Monday, September 23, 2019

Sport mimics warfare (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win . . . At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests and seriously believe—at any rate for short periods—that running, jumping and kicking a bill are tests of national virtue.

Blogger's Note: 
This short quote from Orwell really should have been tagged onto the end of Paul Bennett's article, 'The Olympics: sport as warfare', but I missed it at the time. I'm now making amends.

The quote itself is from Orwell's 1945 essay, 'The Sporting Spirit'.

In the 
minefield (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

To each side in the coal dispute, this is more than just another strike. For the NUM it is a struggle to keep miners in employment, whether this is profitable or not; it is also, for some strikers, a stroke at the heart of the Thatcher government which may end in Arthur Scargill becoming the champion of the Labour movement. For the government and Ian McGregor it is a matter of asserting that management must be allowed to "manage", by which they mean allowed to implement the principle that coal mines are like any other productive unit and must be closed if they run consistently at a loss. Both sides are aware of the events of 1973 and 1974, by now a part of left-wing folklore, when the Heath government blundered into a fight with the miners, the Three Day Week crisis and then to electoral defeat. In case anyone is hoping the miners will repeat that particular piece of history, it should be remembered that that alleged triumph for the organised working class resulted in the 1974-79 Labour governments, which were notable for their continual assaults on workers’ living standards, their strike breaking, their encouragement to cross picket lines and at the end the infamous Winter of Discontent. And what came out of that? When Callaghan called the election in 1979, class society was as strongly entrenched as ever. The means of life, including those parts of it which had been nationalised, were still owned by a minority of exploiting parasites while the useful, productive majority were still bound to submit themselves for exploitation in order to live. The miserable impotence and disarray of those governments persuaded millions of workers to vote for the Thatcher government who made no secret of their intention to curb the trade unions, if need be in the kind of fight to a finish which the miners may now be engaged in.

Back beyond 1973, there is an ominous resemblance—by no means accidental or insignificant—between what happened in the 1920s and what is happening today. At the end of the First World War many of the staple industries, on which the British capitalist class relied so much, were in decline; coal was affected by competition from continental rivals such as the Ruhr and Poland and the productivity of British mines lagged behind that of their most serious competitors. In 1925 a slump in coal exports contributed to the industry showing losses of about £1 million a month and the mine owners gave notice of their intention to negotiate a new agreement with the union based on a longer working day and a reduction in wages. The miners resisted and. as the TUC declared their support, a general strike seemed unavoidable. What deflected the strike was the government's agreement to provide a subsidy, which eventually amounted to £23 million, to keep the mines working.

The day the subsidy was announced 31 July 1925 — has also gone into folklore as Red Friday, an enduring triumph for the working class. The secretary of the miners’ union. A.J. Cook, trumpeted: "We have already beaten, not only the employers, but the strongest government in modern times".

There were two serious mistakes in this claim. The miners had not beaten anyone; the subsidy could only postpone or modify the operation of that law of capitalism — no profit, no production (which Ian MacGregor is trying to apply now). Baldwin's government had not been defeated; they had merely bought time to organise for a more conclusive confrontation with the workers. They used the time by setting up, in September 1925, the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies to recruit and train volunteers (or rather blacklegs) who would keep services running during a general strike. Administratively the country was divided into regions of government, each under a Civil Commissioner, and then into smaller areas under committees responsible for transport, police and other services. A grateful mine owner, probably not susceptible to left wing hysteria, praised ". . . the respite purchased by Mr. Baldwin" and the Prime Minister himself assured the critics of the subsidy on his own side:
  . . . if the time should come when the community had to protect itself, with the full strength of the government behind it. [its] response will astonish the forces of anarchy throughout the world. (House of Commons. 6 August 1925)
When the time Baldwin was referring to came, the state machine was ready as it had not been on Red Friday. The general strike lasted but nine days and it did not bring capitalism down, nor the government to their knees, nor even the coal owners to a more conciliatory mood. In fact the owners grew more obstinate with the passage of time, which tended to upset even the people who were supposed to represent their interests. J.L. Garvin described them in the Observer (25 April 1926) as ’tactless and irritating to the last degree” and Lord Birkenhead said he would have thought the miners' leaders were the stupidest men in England had he not met the coal owners.

When the other unions backed out of the general strike the miners struggled on. Cook, who was by then the best loved or the worst hated man in the country, had declared in March 1926:
  We are going to be slaves no longer and our men will starve before they accept any reductions in wages.
And starve they did, as the months passed by and with each tightening of the screw by the owners and the government. Cook's rhetoric could fill no stomachs and some miners began to doubt the usefulness of struggling on. The trail back began — Warwickshire in July. Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire in August — until in December Durham went back and the surrender was complete. The miners had to concede the longer working day and the cut in wages, which were cut yet again a couple of years later. Such was the suffering in the mining communities that the Lord Mayor of London, in the best traditions of capitalist charity, was moved to set up a Relief Fund. In the aftermath of bitterness, the breakaway Miners' Industrial Union was formed in the Midlands.

The 1984 battle is over pit closures but it too springs from the plight of the British coal industry in a time of world slump. The dispute goes back some way before the start of the strike, to the time when the government applied something of the Baldwin 1925 strategy, conceding the miners' case in order to prepare for a more final solution. It was in February 1981 that the government, in face of a threatened national coal strike, withdrew their plans to close ten pits during the next year. They did not then stand on the argument that it is impossible to keep "uneconomic” pits in operation; they accepted NUM policy on restricting coal imports and announced a subsidy of £300 million to finance these measures. Tory backbenchers were restless about the deal, as were the Institute of Directors. They need not have worried; a year or so later the government were ready to do serious battle and announced plans to shut down about 60 pits by 1991, some through exhaustion and others as loss makers. This opened the battle which is raging today, on the picket lines, in the courts and in the media.

This was not sudden or unexpected, except perhaps to those people who think that capitalism can be made to operate against its essential nature. After the Second World War it did not take long for the coal mines to feel the pressure of competition, from electricity — with nuclear power stations — oil and the re-emergent gas industry. During the 1960s the NCB tried to catch up, investing in powered supports and mechanised systems which increased productivity and helped cut the workforce by half but behind that production fell from 184 million tonnes a year to 134 million tonnes. In 1973, just before the Plan for Coal was agreed, it stood at 130 million tonnes.

The Plan for Coal was in fact a sign of a burgeoning optimism in the industry, partly due to the price advantage which coal regained as a result of the oil crisis of 1973- 74. which put its price per therm at about half that for oil. It was generally expected that the market for coal would expand and the unions, the NCB and the government planned for production to rise throughout the 1980s and 1990s to reach about 170 million tonnes in the year 2000. For the NUM these plans represented not just security of employment for the miners but also a strengthening of their bargaining power. However the whole exercise rested on the kind of assumptions which the economists and the politicians are continually making and which are continually found to be false. There was the politicians' presumption that the economic problems of 1974 were no more than a little temporary difficulty which could be cleared up with some adjustments in budgeting and taxation. There was the presumption that when that happened the coal industry would compete ever more successfully in the energy market. And the conclusion from both these presumptions was that it would make economic sense to keep open pits which, in more stringent circumstances, the NCB would want to close as loss makers. It was not just the 1974 Labour government which deceived itself in this way; in June 1980 Thatcher's Energy Secretary assured the Commons that "Coal is our greatest single natural resource . . . coal's prospects have never been better ".

As the crisis of 1974 deepened into a world recession, the hopes and plans were exposed as the work of people who had little real understanding of how capitalism operates. The market for coal did not expand, it contracted. Ian MacGregor recently referred to the "over supply world-wide" on short term markets and predicted that intensifying competition from American exports will bring about "a coal glut for Western Europe" (Guardian, 2 October 1984). Following their retreat in 1981, the NCB's return to the matter of closures in 1982 was in some ways the Thatcher government's 1926. except that now there is no Triple Alliance to support the miners in their resistance. In place of the hard-faced, complacent private owners there is Ian MacGregor, the nationalised boss and not one whit more sympathetic for that, the despair of those like the clergy who think the whole unfortunate matter could be settled in a cosy, family chat. And of course the successor to A.J. Cook is the combustible Arthur Scargill. as much loved and hated as Cook was in the 1920s.

These resemblances are not coincidental, for MacGregor. Scargill and the rest are filling roles in a script which is structured on the needs of this social system. Capitalism has not basically changed since 1926; it is still a society of class ownership, of conflict, of commodity production and of the boom/slump cycle. The administrators of the system cannot control these things, they can only respond to them. The miners are weakening now, as they did in 1926, because they belong to the class who depend for their lives on selling their working abilities. When a miner goes back to work it is not a victory for "the national interest", or "common sense", or democracy; it is a bitter acknowledgement of the essential poverty and degradation of all workers. of whatever industry, everywhere.

A defeat for the miners could lead to them being treated much as they were in 1926. forced to accept terms which are some way worse than were on offer earlier in the strike. That will be an acknowledgement of the other side of the class war, of the fact that the owning class are also the ruling class and that they dominate through their control over the coercive state machine. At the points where 1984 resembles 1926 there is more than a repeat of history. There is a signal for the strikers and for the working class as a whole. There is little to show for these sixty years of struggle except cracked heads and bruised bodies; capitalism, a repressive society of privilege against poverty, remains to be dealt with.

Running Commentary: Book-keeping (1985)

The Running Commentary Column from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard


Although they are not actually on the picket lines, the accountants are in a titanic clash over the coal strike, on the issue of whether the mines are really losing money or not. On one side, arguing that the National Coal Board has got it wrong because it doesn't keep its books properly, are two professors of accounting and financial management (yes, there are such people). The development of the professors' argument is that if the NCB kept its books differently the coal mines would be seen to be making a profit. Then the NCB could stop closing pits, it might even re-open some which it has already closed and the strikers could all go back down the mines.

The argument apparently revolves around something called fixed or central overheads, which have nothing to do with pit props but which are of vital concern to accountants. The Coal Board calculates that these overheads are saved if a pit is shut down but the professors assert that they are merely reallocated among surviving pits. Applying this argument to Cortonwood colliery, where the present dispute began and which the strikers have called their Alamo, would mean that the pit showed a profit of £5.5 a tonne instead of a loss of £6.2 a tonne.

The accountants are in battle over an issue of great significance to capitalism because coal, like all other wealth, is at present turned out with the motive of making a profit. But to anyone whose concern is with human welfare, there is another significance. Whatever the book-keeping system, whether the coal mines are in the accounts as making a profit or a loss, the production of coal has continued, by the human process of applying the miners' working skills to natural materials. This illustrates the true nature of capitalism's need to produce profit and to accumulate capital — an encumbrance on society's productivity which a sane world will not tolerate.


Lurking somewhere among the pin-striped ranks of MPs. merchant bankers and stockbrokers there are quite a few people who were once in open revolt against institutions like Parliament and the City. Mostly, they expressed their anger in the student riots of the 1960s, which were written up as the beginning of the end of the acquisitive society — the short, sharp shock to get socialism without the tiresome wait for the working class to understand and want it.

At the time this sounded pretty seductive, especially to youngsters who enjoyed shocking others or being shocked themselves. However, over the years the revolutionary ardour of the rioters has cooled as they have submerged themselves in the daily grind of getting a living or the less arduous business of raking in the dividends.

What about the rioters' heirs, the young people who now populate the universities? Among the ancient stones and the dozing spires there is a similar tranquil acceptance of the priorities of capitalism. The universities, to put it another way, are no longer hot-beds of dissent. All is quiet at Essex; in deepest Sussex they are not stirring. "We are concerned." says one report about the undergraduates of Cambridge, "about current political apathy on the part of students in the presence of numerous national and international problems". In Oxford the students are compliant enough to give the "bulldogs" — who are appointed by the university to police the undergraduates — an unusually easy life.

There are indeed plenty of reasons for the students to protest. They stay quiet, the only noise from them being the industrious scratch of pens, the devoted turning of pages, the gentle hum of labouring brains, because they are disciplined to be like that from the fear of not being able to get a job when they graduate. Unemployment, says the president of the Cambridge students' union, and the fierce competition it brings, concentrates the students' minds on their work.

So were those famous riots no more than futile ephemera? They did not bring capitalism down; they did not change the system's priorities; they did not "raise consciousness". What they did was to divert workers' attentions and energies away from the real work of understanding this iniquitous social system and using that understanding to abolish it.


Quite a few Labour Party members would like to see the back of one of their most illustrious recruits, but the person concerned won't go of his own accord. This is not surprising because the Most Illustrious Recruit in question is that famous millionaire and benefactor of the starving Ethiopians, Robert Maxwell, who is not well known for bending to the wishes or the opinions of those around him.

Maxwell, it may be remembered, is the man who was not deterred by his Czechoslovak origins from originating the I'm Backing Britain campaign. He was also the Labour MP for Buckingham and is now owner of the Pergamon Press and the Daily Mirror and, if not the owner at any rate the chairman of, Oxford United Football Club.

None of these interests, however, seem to have bothered the members of Oxford East Labour Party where, we must assume, they pride themselves on their socialist principles or at least on what passes for them. What makes them want to get rid of Maxwell is the fact that he resorted to the courts to evict redundant print workers who were occupying his London plant.

The members are outraged that someone they should be greeting as a fellow socialist should use the provisions of the Tory Employment Act against his workers. The fellow socialist is sure that he didn't need Tory laws; he used some of the legislation which was on the Statute Book under the last Labour government, kept there to protect the property rights of the British ruling class.

The passions of the Oxford East members seem spent to no avail because, according to the Guardian (19 November 1984) Maxwell's place in the Labour Party is safeguarded by his ownership of the Daily Mirror, the one mass-circulation paper to support the party. Who would want to upset so valuable a vote-winner?

Whatever the outcome of this shabby dispute, the members of the Oxford East Labour Party might ask themselves a few questions about the nature of their party, about its capacity to include someone with the political opinions of Robert Maxwell and about why it is reluctant to expel him. Can such a party lay claim to be socialist? As Maxwell's Mirror might put it. the answer is NO!!!

Robber Democrats (1985)

From the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

What hypocrisy! The capitalists are chastising the wage-slave "citizens" of United Kingdom (Ltd.) because the wretched proles are losing respect for Democracy. One word and a thousand deceptions: democracy — the catch-phrase of the economic dictators who monopolise the means of life.

Democracy, to make sense, means that the majority are able to make and put into effect decisions. Yes. they must act with respect for the minority who might disagree with a decision, but when all is said and done, democracy means that the majority is in a position to suit itself. (Of course, there may be different majorities on different issues, so that nobody need ever be always in the minority or always in the majority within a democratic set-up.) Democratic decisions will not always be the best ones, but they are the only alternative to various forms of dictatorship — unless, of course, we were to achieve the rather boring state of affairs where everyone agreed about everything.

Most people say they are in favour of democracy. We were brought up to be in favour of it. Ask the average worker in the office, factory or pub and he or she will tell you that we are living in a democracy. They were taught to believe that. We learnt at school about how "our" armies fought for democracy and we read in the press about how Britain's "democratic way of life" is best, just as Russian workers are indoctrinated to believe that their "People's Democracy" is best. When the nuclear bomb destroys millions of human lives (as it will if the human targets don't move) it is likely that there will be some political pervert left to climb from the rubble and proclaim that it was all in the cause of democracy.

What do the politicians and the editors and the millionaires and the titled layabouts and the bishops and the constitutional geniuses mean by democracy? Look around at their much cherished "democratic nation" and it is plain to see. For them, democracy means that a mere one per cent of the population owns more of the marketable wealth than the poorer 80 per cent added together. Three quarters of the daily newspapers are owned by just three millionaire-owned companies. And the carefully picked people who edit the press are soon given their marching orders if they fail to print what the media-owners want. Nobody elects the judges or the generals or the top dvil servants with their immense governmental power. You never see a Lord or a Duke or a Baroness standing for election on a parasites' manifesto and nor is the unelected Head of State (the Queen) appointed by a majority. The boards of the multinational companies, made up of the smallest minority of the population, exercise terrific power over workers’ lives, but they are not elected. And neither are the boards of the state-run nationalised industries. In short, the power of the few over the many is their idea of democracy. But, as we have seen, if democracy is to make sense it must mean that the majority is able to make and put into effect decisions. The majority cannot at present make or put into effect decisions about the productive and distributive machinery such as factories, farms, offices, mines and other places where wealth is created because the majority does not own or control them. Can the majority decide what the media shall do? No, the majority does not own, control or have much access to the mass media. Can the majority determine our own lives? Again, no, because the lives of the majority are at the disposal of those who buy our mental and physical energies for a wage or salary in order to make a profit out of them, and our lives must be tailored to their need for profit.

In fact the present social system (capitalism) is not and never can be properly democratic. The majority is in no position to exercise power within the system because the majority is deprived of the ownership and control of the means of life. What can be achieved, however, is the illusion of democracy. The intense concentration of wealth in the hands of the few can be called "a property-owning democracy" and the right of the richest to communicate furthest can be called "free speech". Such descriptions are as fraudulent as the Russian Empire's claim to be socialist.

The capitalist minority, whose power to legally rob the propertyless majority is dependent on the subservience of the latter, first used democratic rhetoric when it was fighting the feudal aristocracy for power. In the days before the capitalists were the ruling class they needed to make democratic noises. Many workers were taken in by the democratic posing of the would-be rulers and campaigned to allow the capitalists a say in the running of the government. Little did they realise that when the capitalists attacked aristocratic privilege because it was unrepresentative of the people they meant by "the people" only themselves. After 1832, when a large number of British capitalists obtained the vote, they were as committed as their aristocratic predecessors to keeping the wage slaves away from state power.

In the last century workers in Britain organised in order to win the vote, particularly in the great Chartist movement supported by Marx and Engels. The granting of votes to workers was resisted for years by the bosses, who hoped that they could rule forever without the wealth producers having to be involved. Modern Tories and Liberals who speak eloquently of the fine democratic traditions of Great Britain should read their history and find out that leaders of their own parties opposed votes for workers with the determination of dictators. Eventually votes were given to workers, partly out of fear of what the workers might do if they were excluded forever and partly because the shrewder of the bosses realised that bringing the exploited into the process of governing might lead workers into believing that we are in control.

Of course, it is better to have the right to vote than not (for reasons we shall explain), but workers should not regard the right to vote as proving that Britain is a democratic country. Many workers know that however they vote, whichever government is elected will end up doing essentially the same things. In short, capitalism cannot be voted into a controlled system — it is out of control and politicians, bosses and workers alike cannot do much to change its destructive course. The decisions made in the House of Commons are concerned with obeying the economic laws of capitalism, not making them. So voting and parliamentary activities are used by the robber class as a way of pretending that democratic control of society exists.

When combined with an understanding of socialist ideas the pretensions attached to the vote can be turned into a reality. When the vote is used not to elect tweedledum or tweedledee to sit in parliament and follow the dictates of the market, but to abolish the market system itself, then it can be of great value to workers. Unlike parties and sects of the Left which tell workers to ignore democracy as a capitalist con-trick, socialists say that workers can use the democratic machinery for our own ends, but that only majority class consciousness will transform voting from a process of trickery into one of liberation. It is on such a basis that the Socialist Party puts up candidates in local and national elections. And where workers have not yet achieved the right to vote it is in their interest to win it.

We are often told that the capitalists will not just sit back and allow a majority of workers to vote for socialism: to make and put into effect the revolutionary decision. No doubt there are many capitalists who share that view and think that when the time comes, as it surely will, they will be able to prevent the majority from having our way. But a conscious majority will not sit back and be dictated to by an arrogant and undemocratic minority — and if any of the dispossessed robbers are foolish enough to attempt to smash the new social order which the majority has consciously voted for it would not take very long to defeat them one way or another. So the bogus democracy of capitalism can be used by genuine democrats in order to establish a truly democratic state of affairs. Socialism and democracy are linked together, and there are no undemocratic socialists or anti-socialist advocates of social democracy.

Until workers are conscious of their real needs and their real power the bosses will continue to dictate. Periodically it is possible to see just how much contempt these democratic fakers have for majority decision-making. For example, at this year's conference of the National Union of Students, which is a fairly democratic event, the Federation of Conservative Students issued a booklet to its delegates showing them how to smash up the proceedings if the results are not going the Tory way. According to the Guardian.
  It describes how to cause chaos and confusion and how to exploit disruption by shouting, heckling, throwing things and rushing the microphone. It says ‘Always be provocative. Remember, you are not here to persuade the closed-minded leftists. You are here to wind them up so much they lose control . . . ‘ (10 December 1984).
Well, that's one way to act when the majority is not on your side. And these semi-fascists dare to give trade unions advice about how to conduct strikes democratically! The fact is that these privileged defenders of exploitation and oppression have total contempt for democracy and think that they can go on pushing workers about forever. Only a class-conscious majority of democratic revolutionaries can remove the grins from their smug faces.
Steve Coleman

The Futility of Reformism. A Case for Peaceful Democratic Social Revolution

Book Notice from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Futility of Reformism. A Case for Peaceful Democratic Social Revolution. By Samuel Leight WWW Publishers. PO Box 42224. Tucson. Arizona 85733. USA.

This 200-page series of essays by our comrade Samuel Leight, of the World Socialist Party of the United States, is meant as a companion volume to his previous book World Without Wages and deals with the inevitable failure of various reform movements in America as well as with the question of war and the state capitalist regime in China. Copies can be obtained from the publishers or from our Head Office (price £4. postage included).

Letter: Charity and Disability (1985)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

What is the view of socialists towards working for charity? I assume that charity and religion should be placed in the same category, that they both serve to relieve the plight of the underprivileged just sufficiently to avoid revolt against the capitalist system.

Unfortunately, because of my own physical disability, I am living on charity and also working for a charity. My tasks involve collecting money and sending rehabilitation equipment to disabled people in the "third world". Surrounded as I am by apathy and uninterest, my work is providing me with my only social life. Am I a hypocrite to describe myself as a socialist?
Peter H Reynolds 

To answer your last question first; no. we would not condemn you as a hypocrite providing of course that you already accept the object and principles of socialism as well as recognising, as your assumption implies, the nature and function of charities. Socialists are not given to castigating the victims of capitalism, of nature's cruel quirks and of accidents when they are compelled to accept as dependants the aid and support which is, more often than not, only available from charities. And we understand the position you are in, which requires you and many in similar straits to endure what can be a demeaning reliance on handouts. You have little choice of course since you would otherwise be in an intolerable situation; a forgotten victim of capitalism's inhumane, selective priorities, dependent on central and local government both loath to accept responsibility, both trying to balance the books by avoiding such expenditure.

The first-aid, relief from suffering and longterm care provided by charities certainly helps to take the pressure off the system and off profits, some of which would otherwise have to be diverted into this area. Some idea of how much would be so diverted can be got from the present horrendous suffering world wide. A system geared to maximising profitability, even on "famine crisis relief", rather than ministering to and trying to eliminate pain, disfigurement, handicap. deprivation and hopeless despair, is not able i to change its spots or its ethics.

There is, however, an encouraging aspect to all this. Even though the vast majority in need around the world don't have even the limited charity-funded help which is available in most industrially advanced countries, the fact that the accumulation of individual care and concern does often result in organised, dedicated, unstinting service to relieve suffering, is a positive vindication of our contention regarding "human nature". The favourable social circumstances of socialism will be conducive to such care and concern, and prove false the deliberately peddled distortion that we are all totally selfish and cruel by nature. And of course in such a society of free access not only would there be access to all the most advanced technologies, equipment and skills, but the world would be free of capitalism's conditions, imperatives and dangerous attributes which directly cause most of the suffering, the deprivation and the handicaps and which call into existence the very need for charity.

Practical Socialism (1985)

Party News from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not every weekend that socialists can get together for the purpose of learning and talking about the practical tasks of the movement and it was agreed by those present at the Islington branch education weekend on Working For Socialism that great use was made of the opportunity. Indeed, the most common complaint about the two-day event was that there had not been enough time to go further into the various topics covered.

The talk on The Tasks of the Socialist Propagandist considered the importance of education, organisation and agitation: the need for socialist knowledge, a party based on clear principles arising from that knowledge and determined activity to spread socialist ideas in a way relevant to the experiences, language and needs of our fellow workers. The other talk on How To Organise A Branch provided some excellent practical tips which can aid those interested in building the socialist movement Both talks, and the discussions following them, were recorded and can be obtained from the Tapes Committee at Head Office

The main value of the weekend was the six workshops dealing with specific aspects of socialist activity. These provided a much-needed opportunity to gather in a group and learn from each other. Each group was co-ordinated by one member, selected on the basis of particular experience in relation to the workshop subject The final session of the weekend was devoted to a discussion of points raised over the two days, some of which should lead to practical action by branches, committees and individual members The final session was also used to report back from the workshops. The one on selling literature had considered what is being done and what could be done to extend this vital work; sellers were able to share experiences and there was some useful discussion about the advantages of pub selling. The workshop on writing for socialism involved everyone attending and gave members a chance to consider not only how to write well, but the different kinds of writing possible. Ron Cook of Birmingham branch made it clear that he would be willing to provide further assistance to writers, on an individual basis, should they wish to contact him via his branch A workshop on leaflet and poster design was coordinated by a comrade who has contributed some excellent material for use by the Party, in the Socialist Standard and elsewhere, and a great deal of very practical information was passed on. The workshop on handling the media not only watched some excerpts from TV and radio programmes in which socialists have taken part but also included some useful tips by the co-ordinator on ways of making positive contacts with the media. Lively discussion was generated by the workshop on socialists in trade unions, out of which has come a practical plan to ensure that we use the propaganda opportunities available to us. The workshop on tips for speakers was a lively one, looking at ways of approaching the questions which socialists are often asked and basic techniques for speakers; a document — Notes for Speakers —was distributed.

There is no doubt that talking about what can be done generates enthusiasm for getting out and doing it. It was very pleasing to see members and supporters leaving with a sense of having achieved something practical. Several travelled long distances to attend the conference and all present benefited from the thoughtful catering arrangements. Perhaps the best way to sum up the feeling of those present would be to quote a comrade from Eccles Group, who stood up and declared in his own enthusiastic manner: "There's only one motto which the Party should have at the present time and that is 'Growth'. Everything we do should be done with a view to growth" And let our armchair critics be notified that we mean what we say
Education Organiser, 
Islington Branch

Lenin v. Marx on the State (1970)

From the April 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin's The State and Revolution
Many people assume that Marx believed the working class would only be able to come to power by smashing the State in a violent uprising. They do not realise that this was Lenin’s view and one which tried to pass off as Marx’s in his dishonest pamphlet The State and Revolution. [1]

Marx’s theory of the State is quite clear. When the early communist communities under which mankind originally lived broke up into class societies, a new social institution to protect the interests of the dominant class was needed. This institution was the State, which is essentially an armed centre of social control. The class that controls the Slate is thereby able to control also society, in the end by force of arms; it is the ruling class. In the course of history the State has been controlled by various classes — Ancient slaveowners, feudal barons and. now, modern capitalists. Today’s subject class, the workers, can only achieve its freedom by itself winning control of the State and using it to abolish class society by establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. With the end of classes the need for a State, as the special social organ of coercion, also disappears. The classless society of Socialism has no State, but simply a democratic administrative centre for settling social affairs.

Throughout his political life Marx insisted that the working class must capture the State before trying to establish Socialism and that Socialism would be a society without a State.

In the early days Marx expected that the workers would only be able to win power in a violent insurrection. In the 1840’s this was not an unreasonable proposition. Universal suffrage existed hardly anywhere and the insurrection — barricades, street-fighting, the seizure of public buildings — was a method used even by capitalist politicians. Marx later realised that universal suffrage was an alternative method the workers might be able to use in their struggle to win State power. In 1872 in a speech at the Hague, where the congress of the First International was being held, Marx commented that he thought the workers might be able to achieve power peacefully in America, Britain and perhaps Holland [2] —countries where they made up a majority of the voters. In 1880 a French Workers’ Party was founded. Its manifesto had been drafted in Marx’s study and spoke of turning universal suffrage from a fraud into “an agent of emancipation’’ [3]. Engels in his Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France [4] (an account of French politics from 1848 to 1850) explains how he and Marx came to regard the insurrection behind barricades as an obsolete weapon for the working class and goes on to show how universal suffrage could be much more effective.

Marx, then, left open the question of how the working class would win State power and did not rule out the possibility of their winning control of the State by peaceful means.

As to what the working class should do with the State once they had won control of it, Marx always insisted that they should immediately establish a democratic republic. After the Paris Commune of 1871 he declared that the workers would have to make other, more radical changes in the structure of the State before they could use it to establish Socialism.

The Paris Commune was an ultra-democratic regime set up by patriotic elements after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. After the French Revolution Napoleon had built up a vast bureaucratic and administratively centralised State machine in France. This had remained intact throughout the 19th century despite the insurrections of 1830 and 1848. Only one regime — the Paris Commune — had tried to replace it. This attempt greatly impressed Marx and led him to argue that the workers, once they had won State power, should immediately go on to break up this kind of bureaucratic State apparatus that had grown up too in many other European countries.

In his private letters and notes Marx sometimes referred to the period during which the workers would be using State power to establish Socialism as “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. This has often been misunderstood to mean that he advocated dictatorship in the sense this word is generally understood today. In fact, in Marx's day, the word meant little more than “government” and, as we saw.,Marx advocated that while under the control of the working class (or “proletariat”) the State should be made democratic. [5]

Marx views can be summarised:

  1. The working class must first, either peacefully or violently, win control of the State.
  2. Then they must make it completely democratic, and,
  3. Use it to dispossess the capitalists and establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
  4. This done, there would no longer be any need for the State, which consequently would cease to exist in Socialism.

Marx’s views were distorted in two opposing ways. First, by some Social Democrats who made him stand for a gradual, peaceful transition to Socialism by means of social reform measures passed by parliament. Secondly, by Lenin.

When Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917 after the overthrow of the Tsar he began to advocate that his party, the Bolsheviks, should aim to seize power in the near future. He knew that they could only do this in a violent uprising. Forced into hiding in August and September he wrote this pamphlet The State and Revolution in which he distorted Marx’s views so as to justify in Marxist terms the Bolsheviks’ planned insurrection.

Lenin's basic distortion is to take Marx’s statements about the need to break up Napoleon’s bureaucratic State machine after the workers had won power and to argue that he was referring to the State generally. This made Marx appear to say that the State should be smashed by the working class before they could win, or while they were winning power.

Lenin quotes Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and emphasises a passage which reads “All revolutions perfected this machine instead of smashing it” (our emphasis), clearly a reference to a particular State apparatus; in this case the centralised French State. But see what Lenin makes Marx say:
  . . . all the revolutions which have occurred up to now perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed, (p. 45, our emphasis).
Another example occurs in Chapter III where Lenin quotes from one of Marx’s letters (to Kugelmann, 12 April 1871). In it Marx is saying that the passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire just discussed means that it was essential for “every real people’s revolution on the Continent” not “to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it".

Lenin inserts the word “state” into Marx’s “the bureaucratic-military machine” and uses the phrase "bureaucratic-military state machine” in the rest of the Chapter as if this is what Marx had written.

Again, Lenin quotes Marx’s statement that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made machinery and wield it for its own purposes” and says:
  Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery’, and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it (p. 59).
Taken quite literally, this is true. Marx did advocate that parts of the old State should be broken up. The real question, however, is when he advocated this should be done: Was it before or after the working class had won State power?

Lenin argues that Marx meant “before”. Engels, on the other hand, made it quite clear that Marx meant “after”. Engels was specifically asked about this passage from Marx and replied:
  It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administratively centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes (Letter to Bernstein, 1 Jan. 1884 our emphasis). [6]
In fact, Lenin later (Chapter IV) himself quotes passages from Engels’ Introduction to Marx Civil War in France which show that Marx was talking about what the workers should do after, rather than before, they had won power:
  From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognise that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that . . . this working class must . . . do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself . . . (p. 123, our emphasis).
  . . . the state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another . . . and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible . . . (p. 127. our emphasis).
Oddly enough, in Chapter VI Lenin, on three occasions, formulates Marx’s views so as to mean that the bureaucratic-military parts of the State must be smashed after the workers have won power. [7] This is all the more confusing in that only a few pages away Lenin had accused Kautsky of admitting “the possibility of power being seized without destroying the state machine" (p. 171, our emphasis). Lenin confused the two separate issues of breaking up the old bureaucratic state machine and how the working class could come to win control of that machine. It suggests that Lenin, when he makes statements like:
  Marx meant that the working class must smash, break, shatter . . . the whole state machine (p. 169).
From 1852 to 1891, for forty years, Marx and Engels taught the proletariat that it must smash the state machine (p. 170).
he means his readers to think Marx’s view to be that the State must be smashed by the working class while seizing power. This would mean that Marx thought a peaceful capture of State power impossible. Quite apart from Engels’ clear explanation, the fact that Marx did not rule out this possibility is in itself sufficient to disprove Lenin’s distortion. Marx would have seen no contradiction between the working class winning power peacefully and then later smashing the bureaucratic- military machine.

There are a number of other distortions in Lenin’s pamphlet which we will briefly record.

In that part of Anti-Duhring later published as Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels in the course of describing the establishment of Socialism wrote:
  The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But in doing this, it . . . abolishes . . . the state as state.
Despite the fact that Engels goes on to explain this (that the State, as a means of class oppression, becomes unnecessary when it has become the representative of the whole community as it would after thus ending class property), Lenin makes the absurd claim that "Engels speaks here of the proletarian revolution ‘abolishing' the bourgeois state . . ." (p. 28)

Lenin describes as "this panegyric on violent revolution” (p. 33) another passage from Anti-Duhring where Engels writes about the role of “force” in history. Here Lenin disguises the fact that Marx and Engels understood by "force” not necessarily and exclusively “violent insurrection” but also the mere exercise of State power, whether accompanied by violence or not.

Lenin quotes (p. 96) from an article in an Italian journal without making it clear that the passage he reproduces is not really Marx’s own words, but Marx’s summary in heavily sarcastic terms of the arguments that might be used to refute a pacifist anarchist. [8]

Again, Lenin quotes (p. 113) a passage from Engels’ criticism of the German Social Democrats’ 1891 programme where he says that "the democratic republic . . . is even the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat”, (our emphasis). This did not fit in with Lenin’s views so he argues that Engels only meant that the democratic republic was “the nearest approach to the dictatorship of the proletariat” (our emphasis).

Finally, in Chapter V Lenin makes a false distinction between Socialism and Communism in a bid to prove that, according to Marx, the State would not finally disappear till "Communism” and so would still exist under “Socialism”. Marx and Engels in fact made no distinction between Socialism and Communism ; they were terms they used interchangeably to refer to future classless, Stateless society based on social or common ownership. [9]

Lenin’s The State and Revolution is not, as it claims, a re-statement of Marx’s theory of the State but a gross distortion of it.
Adam Buick

[1] All references in this article are to the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, edition. Where Lenin quotes Marx or Engels these too are given as in this edition.
[2] Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement, by Henry Collins and Chimen Abramsky (1965). p.265.
[3] Karl Marx Textes, ed. Jean Kanapa, Edirias Socialis (Paris), pp. 486-7.
[4] Marx Engels Selected Works Vol. I, FLPM. pp. 118-139.
[5] Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, by Hal Draper, New Politics Vol. I, No. 4. 1962.
[6] Marx Engels Selected Correspondence, FLPM. p. 440.
[7] For instance (our emphasis): "The workers, having conquered political power, will smash the old bureaucratic apparatus." (p. 175) and Marxists ‘‘recognise that after the proletariat has conquered political power it must utterly destroy the old state machine . . .” (p. 180) The third instance is on p. 181.
[8] Draper, p. 101.
[9] Lenin twists Marxism, Socialist Standard, September 1969.

Imperialism and Opportunism (1970)

From the April 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin’s wrong explanation
Anyone reading Lenin’s pamphlets on this subject would get the impression of following the arguments of a dedicated revolutionary explaining the wavering and deviations of his less resolute comrades. The titles give a clue as to how his thoughts went and a few quotations will confirm it:
  Imperialism is the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat. This has been confirmed since 1917 on a world wide scale” (1)
Something must have gone wrong. Fifty years later capitalism is still here (including Russia). It has changed considerably even to the extent of granting independence to the former colonies. But present day followers of Lenin keep up the tradition by explaining away the fraud of home rule by theories of neo-colonialism. Lenin went on to give his explanation as to why the eve of revolution has been so long:
  Obviously, out of such enormous super-profits (since they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their ‘own’ country) it is possible to bribe the labour aristocracy. And the capitalists of the ‘advanced’ countries are bribing them, they bribe them in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert (2) (Lenin’s emphasis). 
  Comrade Quelch of the British Socialist Party spoke of this in our Commission. He said the rank and file English worker would consider it treachery to help the enslaved nations in these revolts against British rule. True, the jingoist and chauvinist minded labour aristocrats of Britain and America represent a great danger for Socialism… (3)
So Lenin saw the scramble for colonies at the turn of the century as being the ‘highest stage of capitalism’, even the eve of the social revolution’ and was left to explain why organised labour was not ready and why the Second International disintegrated with the first World War.

The Socialist Patty of Great Britain recognises that capitalism is a dynamic, expanding and changing system of society, and that quite contradictory policies will serve the interest of sections of the capitalist class, as conditions dictate. Free trade, unfettered by tariffs and protected colonial markets, served the interests of the textile capitalists who dominated Britain after the industrial revolution. Later, with the dominance of iron and steel, came protectionism and a carving-up of the world into colonies and spheres of influence of the great powers of capitalism. Later still, large empires, with the problem of governing them, became an embarrassment and such staunch pillars of the system as Macmillan and De Gaulle presided over the dismemberment of the two greatest of them. For all the changes capitalism is still with us. It should be evident that the changing fortunes and policies of the capitalist class alone are not going to produce Socialism.

The Socialist Party has never found itself in Lenin’s position of proclaiming a revolutionary situation in which the revolutionary class are ‘jingoist and chauvinist minded’, for the reason that we insist that there can be no Socialism without a Socialist working class. We recognise along with Marx that “the ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas”. Hence nationalism, loyalty to the Empire, and the notion that this is the best of all possible worlds, were the normal attitude of non-revolutionary workers in Britain and elsewhere in 1920. As for being bribed by reforms, the workers had fought in a war; they had unemployment, falling wages, hunger marches and another war to look forward to. It is the acceptance of the capitalist ideology by the working class, not ‘bribery’, that has kept them so loyal to capitalism.

While some reforms are of benefit to the working class, the general tendency is for them to make capitalism work more efficiently. This was so in the case of the 10 Hours Act in Marx’s time. The more efficient capitalism is, the greater the exploitation of the working class. Reforms are essential to the smooth running of capitalism and pay for themselves.

We oppose reform (or opportunist) parties such as the Labour and Communist in that they are parties of capitalism. We also recognise that people such as Lenin, who prate of revolution when the conditions are not ripe for it, are dangerous opportunists. It is a pity that he did not apply what he so correctly wrote in October 1916:
  The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a relentless struggle against opportunism, to utilise the experience of the war, to expose, not conceal, the utter vileness of national-liberal labour politics. (4)
Joe Carter


(1) Imperialism, the Highest stage of Capitalism; Imperialism and the split in Socialism; Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International; The Awakening of Asia, all form the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow.

(2) July 6, 1920 Preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.

(3) Report of the Commission of the National and Colonial Questions to the Second Congress of the Communist International, 26 July 1920, The Awakening of Asia.

(4) Imperialism and The Split in Socialism

State Capitalism for Russia (1970)

From the April 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lenin’s economic policy
Among the first to describe the Russian economy under the Bolshevik government as “state capitalism”, was Lenin himself in 1918. By this term he meant state control of capitalist-owned industries. He had been impressed by the system of industrial control which the German government had built up during the war. If the Kaiser and the Prussian Junkers could control capitalist industry for their purposes why, thought Lenin, could not the Bolshevik Party control capitalist industry for the benefit of the workers and poor peasants of Russia?

After seizing power in November 1917 the Bolsheviks did not go on to nationalise all industry; they merely exercised state control over it. In some instances this brought them into conflict with workers who under the syndicalist slogan of “workers’ control” had taken over the factories in which they worked. A number of Bolsheviks denounced as “state capitalism” the policy of subjecting these factories to state control and to speed-up, one-man management and factory discipline.

Lenin’s reaction was extraordinarily honest. He admitted that his government was pursuing a policy of state capitalism, but argued:
  State capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic. (Left-Wing’ Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality)
In admitting this he was admitting that Russia lacked the large-scale production on which alone Socialism can be based.

The civil war and foreign intervention forced the Bolsheviks to take a number of emergency measures — like nationalising factories whose owners had fled, requisitioning grain from the peasants, causing inflation by an over-issue of paper currency. Some Bolsheviks regarded these as measures to set up a moneyless economy in Russia, but this was absurd. As soon as the Civil War was over in 1921 they were abandoned and Lenin again advocated a policy of state capitalism. The New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced that year, was described as a policy of developing capitalism in Russia under the control of the Bolshevik government.

In calling their policy “state capitalism” the Bolsheviks were being unusually honest. But this was not to be expected to last in view of the political advantages to be gained from using the word “socialist”. Lenin himself often used this word merely for its propaganda effect even though he knew that strictly speaking he was not using it properly. Stalin took over this opportunist technique and used it to great effect.

After Lenin died in 1924, a struggle for power developed between the Bolshevik leaders, Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, with all of them claiming to be true “Leninists”. One side-issue in their arguments was the nature of state-owned industry in Russia. Zinoviev and Kamenev said it was “state capitalist”. Stalin denied this; it was, he said, the “socialist sector”. Trotsky’s position (like Lenin’s—who was quoted by both sides) was ambiguous; he strongly rejected the term “state capitalist” and really agreed with Stalin’s description. He departed from Stalin when the latter went on to develop his view into a theory of “socialism in one country”. This was still a policy of state capitalism for Russia but this time fraudulently labelled “socialist”.

After the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917 capitalism had to develop in Russia in one form or another. That it took the form of state capitalism under a brutal one-party dictatorship was the result of the Bolsheviks’ seizing power in November on Lenin’s programme of State Capitalism for Russia.
Adam Buick

Inside the Bolshevik Cul-de-sac (1970)

From the April 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

State Capitalism or not?
Those who still cling to the basic Bolshevik premise — that the Russian insurrection of October 1917 amounted to a Socialist revolution — are caught inside a trap of their own making. Whichever way they turn, they are landed with an uneasy antagonism between their theory and reality.

Those who faithfully follow Moscow, claiming that Russia today is Socialist, are in a ludicrous position, now that more information is available about Russia, and now that Russia is catching up with the West economically, so that East and West grow daily more similar. Therefore the British “Communist” Party is in catastrophic decline, its membership dwindling and ageing, brandishing their confusion now for all to see.

The Maoists, who assert that Russia has only recently become capitalist, are also in a fix. For it is difficult to believe that the changes in Russia’s economy since the death of Stalin are so profound as to amount to a change from Socialism to capitalism (terms which, though definitions vary, are universally held to describe diametrically opposed systems). It is also difficult to see any fundamental differences in the Russian and Chinese economies, except that China is more primitive and less centrally-directed.

Then, of course, our old friends the Trotskyists are still with us. After a bitter struggle between Stalin and Trotsky over which of them should have the privilege of directing the exploitation of the Russian workers, Stalin won. Trotsky became a fierce critic of the Stalin regime, yet he would still not admit that Russia was capitalist — which would have put a question mark over his own revolutionary career. But it wasn’t Socialist either. Instead, he came up with the formula that Russia was a “degenerated workers’ state,” basically a transitional society between capitalism and Socialism, with lots of deformities.

In practice this meant that Trotskyists always defended the Russian state against other capitalist powers, whilst at the same time criticising some of its “deformities.”

Trotsky and his followers took the view that Russia could not be described as capitalist because the bulk of Russian industry was nationalised. Overall state control, they said, was an advance on capitalism. Bolsheviks have always thought that state ownership was a step in the direction of Socialism, and have sometimes suggested that Socialism itself would be a form of state ownership.

There has long been confusion within Bolshevism on this point. Bogdanov’s Short Course of Economic Science (used by the Bolshevik government) as well as The ABC of Communism (written by two leading Bolsheviks in 1919), followed Marx and Engels in characterising Socialism or Communism as a wageless, moneyless society, and emphasising that mere nationalisation or “state socialism” really contained “no trace of Socialism.” After all, the Bolsheviks have always claimed to be Marxists.

Yet in 1917 Lenin had introduced a distinction between “Socialism” and “Communism,” which till that time all Marxists had given precisely interchangeable meanings. He also produced his famous definition of Socialism as “nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people.”

In the 1970s, nationalisation is not the thrilling issue it once was. State ownership has grown in all the western countries, and it has been brought emphatically home to the great majority of workers everywhere that being employed by the state is in no way better than being employed by a private corporation. It is not even very different. And in Russia, the extreme of centralised direction reached under Stalin is widely seen to have been merely a phase of development, now a positive hindrance to further advancement.

As a result of this it has been borne in upon many radicals and left-wingers that Russia is state capitalist. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, once almost alone in taking this view, and heartily ridiculed for it, now finds itself in numerous company. Be warned. The “sectarianism” of today is the truism of tomorrow!

The IS Group
However most of the people who have recently come round to the view that Russia is capitalist have not adjusted all of their political views accordingly, but have merely corrected this one point, failing to notice the inconsistencies which then emerge in the remainder of their ideas. For example the group known as International Socialism (IS) is basically a Trotskyist group except that it holds Russia to be state capitalist.

The growth of working-class understanding is a contradictory process. With their emphasis on violence and minority action IS are peddling dangerous deceptions. Yet these are more advanced deceptions than those marketed by the “Communist” Party 20 years ago — more advanced in the sense that they recognise the impracticability these days of equating nationalisation and Russia with Socialism. True, the incorporation of the correct view that modern Russia is capitalist into the fundamentally mistaken and anti-working-class doctrine of Bolshevism, allows this doctrine to gain greatly in immediate appeal. But only at the expense of yet more glaring inconsistencies within the doctrine itself. For instance, the IS claim that capitalism sprang into being in Russia in 1928 after 10 years of transition towards Socialism is breathtaking in its lack of connection with any kind of reality. (1)

Even the Bolshevik leaders (with the exceptions, interestingly enough, of Trotsky and Stalin), conceded that state capitalism existed in Russia following 1917.

Kidron and Mandel
There has recently been a controversy (2) between Michael Kidron (IS) and Ernest Mandel (orthodox Trotskyist) which is interesting to Socialists since it shows Kidron failing to draw reasonable conclusions from his view that Russia is capitalist (in fact failing to fully understand what this means), and Mandel taking advantage of Kidron’s confusion to discredit the whole theory of state capitalism.

Mandel points out that if they were consistent, IS would adopt a position of hostility towards the “Communist” movement. If North Vietnam is state capitalist, how can IS support the Vietcong? If the “Communist” parties are capitalist parties, the potential nuclei of future ruling classes, and if these ruling classes would not be historically progressive, why do IS cooperate politically with them? Mandel might well ask.

Of course, he regards such a position of hostility as unthinkable. But this is precisely the standpoint of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We have at no time combined with the “Communist” Party or ceased to expose it, and we have always adopted a policy of opposition to both sides in every capitalist war. Unlike IS, we unite theory and practice.

In order to combat Mandel’s argument that Russia is a “transitional society,” Kidron says that there can be no transitional society between capitalism and Socialism. Quite correctly, he states: “The only possible transition is a sudden, revolutionary one.” This promising statement (astonishing coming from IS) is somewhat undermined by the fact that Kidron hasn’t the foggiest clue what Socialism is:
  Socialism is a total system. It cannot grow piecemeal within the interstices of a capitalist society. How does workers’ control of production coexist with control by a ruling class when the means of production in dispute are one and the same? How does self-determination and consumer sovereignty (‘production for use’) coexist with the external compulsion and blind accumulation that results from capitalist dispersal?
This is one of several instances where Mandel (who has read Marx) has a field day demolishing Kidron (a mere Keynesian-eclectic mouthing misunderstood Marxist phrases). Socialism, of course, has nothing to do with “workers’ control of production.” Socialism means a classless world society, without commodities, without the state, without frontiers. It is therefore interesting to note that Mandel realises what Socialism is, but relegates it to the distant beyond, whereas Kidron wants “Socialism” as quickly as possible, but his “Socialism” isn’t Socialism at all! Mandel’s “transitional society” is basically similar to Kidron’s “Socialism,” and both are actually models of capitalism, since both envisage the retention of the wages system.

Marx argued that wage-labour and capital were quite inseparable. And in a reply to Mandel, C. Harman of IS comments:
  Nowhere … is there a single mention of the working class or a single reference to the wage labour/capital relationship. Now this is curious. For it was not Michael Kidron but Karl Marx who wrote ‘The relation between wage labour and capital determines the entire character of the mode of production.’ And this is not an accidental aside . . .
But later we find Harman flatly contradicting this, as he must because wage-labour is to remain a feature of the “workers’ state” which is the avowed aim of IS. Harman argues that Russian industry from 1917 to 1928 was not capitalist, though presumably he would not deny that it featured wage-labour.

Neither Mandel nor Kidron seem unduly aware of modern Russian realities. Both seem to believe the Russian economy is “planned” full stop.

What then, is the situation of the Russian worker? He is free to move from factory to factory, from town to town, or occupation to occupation, in pursuit of higher wages, or under pressure of unemployment. And he is forced to do so, since he owns no means of production (except a substantial but dwindling number who have small plots of land, and indeed, need them to keep starvation at bay). He is therefore “doubly free” in Marx’s phrase. He sells his labour-power to a state enterprise for a wage which is less than the price of his product. The surplus is mostly reinvested for his further exploitation, with a small proportion going to keep his rulers in the manner to which they are accustomed. In any circumstances (except general forced labour) it would be quite impracticable for the state to plan wages with any accuracy, but this is impossible in Russia where most workers are on piece rates (described by Marx as “the form of wages most in harmony with the capitalist mode of production”). It has been a pretty constant feature of Russian state capitalism that the actual total wages bill has exceeded (sometimes vastly) the amount foreseen by the plan. In Russia, labour power is clearly a commodity.

A popular view of the Russian economy is that a plan is devised at the top, orders are issued, and enterprises promptly fulfil the plan. The goals of the plan are, first, making an overall profit, second, catching up with the West. Yet to possess any effectiveness at all, the plan must be based on reports from the enterprises, which as well as being concerned to fulfil plans, also have their own profit and loss account, with plenty of incentive to get their profits up.

In fact, the long-term (five-year and seven-year) plans are always drastically modified in practice. They are merely guidelines for the annual (and quarterly and monthly) plans. Even so, several of the long-term plans could not be decreed until long after they were supposed to have started, and one (the sixth five-year plan) had to be abandoned altogether.

In the process of adapting the long-term plan year by year, all sorts of unforeseen factors have to be taken into account, many of which are even by Mandel’s account, unambiguously the products of market forces. Much of the Russian state’s “planning” is thus a matter of anticipating, or even subsequently conforming to, these market forces. It is, however, true that they can exercise considerably “arbitrary” influences. Any capitalist state can do this to some extent (development grants, SET, etc.). The Russian state has much more power, mainly because, with the state monopoly of foreign trade functioning as a protective tariff, and with prevailing internal scarcity, the Russian capitalists have a seller’s market. In relation to the peasants they have a buyer’s market. It is exactly in such monopolistic situations that commodities can sell consistently above or below their values. (3)

But what happens as the disappearing peasant reserve strengthens the workers’ bargaining power? As consumer goods production is increased to raise the workers’ productivity? As consumers (workers and capitalists) get greater choice in their purchases, so that enterprises must become more responsive to the market, hence freer of central direction? What happens as the era of telescope development passes, so that Russian industry must imitate less and innovate more? The Russian capitalists are compelled to abandon by degrees the system of planning with material targets, which served them well as a method of rapid industrialisation, but has now outlived its usefulness.

There are many defenders of western capitalism who assert chat “Socialism” has failed in Russia, which is therefore “returning” to capitalism. Mandel plays into the hands of these people by describing the current decentralisation of profit-seeking initiative as “degeneration” when it is clearly necessitated by advancement. He also thereby gives ammunition to those who argue that “Socialism” is suitable only for backward countries.

What has failed in Russia is not “planning”, much less Socialism, but the attempt to plan a capitalist economy. It is not impossible to operate a technologically advanced society according to a common plan, but it is quite impossible to do this if there are competing economic interests, and if all those working for the plan have to be provided with a monetary incentive for everything they do. In a Socialist economy, with all work entirely voluntary and the price system abolished, it will be entirely feasible to plan all production according to democratically decided criteria.

Between capitalism and Socialism there cannot exist a stable, lengthy transitional period. This point seemed to have dimly penetrated the brain of Trotsky, who recognised the silliness of a “transitional” society which stably maintained itself for generation after generation. He therefore described Stalin’s regime as a pyramid balanced on its head, and predicted it would be toppled in a major war. When the war came, it demonstrated the Russian system to be rather a pyramid stood firmly on its base. (4)

Far from Russia being on the road to Socialism, workers there still have to win the elementary political and trade union rights already gained by western workers. Capitalism continues to exist throughout the world because workers put up with it, and can be abolished as soon as the majority of workers desire Socialism, though this is most strikingly evident in countries which, unlike Russia, have effective workers’ suffrage. It is therefore quite wrong to believe, as Mandel does, that we should support Russia or China against America. It is not worth a single worker’s life or limbs to advance the interests of the Russian rulers against their rivals. Neither does it matter whether Russian enterprises remain formally, legally state-owned or not. This has no bearing on workers’ interests and is beside the point anyway— a nationalised industry can be as free from de facto central control as some “privately-owned” firms.

Mandel’s view would have slightly more plausibility if all his “transitional societies” were politically united under one state. But they compete economically and militarily, and if the whole world were owned by them alone, the danger of our species being exterminated in a war would be no less than it is today—”transitional” indeed!

Russia must of course be seen in its international context. It is here that the IS arguments against Mandel are strongest. As Harman rightly says, there is no such thing as the “inner logic” of a plan. The goals of Russian national planning have been fixed by international competition.

But the force of the IS attack here only throws into more startling relief their .position on the national question (especially now that they have taken-to-supporting, not only the Vietcong, but also the Chinese state which they admit to be capitalist). It is no get-out to proclaim, as Harman does, that they also supported the Kenyan anti-colonial movement, or “the Cypriot struggle led by the cleric Makarios and the fascist Grivas.” That is nothing to be proud of. Neither is this justified by calling it “the Marxist position.” What conceivable excuse can there be for people who claim to be Socialists supporting the slaughter of workers which is a side-effect of the rival capitalist powers’ perennial jostling for a place in the sun?


1 In case the point is missed, this is not only an exercise in labelling the past. So long as IS maintain that the 1917 revolution was Socialist they will be unable to seriously criticise all the garbage that comes in its train, Lenin’s ignorant theory of Imperialism; the concept of the vanguard party and “transitional demands,” etc. So long as they fail to do this, they are an obstacle to the establishment of Socialism.

2 Kidron in International Socialism 36; Mandel’s pamphlet The Inconsistencies of State Capitalism; Debate between Kidron and Mandel at Hull University, 4/11/69; Harman in International Socialism 41.

3 If Mandel’s reasoning were correct, and Russia lacked some of the essential features of capitalism, this would show not that it was transitional between capitalism and Socialism, but “transitional” between Asiatic feudalism (tsarism) and capitalism. The peculiarities of Russian capitalism are the outcome of an unprecedented combination of backward peasant production and advanced industry.

4 It is revealing that Mandel doesn’t dare use Trotsky’s long-since shattered argument that a state bureaucracy cannot constitute a ruling class. Trotsky was prepared to concede that state capitalism could in theory exist provided there was individual ownership of shares in the state.