Thursday, January 3, 2019

What Would a Real Socialist Revolution Look Like? (2017)

From the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the socialist tradition a socialist revolution is one that results in a change in the basis of society carried out by and in the interest of the immense majority.
  “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” (Marx and Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, 1848)
   “The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use, has a terrible sound in most people’s ears, even when we have explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society, people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you will speak of reform and not revolution. (….) [W]e will stick to our word, which means a change of the basis of society.” (William Morris, ‘How We Live and How We Might Live’, 1888).
Past revolutions
There have been revolutions that have resulted in a change in the basis of society, but they have been carried out either by a minority or in the interest of a minority. The French Revolution would be a case in point. The 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan would be another. The Russian Revolutions of 1917 a third.

The revolution in Japan was an example of a revolution carried out just by a minority. A section of the old feudal ruling class seized power with a view to removing obstacles to the development of capitalism in Japan, so as to change the basis of society there from feudalism to capitalism.

The French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, on the other hand, involved a fair degree of popular mobilisation and so fall into the category of a revolution in the interest of a minority, not simply as in Japan one carried out exclusively by the minority itself. The result, however, was the same – the removal of obstacles to the further development of capitalism as a system of production for profit by wage-workers, and the accumulation of capital out of profits.

This, of course, was not how the leaders or the popular participants saw it. In France they thought they were establishing the rule of ‘the people’; in Russia it was to be the rule of ‘the workers’. But, as Marx pointed out, in his summary of the materialist conception of history in the Preface to his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness’. Judging by their actual results, both these revolutions paved the way for the further development of a society based on wage-labour and production for profit.

So, we can leave aside both these revolutions as an example of what a socialist revolution might be like. In fact they could even be used as counter-examples, as examples of what a socialist revolution would not be like – a minority leading a discontented mass of people.

The aim
One of the big differences between them and a real socialist revolution is that the change in the basis of society is different. These previous revolutions changed the basis of society from feudalism to capitalism, from a society based on the exploitation of land-workers by a landowning aristocracy to a society based on the minority ownership and control of industrial means of production. The change in the basis of society that a socialist revolution brings about is one from minority ownership to the common ownership and democratic control of natural and industrial resources by the whole community. A society based on ‘the possession of the land and of the means of production in common,’ a ‘community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common,’ as Marx put it in Volume I of Capital. This is not the same as state ownership, which is still a form of minority ownership by those who control the state.

The socialist revolution is a change, not from one form of minority ownership to another, as in France and Russia, but the end of all minority ownership and so the establishment of a classless society. A society no longer divided into owners and non-owners, capitalists and workers, bourgeoisie and proletariat, the 1 percent and the rest, or however you want to describe it, but a community of equals. Every member of society stands in the same relationship to the means of production as every other member – as co-owners having an equal say in how and for what purpose they are to be used. We are talking about a fully democratic society.

We are also talking about a non-coercive society as, with the abolition of class-divided society, there will be no need for the state as an instrument for maintaining the domination of a ruling class or of the government as its executive committee. Instead, there will be an unarmed administration – or, rather, administrations, world, regional, and local – subject to democratic control.

Nor will there be any economic coercion. People will not be forced to work by individual economic necessity. The wages system, under which one section of society is forced to sell its ability to work to get the means to live, will have been abolished. Some essential work will be necessary of course, otherwise society would collapse, but this would have to be undertaken freely by people who understood this.

So, we are talking about a society involving not just democratic control and participation but also freely-decided cooperation and work.

Production would be organised to directly satisfy people’s needs, not for profit; not for sale either. Since the means of production will be owned in common so will the products. The question will then not be how to sell these (which wouldn’t make sense since selling is a change of ownership but everybody is already a co-owner). It will be how to distribute them, how to share them out amongst the co-owners. Today, given the tremendous capacity to produce what people need, products can be made available for people to freely take and use, the implementation of the old socialist slogan of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’.

The new society based on the common ownership of natural and industrial resources will be a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society of democratic control and free cooperation. That’s the change in the basis of society that a real socialist revolution would bring about.

The means
This being the aim – the end – the means to achieve it must be compatible. In other words, it has to be achieved democratically by a majority who want and understand it. The socialist revolution as Marx and Engels put it must be ‘the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority’. Not a movement, not even a majority movement, led by leaders who alone understand (‘the conscious minority’) at the head of masses who are merely discontented (as in the model of those influenced by the French and Russian Revolutions), but one in which the majority too understand, and organise themselves without unaccountable leaders who pretend to know better than them.

This shapes the strategy and tactics to achieve the opening stage of any revolution – the winning of political control, the capture of political power. This implies organisation into a political party, but one quite unlike the reformist and vanguard parties we know today, all of which are based on the leadership principle, in the one case by MPs and in the other by professional revolutionaries. The socialist political party must be a mass, open, democratic party controlled by its members – the class of wage and salary workers democratically self-organised to take political action for socialism.

When once the socialist movement has become ‘the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority’ the question arises what it has to do to win political control. In developed capitalist countries the means are to hand – the vote. The socialist majority can use the power of numbers to send to parliament, congress, chamber of deputies or whatever, delegates mandated to further the cause of socialism, not support a government or vote through capitalist legislation.

In fact, the socialist movement can begin to send such delegates to parliaments even before it has majority support. The socialist MPs would still be mandated delegates subject to the democratic control of those outside parliament who wanted socialism. While in a minority, they could use parliament as a megaphone, a tribune from which to denounce capitalism and advocate socialism.

When a majority, they could use political power to end capitalism by dispossessing the owning class through declaring all stocks and shares, bills and bonds, and other capitalist property titles null and void and that from then on all the means of production belong to the people as a classless community of equals, to be used to turn out what they need both as individuals and as communities. The basis of society will have been changed. The socialist revolution will have been carried out.

Naturally, this assumes that people in their workplaces outside parliament are already organised, ready to take over the means of production and keep production going.

The socialist majority would also use its political control to make other changes, in particular thoroughly democratising the central administration body by lopping off its coercive and bureaucratic features, preparing the way for its transformation from an instrument of rule over people into an unarmed organ of participatory democracy. In effect, the abolition of the state as state.

World Revolution
The revolutionary process just described has been about one country but, capitalism being an international system spanning the world with a network of interlinked production units, ‘socialism in one country’ is not possible.

So, we are talking about a world-wide socialist revolution with the same process taking place in country after country over a relatively short period of time, rather like, for instance, the overthrow of the state-capitalist regimes in East Europe in the 1990s or the so-called Arab Spring.

This is not an unreasonable supposition as, already, economic and social conditions are basically the same in whatever geographical or political areas capitalism dominates. Nor is it unreasonable to suppose that, when the socialist idea catches on, it will spread in all countries. It is the opposite supposition that is unreasonable: that this will be confined to one country or that one country would be way ahead of all the others. This is not how ideas spread today.

Everywhere, production is for profit, people have to work for wages and have to buy what they need. Everywhere they face the same problems that result from this, problems which can only be lastingly solved within the framework of a borderless world society based on the Earth’s natural and industrial resources having become the common heritage of all humanity.
Adam Buick

Was Russia Ever Socialist . . ? (2017)

From the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
We examine the Socialist Party’s reaction to the Bolshevik coup d’état and recall the analysis of Soviet Russia the Party pioneered.
The apparent triumph of the Bolsheviks in the backward Russia of 1917 sent the Marxist movement into turmoil. Moreover, previously impotent political organisations across Europe and North America showed themselves to be more impressed by the sudden and unexpected success of revolutionaries in the midst of bloody world war, than concerned for the event’s potential impact on core elements of Marxist theory as they had always previously been understood. Contrary to legend, the Socialist Party was initially affected by this feeling like other radical parties, praising the Bolshevik’s successful attempts to remove Russia from the bloodbath that was the First World War.

As for what was happening in Russia at a deeper level, the Socialist Party was more sceptical. Indeed, what focused our attention above all were the lavish claims made on the Bolsheviks’ behalf by their supporters in Britain about ‘Red October’ (early November in the Western calendar). The first detailed analysis of the Russian situation, written by Jack Fitzgerald, appeared in the August 1918 Socialist Standard under the heading ‘The Revolution in Russia – Where It Fails’. It tackled the claims of the (then) Socialist Labour Party in Britain by outlining why the Bolshevik takeover could not really lead to the establishment of socialism in Russia. The article asked:
  ‘Is this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the South, the agricultural wage-slaves of the Central Provinces, and the industrial wage-slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life?
  Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has ever recorded, the answer is ‘No!’ … What justification is there, then, in terming the upheaval in Russia a Socialist Revolution? None whatever beyond the fact that the leaders in the November movement claim to be Marxian Socialists.’
In fact, over time the Socialist Party went on to identify as many as five key reasons why the establishment of socialism in Russia by the Bolsheviks was impossible:

• First, as indicated by Fitzgerald, the mass socialist consciousness needed before a successful socialist revolution could take place was noticeably absent in Russia, as elsewhere. Fitzgerald seized on a remark by Litvinoff which suggested that the Bolsheviks did not really know the views of the entire working class when they seized control, only some sections of it such as the factory workers of Petrograd.

• Second, it was not even the case that the working class was in a numerical majority in Russia, a society dominated by its peasant economy. How could a majority socialist revolution be carried out when the workers were still in a minority and when the largest social class were the largely illiterate peasantry? While illiteracy did not entirely preclude the spread of socialist understanding, it certainly made it more difficult. In any event, the peasants had long shown themselves more interested in ridding themselves of the heavy tax burden on land, and increasing the size of their plots, than in demanding common ownership.

• Third, socialism could not exist in an economically backward country where the means of production was not sufficiently developed to support a socialist system of distribution.

• Fourth, and crucially, it was not possible to construct socialism in one country alone, given the nature of capitalism as a world system with a world-wide division of labour. Isolated ‘socialism in one country’ would be doomed to failure, no matter how honourable the intentions of the revolutionaries involved.

• The fifth reason advanced for the non-socialist nature of Bolshevik Russia went to the very root of our political differences with Bolshevism: socialism could not be achieved by following leaders (enlightened or otherwise).

State capitalism
In the absence of world socialist revolution, there could realistically only be one road forward for semi-feudal Russia – the capitalist road. With the virtual elimination of the small Russian bourgeoisie, it would be necessary for the Bolsheviks to develop industry through the state ownership of enterprises and the forced accumulation of capital. In The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, written before the revolution, Lenin had envisaged just such an approach to the Russian crisis. According to this document, Lenin saw that immediate measures required included nationalisation of the existing banks and the formation of a single state bank, together with the nationalisation of all insurance companies, the nationalisation of the monopolies and all other key industrial concerns. The Socialist Standard took the opportunity to again cast doubt on the supposed general applicability of Bolshevik actions in Russia – in this instance, the development of ‘state capitalism’ as a precondition for the establishment of socialism:
   ‘If we are to copy Bolshevik policy in other countries we should have to demand State Capitalism, which is not a step towards Socialism in advanced capitalist countries. The fact remains, as Lenin is driven to confess, that we do not have to learn from Russia, but Russia has to learn from lands where large scale production is dominant’ (‘A Socialist View of Bolshevist Policy’, July 1920).
As we took great pains to point out to our pro-Bolshevik opponents, Lenin admitted that the social formation in Soviet Russia was essentially state-capitalist, albeit under the guidance and control of a so-called ‘proletarian state’ guided by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. For Lenin, the nature of the revolutionary polity in such circumstances was the crucial determinant of the type of social system in existence. Without what Lenin termed ‘revolutionary democracy’, state capitalist monopoly would remain state capitalism. With workers’ control of production and control of the proletarian state by the vanguard party of the working class, however, socialism would be a reality. According to The Impending Catastrophe and How To Combat It, socialism was merely ‘state-capitalist monopoly made to serve the interests of the whole people’.

More than twenty years after the Bolshevik seizure of power, we remained unconvinced that state capitalism was really socialism even if presided over by those who proclaimed themselves socialist:
  ‘… the chief characteristics of Capitalism [in Russia] have not disappeared and are not in the process of disappearing. Goods are not produced for use but for sale to those who have the money to buy, as in other countries. The workers are not members of a social system in which the means of wealth production are socially owned and controlled, but are wage-earners in the employ of the State or of semi-State concerns, etc. The Russian State concerns are no more ‘socially owned’ than is the British Post Office or the Central Electricity Board, or any private company… The Bolshevik attempt to usher in Socialism by ‘legal enactments’ and by ‘bold leaps’ before the economic conditions were ripe, and before the mass of the population desired Socialism, has been a total failure. In course of time that failure will become obvious to the workers inside and outside Russia’ (Questions of the Day, 1942).
Capitalism, based on the separation of the producers from the means of production had not been abolished, nor could it have been. Production still took place as a system of exchange involving the circulation of capital. Capital expanded consequent on the exploitation of wage labour, and articles of wealth were still being produced for sale on the market with a view to the realisation of surplus value. Indeed, much of the Party’s early analysis of the economic basis of the Soviet system reflected a desire to demonstrate the similarities between Russian state capitalism and the British private enterprise-based capitalism the Party was most familiar with.

Who are the capitalist class?
Over time, while it was clear that state capitalism in Russia (and then its satellites) retained all the essential features of capitalism, there were some apparent differences, even if superficial. One related to who the capitalist class were in Russia, as the system’s supporters often claimed that capitalism could not really exist in Russia as there was no capitalist class in the traditional sense. But in fact, there was a capitalist class of this nature, as the 1940s pamphlet Soviet Millionaires by Reg Bishop showed, and always a private sector running in parallel to the major state-owned institutions and corporations – though it was peripheral. Nevertheless, it was clear that real power and control – including economic decision-making – rested with a powerful group of leading bureaucrats who had privileged lifestyles and high incomes as a result of their position at the top of the Soviet hierarchy.

This controlling class could not merely be equated with the supervisors and managers within capitalism referred to by Marx who received a wage based on the amount needed to produce and reproduce their labour power. On the contrary, this class of bureaucrats in Russia was using its position of control to perform the functions carried out by individual capitalists in earlier phases of capitalism’s development and to command a privileged income derived from surplus value. Though it did not have legal title to the means of production, and was not able to bequeath property, it was clearly a possessing class of the type mentioned in our Declaration of Principles, exercising a ‘monopoly… of the wealth taken from the workers’. This state capitalist class, like the privately owning capitalist class in the West, was privileged in consumption, receiving bloated ‘salaries’ that were not the price of labour power but a portion of the total surplus value created by the working class. They were also privileged because of the multitude of benefits and perks open to them, including access to exclusive consumption outlets such as expensive shops and restaurants from which the working class was physically denied access.

The prevailing view in the Socialist Party was that the nature of a class could not be determined simply by legal forms or even by methods of recruitment (the Soviet possessing class was not recruited via inheritance but by other, more meritocratic, methods that have not been entirely unusual for possessing classes in history). So the Party ultimately concluded that although the state capitalist class did not have legal property titles to the means of production, it nonetheless constituted a capitalist class exercising a collective ownership of the means of production and distribution. What was judged to be of prime importance, therefore, was the social reality of capitalism rather than a particular legal form; the opponents of the theory of state capitalism had never been able to see beyond the latter.

The theory of state capitalism
The Socialist Party of Great Britain was the first political group in Britain, and quite possibly the world, to identify the state capitalist direction taken by Russia under the Communist Party dictatorship, though many others came to the same conclusion over time, if not always for the same reasons. Unlike us, most of these groups stood in the Leninist tradition or at least showed a willingness to identify positive aspects of the Bolshevik takeover that could be applied by the socialist movement elsewhere in the future. In particular, the Leninist conception of socialism as state ownership and direction of the economy under the control of a vanguard party operating through the political medium of workers’ councils was readily accepted by most of these groups. Hence they only later ascribed a ‘state capitalist’ characterisation to Russia when they judged that state ownership no longer coincided with ‘proletarian democracy’ and the power of the soviets. This was essentially the analysis initially put forward by ‘council communists’ such as Otto Rühle who saw in the crushing of the soviets the rise of ‘commissar despotism’ and state capitalism (Rühle himself later realized the inadequacy of this position and came to view nationalisation and state regulation as intrinsically state capitalist). The largest ‘Left Communist’ group in Europe, the German KAPD, developed a similar perspective. It identified capitalism as the private (specifically non-state) ownership of the means of production, and, like the council communist Workers’ Socialist Federation in Britain, praised the Bolsheviks for their construction of socialism in the industrial centres of Russia. Later, the KAPD became critical of the Soviet system with the final crushing of the soviets and the introduction of the New Economic Policy, which it thought heralded a ‘reversion to capitalism’.

Despite the initial excesses of Left Communist and council communist groups who invariably let their early admiration for the Soviet political form dominate their analysis, arguably the worst example of the conflation of socialism with state ownership plus ‘revolutionary democracy’ came from the Trotskyists. Ironically, the Trotskyist theories of state capitalism, being by far the most fragile, are the most well-known. C. L. R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya from the American Socialist Workers’ Party were the first Trotskyists to break with Trotsky himself and identify the state capitalist nature of the USSR though perhaps the most widely known theory was that elaborated by Tony Cliff and circulated as a discussion document within the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain in the period immediately after the Second World War, before being published as Russia: A Marxist Analysis. Cliff – who was the driving force behind what became the British SWP – said his reasons for breaking with orthodox Trotskyism by identifying the Soviet Union as state capitalist were plain enough:
   ‘When I came to the theory of state capitalism I did not come to it by a long analysis of the law of value in Russia… Nothing of the sort. I came to it by the simple statement that… you cannot have a workers’ state without the workers having power to dictate what happens in society’ (interview with The Leveller, 30 September 1979).
In reality, Cliff had been heavily influenced by fellow Trotskyist Jock Haston about the Socialist Party’s view of state capitalism existing in Russia rather than socialism or a ‘workers’ state’, but Cliff could never break entirely with the perspectives of Lenin and Trotsky. Indeed, Cliff’s analysis was firmly rooted in the idea that the USSR was a form of ‘workers’ state’ before Stalin’s first Five Year Plan of 1928 established the bureaucracy as a new class consuming surplus value. Like all the Trotskyists that have followed him, Cliff did not identify the USSR as a society developing along state capitalist lines from 1917 but only from Stalin’s ascension to power. Under Lenin, Russia was supposedly a society in transition from capitalism to communism, based on working class power. For Cliff, a perceived change of political control led to a fundamental change in economic structure, to what in fact amounted to a ‘reversion to capitalism’. Perhaps surprisingly, those Trotskyists who remained faithful to Trotsky’s own view when in exile of Russia as a ‘degenerated workers’ state’ made some of the most pertinent criticisms of Cliff’s analysis, particularly his conclusion that the economic structure of the Soviet system had changed in 1928 and had assumed a capitalist basis. Foremost among these critics was rival British Trotskyist Ted Grant (founder of what became Militant):
   ‘If Comrade Cliff’s thesis is correct, that state capitalism exists in Russia today, then he cannot avoid the conclusion that state capitalism has been in existence since the Russian Revolution and the function of the revolution itself was to introduce this state capitalist system of society. For despite his tortuous efforts to draw a line between the economic basis of Russia before the year 1928 and after, the economic basis of Russian society has remained unchanged… money, labour power, the existence of the working class, surplus value, etc. are all survivals of the old capitalist system carried over even under the regime of Lenin… the law of value applies and must apply until there is direct access to the products by the producers’ (Against the Theory of State Capitalism, 1949).
This conclusion was certainly rejected by Cliff and all the other Trotskyist state capitalist theorists, though not of course by us.

Today, many council communist, left communist and Trotskyist political groupings identify Soviet Russia, certainly post-Lenin, as having always been essentially state capitalist, and like us, they have applied their analysis of Russian society to other ‘socialist’ countries exhibiting similar features in Asia, Africa and Central America. That we were not alone in identifying the capitalist nature of the USSR does not of course diminish our position as the one organisation which promoted a state capitalist analysis of the events in Russia at the time of their happening, and not merely with the benefit of hindsight. What is more, we have remained one of the few organisations committed to such a critique of the USSR and similar regimes, that has never sought to adopt or promote the Leninist vanguardism which so clearly led to that state capitalist outcome.
Dave Perrin

Next month’s issue will be a special issue on ‘The Aftermath of Leninism’ looking at the surviving Leninist regimes today.

Letter: Is Marx’s Analysis of Capitalism Relevant Today? (2017)


Letter to the Editors from the October 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

The article ‘Analysing an economic system’ (Socialist Standard, September) closes with the words: [today] Marx’s Capital remains valid and relevant. Well sure as his analysis is valid—correct, and Wall Street spivs confirm this, but as a political weapon for workers . . . well, increasing less so. The irony is that perhaps Marx’s Capital is more relevant to ‘city types’ than to workers. Marx’s illuminations to workers (and ‘city types’) on capitalism: its exploitation, surplus value, its transitory existence, its contradictions—and your point on behalf of Marx, that it’s iron-clad rules (economic laws) a have not changed over time…etc., etc., are interesting to academics and economists, but for workers today—h’mmm?

Has Marx’s analysis in Capital, as a value to workers for change, been surpassed by the actual practical workers experience of capitalism today in that today there is increasingly developing an impossibilist situation reality for most workers in the West that cannot be turned around or alleviated by social reformers or by capitalists themselves wishing to preserve their society in a Keynes moment? This to be quickly followed by others in China and India and emerging Africa and is this a development which Marx himself would have relished? Practical experience over theory and idea.

So who cares how it works, knowing that it doesn’t work and it cannot be made to work by ‘romantic fixers’ is knowing enough, the experienced reality that it does not work is by far the better educator for workers. Therefore, should SPGB and World Socialist Movement workers and Trade Unionists etc., etc., speak less of Marx and more point out the fact that it cannot be made to work and what it might be replaced with? To highlight how we might do things differently post capitalism is not to become the little cook in his/her cookshop churning out blueprints for some far-off future—the future is here and now. It’s time to start cooking! Let us all set out our vision of Socialist Society—free society and let us set in motion an on-line discussion and the World Socialist Movement set up another website for this very purpose; you don’t have to insist on party membership to participate—being a member of the working class ought to be sufficient.

In the West jobs are disappearing to Far East workers and technology and never to come back, wages are sinking never to come up, pensions are a pittance and State benefits practically non-existent—certainly diminishing rapidly, and bills for food, rent, clothing and childcare and leisure etc., etc., keep rising and more and more we work longer and longer hours and many in more than one job. The global capitalist economy has created too many workers needing to earn a living—and increasing that number by hundreds of thousands if not millions daily and capitalists cannot meet that need for employment and on wages adequate for everyday bills never mind descent living. Life is no fun for capitalists themselves, they cannot in general make an acceptable profit (acceptable to them) hence more and more tax dodging (legal, illegal and with permission), calls for set-up and maintenance grants, thus they can no longer afford to maintain their States, thus cuts (or austerity) in health, education and council spending and no way can any of these trends be halted never mind reversed. Two cases in point: UK trains and main energy supplier corporations for their size, customer base and capital input cannot make acceptable profits for dividend expectations and this with UK government subsidies for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades.  Even the mighty Apple Corporation is fast losing ground to Samsung and Huawei and up-and-coming others.

With the present state of technological development maximised by capitalists this perilous state of Western workers will soon befall those in China and India, and thus well over have the globe’s workers will be effected and feel threatened and angry—out of a job and their only source of income.

Endless talk about Marx and his illuminations are not going to get the job done.

Of course Marx and his dialectical method is invaluable for moving forward and we should be applying this method to everyday problems facing the globe as examples. Brush-up here: www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/books/index.php

William Dunn, 
Glasgow



Reply:
So you like the dialectic but not the much simpler theory of surplus value!

Certainly the evidence of the experience has shown more than any book that capitalism can’t work in the interest of the majority class of wage and salary workers and their dependants. And you are right that in the end, as long as people realise this, they don’t really need to know exactly why – though having some idea why would avoid the risk of being misled by radical-sounding reformists. As you say, understanding this is the basis of the case for socialism. The deduction from ‘capitalism can’t be reformed to work for the majority’ is that the majority needs to consider what different system of society would work in their interest. Which is where socialists come in. Experience does not automatically lead to understanding; reflection has to intervene whether this involves talking to others or reading.

Marx’s analysis – whether in his own words or in popularisations – is a key weapon in the socialist arsenal in the battle of ideas against capitalism. Agreed, we also need to present the alternative, which the second article in the same issue, ‘A World Without Commodities’, did. The discussion forum you call for already exists and can be found at: worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum.

Capitalism, at least in the West, is in a bad state compared to in some earlier periods, but whether we can conclude that ‘wages are shrinking never to come up again’ or that unemployment is to go on growing and growing is another matter. Of course, even if wages do go up again and unemployment goes down the case against capitalism remains valid. Capitalism will still be based on the exploitation of wage-labour for surplus value (as Marx explained in detail) and it will still be impossible to make it work in the interests of the majority – Editors.

Rear View: Corbyism or socialism? (2017)

The Rear View Column from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Corbyism or socialism?
Real socialism has recently been the subject of two articles in mainstream media in as many weeks. Such occurrences are very rare even during elections in which socialists campaign, leaving us to agree with Oscar Wilde when he stated ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’. Neither thesun.co.uk (28 September) nor nationalreview.com (6 October) score top Marx for accuracy, but many of their readers will have been shocked to see excerpts from our twitter account – @OfficialSPGB – such as ‘outdated failing capitalism must be eradicated and replaced with socialism and forget about wanting to manage capitalism to make it nicer’. The Sun is as superficial as ever, but National Review’s Jonah Goldberg tries harder. His best effort at critique invokes John Rawls: ‘any attempt to create a “true socialist” society runs into the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Every organization requires some small group of people to make important decisions.’ But no leadership has emerged since our formation in 1904 and our structure is based on democratic accountability and delegated function. Our registered ‘leader’ for electoral purposes is no different from any other member – other than that he had the misfortune for his name to be drawn from a hat!


Premier league parasites
Revolutionary change can only come about as a result of, as Marx and Engels put it, ‘the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority’. Until then, capitalism with its wars and want will remain. Until then, leaders and social parasites will continue to parade their privilege. ‘The Sultan of Brunei celebrated his 50 years on the throne of the tiny oil-rich nation in typically understated style. Dressed in gold brocade and festooned with medals, the sultan entered the capital – with his wife Queen Saleha and their children – on a gilded chariot pulled by 50 members of staff. The five-kilometre procession through the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan was part of a month-long celebration of his golden jubilee… Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam is… the world’s wealthiest monarch and was once the world’s richest man, with a personal wealth estimated at £15 billion ($20bn) in 2008. He lives in an 1,788-room palace and owns one of the world’s most valuable collections of high-performance supercars’ (ibtimes.co.uk, 5 October). Two others playing in the same league, Russia’s dictator Putin and the Saudi king, met recently. ‘Asked about ties with Riyadh during a panel discussion at an international energy conference Wednesday, Putin responded that Moscow doesn’t see close US-Saudi relations as an obstacle for closer cooperation with the Saudis, and added that alliances tend to shift. “Is there anything in the world that stays unchanged?” Putin said. “I think that all things change”‘ (abcnews.go.co, 4 October). Which for the 99 percent means the more things change, the more they stay the same.


ICAN! UCAN’T!
Unsurprisingly, ‘NATO gave a chilly reception to nuclear disarmament group ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize win Friday, saying efforts to end the atomic bomb must take into account the “realities” of global security.’ The reality is that nations compete over natural resources, trade routes and areas of domination. Such competition can and does result in war. ICAN, ‘the Geneva-based organisation, recognised by the Nobel committee for its decade-long campaign, was a key player in the adoption of a treaty symbolically banning nuclear weapons, signed by 122 countries at the UN in July. NATO, which has three of the world’s nuclear powers in its ranks, strongly criticised the treaty, saying it risked undermining the international response to North Korea’s atomic weapons programme. Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, welcomed “the attention given to the issue” of disarmament by the Nobel Committee and said NATO was committed to creating conditions for a world without nuclear weapons’ (en.prothom-alo.com, 6 October). UCAN’T expect peace in a capitalist world where war is endemic. Why focus on one type of weapon of war when the solution is to get rid of them all, and war itself by establishing socialism? ‘Our house is burning because it is made of inflammable materials—and people will keep dropping lighted matches. It is useless to tackle each fire as it breaks out. We must build ourselves a new house’ (A Message for Aldermaston Marchers, April 1960).