Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Communist Party: A Premature Obituary (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The bad news is that the Communist Party is not yet dead; the good news is that all the signs are that it is on its way out. fatally wounded after years of tearing itself to pieces. Why the harsh words? The Communist Party has for over six decades existed as a monument to a gross distortion of socialist ideas. Rarely in history has a body of such a small size in relation to the overall population done so much to confuse workers about the vital issues of the day, to utilise the tactics of dishonesty and hypocrisy in the cause of giving workers a lead, to employ the rhetoric of liberation in defence of the most disgusting dictatorships. The Communist Party is an anti-communist party and has added nothing but difficulty to the work of real communists (or socialists: like Marx and Engels we use the words socialism and communism to mean the same thing) in the Socialist Party.

The Birth of British Leninism
In October 1917 the Bolshevik revolution in Russia shook the parties and sects of the Left in Britain — indeed, throughout Europe — more than any single event since the death of Marx. In 1871 Marxists had looked towards the Commune in Paris, not without a few illusions. and saw there the hope for socialism. Then in the 1880s all eyes were on Germany where a mass socialist movement seemed to be developing and doing so with the approval of Engels, the most eminent Marxist in the last years of the nineteenth century. As the present century commenced leftist hope was invested in the Second International. a collection of "socialist" organisations from throughout Europe and beyond to which even the Socialist Party of Great Britain, when it was formed in June 1904, sent delegates. But the Second International was a reformist body and the parties which constituted it fell into the rut of scheming to run capitalism, even going so far as to accept a resolution from Karl Kautsky which defended the idea of Ministers taking posts in capitalist governments. The Socialist Party of Great Britain saw the reformism of the Second International and, recognising that it was beyond repair, left it in accordance with revolutionary principle.

In 1914, when the capitalist gangsters of Europe commenced their infamous imperialist war, the so-called socialists of the misnamed International urged workers to support their respective masters' interests. The few principled socialists in Europe who opposed the war were isolated; in 1915 The Socialist Standard was the only journal in Britain to publish the anti-war statement of Maximovitch, a Bolshevik living in London later to become better known as Maxim Litvinoff, the Bolshevik Foreign Minister. In Britain the Socialist Party of Great Britain stood alone as the only party to unitedly oppose the war. In Russia the Bolsheviks were alone in stating the same opposition.

What was the condition of the British Left in 1917 when the news from Russia arrived? The first Marxist party in Britain was the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) (although it was arguably less "Marxist" than is often claimed) later to become the British Socialist Party (BSP). Its attitude to the war betrayed its lack of principles. Its main leaders, including H. M. Hyndman, supported British war chauvinism and went as far as to report anti-war activists to the police. In 1916 a minority left the BSP and formed the National Socialist Party, an organisation which combined the mouthing of Marxist dogmas with support for British imperialism. The remainder of the BSP refused to oppose the war outright but instead indulged in a futile campaign to urge the collapsed Second International to revive itself and call for peace in Europe. The other leftist party with claims to being Marxist was the Socialist Labour Party, which equivocated about its attitude to the war. Of course, the Labour Party and the ILP made peace-loving noises, but at the same time their leaders spoke and wrote in favour of conscription and Lansbury's Labour Leader refused to publish any anti-war articles.

These political parties were only one part of what was going on in the British Left in 1917. The years before the war had seen a rise in popularity for syndicalist theories which argued that political action was of no use to the working class and that capitalism could be brought down by means of concerted trade-union militancy, culminating in a revolutionary general strike. In the pre-war years several leftists — formerly rivals — sank their differences and formed rank and file shop stewards' committees. (See Bob Holton's British Syndicalism, 1900-14 for a reasonable account of this period). Without a doubt, the pre-war years was a period of intense union militancy and, without exaggerating, we might comment retrospectively that it was in many ways a period of increasing class-consciousness.

The whipped-up hysteria of war-time national chauvinism put a stop to that. When a spontaneous revolution broke out in Russia in February 1917 the British Left was unqualified in its support. In fact, the revolution led only to the formation of a capitalist provisional government which continued to support the war. In October the Bolsheviks seized power more as a result of popular contempt for the provisional government than mass support for Bolshevik policies, as was shown by the results of the election for the Constituent Assembly in 1918 when the Bolsheviks won fewer votes than the peasant reform party. Nevertheless, myths linger on when they are the cause of hope and in 1917 the British Left was united in its admiration for Lenin and his merry band of revolution-makers. For the syndicalists, the success of non-parliamentary Bolshevism proved the validity of their case; for the BSP and the SLP the success of Lenin meant that new tactics must be adopted in Britain. The Socialist Party of Great Britain stood alone — uncomfortably alone it must have been at the time — in declaring that the Bolshevik coup was not a socialist revolution, that all that could come out of it was a new form of capitalism.

In 1919 the Bolsheviks formed the Third International (the Comintern). In April it invited forty organisations throughout the world to affiliate, among which were the British ones — the BSP and the SLP. The Comintern was clear that a single Communist Party should be formed in each country. The first bid for the British franchise was made by Sylvia Pankhurst of the Workers' Socialist Federation. So eager was she to win the blessing of Lenin that she fed him with false information about the size of her group. But the Comintern was clear about the terms on which a British Communist Party must unite. Firstly, it must work with the BSP. This condition was probably the result of the fact that Rothstein, the Bolsheviks' man in London, was an Executive Committee member of the BSP and exaggerated its significance — for example, he claimed that it would take 10,000 members into the CP, a figure which we shall soon see to have been totally false. Secondly, the CP must affiliate to the Labour Party — an act of opportunism emphatically advocated by the unprincipled Lenin, despite the protestation of the SLPers like Jack Murphy and Willie Gallacher. Pankhurst's WSF refused to affiliate to Labour or support electoral politics of any kind and formed the Communist Party — British Section of the Third International, the party which has the distinction of being the first splinter group from the CP before it was even formed. The BSP majority accepted the Comintern's conditions and went into the CP. as did a substantial section of the SLP (the Communist Unity Group) and a few other bodies, including the syndicalist South Wales Socialist Society. The inaugural conference voted by a slim majority (100 to 85) in favour of affiliating to the Labour Party. The latter would not let them in and from that day to this (with a brief period when the CP accused the Labour Party of being fascists) the CP has persistently knocked at the door of the Broad Church and the Labourites have just as persistently slammed it in their face.

What sort of party was the CP. formed first in August 1920 and then again in January 1921? Firstly, it was hardly a mass party. At its formation it had 3,000 members, according to the official CP history written by James Klugmann and. according to that same history. one in three of those had left the CP by mid-1922, presumably tired of the initial Bolshevik adventurism. Tom Bell, who was around at the time, states in his history of the CP that the initial membership was under 2,500. So much for Rothstein's promise to Lenin that the BSP alone would bring 10,000 workers into the new party. The only Communist MP in those early days was Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil John L'Estrange Malone who was elected as a Liberal in 1918, but defected to the CP in 1919 after going on a trip to Russia. CP historians rarely report that their first MP was a Lieutenant-Colonel who was deeply patriotic. In Bethnal Green a Communist Mayor was elected — he looked lovely in his robes and chain — and two of the CP councillors. Edgar Lansbury and A. A. Watts, were so keen to serve the ratepayers (and win more votes) that they actually voted for a 10 per cent cut in Poor Relief and wage cuts for local authority workers. What party of the working class with a scrap of principle could allow Lieutenant-Colonels to sit for it in Parliament, Mayors to represent it and councillors to be elected only to make
poverty even worse for the working class?

Meanwhile the CP indulged in plenty of revolutionary talk — talk which belonged to centuries gone, to the age of Blanqui and Babeuf. They advocated armed insurrection. Harry Pollitt. the leader of the CP. declared that "only through armed insurrection can the workers gain power" (Manchester Guardian, 2 December 1929). The CP even went as far as to organise military training in Epping Forest, preparing the workers for "the moment". What led them to believe that workers who would not even vote for communism would die fighting for it was a matter of faith rather than logic. As Leninists, the CP rejected the view that the workers as a majority could understand and want socialism. Instead the poor fools must be led, offered reforms, and finally involved in a battle against the forces of the state which were bound to defeat them. The Socialist Party quite rightly viewed the new party with utter contempt and hostility.

The Party of Stalinism
The foul dictatorship of Stalin was not an aberration, as modern Trotskyists would like to believe. Stalinism followed Leninism like night follows day. Long before Stalin was omnipotent controller of Russian state capitalism the country had become a dictatorship. But under Stalin the sickness of the new regime — the dictatorship over the proletariat became clear for all to see. All, that is, but the Communist Parties of the world which turned a blind eye to the Stalinist reign of terror. When The Socialist Standard exposed the atrocities of the Moscow Trials we were accused of making up lies about "The Soviet Fatherland”. When our branch in West Ham invited the local CPers to debate, the reply came to say that The Socialist Party "have consistently poured vile slanders on Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party . .  . and are in short agents of Fascism in Great Britain. The CPGB refuses with disgust to deal with such renegades. We treat them as vipers to be destroyed". Indeed, this was no idle threat: CPers did attempt to smash up Socialist Party meetings, calling us fascists for pointing out the anti-working class nature of the fascistic regime in Russia. The purges in which hundreds of thousands of Russian workers were murdered began with the show trial of sixteen old Bolsheviks in August 1936. Such was the combination of gullibility and callousness of some CPers that one French Stalinist wrote a poem beginning with the verse:
We thank thee. Stalin!
Sixteen scoundrels.
Sixteen butchers of the Fatherland
Have been gathered to their ancestors! .  . .
Today the sky looks blue.
Thou hast repaid us for the sorrows of many years!
But why only sixteen?
Give us forty.
Give us hundreds.
Thousands . . .
And so it goes on: a sick dedication to a sick ideology. And the tragedy was that, bad as the poetry was, thousands were killed. Although the Socialist Party had first predicted. and then exposed these dictatorial barbarities most workers did not differentiate between the true socialism advocated by the small party which was not taken in by the Stalinist myth and "Communism". Even today millions of workers react with hostility to what they fear as "communism" when they first encounter socialist propaganda.

If the CP's defence of the purges was not enough to convince the observer of its function as a border guard for Stalinist Russia the policy switches at the outbreak of the Second World War confirmed the party's role. First the CP would not specifically condemn fascism. arguing that all social-democratic parties were fascists. Then they changed policy, on orders from Moscow, and supported the "war against fascism". Later, when the Nazis signed their pact with Moscow, the CP opposed the war against Germany. Finally, when those unreliable old Nazis broke their treaty with Russia, orders came to support the war. This went as far as strike-breaking ("we mustn't disrupt the war effort") and urging workers to vote for any candidate fully committed to the war. including Tories in some areas. In fact, the war proved to be a good time for CP recruitment and after 1945 it had a brief period — the only one in its history — of being in with a minor chance of power within British capitalism. Why was this? Firstly, the war changed popular attitudes to Russia. During the war collections were taken for tanks for Russia, the achievements of "the great Red Army" were celebrated in columns of newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph, and Stalin — the "democratic ally" of Churchill and Roosevelt — had a good press. Many workers felt a sense of gratitude towards the Russian workers for their great efforts and suffering during the war and supporting the CP was a kind of pay-off. Secondly, reform was in the air in 1945 and workers were not prepared to be given petty crumbs after their years of wartime deprivation.

Alas, instead of rejecting crumbs altogether and opting for the abolition of the wages system, the movement was towards bigger crumbs and so it was that in 1945 the CP had two MPs elected. It was not only increased membership and minor electoral success that the CP gained in the post-war years. By far its most enduring gain at this time was in the trade unions — so much so that years later Ramelson, the Industrial Organiser of the CP, could boast that the party had a member — at least one but often more — on the EC of every trade union of significance affiliated to the TUC. Indeed, that remained the case until the early 1970s. The C.P played no small part in formulating TUC policy and in influencing certain elements in the Labour Party on matters relating to foreign policy. Without giving credence to myths about CND being a Moscow front, there is no doubt that several major CNDers are motivated by little more than Stalinist sympathies. The consequence of this has been to weaken public confidence in the so-called peace movement, with many workers concluding — not unreasonably — that those who are so vociferous in their condemnation of the NATO murder gang are conspicuously silent about the military atrocities of the Russian imperialists.

The Decline and Fall of the Communist Party
In 1948 the CP reached its peak membership. Since then it has been going down. The Trotskyist dissidents were the first to leave the sinking ship, with Reg Groves and the so-called Balham Group opting for Leninism minus Stalinism. The Revolutionary Communist Party of the late 1940s attracted a substantial number of ex-CPers who wanted the fantasy of a return to old Bolshevik methods but refused to face up to the inevitable consequences of Bolshevism. By 1950 the RCP had collapsed. Since then it would be fair to say that firstly, the Trotskyist movement has existed in Britain only as a fragmented and theoretically ultra-confused tendency and secondly, young leftists who would have previously opted for Stalinism and joined the CP. are tending to join the Trotskyist "vanguards". Parties like the SWP and WRP, as well as the Militant Tendency, have benefited greatly from the decline of CP credibility, while the Young Communist League is now virtually defunct merely a play area for the gullible kids of old CPers.

In 1956 Krushchev denounced Stalin. The psychological blow which this inflicted on British CPers was enormous. Imagine: here were many sincere, militant, class-minded workers who had fought in strikes, accepted unpopularity, expended energy in denying "lies" about "Comrade Stalin" and in trying to sustain the Stalinist myth in the face of what they had genuinely believed to be a conspiracy of distortion. They had been forced to change policies, to make unsubstantiated claims, to support a nation which, they were told, was "socialism in one country". And then along comes Krushchev not a minor official, but the successor to Joseph Stalin — and he confirms the truth of the anti-Stalinist case. What could be more disconcerting? One still encounters today ex-CPers whose bitterness over the revelations of that period has had a profound effect on their personalities: some of them are now Labour hacks, others are Tories as a response to being "conned by Communism", others are apathetic. This is the price to be paid in historical terms when so many people are taken in by so great a myth. Once Stalin was exposed other doubts set in and doubt is the one characteristic which cannot co-exist with dogma: once the dogmatic Stalinists began to question one part of Stalinism, other parts were open to question too.

In 1956 the workers of Hungary made moves against totalitarianism. It was not a socialist uprising, but it was motivated by a rejection of the power of the CP ruling class. The British CP's correspondent in Budapest reported the uprising, but the CP's Daily Worker refused to carry the story. So he resigned from the CP and published his account in a remarkable work of modem history (Hungarian Tragedy by Peter Fryer). About a third of the staff of The Daily Worker resigned. Large numbers of CPers resigned from the party in protest over the party's refusal to condemn the brutality of Russian imperialism against the Hungarian workers; others allowed their membership to lapse. In Scotland and South Wales CPers organised demonstrations calling for the resignations of the CP leaders. The Oxford University Communist Club met in 1956 and passed a resolution to dissolve itself. By 1960 the CP's membership was around half the 1948 figure. In 1968 the Russian tanks rolled into Prague and CPers who had been rejoicing about the increased radicalism of European students and young workers were told by The Daily Worker to condemn the Czech activists. After a row, the CP did murmur some disapproval about the Russian actions.

By the late 1960s the CP was beginning to split apart. Prominent theoreticians such as Monty Johnstone developed a position of supporting "socialism" in Russia with reservations. By the mid-1970s this line dominated the CPs in Italy and Spain and was labelled Eurocommunism. Efforts were made to move the CPs closer to the larger leftist reform parties and to throw out old Leninist notions like 'soviet rule' and the dictatorship of the proletariat'. The British CP decided that it was time to clean up its act. to make a few token attacks on Russia and to present itself as a respectable reformist party. In 1976 its policy statement, The British Road to Socialism, was re-written. For the old-guard Stalinists this was heretical behaviour. They attempted to oppose the new programme but found themselves in a minority in a party which had no tradition of listening to minorities. In 1977 the majority of the old Stalinists resigned and formed The New Communist Party — a rabidly pro-Russian outfit which is still going today. The NCP split was not the first: in the 1960s there had been a split over China, out of which came a couple of Maoist CPs but it was the 1977 split which spelt the beginning of the end for the CP.

The CP has spent most of its energy for nearly ten years fighting over how far it is prepared to depart from Stalinism. Its leadership is now in the hands of Eurocommunists; its newspaper, the Morning Star, which owes its daily existence to Russian subsidy, is opposed to the leadership line and in the hands of CPers whom the leadership has tried to expel from the party. Indeed, over forty have been thrown out. The old "theoretical" journal of the CP, Marxism Today, is now a trendy intellectual journal which has all but given up any attempt to present a Marxist outlook. Indeed, even the CP leaders are worried about its attitudes, pushing ideas such as the insignificance of class (gender, race and sexuality are what matter now) and the need for an anti-Thatcher alliance at the next election, perhaps including the SDP and some Tory Wets. As is so often the case in disputes both sides are right in what they say about the other. The Stalinists are right to point out that the MT crowd are clueless about Marxism and have abandoned even the notion of class-struggle politics. The MT trendies are right to state that the old Stalinists are a dead force and that nobody these days is going to be taken in by pro-Russian propaganda.

Meanwhile CP membership is down to 10,876 and of that figure only about one in four are in any way active. Both factions could join the Labour Party: the MT crowd could find a home in the new trendy sections of the London Labour Party where intellectual shallowness is the latest fashion, while the Stalinists could join the old pro-Russian fellow travellers who have been at home in Labour circles for years. Of course, neither side is likely to desert the CP en bloc and so what can be predicted is a period of intensified in-fighting until finally the CP consumes itself in its own fire. This obituary may be premature, but only just.

Socialists will shed no tears when the CP funeral does take place. Years ago CPers would ridicule The Socialist Party of Great Britain and tell us that our "pure and simple” case for socialism was destined for the dustbin of history. Our case has stood the test of time while it looks much more likely that the party which wasted workers' hopes predicting the imminent collapse of capitalism will itself soon collapse.
Steve Coleman

Between the Lines: The Yawn of Capitalist History (1987)

The Between the Lines column from the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Yawn of Capitalist History

"Politics" is boring. This might seem odd coming from a socialist, but the more TV presents what it calls "politics" the more this reviewer yawns. On Sundays we are treated to two consecutive hours of heavy political discussion: Weekend World (midday. ITV) and This Week, Next Week (1pm. BBC1). In these programmes the supposed "matters of the moment" are analysed, discussed and debated in a manner which leaves viewers who want to be informed believing that they are watching history in the making. Not so: they are in fact watching two hours of sterile political drivel of no importance whatsoever for the working class who constitute the overwhelming majority of society.

Take the programmes of Sunday, 30 November as an example. On Weekend World the Big Issue was Reagan's credibility as a leader after being caught flogging arms to terrorists. The forgettable, dull presenter rambled for a while about international consequences and whether this affair "could reach Watergate proportions" — whatever they are. Fleet Street hacks were called in and twenty-second bits of edited wisdom were shown: "This is the biggest political crisis of Reagan's Presidency" declared one of them. Who the hell cares whether it is the biggest or the smallest; what is it that the President is supposed to be credible at doing anyway? Six American political commentators participated in a studio discussion: "What do you have to say about what Mr Himmelfarb says?" asks the boring presenter. "He has a point, but I don’t go along with him all the way. I think big heads in the State Department will have to roll''. Let them roll. I thought to myself: let them rock, let them roll, let them do the hokey-cokey as far as I’m concerned. Are workers really supposed to care about how the bosses manage their deceit and allocate the seats on the Boards of National Governments?

Then on to This Week, Next Week which was all about Europe and NATO. A Tory Minister called Stanley — perhaps a cousin of Sid the Gas — was all in favour of more bombs — the only way to-preserve peace, don’t you know. Denzil Davies, the Labour man, said that Britain needs more bombs and the Tories were underspending on defence. (But not nuclear bombs, because they hurt people.) The Liberal speaking from a screen because he was in Bristol could not be heard at first, and then he could be heard but not understood. I think that he was saying something about a moderate approach to blowing up cities. A couple of Americans — again, on screens — said that more bombs are needed in Europe, and just to balance the programme there was a Minister who looked like he was sitting on an uncomfortable chair — on a screen from Hamburg — who favoured more bombs in Europe. None of them disagreed for a moment that war is on the agenda; none of them disagreed that more bombs, of one sort or another, were the way to achieve peace. This was "politics". Workers were invited to take sides. At 2pm it ended and the East Enders omnibus came on: Michelle had married Lofty. Into the land of make-believe we go; but where had we been for the previous two hours?

Boys in Black and Blue

Did you know that British police use unfed dogs to terrorise unconvicted prisoners? Or that they point guns through prison cell doors at men from whom they want confessions? Or that they beat up grown men until they scream? World In Action (8.30pm. ITV. 1 December 1986) presented a clear report on how the men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombing in 1974 were the victims of police brutality which would have been expected in Nazi Germany or modern South Africa. What was unusual about the programme and therefore worthy of note — was that the evidence given of these acts being committed by the police was offered by an ex-policeman, Tom Clark, who was on duty at the police station on the night that the men who are now serving life sentences for the bombing were allegedly forced to confess to a crime they did not commit.

In fact, this latest programme is one of a series which has demonstrated very forcefully the degree to which the state appears to have framed innocent workers in the early 1970s for IRA bombings which they had no part in. This shows three things: firstly, that the power of the state to arrest and imprison workers is always going to be open to abuse as long as there is a need to get someone behind bars as revenge for the crime; secondly. it shows how campaigns of indiscriminate violence against workers, such as those which the IRA and 1NLA have pursued, create a situation in which it is easy for the police to persecute workers who take no part in violent activity; thirdly, it demonstrates that the undemocratic, anti-working-class methods of dishing out "punishment" for which the IRA is notorious are amateur in comparison with the dirty tricks and covert brutality of the official state terrorists: the police. It is just possible that as a result of exposing the alleged framing of the men convicted for the Birmingham bombing a few innocent men will be released from prison. But how many will remain there and how secure does their remaining there make you feel?

Enlightenment and Dogma

The age which historians have come to call the "Enlightenment" — the mid-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries — was marked above all by the abandonment of hitherto sacred dogmas. Religion came to be questioned and science permeated social thought with an obsessive determination to arrive at truths. In fact, as Engels was to demonstrate so well in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (a classic which has yet to be serialised on BBC2). the enlightened truths were only partial truths and that which was obscured was what was ideologically unpalatable to the capitalist class who appropriated science for their own ends.

Channel Four ran a four-week series, funded by a right-wing American foundation, called The New Enlightenment (8.30pm. C4. November/December 1986) with the purpose of expounding the "new" ideas of the so-called libertarian economists — the apostles of the illusory free market. But this was no account of enlightenment, even of a partial kind. This was dogma. The newly-enlightened followers of Hayek and his kind seek to perpetrate the myth that, left to itself without state interference, capitalism can adjust to meet the needs of the majority. Of course, there will still be deprivation and inequality and insecurity caused by wars and a lot else, but at least it will be "practical".

Socialism is rejected by the newly-enlightened dogmatists. But it was abundantly clear from the programmes that these defenders of capitalism are clueless — not enlightened — as to the meaning of socialism. Not once did these dogmatists use the term socialism without in fact describing state capitalism. One of the first principles of science concerns definition, but it clearly did not occur to Professor Minogue (presenter of the programmes) that in attacking the deficiencies of what he called socialism, he was in fact attacking a system of wages, profits, money, nations — capitalism. In saying that socialism offers no alternative these pro-capitalists are trying a victim who is not even allowed to appear in the dock and, worse still, is represented in the dock by a witness guilty of the same offence as the prosecutor.

The whole concept of "balance" is spurious and there is no reason why one-sided programmes should not be shown. Our objection is to one-sided programmes which distort that which they purport to be opposing. When socialists are given our chance to put out a four-part series on the case against capitalism and for socialism — and we will be a long time waiting for an invitation from the TV controllers — we shall make sure that we address the best arguments for capitalism, that we deal with the profit system as it is and not as we might wish to make it appear. Socialism does not exist, but as a theory it stands as a mighty threat to the dogmatic ideology of capitalism, a threat reflected in the fact that our opponents, when given a mass audience before which to discredit socialism, are forced onto the ground of distortion and linguistic trickery.
Steve Coleman

Observations: What's a terrorist? (1987)

The Observations Column from the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

What's a terrorist?

One person's terrorist is another's guerilla hero. When a bomb is planted in a street, or an aircraft hijacked, the leaders of the state on the receiving end are quick to denounce such acts as cowardly, indiscriminate attacks on innocent people. The media agree (while making money out of bloodthirsty sensationalism) and so do the courts:
 . . . if men plot and plan to kill indiscriminately, or to in any way endanger the lives of citizens, they can expect only the severest punishment from this court. If that bomb had gone off, untold damage would have been done to innocent citizens . . . (Old Bailey judge, recently sentencing an 1NLA bomber to life imprisonment).
But we should not allow politicians and the media and judiciary to obscure the facts. In the last war the German occupying forces were resisted by bands of partisans whose actions were not dissimilar to those of today's terrorist — very often indiscriminate destruction and killing. They were applauded by the allies as courageous freedom fighters, supported with arms and personnel.

Guerilla fighters regard themselves, as did the wartime partisans, as being at war — and war is an indiscriminate business. It permits no innocents: all of us — civilians, the sick, children — are legitimate targets. Much of the allied bomber offensive during the last war was directed, deliberately, at killing the maximum number of "innocent" civilians; it was. the planners said, an attack on the enemy morale. So which is worse — to plant a 30lb bomb in a street. like the man sentenced at the Old Bailey, or to drop a 1,000lb bomb on the street from an aircraft? If you get the answer right, you may be given a medal instead of a gaol sentence.

This is not to support, or to condone, workers killing each other in the disputes of the exploiting class in society. Workers have no interests at stake in capitalism's wars; in that sense they can be said to be innocents for whichever side wins they will remain in poverty and repression. Terrorists are to be condemned — like those in the forces opposing them — because they take part in capitalism's conflicts, not because they do so in any unusual or specially gruesome way.

Capitalism is a brutal society, which sets worker against worker and cynically manipulates and exploits the emotional responses which inevitably follow. The real struggle is to replace this society with one based on communal interests. That struggle cannot be carried on with guns and bombs for it is about workers' ideas and they are the authentic key to human progress.

That’s bloody life

That bloody woman! Always on the TV. That bloody hair and that bloody patronising voice! No, not Margaret Thatcher for a change, this time it's Esther Rantzen. taking time out from presenting phallic carrots on That's Life, to introduce the latest in a long line of social concern slots from Crimewatch UK to Drugwatch and now Childwatch. What's next after that? Dolewatch? Or with the cold winter months on us Grannywatch? Or for a real hit in the ratings how about Blind-Puppy Watch? But we have something to tell Esther if she is intending dealing with any more of capitalism's problems — there are only 365 days in the year.

Mind you it's a shrewd move, because not only is it good in the ratings but the raw material for the shows will never disappear; no one will get bored and turn over.

But while Childwatch brought the problem of child abuse into the limelight (at least until the ratings fall) the reasons, or much of them, remain in the shade. A small item in the trial of Andrew Neill, the father of Tyra Henry went unnoticed:

  • before her death, the father of the little girl was suspected of abusing her. and so was ordered to live elsewhere and have no contact with either mother or child;
  • the mother was cut off after being unable to pay an electricity bill;
  • with no real option, mother and child were forced by simple economics to move in with the father.

A few months later the little girl was dead, one victim of a complex but common chain of events that starts at the balance sheet and ends in blood.

Capitalism throws people together with the force of economics, into a family. It bonds them with the need for respectability, and calls it the natural basis of society.

Andrew Neill is now serving a life sentence. He can see his bars and he can beat his prison walls in frustration. Outside, we've only got each other to knock about.
Brian Gardner

Without comment (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "A proposal to take 7.5 million acres of cereal land in the EEC out of production to reduce the community's mountain of surplus grain will be made today by Mr Michael Jopling. the Minister for Agriculture.
  Under the plan, which Mr Jopling will put to agriculture ministers from 12 EEC member states at a conference at Ambleside, Lake District, cereal farmers will be compensated for taking their land out of production: up to £80 an acre if the land lies fallow. less if alternative crops are grown.
  Mr Jopling, the current president of the EEC Council, and his officials have estimated that it will cost £800 million a year initially.
  The British Government has already circulated a discussion document outlining the scheme to take land out of cereals production. either permanently or for a minimum term of perhaps five years
  Although so-called "set aside" schemes have been widely discussed, and have been tried in a somewhat different form in the United States, this is the first time that a British Government, and probably any EEC government has officially signalled that it is prepared to consider paying farmers not to produce.
  The discussion paper estimates that if three million hectares of cereal land were converted, half to fallow and half to producing alternative crops, the cost would be £800 million a year.
  But against that would be set the savings on the cost of buying and storing surpluses which could amount to £6.250 million over five years.
  In terms of unit cost, it would be more economic to pay about £50 a tonne on hypothetical yields from poorer land to keep it fallow, than to buy grain at £112 a tonne and store it for perhaps the whole period of the scheme."
(The Times, 29 September 1986)

Paradise and Poverty. (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dean Inge has, apparently, neither the knowledge nor the consequent optimism of outlook in social matters that characterise the convinced Socialist. “The Gloomy Dean’’ is a pessimist. In a series of extracts from “Outspoken Essays: Second Series,” quoted in “John o’London’s Weekly” (4/11/22), appears the following:
  “Behind the problem of our future rises the great question whether any nation which aims at being a working-man’s paradise can long flourish. Civilisation hitherto has always been based on great inequality.”
By “our” future, no doubt the Dean, means that of the privileged class of the country—the class he is a spokesman for and whose continued dominance he is not anxious to see threatened. He is a paid servant of theirs, and has to express things palatable to them.

It is very doubtful if he understands the working-class position. Anyhow, it seems as though he feared that our kind rulers are aiming to provide a “working-class paradise" and doubts its ability to flourish long.

Well, so far, there have not appeared any signs of such magnanimous purposes. There never has been a “working-man’s paradise,” under the present system, at any time or in any country.

Capitalism implies a division of society into classes, with warring interests. It entails “a great inequality," economically and socially. It is based on the exploitation of the property-less masses by those who own the means of wealth production. Thus the subjugation and the slavery of vast multitudes to a small minority who own and control the means of life, is an accomplished fact of the present. It will continue so for as long as the working-class are content to endure it. For the fact remains that the masses have the potential power to-day: they have the preponderance of voting power and can use that power—had they the knowledge and desire—to capture, constitutionally, the machinery of government.

They can think, and they can vote. Armed with Socialist principles, and a knowledge and hatred of the present system, their class-conscious action could, and would, prove irresistible.

Now, Dean Inge, pessimist, evidently thinks that because "Civilisation has, hitherto, always been based on a great inequality," there must always be a great inequality in society. He thinks its existence constitutes an insuperable barrier to what he is pleased to call "a working-man’s paradise.”

In the "great inequality” of the class-divided society of to-day and its appalling results to the working class, lies the complete damnation of capitalism !

Socialists are out to abolish this system and substitute in its place “The Socialist Commonwealth.” The day is with the privileged, the idlers, and the plunderers of the workers. At present "civilisation” provides a paradise for the parasitic. Under a capitalist regime wealth is provided for the private profit of the owners of the means of life. It enables them and their retinue to live in idleness and luxury. Their wealth, enjoyment, and ease is the corollary of the poverty, misery, and toil of the drudging masses. Their refinements and ostentatious display, their advantages and privileges, accrue to them as the result of the robbery of the working class.

The basic principle of the wages system is the buying and using of men’s labour- power to provide a surplus value for the capitalist to appropriate. In other words, the wage-worker is simply used to provide a far greater value than the value represented by the "wages” paid him.

Those "wages” are, on the average, barely sufficient to maintain him in & state of efficiency for continued wealth-production and reproduce his species as future "wage-slaves.” For the future of capitalism depends on a plenteous reserve of workers to exploit.

All the commodities produced belong to the capitalists, the surplus value produced in the factory is realised for the owners by its sale in the markets.

With the means of wealth production being so great, and the organisation of industry so complete, wealth is nowadays produced with ease. Fresh devices for extracting the utmost surplus value are constantly introduced. The exploiters thus grow increasingly rich. The exploited masses thus, relatively, are impoverished. Poverty and precariousness of livelihood go hand-in-hand. Unemployment is more frequently recurring, and want and misery of the workers is a chronic symptom of the system.

Thus the working class—did they but realise it—have no interest in the continuance of capitalism. Their only hope is in its abolition. Socialism is the only system by which those who produce the world’s wealth would own and control the means of wealth production and enjoy the whole fruits of their labours.

The sole object of our rulers is to maintain and consolidate their privileges. They oppose anything that threatens to menace or curtail them. Thus it is preposterous to imagine that any effort would be made to make a "working-man’s paradise” : for only the continued enslavement and the continued exploitation of the masses ensures capitalist supremacy. To keep the proletariat diligent, docile, and contented, whilst systematically robbing them through the wages system, is the masters’ great purpose. To them, "the great inequality” is necessary : for through it they get the lion’s share of the social wealth.

Fellow-workers ! think these things over : of all questions this is paramount! Study Socialism and get to fully understand our principles. Organise, class-consciously, for the capture of governmental powers—and use them for the overthrow of the system that robs and impoverishes your class.

Organise for the ushering in of "The Socialist Commonwealth.” You have, in realising "the World for the Workers,” everything to win !
J. G. M.

50 Years Ago: Nurses’ Demo against Labour- controlled L.C.C. (1988)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party majority, who control the London County Council, are in a sea of troubles. Trade Unions with members employed by the L.C.C. and the London Borough Councils complain that the joint meeting of the above bodies — dominated by Labour Councillors — curtly rejected their demand for increases of pay to compensate for the increase of prices. The Councillors. of course, are thinking of the rates. More expenditure means higher rates, and higher rates mean fewer votes for Labour candidates at the next elections.

We see masked nurses addressing meetings of nurses employed at L.C.C. hospitals, called to protest against their conditions of service. Mr G. Vincent Evans. General Secretary of the National Union of County Officers, spoke at one such meeting. and is reported in the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post (April 6th, 1938):
  . . . when the Nurses Charter was introduced . . .  it was felt that the L.C.C. would set an example to the rest of the country.
  Instead, when the testing time came, the L.C.C. showed that such a spirit of leadership was sadly lacking. The result was the use of this inaction as a vicious and indefensible argument for defeating the Limitation of Hours Bill in the House of Commons.
  "It was left to the Middlesex County Council." he went on. “to become the pioneers of this progressive movement of reform when it introduced the 48-hour working week. The lead was followed by many of the voluntary hospitals and other provincial county boroughs.
  "Surely the great trade unionist movement in London, and throughout the country, must feel that progress has been stultified."
[From the Socialist Standard May 1938]

Erith Labour Party declines debate (1946)

Party News from the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

After having accepted a challenge to debate with our Dartford Branch the question “Which Party Should the Working Class Support?” the Erith Labour Party cooled off and finally ignored further efforts to make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime the Editor of the Erith Observer and Kentish Times had been asked to act as chairman at the debate. He declined, but expressed his interest in the debate and asked our Dartford Branch to keep him informed.

When it became clear that the Erith Labour Party was determined not to debate, our Dartford Branch sent to the Erith Observer an announcement to be paid for at the usual rates and a letter to the Editor, both dealing with the Erith Labour Party’s refusal to debate.

The announcement and the payment for it were accepted by the Erith office of the Observer, but a few days later they were returned from the head office at Sidcup in a letter signed by the Director of the Kentish District Times Co., Ltd., in which he gave the curious reason that “We see no reason why the Labour Party should debate a motion, and still less reason why we should publish their refusal to do so.”

It is all very odd. We wonder what the members of the Erith Labour Party think about it.

Come to the aid of the Party! (1976)

From the August 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party is in deep trouble. In several constituencies moves are afoot to remove local MPs. Members, especially trade unionists, become dissatisfied and frustrated, organizing "left-wing” moves to replace the sitting members (with scant success). The usual shadow-boxing between "wings” of the party is in full swing over the question of cuts in government expenditure.

The Labour Party is not, and cannot be controlled by its members. It has, in fact, few real members at all: only those in local constituency parties actually go along, sign the form, and pay the sub. It is a complicated hotch-potch of “affiliated” organizations representing trade unions, political groups (mostly now defunct or as good as — ILP, Co-op, Fabian Society, etc.) and a motley crew of "Socialist” Medical Association, "Socialist” Legal Aid Societies and hole- and-corner reformers of every hue.

The members of the Labour Party cannot control it because it has no clearly defined objective. The so-called Clause 4, which talks about “common ownership of exchange”, is self-contradictory nonsense. Consequently Labour Party officials can hardly be charged with political action inimical to the party, since this is not stated in its constitution. "Left wingers” have great difficulty in formulating a case against local Labour MPs. The members are not clear what the party is about beyond a vague desire for improvements, "bigger and better”, etc.

Certainly the Labour Party has never had, nor ever will have, the slightest intention to introduce — or even explain — Socialism. Socialism can only be achieved by conscious political action by the working class. It will be voted in — it can never be blasted in. "Bloody revolution” advocated by the infantile hot-heads of so-called Marxist groups is nonsense.

The first need of Socialist workers is a political party to fight and win elections on an uncompromising Socialist ticket — Socialism or nothing. No "Marxist Group”. “Socialist League”, “International Socialists” or “Workers’ Control Group” can even work for Socialism, let alone achieve it. Only a political party controlled by all its members can be the instrument of capitalism’s downfall. The answer to the cases of Prentice, O’Halloran & Co. is Socialist knowledge in a no-leaders party.

This is the importance of Principles: a generalized expression of the party’s aim and methods. They state what the party is FOR — and therefore the party is restricted to those who understand them and have the knowledge to control it. The precondition for Socialism is a strong political party. However deeply ingrained the illusion that leaders can help them, better experience (combined with clear, explicit propaganda for Socialism through democratic control of the powers of government) will convince workers of the necessity for joining a Socialist party.

Numerous workers today bemoan their feeling of utter helplessness and impotence in the face of the bureaucracy which dominates their every breath. The answer is to join and actively work in a Socialist political party. This is the first essential step. It means turn off that television, and “get up and go” — to the party meeting.

There is no greater crashing bore than the conventional little automaton totally immersed in “his own” business. There is no greater personal satisfaction than that gained from working together for the noblest cause of our days — the emancipation of humanity from capitalist chaos. Now is the time to come to the aid of the Socialist Party, and work for it.