Monday, May 6, 2019

Gruesome politics of Orange & Green (1981)

From the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Are the killings, the bombings, the hunger strikes, the stone-throwing in Northern Ireland really quite as pointless as they seem on the surface? The short answer is, yes, they really are. They are completely pointless, both from the point of view of the wage and salary earning majority and also, nowadays, from that of the capitalist minority too.

Of course sectarian violence, which has been a recurring feature of Belfast life since early in the 19th century, was always pointless for the working class, but in the past it did make some sort of sense from the capitalist viewpoint in that it represented an expression of rival capitalist interests. But this is no longer the case.

What we are witnessing in Northern Ireland is a minority of workers fighting their masters’ battles of yesteryear, long after their masters have settled the differences which once divided them. We say a minority because the vast majority of workers in Northern Ireland, whatever their religious background, only want to be left alone to earn their living and live their lives under the sort of “normal” capitalist conditions as exist in Britain and the South of Ireland, free from the violence of both terrorists and so-called security forces.

A historical detour
At one time the capitalist class in Ireland was so divided that its two sections resorted to sectarianism in order to protect and further their divergent interests. The roots of the present situation go back, not to the Norman barons’ invasion of Ireland in 1169 nor to the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, but to the uneven development of capitalism in Ireland in the 19th century.

In the North, in and around Belfast, industrial capitalism developed just as it did on the other side of the Irish Sea in Lancashire and on Clydeside. The industrial capitalists of Northern Ireland in textiles, shipbuilding and related engineering industries-were in fact an integral part of the industrial capitalist class of the British Isles. The South, on the other hand, remained overwhelmingly agricultural. The interests of its infant capitalist class were different from those of the industrial capitalists in the rest of the British Isles: they wanted the erection of tariff walls behind which they could develop, protected from the competition of English capitalists. Their interests were expressed by the politicians of the Home Rule, or Irish nationalist, party.

When in 1885 the leader of this party, Parnell, perfectly expressing the interests of the Southern Irish capitalists, demanded that a Home Rule parliament should have the power to impose tariffs, alarm bells began to sound in Northern Ireland, especially as the nationalists were playing the Catholic card (although Parnell himself was a protestant). This was a shrewd move on their part since, the Catholics being in a majority in Ireland, it was an easy way of ensuring majority support for their programme. Election results from this period confirmed the effectiveness of this tactic.

Faced with the prospect of being cut off from the rest of Britain, and its overseas markets and sources of raw material, behind the tariffs walls of a mainly agricultural Ireland governed by obscurantist and incompetent nationalist politicians, the Belfast and district industrial capitalists decided in their turn to play the Orange card: to stir up and play on Protestant fears of “Rome Rule”. This worked too, so that from the 1880s onward the workers and small farmers of Ireland were lined up, according to their religious background, behind one or other of the two rival sections of the capitalist class in Ireland; the Protestants behind the big capitalists of the industrial North-East and the Catholics behind the fledgling capitalists of the South.

It is from this period that dates the mythology and rhetoric which still has some sway over sections of the working class in Northern Ireland. The Unionists beat the Lamberg drum and shouted “No Surrender”, “Not An Inch”, “Remember 1690”, “No Popery", “Home Rule is Rome Rule" and other such crudities. The Nationalists rewrote Irish history to make it appear as a 700-year long struggle (800-year long now!) of the “Irish Nation” to free itself from English domination. And they created an artificial pseudo-Gaelic culture—with harps, “Gaelic” games, Gaelicized names and other such affectations—to replace the real one which had long since died out on the East coast of Ireland where the bulk of the population lived.

Enter the Republicans
The only addition to this mythology since this period, and it is an important one, of course, is Republicanism. The Irish nationalist politicians were not republicans: they only wanted autonomy within the British Empire, a Home Rule parliament with certain economic powers. There was, however, a small minority, mainly “intellectuals” and Irish emigrants in America, who wanted to establish an independent Irish Republic by force of arms if necessary. The Irish Republican Brotherhood had been formed in 1865 but, apart from the Fenian “rising” in 1867 and the subsequent bombing campaign to try to secure the release of the Fenian prisoners, did little until Easter 1916. Then they staged what, if human lives had not been sacrificed, could only be described as a comic-opera rising: a relative handful of republican fanatics tried to take on the might of the British imperialist state in the middle of a war! Needless to say. they were easily crushed, and ruthlessly—the leaders, including the wounded James Connolly, propped up on a chair, were shot. The severity of the repression earned the republican cause considerable sympathy and support and after the end of the First World War the republicans, re-organised as the Irish Republican Army, waged what in Irish history books is called “the war of independence” against the British state and its army.

This conflict ended in 1921 with a treaty which established a more or less independent Irish state, but at the same time excluded from it six counties in the North-East of Ireland which remained attached to the United Kingdom. This arrangement was not to the liking of the IRA which then turned its arms against the pro-treaty elements who formed the first government of the so-called Irish Free State and has been fighting on and off against all governments in Ireland, North and South, ever since. This gave rise to yet another myth—the need to liberate the “Six Counties" from British rule and re-unite them with the rest of Ireland.

The Partition of Ireland
The 1921 Partition of Ireland was, in the political circumstances, the most practical solution from a capitalist point of view, and it suited both sections of the capitalist class in Ireland. The Belfast capitalists remained united with the rest of the British capitalist class, while the Southern capitalists got their own state with which to protect and further their interests. When the republican party (whose absurd name, drawn from 19th century Irish mythology, Fianna Fail, comes out better in English: Soldiers of Destiny!) came to power in 1932 under De Valera, tariff barriers were put up against British goods and an attempt was made to develop a native Irish industry behind them. In Northern Ireland, the “statelet” that was established there was given a virtual free hand by successive Westminster governments. Labour as well as Conservative, to run its internal affairs as it wanted. The term “statelet” is justified as the Stormont government was not simply an administrative unit of central government like the the local authorities in the rest of Britain. It had at its disposal armed force: the notorious B Specials. These were little more than an officially-recognised Protestant militia and were used by the Stormont government to intimidate the one-third Catholic minority who, ever since 1921 and still today, have been “loyal” to the Irish State south of the Border rather than to the British state.

Despite the fact that any system of election would have given the Unionist party victory, (there is a two-thirds Protestant majority in Northern Ireland) local election boundaries were gerry-mandered to keep Catholic Nationalist representation to a minimum. When in 1948 one-man, one-vote was introduced into local government elections in Britain, this was not applied in Northern Ireland as it would have enfranchised more Nationalist than Unionist voters. An unofficial, but nevertheless effective, system of “job reservation" for Protestants grew up, especially in public employment but also in some industries.

By the end of the 1950s it was clear that the attempt by the successive Fianna Fail governments in the South to develop Irish industry behind protective tariff walls was not going to succeed. The government decided to recognise this and in 1965 signed the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement which, as its name suggests, provided for tariff barriers between Ireland and Britain to be lowered and eventually abolished. In addition, Ireland was associated with Britain’s various unsuccessful attempts to join the Common Market in the 1960s and went in when Britain was admitted in 1973.

In other words, by the 1960s the Border had ceased to have any economic significance. The conflict between the two sections of the capitalist class in Ireland, which had arisen out of the uneven development of capitalism there, had been settled. Sectarianism no longer served any capitalist interest and could be and was abandoned. However those who had stirred it up to defend their economic interests found that it was not something that could be turned off at will. Too many people had come to accept the poison they had been fed on. All the same, with the economic basis for sectarianism gone, it could have been expected to die out slowly and in fact at the beginning of the 1960s this was beginning to happen. The IRA campaign launched in 1956—which was nothing compared with what’s happening today was ignominiously abandoned in 1962. Flags on official buildings in Belfast even flew at half-mast on the death of the Pope in 1963.

Illustration by George Meddemmen
Capitalism breeds divisions 
Why, then, did sectarianism not gradually disappear? When in the middle of the 1960s the Civil Rights movement was launched in Northern Ireland, the Unionist government in Stormont could have granted all its demands basically for the dismantling of the undemocratic features of the Northern Irish statelet since even the purest democratic system would still have left them in power, as subsequent events have proved. All the demands of the Civil Rights movement have now been granted and yet still, as the recent district council elections show, the Unionists can rely on winning.

The Unionist government, however, chose to react to the Civil Rights movement as if it were a Republican plot and unleashed the B-Specials. The result was predictable: the revival of the IRA as an armed protection against the club-wielding, trigger-happy official state thugs. The IRA was able to establish a basis from which to develop as a Catholic sectarian murder gang. But the leaders of the Civil Rights movement are not entirely free from blame for the worsening of the situation. In their political naivety—many of them were influenced by Trotskyite ideas that thrive in student circles they decided to supplement the basic demands for “civil rights" by social reform demands on which they hoped to unite Catholic and Protestant workers.

Their solution to the traditional Protestant/Catholic rivalry for houses and jobs in Northern Ireland was the apparently obvious and simple one of building new houses and opening new factories. But that is not the way capitalism works. Houses and jobs are limited under capitalism because it is a system of production for profit and not a system of production for use. Thus to talk, as Bernadette Devlin and the rest of them did, of establishing “equal opportunity” in housing and jobs when one group had come to acquire some priority in these fields as against another was bound to be interpreted by the first group as an attempt to take away jobs from them. The Protestants regarded this as an attack on their “rights” and “privileges” and responded by abandoning the Unionist wets (O'Neill, Chichester-Clark, Faulkner) and rallying round the more sectarian Protestant groups. Hence the rise of Paisley. Thus did the admittedly well-meaning attempt of the Civil Rights movement to overcome sectarianism have the opposite effect.

Crimes against the working class 
Thus, apart from the political bungling, the situation in Northern Ireland, even though taking an irrational form, still does have an economic basis. For historical reasons, the frustrations and indignities suffered by the workers in the Catholic ghettoes of Belfast and Derry and along the border areas of Northern Ireland—where percentage unemployment has long been well into double-figures—have expressed themselves as a support for the imaginary solution of a united 32-county Ireland. A number of unemployed young men and women from these areas, given the strength of republican and Catholic nationalist mythology in their communities, have been prepared to go so far as to take up arms to achieve this irrelevant objective. They have been prepared not only to shoot and kill other young men from a similar background who joined the British Army to escape from unemployment, but also an unforgiveable crime against the working class—to place bombs in pubs and shops, knowing full well that the victims would be ordinary working-class men and women. We hasten to add that the private murder gangs on the other side of the sectarian divide—the UVF and the like have been equally guilty of such atrocities.

This is one of the reasons socialists do not support the IRA but denounce it as an anti-working class, sectarian murder gang. The other reason is that the “solution” they propose—a united Ireland—is no solution at all. Apart from the violent methods they use, they share the illusion of other nationalists in the British Isles that the problems facing workers of Catholic background in Northern Ireland or workers in Wales or in Scotland are caused by some faulty political arrangement: rule from London rather than from Edinburgh, Cardiff or Dublin. In actual fact, however, these problems have an economic cause: the capitalist system of class ownership of the means of production and distribution. As long as capitalism continues to exist these problems will remain, however the political superstructure is re-arranged and no matter how radical or violent the rearrangement. The experience of the South of Ireland since independence in 1921 is proof enough of this.

Bobby Sands, Frank Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O'Hara . . . died, in the light of cold logic, for nothing more than to have the pillar-boxes in Northern Ireland painted green. While other young men, in the so-called “security” forces, are dying to ensure that these same pillar-boxes stay painted red. Nothing more, nothing less in the end.
Adam Buick

Cooking the Books: How much are you worth? (2019)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democrat member of the US House of Representatives who calls herself a socialist, tweeted in February:
 ‘Workers are often paid for less than the value they create.’
The American financial magazine, Business Insider, picked this up, commenting ‘this is essentially a restatement of Karl Marx’s “Labour Theory of Value”’. But was it?

Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t claim to be a Marxist – claiming to be a socialist is shocking enough for mainstream America – but her tweet is in the language of Marxian economics: workers create value and are paid less than the value they create. However, a further tweet suggested that she has a different theory of worker exploitation:
 ‘In fact, wages are so low today compared to actual worker productivity that they are no longer the reflection of worker value as they used to be. Productivity has grown has grown 62x more than wages.’
Since productivity is output per worker measured in money, ‘output’ can be very crudely – very crudely – interpreted as ‘value’, so what she is saying is that value created has increased faster than the value of what workers have been paid as wages.

Her beef is not that workers are paid less than the value of what they produce, but that they are not being paid enough of this value. On this theory, workers exploitation ‘in the economic sense’ is, as Paul Johnson put it in the Times (18 March), ‘being paid less than their productivity would warrant’. This was not Marx’s theory. He regarded all workers who produced value (and, for him, not all workers did) as being exploited in the sense that they always created a greater value than they were paid.

In its attempt to explain Marx’s theory, the Business Insider wrote:
  ‘Workers in a shoe factory are paid far less than the value they create. They have to be. If 100% of the money from shoe sales were paid directly to the workers then the factory would go out of business … But that raises a contradiction. If all workers are paid less than the value they create, then there will never be enough workers to buy the things they make.’
This is obviously true, but the article went on to misinterpret Marx:
  ‘Marx thought capitalism was inherently unstable precisely because workers are not paid the full value of their labour, and precisely because it is impossible for capitalists to pay them the full value without going bankrupt. It’s one of the internal contradictions that capitalism cannot resolve.’
There is a whole school of economics which argues this. But not Marx. The obvious flaw in this ‘underconsumption’ argument is that the part of the newly created value that the workers can’t buy back can be bought by the capitalists out of the ‘surplus value’ they receive. Not so much to buy shoes and other consumer goods but producer goods like factories, machines, parts, materials and power. However, they will only re-invest profits in expanding production if they judge there is a prospect of making further profits by doing so. It is this that makes capitalism ‘inherently instable’ as this condition is regularly not met, meaning that capitalism continuously lurches from boom to slump and back again.

A Hundred Years Ago: The Winnipeg General Strike (2019)

From the May 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘The Winnipeg Strike will go down in history as a magnificent example of working-class solidarity and courage’ (Bill Pritchard).
In February 1919, Seattle workers engaged in the general strike tactic, with 30,000 workers in 130 unions walking out for 5 days in sympathy with 38,000 shipyard workers. The city’s mayor, Ole Hanson, described the strike as an ‘attempted revolution’. A few months after, on 15 May, the Winnipeg general strike took place. It ended on 26 June. As in Seattle, the authorities declared that the Winnipeg general strike the first stage of a revolutionary conspiracy. For six weeks Winnipeg was the scene of a dramatic general strike when, having to endure unemployment, high prices and poor working conditions, workers from both the private and public sectors joined forces. The New York Times headline was ‘Bolshevism invades Canada’. The strikers, however, as in Seattle, sought only the right to collective bargaining and a wage increase. The evidence is overwhelming that the intent was not political revolution, and the great majority of Canadian workers, including most workers in Winnipeg, were not socialists. For most men and women, the Winnipeg General Strike arose from economic inequality that had become too impossible to ignore. Hugh Amos Robson wrote in his 1919 Royal Commission report on the causes of the strike. ‘There has been… an increasing display of carefree, idle luxury and extravagance on one hand, while on the other is intensified deprivation.’

1919 Strike Strike Leader Roger Bray in Victoria Park.
Not a revolution
The immediate reasons for the building trades and metal workers going on strike were for better wages and working conditions, for recognition of their unions and for the principle of collective bargaining. What took place in the city was a historic labour protest and one of the biggest social resistance movements Canada has ever seen. On 1 May, after months of negotiations, building workers went on strike. On 2 May, metalworkers went on strike when the employers refused to negotiate with the union, refusing even to recognise the Metal Trades Council as a legitimate union. On 6 May both unions met with leaders of the Winnipeg Trades and Labour Council who agreed to poll its other member unions on the idea of forcing the issues with a general strike. A week later, the final tally was 8,667 for and 645 against. On 15 May workers all over the city walked off their jobs. The women who worked the city’s telephones walked off their shift; nobody came to replace them. Within hours, almost 30,000 workers had joined the strike. It was almost the entire workforce of the city. Delegates elected from each of the unions formed a Central Strike Committee to coordinate on behalf of the workers so as to make sure essential services still operated in the city, such as the initiative to issue licences in order to authorise milk and bread delivery. The real lesson learned was how the workers conducted themselves during the strike. The strike demonstrated that the workers were fully capable of organising the community, and performing the jobs done for the smooth running of society.

But there were elements within the Winnipeg working class that were not sympathetic to the strike. De-mobbed servicemen returned to find many jobs filled by immigrant workers and some expressed a hostility against the presence of these people. Most veterans decided to support the strike, notably the Great War Veterans Association. On 1 June 10,000 veterans marched in solidarity with the strike and they regularly held open-air meetings. However, others formed the Loyalists Veterans’ Association encouraged by the establishment of the Manitoba’s Alien Investigation Board that allowed for immediate deportation of any immigrant deemed to be disloyal or seditious, legislation directly targeted at the immigrant participants in the strike.

There are those who claim that the Winnipeg strike was a revolution that failed as the press and authorities alleged at the time. Yet it was a strike by trade unions for very modest demands who fully understood that any attempt at insurrection would have resulted in failure and bloodshed. Socialism was not on the agenda. No bank closed its doors, and commerce and business carried on practically as normal. The workers were orderly and peaceful, avoiding any excuse which would provoke military force. Essential services were maintained. But the reaction from the employers, city council and the federal government was extreme with the federal government arming a bosses’ militia after the police voiced support for the strikers. The Citizens Committee of 1000, made up of vigilantes of businessmen and politicians, was organised to oppose the strike. It ignored the strikers’ demands and with the assistance of local press accused the strikers of ‘Bolshevism,’ of being ‘enemy aliens’ and of undermining ‘British values’. As the Citizens’ Committee was made up of members of the city’s elite, its motivations for breaking the strike aren’t difficult to see: the strike posed a threat to their businesses, and by defeating the strikers, they would continue to make their profits.

The authorities’ reaction
Federal Minister of Justice Arthur Meighen and Labour Minister Gideon Robertson met with the Citizens Committee which described the situation as a revolution and not a strike, convincing the Federal government that Winnipeg was in a state of rebellion. The ministers refused to meet or negotiate with the Strike Committee. Federal government employees, provincial government employees, and municipal workers were ordered back to work. An amendment to the Immigration Act was rushed through Parliament to allow the deportation of foreign-born strikers and the definition of sedition in the Criminal Code was expanded. The city council outlawed the regular demonstration marches.

Winnipeg’s city police had formed their own union in July 1918 and they officially joined the strike but were advised by the Strike Committee to keep reporting for duty to avoid the city from being placed under martial law. On 19 May Mayor Charles Gray instructed the policemen to sign a pledge not to participate in a sympathy strike. On 30 May the Winnipeg police refused to sign a no-strike agreement. They were all sacked bar 23. An 1,800-man force of Special Constables was hired and deputised to suppress the strike, many of them from the Loyalist Veterans’ Association who were now essentially strike-breaking goons.

At the time of the strike, daily newspapers — the Winnipeg Telegram, the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Manitoba Free Press — were the primary sources of information for the citizens of Winnipeg. The newspapers endeavoured to plant the image in the minds of the general public that the strikers were Bolshevik revolutionaries. The typographers at all three papers walked off the job on 17 May, but by 3 June the newspapers restored their regular distribution and redoubled their condemnation of the strike, misrepresenting the strikers and promoting the idea that the strikers intended to overthrow the government. The articles against the strikers became more strident in a campaign aimed at convincing the public and the world that Winnipeg was about to be taken over by insurrectionists. The Western Labour News was distributed by the Strike Committee to counter the propaganda.

The strike activists were to learn that there would be consequences from their actions. Eight involved in the strike were arrested on 18 July and subsequently brought to trial. A.A. Heaps, Reverend William Ivens, R.E. Bray, George Armstrong, John Queen, R.J. Johns and W.A. Pritchard were jointly charged on six counts of seditious conspiracy.

Bloody Saturday took place on 21 June. 25,000 workers assembled downtown for a planned march. Winnipeg Mayor Charles Gray read the riot act. When the ‘forbidden’ rally began Mayor Gray had at his disposal nearly 2,000 special constables, men from the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP), and General Ketchen’s 800-strong militia along with its armoured car with three machine guns. RNWMP rode into the crowd of strikers, beating them with clubs, and then the Specials followed up, beating protesters with baseball bats and cudgels while the army patrolled the streets. By the time Bloody Saturday was over, one man – Mike Sokolowski – was shot dead and another protestor dying a few days later from his wounds. Many were injured and many arrested. Authorities also shut down the striker’s paper and arrested the editors for commentating on the events of Bloody Saturday.

On 26 June, the strike was called off.

General Strikes as union tactic
The tactic of a general strike keeps returning so we should not be surprised that the Winnipeg Strike will receive the attention of many on the Left who think that a general strike can bring on the social revolution and the fall of the whole capitalist system. The mirage that the general strike is the way to achieve socialism must be rejected. It is impossible for the working class to take and hold industry as long as the state is in the hands of the capitalist class. Time after time we have seen general strikes defeated by the forces at the disposal of the ruling class through their control of the machinery of government. Sometimes brutal force has been used, sometimes concessions are made, and sometimes, workers are starved into submission. As James Connolly said, ‘a full wallet wins out against an empty belly.’

An ill-prepared or poorly supported general strike usually is a huge self-inflicted defeat for the working class. The groundwork for one needs to be laid in every workplace and every community to ensure that no one is under any illusions that it will be an easy fight against an alliance of employers and the government. When we speak of the general strike, we are not concerned with the all-out strike of a single trade union but of all workers. It is no longer an expression of the trade union movement but has become a class movement. For the general strike to have a chance of success, workers should be convinced of the importance of the goal. It must be shown that the purpose is legitimate and victory a realisable prospect. The general strike cannot be camouflage for revolution. The general strike, although powerless in itself as a revolutionary strategy, remains an important tool for the working class. In war, including the class war, there are only two options: fight to win, or yield. Both options produce casualties. There is no safe option for workers under attack in the class war, no place to hide in the hope of protecting one’s individual job, dignity and life. We can be certain that capital will continue to assault labour and workers will continue to defend their rights. Whether workers prevail will depend on the extent to which they fight as a class, using their greatest power – the power to stop production. Workers must use their power as a class and fight as a class. We must remember what it takes to win – fighting as a class. The general strike is a method to inflict damage upon our class enemy to protect ourselves rather than the means of our emancipation. Unions are bodies for economic defence, not political struggle. Workers join unions and go on strike to put more bread on the table. Only an independent political organisation of workers – a world socialist party – can promote the interests of the working class as a whole.

Bill Pritchard made a solidarity speech to Vancouver workers that their comrades in Winnipeg were in the fight, and it was now a question of standing by them and, if necessary, going down with them — or, later, going down by themselves. His advice was: ‘If you are going to drown — drown splashing!’ The working class must stand united, however ill-prepared their forces and however badly chosen the field.

Party News: Lestor (1953)

Obituary from the March-April 1953 issue of The Western Socialist

Word came a few days ago that our old comrade, Charlie Lestor, died in London in mid December. He was 80 years old.

Since my first contact with socialist teaching, back in Vancouver in 1906, the Party in Canada has produced many extraordinary characters. Lestor was one of these and in some respects it is doubtful if his remarkable capacity for outdoor propaganda was ever excelled or even equalled. In Western Canada, in the earlier years of the century, he did trojan work in the formation of Socialist Party locals, and the theoretical knowledge that spread from these centers influenced workers throughout the continent.

The years Lestor spent in Vancouver are still remembered. There is a spot close to the heart of the city where the Party during these years held meetings regularly. Lestor was so frequently the speaker at these meetings that the place became known as Lestor's Corner. He not infrequently kept meetings going eight hours at a time, returning again and again to the soap-box as the other speakers tired.

He was perhaps the first propagandist to carry the message of socialism to Alaska. He also carried with him a degree of recklessness and boisterousness that would be frowned upon today, allowing himself to become embroiled in the militant affairs of the Alaska Labor Union even to the extent of raising the red flag over the town hall of a town that had been taken over by striking miners. From Alaska to the prairies Lestor was known to miners, lumber workers, fishermen, dockers, farmers and town workers. Wherever there was a soap-box, there went Lestor.

In the late 1920’s he came to Winnipeg to edit the One Big Union Bulletin, the weekly journal of the One Big Union, and demonstrated at once that his talents were not limited to the lecture platform and soapbox. Under his guidance the OBU Bulletin became a labor union journal with a distinctly socialist slant, so much so that he was often asked (and not always in gentle terms) if he realised that the Bulletin was not an organ of the S. P. of C. Ever the work-horse, Lestor wrote editorials that often filled a page, news sheet size, gathered most of the news items that were sprinkled through the journal and wrote a weekly column (usually extending to several columns) that bore the heading. Lestor’s Corner. He also found time to engage in the preliminary work that led to the reorganization of the Party in the early 1930s.

Lestor gave up his position on the OBU Bulletin in 1933 or ’34 and went to England shortly after, becoming a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in London. He remained active in the SPGB until he no longer had strength to be active.
A. P.

Blogger's Note:
Obituary for Charles Lestor from the January 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard.

What is ‘millennial socialism’? (2019)

From the WSPUS website

Opinion polls suggest that the younger age groups in the United States – colloquially referred to as ‘millennials’1– are much more open to socialist ideas than their elders. At least the taboo that used to surround the word ‘socialism’ is rapidly disappearing. The figures are quite striking. A poll conducted in April 2009 found that 33% of the 18–29 age group favored ‘socialism’ over ‘capitalism’ with slightly more (37%) still favoring ‘capitalism.’ By August 2018 a little over half (51%) of the new generation of 18–29 year-olds favored ‘socialism’ with 45% favoring ‘capitalism.’ An even more recent poll, conducted in January 2019, found that 51% of those aged 25-34 and 61% of the youngest cohort polled, aged 18-24 years, favored ‘socialism.’  
Three factors help explain this dramatic shift.
First, the millennials are the first generation no longer affected by the legacy of the Cold War. During the Cold War ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ were associated with a fearsome external threat. Advocating them marked you out as a traitor. For today’s young Americans the Cold War is ancient history.2
Second, the millennials are the first generation to grow up with the internet. They are less likely than their elders to rely on the corporate media for news and its interpretation. The internet exposes them to a broader range of ideas, including socialist ones. 
For example, efforts by the corporate media to discredit and ridicule warnings about climate change have had considerable success. Thus the proportion of respondents in Gallup polls who agree that ‘the seriousness of global warming has been exaggerated’ rose from 30% in 2006 to 33% in 2007, 35% in 2008, and 41% in 2009. However, this regressive shift was confined to people aged 30 years and over. The campaign to deny climate change did not affect the distribution of views in the 18–29 age group.   
Third, the millennials are the first young generation since the Great Depression of the 1930s who have no hope of maintaining, let alone improving on, their parents’ standard of living. Many are already laboring under a pile of student debt. They face a grim and uncertain future. 
A broader radicalization
The changing reaction to the word ‘socialism’ is part of a broader radicalization of public perceptions of American society. Polls show increasing proportions of respondents willing to acknowledge deep-seated injustice in the country’s political and judicial as well as economic system. Only half of those questioned in a July 2018 poll thought that elections in the United States are fair and open. A March 2014 poll found an almost even split between respondents who considered the judicial system ‘fair to most Americans’ and others who thought it ‘unfair to most Americans.’ (Only a third thought it ‘fair to poor Americans’ with a half disagreeing.) And fewer than a third now believe the myth that ‘it is still possible for just about anyone in America to work hard and get rich.’ 
But what do Americans in general and millennials in particular mean by ‘socialism’? 
Here the polls are much less helpful. I have found no studies of this question that single out millennials. That leaves us with the answers offered by pundits. First, however, it is worth looking at a paper by Gallup pollster Frank Newport entitled ‘The meaning of “socialism” to Americans today’ (posted October 4, 2018). 
Newport offered his respondents a choice of eight answers to the question What is your understanding of the term ‘socialism’? (They were allowed to formulate an answer of their own if they wished, but only a few took advantage of the opportunity.) He compares the results obtained in 2018 with the results of a similar poll conducted in 1949, at the start of the Cold War. Here are the main results:
  • The definition of socialism as ‘state or government ownership or control of business,’ chosen by 1 in 3 respondents in 1949, was selected by only 1 in 6 in 2018. 
  • A definition of socialism in terms of ‘equality’ (‘equal standing for everybody, all equal in rights, equal in distribution’) was preferred by 23% in 2018, up from 12% in 1949. 
  • A ‘welfare-state’ definition of socialism focusing on free social services, universal healthcare, and other benefits was chosen by 2% in 1949 and 10% in 2018. 
  • The proportion of ‘don’t knows’ was very high in both surveys. 
The most popular marker of ‘socialism,’ now chosen by almost a quarter of the respondents, is therefore equality of status and rights, including consumption rights. I regard this as good news, because although this is not adequate as a definition it does have something to do with socialism.  
Pundits agree that the majority of millennials are opposed to state ownership. Even a major government role in regulating the economy has the support of only 25–30%. Christopher Gage concludes from this that ‘millennial socialism’ is a myth (American Greatness, 2/22/2019). Jimmy Quinn does not go quite so far, but in an article entitled ‘Don’t assume millennials and Generation Z have given up on capitalism’ he argues that many millennials are open to the idea of tackling social problems by giving freer rein to market forces. For instance, many millennials support the movement for zoning deregulation as a means of increasing the housing supply and reducing rents.3 
We in the World Socialist Movement (WSM) do not automatically equate opposition to state ownership with support of capitalism. That is because we do not define socialism as state ownership. State ownership can be and often is opposed from the vantage point of private ownership, but that is not the onlyvantage point from which it can be opposed. The WSM opposes both state and private ownership from the vantage point of common ownership, i.e., genuine socialism. 
It is useful to distinguish between ‘conservative’ and ‘radical’ versions of ‘millennial socialism.’ The conservative version accepts ownership by private companies and seeks only reforms of the ‘welfare-state’ variety, such as Medicare for All and free college tuition – a stance shared by many Americans who do not call themselves socialists (see, for instance, the dialog between Luigi Zingales and Kate Waldock in Chicago Booth Review, 2/28/19). By contrast, radical ‘millennial socialists,’ although they too oppose state ownership, want social change of a more far-reaching nature.
Older Left, Old/New Left, Newer Left
It is this radical variety that Ben Judah has in mind in his piece ‘What Is Millennial Socialism?’ in The American Interest (July 24, 2018). He draws three main contrasts between radical ‘millennial socialism’ and ‘the old 1970s Left’ – which back then was called the New Left to distinguish it from an even older Left.   
First, the 1970s Left – like that even older Left – appealed to ‘the working class’ in the narrow sense of manual workers, while the millennial Left appeals to ‘the 99%’ against ‘the 1%’ – terms borrowed from the Occupy Wall Street movement:
The fraying middle class was not the natural ally of the wealthy; it was not protected by the 1%. People who looked middle class, thought of themselves as middle class, and had ‘middle class jobs,’ but were in fact now drowning in mortgage debt, with their children saddled with vast college debt – these were also victims of the 1%.
Here the WSM has always been in sync with the view that Judah attributes to the ‘millennial socialists.’ We have always regarded those ‘people with middle class jobs’ as part of the working class.
Second, the 1970s Left still thought of ‘revolution’ in terms of violent insurrection by crowds led by charismatic leaders, while the millennial Left works for change by peaceful democratic means – through parliamentarian party politics. Here again the WSM is in sync with the ‘millennial socialists.’ Hopefully the Leninist/Bolshevik tradition of the vanguard party is fading at last.
Third, Judah joins the chorus of those who declare that the millennial Left is against ‘national state ownership’ and central planning. Its commitment to decentralization, he suggests, reflects the influence of anarchism. In his interpretation, however, the ‘millennial socialists’ are against private enterprise as well. Their goal is ‘a patchwork of social, collective, municipal, and union-run enterprises.’ As an example of this sort of thinking he cites the British Labour Party’s 2017 report Alternative Models of Ownership:
These are some of their alternatives: national profit-sharing schemes, community land trusts, municipal businesses, workers’ cooperatives like Legacoop in Italy or the Mondragon Group in Spain, employee stock ownership plans or a sovereign wealth fund to which FTSE-listed companies are required to issue a percentage of stock on incorporation. Millennial socialism is not trying to stop the market economy, but to change its players and rewrite its rules.
So it appears that joint-stock companies will continue to exist after all. And by omitting state ownership from the mix Judah distorts the position of the report’s authors, who do in fact include it in their economic model under the name of ‘national ownership.’  
Clearly the radical ‘millennial socialists’ have been deeply influenced by theories of ‘market socialism’ and workers’ self-management within capitalism. These are the main areas where we in the WSM are out of sync with the outlook that predominates among millennials. If we are to communicate effectively with radical millennials we need to acquire deeper understanding of these theories and broader knowledge of the practical experience associated with them.   
 [1] Millennials in the narrow sense are people who came to maturity around the turn of the century. Some observers identify those who have come to maturity in the last decade and are now aged 15 – 25 as a separate group, dubbed Generation Z (Z for Zero). I do not try to draw a distinction between the two groups and refer to them all as millennials.
 [2] About ten years ago I had the following exchange with a student at a local college. He told me that his sociology professor had announced to the class: ‘I’ll come straight out with this and hope you aren’t too shocked. I’m a socialist.’ ‘Well,’ I asked him, ‘were you and your friends shocked?’ ‘We weren’t quite sure what to make of it,’ he replied. ‘But no, none of us was shocked.’
 [3] This movement had its first success in December 2018 when the Minneapolis City Council voted to eliminate single-family zoning (National Review, May 2, 2019).