90 percent on average compared with the late 1960s, and 97 percent of primary-school-aged children are taken to school, a figure which has increased over recent decades. People now have a heightened awareness of risks, whether from paedophiles or car accidents, and while common sense should be used, this reflects a more wary, paranoid society.

In the second episode, the children’s sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is investigated. The groups are left alone in a shop with cameras hidden among its tempting rows of jelly sweets and plates of chocolate-dipped marshmallows. ‘Don’t let anyone touch or eat my sweets’ says the show’s pretend shopkeeper as she leaves. The four- and five-year olds last a lengthy twenty minutes before they start guzzling like the proverbial kids in a sweet shop. The six- and seven-year olds stick it out for longer, until an in-on-it adult comes in and helps himself, giving them an excuse to start tucking in. Later, the younger children are quick to own up, probably because they haven’t thought enough about the possibility of reprimands, whereas the older group come up with an elaborate fib that a robber ‘wearing a black woolly hat with no bobble on’ made them eat the chocolate. The question of whether grown-ups would abstain for as long in the same test was left unanswered. The issue here isn’t so much about the requirement to pay for sweets (or anything) before having them, it’s more about doing what you’re told. In many circumstances, there’s a sound reason for kids to do what we tell them, but they like to push boundaries, and some are worth pushing.

The last episode looks at children’s awareness of gender roles. Research affirms that boys prefer to play with toy fire trucks and girls prefer to play with dolls, and that blue is a ‘boys’ colour’ and pink is ‘for girls’. But gender roles are now less rigid than these stereotypes suggest. Studies from around the turn of the millennium found that boys defined themselves according to actions and abilities while girls defined themselves more according to close relationships and appearance. When the kids taking part in the programme talk about themselves, the girls speak more about what they do and want to be than their earlier counterparts might have done. There are still differences in expectations, including over intellect. Asked to draw a picture of a clever doctor, nearly all the children draw a man. There’s a tendency for boys to overestimate their abilities and for girls to underestimate theirs, reminding us that inequalities persist from a young age.

Unfortunately, Planet Child doesn’t consider enough how these attitudes and viewpoints are acquired. Children learn how we’re supposed to behave within society’s accepted values. These evolve over time; parenting in Britain seems to place more emphasis on risk awareness and challenging some stereotypes compared with the past. And of course, the norms children learn to accept differ between cultures. The show also features a tribe in Namibia, where traditional gender roles are defined sharply and children walk miles across the desert away from their village to look for wood. In a Japanese school, good behaviour is taught through encouraging a kind of top-down co-operation and shared responsibility for the surroundings, which means they have committees to report on leftover milk, for example. The values which our behaviour is shaped by reflect how our culture aims to get things done. All societies need their own boundaries and norms, but it’s a shame that as we learn capitalism’s rules and expectations, we also tend to lose that wide-eyed energy kids have. Maybe we shouldn’t teach children what to think as much as how to think.
Mike Foster

Can you be a socialist and anti-Marxist? (2019)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is sometimes claimed that it is possible to be a socialist without being a Marxist; in an attempt to answer this we might begin by reversing the assertion and ask is it possible to be a Marxist without being a socialist? Any variety of ‘ism’ is capable of various interpretations but they all depend on at least one principle – that an individual identifies with others in terms of a perceived shared political perspective. This perspective is in turn dependent on the social, historical and moral-cultural context. The individual is more or less theoretically free to identify with any of the pre-existing (and evolving) political perspectives that he or she is born into. The level of rational coherence will differ according to the needs of the individual and the ambitions of the political group that is embraced. As a member of this group, the individual will then set about to convince others of the political efficacy of his cause so that the desired social change can be attempted. As with all such groups, there will be an internal dynamic that causes it to change through time. For socialism, one such occasion was the activity of one of its advocates: Karl Marx.

Although a member of the Communist League and then the International  Workingmen’s Association Marx became primarily a theoretician and journalist rather than a party activist in his political maturity. His main gifts to socialism were his theories of economics and historical development. These ideas embraced and then eclipsed in importance the moral outrage at the manifest injustices of capitalism that had characterised the motivation for socialism formally. Many have declared that his work transformed socialism from idealism into a form of science. Certainly, a thorough understanding of surplus value and historical materialism would define a profound difference between Marxism and the Left who would still cling to moral outrage as their primary ‘call to arms’. The political consequences of Marxism would also demand a thoroughly democratic mass movement which was anathema to both the elitist paternalism of socialist idealism and later to bureaucratic Bolshevism. Today we still have people who insist that they are socialists whilst declaring Marx’s main theoretical discoveries invalid. Their reasoning for this usually consists of aligning Marxism with the failed Bolshevism of Soviet Russia – but given the complete lack of political and historical evidence for this conclusion, it is more likely that a mixture of ignorance of Marxism together with a bourgeois belief that others need to be led politically is what really underlies their objections.

Another objection to Marxism by the ‘moderate social democrats’ is its association with violent revolution as portrayed in the many images of beret-wearing and AK47-wielding leftist radicals all through the latter part of the twentieth century. Many ‘liberation movements’ labelled themselves as Marxist at that time without any specific reference to – or understanding of – Marx’s work. These movements were, almost without exception, inspired by Lenin’s Bolshevism that politically contradicted most of what Marx believed. Indeed the association of revolution with an armed insurrection derives entirely from the bourgeois revolutions of Holland, England, America and France where one minority class (the aristocracy) was replaced by another (the bourgeoisie). Ironically the downfall of the Russian state capitalist empire and its replacement by a conventional capitalist system more closely resembles the relatively peaceful revolution that Marxists anticipate when the majority loses faith in the political structure whatever form of capitalism it represents.

Another irony of Marxism is its representation in academia – not just in terms of politics but the study of history, culture, economics, philosophy, the performing arts etc., all include a Marxian school which is considered, even within bourgeois culture, as intellectually respectable. It seems that once let out of the bottle the Marxian genie cannot easily be put back in. Some of these intellectuals, although they make use of Marxian dialectical analysis, make no claims to be Marxist socialists. Intellectual elitism might well make this impossible for some of them but it does seem to prove that it is possible to be a Marxist within some disciplines and not be a socialist. So what of the claim that you can be a socialist without being a Marxist?

Some have said that to be a socialist without reference to Marx is like claiming to be a physicist without reference to quantum mechanics or a biologist without reference to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Even outside of the ‘hard sciences’ no historian, philosopher, economist or anthropologist can escape a mention of Marx, even if it is just an attempt to refute his conclusions. How much more ridiculous is it for a ‘socialist’ to refute Marx without even attempting to understand his work. For those who claim to have understood his work and still reject the theories of surplus value and historical materialism whilst simultaneously claiming to be socialists, we can only point to 100 years of failed leftist dictatorships or reform programs to emphasise just how tragically mistaken they are.

Rear View: They won, you lost (2019)

The Rear View Column from the June 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

They won, you lost
Ahead of the election in South Africa last month, a BBC report (1 May) confirmed that this country ‘. . . has the highest level of inequality in the world.’ Just over a year ago, another outlet put this fact in starker terms adding '. . . most of the nation’s wealth remains in the hands of a small elite’ (NPR, 2 April 2018). Writing before the result of this election is known, socialists can state with a mixture of confidence and sadness that multi-millionaire Cyril Ramaphosa’s class won, we lost. ‘The opposition Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane, says the gap between “economic insiders and outsiders” has grown. “There is no indication of it closing. We are a country split in two”” (, 1 May). But neither the ‘market-friendly’ DA, nor the state-capitalist Economic Freedom Fighters offer an escape route as they are two sides of the same coin.

No amnesty
Shenilla Mohamed, executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, told Deutsche Welle (26 April): ‘Mandela had a very romantic dream, to some extent, of having a nation where everyone is equal, where people are able to access their basic human rights, economic, social, cultural rights. But South Africa is a country where the quality of life has not improved for the majority of the population in 25 years. Issues such as racism are still in the foreground because people feel they have been disappointed by a system which began in 1994, when independence promised that everything was possible.’ Compare this candid comment with that of Stefan Simanowitz, European media manager for Amnesty International, who, seemingly reminiscing through a rose-tinted fog, states: ‘Just after Mandela was sworn in came a moment that still gives me goosebumps. Three jets flew low over the crowd followed by four helicopters, each towing the new flag. Instinctively we flinched. But then it dawned: The military — and the state — were no longer enemies of the people: they now belonged to the people’ (, 28 April).

Members of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack-dwellers’ movement in South Africa, are well acquainted with the state as a coercive machine of class oppression. AbM are credited with starting UnFreedom Day, an unofficial annual event that is planned to coincide with the official South African holiday called Freedom Day, the orthodox annual celebration of the country’s first non-racial democratic elections of 1994. Ten years ago South African police initially tried to ban the UnFreedom Day, made some arrests and monitored the demonstration with a low-flying helicopter but later retreated. An altogether more blatant display of state power took place on 16 August 2012, With 17 workers killed and 78 wounded by the police, the Marikana Miners’ Massacre was the most lethal use of force by South African security forces against other workers since 1976. Commissioner Phiyega said that the police had acted well within their legislative mandate as outlined in Section 205 of the Constitution. Ramaphosa and King Zuma share responsibility for this mass murder and have yet to stand trial…

Learning from the past
‘A democratic state . . . industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well being of the people . . the land re-divided amongst those who work it. . . The police force and army. . . shall be the helpers and protectors of the people. .. . . a national minimum wage . . . the right to be decently housed . . . free medical care . . . Slums shall be demolished . .. ‘ (The Freedom Charter adopted by the ANC in 1955). Nelson Mandela: ‘The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change . . . nor has it.. . ever condemned capitalist society.’ In the August 1988 edition of this journal, we stated: ‘ If the ANC come to power they will have to take on the task of controlling and disciplining the majority when it becomes clear that capitalism run by blacks is little different to the white-dominated variety. They will have to ensure “calm labour relations”, which will bring them into inevitable conflict with “All who work shall be free . . . to make wage agreements with their employers” (Freedom Charter). ‘ ‘Already in 1948 apartheid was an anachronism, even from a capitalist point of view…The end of apartheid will not mean the end of working-class problems. At most it will result in the creation of the best conditions under which the working class can struggle to protect its interests within capitalism and, more importantly, can struggle alongside the workers of the rest of the world for the non-class as well as non-racial society that socialism will be’ (After apartheid, what? March 1990).

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Do we need to be employed? (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unemployment, as a percentage of the working population, has not been so high since the war. It has risen to 12 per cent in recent months — a total of 3¼ million — discounting many thousands not registered at unemployment benefit offices and therefore not included in the available statistics. Unemployment is therefore certain to be one of the chief issues in the next election, since it concerns not only those at present out of work but also those who feel insecure in their present jobs and those at school and in other forms of education.

With this in mind, speakers at recent conferences — Conservative. Labour and Liberal/ SDP Alliance — have attempted to reassure their followers and prospective supporters that they take the problem very seriously and are able to do something about it.

Conference “solutions"
At their October conference the Conservatives promised an extension of job-training schemes and financial assistance for those wishing to start their own business — but wisely made no predictions as to the number of extra jobs likely to result.

The Alliance on the other hand propose reviving British manufacture, the sector worst affected by unemployment, by linking wages to productivity — and accept that a pay freeze might be necessary. They claim that their policies "could cut unemployment from more than three million to below two million in the lifetime of a Parliament" (The Times, 17 September 1986).

The Labour Party promise to reduce unemployment "by about one million in its first two years" by substantial state investment in the "infrastructure" — roads, sewers and other services — if elected to office (The Times, 30 September 1986). In fact both policies — wage restraint and public investment — have been tried before without stemming a rise in unemployment. In an impassioned speech to Labour's Conference. Roy Hattersley claimed that “Above all things, Labour is the party of jobs". Well, is it? The graph shows the rise in unemployment over two extended periods of Labour government. On the other hand, the reduction in local government spending achieved by the Conservative government has been accompanied by an unprecedented rise in unemployment.

Nor is unemployment a solely "British disease". The following table shows the estimated percentage unemployment in the working population in other advanced capitalist countries compared with 11.9 per cent in the UK (Dept, of Employment Gazette, July 1986).

The cause of unemployment
Unemployment is a world wide problem and what stands out so clearly in all the conference speeches is that there is never any real attempt to explain what causes it in the first place. After all, the above group of countries have the material resources to provide a comfortable living for all their inhabitants and the vast majority of their populations are only too anxious to work. So what stands in the way of full employment? To understand this we need to know something of the operation of a capitalist economy and its inherent contradictions.

In a capitalist society the means of production and distribution of goods and services are owned and controlled by a minority of the population, the capitalist class. Of the remainder, the majority are dependent for their livelihood on being employed by the capitalist class for wages — generally about sufficient for them to work efficiently and rear their families. Within this society goods and services are produced, not primarily for the benefit of those employed, but to realise a profit when sold on the national or overseas market. Normally, if sale at a profit cannot be achieved, production ceases and those engaged in production become unemployed.

Profit results from the fact that the wages paid to the working class represent a value far less than that of the goods and services produced. The "surplus value" is appropriated by their employers, the capitalist class — or the state on their behalf. Part of this surplus value may be reinvested or pass into the hands of landlords in the form of rent and part into the hands of bankers as interest on borrowed money. They in turn seek profitable areas of capital investment. Finally, part of the surplus value resulting from the employment of wage and salary workers is used, usually by the state, to maintain an efficient working class by expenditure on educational and health services and for the defence of the system from internal or external threats. All this is accepted by the political parties who will contest the next election, with only one exception — The Socialist Party.

Constant unemployment
But let us consider the inevitable results arising from the operation of such a system of production. We must first note that the wages system severely limits the purchasing power of the working class so that capitalists engaged in the production of consumer goods soon find themselves in competition, not only with fellow capitalists in their own country but also with those abroad. Capitalists engaged in other forms of production such as machinery, shipping, aircraft, armaments, likewise meet competition at home and abroad. The inevitable result is an attempt by all concerned to reduce expenditure on wages so that profit margins can be maintained while undercutting competitors.

Since the early days of capitalism, therefore, machinery has been introduced to make labour more productive and reduce the wage bill. Division of labour, the conveyor belt, automation. rationalised administration and computerisation have all followed. None of the four political parties, recently meeting in conference, opposes these production techniques. They are admired for "increasing productivity".

Periodic unemployment
Any graph showing unemployment levels will, over an extended period, display "humps" rising above what we have called "constant unemployment". These "humps" reflect major or minor crises in capitalist trade — called trade depressions — resulting sometimes in calamitous increases in unemployment world-wide.

Such a trade depression was experienced between 1930 and 1939 when there were approaching three million unemployed in this country, six millions in Germany and eleven millions in the USA. Once again workers are experiencing mounting unemployment the end of which no one can see. Against this background some of the remedies proposed by conference politicians are patently trivial — nor do they offer any explanation for economic disaster on such a monumental scale.

During the depression of the 1930s The Socialist Party explained its causes and we can do no better than quote from a pamphlet we published at the time:
  In their anxiety to obtain a surplus, the employers, when the markets are favourable, strain every nerve and fibre to increase their output. New machinery is laid down; fresh ‘hands' are taken on; overtime is worked. There is an expansion of trade such as occurred in the years up to 1929. Then, at the very height of the expansion, reaction sets in. Production in certain industries has outstripped demand; the markets are glutted and the warehouses full to bursting. Orders have fallen off and products have become unsaleable. Workers are discharged, and these, losing their purchasing power with the loss of their wages, affect other industries, and so the depression spreads (Socialism, August 1933).
Once again the product of human labour is inaccessible to those who have produced it and those who may need it. Governments are embarrassed by butter mountains, wine lakes and warehouses full of grain, which cannot be sold at a profit Workers in car factories try to repair their old cars at the weekend while the new ones they have produced fill the factory yard unsold. Such crises of over-production for the market are inevitable. Where capitalist countries compete with each other for the sale of their products, it follows that there can be no agreement about the amount each produces. Saturation and collapse of the market is unavoidable.

Localised unemployment
An individual nation may find its unemployment increased still further in either or both of the following circumstances:

  • Where capital is exported for investment abroad in countries where wage rates are lower and the prospect of increased profits overcomes any latent patriotism.
  • Countries arriving late on the scene of capitalist development often have the advantage of using the latest plant, machines, designs and methods without the cost of scrapping old equipment or the research costs of the new technology.
Both the above influences have affected industry in Britain and in part explain the pressure on British workers to curb pay increases as the cost of living continues to rise — or even accept a wage freeze.

Capitalism holds no solution
With the above understanding of the causes and scale of present-day unemployment, it should be clear that most of the palliatives offered by politicians are trivial and ineffective. Once more we claim that the only cure for unemployment is to change the economic system from capitalism to socialism in which, as suggested by the title of this article, we are no longer employed to produce profits for a minority section of the community but in which the production and distribution of wealth can be unfettered.
John Moore

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Communist Party: A Premature Obituary (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The bad news is that the Communist Party is not yet dead; the good news is that all the signs are that it is on its way out. fatally wounded after years of tearing itself to pieces. Why the harsh words? The Communist Party has for over six decades existed as a monument to a gross distortion of socialist ideas. Rarely in history has a body of such a small size in relation to the overall population done so much to confuse workers about the vital issues of the day, to utilise the tactics of dishonesty and hypocrisy in the cause of giving workers a lead, to employ the rhetoric of liberation in defence of the most disgusting dictatorships. The Communist Party is an anti-communist party and has added nothing but difficulty to the work of real communists (or socialists: like Marx and Engels we use the words socialism and communism to mean the same thing) in the Socialist Party.

The Birth of British Leninism
In October 1917 the Bolshevik revolution in Russia shook the parties and sects of the Left in Britain — indeed, throughout Europe — more than any single event since the death of Marx. In 1871 Marxists had looked towards the Commune in Paris, not without a few illusions. and saw there the hope for socialism. Then in the 1880s all eyes were on Germany where a mass socialist movement seemed to be developing and doing so with the approval of Engels, the most eminent Marxist in the last years of the nineteenth century. As the present century commenced leftist hope was invested in the Second International. a collection of "socialist" organisations from throughout Europe and beyond to which even the Socialist Party of Great Britain, when it was formed in June 1904, sent delegates. But the Second International was a reformist body and the parties which constituted it fell into the rut of scheming to run capitalism, even going so far as to accept a resolution from Karl Kautsky which defended the idea of Ministers taking posts in capitalist governments. The Socialist Party of Great Britain saw the reformism of the Second International and, recognising that it was beyond repair, left it in accordance with revolutionary principle.

In 1914, when the capitalist gangsters of Europe commenced their infamous imperialist war, the so-called socialists of the misnamed International urged workers to support their respective masters' interests. The few principled socialists in Europe who opposed the war were isolated; in 1915 The Socialist Standard was the only journal in Britain to publish the anti-war statement of Maximovitch, a Bolshevik living in London later to become better known as Maxim Litvinoff, the Bolshevik Foreign Minister. In Britain the Socialist Party of Great Britain stood alone as the only party to unitedly oppose the war. In Russia the Bolsheviks were alone in stating the same opposition.

What was the condition of the British Left in 1917 when the news from Russia arrived? The first Marxist party in Britain was the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) (although it was arguably less "Marxist" than is often claimed) later to become the British Socialist Party (BSP). Its attitude to the war betrayed its lack of principles. Its main leaders, including H. M. Hyndman, supported British war chauvinism and went as far as to report anti-war activists to the police. In 1916 a minority left the BSP and formed the National Socialist Party, an organisation which combined the mouthing of Marxist dogmas with support for British imperialism. The remainder of the BSP refused to oppose the war outright but instead indulged in a futile campaign to urge the collapsed Second International to revive itself and call for peace in Europe. The other leftist party with claims to being Marxist was the Socialist Labour Party, which equivocated about its attitude to the war. Of course, the Labour Party and the ILP made peace-loving noises, but at the same time their leaders spoke and wrote in favour of conscription and Lansbury's Labour Leader refused to publish any anti-war articles.

These political parties were only one part of what was going on in the British Left in 1917. The years before the war had seen a rise in popularity for syndicalist theories which argued that political action was of no use to the working class and that capitalism could be brought down by means of concerted trade-union militancy, culminating in a revolutionary general strike. In the pre-war years several leftists — formerly rivals — sank their differences and formed rank and file shop stewards' committees. (See Bob Holton's British Syndicalism, 1900-14 for a reasonable account of this period). Without a doubt, the pre-war years was a period of intense union militancy and, without exaggerating, we might comment retrospectively that it was in many ways a period of increasing class-consciousness.

The whipped-up hysteria of war-time national chauvinism put a stop to that. When a spontaneous revolution broke out in Russia in February 1917 the British Left was unqualified in its support. In fact, the revolution led only to the formation of a capitalist provisional government which continued to support the war. In October the Bolsheviks seized power more as a result of popular contempt for the provisional government than mass support for Bolshevik policies, as was shown by the results of the election for the Constituent Assembly in 1918 when the Bolsheviks won fewer votes than the peasant reform party. Nevertheless, myths linger on when they are the cause of hope and in 1917 the British Left was united in its admiration for Lenin and his merry band of revolution-makers. For the syndicalists, the success of non-parliamentary Bolshevism proved the validity of their case; for the BSP and the SLP the success of Lenin meant that new tactics must be adopted in Britain. The Socialist Party of Great Britain stood alone — uncomfortably alone it must have been at the time — in declaring that the Bolshevik coup was not a socialist revolution, that all that could come out of it was a new form of capitalism.

In 1919 the Bolsheviks formed the Third International (the Comintern). In April it invited forty organisations throughout the world to affiliate, among which were the British ones — the BSP and the SLP. The Comintern was clear that a single Communist Party should be formed in each country. The first bid for the British franchise was made by Sylvia Pankhurst of the Workers' Socialist Federation. So eager was she to win the blessing of Lenin that she fed him with false information about the size of her group. But the Comintern was clear about the terms on which a British Communist Party must unite. Firstly, it must work with the BSP. This condition was probably the result of the fact that Rothstein, the Bolsheviks' man in London, was an Executive Committee member of the BSP and exaggerated its significance — for example, he claimed that it would take 10,000 members into the CP, a figure which we shall soon see to have been totally false. Secondly, the CP must affiliate to the Labour Party — an act of opportunism emphatically advocated by the unprincipled Lenin, despite the protestation of the SLPers like Jack Murphy and Willie Gallacher. Pankhurst's WSF refused to affiliate to Labour or support electoral politics of any kind and formed the Communist Party — British Section of the Third International, the party which has the distinction of being the first splinter group from the CP before it was even formed. The BSP majority accepted the Comintern's conditions and went into the CP. as did a substantial section of the SLP (the Communist Unity Group) and a few other bodies, including the syndicalist South Wales Socialist Society. The inaugural conference voted by a slim majority (100 to 85) in favour of affiliating to the Labour Party. The latter would not let them in and from that day to this (with a brief period when the CP accused the Labour Party of being fascists) the CP has persistently knocked at the door of the Broad Church and the Labourites have just as persistently slammed it in their face.

What sort of party was the CP. formed first in August 1920 and then again in January 1921? Firstly, it was hardly a mass party. At its formation it had 3,000 members, according to the official CP history written by James Klugmann and. according to that same history. one in three of those had left the CP by mid-1922, presumably tired of the initial Bolshevik adventurism. Tom Bell, who was around at the time, states in his history of the CP that the initial membership was under 2,500. So much for Rothstein's promise to Lenin that the BSP alone would bring 10,000 workers into the new party. The only Communist MP in those early days was Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil John L'Estrange Malone who was elected as a Liberal in 1918, but defected to the CP in 1919 after going on a trip to Russia. CP historians rarely report that their first MP was a Lieutenant-Colonel who was deeply patriotic. In Bethnal Green a Communist Mayor was elected — he looked lovely in his robes and chain — and two of the CP councillors. Edgar Lansbury and A. A. Watts, were so keen to serve the ratepayers (and win more votes) that they actually voted for a 10 per cent cut in Poor Relief and wage cuts for local authority workers. What party of the working class with a scrap of principle could allow Lieutenant-Colonels to sit for it in Parliament, Mayors to represent it and councillors to be elected only to make
poverty even worse for the working class?

Meanwhile the CP indulged in plenty of revolutionary talk — talk which belonged to centuries gone, to the age of Blanqui and Babeuf. They advocated armed insurrection. Harry Pollitt. the leader of the CP. declared that "only through armed insurrection can the workers gain power" (Manchester Guardian, 2 December 1929). The CP even went as far as to organise military training in Epping Forest, preparing the workers for "the moment". What led them to believe that workers who would not even vote for communism would die fighting for it was a matter of faith rather than logic. As Leninists, the CP rejected the view that the workers as a majority could understand and want socialism. Instead the poor fools must be led, offered reforms, and finally involved in a battle against the forces of the state which were bound to defeat them. The Socialist Party quite rightly viewed the new party with utter contempt and hostility.

The Party of Stalinism
The foul dictatorship of Stalin was not an aberration, as modern Trotskyists would like to believe. Stalinism followed Leninism like night follows day. Long before Stalin was omnipotent controller of Russian state capitalism the country had become a dictatorship. But under Stalin the sickness of the new regime — the dictatorship over the proletariat became clear for all to see. All, that is, but the Communist Parties of the world which turned a blind eye to the Stalinist reign of terror. When The Socialist Standard exposed the atrocities of the Moscow Trials we were accused of making up lies about "The Soviet Fatherland”. When our branch in West Ham invited the local CPers to debate, the reply came to say that The Socialist Party "have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party . .  . and are in short agents of Fascism in Great Britain. The CPGB refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers to be destroyed". Indeed, this was no idle threat: CPers did attempt to smash up Socialist Party meetings, calling us fascists for pointing out the anti-working class nature of the fascistic regime in Russia. The purges in which hundreds of thousands of Russian workers were murdered began with the show trial of sixteen old Bolsheviks in August 1936. Such was the combination of gullibility and callousness of some CPers that one French Stalinist wrote a poem beginning with the verse:
We thank thee. Stalin!
Sixteen scoundrels.
Sixteen butchers of the Fatherland
Have been gathered to their ancestors! .  . .
Today the sky looks blue.
Thou hast repaid us for the sorrows of many years!
But why only sixteen?
Give us forty.
Give us hundreds.
Thousands . . .
And so it goes on: a sick dedication to a sick ideology. And the tragedy was that, bad as the poetry was, thousands were killed. Although the Socialist Party had first predicted. and then exposed these dictatorial barbarities most workers did not differentiate between the true socialism advocated by the small party which was not taken in by the Stalinist myth and "Communism". Even today millions of workers react with hostility to what they fear as "communism" when they first encounter socialist propaganda.

If the CP's defence of the purges was not enough to convince the observer of its function as a border guard for Stalinist Russia the policy switches at the outbreak of the Second World War confirmed the party's role. First the CP would not specifically condemn fascism. arguing that all social-democratic parties were fascists. Then they changed policy, on orders from Moscow, and supported the "war against fascism". Later, when the Nazis signed their pact with Moscow, the CP opposed the war against Germany. Finally, when those unreliable old Nazis broke their treaty with Russia, orders came to support the war. This went as far as strike-breaking ("we mustn't disrupt the war effort") and urging workers to vote for any candidate fully committed to the war. including Tories in some areas. In fact, the war proved to be a good time for CP recruitment and after 1945 it had a brief period — the only one in its history — of being in with a minor chance of power within British capitalism. Why was this? Firstly, the war changed popular attitudes to Russia. During the war collections were taken for tanks for Russia, the achievements of "the great Red Army" were celebrated in columns of newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph, and Stalin — the "democratic ally" of Churchill and Roosevelt — had a good press. Many workers felt a sense of gratitude towards the Russian workers for their great efforts and suffering during the war and supporting the CP was a kind of pay-off. Secondly, reform was in the air in 1945 and workers were not prepared to be given petty crumbs after their years of wartime deprivation.

Alas, instead of rejecting crumbs altogether and opting for the abolition of the wages system, the movement was towards bigger crumbs and so it was that in 1945 the CP had two MPs elected. It was not only increased membership and minor electoral success that the CP gained in the post-war years. By far its most enduring gain at this time was in the trade unions — so much so that years later Ramelson, the Industrial Organiser of the CP, could boast that the party had a member — at least one but often more — on the EC of every trade union of significance affiliated to the TUC. Indeed, that remained the case until the early 1970s. The C.P played no small part in formulating TUC policy and in influencing certain elements in the Labour Party on matters relating to foreign policy. Without giving credence to myths about CND being a Moscow front, there is no doubt that several major CNDers are motivated by little more than Stalinist sympathies. The consequence of this has been to weaken public confidence in the so-called peace movement, with many workers concluding — not unreasonably — that those who are so vociferous in their condemnation of the NATO murder gang are conspicuously silent about the military atrocities of the Russian imperialists.

The Decline and Fall of the Communist Party
In 1948 the CP reached its peak membership. Since then it has been going down. The Trotskyist dissidents were the first to leave the sinking ship, with Reg Groves and the so-called Balham Group opting for Leninism minus Stalinism. The Revolutionary Communist Party of the late 1940s attracted a substantial number of ex-CPers who wanted the fantasy of a return to old Bolshevik methods but refused to face up to the inevitable consequences of Bolshevism. By 1950 the RCP had collapsed. Since then it would be fair to say that firstly, the Trotskyist movement has existed in Britain only as a fragmented and theoretically ultra-confused tendency and secondly, young leftists who would have previously opted for Stalinism and joined the CP. are tending to join the Trotskyist "vanguards". Parties like the SWP and WRP, as well as the Militant Tendency, have benefited greatly from the decline of CP credibility, while the Young Communist League is now virtually defunct merely a play area for the gullible kids of old CPers.

In 1956 Krushchev denounced Stalin. The psychological blow which this inflicted on British CPers was enormous. Imagine: here were many sincere, militant, class-minded workers who had fought in strikes, accepted unpopularity, expended energy in denying "lies" about "Comrade Stalin" and in trying to sustain the Stalinist myth in the face of what they had genuinely believed to be a conspiracy of distortion. They had been forced to change policies, to make unsubstantiated claims, to support a nation which, they were told, was "socialism in one country". And then along comes Krushchev not a minor official, but the successor to Joseph Stalin — and he confirms the truth of the anti-Stalinist case. What could be more disconcerting? One still encounters today ex-CPers whose bitterness over the revelations of that period has had a profound effect on their personalities: some of them are now Labour hacks, others are Tories as a response to being "conned by Communism", others are apathetic. This is the price to be paid in historical terms when so many people are taken in by so great a myth. Once Stalin was exposed other doubts set in and doubt is the one characteristic which cannot co-exist with dogma: once the dogmatic Stalinists began to question one part of Stalinism, other parts were open to question too.

In 1956 the workers of Hungary made moves against totalitarianism. It was not a socialist uprising, but it was motivated by a rejection of the power of the CP ruling class. The British CP's correspondent in Budapest reported the uprising, but the CP's Daily Worker refused to carry the story. So he resigned from the CP and published his account in a remarkable work of modem history (Hungarian Tragedy by Peter Fryer). About a third of the staff of The Daily Worker resigned. Large numbers of CPers resigned from the party in protest over the party's refusal to condemn the brutality of Russian imperialism against the Hungarian workers; others allowed their membership to lapse. In Scotland and South Wales CPers organised demonstrations calling for the resignations of the CP leaders. The Oxford University Communist Club met in 1956 and passed a resolution to dissolve itself. By 1960 the CP's membership was around half the 1948 figure. In 1968 the Russian tanks rolled into Prague and CPers who had been rejoicing about the increased radicalism of European students and young workers were told by The Daily Worker to condemn the Czech activists. After a row, the CP did murmur some disapproval about the Russian actions.

By the late 1960s the CP was beginning to split apart. Prominent theoreticians such as Monty Johnstone developed a position of supporting "socialism" in Russia with reservations. By the mid-1970s this line dominated the CPs in Italy and Spain and was labelled Eurocommunism. Efforts were made to move the CPs closer to the larger leftist reform parties and to throw out old Leninist notions like 'soviet rule' and the dictatorship of the proletariat'. The British CP decided that it was time to clean up its act. to make a few token attacks on Russia and to present itself as a respectable reformist party. In 1976 its policy statement, The British Road to Socialism, was re-written. For the old-guard Stalinists this was heretical behaviour. They attempted to oppose the new programme but found themselves in a minority in a party which had no tradition of listening to minorities. In 1977 the majority of the old Stalinists resigned and formed The New Communist Party — a rabidly pro-Russian outfit which is still going today. The NCP split was not the first: in the 1960s there had been a split over China, out of which came a couple of Maoist CPs but it was the 1977 split which spelt the beginning of the end for the CP.

The CP has spent most of its energy for nearly ten years fighting over how far it is prepared to depart from Stalinism. Its leadership is now in the hands of Eurocommunists; its newspaper, the Morning Star, which owes its daily existence to Russian subsidy, is opposed to the leadership line and in the hands of CPers whom the leadership has tried to expel from the party. Indeed, over forty have been thrown out. The old "theoretical" journal of the CP, Marxism Today, is now a trendy intellectual journal which has all but given up any attempt to present a Marxist outlook. Indeed, even the CP leaders are worried about its attitudes, pushing ideas such as the insignificance of class (gender, race and sexuality are what matter now) and the need for an anti-Thatcher alliance at the next election, perhaps including the SDP and some Tory Wets. As is so often the case in disputes both sides are right in what they say about the other. The Stalinists are right to point out that the MT crowd are clueless about Marxism and have abandoned even the notion of class-struggle politics. The MT trendies are right to state that the old Stalinists are a dead force and that nobody these days is going to be taken in by pro-Russian propaganda.

Meanwhile CP membership is down to 10,876 and of that figure only about one in four are in any way active. Both factions could join the Labour Party: the MT crowd could find a home in the new trendy sections of the London Labour Party where intellectual shallowness is the latest fashion, while the Stalinists could join the old pro-Russian fellow travellers who have been at home in Labour circles for years. Of course, neither side is likely to desert the CP en bloc and so what can be predicted is a period of intensified in-fighting until finally the CP consumes itself in its own fire. This obituary may be premature, but only just.

Socialists will shed no tears when the CP funeral does take place. Years ago CPers would ridicule The Socialist Party of Great Britain and tell us that our "pure and simple” case for socialism was destined for the dustbin of history. Our case has stood the test of time while it looks much more likely that the party which wasted workers' hopes predicting the imminent collapse of capitalism will itself soon collapse.
Steve Coleman