Sunday, March 17, 2019

The State and the Socialist Revolution (1940)

Pamphlet Review from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The State and the Socialist Revolution by J. Martov. (International Review, New York.)

This pamphlet consists of a number of essays written during the years 1919-23 by the Russian Marxist, Martov

Who was Martov?
“Integer”, the translator, gives a detailed account of Martov in his Foreword. He was a Russian Marxist who accepted neither the point of view of the Bolsheviks, nor that of the Mensheviks, but was very well known in Russia for his writings both before and during the revolutionary days. He was “one if the founders and collaborators on the Iskra, the publication around which the Russian Social Democracy developed”. After 1917 he opposed the infliction of capital punishment on workers who thought differently from the Bolsheviks, and he demanded trial by jury for political prisoners. Because he persisted in examining critically the policy of the Bolsheviks, he was driven into exile, where he died, poverty-stricken and a victim of tuberculosis.

Martov’s writings are of particular interest to the working class, for therein he carefully examines the content and lays bear the meaning of the Russian Revolution. In addition, he covers such important questions as “Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” and “The Commune of 1871”.

It is worthy of note that Martov, possibly ignorant of the S. P. G. B., arrived at conclusions on a large number of subjects which coincide with the views of the Socialist Party of Great Britain expressed in the Socialist Standard in the early years of Bolshevik rule.

Martov on “Soviets for All Countries”
After 1917, the Bolsheviks and their followers in other countries announced to the world that a new weapon, a new political form, had at long last been discovered which would enable the working class everywhere to win its emancipation. This “perfect” political form was, of course, the Soviet. Time and place were of no importance. All that was necessary was for the different peoples to make use of Soviets and each and every one of them would achieve Socialism. Soviets, the Bolsheviks claimed, would be equally efficacious in backward countries like Russia, Bulgaria and Hungary, and in highly industrialised countries like England and the United States. “Soviets are the perfect form of State. They are the magic wand by which all inequalities, all misery, may be suppressed”  (p. 14).

Martov ridiculed the Bolsheviks for their belief that revolutions were ready to break out everywhere, for their belief that workers and peasants, by embracing Soviets (a world merely meaning Council), could establish Socialism. He held the Marxian view that no political form can enable Socialism to be won, unless the material conditions are ripe for such a change, unless capitalism has reached a high degree of development. Says Martov: “No less than mystic is the concept of a political form that, by virtue of its particular character, can surmount all economic social and national contradictions” (p. 15).

Marx’s view on the impossibility of peasant communities passing directly to Socialism without passing through the intermediary stage of capitalism, can be found in his preface to the first edition of Capital. There Marx says: “And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement . . . it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development.”

It can easily be seen, therefore, how little the Bolsheviks understood the teachings of Marx (whose apostles they claim to be), and how badly they followed the advice he had to give.

Reality has shattered all these illusions
To-day, we hear little of Soviets. The reality of experience has taught that they are not “a magic wand”.

Reality, too, shattered many of the Bolsheviks’ early illusions. In his essay on “Dictatorship of the Minority”, Martov shows how the Bolsheviks were forced by conditions of the time to change their tactics and ideas.

In 1917, Lenin urged that the Russian workers would shatter the old bureaucratic and oppressive features of the State, once they had gained political power. He wrote of “the substitution of a universal popular militia for the police”, of the “electiveness and recall at any moment of all functionaries and commanding ranks”, of “workers’ control in its primitive sense, direct participation of the people at the courts” (p. 17). Indeed, Lenin claimed that the triumph of the Bolsheviks would bring to the Russian workers a more real democracy than that found in capitalist countries with the parliamentary system.

This soon proved to be an idle dream. (And yet, perhaps, it was not so “idle”, since such talk helped Lenin and his clique to gain support and power.) In any case, the programme above outlined was soon abandoned. It was found impossible to put it into effect in face of the backward condition of industry and agriculture, and of the peasant outlook. Alread, by1919, Martov could observe that the machinery of State in Russia was being strengthened, and that the apparatus for repression was being improved and extended. Martov sums up the matter in these words:
  Reality has cruelly shattered all these illusions. The ‘Soviet State’ has not established in any instance electiveness and recall of public officials and the commanding staff. It has not suppressed the professional police . . . It has not done away with social hierarchy in production . . . On the contrary, in proportion to its evolution, the Soviet State shows a tendency in the opposite direction. It shows a tendency toward the utmost possible strengthening of the principles of hierarchy and compulsion. It shows a tendency toward the development of a more specialised apparatus of repression than before . . . It shows a tendency toward the total freedom of the executive organisms from the tutelage of the electors” (p. 18. Our emphasis).
Again, on page 55, Martov tells us how things developed after 1917.
  “In Russia the evolution of the ‘Soviet State’ has already created a new and complicated State machine, based on the ‘administration of persons’ as against the ‘administration of things’ based on the opposition of  . . . The functionary (official) to the citizen. THESE ANTAGONISMS ARE IN NO WAY DIFFERENT FROM THE ANTAGONISMS THAT CHARACTERISE THE CAPITALIST STATE” (Our emphasis).
Naturally, Martov, like the S.P.G.B., held the view that the form of State in Russia was not as advanced as the “democratic parliamentarism” found in Western Europe. Whilst ridiculing the democracy of the more highly developed  capitalist countries, the Bolsheviks did not fail to make use of the features of repression existing in those countries (p. 19).

To put the whole matter briefly, after the Russian upheaval of 1917, as before it, the State Power continued to be in the hands of a minority, though it was a different minority (p. 19).

What was the historic role of the Bolsheviks?
In his Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels showed that after the proletariat has gained political power for the purpose of introducing Socialism, the State would become unnecessary, and die out. “State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of the processes of production” (Our emphasis).

If the conclusions of Engels given above contain the truth, the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was not followed by the introduction of Socialism. Or why the continued development and strengthening of the Russian State Power?

What DID the capture of political power by the Bolsheviks mean? Briefly stated, it meant this. The Bolsheviks became the instruments for the furthering of a capitalist revolution in Russia.

After a life-time of experience of working-class movements, Engels, in his preface to The Class Struggle in France, wrote:
  The time has passed for revolutions accomplished through the sudden seizure of power by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses . . . As soon as the situation calls for the total transformation of the social order, the masses must participate in it directly, and they must have an understanding of what is at stake and what must be won. This is what the history of the last half-century has taught us” (Quoted by Martov, pp. 57-8).
Both Engels and Marx knew from experience that before there could be a Socialist revolution, capitalism must have reached a high stage of development for “no social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society” (Marx’s Preface to the Critique of Political Economy).

The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the vague aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed. (See Martov, pp. 58-60.) What would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes?

Marx himself answers this question in clear-cut terms in his article, “Moralising Criticism”. Briefly stated, his answer is the following: In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. Hence, let it be remembered, in running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its slave position. Says Marx:
  Its victory will only be a point in the process of the bourgeois (capitalist) revolution itself, and will serve the cause of the latter by aiding its further development. This happened in 1794, and will happen again as long as the march, the movement, of history will not have elaborated the material factors that will create the necessity of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production and, as a consequence, to the political domination of the bourgeoisie” (p. 59, Martov’s emphasis).
Hence, we see the real content and meaning of the Russian Revolution. It was “only a point in the process of the capitalist revolution itself”.  The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged themselves to do what had not been done previously, i.e., develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet and helping it through a very stormy period. “For the proletariat can score a victory over the capitalists—and not for the capitalists—only when the march of history will have elaborated the NECESSITY (not merely the objective POSSIBILITY) of putting an end to the capitalist methods of production” (p. 59).

We had hoped to include in this article reference to two other essays by Martov; first, “Metaphysical Materialism and Dialectical Materialism”, and secondly, “Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, but, owing to lack of space, we must leave them for a future issue.

Enough, however, has been said to show that we consider The State and the Socialist Revolution worthy of careful study. Like the books by Gide and Yvon, reviewed already in the Socialist Standard, Martov’s appears to add further proof of the correctness of the attitude taken up by the S.P.G.B. [about] the Russian Revolution.

We recommend it to all workers. We are confident that, if widely read, it will dispel many of those illusions which have been hindering the growth of a solid Socialist movement during the past twenty years.
Clifford Allen

(The State and the Socialist Revolution is obtainable from the Literature Secretary, 42 Great Dover Street, London, S. E. 1. Post free, 1s. 1d.)

News in Review: Beeching’s rail cuts (1963)

The News in Review column from the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Beeching’s rail cuts

Doctor Beeching’s casuality list was as long as anyone could have expected.

Nearly a third of the passenger route-miles to be withdrawn; almost a half of the stations to be shut down; seventy thousand railwaymen, by one means or another, to be got rid of.

The Tories have always claimed that they are the party of free competition, which is supposed to be something which will bring enormous benefits to us all. According to Conservative propagandists, the worst thing that can happen to us is to be left at the mercy of a monopoly, which will do dreadful things to our standards of living. Yet the Beeching Plan will give, over large areas of the country, a transport monopoly to the road interests. What if these interests act as the Tories have assured us monopolies always act?

This is not the only example of how flexible is the Tories’ regard for their own consistency. At one time the British capitalist class, with the support of the Labour and Conservative Parties, thought that nationalisation of certain industries was in their own overall interests and was, therefore, inevitable, desirable and morally sound.

But since 1945 the capitalist class have been taking a second look at State control. Slowly but definitely they have changed the internal structure of some of the State industries; nowhere is this so apparent as on the railways.

Which brings us to the question of whether nationalisation, apart from being a fraud upon the working class, has also disappointed the capitalists?

The Beeching Plan seems to be going out for an immediate profit from the railways, without providing the kind of facilities which the capitalist class as a whole must require from a railway system. That was exactly what nationalisation was supposed to avoid.

There will probably be a big row over the Beeching report, with both sides representing their case as the one which has everyones’ interests at heart. And inevitably the working class will be wasting their time in another fruitless controversy while the real problem—the private ownership of society’s means of life—is left to do its worst.

Minister’s morals

Macmillan's government, perhaps on its death bed, continues to provide the popular press with some juicy front page copy.

The Vassall case, as far as the TWTWTW set is concerned, is still going strong. Jokes about the Admiralty are still sound social currency.

The case of the junior minister who lent his car to a delinquent youth was deprived of its news value just in time by the minister’s quick resignation.

And on top of all this, the missing model—missing, at any rate, until the press ran her to ground in Spain. (The Guardian reported her discovery with a sober couple of inches; The Daily Express with a giant, predictably leggy picture of her.)

The ministers' denials that they were engaged in what are coyly known as “improper" relationships in any of these cases, are convincing enough. Yet however subtly it has been done, mud has been thrown; the kind of mud that sticks.

A capitalist government can do all manner of unpleasant things to the working class who put it in power. It can break strikes. It can try to hold down wages. It can take the working class into a war which they know a lot of them will not survive. The working class do not seem to object to this kind of treatment sufficiently to turn the government out.

But a government cannot for long get away with anything which smells of corruption or sexual licence. Perhaps the working class, whose teeth are cut on capitalism's morals, feel that their leaders should themselves be beyond reproach. And perhaps there is an element of envy, at the easy, glamorous lives of rich men and powerful politicians,, contrasted to the drab existence of most workers.

In fact, the personal morals of members of a government are quite unimportant. There is no evidence that impeccable family men administer capitalism any more humanely than those whose private life is rather more complicated.

While workers click their tongues over the front page stories, capitalist society—the real scandal—quietly continues.

The budget

The theme of this year's Budget, claimed the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was expansion. Cheers, it seemed, all round. They are all Keynesians now and therefore believe that reducing taxes and increasing government spending will actually stimulate an industrial revival.

If this were so, then capitalism would have solved one of its big problems. There would never be any more recessions; no industry need ever collapse again.

But facts say, quite plainly, that economic setbacks are as much a part of capitalism as ever. In fact, the Chancellor's financial juggling, far from preceding and guiding economic trends, is the result of those trends and trails some way after them. Maudling's tax cuts, for example, were widely forecast to happen in some shape or form, because the economic and political situation indicated that the time was ripe for them.

In any case there is nothing new about “expansion" Budgets. Butler introduced one in 1953. So did Amory in 1959. A short time after these Budgets, both Chancellors forgot that they had been telling us that the way to prosperity was to expand by cutting taxes and increasing spending. The government brought in other measures which increased taxes and reduced spending. There is no reason to assume that Maudling's optimism will not be similarly forgotten.

This is the economic switchback of capitalism, which Budgets and the other measures try to control.

They never succeed; the problems of capitalism live on, long after the Chancellors who try to solve them are forgotten As each Budget Day draws near, the Chancellor is swamped with advice from all manner of reformist organisations. Some of these have recently come to the conclusion that the financial affairs of British capitalism are exceptionally complicated and need an enormous administrative effort to keep them going.

In The Guardian on April 2nd, Christopher Layton was hoping:
  Will tomorrow’s Budget be a milk and water affair, or will it at last demonstrate that the Government is seeking, to get to the roots of the country’s economic sickness?
And his question was partly answered by Samuel Brittan in The Observer on April 7th:
   . . . Mr. Maudling will need luck as well as skill if the gamble is to come off.
  Unfortunately the international financial system is full of weaknesses; the U.S. economy lost its zip several years ago and the European boom looks very old and tired. It is on these world uncertainties that we must keep our fingers crossed.  . . . 
Budgets, just like the rest of capitalism’s efforts to control its own anarchies, are a gamble. Maudling’s may be designed to allow Britain's ruling class to breathe more freely, but it is just as likely to fail in this as its predecessors.

Typhoid in Zermatt

One by one, some ugly facts have trickled out about the typhoid outbreak in Zermatt.

At first it may have seemed like a simple case of bad luck, the sort that could happen anywhere, any time.
Then an article in the Swiss paper Gazette de Lausanne suggested that the first case of the disease was diagnosed last September, that the village’s water supply had a doubtful origin and was not properly cleansed. A couple of letters in The Guardian of April 1st, written by people who had recently returned from Zermatt, offered additional evidence that all has not been well in the Swiss resort for several months. The lid was really blown off by a merciless TV programme. Later in the year, we shall probably know the full facts and it will not be a pleasant story.

In the height of the holiday season the population of Zermatt usually rose from its permanent 2,000 to about 15,000. Its prices were high, its hoteliers thriving. To keep up its attraction for winter sports enthusiasts, Zermatt installed a lot of machinery to take the visitors up to the top of the snow slopes. But behind this facade, it seems, the resort was neglecting essentials like a pure water supply.

Its own water resources were not sufficient to cater for the . influx of holidaymakers and so Zermatt has been tapping other, more risky, sources. Some of these were damaged by severe frost and that, possibly, is where the disease started.

In other words, Zermatt preferred to concentrate upon the gimmicks which it knew would bring in a quick profit and to take a chance on the safety of its public health facilities. Capitalism in general has come to realise that this is a short-sighted policy which can lead to serious loss of profits in the long run.

This is how it has worked for Zermatt, The typhoid outbreak has ruined the image of Switzerland as a hygienic country of sun and snow and healthy holidays.

And it has brought the unfortunate typhoid sufferers face to face with a principle which capitalism, in one way or another, always applies; profit first, the rest a long way after.


- Who's Nicky ?

- You mean what's Nicky. It’s the National Incomes Commission.

- Who commissioned it?

- It was set up by the government.

- What for?

- To consider wage settlements which the government thinks are too generous to the workers.

- Has it got a chairman?

- Yes.

- Paid?

- Yes.

- How much?

- Er — £12,500 a year.

- But . . .

- No more questions, please.

Housing: Both Sides (1963)

From the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

Both Sides (1)
  It’s a proper home for my kiddies I want—you can’t bring them up in a place like this. We'd go to Hong Kong if necessary to get one. (Mrs. Ford, London slumdweller—News Chronicle, 27.11.56.)
  Mr. Colin Tennant, 32, Princess Margaret's friend, is buying, on behalf of his family, an island in the West Indies. It is Mustique Island, in the Grenadines. Extending over 1,250 acres, it has eight magnificent beaches. I understand that the price to be paid will be in the region of £50,000. (Sunday Express, 5/4.59.)

Both Sides (2)
   It’s the rats are the worst. They even come out in the daytime when it‘s dry. I’ve never left the pram outside my door since one jumped out from under the blanket (Mrs. Doyle, Liverpool slumdweller — Observer, 27.11.60.)

  The Duke and Duchess of Norfolk moved from Arundel Castle to their new dower house in Arundel Great Park yesterday. The house has taken over two years to build and has cost £60,000 . . . The Duke and Duchess will hold a “housewarming" party tonight. (The Guardian, 7.11.61.)

Both Sides (3)
  Now they are seeking a house so desperately that they are prepared to offer their youngest child, nine-month-old Andrew, in exchange. He and the other children . . . have been in the care of Staffordshire County Council for the past 10 months. . . . (Andrew’s mother) said today: “You have to be pretty desperate to offer your child for a house." (Observer, 11.12.60.)
  He (Lord Snowdon) was very keen to tell me about the new house that people have been making such a fuss about. He told me he would be just as satisfied with a small cottage. (The Lord Mayor of Nottingham, talking about Princess Margaret's home in Kensington Palace, The Guardian, 20.6,62.)

Both Sides (4)
   ". . . a man in poor health who, with his wife and three young children, had for some time been living in one room. They had been living on National Assistance for more than a year, and after trouble with the landlord had to leave their room. The children had been taken into care because in the only alternative accommodation the couple could find, children were not wanted.” (From a Family Service Unit survey, The Guardian, 14.2.63.)

   After weeks of house-hunting, Princess Alexandra and Mr. Angus Ogilvy, who marry on April 24th, have found a home.
    It is Thatched House Lodge, Richmond Park, a house chiefly of the early Georgian period, standing in 2,200 acres of royal parklands and deer forest. It is on high ground with fine southern views over Petersham and Richmond . . . The house has twelve bedrooms, six bathrooms, six reception rooms, two cottages, a passenger lift, a squash court, a heated swimming pool, and stable block of five loose boxes. (Evening Standard, 12.3.63.)

Halo Halo!: Born in Sin … or Living in Fantasy? (2015)

The Halo Halo! column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

There’s only one thing worse than being cornered in the pub by a drunk Sun reader who insists on explaining, in detail, his personal analysis of the weakness in the defence at Arsenal’s last away game, together with the meaning of life and his recommendations for dealing with ISIS; and that’s being cornered by a bible thumper who recognises you as someone who needs, urgently, to be assured that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour.

At least with the Sun reader it’s obvious, right from the start, what he is. He doesn’t kick off by exchanging pleasantries about the weather and then start introducing Jesus into each sentence after twenty seconds. With the Sun reader you make allowance for the fact that the images tumbling around in his brain, formed by years of exposure to page 3 and lurid accounts of the private lives of footballers and models, will transform themselves into a stream of verbiage which can then be gushed out to explain any topic under discussion.

With the born-again believer it’s more difficult. What explanation is there for their surreal view of the world? OK, they may also be Sun readers which won’t help, but what other nightmares shape the fantasies of the self-confessed ‘sinner’? What is it that makes them ashamed of being human, convinced that their only purpose in life is to prepare for another, future one, in which an invisible tyrant will reward, or punish them, for every thought or action taken now?

This month we’re taking you on a guided tour of a bible-thumper’s brain, or rather the ideas on which it is fed, courtesy of a couple of religious websites. Fasten your seat belts and hold on tight: First, the titles of a selection of articles showing what’s important to Christian Post readers:

‘Muslims Will Continue Beheading Non-Believers Until Jesus Slays the Antichrist’. … ‘If Islamic Terrorists Are Devout Muslims, Why Are They Hooked On Porn?’… ‘This Pastor Chose Against Acting on His Same-Sex Attractions’. … ‘Former Megachurch Pastor Tells Oprah the Church Is “Moments Away” From Embracing Gay Marriage’. … ‘3 Reasons You Must Not See Fifty Shades Of Grey’. … ‘I Witnessed Men With Size 13 and 14 Shoes Kissing Each Other’.

A selection of well-balanced articles there, clearly making the point that Jesus loves you. Now, what can the Charisma News add to that?

How about –‘Evil Empire: The 10 Plagues, Islam and the Judgement of God’. … ‘Psychopathic Porn: The X-Rated Path of Destruction’. … ‘9 Prophetic Keys For Binding the Homosexual Spirit’. … ‘Have You Committed the Unpardonable Sin? … ‘Pop Evil Rocker Casts Demon Out of Brother’. … ‘Sex Trafficking Expert Has 5 Alarming Concerns About ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. … ‘Franklin Graham Speaks Bluntly About Transgender Bathrooms’.

Having digested these, and now safely in the arms of Jesus, you may now like to add: ‘Jeb Bush to Make Case for Stronger U.S. Role in World’. And don’t miss ‘Dilemma for Jeb: How Bush 3 Would Deal With Iraq’.

Ah well, it could be worse. At least it’s not just pointless tabloid sex and violence is it? Oh, hang on  . . .

Guns Before Needs (2015)

From the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Normally under capitalism it’s profits before needs but sometimes, since capitalism can’t exist without the state, something else is granted priority. Not meeting any of people’s needs of course but a state’s need to have armed force at its disposal. This, not just to protect sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets for its capitalist firms but also because, in the diplomatic jockeying between states for power and influence on the world stage, “might is right”.

The US government is concerned that austerity in Britain has gone too far as the war (or,  in Orwellian, the “defence”) budget has also been cut.

The US government knows that Britain, thanks to its imperial(ist) past, has in its armed forces a highly efficient killing machine that it can rely on to back up its own killing machine. The militarist lobby in Britain has wheeled out retired generals and admirals to support more money for the killing machine they once commanded.

And the attitude of the Labour Party? “Labour has pledged to outspend the Conservatives on defence in the next parliament, heaping pressure on David Cameron as he faces a growing rebellion over armed forces expenditure.

Ed Balls promised yesterday that Labour would go “nowhere near the huge scale of defence cuts you are going to see under the Conservatives”.

After a speech in London, the shadow chancellor said that he would prioritise defence in the spending review after the election, adding: “I think that it’s really important that we live up to our international responsibilities.”

Mr Balls added: “A Labour Treasury will want to back the defence of our country at a critical time, and that’s why I am refusing point-blank to sign up to the extreme plans that George Osborne has set out before us as his election manifesto.” (Times, 10 March).

Not that we should be – or are – surprised. The Labour Party has always supported the war preparations of the British state and the wars in which has been engaged. And yet there are some who still see it as the lesser of two evils.

But how do you tell the difference?

Proper Gander: Putting Protest To The Test (2015)

The Proper Gander column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unfortunately, ‘growing up’ usually means swapping your youthful enthusiasm for the decades-long sentence of stress and boredom we’ve learnt to call adulthood. Hopefully this won’t happen to the five young activists featured on BBC3’s Fighting The System. Showing enviable amounts of passion for their beliefs, animal rights campaigners Phoebe and Jayne protest at shops selling angora rabbit fur, and hand out leaflets reminding people in burger joints what they’re eating. Danielle is part of a group of climate change protestors who occupy power stations, bravely not letting the consequences of getting a criminal record stop them. Yaz is an 18 year old feminist taking a stand outside the Sun newspaper’s headquarters against topless models on page three. Sarah joins in with the occupation of empty-but-useable council houses in Newham, London by the Focus E15 Mothers group. All appreciate the strong friendships, new skills, and rushes of adrenaline they’ve found through their protests.

Direct action like this only comes about because the vast majority of us have little say in the important decisions which affect us. People end up going to extreme lengths such as jumping out in front of Rupert Murdoch’s limousine or climbing power station chimneys because they don’t have much influence otherwise. And why should they? Corporations and institutions are owned by a distant minority with their own interests to protect. They only take on board the wishes of protestors when it becomes advantageous for them to do so. Direct action hasn’t been able to make changes to the basic way society is structured to exploit and restrict us, and therefore new causes to protest about keep springing up. So, Fighting The System has a misleading title. The young activists it features aren’t fighting the system as much as fighting against some effects of the system, but that doesn’t sound quite so snappy. Hopefully, the activists will turn their energy to making real, fundamental changes to society.
Mike Foster

50 Years Ago: Malcolm X (2015)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to his autobiography, Malcolm X expected to die violently, but probably most people expected that, if this happened, it would be by the hand of a white man.

The assassination provoked an outburst of hysteria and apprehension—even regret from people who were only recently denouncing the doctrines which Malcolm X had expounded.

The murdered man moved in a world of violence. His mother, he said, was conceived after a white man had raped his grandmother. His father was also murdered, his skull smashed in and his body flung under the wheels of a street car.

It was only after the seemingly inevitable career of crime and drug addiction that Malcolm X became interested in the Black Muslims—an event which, he wrote, gave him “a little feeling of self-respect.”

He soon became prominent in the movement, attracting a lot of publicity with his teachings that the Negro should be strong, disciplined and ready to answer violence with violence. A few months ago he came to the Oxford Union to defend his own interpretation of Barry Goldwater’s famous remarks on extremism.

It is perhaps surprising that there was not a Malcolm X before. The oppressions and indignities to which the American Negro are subjected are so extreme that it was predictable they should develop their own, counter-extremist, organisation.

If history is any guide, it was also predictable that this organisation should split, and that the struggle between the two factions (the Black Muslims and Malcolm X’s Organisation of Afro-American Unity) should be as bitter and as ruthless as that against their common adversary.

We have seen this before. We have seen it in Cyprus and in Algeria and many, many times before that. We saw it in Ireland, in the days when Michael Collins was shot down on the far South road from Skibbereen to Cork.

In many ways, the United States today is a cauldron of savagery and hatred. In an ugly situation, the Negroes themselves offer scant hope. The summit of their ambition is in fact to be exploited on equal terms with the white wage slaves who now stand just a little above them on the social scale.

(from ‘News in Review’, Socialist Standard, April 1965)

How We Could Live (2015)

From the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Already, working together, we produce a great deal of wealth. But most of us don’t get to see or benefit much from it. Imagine how much more needed things could be produced and useful services provided if the 200 million unemployed people in the world were allowed to work.

It is not laziness stopping them. The barrier is profit. The people who own the world’s factories, machines and tools must make a profit or they won’t hire. If we owned these resources together, we could use the fruits of our labour for our own benefit. We could share out the wealth we create together.

We wouldn’t need markets and the waste that goes with them. We could directly produce enough for all. We could save all the work and effort that goes with buying and selling and shuffling money around and instead create more of what we need. No more tax  collectors, benefit officers or bankers. It would be more efficient to simply share out our produce freely and according to need.

Working together, we can free up our time so we can take control of the communities where we live. We could have democracy at work too. We would be able to control the real decisions that affect all our lives. There would be no privileged, rich elite able to buy their way to influence and power

We need to organise ourselves to demand common ownership and democratic control of the productive wealth of the world. It will take all of us, standing together, debating, discussing and planning in order to make the change possible. It can be done.

Voice From The Back: Once as history, twice as farce (2015)

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Greasy Pole: Goodbye (?) to All These (2015)

The Greasy Pole column from the April 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are close now to that minute or two at the ballot boxes when we have an opportunity to state what we think of the capitalist social system and its wars, famine, and diseases amidst its class privileges. Nationally the voting papers will be missing some famous names. Like Sir Peter (‘my biggest mistake in politics was to listen to Mrs Thatcher’) Tapsell, the Father Of The House. And like Austin (‘… even if we selected a raving alcoholic sex paedophile we wouldn’t lose Grimsby’) Mitchell. So where, among this confusion, can we find Aidan Burley the MP (for a short while yet) for Cannock Chase where in 2010 he clocked up the country’s biggest swing –– of 14 percent – to the Tories and who is such good pals with David Cameron that they are compelled to greet each other with a High Five whenever they meet to discuss how they are straightening out the kinks in British capitalism. Burley is 36 and since arrival in the Commons he has been a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. But it has not been all easy going for him.

Nazi Chants
During his time as a student at Oxford he managed to fit in his studies of theology with involvement in an ‘incident’ on a dance floor which led to his being ejected from his St. John’s College accommodation. Another event contributed to his decision – or perhaps his surrender to pressure from outside – to stand down from Parliament. In December 2011 he organised a stag party for a friend – Old Etonian Mark Fournier – at a crowded posh restaurant in a French ski resort. The slim chances that this would be a happy, peaceable celebration were not realized when Fournier arrived in a black Nazi SS uniform – arranged by Burley – which he flaunted full face to the camera. The guests enlivened the evening with Nazi salutes and chants of ‘Mein Fuhrer, Himmler, Eichmann’. When it was time for toasts Burley was among those raising a glass to ‘… and if we’re perfectly honest, to the ideology and thought process of the Third Reich’. Unluckily for him and his gruesome mates their behaviour was reported in The Mail On Sunday. There was an internal enquiry by the Tory Party at which Burley denied his active participation but the evidence proved otherwise. Cameron had to face the inevitable and remove his incautious friend from the job as a PPS. A French Court fined Fournier the equivalent of £1250.

St. Helens
Aidan Burley’s fragmented political career is not typical of the MPs who are leaving the Commons this May. Shaun Woodward was first elected in 1997, at first as a Conservative in the safest of seats at Witney (now represented by none other than David Cameron) and then, after being sacked from the Front Bench for voting against instructions on Clause 28, as a Labour MP. It might have been expected that he would do what in the Commons is regarded as the decent thing and resign to fight a by-election under his new colours (like the two recent defectors to UKIP) but he chose to ignore the pressures from his former colleagues and was rewarded by Labour’s leadership with the candidature for St. Helens South in the 2001 election. This was rather different from Witney, for St. Helens was still suffering from the closure of its coal mines and regularly ran up Labour majorities of well over 20,000. For Woodward in 2001 it fell to under 9,000. But Tony Blair was delighted, regarding this recruit as evidence of New Labour’s appeal, a kind of paragon ‘…clever, articulate…economically and socially liberal…genuine’ (he did not mention that he was also very rich). The lower benches were less exuberant; Chris Mullin, representing a Sunderland seat, was pretty blunt: ‘…one of New Labour’s vilest stitch-ups … made my flesh creep’ and on another occasion ‘The awful Shaun Woodward, his every word a sneer’ while on the opposite benches Michael Heseltine forecast that Woodward would ‘… soon become a dot on the horizon’. Among this passion of outrage and mockery in 2007 Gordon Brown elevated Woodward to Northern Ireland Secretary.

Now that Woodward is leaving the Commons, he will probably have to sell his modest house in St Helens, leaving him with the choice of six other homes in places such as the Hamptons and Mustique, which vary in price up to about £7 million. He is married to Camilla Davan Sainsbury from the family who have made their fortune through flogging supermarket food to the wage class in society. Sainsburys are unlikely to be supplying refreshments to the monthly meetings of the Sybil Club of which Woodward is a founder member. The club was set up with the objective of its members gorging themselves on food and drink in honour of ‘interesting’ MPs. As an example of a particularly ‘interesting’ meeting, one member described an evening at one of Woodward’s London houses closing with them all ‘completely stupefied’ but relieved that Woodward had a butler who would feed the parking meter in the morning.

Not all of the MPs leave the Commons willingly, congratulating themselves on a job well done. Two of them – Ann MacIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) and Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) have been deselected – a polite word for kicked out – by the popular vote of their constituency members. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) transformed himself from Labour to Independent after initiating some drunken punch-ups in the House of Commons bar. Then there are those whose motives we may speculate about because they are The Disappointed Ones, who once nursed an ambition to be their Party Leader. Like Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) and Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles). In this company William Hague is best left unremarked. All of them endured by virtue of the delusion that they represented a remedy for the chaos and vanity of capitalist politics. Like all those who by some means remain as our Parliamentary rulers. None of them will be missed.