Friday, August 9, 2019

Caught in the Act: Cutting Up (1989)

The Caught in the Act Column from the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cutting Up
A left-winger's medical nightmare might be to look up, drowsing into anaesthesia on the operating table, to recognise that the gowned and masked figure wielding the scalpel above them was none other than Dr David Owen.

Nightmares of the political kind have been induced in many of those treated by Owen since the days when, surprisingly elevated to the job of Foreign Secretary, he was spoken of by adoring hacks as the Anthony Eden of the 1970s. After that, who knew? With his good looks he could have been Labour's next Prime Minister. But it all went wrong when the voters decided they didn't want another Labour Prime Minister. Owen decided that this mortal blow to his ambition was the fault of all those left-wingers and their delusion that a Labour government is supposed to be something other than an imitation of a Tory one. Since then Owen has been in and out of the operating theatre, amputating one political member after another until now only three lonely MPs represent his drive to change the face of British politics forever.

How you regard this must depend on your overall attitude to politics. If you are aware that all the parties which want to reform some aspects of the present social system, rather than do away with it, must put winning votes before sticking to principles you will have the basis of an understanding of what motivates David Owen and the other reformists. You will also be aware that what they offer as new and radical policies are really a re-arrangement and a dressing-up of old ones which have been tried and have failed.

For example, Owen's latest ruse is to tout around the prospect of an alliance. It does not especially matter which party or parties join the alliance—Labour and the SLD would be most welcome—as long as the end result is seen as a presentable opposition to the Thatcher government. According to Owen, when he made his outdoor speech to the SDP delegates after the bomb scare at their Conference (which was widely praised as a brilliant example of extempore oratory but which—if we may say so—was not a patch on the style and delivery always practised by Socialist Party speakers) the worst possible fate confronting us is another spell of Thatcher at Number Ten. So we must all unite to kick her out.

Stitching Up
The first thing to be said about this is that it is by no means a new policy. Formal political alliances are not common in Britain as in some other countries but the informal kind often operate. For example, Denis Healey when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer always worked closely and amicably with his Tory shadow Geoffrey Howe, even if he did once say that being attacked by Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep. The Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929 were kept in office through Liberal support and although these experiences caused what was left of the Labour Party in 1931 to swear that never again would they form an alliance with the Liberals that was just what the Callaghan government did. Between 1931 and 1935 Britain was governed by a ‘National” government of Labour. Tory and Liberal politicians and in 1940 there was the wartime coalition under Churchill, who had swapped sides often enough to be an alliance all by himself. All these alliances were justified on the grounds that the priority was to defeat or frustrate a common enemy; the Lib/Lab pacts were aimed against the Tories, the “National" government was supposed to organise the chaos of British capitalism during the slump of the 1930s. and the 1940-45 Coalition was formed when the enormity of the effort needed to defeat Germany became not just apparent but inescapable.

The second thing to be said about Owen's desperate fishing for friends is that it is out of step with what he once offered as a political principle. One of the more emphatic reasons given for the founding of the SDP was the urgency of getting away from “Two Party" politics, in which power bounced to and fro between Labour and the Tories. A third political force, it was argued, was essential to counteract the extremism (for that was how some of the Labour and Tory policies for running British capitalism were described by the SDP) of the two big parties. Of course, with the SLD and the SDP we now have four political forces but let that pass. The point is that if the SDP succeed in forming an anti-Thatcher alliance we shall be back with the “Two Party" politics which the Gang of Four once said was so damaging and frustrating.

Waking Up
But could the other parties' reluctance to rush into Owen's embrace have anything to do with his infamous personality? When he was Foreign Secretary he was not at all bashful in letting everyone know how lucky we were to have so brilliant a man in charge of British capitalism's diplomacy. Not only enemies are uneasy about his vanity over that handsome face. His former ally David Steel has given an insider's story in his book Against Goliath (geddit?) that Owen was not only arrogant, overbearing and difficult but also inconsistent: “What Owenites think on Monday may be different from what they think on Thursday".

This would be more convincing were it not that when Steel and Owen were in partnership during the last General Election Steel was doing his best to persuade us to vote for this arrogant and inconsistent man and was always being photographed or televised in a state of exultant celebration with him. As things have turned out, Steel has retired from the SLD leadership in good standing, an inconvenient shadow behind Ashdown, while Owen and his party are in tatters. So which of these two Davids wields the scalpel more artfully? Which can cover his inconsistency more cleverly—which the smoother operator? And when will the patient come out of the anaesthetic and wake up to what is being done to them?

Unions advance again (1989)

From the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since coming to power in 1979 the Conservative government has passed some of the most class-biased laws in the history of capitalism. Five acts of Parliament have been passed with a view to weakening working class organisation in trade unions. One of them, the 1982 Employment Act, made unions liable to damages and fines and unions have already had to pay in excess of £1.5 million in court actions alone, with more than 100 separate legal actions having been brought against them (Labour Research, May 1989).

Such damages arise out of “unlawful" action but, as recent events have shown, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold lawful strikes. Several strikes have been termed illegal after court action or been subject to legal proceedings, even after ballots had shown large majorities in favour of strike action. These class laws have also made most secondary action illegal, limited picketing to the place of work, outlawed industrial action in support of a closed shop and prevented unions from disciplining members who refuse to abide by majority strike votes.

Part of the Conservatives' appeal in 1979 was their pledge to control the unions which had become unpopular owing mostly to the way the events of the so-called winter of discontent had been portrayed in the media and which the Tories claimed had acquired the power to bring down governments and hold the country to ransom. However, if the unions were tamed by the policies of the Conservatives in the early 1980s, the question must be asked as to why is union “power" re- emerging when the same government still committed to curbing that power remains in office?

Importance of Economic Conditions
While it would be wrong to argue that the legal framework has no effect on the effectiveness of trade unions, it needs to be pointed out that the impact this can have is constrained by economic conditions. The anti-union legislation proposed by the Labour government in 1969 (In Place of Strife) and that of the Heath Conservative administration in the early 1970s (the Industrial Relations Act) both failed because the unions were in a fairly strong position as unemployment was at a low level. In the period 1969-79 the proportion of the working population organised in trade unions rose by over 10 per cent and actual membership increased from around 10.5 million to over 13 million.

There are other periods which provide evidence that the strength of trade unionism is very much influenced by the economic conditions of capitalism. In the period 1910-20 unemployment never rose above 5 per cent and prices were rising faster than wages, another factor likely to spur union organisation. Union membership increased from just over 2.5 million to well over 8 million. In the period that followed, unions suffered drastic setbacks. Between 1920-22 unemployment rose from 2 to over 14 per cent and both prices and wages slumped dramatically. Union membership declined by almost 3 million. In the period 1920-33, as a whole one of severe economic depression, union membership declined from 8,348,000 to 4,392,000.

When the Thatcher administration first came to power in 1979 unemployment had already started to rise and continued to climb even more steeply in the early 1980s while at the same time many of those in employment saw a rise in their living standards. Under these conditions union membership slumped by just over 2 million between 1979-84. It was this that was the major reason for the defeats and setbacks the unions faced in this period.

In the last year or so unemployment has begun to fall and there are even labour shortages in some industries. Under these changed circumstances workers are more ready to take industrial action. The level of industrial discontent has not yet reached the scale it did in 1979 but the causes are the same—economic. In 1979 the cause was not a militancy that arose out of thin air but the continuation (by a Labour government) of a highly unpopular incomes policy at a time of rising prices. The recent disputes are the result of various groups of workers, many in the public sector, being offered rises below the rate of inflation so that living standards are once again threatened. Also involved are attempts by employers to dismantle national bargaining structures which at least offer all the workers concerned a minimum standard of wages and conditions. Dismantle this and weaker areas can be picked off and solidarity is threatened.

Not a Spent Force
There are still those who argue that trade unions are in the process of a long-term decline. This theory is supported by reference to the defeats in recent years for groups of workers such as printers, miners and dockers who were previously thought of as the backbone of the union movement. However, such defeats resulted rather from economic and technological changes in the industries concerned. The miners suffered from a falling demand for coal whilst the strength of the printers and dockers had been undermined by technological changes which resulted in a vast reduction in the numbers employed, so weakening their economic position.

There is evidence outside the recent wave of disputes to suggest that the trade union movement is far from being a spent force. The 1987 Annual report of ACAS showed that in that year 90 per cent of all ballots went in favour of the union position with high turnouts and votes of 75 per cent quite common (Labour Research, May 1989). In the year 1987-88 40 per cent of TUC-affiliated unions reported a rise in membership. More recently, returns from USDAW and COHSE have confirmed this trend. Public opinion is also much more favourable to trade unions. A Gallup poll in September 1988 showed 69 per cent of people sampled thought unions were a good thing and a Mori poll found that 88 per cent of union members regarded unions as essential for protecting their interests (Labour Research, June 1989).

The idea that ballots would result in a vast reduction in strikes has been proved wrong. It is economic conditions that determine the level of strike activity and its effectiveness. The government, however, still believes it can prevent strikes by legal enactments and is now planning fresh legislation. New proposals on ballots for strike action are outlined in a draft code of practice. If these proposals become law unions would face further obstacles in carrying out lawful industrial action. Firstly, in the run-up to the ballot they would have to provide an account of the employer's side of the dispute. Secondly, to call a strike they would have to obtain what is termed as a substantial majority in a turnout of at least 70 per cent. Thirdly, organising a legal ballot would be an extremely lengthy and cumbersome process as so many conditions are laid down. Since the outbreak of the recent industrial unrest further restraints have been announced. These include making unions responsible for their members who take part in unofficial strikes and the outlawing of all secondary action. The complete outlawing of strikes in what are termed essential services has also been under consideration.

Such new anti-union laws, however, will not suppress industrial conflict any more than those already on the statute book have done. Conflict is inherent in the system as it is in the interests of those who own and control the means of producing and distributing goods and services to extract as much surplus from workers as possible so as to increase their profits, whilst workers need to gain as high a price for the sale of their labour power as is possible since it is their only means of existence. So, as long as capitalism exists there will be conflict and the need for trade unions.

What Strikes Reveal
Strikes reveal several things about the society we live in. While employers and politicians engage in rhetoric about democracy, their only concern is in running an authoritarian industrial system. Proof of this fact was provided in the dispute on the docks. In a ballot the workers voted by a majority of 3:1 for a strike. The port employers’ reaction to this was not to accept the vote and enter into negotiations at a national level. Instead they used the law courts to get the strike declared illegal. The union eventually got that decision reversed but by that time the ballot was no longer valid and the Docks Labour Scheme at the centre of the dispute had been repealed by Parliament. Another vote was taken which resulted in the same majority for an indefinite strike. With the highest court having declared that the strike was legal, the employers turned instead to economic coercion. Port by port new contracts involving a deterioration of employment conditions were issued and workers were given an ultimatum to accept them or be sacked with the loss of their right to fairly substantial redundancy payments. The threat worked and the strike crumbled. Capitalism has nothing to do with democracy. Employers will use unelected judges, economic coercion and even the violent apparatus of the state where necessary.

Secondly, if strikes do cause disruption, which they do, this indicates who the useful members of society are. As we have seen in recent months when those who actually do the real work on the railways stop work, the whole rail system grinds to a halt. The same happened on the London underground and London buses. The working class—all those who have to sell their ability to work, manual or mental—produce all the goods, provide all the services and administer society from top to bottom.

What would have happened if Sir Robert Reid and the British Rail Board had gone on strike? The answer is quite simply that it would not have affected a single train. If Thatcher, Kinnock, all their followers in Parliament, the whole of the capitalist class and all the royal family went on strike, they would have to go round the whole country telling everybody they had stopped "work” for us to be any the wiser. These people make no useful contribution to society. The employers and their representatives need the working class as without us the whole system would grind to a halt. But we don't need them.

The message socialists have is quite simple. The producers and providers of services form an overwhelming majority of the world's population, so why do we put up with employers and politicians controlling our lives and telling us what we can and cannot have? Why do we accept the fact that the world is owned and controlled by a tiny minority of private and state capitalists?

Workers all over the world have considerable power if we unite and it is about time we organised not just in a defensive struggle over wages and conditions, necessary though this is while capitalism exists, but to take control of the Earth's resources. That end is worth organising and struggling for and we should not settle for anything less.
Ray Carr

50 Years Ago: The Communists and the small nations (1989)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Popular Front was to include "progressives" of all parties, that is, all those who agreed with the Communist Party and their methods of "standing up to the aggressors". They roundly abused Chamberlain for even negotiating with the untouchable Hitler . . .

And now it has all ended, suddenly and without warning. Even the wily political variety artists at Communist headquarters have been caught napping. The Russian Government changed its mind and deserted the Allied group of capitalist Powers in favour of Germany. The Nazi and Soviet gentlemen have arranged a truce in the war of loathing and abuse which they hurled at each other for years, and ingenuous Communists have now had the pleasure of gazing in rapture at the Press pictures of Stalin and Ribbentrop smiling sweetly into each others eyes. Whereas the old policy expressed itself in demands for self-determination for small nations. e g.. Czecho-Slovakia. Spam. Austria, and so on. the new one has to approve the agreement to carve up Poland and to square the "self-determination" propaganda with Russia's efforts to acquire dominance over small nations like Latvia. Estonia and Finland, an effort which she pursued with the familiar Nazi technique of placing an army on the borders of those countries. Military force, the last word in capitalist argument, will decide the issue when Russia seeks to "protect" little nations, not conferences which will discuss democratically the "rights" of "self-determination"

[From the Socialist Standard, November 1939]

Between the Lines: Viewing the policy reviewers (1989)

The Between the Lines column from the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Viewing the policy reviewers

Everyone at the Labour Party conference this year was on valium. Or some other, sense-dulling tranquillizer. Or maybe they were just faking it for the TV cameras. The reasoning is, presumably, that a party of people who look half asleep—like a conference hall full of stunned circus lions—will not look like a threat to anything, least of all the capitalist system. Watching the annual Labour conference ritual on the box, it was clear that the Tory reserve team is not only anxious to show the world that it has abandoned any principles it once claimed to hold, but that it has de-odourised the once lively atmosphere of the Labour conference so that all voter-unfriendly pongs of dissent are hidden. If you are going to try to beat the Tories at their own game, then it's best to run your conference just like the Tories do.

For most of the conference sessions it looked as if TV viewers had stumbled upon live—or maybe just semi-live—coverage of a small-time bankers' convention. The conference hall was dominated by a huge white platform, resembling a third-world watch-tower, on which sat the biggest bankers in the Broad Church; periodically one of them would pop up from behind the white blocks to defend odd bits of the infamous Policy Review. Old policies abandoned, back into the leadership tomb descended the men in grey suits. Roy Hattersley, who tended to look pretty tranquillized long before it became mandatory, clapped Neil Kinnock's speech in the sort of way that David Owen used to clap David Steel.

Kinnock droned on for sixty-seven minutes of undiluted reformist garbage. Like last year, he was still eager to get his hands on the market system and let it ravage him. Hattersley looked eager to go home to a hot water bottle, and Jim Callaghan smiled the smile of a bad father watching his son fall into his old ways. Interviewed after Kinnock's verbal equivalent of running the London Marathon wearing flippers. Lord Jim told the BBC nonentity who is doing Robin Day's old job that he was satisfied to see the Labour Party return to common sense after these past few years of silly talk about banning nuclear weapons and all that. One suspected that Jim was not the only satisfied Lord to have observed Kinnocks performance.

I have always tried to watch at least some of the Labour Party's conference on the TV. It used to have a bit of vitality about it, if nothing else. That was before Labour's new publicity boss, Peter Mandelson, who realises that what Wapping thinks matters a lot more than what the workers need to say, decided to clean up the environment by weeding out any signs of open discussion before the cameras. I shall not bother to watch them next year. If I want stage-managed displays of bad taste there is always the Miss World show this month; the audience there is automatically tranquillized by the wit and wisdom of the contestants: "I'm Miss Zaire and I hope to see the world and open my own dance studio". Has she ever thought of taking up speech-writing for Neil Kinnock if victory eludes her?

Labour v Labour

Sorry to dwell on the Labour Party, but Question Time (BBC1, 5 October. 10.45pm) did have two of them on the panel. One was John Smith, a fully reconstructed, Mandelson-moulded, slimline, camera-friendly Kinnockite, and the other was Arthur Scargill who still believes that the jury is out on the question of whether Labour intends to abolish capitalism. He said that he would like to see Labour take on the real problem which is the need to get rid of the capitalist system. Of course, what he means is that he wants to see more state capitalism (nationalisation). Also on the panel was Baroness Seear, who is the Deputy Leader of the SLD in the House of Lords. (Wow! That must have been a job she wanted since she was a little girl.) She accused Smith of not being a socialist. Scargill was an old-fashioned socialist, she said, but Smith was no kind of socialist at all. Scargill found this all very amusing—just as well for him there was no Socialist Party speaker on the panel to blow his credentials. Smith insisted that he was a socialist. Seear was not satisfied; if Smith was a socialist, she said, let him define what socialism means. Smith looked awkward. Lucky for him that Peter Sissons was there to move the discussion on to something more "relevant" Good grief, define socialism! Whatever next? They might even insist that Seear of the "Democrats" define what a democrat is and how it is such beings have "leaders" sitting in the unelected House of Lords. In fact, every time a Labour faker appears on the TV they should be asked to define what socialism is. The silence would be deafening.

Praise the buck

Meanwhile, over in the good old U.S. of A., where they have no Labour Party to pretend to be different from the Tories (there the parties have long ago abandoned such time-wasting pretences), other tricksters perpetuate other forms of fraud. When your reviewer (TV reviewer, not policy reviewer, you understand) was in the USA one of the big televangelists was a creep labelled Jim Bakker. He ran a TV show which told workers to love Jesus and send in money (plastic dosh readily accepted, God Bless You) to his Praise the Lord Ministry. Bakker was caught using the money for his own purposes: mansions, fast cars and an air-conditioned dog kennel for his pet. At the time of writing he was awaiting sentence which could be as much as 120 years in prison. Let's hope they leave a Bible in his cell. Now that his TV trickery is off the air there are plenty more fast-buck TV preachers telling the gullible God Squad to part with their dollars. Cable TV is expanding in Britain soon. Now, if the Pope and the Archbishop of Cant can get their act together, these guys could make a killing on their own Christmas show.
Steve Coleman

Freud and Marxism (1) (1989)

From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fifty years ago this month one of the century's most controversial figures died: Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. He has been celebrated as a genius or condemned as a charlatan, but one thing is certain: he cannot be ignored.

Freud's influence has been overwhelming. His views have informed issues and debates in every field of knowledge dealing with human affairs, and have contributed to forming present-day 'common sense'. His views have influenced many of the institutions that are a part of our social world. Child care clinics and a whole apparatus of systems to intervene in the family have been established in the belief that a healthy child requires certain sorts of experiences. Other institutions that deal with the problems encountered by adults, such as psychiatry, social work and clinical psychology, have been influenced in how they conceive of the problem and its treatment.

It would be false, however, to believe that Freudian views have swept all before them. This is far from the case. Freudian ideas and practices exist within fields in conflict with other viewpoints which claim that psychoanalysis is invalid. This is so within Marxism.

Freud's Life and Ideas
Sigmund Freud was born on 6 May 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia, a small town some 150 miles north-east of Vienna, in present-day Czechoslovakia. Although tine family was Jewish, orthodox practices and beliefs were not emphasised. When his father’s wool business began to fail in 1860 the family moved and settled in Vienna.

Freud remained there, except for brief visits away, until 1938 when the Nazis invaded Austria. It was then that he moved to London, dying there on 23 September 1939, aged 83. Freud showed early academic promise and, as an adolescent his interests were broad and varied. The rampant anti-semitism in Vienna severely restricted the opportunities open to Jews. Freud chose medicine primarily because of the openings it provided to science. In 1873 he entered the University of Vienna and in 1882 entered practice at the Vienna General Hospital.

In 1885 he managed to get a travelling grant which allowed him to go to Paris to study with the famous French psychiatrist, Jean Charcot, at the Saltpetriere. The contact with Charcot marked an important watershed in Freud's intellectual development, as it led to the beginning of his concern with the psychical rather than the physiological basis of neurosis. At the time nervous diseases (neuroses) were treated by physical means such as electrotherapy. However, Charcot had shown that the use of hypnotic suggestion could be effective in recovering the lost function (such as vision or walking) in hysterics. This work was highly controversial and when Freud gave a presentation of it to the Vienna Society of Medicine it was met negatively.

On his return from Paris, Freud married and set up in private practice. He used hypnosis to enable patients to recall forgotten events and for making suggestions to change their behaviour. In doing so, Freud was using a technique developed by Josef Breuer whom Freud had known from his days at the University of Vienna.

An account of the case of one of Breuer's patients. Bertha Pappenham, together with the varying interpretations of Freud and Breuer, was published in Studies in Hysteria in 1895. This can be considered the founding publication of psychoanalysis. Through further experience with his patients and his own lengthy self-analysis beginning in 1897 Freud came to focus attention on childhood experiences and the role of early sexual development in the formation of neurosis. The Interpretation of Dreams was published in 1900. In it Freud presented his theory of the unconscious and of repression. Dreams were seen as the royal road to the unconscious. Freud's views on the development of the sexual instinct from infancy to maturity, and the link between early development and sexual perversion and neurosis in adulthood, were presented in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1906. Freud was beginning to gather around him a group of followers: Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Ernest Jones and others. He had also been appointed to a professorship. International recognition was growing and psychoanalysis was establishing a vigorous institutional foundation of congresses and journals. In 1910 the International Psychoanalytical Society was formed. However, with the growth and development there was also conflict and dissent. Adler left in 1911 and Jung in 1914.

Freud continued to refine and develop psychoanalytic theory and extend his analyses. The theory of psychoanalysis had expanded from a therapeutic technique based on clinical observation into a general account of neuroses, and into a theory of psychological processes in general. Finally, it had become a system in which most phenomena in body, mind and society were explained.

Psychoanalysis was always a source of controversy. But 1933 saw a new way to oppose it. When Hitler came to power Freud's writings, along with those of Einstein and H.G. Wells, were heaped on blazing public bonfires. Freud was reported as saying: "What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me, now they are contented with burning my books".

Freud's Geography of the Mind
Freud's views developed and changed over the years. It was in 1923 in The Ego and the Id that he presented his final account of the structure of the mind in terms of the Id, Ego and Superego. These, combined with the concepts of the unconscious, sexual energies and repression, form the basic framework of psychoanalysis.

One of the earliest findings for Freud was that the real motivation for an act may be disguised even to the person who performs it. Unconscious processes are the most important and the least accessible. Since these processes are outside awareness they can only be understood by way of their practical effects (for example, dreams, slips of the tongue). Unconscious processes can not be controlled by consciousness.

Of the three regions of the mind Freud described in 1923, the id was the most fundamental and basic aspect of the personality. It was the source of all the instinctual energy and was rooted in the biological characteristics of the human species. The id was governed by the pleasure principle and the immediate gratification of desire. The infant personality contained no other structure. The id was entirely amoral and incapable of making judgements of right and wrong. It pulsated with greed, envy and desire.

Out of this evolved a portion of the mind devoted to reason, the evaluation of external conditions and self-activity. This was the ego. Eventually, it became the executive of the personality, controlling the demands of the id and the super-ego. Whereas the id was shaped by instinctual forces, the ego was shaped by conscious perceptions and contact with the external world. The ego was governed by the reality principle.

The super-ego developed out of the ego as the child took on the standards of the parents. In the child's early development it had to learn right from wrong. This was done through the rewarding and punishing practices of the parents. As this was incorporated the super-ego was formed, and the child took on these parental functions by itself. The super-ego was just as unbending and unreasonable as the id. It would not tolerate any deviation from its rigid code of morals. If these morals were broken the super-ego produced a feeling of guilt in the ego, and if they were met a feeling of pride. The super-ego was governed by the morality principle.

In Freud's account of the structure of the mind the concept of energy was important, as it was this which he held quite literally fuelled the three systems and allowed for their development. All energy originated in the instincts, in the id. Of especial importance as a source of energy was the libido which consisted of the sex instinct. This differed from other instincts in that it could be diverted from its biological aim (sex) and sublimated or canalized into cultural activities and work.

The concept of the unconscious does not make much sense without the notion of repression, to help explain the relationship between the id and the ego. For Freud, the psyche (mind) was in a continuous state of conflict. In the middle of this conflict was the ego balancing the demands from the id, the super-ego and the external environment. This produced a state of anxiety which the ego attempted to ameliorate. The process whereby it achieved this was defence. The most pervasive and significant of the defence mechanisms of the ego was repression. Impulses from the id which might be disturbing to the ego and super-ego were shut out of consciousness. Repression was not a conscious process. Once repressed the material did not remain static, but attempted to break through to consciousness in a disguised form in fantasy, dreams and behaviour, often related to the original conflict.

In his account of the sexual development of the child, Freud argued that the child passed through oral, anal and phallic stages. In the phallic stage at 4-5 years of age the child turned to the genitals as a source of erotic gratification. It was at this age that male and female sexual differences became significant. Up to this time psychosexual development had been much the same for both sexes. But now the feelings of the boy towards the mother became more erotic. These feelings were complicated by feelings of rivalry with the father and a fear of loss of love and castration. This conflict Freud called the Oedipus complex and he believed it was universal to human development.

Marx or Freud?
The relationship between Freud and Marx's views has been one that has been a topic of controversy for half-a-century—and is likely to continue for some time. Those who favour an integration of Freud and Marx, and those who argue that there is an incompatibility between the two, are equally determined that theirs is the correct viewpoint. There does not seem to be a prospect that one or other will win the day. This tension, however, is not without benefit; it ensures that the issue of the role of the person in socialist theory remains a topic of debate, and not an arena left solely in the hands of the ideologues of capitalism, to be used to argue that socialism suppresses the individual. In fact, it is socialism that will ensure the free development of the individual. But this will not "just happen"; it is something that needs to be consciously produced. And that requires a valid theory of the individual.

Those who favour a Marx-Freud partnership, with Marx providing the social theory and Freud the psychology, are attracted to Freudianism on a number of grounds. First of all, they point to the dialectical quality of Freud's theorisation, with its emphasis on contradictions between the psychic regions, a quality they see as paralleling Marx's social dialectic. But this similarity is surely an inadequate reason to justify integration.

Perhaps the most important reason why Freud is chosen from the vast range of psychological theories is that he seems to offer an explanation as to how capitalist ideology can have such a hold on working class consciousness. For Marx, being determines consciousness, and the early Marxists assumed that as the means of production developed to the point where they came into contradiction with capitalist relations of production, so socialist consciousness too would develop in a relatively automatic way. However, the participation of the working class in the First World War. the rise of fascism and Stalinism, and the apparent decline in the ability of socialist ideas to attract support, cast doubt on this relative optimism; matters were far more complex. Freud's concepts of the unconscious as a realm of irrationality and of repression seemed to offer an explanation of how capitalist ideology buried deep into the personality beyond the control of the "rational conscious. Freud also offered a mechanism of how this occurred—in the early years of family life. It seemed as if the unconscious determines being.

However, Freudian theory has not remained unchallenged. both by academic psychologists and by Marxists. Not only has the tripartite division of the mind into id. ego and superego been seen as an idealist fiction derived from a religious tradition rather than an authentic materialism, but it has also been seen as giving too much emphasis to unconscious processes. Certainly Marx refers to events which people are not conscious of and of the unintended consequences of actions. But to explain these he does not refer to the unconscious wishes of individuals, but to the character of the social structure and of our ignorance of its mode of operation. Moreover, socialism was to come about not through the power of the unconscious, but through the development of consciousness within the working class. Revolutionary social change will be a result of the awareness of the contradictions of capitalism and not because of the libido.

Perhaps the most fundamental criticism of Freud concerns his concept of mind. For him the mind was an entity that could be separated from society. The mind had its own laws independent of society. Certainly Freud recognised that there was an interaction between mind and society but the mind nevertheless remained for him an individual phenomenon. To understand an individual it was not enough to know the history of the observable interactions of that individual's mental apparatus with the world.

In opposition to this dualism, a Marxist view sees mind as a relation and one that is embedded in specific, historically-determined social relations. In one sense, there is no theory of the individual in Marxism; there can be no Marxist psychology. This is because the individual-as-such is only an abstraction. For Marx, the individual is a concrete individual in a society of a certain kind characterised by a certain mode of activity. Thus a Marxist theory of the individual must have a basis in a different conception of psychology than that Freudianism shares with most other theories. This is a psychology that defines the object of study not as the individual, but as the study of the specific interactions of the "individual-m-relationship-with-the-world”.

Freud and Marxism (2) (1989)

From the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first part of this article appeared in our September issue

For Freud, there was an inevitable and necessary conflict between the individual and society. Inevitable because the id instincts could never be fulfilled; the id was insatiable and social reality set limits on what could be provided. Necessary because the development of civilization required the repression and sublimation of the instincts to provide the energy needed for the production of culture.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Freud was at most a liberal reformer. He never questioned the socio-economic foundations of capitalism, nor criticised its specific ideologies. His criticisms were limited to the level of sexuality, in favour of a loosening of restraints on sexual expression.

Freud did not hold out much hope for any radical social change. Indeed, he wrote off most radical hopes as a search for “consolation”:
  “For at bottom that is what they are all demanding—the wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers.” (Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930).
Psychoanalysis, therefore, does not seem a likely candidate for a psychology compatible with Marxian social and political theory. Nevertheless, there have been a number of attempts over the last sixty years to adapt Freud’s views so that they can form the foundation for a Marxian psychology.

The first concerted attempt at an integration of Marx and Freud occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. At the time this was considered a bold and unconventional step. The Bolshevik regime had outlawed psychoanalysis, preferring the physiological reductionism of Ivan Pavlov as the orthodoxy. Although Trotsky had been sympathetic to psychoanalysis, his voice no longer counted after 1923. Instead, Lenin’s prudish accusation that Freud was poking about in sexual matters was to be the orthodox Bolshevik view.

Within the psychoanalytic movement the integration of Freud and Marx was suggested by a few, but with little success. The most vociferous proponent was Wilhem Reich. However, by the mid 1930s, he had been expelled from the psychoanalytic movement as well as from the Communist Party. It was not until the resurgence of radical politics in the 1960s that Reich’s views on sexual politics were re-examined.

It was around the intellectuals based at the recently formed Institute for Social Research in Germany (more commonly known as the Frankfurt School) that the main Freudo-Marxist debate took place. The attempt to introduce psychoanalysis into this school’s own particular brand of Marxism was part of its desire to free itself of what it saw as the straightjacket of orthodox Marxism. The director of the Institute, Max Horkheimer, had had an interest in Freud from the 1920s. What attracted him to Freud was a desire to find a psychology different from the instrumental utilitarianism that he felt dominated Marxism.

However, the main work of forging links between Marx and Freud was carried out by two other members of the Frankfurt School: Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse. It was through Fromm, himself a psychoanalyst, that the Institute first attempted to reconcile Marx and Freud, in a series of articles that he wrote for their journal, beginning in 1932. But even before joining the Institute Fromm had written The Development of the Dogma of Christ in 1931, his first major statement of the problem.

It was only in the 1940s and 1950s that Marcuse acquired a serious interest in Freud, unveiling his views in 1955 with the publication of Eros and Civilization. Along with Reich’s works, this formed the core of material that fuelled the debates in the 1960s and 1970s before the introduction of feminist theory into the Freud-Marx arena.

Although these three intellectuals shared a common interest in integrating Marx and Freud, their views on how this should be achieved were very different. The movement could not agree on even the basic requirements for integration. Fromm attacked Reich; Fromm attacked Marcuse; Marcuse attacked Fromm and Reich. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the debate attracted only a few adherents of either Freud or Marx.

In Western Europe the end of the First World War sparked off a number of working class uprisings that seemed to some to herald the imminent overthrow of capitalism. But, with varying degrees of difficulty, these uprisings were put down. In the wake of these failures there followed the rise of Stalinism and of Fascism, both finding a significant level of support from the working class. To many Marxists such events were incomprehensible. The means of production were sufficiently developed to provide the objective conditions for socialism, yet the subjective side, working class consciousness, seemed to be moving in the opposite direction with socialist ideas becoming less and less attractive.

This divergence of objective and subjective was seen as suggesting a major deficiency in Marxist theory: an inadequate understanding of the individual and of how irrational ideology could be accepted, when it was clearly not in the interest of the working class. Socialist consciousness did not follow automatically with the growth of the means of production. Somehow working class consciousness could be manipulated to ensure that workers willingly accepted capitalist ideology and submission to authoritarian control. In the search for an answer to this most crucial of questions, Freud seemed appropriate with his emphasis on the role of the irrational and unconscious in human affairs, suggesting that capitalist ideology penetrated deep into the unconscious and repressed instincts that might otherwise challenge the social order.

Reich and Sexual Revolution
Reich was aware of the central role of ideology, or false consciousness, in social oppression. The task of psychoanalysis was to account for the mechanisms whereby the economic base of society could be internalized to comprise a set of unconscious beliefs that would provide an obstacle to revolutionary consciousness. For Reich, the desire to change the social conditions of capitalism is a natural response of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis, therefore, was seen as a process of undoing the repression of patriarchal capitalism and releasing the individual to act in accordance with his or her individual desires.

Reich based his views on Freud’s notion of the libido and its repression, leading to neurosis. Poverty and bad housing gave rise to sexual repression and the damming up of sexual energy that would otherwise be released. Sexuality, for Reich, was expressed as heterosexual orgasm based on the genitals. Sexual repression did not exist in primitive cultures, argued Reich, and only emerged with class interests, being one of the main ways the ruling class maintained its domination. Within the personality this repression is achieved by the build up of a character armour (the ego), as a result of the conflict between the sexual instincts of the id and the requirements of a repressive society.

The character structure is formed in childhood and embodies the ideology of an earlier era. It is this force of tradition that accounts for the lack of correspondence between objective and subjective factors. Reich saw the family as the main vehicle for the reproduction of sexual repression. This led to a respect for authority, which was functional for the child’s future role of worker and servile citizen. In the family, authority was in the father and was cased on the subordination of women. It was the ruthless sexual repression to which the “lower middle class” was exposed that, said Reich, created the authoritarian fixation on which Nazism fed.

Any political revolution, he concluded, must also be a sexual revolution, otherwise all the old authoritarian ideology embedded in the character armour would return. Thus, Reichian therapy aimed at breaking through this armour and allowing the instinctual sexual energies to be fully released and satisfied.

Such a viewpoint is one of the views that uses a concept of human nature as a justification for social change. Reich’s main and radical modification of Freud was in the historicisation of repression, of its restriction to class society. Socialist society, concluded Reich, would have no repression; the free expression of sexual energy would result in enjoyment, comradeship and mutuality.

Marcuse and Surplus Repression
It was on the issue of repression that Herbert Marcuse attacked Reich; for, like Freud, Marcuse held that repression of the libido was a necessary condition for civilisation. Bui Marcuse, too, introduced a historical dimension to repression. This he did by the distinction between basic and surplus repression.

Basic repression was necessary for the continuation of the human race in civilization, whereas surplus repression was necessary only for social domination. The necessity of repression varies with the level of technology and productiveness. Given a constant amount of repression, more of it will be surplus in a society of plenty than in one of scarcity.

Marcuse also introduced a historical element into the reality principle as the law of the ego. He argued that in different historical periods it took different forms. Under capitalism it took the form of the performance principle, ensuring that the libido was repressed during alienated labour. The only period during which the libido was released was during the workers’ brief recreation time.

Since the performance principle was based on the need to overcome material scarcity, the technological advance it resulted in reduced the problem of scarcity and therefore weakened the basis for its continued existence. With the growth in the possibility of pleasure as scarcity became less and less of a problem, more of the repression became surplus. More and more effort was put into warding off the possibility of rebellion by increasing the extent to which the productive capacities were turned against the individual; there was thus an increase in state repression and the manipulation of consciousness.

For Marcuse, the spiral of surplus repression is broken by the power of imagination and fantasy within the unconscious and by the pursuit of sex for pleasure rather than procreation. Revolutionary change would occur not with the development of socialist consciousness in the working class, but through the development of art and play. It was these aspects of Marcuse that were irresistible to the pleasure-seeking radicals of the 1960s.

Erich Fromm’s Social Psychology
For Erich Fromm, the main task was to use psychoanalysis to provide the link between ideological superstructure and socio-economic base. Marx, he argued, had the beginnings of a psychology, seeing humans as having certain basic drives (hunger, love, and so on) which seek gratification. But other psychological insights were needed. Marxists such as Kautsky and Bernstein had proposed inborn moral instincts that would account for the demand for socialism. Fromm viewed such notions as idealistic whereas psychoanalysis was a materialist, historical and social science.

Freudian drive theory was compatible with Marxism. Also, Fromm added, both Marx and Freud agreed in regarding consciousness not as the ultimate motor of history, but as the reflection of other, hidden forces. To Marx, these forces were human’s instincts, needs and capacities which had become hidden because of the alienation in capitalist society.

Each society, Fromm argued, had its own libidinal structure, a combination of basic human drives and of social factors. The task of analytical social psychology was to understand the effects of the socio-economic substructure on the basic psychic drives, and especially sexuality due to its ability of being displaced, sublimated and satisfied in fantasies. Childhood experiences in particular were important as the family was the agent of society.

A valid social psychology, said Fromm, must recognise that when the socio-economic base of society changed so did the social function of the libido. Thus, for Fromm the Oedipus complex was not a universal aspect of human development but was restricted to patriarchal societies. In general, the instinctual apparatus was given but highly modifiable; the role of primary formative factors went to the economic conditions.

Feminism and Freud
The resurgence of the women’s liberation movement and the corresponding development of feminist theory since the late 1960s produced a second movement for the development of Freudo-Marxism.

At first the varieties of feminist thought found much to criticise in Freud. For example, Freud’s account of female psychology rests heavily on the concept of “penis envy” (the awareness of lack in comparison with the male), with the implication that the woman wants sex not for pleasure but for the restitution of her lost penis via male penetration. For Freud, only the male is really a full human being; the woman is a crippled, castrated man.

However, a turning point in the evaluation of Freud by feminism occurred in 1974 with the publication of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism. Consciousness-raising techniques, which had been a prominent feature of the feminist movement, had failed to free women of their patriarchal feminine ideology and desires. This suggested that these were more deeply rooted in the mind and were not capable of being rejected solely at the conscious level. Psychoanalysis seemed to provide the concepts which would enable feminists to understand how patriarchal ideology functioned by being internalized into the unconscious layers of the personality. The earlier explanation of social conditioning into sexual roles was rejected as inadequate for concentrating on surface appearances and being unable to deal with the depth of penetration of feminine ideology Psychoanalysis was seen as offering an explanation of the formation of sexual identity and gender formation. But the appropriation of Freud had to be a critical one; his biological reductionism and sexism had to be seen not as the essence of his views but merely the result of his own unconscious acceptance of patriarchal ideology.

Mitchell’s work encouraged feminists to pursue this dialogue with Freud and post-Freudian theory. For Freud, the resolution of the Oedipal conflict with the father was the most significant period in development. But in recent years feminists have focussed on the pre-Oedipal period and on the role of the relationship between infant and mother. It is during this period, according to Object Relations Theory, that the differences between masculine and feminine personality characteristics are formed.

From this perspective, change from “patriarchal society” is seen as coming about through men and women sharing child care to provide both sons and daughters with the conditions for their relational capacities to be fully developed. But it is difficult to see how such changes in child care can lead to changes in the basis of society. As a political programme this can only lead to failure. If social change is to come then socio-economic foundations themselves must be attacked. Ideological struggle and change in individual relations are important, but political power is the only way to change basic social relations.

While feminists are justified in analysing the role of the family in the construction of the individual, other influences are also important. There are other, more significant sites where individuality is forged—those connected with capital and the state. The personal may be political, but the political is not personal. It is in the failure to reveal the interconnectedness between the personal, ideological, political and economic that Freudo-feminism is at its weakest. What is needed is not just a castrating of Freud, but a more radical critique.
Ed Blewitt

Why Water is a Commodity (2012)

From the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Originally published in the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘It’s outrageous,’ Sara Parkin, the Green Party spokeswoman, was quoted as saying, ‘that water should become a capitalist commodity.’

Commodity production is a hall-mark of capitalism and if Sara Parkin could be persuaded to dip into Volume 1 of Marx’s Capital the first words to meet her eye would be:
  “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities.’ … Our investigation therefore must begin with the analysis of a commodity.”
And what does this investigation show? That what makes a good (a use value) into a commodity (an exchange value) is its production for sale, with a view to profit. However, how can it be that water through our taps costs us £s a week whereas falling in a storm it is free? The answer lies in the analysis of a commodity. This brings us back to capitalist society, where water is a commodity possessing value (exchange value). All commodities must have two kinds of value: use value and exchange value. To be a commodity a good must have use value, otherwise it wouldn’t sell and so have no exchange value. Water down our necks in a storm is useless but we need water to do the washing or make a cup of tea.

So what is it that converts water from a useless nuisance into a valuable commodity? There is no shortage of water in the world. It is only unequally distributed in nature. The water is available but has to be brought to where it is needed, as to meet the demands of modern conurbations. As was well said by a World Health Organisation expert, “there is no shortage of water, only pipes“, and therein lies our answer.

Reservoirs, tanks, pumps, filtration plants and drains can only be produced by human labour, and it is only human labour which, in capitalist society, imparts exchange value. If value depended upon usefulness, water would be the second most expensive item (after air) on Earth. Rain irrigating crops is indispensable but contains no human labour and so is valueless (free), like the air we breathe. Installations to store, purify and supply water necessitate human labour and water thereby becomes a value-bearing commodity depending on the amount of socially necessary labour required.

Therefore, Sara Parkin’s idea that water could be somehow exempted from capitalist commodity production is a non-starter. Like so much of the Green Party outlook, it is the same old story of capitalism without commodity production, which Pierre Proudhon was advocating 140 years ago.

Under capitalism every useful thing containing human labour produced as a non-use value to its owner becomes a commodity, with a price. This is so whether the means for producing it are nationalised or privatised. Trying to except the water supply (or electricity or gas or transport) from commodity production under capitalism is like trying to run the Boat Race outside the river.

It is capitalism (commodity production) not privatisation which is the cause of water being a commodity. Only its complete abolition will end the situation which so outrages Sara Parkin.

Greasy Pole: Cracking the Whip (2012)

The Greasy Pole column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Seasoned addicts of the pub quiz may not be too confident when confronted with the question, ‘Who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury?’ The answer is not George Osborne’s speech writer but the government’s Chief Whip, the MP whose job is to be what Margaret Thatcher called the ‘Cabinet enforcer’ — to smooth the abrasiveness of capitalist administration by ensuring that government MPs turn up in the Commons when they are told to and that when they are there they vote as the government needs. The Chief Whip is allocated to that grand title in order to get paid for so demanding a job, which also applies to the lower manipulators in their office, who are allowed to announce themselves as Comptroller of HM Household or the like, but who are commonly known as Deputy or Assistant Whips.

In spite of all that implied chivalry, the Whips are renowned for the ruthless methods they use to discipline the MPs. In the Commons they instruct Members how to vote through hand signals; those who disobey may have to be reminded of their prospects of promotion or receive a discreet word in the ear about the Whips’ awareness of some embarrassing information or personal secrets (which in another context could be known as blackmail). Or there may be MPs who are sick enough to need to be dragged to the Commons. For example, Leslie Spriggs, who was the Labour MP for St. Helens during the decline of the Callaghan government. In 1974, although he was desperately ill after a dangerous heart attack, Spriggs was driven to the Commons by ambulance for a crucial vote. When he arrived two Whips (one Labour, one Tory) could not at first agree whether he was still alive. Then the Tory had the bright idea of fiddling with the controls of the heart machine which briefly revived the patient enough for him to be able to crow, in a kind of triumph, ‘there – you’ve lost!’.

In spite of the bogus titles and the instructions and the bullying, can the Whips represent themselves as examples of the standards they demand of others? Geoff Hoon, who was Chief Whip from June 2007 until October 2008, was renowned for his prominent ambitions. As an obediently Blairite Defence Secretary he distinguished himself when he did not shrink from admitting that he was willing to have nuclear weapons used against Iraq ‘in the right circumstances’ and later responding to an Iraqi mother that ‘one day they might’ thank the British Army after her child had been killed by a shower of cluster bombs. After a clumsy attempt to assert his leadership claims through undermining Gordon Brown, he was persuaded to stand down from Parliament. By then he had been responsible for putting in for expenses which were questionable and he later admitted to an undercover reporter that he intended to use his experience in government in a way that ‘frankly makes money’. He perhaps found this a year or so later when he went to work for the same AgustaWestland who during his time at Defence were awarded a helicopter order worth £1.7 billion. All things considered, it was gruesomely appropriate that other MPs should dub him ‘Buffoon’.

The most recent – and infamous – Chief Whip was Andrew Mitchell who went to Rugby School which makes him only a little less exalted than Cameron and his gang from Eton. Mitchell was a prefect at Rugby where he prided himself on being a ‘stern disciplinarian’, although among the other pupils he was known as ‘thrasher’. After leaving school Mitchell had two spells as an officer in the Army. As Shadow Home Office Minister he covered police matters. All in all his experiences may have persuaded him that he was a Chief Whip whose orders would instantly be obeyed. He broke into the headlines last September when he drew on his barrack-room vocabulary to abuse and sneer at the policemen guarding Downing Street who were obeying their orders to prevent people cycling through a gate – and then he cycled off for supper at the Carlton Club. Mitchell’s response to the surge of negative publicity was not notable for any military precision for after at first denying any blame for the incident, he apologised twice but was then observed, on the Front Bench, mouthing that he had not sworn at the police. In the end he was forced to resign, with a grudgingly partial admission of being at fault: ‘whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter I will not be able to fulfil my duties…nor is it fair to continue to put my family and colleagues through this upsetting and demanding publicity.’ ** His reputation sustained further damage when his successor Sir George Young cancelled the order he had made during his brief time as Chief Whip for a luxury Jaguar official car to chauffeur him from Downing Street to Parliament –about 200 yards.

(** The official police log of the incident notes that Mitchell said “Best you learn your fucking place. You don’t run this fucking government … You’re fucking plebs.  I’ll have your fucking job for this.”)

What the Duke of Wellington called the ‘whipping-in’ system was formally introduced to Parliament in the 1880s. It is now as near an essential weapon of government as can be designed by the most devious and ruthless of political leaders. Governing capitalism is not a simple matter of applying a clutch of easily constructed, widely applicable restraints but a process which must take into account that there is within the ruling class a maze of conflicting interests of power and influence. And there is the need to impose laws, regulations and procedures which are directed at inducing the subject class to accept their inferior place in this society, if necessary through further laws. To ensure that this goes as smoothly as possible is the function of the Whips, who will contest any tendency of legislators to pay heed to their election pledges or to question the rationale of the process. That this is as ugly as it sounds is reflected in the methods of those who manage it all. And if this is a literally rotten style of running our human affairs it is because we suffer under an essentially rotten social system.

Correction – last month we said that Paddy Ashdown retired as Liberal Democrat leader in 1992, whereas we actually had to put up with him for seven years longer and he retired from that post in 1999.

Beneath the fog of the People’s War (2012)

Book Review from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unpatriotic History of the Second World War by James Heartfield. Zero Books (2012).  UK £23.99 / US $42.95.  ISBN: 978 1 78099 378 2

What is it we are asked to ‘remember’ every Armistice Day? ‘Heroism’ of course; ‘sacrifice’ of course; and the inevitable ‘giving’ of lives in a war fought for the cause of ‘peace’ and ‘freedom’. That is the popularly accepted account.

In this reinterpretation of the events surrounding World War Two James Heartfield invites readers to reconsider the accepted victors’ histories of the period. This is not a run-of-the-mill retelling of the official versions produced at the time for popular consumption and reproduced continually ever since as a justification for the carnage. In their place he gives us an unsanitised version of events and an analysis of the fundamental realities behind the conflict that cost sixty million lives and caused almost incalculable destruction of useful constructions (factories, railways, ships, dwellings and other buildings).

It rejects the orthodox accounts of endeavours to liberate Europe, of supposed struggles against evil dictatorships and of battles to end racism. In their place Heartfield amasses a wealth of evidence to demonstrate that the real underlying concerns of the elites who directed the war on both sides related much more to their economic, strategic, and imperial interests. What had formerly been trading wars had by 1939-1945 turned into armed competition over the spoils of exploitation on a world scale. This was a war over markets and access to raw materials as the post-war settlement over spheres of influence made clear.

This was in no way a People’s War. It was a war against people, including, in the words of Arthur Harris the RAF’s chief of Bomber Command, ‘any civilian who produces more than enough to maintain himself.’

What the democracies and the dictatorships had in common was that they had channelled popular aspirations into nationalist and militarist movements. The working-class majority of their populations were successfully persuaded to identify not with class but with country.

Although it does not draw any conclusion regarding the avoidance of future wars, this book is highly recommended as a useful corrective to World War Two history as portrayed on TV and taught in both schools and universities. It makes several of the arguments we ourselves have made even if it does not explicitly draw our conclusion that capitalism and war are inescapably entwined. Only establishing a world of common ownership and production for use will make war a thing of the past.
Gwynn Thomas

50 Years Ago: The Conflict That is Capitalism (2012)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

So the crisis is over—for the time being! The Soviets have climbed down over Cuba and have withdrawn their missiles from that unhappy island. Everyone is sighing with relief and no doubt President Kennedy is congratulating himself on the success of his tough line. The press generally acclaimed him as the saviour of the peace, although it has been suggested in one journal at least, that there was no real Russian intention to fight over Cuba because the U.S.S.R. was just not ready for a shooting war yet. Russia, it seems, has run away to fight again another day.

Just what day, when and where, none can say—least of all the various opposing governments themselves. It is one of the terrifying aspects of the whole ghastly business that at the most we can only guess where the next trouble spot will be, and whether that will then trigger an explosion which will blow the world sky-high. Look back over the years since 1945. Berlin, Korea, Suez, Hungary, Lebanon, Formosa—the monster of war can rear its ugly head any place at any time and this is not to mention the smaller in-between conflicts such as Indo-China and Algeria.

Cubahas simmered down for a while and maybe will move out of the headlines altogether, as the major capitalist powers find their attention diverted elsewhere. Who amongst us anyway would have risked a wager even six months ago that Castro’s Land would be the focal point in a crisis which edged the capitalist world perilously close to another horror?

And now there is India’s fight with China. This again is in a part of the world which has only recently become big news, as Capitalist China pushes her borders outwards in pursuit of her expansionist aims. She has been squabbling for some time over certain slices of Indian border territory and negotiations have dragged wearily on, but force is the final arbiter in the clash of opposing interests, as we have pointed out on many occasions.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1962)

Hong Kong: Extraditing Extradition (2019)

Hong Kong protests
From the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

People Power in Hong Kong
On 9 July, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared that a widely unpopular extradition bill, which had already been suspended by the Hong Kong government, was ‘dead’ – albeit not formally withdrawn, as most of the protestors against it had been demanding.

And what a protest it has been. Over recent months, hundreds of thousands of people (nearly two million on 16 June) have regularly swelled the streets of Hong Kong in opposition to the legislation, which amongst other things would make it easier for crime suspects to be removed to the mainland. The mostly non-violent demonstrators have faced rubber bullets, batons, pepper spray, water cannons and tear gas from the police, as well as opposition from counter-protestors.

Hong Kong has long been a place of refuge for dissidents and activists fleeing persecution in China. These fugitives include some rich Chinese capitalists who have fled to Hong Kong in fear of losing their wealth. But they also include many political activists. The concern is that those extradited to China could disappear or be subject to vague or trumped-up charges and unfair trials.

Such fears are well-founded. Recently, university students from Peking University who tried to link up with workers have disappeared, a fate that regularly befalls workers and students deemed a threat to China’s authoritarian state. To take another example, in 2015 five booksellers specialising in publications critical of the (so-called) Communist Party disappeared. And Hong Kong activists have been detained upon crossing the border. It is unsurprising that many young people fear for their futures.

We can see in these protests an impressive display of people power. With limited electoral means, protests and occupations of public spaces and buildings are the only way that many locals feel they can express their opinions. They are participating in a long tradition of civil protest in Hong Kong. In 2003, for example – just six years after the formal handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China – an anti-subversion bill, Article 23, was withdrawn after half a million people took to the streets. But many of those involved in the recent protests are too young to remember this event or even to have been involved in 2014’s ‘pro-democracy’ Umbrella Movement.

Clearly, these protests – and Lam’s apparent inability to contain them – have rattled Beijing. The Chinese government will be deeply concerned that the unrest might spread across the border to Shenzhen or other Chinese cities and connect with the struggles of industrial workers. Predictably, media coverage of the protests in China has been minimal and propagandistic. After all, Chinese state media ruthlessly suppress public discussion of events such as the 1989 massacres of students and workers in Beijing and other Chinese cities or the recent, massive anti-pollution protests in Wuhan. When Hong Kong has been mentioned, Chinese media have described the mainly non-violent protests as an outbreak of criminality and an affront to public opinion. As is usual in authoritarian states, the media have also blamed the disturbances on foreign meddling. But while there is no doubt that foreign powers are using the situation in Hong Kong as a political football (particularly in the context of the ongoing US-China trade war), the suggestion that such massive protests are the result of Western manipulation is absurd.

There is no doubt, however, that many of the protestors harbour illusions in nationalism. Surveys show that most people in Hong Kong, especially younger age groups, proudly identify as Hong Kongers rather than Chinese. Some protestors are driven by nativist resentment, blaming mainlanders for rising living costs. Others want to take Hong Kong back in time: some of those who stormed the Legislative Council building on 1 July (the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty) even carried Union Jack flags. Politicians and other nationalists in the UK have made the most of this regressive nostalgia. The British Foreign Secretary even threatened China with ‘serious consequences’ if Hong Kong’s ‘freedoms’ are not protected.

Of course, the freedom that capitalists are most concerned about in Hong Kong is the freedom to continue exploiting the working-class. The small minority of socialists and anarchists on Hong Kong’s streets know that working-class people in Hong Kong (and elsewhere) cannot be truly free in a capitalist society. The removal of the extradition bill may prevent some of the repression faced by activists, but the basic problems faced especially by younger workers in the region – such as unaffordable housing, falling real-terms wages and relentless gentrification – will not be solved either by ‘independence’ or a return to the colonial past.

These protests, which are still ongoing, do not express a socialist perspective. But we do not dismiss the participants as na├»ve idealists, or worse still, as the ‘useful idiots’ of Western imperialism, as Stalinist organisations like the CPGB-ML do in a direct echo of Chinese state propaganda. We admire the determination of the mainly working-class protestors to stand up to the system. Being ‘leaderless’, mostly non-violent and massive in scale, these demonstrations display some of the features that will be required of the socialist revolution.

‘King’ Boris: The Wages of Duplicity (2019)

From the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Boris, the indefatigable, is crowned King
After each of Boris Johnson’s many gaffs and indiscretions one imagines that he must finally be dead and buried politically, yet he rises from the grave like a zombie in a B-Horror movie. Now he has achieved his life-long ambition and been crowned premier by a reluctant rag bag rump of a Tory Party; the blue rinse and blazered clan of London and the Home Counties, such is the quirkiness of our democracy. It was never going to be that other zombie, in the form of Jeremy Hunt. He simply lacked the star quality and celebrity which is essential for high political office nowadays.

So, it has come to pass that Alexander Boris de Pfellel (I think that’s pronounced piffle) Johnson, an Old Etonian who studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford and was a distinguished member of the Buller!… Buller!…Buller! Bullingdon Club, with all its spectacularly lurid debauchery, is the UK’s new premier.

Is he the right man for the job? His career has to date included Member of Parliament, Mayor of London and journalist; the assessment of his efficacy in these roles has ranged from undistinguished to catastrophically incompetent. His main claim to fame is his disingenuous campaign to take the UK out of the EU – £350 million a week extra for the NHS etc – and now his promise to deliver Brexit, come rain or shine, upon the witching hour of Halloween this October.

The testimonials as to his character are almost universally damning. Boris de Pfellel Johnson has been variously described as a: popinjay, lazy, feckless, dishonest, narcissistic, racist, homophobic and lacking in imagination; such moderately pejorative descriptors coming predominantly from his friends and colleagues. Those more hostile to Boris Johnson invariably express their opinions in a more strident manner. One such example being ex-Tory MP Jerry Hayes who summed up Boris as a: ‘copper-bottomed, double-dealing, hypocritical little shit’ (LINK). Whilst this vitriol is often intended to demonstrate Boris’s unfitness for high office it seems it does the opposite. If the number of similar incumbents around the world is anything to go by such sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies provide him with impeccable credentials for premiership.

Some people have couched their reservations about him in more practical terms, citing the difficulties that Boris will have in working with the business community following his retort ‘fuck business’ whilst Foreign Secretary when confronted with business concerns regarding Brexit; or the vulnerability of the Special Relationship given Boris’s former description of Donald Trump as: ‘clearly out of his mind… portraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him quite frankly unfit to hold the office of President of the United States.’ But all this hot air and hyperbolic rhetoric will be water off a duck’s back in the pragmatic relationship of politics. For all the bluster The Boris and The Donald are soul mates. Their respective utterances are indistinguishable without attribution. Boris’s comment, comparing women wearing burkas to letter boxes and bank robbers, could just as well have come from Donald Trump; along with many similarly asinine remarks. Both men share a common penchant for pussy-grabbing, each with his idiosyncratic style. They are like peas in a pod, ideally suited to the bear-pit, come cesspit, of modern-day celebrity politics; adept at pedalling their particular brand of snake oil. They will get on famously so long as realpolitik or self-interest doesn’t get in the way.

What is Boris likely to achieve in office?
So what should we expect from the UK’s new Prime Minister? Boris Johnson’s unique achievements as premier are more likely to be in chairing the satirical BBC programme: Have I got News for You, or becoming the winning contestant on ITV’s reality dating show: Love Island, rather than solving the environmental crisis, averting wars, or ending world poverty.

To the extent that Boris has set out his stall he has said that he will slash taxes for the rich and for corporations; create more tax- and customs-free zones – effectively creating more legalised tax evasion enclaves – and sprinkle a few billion pounds around on vanity infrastructure projects, similar to when he was Mayor of London; topped with the obligatory rhetoric of: tough on immigration and tough on crime. Nothing surprising there then!

Beyond these fatuous policy sound-bites Boris attempted to introduce some intellectual gravitas to his campaign by penning a tediously long article in the Daily Telegraph recently (30 June) where he wittered on about liberalism without really getting to the nub of anything. It turned out that the main purpose of the article was to engage in that popular Western pastime of Putin-bashing whilst trumpeting the UK as an exemplar of thriving liberal democracy; an accolade Boris warns the UK will forfeit if it fails to exit the EU on the 31 October 2019. It will no doubt be a relief to many that, like a Catholic reaffirming the faith, all will be well with liberal democracy once Brexit is a done deal.

If it were someone, other than Boris, would it make any difference?
If it had been Jeremy Hunt, or any of the other non-entity candidates as premier, then it would have been much of a muchness; the usual mendacity and venality would predominate in the execution of the role of chief operating officer, at the beck and call of the capitalist class, under cover of ‘democracy’.

What if, as some pundits have postured, Boris’s incumbency prompts an early general election? If Labour get in it may well be led by someone other than Jeremy Corbyn – given that few currently seem happy with him – in which case a new New Labour is likely to amount to a Tory-lite government and therefore business will be as usual. But what if, horror of horrors, that supposed Communist, Trotskyist, Leninist, Marxist, Putin apologist, racist, anti-Semite, allotment-gardening Corbyn gets into No 10 after all? The Establishment have already laid their contingency plans in the form of a recalcitrant civil service. One retired general has mooted if needs be, a military coup, mainly premised on the treasonous conduct of Corbyn in refusing to unhesitatingly commit to pressing the nuclear button to render all life on the planet extinct.

But in any case an acclaimed radical Corbyn-led government is unlikely to prove to be radical in practice. The approach of John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, is more akin to Roosevelt than Marx. Despite his declared wish to get rid of capitalism he cautions the need to move slowly to a system of common ownership to avoid the risks; the structural vehicles for such transition comprising variations of traditional state and worker ownership and modest proposals for industrial democracy. Leaving aside the efficacy of such structures, it is hard to understand why John McDonnell considers such measures will work within a capitalist system which inevitably neutralises and/or reverses any minor social gains that threaten its basic ability to make profits. As can be seen by such attempts in the past any changes in wealth and income distribution or improvements in social provision for the working class, are quickly clawed back when the time is right. Given the rampant, uncompromising and unrestrained hyper-capitalism of today and the increasing concentration of power in the hands of the capitalist class it seems unlikely that it will be inclined to make any concessions at all but instead is likely to double down in its quest to squeeze every last bit of surplus value from humanity and the planet, irrespective of the catastrophic consequences.

Gradualism, incrementalism, reformism – whatever one chooses to call it – has proven not to work time and time again. If one fails to confront the fundamentals of the antagonistic relationship between the working class and the capitalist class then politics will continue to go down such blind alleys; the conflicting relationship manifesting itself because of the appropriation by the capitalist class of the wealth that has been produced by the working class.

If meaningful change is to be achieved this inherent conflict must be addressed head on. Socialism provides the means by which this can be done providing that the imagination of enough people can be ignited in order to visualise it and then to act to bring it about; creating a society where the means of producing the things needed to live a good and satisfying life are owned and controlled by everyone and distributed for the benefit of everyone. In contrast to the situation now under the defective system of capitalism, where production solely for profit creates false scarcity and thus destroys and impoverishes the lives of the majority of people in the world and, as we now know, jeopardises all life on the planet.

To imagine a different world is a difficult task; a socialist world without war, without privation; an equal and inclusive and socially and materially enriching society in harmony with the natural environment. It is the task of those who can already conceive of such a society to spark that same imagination in the minds of others and to collectively sustain such imagination by continual exploration of the practical constituents of a socialist society in order to create the conditions to bring it about.
Tim Hart