Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Capitalism in China — Whose Side Are We On? (1970)

From the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The article ‘The Red Capitalist Class’ which appeared in the November 1969 Socialist Standard has brought some correspondence from Frank Collins of Wellington, New Zealand — the vice President of the Wellington-Taranaki Footwear Operatives’ Union and a member of the pro-Chinese New Zealand Communist Party. Mr. Collins was a member of a New Zealand Communist Party delegation which recently spent five weeks touring China and we publish some of his observations below:
   I found this article very hard to see, though most interesting. But whose side is it on? — it must be one or the other. 
    I had the experience recently of a five weeks tour through socialist China. I saw nothing of the ‘old China’ like I once saw as a young seaman. Culturally much had changed — there are no beggars, no prostitutes . . . and no one trying to take you down. Rather I can state that living standards, housing and general conditions throughout the People’s Republic of China are on the rise. There is plenty of food, everyone is well dressed and shod by modern Chinese standards. There was no unemployment. I never saw an armed soldier or a policeman, only People’s Liberation Army men who are like the workers. 
    When in Shanghai I was told that the few 'capitalist roaders’ who had held power until 1967 boasted that the Cultural Revolution would fail in this city. There was no evidence that it had. It was the same in Peking and Canton, Changsha and Wuhan. 
   In six factories I visited I found that all were run by the workers themselves — by elected revolutionary committees of 12, 13, as many as 30, according to the importance or size of the industry. 
   I was impressed again and again by the relaxed methods in working by the workers — there was no hurry or bustle, no bonus or piece-work schemes in operation (which are the curse of the worker in the capitalist mode of production). As a result production had increased. Meeting with the revolutionary committees was something to remember! They answered questions freely, modestly and free from arrogance. 
   The worker in the factory receives medical attention for himself and family free of charge. The factory administration cannot sack a worker, whatever the circumstances. Should a worker in a factory wish to leave, he or she would have to apply to do so. Political education in Mao Tse-tung teaching is carried out in the factory’s time. 
   At the hostels where I stayed, this education is carried out by the staff — who, by the way, would be insulted if offered a tip. 
    With respect to China’s socialism, workers whom I spoke to were all of the one mind: that a socialist China was not possible unless Socialism was world wide.
What Mr. Collins says about the ‘new’ China is interesting — but proves nothing. It is common knowledge that China has changed a great deal since Chiang Kai-shek’s days but it should be obvious that one doesn’t decide that a society is socialist simply because there are no longer any prostitutes walking in the streets of Shanghai or because living conditions have improved.

Mr. Collins says that of six factories he visited they were all run “by the workers themselves—by elected revolutionary committees”. So what? If factories anywhere (in New Zealand, say, or in Britain) fell into the hands of workers’ committees tomorrow what would happen? Since workers at the moment all over the world are committed to capitalism, because they have not yet grasped any alternative method of organising society, these factories under ‘workers’ control’ would continue to produce commodities for sale. It would simply be a question of the workers driving themselves, holding their own whips, managing their own exploitation. The factories in China will be run on socialist lines only when the goods they turn out are no longer for selling on the internal and world markets and when the people working in them have no need for wages.

Mr. Collins also adds that all the workers he talked to understood “that a socialist China was not possible unless socialism was world wide.” We are glad to hear it — but this merely demonstrates that workers in China are in conflict with Mao Tse-tung's views. For example, Mao was writing in 1945 that Russia was a socialist country (that is, going along with the Stalinist myth of the possibility of ‘socialism in one country’):
   Russian history has created the Russian system. There they have eliminated the social system of exploitation of man by man and have realised the newest type of democracy, namely the socialist political. economic, and cultural system. ('On Coalition Government’. Mao’s report to the Seventh Party Congress in 1945).
Then there is the question of ‘whose side are we on?’ Mr. Collins’ attitude to the so-called Cultural Revolution seems to amount to whole-hearted acceptance of the official Peking version —that this upheaval represented a united front of workers, peasants and Maoists struggling against the proverbial ‘handful’ of ‘capitalist roaders’. The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not agree with this. The ‘Cultural Revolution’ was comprised of two distinct elements. Firstly there was the power struggle between rival factions in the old leadership — Mao Tse-tung acting as the figurehead of one tendency and Liu Shao-chi playing the same role in the other, though doubtless the infighting was infinitely more complicated (and opportunist) than this simple collision of two groups suggests. This gave rise to a situation throughout China where for a time there was no unified political power and as inevitably happens under these circumstances, groups of workers and peasants used the opportunity to push ahead with their own demands. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not aware of any workers’ organisation operating during the Cultural Revolution which was putting forward a completely coherent socialist analysis of China and the world, but there were plenty of examples of workers going much further in their criticism of Chinese state capitalism and in their proposals on democracy than any section of the ruling class was prepared to go. An outstanding case was the policy advocated by the Sheng-wu-lien movement.

The Ninth Party Congress marked something like the consolidation of Maoist control in China — with the leadership in the hands of Mao himself. Lin Piao, the amazingly durable Chou En-lai and the new men in the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Ch’en Po-ta (formerly Mao’s personal secretary) and K’ang Sheng (head of the secret police). Now that rival elements in the ruling class had been defeated it was time to smash organised working class opposition to Mao’s state capitalist regime. The traditional bogy of ‘left deviation’ (i.e. workers showing some political initiative) was resurrected and the slogans and declarations of the Cultural Revolution period were dropped, evidently because some working men and women were taking them seriously.

“Trust the masses, rely on them and respect their initiative’’, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party had written in their Decision Concerning the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution in August 1966. “Some units are controlled by those who have wormed their way into the Party and are taking the capitalist road. Such persons in authority are extremely afraid of being exposed by the masses and therefore seek every possible pretext to suppress the mass movement.” But when Chou -En-lai came in for criticism, wall posters immediately went up in Peking warning “the adversaries of Chou’’ against “any manifestation of opposition”.

“Party leadership should be good at discovering the Left and developing and strengthening the ranks of the Left; it should firmly rely on the revolutionary Left” had been the Maoist line during the Cultural Revolution, but now the official agitation is against “left extremism”— against the demand of some activists of the Cultural Revolution period who called for the ousting of the entire former leadership. Most spectacular of all has been the volte-face on the question of force. During the Cultural Revolution the official policy was that in order to “correctly handle contradictions among the people”, “any method of forcing a minority holding different views to submit is impermissible. The minority should be protected, because sometimes the truth is with the minority. Even if the minority is wrong, they should still be allowed to argue their case and reserve their views.” This is in evident contrast to the widely reported accounts of recent mass public executions. According to Tass, for example, nineteen youths were executed at a stadium in Peking on 27 January 1970 — because they were members of a left-wing opposition movement.

China is a capitalist country and, as always under capitalism, shows all the signs of a bitter class struggle in progress. Faced with a choice between the workers and the Maoist representatives of the ruling class, socialists have no hesitation in deciding whose side they are on.

Party News: About Ourselves (1970)

From the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is the Socialist Party of Great Britain?
An independent political party which stands opposed to all others in this country, including the Labour and Communist parties. Our only links are with similar socialist parties in some other parts of the world.

What is your aim?
The replacement of the existing capitalist system of society by a new and different system we call Socialism.

What is capitalism?
A system based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth (land, industry, railways, offices and the like) by a section only of society who thus form a privileged class. The others, who in return for a wage or salary produce wealth for sale with a view to profit, make up the producing or working class. In Britain less than five per cent of the population belong to the owning or capitalist class. Most people — those who work in offices as well as those who work in the factories — are in the working class.

What is Socialism?
A democratic world community without frontiers based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth by society as a whole. Socialism will abolish classes and free all mankind from exploitation and oppression. The basis of Socialism is this ownership of all the means of production by the whole community; control over their use will rest in the hands of the community through democratic institutions. Wealth will be produced not for sale or profit, but solely to satisfy human needs. This means the end of buying and selling and all the other financial and commercial institutions like money, prices, wages and banks. People will co-operate to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs.

Will everything belong to the State?
No. The State does not represent the whole community; it serves the interests only of those who own the means of production. State ownership or nationalisation is one of the ways in which this class controls industry. When the State takes over industries (like the railways and coalmines in Britain) it does so in their interests. State ownership leaves unchanged the class basis of society, .the profit motive and the wages system, all of which Socialism will abolish. Nationalisation is just State capitalism.

What system exists in Russia?
Russian society is part of world capitalist society. It shows all the essential features of capitalism: a class who control the means of production .through their control of political power; another class forced to work for wages; production of goods for sale with a view to profit and the accumulation of capital out of profits. The same goes for countries like China, Cuba and Yugoslavia. They like Russia have State capitalism.

Do you want something like the kibbutzim in Israel?
Socialism can only be a world community without frontiers. It cannot be established in one country let alone on one farm. The kibbutzim do show that human beings can live without money and can work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted so that young people are tending to leave them. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.

How do you advocate Socialism should be established?
By the class of wage and salary earners, once a majority of them want and understand Socialism, taking democratic political action to change the basis of society from the class to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Why must there be a majority in favour of the change to Socialism before it can be made?
Socialism, by its very nature as a system involving voluntary co-operation, could only be kept going by those who really wanted it and knew what it involved. Any attempt to establish Socialism without a majority first being in favour is bound to fail.

Do you repudiate undemocratic minority action to achieve Socialism?
Most definitely. No leaders, however sincere or able, can lead a non-socialist working class to Socialism. Leaders who take power while a majority do not understand Socialism have no choice but to develop and administer capitalism, as has been shown in Russia and by the various Labour governments in Britain. When a majority do want and understand Socialism they have no need of leaders, but only to organise themselves democratically.

Why do you advocate political action to achieve Socialism?
It is their control of the machinery of government that now allows the capitalist class to protect their privileged position as the owners of the means of production. In Britain it is parliament that makes the laws granting them property rights and it is the police and the Courts, and if need be the army, that enforce these laws. The socialist majority must win political power in order to remove the protection the government machine now gives to class ownership and to carry through the establishment of the common ownership of the means of production.

How do you advocate the Socialist majority should win political power?
By using their votes to elect Socialist delegates to Parliament and the local councils. A Socialist victory in a democratically-run election would demonstrate to all that a majority were in favour of the change to Socialism.

Why are you opposed to all other political parties?
All of them accept the capitalist system and believe that current social problems can be solved within its framework.

Why do you think that reforms of the capitalist system are not the solution?
These problems are caused by the class ownership of the means of production which all reforms leave unchanged. The policy of trying to deal with social problems one by one by reforms of capitalism is futile as this is to deal with effects and not the cause. We call this policy “reformism” and are opposed to it.

But surely you are not against all reforms?
We are not opposed to reforms which may bring temporary relief to some workers, but we do not regard it as the task of a socialist party to propose reforms of capitalism. Were we to do this we could easily soon become just another reformist party. To avoid this danger we advocate Socialism only.

Why have all the other parties failed?
Basically because capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interests of the class of wage and salary earners. It is a class system that can only work for those who own the means of production. Any party, be it Labour or Conservative, which takes power under capitalism is forced to run that system in the only way it can be and so is inevitably brought into conflict with the mass of people who work for a wage or salary. This has been proved time and again.

So it is not because the politicians are not determined enough or are incompetent or dishonest that they fail?
No. No matter how determined or able or sincere the members of a government may be they still could not make capitalism work for the good of all. The politicians fail because they have to accept the class system which causes the problems they are always promising to solve.

Everything has its price (1970)

From the July 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

One fact which is made very clear by the operation of things like the welfare state, social aid agencies, criminal records, is that a capitalist state simply cannot function without some means of identifying people. There are of course simple ways of doing this— the policeman asks you your name and address—and there are more complex and refined methods, like matching fingerprints.

Another method, which has only recently come onto the scene, is by referring to speech patterns. This works on the theory that each person speaks to an individual style, has a personal vocabulary and uses some words and phrases persistently while others hardly at all. (Professional footballers on television seem quite unable to utter more than a couple of words without interjecting “y’know” but perhaps that is a social, rather than an individual, fashion.)

Now there is no reason to confine this method to the identification of people. If we apply it to society, it has its uses in telling us something about a social system. One word, for example, which is in constant use under capitalism is “market”. We hear about the Common Market, market economics, market research and so on. What does that tell us about capitalism ?

A market originally meant a gathering of people for the purpose of buying and selling goods. Time has rather modified this; a market need not now be a place where people gather but it is still, in some shape or form, a place where goods are sold. So one fact from capitalism’s constant use of the word is that it is a system of buying and selling where the dominating motive for production is profitable sale. It follows from this that everything must have a price and that there are laws and principles and procedures which operate to arrive at that price.

This may seem like labouring the obvious, were it not that there are unpleasant implications to the pricing of everything and that lots of people who think that capitalism and its market economy are examples of eternal sanity often find themselves protesting at the way the economy has to work. For example there is the case of Stewkley Church.

This is a church in Buckinghamshire with enough ancient material in it to justify the description 12th. century; in fact it is said to be among the finest Norman village churches in England. The mediaeval craftsmen who built the place, who knew nothing of modern technology or market research, were unwise enough to put it down in a place which may be needed for the third London Airport. If the airport is built at nearby Cublington, Stewkley Church will be destroyed.

The location of the airport is at present being considered by the Roskill Commission and one of their jobs is to put a price on each of the four possible sites. This price will be made up of the costs of such as new communication systems, the loss of agricultural land, the destruction of buildings. So it came about that, about six months ago, a firm of business consultants made what is called a cost-benefit analysis of Stewkley Church. The euphemism is itself enough to illuminate the function of the consultants. They costed the church at £51,000.

This figure, however represents only the fire insurance value and some local people don’t think this covers the situation. The chairman of Buckingham County Council has said that the three Norman arches in the church are worth, as works of art, about £1 million each. The secretary of the church preservation committee thinks it is impossible to put a value on the place; he probably agrees with the chairman of the group who are resisting the airport, who says “It is like trying to put a value on a summer’s day.”

In fact, capitalism does put a value on a summer’s day. And on a work of art. On a church. A social system which works by profit, whose wheels are lubricated by money, must put a price on everything. It bruises many sensitivities in the process, but capitalism can work in only one way. That is why vandalism is part of its history. Stewkley Church would not be the first bit of history to be trampled under in the march for profit.

Then there is the case of the judge’s life. A couple of months ago, a High Court action began, in which an American rubber company sued three other firms for alleged infringement of a patent on a production process. One judge heard the case for 30 days and then died before he could give judgement, which of course was not only inconvenient but also very costly.

The original hearing cost about £60,000 and the repeat, before another judge, was expected to come to about another £50,000. So all four of the companies united to take out a joint insurance policy on the life of the judge, for the estimated cost of the retrial.

One can imagine the judge—and judges are not notoriously slow to react to any slur on their dignity—fuming at the thought of a bunch of accountants coldly assessing the price of his life, even if it was rather higher than the price they put on the lives of most of their employees. But of course it was not the value of his life which was being insured—only the price it had in relation to the use the rubber companies were hoping to make of it. Or perhaps that only makes it more of an insult.

Yet insult or not, this is all perfectly natural under capitalism. Since the judge would hear the trial, and assess the rival cases, in terms of the system’s profit motive and the protection of property rights, he cannot logically complain (not that he probably wanted to) if some of the essential degradation of the system rubs off onto him.

The judge does not stand alone in this; the valuation of human life is commonplace. One impetus which has been given to this is in the building of new roads, which may make transport cheaper—and so bring more profit to the industries using them — and save some lives, but which also costs a lot of money. How to decide, then, between building a motorway or leaving the old road to carry on ?

One factor which counts in the decision is the price put one each human life which a new road may save—what is it worth? A recent (31 March) article in The Guardian said that the Ministry of Transport has fixed a value at £8,800; they are thinking about raising this figure to £9,800 because after all wages have gone up and there is the higher cost of training and replacing workers to be considered.

There are pressures for other ministries to join in this inhuman, unavoidable piece of calculation and for the whole thing to be tidied up in that thing beloved of the profit-conscious accountant—a standard code of costing. Professor Alan Williams of York University has done some calculations on this and has come up with the notion that ". . . every year of life is of the same intrinsic value to the community" although he hints at what he means by “community" when he adds “This sum will then be added to the economic benefits of providing various facilities" and that "certain weightings" could be applied to increase the price of people of "greater value to the community.” The same Guardian article says that a senior civil servant has actually suggested a figure to suit the "typical" man in England and Wales—£30,000, based on his potential earnings. The usefulness of all this research is that, if an agreed figure can be put on the worth of a human life to capitalism, the accountants and the cost benefit analysists and the planners would know where they stand when they are considering the economics of things like preventive medical services, new transport systems, industrial safety measures. In other words, the capitalist class would know, before they invested in a new road or a hospital, whether they were putting their money into saving lives which would bring them a return on their investment.

This may make the blood run cold yet it is all very necessary, and sensible, once we accept that capitalism must continue. Capitalism exists by profit; its wealth is made to be sold; under it everything must have its price and, as human beings provide an essential part of the productive process, they too must be costed and valued like nuts and bolts and raw material.

Too bad for anyone who comes out on the wrong side of the balance sheet and whose wellbeing, comfort or even whose life, may be written off as uneconomic. Too bad if something which might be worth keeping stands in the way of profitable progress. If capitalism is to be assessed and identified by its characteristics—by its market economy—then it is an inhuman, degrading system whose concern for human life and dignity is ever diminishing. There are plenty of other reasons for getting rid of capitalism, but that on its own is enough.

Voice From The Back: The Regal Con Game (2013)

The  Voice From The Back column from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Regal Con Game
Times are hard in British capitalism today so our rulers have had to cut costs. Slash welfare benefits, cap government workers’ wages and introduce a bedroom tax. There are some things of course that are sacrosanct. ‘The Queen has received a £5m boost in the funds she receives from the taxpayer to carry out her official duties. The sovereign grant, which covers the running costs of the Queen’s household, has been set at £36.1m for the 2013-14 financial year’ (Guardian, 2 April). Keep the workers thinking they are one nation and give them spectacular royal events. Essential to disguise their exploitation. Money well spent.

We’re All In This Together
The recent budget with its welfare cuts and austere forecasts for the economic future must have depressed the Deputy Prime Minister and probably prompted him to take a break. ‘Three days earlier, he sat stern-faced through the Coalition’s latest ‘we’re all in it together’ Budget. But with a flatlining economy and the row raging over benefits cuts, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg knew exactly where he needed to be – at his family’s £7 million Swiss ski chalet. Leaving the stress of austerity Britain behind, he jetted out with his family for an Easter getaway at the luxury villa nestling between fashionable Klosters and the resort of Davos’ (Daily Mail, 5 April). Clegg’s family ski chalet has 20 rooms and he has been skiing there since infancy. We don’t suppose there is a problem about bedroom tax there.

Startling Statistics
In a review of Leo Hollis’s book Cities Are Good For You, the writer Tom Chesshyre reveals some startling statistics. ‘He travels to fast-growing Mumbai, where he takes in the world’s most expensive house, the 27-storey, $1 billion home of a leading business man; with living spaces for 60 servants, parking for 160 cars and three helipads. He is damning of the growth of the global super-rich, pointing out that 90 per cent of the world’s wealth belongs to the richest 1 per cent’ (Times, 8 April). He also mentions that in London the richest 10 percent have 273 times more wealth than the bottom 10 percent.

Five Million In The Big Freeze
More than five million families in Britain are facing the threat of having their heating cut off after falling behind with their energy bills, an alarming report warns today. The research said the number of households struggling to pay their bills has jumped by around one million people over the last year. ‘On average, they typically owe £123 to their energy supplier, raising fears they face being cut off if they do not eventually find the money to clear their debts. The report, from the comparison website Uswtich.com said the number of cash-strapped families has jumped sharply over the last year from a total of four to five million’ (Daily Mail, 9 April). This is life in Mr Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ – more like a big freeze society.

Rich Pickings For Some
The New York Times annually reports on the astonishing incomes enjoyed by the capitalist class, but they are not necessarily the richest packages out there. As they report, they rely on filings required by the Securities and Exchange Commission for public companies. That means they are missing entire categories of businesses: privately held corporations, most hedge funds and many private equity firms, but nevertheless some of their figures are staggering. ‘Consider Leon Black, C.E.O. of Apollo Global Management, among the largest private equity firms with $2.86 billion in 2012 revenue. He took in more than $125 million last year. …….. Steve Schwarzman, founder and chief executive of the Blackstone Group, took in $8.4 million in compensation last year, and his distributions earned him an additional $204 million’ (New York Times, 10 April).

A Sense Of Values?
It speaks volumes for the media’s sense of values when it can report the following fraud but remain silent about a much greater con trick. ‘A Florida billionaire, William Koch, 72, has won $380,000 (£247,000) compensation after 24 fakes were discovered among 2,600 bottles of vintage Bordeaux wine that he bought for $3.7 million’ (Times, 13 April). The greater con is, of course, capitalist society itself, which can have people starving whilst a useless parasite can spend millions of dollars.

How Should Socialists Organise? (2013)

Julius Martov
From the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
We were anti-Leninist from the start.
In recent months the idea or concept of ‘Leninism’ has been placed under the microscope with the revelations of the undemocratic activities of the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party. In March the Socialist Standard republished its 1995 education document as The SWP: an undemocratic Leninist organisation which identifies the undemocratic nature of the ‘Leninist’ concept of ‘democratic centralism’ in the SWP. The origins of ‘Leninism’ lie at the beginning of the twentieth century when Lenin distorted the original message of Marx and Engels, but even in this period there were criticisms of ‘Leninism’ and ‘Bolshevism’ by such revolutionary thinkers as Rosa Luxemburg and Julius Martov.

Lenin’s pamphlet What Is To Be Done? Burning Questions of our Movement was published in 1902 when Lenin, Martov and Plekhanov with the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) were in political exile from Tsarist Russia. The pamphlet detailed the organisational structure Lenin believed necessary for a revolutionary political party in an autocratic state like that of Tsarist Russia. This organisational structure of a disciplined centralised party of committed activists is the seedbed for the later authoritarianism and dictatorship in the Bolshevik regime in Russia. Lenin argued that the working class would not achieve political class consciousness simply by fighting the ‘economic’ battles between capital and labour over wages and working hours, and that Marxists needed to form a political party, a ‘vanguard’ of dedicated revolutionaries to bring socialist consciousness to the working class.

Lenin wrote that:
‘Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships (of all classes and strata) to the state and government, the sphere of the interrelations between all classes.’
Lenin had little if any belief in the working class as agents of change, believing ‘that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness’, and that socialist ideas came from ‘the educated representatives of the propertied classes’ or ‘revolutionary socialist intellectuals.’

At the second congress of the exiled RSDLP on Charlotte Street in London in 1903, there was a split between Lenin on one side and Martov and Plekhanov on the other. The opposing factions became known as ‘Bolshevik’ and ‘Menshevik’ respectively. The split centred on definitions of party membership. The Martov ‘Menshevik’ faction favoured a loose (in comparison to Lenin’s views) interpretation of party membership as ‘one who accepts the Party’s programme, supports the Party financially, and renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organisations.’ In contrast Lenin and the ‘Bolshevik’ faction wanted a restricted membership of a fully committed cadre; ‘one who accepts its programme and who supports the Party both financially and by personal participation in one of the Party’s organisations.’

The ideas of Lenin in What Is To Be Done? are in contrast to what Marx and Engels wrote in the Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848 where they described the proletarian movement as ‘the self conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority.’ Marx drafted the general rules of the International Working Men’s Association in 1864 which began categorically with the line ‘that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.’ In 1879 Marx and Engels felt the need to distribute a circular where they stated: ‘when the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry; the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, cooperate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.’

In response to Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? Rosa Luxemburg wrote Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy (1904) which later became known as Leninism or Marxism? where she criticised his concept of revolutionary organisation and identified Lenin as a ‘Blanquist’ socialist revolutionist.

Luxemburg wrote that:
‘Blanquism did not count on the direct action of the working class. It, therefore, did not need to organise the people for the revolution. The people were expected to play their part only at the moment of revolution. Preparation for the revolution concerned only the little group of revolutionists armed for the coup.’
This is the Bolshevik strategy in its essence, both then and now.

Luxemburg identified ‘the two principles on which Lenin’s centralism rests are precisely these: the blind subordination, in the smallest detail, of all party organs to the party centre which alone thinks, guides, and decides for all. The rigorous separation of the organised nucleus of revolutionaries from its social-revolutionary surroundings.’ This is Blanquist organisation, although Lenin himself ‘defined his ‘revolutionary Social Democrat’ as the ‘Jacobin indissolubly connected with the organisation of the class-conscious proletariat.’

Lenin’s former comrade-in-arms Julius Martov wrote a critique of ‘Leninism’ and ‘Bolshevism’ in his 1919 work 'The Ideology of ‘Sovietism identifying the ‘Jacobin and Blanquist idea of a minority dictatorship.’ Martov reiterated the point made by Engels ‘that the epoch of revolutions effected by conscious minorities heading unknowing masses had closed for ever. From then on, he [Engels] said, revolution would be prepared by long years of political propaganda, organisation, education, and would be realised directly and consciously by the interested masses themselves.’

Martov also quoted the Swiss Social Democrat Charles Naine’s observation on ‘Bolshevism’ as ‘the minority possessing the knowledge of the truth of scientific socialism has the right to impose it on the mass.’ Later Martov looks at Blanqui as a major influence (‘a dictatorial power whose mission it will be to direct the revolutionary movement’).

Lenin’s own words in a speech on Economic Construction in 1920 were also revealing when he said:
‘the Soviet Socialist Democracy is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person; that the will of a class is at times best realised by a dictator, who sometimes will accomplish more by himself and is frequently more needed. At any rate, the principal relation toward one person rule was not only explained a long time ago but was also decided by the Central Executive Committee.’
Marx in his 1845 Theses on Feuerbach had written that ‘The materialist doctrine that men are the products of conditions and education, different men therefore the products of other conditions and changed education, forgets that circumstances may be altered by men and that the educator has himself to be educated. This doctrine leads inevitably to the ideas of a society composed of two distinct portions, one of which is elevated above society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.’

Martov correctly pointed out that if this thesis is applied
  ‘. . . to the class struggle of the propertyless, this means the following. Impelled by the same ‘circumstances’ of capitalist society that determine their character as an enslaved class, the workers enter into a struggle against the society that enslaves them. The process of this struggle modifies the social ‘circumstances.’ It modifies the environment in which the working class moves. This way the working class modifies its own character. From a class reflecting passively the mental servitude to which they are subjected, the propertyless become a class which frees itself actively from all enslavement, including that of the mind.’
In conclusion Martov saw ‘the proletarian class considered as a whole is the only possible builder of the new society.’

A year after the RSDLP congress in London at which the Bolshevik/Menshevik split took place 142 former members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) met to found the Socialist Party of Great Britain on quite different organisational principles to those proposed by Lenin. The SDF was riddled with ‘reformist’ policies, undemocratic party organisation, authoritarianism and dictatorial methods used by its leadership. The rules of the newly established party gave the party membership complete control of the organisation, all meetings at branch, executive committee and conference were open to the public; there were no leaders, just an annually elected executive committee with power only to run week-to-week affairs and carry out membership decisions. The declaration of principles of the new party stated that ‘the emancipation of the working class must be work of the working class itself.’ We were therefore ‘anti-Leninist’ in principle and practice before ‘Leninism’ and the Bolshevik revolution that was its political outcome.
Steve Clayton

Crowd Atlas (2013)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Crowds are supposed to be predictable, but they’re not, and you can never be entirely sure what they’re going to think and do next. The British governing class found that out just recently when, to its disgust and embarrassment, the death of one particularly obnoxious old fart in her care home at the Ritz prompted, not the expected outpouring of respectful eulogies, but thoroughly tasteless ‘death parties’ and the explosive propulsion up the pop charts of a silly song entitled ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’.

The nature of crowds is changing. They used to be made up of bystanders, innocent and often ignorant observers at some remove from the action. Today, crowds are the action, the mass protagonist, a new type of collective intellectual resource made possible by the wired world. According to the reasoning, if one person with a computer is smart, then a crowd of ‘n’ people is smart to the power of ‘n’. If the individual knows her local geography, then the crowd is an atlas. This collective thinktanking is called crowdsourcing  and is all the rage these days among nerds, netheads, geeks, social media junkies and other tech-savvies who despite this probably get out more than we do. Normally they see themselves as virtuous heralds of a bright and innocent future, but in Boston Massachusetts after the recent marathon bombing, it all went hideously wrong. A crowdsourced amateur photo-enquiry was launched and the wrong people got ‘identified’ as bombers, forcing them into hiding in fear of their lives. The organiser on Reddit issued a sincere and abashed apology, but the fiasco was a sobering lesson to the digerati that despite their supposed sophistication and tech know-how, there’s still a fine line between a crowd and a lynch mob.

Crowdsourced labour in the form of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk comes in for sharp criticism too, on the grounds that it exploits a great number of anonymous workers who get paid next to nothing for their efforts. Though it’s true the contributors don’t get paid much, this overlooks their intrinsic motivations. They’re not really in it for the money anyway.

Crowdsourcing is generating a lot of excitement. Crowdsourcing is already being used as a translation service, beating the pants out of machine translators. There is talk of using it as a missing persons agency. It has already been used to solve a number of scientific and technological problems including some prize competitions, such as the Netflix algorithm Challenge, the DARPA balloon experiment and the X Prize. It is an increasingly favoured form of low-risk investment, used to fund start-ups traditional investors wouldn’t look at. Now Crowdmed, a start-up medical diagnostic service, is hoping to exploit this collective intelligence in a novel way (‘How crowds, not doctors or supercomputers, could diagnose rare diseases’, Gigaom.com, 16 April).

The implications for capitalism are ambiguous. Of course it is all in favour of innovation which leads to new sales and new profits. But is there a downside of having smart crowds? Could it be that crowdsourcing is smuggling in, and is itself part of, a set of new crowd-based political attitudes too?

Those that believe that nothing ever changes must have their heads inserted somewhere dank and dark, because we are living in the middle of one of the greatest human revolutions of all time, and nobody is really sure where it’s taking us. Politically, ideas which seemed immutable are being challenged openly, specifically ideas about leaders and followers, and the sacred cow of private ownership. A significant property of aggregated humans is that they are more knowledgeable and hence more likely to come up with right answers than individuals, even individual experts. This is one of the founding principle of socialism, so it’s not surprising that it’s spawning challenges to old capitalist shibboleths. First there is Open Source, the idea that information wants to be free and that therefore intellectual ideas and collaboration should be free too. From this follows by extension the idea that all software should be free, and not just software. There is considerable and growing opposition to genome patenting, on the grounds that living organisms should not be owned. An extension of this militancy against ownership is the aspiring ‘respectability’ of digital piracy culture, and the hero-worship of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. With 3D printing the militancy will extend beyond the binary into the physical. And in response to a recession which is blatantly massacring the livelihoods of the world’s poor while leaving the rich not only untouched but actually richer than ever, we see the new moral challenges of the Occupy Movement and other related protests. As the stock of politicians falls ever lower, and with it the credibility of sole leadership as a concept, the smart crowd brings with it a new sense of potency. Taking all this together, are we seeing the emergence of some kind of broad-based communistic trend? 

We wish. To be sure, these aren’t new protests or impulses, and the digital pioneers don’t necessarily join the dots and see their ideals as logically anti-capitalist. Each generation reinvents the ideas afresh, as if they had never been conceived before, but there is something different this time round. Now they have a radical new force behind them, the engine of a communications revolution. There’s a sense of a monstrous genie climbing out of a tiny bottle. Workers have always been angry and uppity, but now they’ve got something which is genuinely dangerous to capitalism. They’ve got smart.

In terms of material productive capability, the world could have turned socialist a hundred years ago. But culturally and socially it was still backward, mired in tribal prejudices and rigid top-down control of information. Instead of turning socialist it turned to world war, twice. Could it do so again, in an age where your ‘enemy’ is an email away and every skirmish and scandal is on Youtube? Maybe, but we hope not.

Capitalism doesn’t like too much democracy. No democracy is bad for business, but too much is worse. Capitalist leaders depend on a kind of confidence trick in which ‘democracy’ means ‘rule by the people’ as long as the people are kept disorganised, confused and distracted, in fear of ‘chaos’ and the spectre of ‘mob-rule’. But democracy and mob-rule are the same thing, the only difference being information. When you have a globally-connected population with good information, new things are possible, politically as well as technologically.

The digerati are excited and for good reason. It’s as if the Earth is slowly growing itself a brain, huge, superfast and super-connected. Not too many of them yet are asking the key question a socialist would ask – will such a sentient super-entity tolerate a regime in which one tiny portion of it, like a malignant cancer, is allowed to destroy the entire organism in blind reckless pursuit of its own growth? Would a thinking, rational planet tolerate capitalism? Even leaving aside any moral questions of social justice, such a tolerance would surely be seen as ultimately suicidal. In the long run, a wired world would have to reject such destructive lack of concern for its best collective interests. And if in the long run, why not in the short run? Why not now, in fact? What is there to wait for?

Can capitalism continue to keep control when such questions are hanging in the air? That depends on the people, and that is the trouble with crowds. You can never be entirely sure what they’re going to think and do next.
Paddy Shannon

Monarchy’s Maladies (2013)

The Proper Gander Column from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of us would struggle to find similarities between our lives and that of, say, Charles I. However, Fit To Rule – How Royal Illness Changed History (BBC2) wants to ‘reintroduce you to our monarchs as human beings, people rather like you and me’. The show’s presenter, Dr Lucy Worsley, argues that the wellbeing of our previous kings and queens was like a barometer for the state of the nation. Aware of this, each sovereign has had a personal army of advisers and doctors to scrutinise and promote their health. Back in the sixteenth century, collecting Henry VIII’s urine for analysis was the only occasion you could take the piss out of a monarch without ending up in the Tower.

Fit To Rule doesn’t dwell as much on royal diseases as we’re led to believe, suggesting a focus group decided the snappy title first and then crow-barred a format around it. So, the programme also bounces between GCSE-standard potted histories of the lines of succession, royalty fuelling divisions between Protestants and Catholics, and the decline in the belief that monarchs were god-like. Sadly, the association between royalty and gods sort of survives today in the deference shown to the elite, although at least scrofula sufferers no longer queue up to be touched by the monarch in the hope of a miracle cure. Nor has the conflict between Protestants and Catholics gone away, as it still soldiers on in Northern Ireland, for example. And we haven’t really moved away from the expectation that kings should be virile and queens should be fertile in order to ensure an heir, as shown by media’s drooling over Kate-n-Will’s upcoming sprog. These comparisons aren’t to be found in Fit To Rule, though, which presents history as a spicy soap opera. James I’s and Queen Anne’s possible bisexual dalliances (worryingly discussed in the context of ‘illnesses’) are described much like an EastEnders plotline. In a way, the quirks of the royal dynasties are like a soap, as both distract us from thinking about the economic forces which really move society along. So maybe reminding ourselves that the royal family are only human can help encourage us to scrap this divisive institution.
Mike Foster

Mixed Media: ‘Death: A Self Portrait’ (2013)

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

Death: A Self Portrait at the Wellcome Collection in London was an exhibition of art related to mortality taken from the collection of Chicago antique dealer Richard Harris. The key to Christian art about death is ‘memento mori’ (remember you must die). Pascal’s words ‘It is easier to endure death without thinking about it than to endure the thought of death without dying’ is fundamental to humanity’s thinking about ‘this mortal coil.’

Christian art of ‘memento mori’ in the Late Middle Ages was portrayed in the Dance of Death, which reflected the fragility of life in the midst of famines, the Black Death, the Hundred Years War, and the Peasant War in Germany. The ‘danse macabre’ depicting revelry uniting humans and skeletons is portrayed in Toten Tanz by Wolgemut in the 1493 Nuremberg Liber Chronicarum. Inspired by the Book of Revelation, the 1498 woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Durer depicts the staples of medieval life; plague, war, famine, and death.

The Miseries of War of 1633 by Callot are eighteen etchings of the Thirty Years War portraying soldiers pillaging, burning and killing their way through towns and cities. Engels described this war as ‘devastation’. It killed eleven million people, and ‘annihilated the most important parts of the productive forces in agriculture.’ The Disasters of War by Goya are eighty-two prints from 1810-20 which portray abuse, torture, killing, starvation, and other atrocities of the French invasion of Spain in the Napoleonic Wars.

The iconic images of the Mexican Day of the Dead originate with the painting of Calavera de Huerta by Posada which satirised bourgeois General Huerta in the Mexican Revolution. Posada’s Calavera de La Catrina is a satire on the 1875-1910 bourgeois dictatorship of Diaz which was an ‘industrial capitalism on top of the hacienda system, debt-peonage in the shell of a corrupt feudalism.’

The George Grosz 1958 collage Faces of Death references his own 1920 painting Republican Automatons. Both works are an attack on the mediocrity and mendacity of bourgeois capitalist civilisation which kills the individual human spirit.

According to bourgeois psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in his 1930 work Civilisation and Its Discontents, the drive to death (Thanatos) now ruled supreme over Eros (Love). He wrote that ‘people need a Reality Principle to keep the Pleasure Principle under control otherwise we’d have anarchy.’ Wilhelm Reich replied that ‘the Reality Principle of the capitalist era imposes upon the proletarian a maximum limitation of his needs . . . the ruling class has a Reality Principle which serves the perpetuation of its power.’
Steve Clayton

Letter: “Tin-Lizzies” (2013)

Letter to the Editors from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I read with interest Stefan’s commentary on the prevalent automobile culture under capitalism (March Socialist Standard). An additional point should be made, if it is not evident to the reader, to the effect that the private automobile is the quintessential commodity of the capitalist system. Its development has enabled the disaster of suburban development that has despoiled hundreds of millions of acres of good land, with its endless roads and freeways, given rise to another mainstay of capitalism the single family dwelling with it’s myriad repetitive appliances. The private automobile with its required service networks, parts replacements etc., has been a major market prop offering a seemingly endless source of marketable commodities. The glut of “tin-lizzies” grows like the stuff of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Can the Wizard of Socialism put a stop to the madness? Absolutely.
Bernard Bortnick, 
Texas, USA (by email)

We can’t predict how people in socialism will use transport systems, or even what they’ll use them for, but if the safety and clean renewable energy questions were properly addressed, there seems no good reason why cars should not continue to be of use – Editors.

Britain fifty years ago (2013)

Book Review from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo by Richard Davenport-Hines. Harper Press, 2013. £20

It is 50 years since what was termed the ‘Profumo Affair’ rocked the Establishment and the ruling class in Britain, but particularly in England and London. Davenport-Hines asserts that it was ‘a nation on the brink of a social revolution.’ It was not that, but there was considerable change in the mores and life-styles of many workers compared to the pre-war period and for many years after that war.

Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister, was very much an old-fashioned Tory, dedicated to tradition, hierarchy, so-called Christian morality and, of course, a capitalist society not unlike before the war; although he realised that the sun was setting on the British Empire and Commonwealth. The working class, he felt, ‘had never had it so good.’ Many other Tories pretended to be much the same as Macmillan but, in fact, spent their time in nightclubs and at parties on estates such as Lord Astor’s Cliveden, where the osteopath, Stephen Ward, would bring young and attractive (mainly working-class) girls, such as Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, mostly for their sexual pleasure.

One such visitor to Cliveden was the Minister for War, John Profumo, the grandson of an Italian baron. Ward introduced Profumo to Keeler, who had been swimming naked in the pool. Also joining the party, which included the President of Pakistan and Lord Mountbatten and other establishment figures, was the Soviet assistant naval attaché Yevgeni Ivanov (actually a Russian spy known to MI5) brought to Cliveden by Ward. Following his return to London, Profumo phoned Keeler and arranged to meet her the next weekend, as his wife would be away. Subsequently, Profumo and Keeler had an affair which was furtive but known to many people including MI5. Christine Keeler also knew Ivanov, claiming to have had sex with him. The Cold War had been ‘hotting up’; and Ward became an unofficial go-between for the Soviets and some British politicians.

When challenged by government ministers, MI5 and others, including Parliament, John Profumo denied having sexual relations with Christine Keeler. But it was too late. It was common knowledge. Profumo resigned as Minister for War, and Stephen Ward was arrested on trumped-up charges of keeping and living off the earnings of prostitutes, and various abortion offences. During his trial, however, Ward committed suicide. The so-called popular press had a field-day, publishing lie after lie about Ward, Keeler and Profumo. Davenport-Hines has an interesting chapter (‘Hacks’, no.7), demonstrating that the ‘popular’ papers and their writers were just as bad as, if not worse than, the red-top papers of today.

The author of An English Affair is not a socialist, and his analysis has its faults, but it is a useful reminder of British society 50 years ago. It’s worth a read.
Peter E. Newell

Material World: North Korea – Is the Crisis Real? (2013)

The Material World column from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is hard to tell what is real in the ongoing Korean ‘crisis’ and what is contrived. Up to a point – after all, it is in no one’s interest to frighten the markets too badly – it suits both sides to foster a sense of crisis. For Kim Jong-un and his generals a crisis atmosphere is a way to exert pressure for full admission to the nuclear club. For the American rulers and their allies it is also a way to exert pressure – and push North Korea firmly out of the club.

Of course, a good external scare always comes in handy on the domestic front, especially at times when mass misery might otherwise fuel rebellion. It provides an excuse for deteriorating conditions of life, redirects discontent outward and rallies the populace around national leaders.

It seemed for a brief period that the crisis was a real one, but by mid-April the real crisis seemed to be over. Inside North Korea the mobilisation of reserves, air-raid drills and other war preparations were suspended. The focus of mass propaganda switched back to the usual choreographic displays and routine matters like the annual spring drive to collect manure.

Yet only a few days previously, US and South Korean officials were warning that medium-range missiles had been deployed along North Korea’s eastern coast, with ‘a very high probability’ of their imminent launch against US forces in Japan (or, just conceivably, Guam). A North Korean official announced that missiles had been placed on standby and target coordinates set for their warheads. 

A torrent of threats?
The sense of crisis, however, is fuelled mainly by what Fox News called ‘a torrent of warlike threats’ from North Korean officials. True, the most alarming of these ‘threats’ are pure make-believe, given that North Korea has no delivery vehicle capable of reaching the US mainland. Moreover, media reports hardly ever reveal that the ‘threats’ are in fact warnings of what North Korea will do ‘in the event of US aggression.’ ‘Patriotic Americans’ are expected to regard the term ‘US aggression’ as a piece of gibberish and pooh-pooh the very idea that any country might genuinely fear an American assault. As if the peace-loving United States has ever attacked anyone!

Whatever ulterior motives the young emperor may have for inculcating fear in his subjects, it does not follow that he is not afraid or that his fear is unreasonable. Anxiety would be an understandable reaction to the movements of US air and sea forces near North Korean borders, especially the flights of nuclear-capable bombers and stealth jets. He and his advisers know how the US used the issue of nuclear non-proliferation to justify its invasion of Iraq and a contemplated invasion of Iran.

Use them or lose them
Even in purely military terms, North Korea is by far the weaker party in the confrontation. Despite a large army, its forces are no match for an opposing coalition made up of South Korea, the United States and Japan (it can no longer count on support from China). This in itself makes the deliberate initiation of large-scale hostilities by North Korea extremely unlikely. On the contrary, the vulnerability of its few strategic weapons exposes it to the danger of a successful counterforce first strike.

Here lies the real danger. Facing the perceived dilemma of ‘use them or lose them’, North Korea’s leaders switched to a strategy of pre-emption. This means that they resolved to launch their missiles as soon as they determined that the adversary had begun preparations for an attack. But such a determination might be mistaken, especially when made by people already keyed up in anticipation – because, for example, they suspect (as North Korean strategists say they do) that South Korea and the US will use the joint military exercises they conduct each spring as cover for a real attack.

Economic and political vulnerability
The sense of vulnerability that makes a North Korean pre-emptive strike possible has economic and political as well as military roots. 

In recent years the leaders have partly lost control of the economy and been forced to tolerate a vast expansion of formally illegal internal trade and the emergence of a new group of wealthy black-market operators who potentially pose a political challenge. It is now widely assumed that collapse of the regime and unification of Korea are only a matter of time.     

Another economic blow is the new sanctions imposed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2094, designed to block ‘financial transactions and bulk cash transfers in support of illicit activities.’ This does not refer solely to trade in uranium and nuclear components. Other ‘illicit activities’, organised by a special bureau of the party Central Committee, include uranium sales, the counterfeiting of US dollars and the manufacture of methamphetamine and heroin for export (an estimated third of collective farm land is sown with poppies). Besides funding military programmes, the proceeds fill the personal bank accounts held by top officials abroad.            

However, the wealth of the North Korean leaders cannot be measured in money. They also enjoy enormous non-monetary privileges. The dynastic family possesses palatial villas in a series of scenic locations, staffed by numerous guards, servants and entertainers. At the same time, hundreds of thousands rot in the labour camps and millions struggle on the verge of starvation. And yet, to our great regret, this system –  marked by inequality perhaps even more extreme than that of the US – masquerades under the name of socialism! 

Mixed Media: Life of Galileo (2013)

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

Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht

The RSC recently staged Bertolt Brecht’s 1947 play Life of Galileo at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon with Ian McDiarmid in the title role. Galileo substantiated Copernican theories of the heliocentric nature of the universe (‘the light of science shone as Galileo set out to prove that the sun is fixed and the earth is on the move’), which was counter to the Roman Catholic Church teaching of Aristotelian geocentric ‘crystal spheres’.

Galileo is part of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution when science emerged (‘the old age has passed, this is a new age’) to meet the material needs of the rising capitalist class. In physics there are the fixed laws of Newton, and in the philosophy of Cartesian Dualism the body is a machine, and Descartes ‘sees with the eyes of the manufacturing period.’ In Scene 11 Vanni, the Iron Foundry owner says to Galileo ‘we manufacturers are on your side’, and in Scene 1 the university curator states ‘how greatly is the science of physics indebted to the call for better looms.’ Scientist JD Bernal describes the period as one in which ‘religion, superstition and fear are replaced by reason and knowledge.’

Galileo is a sensualist for knowledge but also a financial opportunist who is ignorant of ‘Realpolitik’ in the Florentine world of Machiavellian ideals. Brecht believes Galileo is a ‘social criminal’. After his recantation before the Inquisition, Galileo becomes a servant of authority rather than asserting the right of science to transform the world for the benefit of the whole of humanity. For Brecht, science stood at the barricades with Galileo, but scientists betrayed their calling by neglecting their wider social and political responsibilities. Life of Galileo is really about the atomic bomb, the concept of science for the people and the responsibility of science to society. Brecht was dismissive of Einstein who suggested that atomic technology be withheld from the Soviet Union and of Oppenheimer when he had a change of heart after the H-bomb. Brecht’s Galileo can be usefully compared to the 1962 play The Physicists by Durrenmatt.

The scientific nature of Marxism was very important for Brecht. He valued doubt, criticism and free enquiry and believed the most important line in Galileo was ‘my task is not to prove that I have been right up till now, but to find out whether I have been right.’

In Scene 10 the people sing ‘All you who live on earth in wretchedness, Arise! Only obedience holds us back from earthly bliss. Who wouldn’t rather be his own liege lord and master?’
Steve Clayton

Now There are Seven – or are there? (2013)

From the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new study by academics from the LSE and Manchester has come up with the idea that there are seven classes in British society. You can classify people according to whatever criteria you want and the academics have chosen to combine income, security of income, occupation and leisure pursuits. The seven classes they come up with are: elite (6 percent), established middle class (25 percent), technical middle class (6 percent), new affluent workers (15 percent), traditional working class (14 percent), emergent service workers (19 percent), and precariat (15 percent). In fact, in some ways this is just a refinement of the popular division into upper class (toffs and business oligarchs), middle class and working class.

The sevenfold division might have some use for businesses to target their sales but it is useless for explaining social dynamics. Socialists define class in terms of relationship to the means of production – who owns and who does not own the farms, factories, mines, railways, utilities and other workplaces where goods and services are produced. This gives, essentially, only two classes in an advanced capitalist country such as Britain: the rich owners (through shares and bonds) of the means of production and the rest of society who depend on them for a living. Since, on this criterion, most of the ‘middle class’ are in the same position as the ‘working class’, the split could well be around 6/94 as the academics’ figures suggest.

In Marx’s day – and this is the assumption in Capital – there were three distinguishable classes depending on their relationship to the means of production: an upper class of big landowners who derived an income as ground-rent from their ownership of land; a middle class of capitalist employers who derived theirs as profits from their capital invested in agriculture or industry; and a working class of non-owners who lived by selling their ability to work for a wage.

This in fact is the historical origin of the term ‘middle class’ as the class between the landed aristocracy and the working class. Since then they have merged with the landowners to become a single capitalist class (both through marriage and through landowners investing in industry), so it no longer makes sense to talk of a ‘middle class’. There is no class in between the capitalist class and the class of those who depend for a living on the sale of their working abilities for a wage or salary. Those referred to in popular parlance as the ‘middle class’ are in reality a part of the class of wage and salary workers; as, indeed, are those seen as the ‘traditional working class’. Both are sub-sections of a wider working class properly so-called.

There is another difference between the socialist concept of class and that of the academics. Their classes are non-antagonistic. It is true that there is in fact an antagonism between their ‘elite’ and their other six classes but this is not recognised. It is also true that, at present, politicians are trying to set everybody against the ‘precariat’ as ‘non-strivers’ and ‘shirkers’, while others see an antagonism between the four bottom classes (which they see as making up  the ‘working class’) and the two middle classes. But these don’t represent real antagonisms but attempts to divide classes other than the elite against each other that only serve the interest of the elite.

Socialists see a built-in antagonism between the two classes defined by their relationship to the means of production. As wealth can only be produced by people working, and as profit is a non-work income, it follows that the profits of the capitalist class are derived from the work of the working class. There is an exploitative relation between the two classes. There is therefore not only a division of society into two classes but a class struggle between them.

At present this class struggle is over the division of newly produced wealth into wages and profits, a basic feature of present-day society of much more significance than the cultural differences between the academics’ seven classes. It manifests itself in bargaining between employers and unions over wages and in strikes, in employers trying to increase work-loads and impose speed-ups, and, today, in the government exerting downward pressures on the workers’ living standards.

Ultimately, however, the struggle is over the ownership and control of the means of production and can come to an end only with the victory of the working class and the conversion of the means of production into the common property of all. Then a classless society will have been achieved. The working class will disappear along with the capitalist class and there will simply be free and equal men and women, members of a community with a common interest in working to satisfy the needs of all its members, both as individuals and as a community.
Adam Buick

Student Protests (2013)

From the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last twelve months have seen some of the biggest student protests in recent memory. On 11 April, Chilean students marched in their thousands, with 250,000 estimated national turnout and 100,000 in the capital. These protests have rumbled on since 2011. The leader of student representation is Camila Vallejo, a Castro-fan and member of (purportedly) Communist Youth of Chile, other members of this group involved in the protests include Camilo Ballesteros (President of the Student Federation of the University of Santiago de Chile), Camila Donato (president of the Federation of UMCE ), the secondary school leader Roberto Toledo. The protests are in part a result of tremendous inequalities across all the Chilean educational system due to the school voucher system. Some 1800 students have been arrested.

In Quebec, the symbol of a red square was adopted when 500,000 students took to the streets to protest in May 2012. Its objective was to freeze or eliminate tuition fees. It was described as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. One of the key figures has been Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the CLASSE (Coalition Large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante). It considers mass mobilization as a catalyst of social change. It favours local general assemblies as decision-making instances to referendums, which are considered less democratic. Anarchopanda is an unofficial mascot for the protests, known for hugging students and police. Some 2500 students have been arrested.

In Sussex in Britain, the symbol of a yellow square was adopted. Hundreds of students staged a rally and occupation in March in opposition to privatisation of campus jobs. Some students carried a huge black banner (the biggest thing visible) with white words reading Communism and on the reverse in Latin ‘Omnia Sunt Communia’ which translates to ‘All things are in Common’ and was used originally in the 15th Century by German rebel leader Thomas Müntzer. Despite the riot police presence and its retreat, no arrests were made.

Chile has been the most reformist, Quebec somewhere in between, Sussex, though the smallest, has been the most explicit to call for ‘Communism’. Student unrest could presage a positive movement in the class struggle.

Marx and Banks (2013)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Morning Star (23-24 March) carried a cartoon which has Marx holding a piece of paper on which is written ‘Cyprus banks grab’. He is writing on a blackboard:  ‘Banks in Capitalist society are institutions created for the systematic robbery of the people’ and asking, ‘Now will you believe me?’

The only problem is that this is not a quote from Marx, nor does it correspond with Marx’s expressed views on banks. Marx was well aware of the opportunities for swindlers opened up by the coming of limited liability companies and their promotion, and by stock exchange manipulations in which some financiers and banks already were involved in his day, and wrote about this.

However, Marx’s whole analysis of the nature of exploitation under capitalism was that this took place in the course of production in the places where real wealth was actually produced when capitalist employers extracted surplus-value from wage-workers, not in the sphere of money and finance.

In Volume 1 of Capital he specifically repudiated such views:
  ‘The great part that the public debt and fiscal system corresponding to it have played in the capitalization of wealth and the expropriation of the masses, has led many writers, like Cobbett, Doubleday and others, to seek here, incorrectly, the fundamental cause of the misery of the people in modern times’ (Chapter 31).
A large part of Volume 3 of Capital is devoted to a discussion of banking and finance. Here Marx analysed banks as being essentially institutions for collecting the savings of people who did not want to spend their money for the time being and channelling these as money capital for productive industry. As he put it:
  ‘A bank represents on the one hand the centralization of money capital, of the lenders, and on the other hand the centralization of the borrowers. It makes its profit in general by borrowing at lower rates than those at which it lends.’
In other words, banks were not a scam to systematically rob people but institutions which played an essential role in the operation of the capitalist system.

There is another problem with the cartoon’s supposed quote. When it says ‘banks in capitalist society’ this could imply that banks in a non-capitalist society would have a different role. But it was Marx’s view that banks would have no place in a socialist society (or as he preferred to call it, a communist society, meaning the same thing).

In Volume 2 of Capital he wrote: ‘if we were to consider a communist society in place of a capitalist one, then money capital would immediately be done away with’  (chapter 14, section 3) and that ‘with collective production, money capital is completely dispensed with’ (Chapter 18).

This is clear enough. Banks channel savings as money capital. Money capital won’t exist in socialism. Therefore banks won’t exist in socialism.

Ironically, since the paper normally gives free range to currency cranks, Richard Seymour writing in the Guardian (27 March) got it better when he concluded an article: ‘Cyprus crisis: why do we need banks at all?’

‘To paraphrase Karl Marx on religion, the demand to abolish banking is a demand to abolish the state of affairs that needs banking.’

That’s what Marx is more likely to have written on the Morning Star’s blackboard.