Friday, March 8, 2019

Current Jargon (1982)

From the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arguing with left-wing groups is not always a useful way for socialists to spend their time, but it’s difficult to resist when they are so willing to take up the role of fall-guys to the socialist case. One such group which often attends on the SPGB is the International Communist Current; our opponents in several recent debates.

Outwardly their talk and publications are forbidding, unless you have a political appetite that relishes jargon. “Bourgeoisie”, “decadent” and “reactionary” are the ICC’s favourite words. Trade union leaders are always “derailing the workers”, politicians are always uttering “verbiage” and the proletariat are always being exhorted to “generalise their struggles”. Not bad sentiments really, except that they lose their descriptive power when you read them ten times in a single journal. Nevertheless, some do adjust to this form of political communication because it always gives the impression of familiarity, like a collage of well-known newspaper headlines gummed onto a canvas. Those members of the ICC with whom I have argued are among the most committed political people I know. Perhaps the jargon and the commitment are linked. For if you exchange the power of creative expression for a set of ready-made phrases, that only make sense when bolted together in particular ways, then you cease to be able to describe the world if you change your political position. And if you do, you must suffer a period of communicative incoherence.

Strangely, the case of the ICC is quite unlike their mechanical language. They delight in and glorify spontaneous action by the working class. Whenever some workers down tools or typewriters and strike or occupy their workplaces, this fills the ICC with hope for the revolution. Their publications are full of details about strike committee meetings around the world and they devote much space to encouraging attempts to seize control of an industry by councils of workers.

It is here that the ICC display an amiable, if childlike, character. Their sensitivity to the economic and social difficulties of the workers makes them lionise those who express militant discontent. An ICC member in an occupied factory would count him or herself as one among the potential key actors at a possible turning-point in history.

So great is their respect for spontaneous expression in the economic class struggle, that they build their programme of action around an international expansion of strike committees or workers councils. Themselves they see as providing the missing link between anarcho-syndicalism and the vision of socialism carried by the SPGB, repeated in their principles:
   Socialism, the mode of social reproduction initiated by the workers’ councils, is not ‘workers’ self-management’ or ‘nationalisations’. Socialism requires the conscious abolition by the working class of capitalist social relations based on the law of value, such as wage labour, commodity production, national frontiers, and the construction of a world human community. (International Review, May 1976, back page)
Urge the workers’ councils on, they say, and these will spontaneously throw up political institutions able to dictate the will of the workers, overcoming the capitalist class and their governments. From this exercise of power by the workers will arise full socialist consciousness in an international workers’ councils movement, that can then be used as an untainted vehicle for a complete revolution; in much the way that the SPGB says the parliaments of the world could be.

The fragmentary and local nature of workers’ councils means that their solidarity is easily broken by very ordinary propaganda from the employers. While the massive effort required to create and co-ordinate a world-wide council movement is likely to trigger invasions, or wars, in the countries so disturbed.

Anyway, the existence of the SPGB is a standing refutation of the ICC claim that all who advocate “revolutionary parliamentarism” become corrupted and absorbed into capitalism.
B. K. McNeeney

Thought For The Day (1982)

Quote from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
A peasant approached his king and asked: "How is the fight to abolish poverty going? The king replied, "Very well". The peasant then asked, "Then how is it that I am still poor?" "Ah", answered the king, "I am winning, you are losing".
(BBC Radio 4, 1.2.82.)

From Privilege to Profits (1990)

From the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

On a recent visit to Poland I stayed, first, in Warsaw, then moved to Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) in the south-west. In both cities, my main contacts were with the Polish Socialist Party (Democratic Revolution). This is a minority political party, opposed to the Solidarity government of Mazowiecki. It originated in a breakaway from the PSP, led by Jan Lipski, a revival of the old social-democratic, reformist PSP. At its first congress in December 1989 it adopted a new programme, and from this it is worth quoting their analysis of “Polish changes”:
  The alliance concluded between the opposition elite and the nomenklatura rests upon an agreement on a pro-market and pro-capitalist course of change in the economy. The immediate result of this has been the rescue of the ruling nomenklatura at the price of the admission of part of the opposition to power. At the same time, Solidarity has been transformed from an organisation struggling for the rights and interests of the workers into an instrument for wielding power. This is expressed in the conception of the union as a partner in government. In reality it has had to become a mechanism for transmitting orders from the government to the workers . . . The nomenklatura has realised that the previously existing system of rule over society has broken down and has executed indispensable manoeuvres to adapt . . . Part of its privileges are being exchanged for the profits arising from ownership, rather than political authority . . . 
This makes a lot of sense. It helps explain Jaruzelski’s sudden craving for “democracy” and power-sharing as being due to the ruling nomenklatura’s need for some sort of survival strategy. Last year Gorbachev declared that Russian troops would not be used to prop up unpopular regimes in Eastern Europe. Without Moscow’s support, and facing up to unpopular economic reforms, the nomenklatura needed some other prop, and Solidarity’s bosses could deliver the votes.

Secondly, the old “official unions” which had previously functioned as “a mechanism for transmitting orders from the government to the workers” were completely discredited. They served as a part of  management, disciplining the workers and urging them to increase productivity. But now that they no longer had sufficient support or credibility to be effective a new organisation was needed to take their place. Solidarity was happy to oblige.

The third point to note is that the nomenklatura – the Party officials, government apparatchiks and bosses of all sorts – are determined not to go under. A free market and a private enterprise system is taking the place of the old, corrupt and inefficient “planned economy”. Successful adaptation will require them to become capitalists and ideology is not going to stand in their way. Some have already set up private companies and are taking over the assets of state enterprises. Opportunism was a characteristic of Lenin. It continues to characterise Lenin’s heirs.

The workers’ position remains the same as before – working for wages while others reap the profits. Exploitation is always exploitation, and it doesn’t matter at all whether the bosses are organised as a private company, a public corporation or a party committee. Whatever the arrangement, what we get are mere wages; what they get is all our unpaid labour.

Importance of Democracy
PSP(DR) actively supports efforts to put pressure on Solidarity to hold democratic elections, long overdue. Although Solidarity was set up in 1980 as a democratic organisation, it long ago ceased being that and, as an organisation, has operated just like the Communist Party, with the leadership deciding policy over the heads of the members.

My impression is that the people I met liked our Party’s consistent and thorough-going opposition to vanguardism and to Lenin’s elitist view that workers need to be told “what’s what” by intellectuals and “experts”. They asked about how our Party is constituted and organised, and seemed to approve our insistence on democratic organisation, with our policy decided by the membership at conference, and our executive committee and party officers being required to comply with conference decisions.

I was asked if we were Trotskyists. There wasn’t much time, so I dealt with this bluntly by saying that any who call themselves Trotskyists have to answer for the suppression of the workers at Krondstadt in 1921.

Another point which had to be discussed was our opposition to reformism and refusal to ally ourselves with non-socialist organisations. Here we differ from the PSP(DR). Their programme includes a lot of immediate demands. In particular, they advocate “self-management”. At enterprise level, this suggests that workers’ representatives can work in tandem with management. The PSP (DR) also intend that workers’ self-management representatives should play a role in regional government and form a separate chamber in the Sejm (parliament). They do not specify how this would function in relation to the rest of parliament or what its powers and responsibilities would be.

This is to suggest that the state could be transformed to operate in the interests of the whole community. Tinkering about with constitutional changes does not change the reality of the system.

Fighting Solidarity
Another group I met was Fighting Solidarity, a group which operates underground, having little confidence in the success of perestroika in Russia. Like the PSP(DR) it campaigns for democratic elections in Solidarity but its ideas have little in common with ours. Essentially they are liberals, with a strong belief in such vague values as freedom, equality, brotherhood, and human rights. Liberal too in their belief in “natural market regulators”.

As I considered Poland’s worn-out pre-war trams, the drab half-empty shops, the archaic telephone system, well, I must admit I thought they might have a point. At least, in England you can get lavatory paper quite easily in the shops. But then I returned to England. And in this happy land I saw beggars in the Tube stations and teenaged jobless and homeless in London’s Cardboard City. The “natural market regulators of supply and demand” achieved that. Somehow I don’t think the grass is greener on either side of the fence. It never is for the working class.

What we would say to Fighting Solidarity and those who think like them in Poland and the other parts of the Russian empire is this: Do not deceive yourselves. Your problems as workers will not be solved merely by shaking off Moscow role. Free enterprise capitalism has precious little to do with the ideals you cherish.

In conclusion, the fact that ours is a movement with a clean and honest record where Leninism and dictatorship are concerned – our critical stance maintained over many decades has been shown to be right – will surely open many doors for us in Eastern Europe and Russia at this time of change.
Charmian Skelton

Marxism versus Leninism (1990)

From the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx’s theory of socialist revolution is grounded on the fundamental principle that “the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself”. Marx held to this view throughout his entire forty years of socialist political activity, and it distinguished his theory of social change from that of both those who appealed to the princes, governments and industrialists to change the world for the benefit of the working class (such as Robert Owen and Saint Simon) and of those who relied on the determined action of some enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries to liberate the working class (such as Buonarotti, Blanqui and Weitling).

Conscious Self-emancipation
Marx saw that the very social position of the working class within capitalist society as a non-owning, exploited, wealth-producing class forced it to struggle against its capitalist conditions of existence. This “movement” of the working class could be said to be implicitly socialist since the struggle was ultimately over who should control the means of production: the minority capitalist class or the working class (i.e. society as a whole). At first the movement of the working class would be, Marx believed, unconscious and unorganised but in time, as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves.

The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be “spontaneous” in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about (not that such people could not take part in this process, but their participation was not essential or crucial). Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would come to be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”.

This in fact was Marx’s conception of “the workers’ party”. He did not see the party of the working class as a self-appointed elite of professional revolutionaries, as did the Blanquists, but as the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing Socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

Lenin’s Opposing View
This was Marx’s view, but it wasn’t Lenin’s. Lenin in his pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, written in 1901-2, declared:
   The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representatives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals” (Foreign Languages Publishing House edition, Moscow, pp. 50-51). 
    Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside of the economic struggle, from outside of the sphere of relations between workers and employers” (Lenin’s emphasis, p.133). 
   The spontaneous working class movement by itself is able to create (and inevitably creates) only trade unionism, and working class trade unionist politics are precisely working class bourgeois politics” (pp. 159-60) .
Lenin went on to argue that the people who would have to bring “socialist consciousness” to the working class “from without” would be “professional revolutionaries”, drawn at first mainly from the ranks of the bourgeois intelligentsia. In fact he argued that the Russian Social Democratic Party should be such an “organisation of professional revolutionaries”, acting as the vanguard of the working class. The task of this vanguard party to be composed of professional revolutionaries under strict central control was to “lead” the working class, offering them slogans to follow and struggle for. It is the very antithesis of Marx’s theory of working class self-emancipation.

The Bolshevik Coup
The implication of Marx’s theory of working class self-emancipation is that the immense majority of the working class must be consciously involved in the socialist revolution against capitalism. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority”.

The Bolshevik coup in November, 1917, carried out under the guise of protecting the rights of the Congress of Soviets, did not enjoy conscious majority support, at least not for socialism, though their slogan “Peace, Bread and Land” was widely popular. For instance, elections to the Constituent Assembly, held after the Bolshevik coup and so under Bolshevik government, gave them only about 25 per cent of the votes.

John Reed, a sympathetic American journalist, whose famous account of the Bolshevik coup, Ten Days That Shook The World, was commended in a foreword by Lenin, quotes Lenin as replying to this kind of criticism in a speech he made to the Congress of Peasants’ Soviets on 27 November, 1917:
  If Socialism can only be realized when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years . . . The Socialist political party – this is the vanguard of the working class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative…” (Reed’s emphasis and omissions, Modern Library edition, 1960, p.15).
Compare this with a passage from the utopian communist, Weitling: “to want to wait . . . until all are suitably enlightened would be to abandon the thing altogether!” Not, of course, that it is a question of “all” the workers needing to be socialists before there can be Socialism. Marx, in rejecting the view that Socialism could be established by some enlightened minority, was merely saying that a sufficient majority of workers would have to be socialists.

Lenin’s Legacy
Having seized power before the working class (and, even less, the 80 per cent peasant majority of the population) had prepared themselves for Socialism, all the Bolshevik government could do, as Lenin himself openly admitted, was to establish state capitalism in Russia. Which is what they did, while at the same time imposing their own dictatorship over the working class.

Contempt for the intellectual abilities of the working class led to the claim that the vanguard party should rule on their behalf, even against their will. Lenin’s theory of the vanguard party became enshrined as a principle of government (“the leading role of the Party”) which has served to justify what has proved to be the world’s longest-lasting political dictatorship.

The self-emancipation of the working class, as advocated by Marx, remains on the agenda.
Adam Buick

Practical Socialism pt.2 (1990)

From the March 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
The first part of this article appeared in our January issue
Our practical proposals for the organisation of production in socialism are not based on arbitrary speculations about future society. These are developed, as Marx insisted they should be, from “the existing state of things”. In socialism, useful labour will produce goods and provide useful services directly for needs. In outlining the ways in which this could operate we begin from the fact that a world-wide structure of useful production already exists.

Under capitalism, useful production serves privileged class interests and is geared to all the conditions of the market, buying and selling and the profit motive. With the establishment of socialism these class features will be abolished, leaving the useful factors to operate freely and directly for needs. The mechanisms which co-ordinate the structure of useful production now will be continued into socialism.

Modern production is an immense structure throughout which even a simple article has a complex productive history involving a world-wide division of labour. For example, the components of a ball-point pen include a plastic holder, a plastic tube containing ink and perhaps a brass ferule joining the steel ball point to the tube. Yet these few components and their materials are the products of metal mining and processing, the oil and chemical industries, energy supply, and world transport. These features of modern production are widely dispersed and, in supplying each other with processed materials and finished components, they combine to produce goods with no single or overall plan. Instead, they operate in a way which is self-regulating. Each mine, industrial plant or manufacturing unit and each point in the distribution of materials and goods performs its function without having to know what is happening in all the other parts, even though it may depend upon what these other parts are doing.

Useful Stream of Information
A copper mine in Zambia receives orders from around the world and this is sufficient information to signal it to begin mining activity. A plant processing brass in Britain may order quantities of copper from Zambia and quantities of zinc from Australia, and on receiving these materials it produces brass which it then supplies to the units producing things like ferrules for ball-point pens. At a further stage in this sequence, the unit which produces brass ferules supplies them to the unit which assembles ball-point pens. In response to its orders, this point of final assembly then supplies them to the distribution system and eventually they are taken up by the users.

This communication of required goods and materials operates as a sequence of signals throughout the entire structure of production, indicating what each part of the structure should do. If orders exceed stocks, this indicates more production. Conversely, if stocks exceed orders, this indicates reduced production. Without any need for a single, overall plan, this will operate in socialism as a system of self-regulating production directly for need.

This useful stream of information begins with consumer needs and then flows throughout distribution and on to each required part of the structure of production. In the opposite direction, throughout the markets under capitalism, there takes place a contra-flow of information. It flows from producers, through distributors, to the consumer. This information is the prices of goods determined by the accumulating costs of production and distribution plus profit. Prices are increased in each part of production, from mining through industrial processing, manufacture and assembly, then accumulating further through distribution until the final price is passed on to the consumer.

Whereas the useful flow of information expresses needs and both stimulates and co-ordinates the production process, the opposite flow of information about the prices of goods constrains production by restricting it to what can be sold at a profit. In this way the effects of the market, with its buying and selling, are disruptive in that they erect economic barriers against the free use of society’s productive powers. The effects of the market also load production and distribution with a burden of wasteful activities which vastly reduce overall productive efficiency. A further related fact is that the disruptive effects of the market constrain the rational allocation of resources for needs.

Waste of the Market
This is most obviously demonstrated by the countless billions of work days which have been lost over recent years as a result of unemployment and the fact that it has not been profitable to employ the workers concerned. Unemployment has excluded from production a wide range of human skills vital for the well-being of the community and represents a lost opportunity to produce of incalculable magnitude. Due to the constraints of the market we have seen from time to time an accumulation of unsold stocks of goods that people have desperately needed. This has included such things as building materials when many people are homeless. Millions of hectares of land in Europe and America have been taken out of production because of limited market capacity for food sales, while at the same time millions have died of hunger.

Because of economic rivalries between capitalist states, millions of people are held in military forces and vast resources including materials, sections of industry, manufacture, energy supply and high technology are diverted into armaments production. Because of the high costs involved, the techniques which are now available for reducing emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal-burning power stations have not been applied. As a result, this pollution continues.

The economic mechanisms of the market serve no socially useful function whatsoever. On the contrary, their effects are entirely destructive. The function of cost/pricing is to enable a business enterprise to calculate its costs, to fix its profit expectations within a structure of prices, to regulate income against expenditure and, ultimately, to regulate the exploitation of its workers.

With the establishment of socialism these economic barriers against the free flow of information about consumer needs to the structure of useful production will be swept aside. People in mining, industry, manufacture, farming, energy supply and transport will in the first instance carry on with what they are doing, together with the people running useful services such as hospitals, education, communications and so on. The basic difference will be the new relationships in which they carry on this work. Instead of being employed as wage workers by capitalist companies or state capitalist enterprises, they will be able to work in voluntary co-operation with each other to provide goods and services directly for the needs of the community.

A proviso is that the self-regulating mechanisms which have been outlined, although adequate for an existing useful structure of production, will also operate against a background of democratic planning where further development is required. With the elimination of wasteful and destructive activities, however, vast resources of people, materials, means of production and technique will become available. Any such development would take place in accordance with a balance of needs and not the least of these would be a proper care of the environment.
Pieter Lawrence

The Passing Show: From the top (1961)

The Passing Show Column from the September 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

From the top

Who is for democracy?

Not Lord Citrine, if we are to judge by his recent speech in the House of Lords. The Daily Herald (15/6/61) reported him as saying:
  The TUC leadership has been weakened at almost successive annual conferences in recent years.
  I have sat and writhed in the balconies time after time when I have seen a wise, constructive policy put from the platform and defeated by the delegates on the floor.
  This is lamentable, because 1 do not think that really broad-minded policy can ever come from the bottom.
  I believe it must come from the top, from people who are capable of viewing the whole field.
This is a strong argument for dictatorship, from the man who was for twenty years general secretary of the TUC. If his views are held by many others in the head offices of trade unions, it would partly account for the yawning gap which exists in many unions between the officials and the rank-and-file.

Lord Citrine had more to say. He delivered a swingeing attack on the workers for their ignorance of economics. He said:
  The average worker has not the least realisation of the dangers of inflation. He does not understand that the economy can get out of hand and that savings can disappear overnight.
Perhaps the workers would show more concern about the fate of savings if the system we live under allowed him to accumulate any savings worth mentioning. But since one of the basic laws of capitalism is that the workers are paid only enough to keep them able to do the work required of them and to bring up the next generation of wage-earners, the protection of savings is a purely academic point for them. Those who have savings, i.e., the capitalists, will do their level best to see that nothing happens to them even if sometimes, since capitalism is essentially an anarchic system, they are not altogether successful. This is a problem for the capitalists, and we can leave it to them.

Lord Citrine, however, had better be more careful about upbraiding the workers for their ignorance. If they take him at his word, and find out the real nature of the present system of society, their next step will be to end it and to introduce Socialism. And what would happen then to Citrine’s noble title, and to the House of Lords where he airs his views, and to the cult of leadership which he supports?

Nothing defensive

Socialists have pointed out many, many times the absurd misuse of words when a ruling class arms itself with weapon-like bombs and then claims that is simply taking “defensive” precautions. The odd thing is that any ruling class, and its tame propagandists, can see this perfectly well—when the actions of any other ruling class are being discussed.

One example was seen recently in the Times. The Times leader-writers have very often discussed Britain’s "defence" preparations, the “defence" estimates, the country’s “defence” forces, and so on. But all this was forgotten when the executive of the Indonesian ruling class. President Sukarno, got Russia to agree to supply him with modern military aircraft. The Indonesian claim that these were merely for “defensive” purposes was seen at once as a hollow pretence. What was obscure to the leader-writers when it happened under their noses in Britain became crystal clear in the distant lands of southeast Asia. The first leader (5/7/61) said smugly:
  Jet bombers that are as advanced as any in the world have nothing defensive about them and it is obvious enough that West New Guinea provides the motive.
This is quite right, of course: one of the main aims of the Indonesian ruling class is to extend its rule over West New Guinea, which is at present still ruled by the Dutch. Obviously, as the leader says, modern jet bombers have nothing defensive about them. But what a curious case of selective blindness that the writer could not see that this applies to British jet bombers as much as to jet bombers in Russia or Indonesia!


In a world where many millions go hungry, one would have thought that the rich would try to conceal their more extravagant excesses of over-eating. But not so. One American gourmet is on a round-the-world “tasting trip,” and the Observer (6/8/61) tells us that he arrived in Tokio bringing with him:
   . . .  an alarm wrist-watch to time the grilling of steaks, a golden ball which will not sink immediately into caviar if it is over-salted, a miniature pair of scales for weighing meat and a microscope for checking its grain. He also carries a fourteen-point grading chart for statistical purposes.
Perhaps the very insensitiveness the members of the upper class, their willingness to display publicly the great gulf between the rich and the poor, will contribute not a little to their eventual downfall.
Alwyn Edgar