Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Call To Arms (1913)

Editorial from the March 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist is a confirmed optimist. His optimism is the natural outcome of his conviction of the soundness of his principles and his faith in his class. Pessimism can only come from doubt of one or the other, or both, therefore pessimism is not permissible in a Socialist, and where it shows its dour visage, calls aloud for attention to the victim’s dietary, either of the mind or the stomach.

But though the Socialist's confidence that the future is with him, reduces pessimism to a symptom of ill health, even the healthy, vigorous revolutionary may become impatient without suspecting himself of being out of sorts.

And when one thinks of the attitude of mind of the working class as a class toward our movement, of the apathy with which they receive our message, of the dull forbearance with which they accept the contemptious husks that the master class throw to them, it is small wonder that the enlightened worker sometimes grows impatient at the slowness of the pace, and curses the inertia of the proletarian mass in deep, broad and bitter terms.

Of course the Socialist knows that industrial evolution will make the working class revolutionary; but he has been used to regard himself and his Socialist principles—revolutionary products of that same industrial evolution—as the instrument through which it works, and it is here that the impatience and disappointment is bred. It is easy enough to find acceptance of our message wherever our means enable us to deliver it. Our arguments are too powerful to be withstood ; our reasoning is too close to be denied. But, after all, what difference is there between he who apathetically admits the correctness of our position and that other who passively differs from us?

Socialism does not thrive on inactivity. The passive assenter is a corpse in this act, and Socialism can only be brought in by live men and women. It is not passive agreement that is wanted, but fighters—organised workers. It is possible to carry on our propaganda without money, but without workers never.

While it may be doubted whether the apathetic believer in our principles whom this call to arms might influence is worth having at all, it might be pointed out for the edification of those upon whom the fact has never been thoroughly impressed, how completely essential to working-class emancipation is the instrument of a strong working-class political organisation. Those who assent to our position, even though the extent of their support is listening to us until the collection bag heaves in sight, concede, of course, that it is necessary to capture the political machine, through which the powers of coercion are organised, nourished and controlled, in order to disarm the master class, as the preliminary to divesting them of their privileges.

The capture of this political machine is not to be the work of a moment. It must be captured by siege, not carried by storm. Essential as organisation would be for the last method, if that were at all possible, it is doubly so for the slow tedium of the first. For where the position has to be fought for inch by inch, where the Parliamentary machine has to be captured seat by seat, the very perfection of organisation is needed to synchronise action, to sustain the attack, to guard against treachery, and to secure a sound foundation for our feet to rest upon.

The working class must proceed to its emancipation as a class. Individual acts and individual effort can never throw off the capitalist oppressor. Just as, hereafter, the individual must in all public matters be sunk in the community, so, in the fight for that hereafter, the individual must be lost within the class. Every step must be taken as a class; every battle must be fought on class lines; every activity, no matter whether on the industrial field or in the political arena, must be carried through as part of the class plan of action. What does this mean? What can it mean but organisation —organisation on the industrial field—organisation on the political field ?

The unity of aim which is so essential to the successful assault of the capitalist citadel can only be secured by setting up the fundamental principles appertaining to the cause, and founding thereon, with rocklike rigidity, the organisation for each sphere of activity. The basis then is provided for united action. The principles enshrined represent the class thought, the class intelligence, the class predominance over the individual. Each one, in joining the organisation, lays his individuality on the altar of those principles, and becomes a link in the armour, an atom in the whole machine.

Just as, without those principles there can be no sound organisation, because there can be no bond of union, so without organisation there can be no unity because there can be no control. Organisation upon basic principles is the instrument which takes the power away from the individual and vests it in the mass. When the individual joins such an organisation he surrenders himself to the organisation, to be tested and tried and controlled by the principles of that organisation.

Such a political organisation is vitally necessary to the successful prosecution of the working-class struggle for emancipation so long as it is true that that emancipation must be sought in the political field, because only through it can the working class control its own political actions, only through it can the class prevent itself from drifting, only through it can the class become superior to the individual, only through it can the class secure itself against the treachery of such as might not be able to withstand the offers of the capitalist enemy.

The importance, the prime necessity, of the working-class political organisation, then, must be admitted by all those who agree that the workers must win their emancipation through the capture of the political machinery. In the face of this what is the position of the person who, while agreeing with the principles of the Socialist Party, fails to become organised therein ? He is one failing in his duty to hie class, for he is one who refuses to make himself amenable, on the political plane, to the class conscious proletariat. He is a menace, therefore, to the principles he agrees with, and to the class he belongs to.

There is a different attitude of mind, however, to which we must now address ourselves—the attitude of mind of the unbeliever, the sceptic, the man who does not think it can be done, or does not think it is worth while.

This is the attitude of the mental loafers, the people who are too lazy to think for themselves, or to examine the plain, simple facts which we unceasingly present in these columns and from our platforms.

And what are these facts? The hard, cheerless lot of those who produce the wealth, and the life of luxurious ease of those who produce nothing. The growing productiveness of labour and the increasing poverty and insecurity of the labourer. Thousands starving because too much wealth exists — because they have filled the warehouses and glutted the markets, and are not wanted in the workshops and factories.

Strange invertions of the natural order of things, one would think. Yet they seem to have no significance to millions upon millions who should be the first to demand their meaning.

It would almost seem as if there is no manhood left in the vast bulk of the working class of the world yet it is little more than forty years since the deathless effort of the workingmen of Paris. We know, of course, that the working class still have within them the capacity to repeat that effort. The evil is not there, in the shirking of danger, but in the indolent acceptance of the status quo, and the cynical disregard of the facts of working-class existence.
It is always harder to take up such a fight as the workers to-day have before them, just as in ordinary warfare it is harder to march than to fight. The excitement of the direct attack better fits our animal spirits than the weary labour of outflanking. Yet, though all our activities in the struggle can be translated into no more attractive term than the humdrum word “work,” the battle is none the less real, none the less trying, none the less necessary, and none the less worthy of the highest in our manhood.

What workingman or woman of any spirit can think without shame of the position of the workers under the present system. Cut off from all the means of life; doomed to toil unceasingly in sordid and filthy surroundings for no higher end than to heap up wealth for idlers; constrained to crawl and cringe and fawn and lickspittle before those who cannot even produce their own livelihood, theirs is indeed a position to be hotly blushed for. Nevertheless there are those, even among the working class, who assert that the workers have not the capability to order things more to their advantage.

The idea is shameful. It is an insult, not only to our class, but to human intelligence. The wealth at present produced is sufficient to give comfort and even a degree of luxury to every member of the community. The whole of that wealth is produced by the working class. We are asked to believe that the working class intelligence is not capable of solving the simple problem of distributing that wealth among the people who produce it.

We say it is a lie; the solution is ridiculously easy. We have simply to sweep away those who stand between us and all that is good under the sun. We have to take away from them all the sources of wealth and all the means of producing wealth, and to use them for the satisfaction of our own needs. Who gave the world into the hands of these idlers, pray ?

To the work of throwing down the barriers which the masters have set up between our class and the world, of setting humanity free to produce what humanity needs without let or hindrance, we solemnly call all working people.

To Arms! The World for the Workers!

Mixed Media: The Master and Margarita (2013)

The Mixed Media Column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Simon McBurney directed the Complicite Theatre Company in a ‘phantastic’ dramatisation of the novel The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov at the Barbican in London recently.

Bulgakov was writing in the USSR in the 1920-30s when Stalin ruthlessly pursued state capitalist industrialisation. Although Stalin personally liked the works of Bulgakov, the author faced prohibitions of his plays by Glavrepertcom (censorship committee) for concerning himself with the fate of intellectuals and Tsarists in the revolution and civil war. Bulgakov politically was a ‘liberal conservative monarchist.’

The Master and Margarita is a fantasy and political satire on Soviet society under Stalin and critiques the literary establishment, highlighting the corruption, greed, narrow-mindedness and paranoia in Stalinist Russia. Bulgakov looks at the relation of the individual artist to the state, censorship (‘manuscripts don’t burn’), the power of love, good and evil and human frailty. The novel was not published until 1966. Bulgakov was inspired by the play, Faust, by Goethe, the opera, The Damnation of Faust, by Berlioz, and his ‘Margarita’ is modelled after Goethe’s heroine, ‘Gretchen’ in Faust. In his ‘Confessions’ for Jenny and Laura Marx of 1865, Marx lists Goethe and Gretchen as his favourite poet and heroine.

Bulgakov has ‘Professor Woland’ (Lucifer) with his demonic two-legged black cat ‘Behemoth’ (Biblical monster in Job 40:15) visit Moscow where he exposes greed, bourgeois behaviour and the superficial vanities of modern life. Bulgakov portrays Satan’s Spring Ball where the notorious in human history such as Caligula are gathered with ‘the kings, dukes, chevaliers, procuresses, jailers, executioners, informers, traitors, and spies.’ In 1935 Bulgakov attended the Spring Ball at the US Ambassadors home in Moscow along with senior Bolsheviks such as Bukharin. The Master and Margarita was the inspiration for the Rolling Stones song, Sympathy for the Devil, and Salman Rushdie has credited the ‘magical realism’ of the novel as an inspiration for The Satanic Verses.

Bulgakov has a second plot involving the trial of ‘Yeshua Ha-Notsri’ (Jesus of the Nazarene sect) in ‘Yershalayim’ (Jerusalem) before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Bulgakov was inspired by the parable of ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Bulgakov focuses on Pilate’s words as he washes his hands in Matthew 27:24: ‘I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person,’ and the debate between Jesus (‘wanderer and mad philosopher’) and Pilate is drawn from Pilate’s question in John 18:38: ‘And what is truth?’ This Christian theme is explicit in The Master and Margarita with Pilate’s spiritual need for Jesus spelled out clearly at the conclusion of the play.
Steve Clayton

Action Replay: The City and the World (2013)

Mahmood al-Zarooni
The Action Replay column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the end of April, racehorse trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni was banned for eight years after admitting that he had injected anabolic steroids into horses in his charge. This has been claimed to be the biggest doping scandal in the history of horse racing, but it also tells us a lot about the general social setting of sport.

Zarooni worked for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. Godolphin, the sheik’s enormous racing and breeding concern, has enjoyed great success in winning top races. But it’s not just a matter of an expensive hobby or a money-making enterprise. Dubai presents itself as a modern city, built on ‘a foundation of innovation and uninhibited achievement.’ And ‘Godolphin, in encapsulating those same values, exemplifies Dubai and plays a meaningful role in representing the Emirate to the world’ ( So it is a gigantic PR exercise, one that could do without the nasty associations of this scandal. Just as it could do without publicity about the impoverished immigrants who build the skyscrapers and work as domestic servants to the Maktoums and their relations.

The doping scandal also reveals a great deal about how the globalisation of production and distribution under modern capitalism has affected sport. Most Godolphin horses are trained in Newmarket, but many of them spend the winter back in Dubai, enjoying the warmer climate there. This, however, may have been the source of Zarooni’s problems, since anabolic steroids are allowed to be used in Dubai, as long as they are no longer in a horse’s system by the time it races. In the UK, though, they are prohibited completely. This sort of thing has created problems in the past – in 2009 even one of the queen’s horses was found to have raced with a drug (not steroids) that had not cleared its system in time.

Global capitalism sometimes has problems with differing regulations in different countries, so truly global corporations have to make sure that they fit in with whatever rules apply where they want to manufacture or trade. Ah, the trials of being a multinational company . . . 
Paul Bennett

Greasy Pole: Not Another Maggie Thatcher? (2013)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the Iron Lady dissolved into ashes, something similar began to happen to her reputation, so lovingly nurtured, for strength, courage, honesty and humanity in her promotion of Britishness against any threats from without and within. First there were the biographies, in particular Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography by ex-Sunday Telegraph editor Charles Moore, the publication of which was always intended to be delayed until after her death. This was as she had ordered: the co-operation Moore received was unusually generous on condition that her wishes in this were obeyed (in fact he was – still is – too ardent an admirer of hers to even dream of going against her wishes).

Then there was the TV programme Young Margaret: Love, Life And Letters, to which Moore was an important contributor, if an apparently embarrassed one. This revealed a rather different character with a talent for cynical manipulation when it came to human relationships. For example among a succession of unsuspecting man friends she at first cultivated a relationship with one she described as displaying ‘…the kind of naivety only a Scotsman can have’ but who owned a fair bit of land and profitable shares in industry. When Margaret had more promising prospects in sight, the farmer was briskly passed on to her sister Muriel who was thus made (we believe) happy ever after.

Such discriminatory skills were also applied in the matter of some other holidaymakers in Madeira who are derided as ‘…rather tatty tourists, Jews and novo rich.’ And rich among the examples of cold, calculating tactics is her view of her father, Alf Roberts the grocer from Grantham, once credited, as she worked her way up to the top of the Greasy Pole, as an enduring, invaluable example of parental guidance for a supremely ambitious daughter. After her mother died Thatcher had Alf move in with her but this did not yield the kind of advantages she had planned: ‘He is eating the most enormous meals and doing absolutely nothing except reading’ she complained to Muriel, telling her she intended to ‘shunt Pop off … will this be all right with you? Otherwise he will just hang on and on and not take any hints.’ A month or so afterwards Alf was writing to Muriel that he never heard anything from Margaret: ‘in fact I don’t think I know their new phone number.’ And then, unremarked, he died.

Tory MP
A spin-off of the post-mortem reverence for Thatcher was the requirement that any aspirant successor would have to be, apart from female, as scabrous as the Lady herself. It seemed a promising time for the emergence of Liz Truss, MP for South West Norfolk and recently promoted Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education. Although new to the game of Westminster politics – she was first elected in 2010 – she quickly attracted some notice, for example the assessment of her boss Michael Gove that she was ‘a minister to watch,’ and then the calculated flattery of Labour MP Sharon Hodgson that she had the ‘common touch of the Iron Lady about her …she may take it as a compliment.’ Truss could describe her parents as ‘to the left of Labour.’ As a child she was taken by her mother to CND demonstrations and one of her school essays was an anticipatory piece on the fall of Margaret Thatcher. At Oxford she joined the LibDems, making something of a name for herself with an anti-monarchist speech at their 1994 conference. It was a couple of years later that she found her true place in the Conservative Party and, after the usual couple of abortive efforts, as the party’s parliamentary candidate for South West Norfolk, where at her first election in 2010 she had a solid majority of over 13,000.

She had been a Deputy Director of Reform, a ‘think tank’ which calls itself independent and non-political but which was founded by a Tory MP and a former head of the political section of the Conservative Research Department. Its declared aim is to promote what it calls a ‘better way’ for public services and economic success through private industry and market de-regulation. It also works for the abolition of ‘pensioner gimmicks’ such as free TV licensing and the winter fuel payment. So when Truss was promoted to Gove’s team she was well placed to implement Reform’s ideas on ’higher standards’ in schools. For anyone with any doubts on the issue there was her paper Britannia Unchained which denounced British workers as ‘…among the worst idlers in the world’ with too many of them who ‘…prefer a lie-in to hard work’. A ’key plank’ in her intentions for nurseries is to work the staff harder by increasing their allocation of two-year-olds from four to six. At the same time she has been free with strictures on those workers because when she had inspected nurseries here ‘I have seen too many chaotic settings where children are running around. There’s no sense of purpose’.. Among the response to these comments, from parents as well as experienced child-care practitioners, the arguments against stricter discipline for children were flavoured with reminders that the level of morale in nurseries would be associated with low wages, poor working conditions and a lack of expectations for the future.

And it must be said that Truss has not always been so strict in applying sound principles to her own behaviour. After her adoption as the candidate for South West Norfolk there was a move to reverse the decision when it became known that some years before she had had an affair with Mark Field, the Tory MP for Westminster. Some of the local Tories, dubbed The Turnip Taliban, led by former High Sheriff of Norfolk, Sir Jeremy Bagge, argued that Truss was unsuitable as their candidate because she had chosen to conceal the matter, leaving them to find out through a Sunday newspaper article. In the event, the rebellion failed and Truss continued on her way to emerge as a hopeful to be the new Iron Lady – who might in fact have taught her of the necessity in politics to be ready always to suppress the truth while energetically promoting falsehoods.

Capitalism's Dark Hour (1920)

Editorial from the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

We used to hear much more than we do now about the awful prospects that awaited the peoples of the world in the event of their deciding to substitute Socialism for capitalism. Not only were we to wade to our goal through a sea of blood, but we were to find, when we reached our Land of Promise, that instead of being a land flowing with milk and honey, it was a stoney and sterile desert. Famine and rape would stalk the land; anarchy and chaos would overwhelm humanity; rain and destruction would embrace all—all except the capitalists, departed per Cooks, with their capital (per Pickford) to “Wangaloo, in unpacific seas.”

Talk of that kind is not very fashionable just now—not that Socialism is any more attractive to those who used to indulge in such vapourings, but they are rather afraid to throw stones for very obvious reasons.

However, if our opponents dare not talk of such things that is no reason why we should be deterred, while on the other hand there are good reasons for reminding our fellow wage slaves of the hypocritical taunts that our capitalist enemies have not the impudence to use just at present.

We are moved to these remarks by the awful spectacle of human misery which capitalism in her very prime offers to our eyes. For some days there has appeared in orthodox Press a most agonising appeal for funds to relieve the starving multitudes of what are now called the famine areas of Europe. In this appeal the Statement is made that FIVE MILLION children are in danger of starvation, and we read this tragic announcement:
  “News is just to hand that only those children between three and five can be helped; the mites under three must be abandoned to starvation, for there will not be enough food to go round if these are included.” 
and it is commented, “It has been necessary deliberately to select which children shall be saved and which must be left to die.”

Those who have with such cool effrontery declared that Socialism could not feed her populations have here something to think about. The present system, with all its wonderfully fertile means of production, is helpless to prevent catastrophes of such dimensions of horror as no act of nature within human knowledge has ever equalled—nay, it is not merely that it is unable to prevent them: it produces them.

How utterly helpless the system is to cope with its own products is vividly shown by two other statements in the heart-rending appeal. “Our docks are choked with food," it says. “Food is ready, clothing is ready.” That is the first statement. “I am convinced that Central Europe is in danger of a famine that may involve all nations in a common ruin,” Dr. Arthur Guttery is reported to have stated. So, though there are ample means at hand to save these starving people, and though their misery is the concern of all other nations inasmuch as it is a standing menace of disaster, even to ruin, to all other nations, because those means are the property of the few instead of being the property of society, nothing can be done. Here the accumulated stocks of mutton cause the Government embarrassment, so that they are compelled to lower the price in order to induce people to eat more freely of it; there men, women and children are dying in thousands, and threatening to scourge the world with epidemic, for want of that very surplus mutton—yet this accursed system has no other solution to the problem than private charity, which really is no solution at all.

There is another side to the question which should disturb the complacency of those who regard themselves as so detached from this great tragedy as to be not greatly concerned. Only three short years ago it needed but a slight turning of the fortunes of war to have brought this awful calamity upon the mothers and fathers and children of this land. And more, it may yet be the experience of those now living in this country to find their food supply cut off by foreign powers. A comparatively weak naval force, operating in the wide ocean spaces, could do it, and capitalism shows itself capable, in the struggle for markets, of condemning rival nations to death.

Letter: Socialist Enclave (1979)

Letter to the Editors from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

I have read the last 12 copies or so of the Socialist Standard and nearly all your pamphlets, and am now quite convinced that you are the only "true" Socialist Party in that your primary concern is for the overthrow of capitalism (we’ve waited hundreds of years for that one) and class society generally (we’ve waited thirty thousand years for that one!).

However, my question is connected with that latter “overthrow". The SPGB believes in the ballot method, which is after all a sure test of the democracy involved. However, it is highly unlikely that all countries will arise one morning and breathe in the fresh air of knowledge and calmly (but surely) pen their votes for the social change. One country would have to begin the process (or a bunch of countries) and thus would still be faced with a surrounding majority of capitalist others. Just as capitalism arose as an enclave within feudal society, so socialism would arise as an enclave within capitalism, EXCEPT what would determine its survival or even its influence upon the other countries?

Socialism can exist only on a worldwide basis, thus if I and the vast majority of the British population voted for the SPGB you may find yourselves becoming another bunch of politicians in a world in which the social structure is capable of withstanding great attempts at Socialist "enclaves" (as I mentioned earlier). This Socialist "enclave" question is, I believe, the greatest to face socialists (greatest problem at answering, that is) since it brings to mind the problems of a world slowly changing to Socialism (if at all) and, assuming this, then in what manner?
Dan Vogel

Although we can use our knowledge about former social revolutions to investigate the process of social change, it is important that we keep clear in our minds the essential difference between each of these revolutions.

In particular, the revolution for socialism will be society’s first majority revolution—the first by the people of the world in their own interest. As such, there is no reason to accept that it will exactly follow the same lines as previous revolutions—for example that from feudalism to capitalism.

So we should not automatically assume that it is necessary for socialist “enclaves” to exist among the ruins of capitalism. The movement for socialism is now one of ideas and on that score all the developed world is pretty well at the same stage: workers in America. Russia, Europe, Australia. Japan and so on have the same ideas about capitalism and about human society in general.

In the other countries they are catching up fast; with the development of industry in the newly “independent" countries the people there will have ideas indistinguishable from those of workers where the development happened earlier.

Ideas do not stand still. For example, in the last thirty years we have seen important changes in attitude towards marriage, the family, education, difference in skin colour. These changes—which have happened worldwide—are the process of the working class feeling their way towards the conclusion that a fundamental social change is the only way to harmonise relationships within society.

In other words, there is every reason to think that the socialist revolution will be, to all intents and purposes, simultaneous throughout the world. For a time it may gather greater momentum in one country than in another, but this will quickly adjust itself. As socialism becomes a more possible reality there will be a rush toward it, rather than a hanging back. Speed the day!

The Soviet Union — in Facts and Figures (1958)

Book Review from the July 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

With a very glossy cover and 215 pages this book (published by Soviet News) is ludicrously cheap at 5s. It contains many facts and figures — and some fiction.

Among the facts are: the Soviet Union is the largest country in the world; the population is now 200,200,000, and the capital is Moscow, with 4,839,000 inhabitants. Whilst in the fiction department we are told that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a “Socialist Revolution”; that “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a socialist state of workers and peasants”; and that all power in the U.S.S.R. belongs to the working people; and that:—
  “The economic foundation of the U.S.S.R. is the Socialist system of economy and the Socialist ownership of the instruments and means of production.”—Article 4, Constitution of the U.S.S.R.'
But, The Soviet Union, In Facts and Figures, gives its readers ample evidence of the non-Socialist character of Soviet society. Ideas, attitudes and many institutions familiar to us in Western Europe and in America are also found in Soviet Russia, and are mentioned with pride in this book. Mention is made of the Armed Forces of the State “to defend the Soviet Union’s freedom, independence and security . . .” (p. 157). A large section of the book is given over to the “National Economy" — to the Five-year plans for economic development, capital investment, retail trading, foreign trade with other countries, the U.S.S.R. Chamber of Commerce, and the like. 

Important sections on the Soviet monetary system, financial agencies, state budget, budget revenue (including profits in the national economy, taxes, etc.) and information on Soviet banks and credit systems, should be of interest to all readers of this journal.

Much useful information is given on the so-called trade unions of Russia; on the only legal political party— the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; on public education and scientific development; on literature and art; and on music, the cinema, the theatre and sport. There is also a brief survey of religious organisations, and in the section on the constitutional position of these religious organisations we are told that “The only instances when the Soviet State prohibits the formation of a religious body is if its doctrines or rites are cruel or a menace to society (for example, sects that preach self-torture. sects that call for a struggle against all forms of government, and so forth).” So the Canadian Dukhobors. who are returning to Russia after years of exile from their native land, had better look out!

Although far from telling the whole story, or giving all the facts and figures about the Soviet Union, this book can be recommended, especially to Socialists who are able to read between the lines; and who whilst recognising the great technical advances that have taken place in Russia, do not fall for the “Socialism in Russia” line of Communist mythology!

The Soviet Union In Fact and Figures tells us of a great industrial state, not unlike other great industrial states: and as such is quite a good 5s. worth.
Peter E. Newell