Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The new 'New Colossus' (1969)

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
These fine words, as I’m sure you are aware, are inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, the New Colossus. The millions of hopes that must have flickered into existence on reading or hearing these philanthropic words were, alas, soon dampened and in many cases, completely extinguished. The greater majority of the American population, as with the majority of the world’s population, are still oppressed and exploited. Such is the nature of this exploitation that many people cannot discern it or its source, and even spring to the defence of the very system that exploits them and condemns them to a lifetime of deprivation and enslavement.

It is high time that the world turned all its resources towards the building of a “New” New Colossus, in the form of Socialism. Socialism is the only way in which the oppressed majority (which constitutes the working class or proletariat of the world) can be freed from their exploitation and enslavement.

Through Socialism, the source of this oppression and exploitation has been discovered, and subsequently the method of removing it. The source is to be found in the present class divisions within society, based upon private property or ownership. On this basis the classes are divided into: the capitalist class, which owns the means of production and distribution and therefore does not have to work to earn the means of subsistence; and the working class or proletariat which, owning none or not enough of the means of production necessary for subsistence, is forced to sell its labour power to the capitalist class for wages. Obviously, it is in the interest of the worker to obtain the highest possible remuneration (in the form of wages) in return for his labour power, but it is in the interest of the capitalist to get the maximum profit from his (i.e. the workers’) produce, which necessarily entails his keeping wages and other costs to a minimum. There is, therefore, a clash of interests between the capitalist and the worker, between the buyer of labour power and the seller. This is the crux of the matter this clash of interests or mutual antagonism at present within society is the cause of all oppression and deprivation.

To remove this antagonism of classes it is necessary to remove the cause of the antagonism, the private property based division of society.

This removal, and the establishment of a society where the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by and in the interest of the whole world community, are the objectives of Socialism. By abolishing private property the antagonism between classes will disappear, because the division of classes will no longer exist.

Everyone then should strive to erect this “New” New Colossus, the Colossus of Socialism. Not indeed like “the brazen giant of Greek fame”, and not indeed like the mass of metal and empty platitudes erected in New York Harbour, but a Colossus of human endeavour and love for fellow man.
J.T.S.

Capitalism did not collapse (1969)

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Forty years ago, world capitalism was descending into one of its worst ever slumps. So severe and persistent was the depression that the idea grew up, particularly among the "left wing", that the system was about to collapse. Not for the first time the Socialist Party of Great Britain stood aside from a popular clamour. At the depths of the crisis, in February 1932, we published our pamphlet Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse. This is too long to reproduce here in full but we are publishing in the Socialist Standard an abridged version, the first part of which appears this month.
1. Our view of the crisis

Foreward
We are in the midst of a crisis that is world-wide. Every country feels its ravages. Millions and millions of workers are unemployed and in acute poverty. Everywhere there is discontent and a feeling of insecurity, and the prestige of even the strongest governments has been shaken. All sorts of emergency measures have been hastily adopted, but the depression still continues. Working men and women who usually ignore such questions, are now asking why the crisis occurred, what will be its outcome, and whether it could have been avoided. In some minds there is a fear, and in others a hope, that the industrial crisis may bring the present system of society down in ruins, and make way for another.

I. Fears that capitalism will collapse
The purpose of the Socialist Party is to show the working class the need for a complete alteration in the organisation of society. But our work has been made more difficult by the idea that Capitalism may collapse of its own accord. It is clear that if Capitalism were going to collapse under the weight of its own problems then it would be a waste of time and energy to carry on socialist propaganda and to build up a real socialist party aiming at political power. If it were true, as is claimed, that Capitalism will have broken down long before it will be possible for us to win over a majority for the capture of political power, then, indeed, it would be necessary to seek Socialism by some other means. Workers who have accepted the wrong and lazy idea of collapse have neglected many activities that are absolutely essential. They have taken up the fatalistic attitude of waiting for the system to end itself. But the system is not so obliging!

At first sight there seems to be a ground for this idea. Capitalism from time to time develops acute industrial and financial crises; and at the depth of these it does appear to many observers that there is no way out, and that society cannot continue at all unless some way out is found. Men of very different social position and political convictions have been driven to this conclusion—reactionaries and revoluionaries, bankers and merchants, employers and wage-earners.

Let us go over some of the statements made by those who have foretold collapse, and notice how much alike they are. Notice, too, how each one falsifies the preceding ones. The fact of another crisis taking place is proof enough that the earlier crises did not turn out to be insoluble—the patient cannot have more than one fatal attack.

During the 19th century there were about ten well-marked crises. One commenced in England in 1825. William Huskisson, a former President of the Board of Trade, wrote about it in a letter dated 30th December, 1839:
  I consider the country to be in a most unsatisfactory state, that some great convulsion must soon take place. . . . I hear of the distress of the agricultural, the manufactural, the commercial, the West Indian, and all trading interests. . . . I am told land can neither pay rent nor taxes nor rates, that no merchant has any legitimate business. . . . I am also told that the whole race of London shopkeepers are nearly ruined. (“Huskisson Papers.” Pub., Constable, 1931. Page 310.)
Another crisis occurred in the eighteen-eighties, and was dealt with by Lord Randolph Churchill in a speech at Blackpool, in 1884:
  We are suffering from a depression of trade extending as far back as 1874, ten years of trade depression, and the most hopeful either among our capitalists or our artisans can discover no signs of a revival. Your iron industry is dead, dead as mutton; your coal industries, which depend greatly on the iron industries, are languishing. Your silk industry is dead, assassinated by the foreigner. Your woollen industry is in articulo mortis, gasping, struggling. Your cotton industry is seriously sick. The shipbuilding industry, which held out longest of all, is come to a standstill. Turn your eyes where you will, survey any branch of British industry you like, you will find signs of mortal disease. (“Lord Randolph Churchill,” By Winston Churchill, M.P. Pub., MacMillan & Co., Ltd., London, 1906. Vol. I, page 291.)
There is one important thing to notice about the two statements quoted above. Huskisson wrote at a time when England was a protectionist country. He was an advocate of free-trade. Lord Randolph Churchill spoke at a time when England had long been a free-trade country. He was an advocate of protection. It is clear that neither free-trade nor protection offers a solution for trade depressions, and that the return to protection in March, 1932, will not prevent further crises.

Of late we have been asked to take a very serious view of the alleged “adverse balance of trade,” by which is meant that this country has had more imports than exports, with the consequence that debts have been incurred abroad to the extent of the excess of imports. The facts are still the subject of argument, but it is not necessary to go into that question. All that we need to remember is that the fears about the “adverse balance of trade” are not new.

In a paper read to the Royal Statistical Society on December 19th, 1876 (see “Trade, Population and Food,” by S. Bourne, pub. G. Bell and Sons), Mr. Sidney Bourne, who for many years was in the Government Service, engaged in the compilation of trade statistics, painted an alarming picture of Great Britain’s trade. He argued that serious consequences would follow if the adverse balance (which he pointed out was then in evidence) was allowed to continue. He mentioned, too, the considerable and influential body of political and public men who shared his views.

After making the adjustments he considered necessary on account of income from investments owned abroad by British subjects, and the so-called “invisible exports" (i.e., the services, such as shipping and financial services, that are paid for by foreigners, but which do not take the form of actual articles passing through British ports), he declared that there was an “adverse balance" in the years after 1872.

He said:
  In 1872 the true excess would seem to have been on the side of exports rather than imports, to the extent of nearly £4,000,000; but in the following year the imports again predominated, and have continued to do so with increasing weight up to the present moment. (Page 69.)
Mr. Bourne, like many modern observers of the course of trade, was apprehensive about the future:
   I firmly believe that Britain now stands tottering on the eminence to which she has attained, and that it rests entirely with her sons whether a further rise or a rapid fall is to mark her future history. (Page 75.)
II. The Idea of a Blind Revolt of the Workers.
The defenders of Capitalism who have been panic-stricken in times of crisis, have sought for ways to save the social system, which they believed to be in danger. On the other hand, many who desired Socialism have looked at industrial crises not with fear but with hope. They have though that in a time of great unemployment and distress the majority of workers, although not socialists would be forced by their sufferings to revolt against the capitalists and their government, and that they would place in power a government which would try to remould society on a socialist basis.

Similar ideas are held by members of the Labour Party and Independent labour Party, and they were handed down from the Social Democratic Federation to the parties that in 1920 became the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is indeed probable that the Russian Bolshevist leaders, many of whom hold these views, learned them during their exile in England round about the beginning of the century.

In the October, 1931, “Labour Monthly" (just before the General Election), Mr. Dutt, the editor, wrote in a manner indicating the utmost excitement at the likelihood of a decisive crash: “The fight is here," “the crisis marches on relentlessly,” “it is the whole basis of British Imperialism that is now beginning to crack,” “the whole system is faced with collapse,” “the hour of desperate crisis begins”; and much more to die same effect.

Mr. James Maxton, MP., putting the I.L.P. point of view, has been as confident as the communists. He made a speech at Cowcaddens on 21st August, 1931, reported as follows in the columns of the Daily Record,” 22nd August, 1931 (reprinted in “Forward” 12th September):
  I am perfectly satisfied that the great capitalist system that has endured for 150 years in its modern form, is now at the stage of final collapse, and not all the devices of the statesmen, not all the three party conferences, not all the collaboration between the leaders, can prevent the system from coming down with one unholy crash.

(to be concluded)

What Northern Ireland least needs (1969)

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Northern Ireland today we have the following political organisations:
  • The Ulster Unionist Party 
  • The Nationalist Party 
  • The N.I. Labour Party 
  • The Socialist-Republican Party 
  • The Republican Party 
  • The Peoples’ Democracy 
  • The Civil Rights Association 
  • The National Democratic Party 
  • The Communist Party 
  • The Protestant Unionist Party

Apart from these organisations there are a variety of Labour groups, usually the product of some “personality” split and the various political apparitions that occur fairly regularly at election times. There are the physical force organisations like the I.R.A., the U.V.F., as well as a number of others which keep their guns behind their backs and whom the authorities are pleased to see from the front only. For good measure there is also the New Ulster Movement, a “moderate” organisation which came into being before the last Northern Ireland general election to assist O’Neillite candidates and which, before its recently-claimed “avalanche” of new members, following on the troubles, boasted a loosely-knit membership of 5,000.

There is also the tiny World Socialist Party of Ireland—the Irish section of the World Socialist movement.

Certainly the people of Northern Ireland would appear to have a specious political menu. But according to some people who have progressed letters to the press to the stage of informal meetings, the crying need for the Province is a new political party. What they want is a party of “moderate” opinion that can unite a cross-section of public opinion and banish the religious polarisation which, the exponents of the new party affirm, is at the root of Northern Ireland’s problems.

The point is worth making in passing that there already exists among the list of organisations quoted above a number who can justly claim to make such an appeal. The Labour, Liberal and National Democratic parties appeal across the class and religious board and accept the present economic system and the constitutional position of the Province within the United Kingdom. The New Ulster Movement, while allegedly to the so-called “right” of these organisations similarly appeals to “all classes and creeds” and offers itself as a political laboratory for the formation of what they believe will be policies aimed at speeding the progress of peace and prosperity in Ulster.

The point of all this discussion around the creation of yet another political party is based on the old failed notion that the problem in Northern Ireland is a political pot-pourri of religious bigotry and political prejudice, corrupt and incompetent government, uncooperative opposition, etc. Certainly all these factors exist but they can only exist within the framework of a social system that creates the material conditions—unemployment, slums, insecurity—on which they feed.

In other words, if the economic system under which we live, the capitalist system, in which wealth is produced for sale and profit and not for the satisfaction of human needs, could provide plenty for all in the form of jobs, homes and security the religious issue in Northern Ireland would be confined to the academic abstractions of the theological boffins. There would be no basis for discrimination real and imagined.

But capitalism has failed to provide a full and happy life for all, not only in Northern Ireland but everywhere else throughout the world. Politicians of all shades of political opinion have tried to control capitalism; they have used all kinds of political and economic devices to try and iron out its contradictions and make it function smoothly; they have founded new parties and concepts — they have even tried calling it “socialism” and “Communism” — but the system defeats their efforts. We don’t have to call on economic theory to prove capitalism’s innate contradictions and inability to function in the interests of all. The evidence of our contention stands blatantly forth throughout the entire world of capitalism: nowhere has capitalism, despite the fantastic development of its wealth producing techniques, solved any of the basic social problems that afflict humanity and, often, when some slight amelioration of these problems is effected by some puny scheme of social reform new problems are created, often greater than those at which the reform was aimed. The fact is that capitalism is a social system based on the exploitation of the overwhelming majority, the majority in fact that produces all wealth, the working class. This is the nature of the system and no form of political management can make the system run contrary to its nature.

Throughout the rest of the capitalist world, as in Northern Ireland, the competition among the working class for their needs in a system of organised scarcity becomes a weapon in the hands of politicians anxious to secure the support of the workers. Group features like religion, colour and ethnic origin are conveniently related to this competition by some politicians who accuse “them” of being responsible for “our” problems while other politicians disguise the real source of the problem by blaming it on the tensions, bigotries and prejudices induced by these bigots or racialists. The violence and bigotry we are witnessing in Ulster is not peculiar to the Provinces. Like the capitalist conditions that allow these features, they exist in one form or another where capitalism exists.

Having said this, if we now return to our list of political organisations we will note that with one exception they claim the ability to run, or contribute to the running of, capitalism’s system of buying and selling to the satisfaction of all. As, however, we have also noted that no political party anywhere in the world has proved equal to the task of solving even one of capitalism's basic problems, the claims of these organisations—and any new contenders in the field—amount to nothing more than an arrogant hope based on class interest or blind utopian stupidity.

The exception? Yes, there is one organisation on our list that does not make the claim that it has the ability, sincerity, wisdom and all the other qualities—claimed, by implication, to be the monopoly of the various contenders for political office—to run capitalism in such a way as to eradicate poverty, slums, unemployment, violence, etc. That organisation is the World Socialist Party.

On the contrary, the W.S.P. and its companion parties overseas, claim that, no more than all the other political parties could they run the present system to the satisfaction of all. Hence our struggle is not to win a mandate to run capitalism’s production for profit scheme, with or without amendments. Our struggle is to bring to our fellow members of the working class an understanding of the only alternative to capitalism, Socialism, and provide a revolutionary party for the use of that knowledge. We do not ask the working class to vote for us to reform capitalism; we ask them to vote with us to abolish it!
Richard Montague

New Pamphlet: Questions of the Day — A Socialist Analysis (1969)

Party News from the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

The new revised edition of this basic Socialist pamphlet is now available.

It explains how capitalism is the cause of the problems wage and salary workers face today and how only Socialism will provide the framework within which they can be solved for good. It points out how, in modern political conditions, the way to Socialism is through the democratic political action of a majority of convinced socialists using the ballot box and parliament to win political control. It exposes as futile the policy of trying to deal with social problems by means of reforms of capitalism and shows that nationalisation is merely state capitalism. The role and record of the Conservative, Liberal, Labour and so-called Communist parties are examined and all of them are seen to serve capitalist interests.

The last three chapters deal with a number of frequent objections to Socialism. Overpopulation is shown to be a myth, the real problem being the chronic underproduction caused by the restrictions of capitalism’s profit motive. The relatively backward countries present no barrier to the immediate establishment of Socialism throughout the world, the pamphlet explains, because the modern industrial system that now covers the world is quite capable of turning out an abundance of wealth for all the world’s population, wherever they live, to enjoy. And what about human nature? This too is answered by showing that the view that man is born lazy, greedy and aggressive is nonsense. Human behaviour depends on the society human beings live in and nothing anthropologists and other social scientists have found shows that human beings are incapable of co-operating on the basis of common ownership to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs.

Questions of the Day, since the publication of the first edition in 1932, has been the pamphlet which gives in handy form the policy of the Socialist Party of Great Britain on current political topics. Those who wish to know more about us are urged to get a copy. It is priced at 2s. (postage extra) and can be had from:

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London, S.W.4.

All that glitters . . . (1969)

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most workers find it hard to imagine how man could possibly live without money. Money holds so much power only because in capitalism, for the first time in man’s social evolution, the worker is completely divorced from the product of his labour. It is true that he still produces indirectly for his own needs, but in order to get hold of these needs, he must first have money.

Some argue that we must have money because we have always had money. But by looking at man’s social development we see that in primitive tribal society he had not yet developed an extensive means of exchange. Because the means of life were not substantial enough to support a difference of class within the tribe, that is rich and poor, all property was held in common by the tribe. In the case of the North American Indian, the hunters took what beef was needed for them and their families from the large herds of bison in the hunting grounds. Clothes and shelter were made from the skins of the animals. Little exchange was necessary and money was of no use when all requirements were to be had in the immediate vicinity of the tribe.

In the chattel slave system, the majority of the population owned nothing and indeed were themselves owned by the slaveowners. Because of the increased size of the population, and as the owners were partly divorced from the means of life, a small means of exchange was developed, based on gold, silver and bronze coinage. The great mass of exchange was by barter, although much of what was produced was consumed by the original producer, the surplus going to the slave owner.

Under the feudal system, which reached its peak in Britain after the Norman conquest, the barter method was still the main type of exchange, money only being of any use to the knights and barons who required a greater variety of goods than did the serf. The serf-family was usually almost completely self-sufficient, producing all the necessaries of life, and consuming part of what it produced, the surplus going to the landowner on whose property the serf toiled. Taxation ensured that the serf had little gold to play with.

In the later stages of feudalism, the rising merchant class used the newly discovered lands and routes to make large profits by trading cheap trinkets to the natives in exchange for valuable textiles from the East and precious metals from the West. Often, as in the conquest of Central America, no exchange was needed and the wealth of the peoples there was taken forcibly.

Some of those acts of piracy and plunder conjure up a picture which differs vastly from a quiet game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe, or of a contented old gentleman sitting in front of his fire smoking a pipe, and soaked to the skin by a bucket of water thrown at him by his servant.

These wealthy merchants formed the revolutionary bourgeoisie which became the modern capitalist class. The exceptionally complicated capitalist system required a means of exchange which would be internationally acceptable, and all currencies were based on gold.

Men have therefore become obsessed with money, which has attained the position of a god, since it is money which, in the capitalist system, becomes the real life power. Without it men must starve. It then becomes the power of humanity divorced from man, and therefore what men in themselves are unable to do is made possible by the use of money; Shakespeare realised some of these points. In his Timon of Athens he wrote:
Gold? yellow, glittering, precious gold?
No, Gods,
I am no idle votarist: roots, you clear heavens!
Thus much of this will make black white; foul fair;
Wrong right; base noble; old young; coward valiant.
. . . Why this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides;
Pluck stout mens pillows from below their heads:
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions; bless the accursed
Make the hoar leprosy adored; place thieves,
And give them title, knee, and approbation,
With senators on the bench: this is it
That makes the wappened widow wed again
She whom the spittal house and ulcerous sores
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices To the April day again. Come, damned earth, '
Thou common whore of mankind, that putt’st odds
Among the rout of nations, I will make thee
Do thy right nature.
But what of money in the next stage of human evolution — Socialism? Why should it not still be required? When men produce for their own needs, and not for the benefit of a handful of exploiters as they have done since primitive times, when national boundaries disappear and the world’s wealth is owned in common, when competition gives way to cooperation, then exchange relationships disappear. And so, as money can only exist in a private society, it must vanish with private property.
G.C.

Russian Capitalism: A Correction (1969)

From the November 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

On page 107 of the July Socialist Standard we stated:
 There are signs that private investment does take place, but if we lived in Russia we should call it ‘fiddling’ for it is not legal and there is no stock exchange. The legal right of the Russian ruling class to appropriate surplus value is a collective right. This ‘right’ ceases if they resign from their administrative work.
Some of these statements are not strictly true and we now correct them. Certain forms of private investment, such as bank accounts, are not illegal in Russia. Nor does the monopoly the Russian rulers exercise over the means of production have formal legal backing. It is a de facto monopoly resting on their control of state power. Finally, members of the Russian ruling class do not of course resign, though they may be cut off from getting their share of the exploitation of the Russian workers through losing their job in a purge.
Editorial Committee

Greater London Assembly Elections (2012)

Party News from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the elections for the Greater London Assembly on 3 May the Socialist Party will be contesting two of the 14 constituency seats, giving the chance for those in four London boroughs with a total population of over one million who want socialism to vote for it.
Here is the manifesto we will be distributing. If you would like further information or are offering help or contributions to the election fund, contact us at spgb@worldsocialism.org or at 52 Clapham High Street, SW4 7UN. You can also follow the campaign on our election blog at: http://spgb.blogspot.com/
It’s up to you

No politician can help you. They all say they are going to have to make you worse off because of the crisis.  In other words, to make you poorer to protect the wealth of the 1% who own the world.  It’s their system of making goods and services to sell for profit that led directly to the crisis.  So long as we have this production for profit, we’ll have periodic crises and politicians wringing their hands over them.

The only way out is to change the rules of the game:  to change the system by putting an end to minority ownership by replacing it with the democracy of common ownership by and for everybody. Enough resources, know-how and skills exist already to provide comfortably for everyone.  It’s the profit system that prevents this. We need to do away with it and instead produce and access goods for needs.

At the moment so many people think that there’s no alternative that they are shrugging their shoulders and hoping for the best.  If a few of us stand up and say “we will not put up with this, we want something better” then the idea that resources should be owned in common and used to satisfy people’s needs can get on the agenda as the only genuine alternative to capitalism and austerity.

We need to organise to bring about a world where the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all and where every man, woman and child on the planet can have free access to what they need to lead a decent and satisfying life.

If you want this, vote for the Socialist Party candidate in this election, to let people know where you stand, and then come and join us in campaigning for socialism.

The Socialist Party candidates are:

Lambeth & Southwark: Daniel Lambert

Merton & Wandsworth: William Martin

Election Activities:

Saturday 14 April, 12 noon

Literature stall outside Socialist Party premises: 52 Clapham High St, SW4 7UN

Leaflet distribution: Clapham Junction.

Saturday 21 April, 12 noon

Literature stall: 52 Clapham High St

Leaflet distribution: Tooting (meet at tube station)

Saturday 28 April, 12 noon

Literature stall: 52 Clapham High St

Election Meeting: 52 Clapham High St, 4pm (see Events page)

Blogger's Note:
The results at the following link.

All in what together? (2012)

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

Such is the glut of material it is not necessary to drill too deeply into political history to excavate an impressive sample of pledges, slogans, phrases deposited by our leaders which they came to regret. For example during the devastating slump of the 1930s a few million unemployed who had returned from the war bitterly questioned the meaning of Lloyd George and his “Land Fit For Heroes”. In the 1960s there was Harold Macmillan dreamily talking of a time when a customarily struggling people “never had it so good”. Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan never lived down “Crisis? What Crisis?” when he was asked, as he returned from an economic summit in the West Indies in 1979, about his plans to deal with British capitalism’s turmoil. The fact that he did not say this (it was no more than a reporters’ version of what he had said) did not lessen the impression of a flippant dismissal of a serious problem and led to the loss of Labour votes. And recently, as the present recession (of a kind widely assumed by the economic experts to be a thing of the past) rumbled into its stride, David Cameron attempted to rally us with the assurance that: “We are all in this together”.

Ancestry
What right has Cameron to speak to us in this way? Well, in this social system with its historically characteristic class structure there is all he needs to give him that right. His background is rich in antecedent; through his paternal grandmother he is a direct, if illegitimate, descendant of King William IV and, through tortuous lineage, a fifth cousin of the present queen Elizabeth. Apart from being blue-blooded, he is (possibly to his own relief) a son of a family with a long and lucrative history of high standing in banking and trade. His late father benefited from a family tradition of being a senior partner in one of London’s richest, most powerful stockbrokers. If this is not enough to secure his superior place in the social hierarchy, Cameron is married to a step-daughter of Viscountess Astor who, apart from being a descendant of Charles II was the owner and designer of an exclusive jewellery business and is now the CEO of a home furnishing design company. In other words, Cameron has all he needs to assert his place in the class structure of capitalism, which encourages him to lay down the laws governing our lives in the interests of his class. And which includes swamping us with repression and manipulation, at times denying the reality of it all with specious claims to have common interests with us. This is, put simply, another aspect of the class struggle.

Divided
David Cameron can be relied on to tell us every now and again that he is “passionate” about all sorts of plans, chances and prospects. So we might ask how he judges his government’s response to his widely publicised call for national unity to deal with the recession – as we are all in the mess together. There are many examples in opposition to this, of an emphasis on people being officially divided between hard workers and dole-scroungers, between genuine invalids and fraudulent incapacity benefit claimants. Some time ago we had to endure government spokespeople relating how “decent, hard-working” people can be seen at five o’clock in the morning trekking to work through dark and silent streets where, behind curtains, benefit fraudsters slept blissfully on. We heard about Boris Johnson complaining that in a sandwich bar he is often served by someone from abroad – because the English are too lazy to compete with diligent foreign workers for such jobs. And a particular victim of this kind of demonising has been, and is increasingly, the disabled.

Disabled
In this cause, the gutter media have joyfully joined the campaign to support the government propaganda that the benefits system is being bankrupted, publishing photographs of incapacity benefit claimants refereeing football games or running in races. This has stimulated an upsurge in discrimination – sometimes abuse or violence – against disabled people commonly assumed to be cheating for their benefits. Charities like Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire, Royal National Institute for the Blind, report regularly receiving calls about this and believe it to be officially encouraged. The head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society has stated that The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) where Iain Duncan Smith is secretary “is certainly guilty of helping to drive this media narrative around benefits, portraying those who receive benefits as work-shy scroungers or abusing the system that’s really easy to cheat”. The Head of Policy at the Disability Alliance said his organisation is hearing of higher levels of verbal abuse: “It seems to be growing as a result of a misperception of much more widespread abuse of benefits than actually exists. That’s being fed by the DWP in their attempts to justify massive reductions in welfare expenditure.” (The intention is to reduce total Disabled Living Allowance payments by 20 per cent by 2015/6.)

So what does Cameron think about his call for unity being used to divide people? That catchphrase of his has passed with the others into a disreputable history, leaving us with two questions. What is the “it” which we are urged to be “in”? And do we want to be there with him? Do we want a society typified by people existing, in this country apart from elsewhere, in such peril that a cut in state benefit reduces them to desperation, needing to choose between buying food and heating their home? Are we impressed by politicians’ transparent efforts to justify this? There is a simple answer: we can do better and as a start we can expose the likes of Cameron and their insidious defence of the indefensible.
Ivan

The Right to be Offended (2012)

The Halo Halo! column from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

There have been no reports in the papers lately of gangs of agnostics, atheists or socialists armed to the teeth, roaming the streets and stringing up priests, parsons and mullahs from the lamp posts. Nor have secularist snipers been hiding in the vestries and slaughtering old ladies as they toddle into church to sing their hymns on Sundays.

So what were the howls of protest about “militant”, “offensive”, “aggressive”, “dangerous” and “deeply intolerant” secularists all about that found their way into the press during February and March and sent an outraged Baroness Warsi scuttling off to discuss the matter with the pope?

Well, it seems that secularists have indeed been on the rampage. There have been several instances where these dangerous individuals had been quite openly voicing their opinions. And as we know, other people’s opinions can be deeply offensive to religious believers.

In January, for example, a cartoon of Jesus and Mohammed enjoying a pint together appeared on a University student’s Facebook page to advertise a pub social. After a request was made for the advert to be removed it was pointed out that most Moslem students appeared not to be bothered by it. But the treasurer of the Muslim Students Association thundered: “It is not for atheists to decide what will or will not offend believers of different religions”. Well everyone has the right to be offended but care needs to be taken. Offence like that must play hell with the blood pressure.

Then there was the nonsense at Bideford where council business included prayer sessions. “Religious freedom is an absolute right, and so is freedom from religion,”protested atheist councillor Clive Bone. Hardly a “deeply intolerant” stance, but it offended the pious and pompous Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. “For too long, the public sector has been used to marginalise and attack faith in public life,” he whinged. The Bishop of Exeter agreed: “Every time there is a survey of religious beliefs in this country, around 70 per cent of the population profess a faith” he claimed.

Not so, said a poll commissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. This showed overwhelmingly that of those who ticked the ‘Christian’ box in the last census did so simply because they considered that they were decent people, or because their parents said they were Christian. Very few of them believed in the precepts of Christianity.

So, judging from recent events, what can “militant”, “deeply intolerant”and “offensive” non-believers learn from religion about tolerance? Well, not much.

In November 2004 after the Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh produced his film, Submission, portraying violence against women in Islamic societies an offended Islamic extremist brutally slaughtered him.

Dr George Tiller was the medical director of a women’s clinic in Kansas which carried out abortions. Although he was highly regarded as someone committed to women in need of help, others disagreed. He was shot through the eye in May 2009 by a devout religious pro-life group assassin.

And in January 2011, in Pakistan, Salman Taseer made the mistake of criticising Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. He was shot 27 times with a sub-machine gun.

As has been mentioned in this column before, the reason many people believe their religion is true, is that the more they study it, the more they realise that God hates the same people that they do.
NW

Brief Reports (2012)

The Brief Reports Column from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

After news that a man managed to survive for two months in a frozen car by hibernating, there has been a flurry of unconfirmed reports that some old people in parts of Scotland are managing to survive the winter on a state pension. “I can’t believe it’s true,” said Pensions minister Ian Duncan Smith, “but if it is, we will certainly be looking at making cuts.” A leading clinician explained that in certain unusual circumstances it may be possible for the elderly poor to stay alive when the state doesn’t want them to: “They might be doing it by setting fire to all their furniture and eating their slippers. And we shouldn’t rule out cannibalism. We would love to research this phenomenon more closely, but of course there’s no money.”

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Jeremy Clarkson’s remark that the 30 November public sector strikers should be executed in front of their families was not in breach of broadcasting rules, Ofcom has ruled. The remarks sparked 31,000 complaints to the BBC. “It’s a disgrace,” said one licence holder, “everybody knows that strikers’ families should be executed too. It’s the only language these Bolsheviks understand.” Mr Clarkson commented, “I’m sorry I used the word ‘executed’. What I meant to say was ‘hanged, disembowelled and boiled in lard’. Now everyone will think I’m a gay liberal.”

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The US commander in Afghanistan has apologised over reports that Nato troops had “improperly disposed” of copies of the Koran. In a statement he said, “We wish to reassure Moslems everywhere that it is our policy to murder them while showing their storybooks the utmost respect. We regret any offence caused. Normal toilet paper has now been restored to the latrines.”

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The Prince of Wales has admitted he was a failure as a schoolboy football captain at an event for his Prince’s Trust Football Initiative. Speaking to a group of famous footballers, the Prince told them his school team never won a game with him in charge. “It’s nice that he’s honest about it,” said Tottenham’s Jermain Tothepoint, “and it explains why he’s never been much cop as a prince either.” A spray of mixed wallflowers and antirrhinum sprang to the Prince’s defence: “He might not know much about architecture, but he knows how to water a plant, and he keeps us amused.”

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Firms and charities are to be invited to bid for a payment-by-results scheme to try to get MPs into work or training, in a project launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. “Many MPs are not in employment, education or training, and do nothing all day but sit in front of a computer looking at stock figures. Many of them have complex problems, including truancy, idleness, a lack of motivation and disengagement from the electorate. It’s crucial to help these people now before the next election and unemployment hits us all.”

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Many large retail stores have expressed concerns over another government work experience scheme which has been derided as “slave labour”. One chief executive blasted critics of the scheme: “It’s ridiculous to imply these trainees are worse off than our regular staff. This is making us look bad to our shareholders. Let’s get this straight, all our employees work in slave conditions, not just a few miserable trainees.”

Syria: Bashar Lives Up to His Name (2012)

From the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Anybody can claim to be an opponent of the present Syrian government, but what kind of a regime is it proposed to establish in its place?
They have been calling it “the Arab Spring”. Various dictators around the Mediterranean have been overthrown, and successor regimes, more or less distinct from the ones that went before, have been installed. Tunisia’s dictator was thrown out first, to be followed by the dictators of Egypt, Libya, and the Yemen. Now there is a more or less open rebellion in Syria, aimed at overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, the local despot.

The lands stretching across from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf were among the earliest areas to develop what is often called “civilization” – that is, human beings living en masse in larger and larger cities. The Syrian city of Aleppo, for example, has been continuously inhabited for at least five thousand years, and Damascus probably for nearly as long. Several religions trace their origins to this part of the world. Fervent believers in the book of Genesis have often speculated that the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, the talkative serpent, and the extremely fertile tree which produced “knowledge” as well as apples were located somewhere in the vicinity. This move to city-dwelling was the result of the spread of the idea of private property, where the land and trading concerns, and anything else which produced wealth, belonged to a small upper class, while the rest of the population, virtually propertyless, worked for the benefit of this group of owners.

Separate states came into being, each ruled by a group of owners. Inevitably, violence became common as people tried to seize economic and political power for themselves within a state, and as each state tried to impose its power on neighbouring states. And so the human race began to know organized warfare. As societies based on private property became more common there was more strife and more violence, and the lands to the east of the Mediterranean became the scene of repeated conflicts. Surrounded by great land masses – Asia to the east, Africa to the south-west, and Europe to the north-west – invading forces came repeatedly from all directions; great armies murdered, looted, raped, and destroyed; empires rose and fell. The result was a great hotchpotch of peoples, each believing themselves to be racially different from those around them, and having different and hostile religious beliefs and loyalties.

Imperialist carve-up
A hundred years ago, this area was part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Turkey. Then came the First World War of 1914-18, which the allied powers claimed was to protect the rights of small nations, but which turned out in the end (as you might have expected) to be more about extending the rights of big nations – or the rulers of those nations, at any rate. The Ottoman Empire was on the losing side in that war, and so was carved up at the end of it for the benefit of the victors. The lands between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf were shared between two of the victorious Allies, Britain and France. Britain got (for example) a stretch of territory which it divided up into three separate states, Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine; and France divided up its share into Syria and Lebanon – the latter was kept separate because it seemed it might well have a Catholic majority (like France).

After the share-out at the Treaty of Versailles, both Britain and France had to deal with rebellions in the newly acquired territories. Iraqis who objected to the British take-over were bombed into submission. One Arthur Harris was a young squadron-leader there.  He had found how effective (and risk-free) it was to bomb obnoxious tribesmen on the North-West Frontier in India, and now he did the same in Iraq, helped by the fact that the rebellious Iraqis had no aircraft or anti-aircraft defences. The young airman is supposed to have said, “the only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand.”

Bomber Harris was able to put these lessons to good use in the Second World War when he organized the carpet bombing of working-class areas in German cities – that was where the factory workers lived; the houses were smaller and closer together, and of course bombing richer areas would not kill or injure so many of the people who actually did the work. The French had the same problems in Syria as the British did in Iraq; Syria saw a widespread revolt in 1925-7. Fortunately the French were able to bring in troops with much better modern armaments against the lightly armed Syrians, so they were able to establish their superiority.

Coups and counter-coups
Then came the Second World War, which revealed that both Britain and France had now fallen into the ranks of second-class powers, and neither was able to keep up its colonial empire. Iraq became independent, and so did Syria. The prize of forming the government of Syria and ruling it on behalf of its native upper class was vigorously contested. Coups and counter-coups were constant: in the ten years between 1946 and 1956 there were twenty different governments and four newly-drafted constitutions. The same story of violent take-overs continued, even including a “union” with Egypt in 1958, which fell apart in 1961. But such regular upheavals are not good for business; and in 1963 the so-called “Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party” took over. It was not Socialist at all, of course; it had a programme under which the state would run industries and would enforce stability without bothering too much about free speech and so forth.

For a time the fighting for office continued, but now the hostilities were between factions within the Ba’ath Party. A new group seized power in 1966. One of the successful plotters, Hafez al-Assad, became Minister for Defence. After four years and a final capture of authority: Hafez al-Assad became President, and, in fact, dictator. (The two leading members of the former government went to jail.) Hafez was an Alawite, that is, a member of a Shia Muslim sect, and before long Alawites were put in positions of control in the army and in every government body. This was particularly necessary, because most Muslims in Syria are Sunnis, and many Sunnis regard the Alawites as heretics. Any opposition was dealt with as every dictator deals with it: imprisonment, torture, death. Hafez is accused of carrying out thousands of extra-judicial killings. An attempted assassination in 1980 failed: the machine-gun missed. Within hours, 1,200 Islamists held in jail had been slaughtered in their cells at Tadmor Prison by armed groups led by Rifaat al-Assad, the dictator’s brother. But after the confusion and uncertainty of the previous decades most of the Syrian upper class was happy to go along with the new regime. As for the ordinary Syrians, with Hafez, now in control of the newspapers, the radio, and every other means of information, was able to create a nationwide feeling that stability was better than the disorder and constant shifts of the past and began building up his own personality cult. As the Russians had been propagandized into supporting Stalin and the Germans brainwashed into supporting Hitler, so the Syrians were now conned into supporting Hafez.

There was still trouble from some malcontents, especially from those who fancied becoming the rulers themselves. In 1982 there was an insurrection in the city of Hama led by the Muslim Brotherhood who wanted to establish a stricter form of Islam. Hafez ordered the troops in – picked formations commanded by his brother Rifaat – who bombarded Hama, destroying much of the old city and killing (estimates differ) between 15,000 and 40,000 Syrians, nearly all civilians. Rifaat, it seems, later boasted that he had killed 38,000 people in Hama. Two years afterwards Rifaat tried a coup of his own, aiming to replace his brother; it failed, and Rifaat now lives in exile in London. But being the brother of the dictator he had been able to assemble extensive business interests, and he now lives in some comfort in a ten million pound mansion off Park Lane. If you kill one person you will probably end up in jail; but killing thousands seems to have fewer repercussions.

Hereditary despot
Like many dictators, Hafez wanted to be the boss even after he was dead. He had several sons, and the eldest, Bassel, was groomed to succeed him. His second son, Bashar, was allowed to go his own way, and he became a doctor. In 1992 he came to England and studied to become an ophthalmologist – an eye specialist. Then in 1994 Bassel was killed in a car crash. Without asking the Syrians or (apparently) even his own family Hafez now decided that Bashar would have to be the next strong man. And when Hafez died in 2000 the tame Syrian parliament that had previously passed an Act to say the President had to be at least 40 now hurriedly passed another Act to say that he had to be at least 34, which, by great good luck, was exactly Bashar’s age. So Bashar was promoted to field-marshal, which is a rank not many eye doctors have reached, and took over as dictator. There was a “vote”, of course, in which Bashar was the only candidate, and it was announced that 97.3 percent of the Syrians had voted for him. (An improbable result: in our discordant society it is unlikely that 97 percent of voters would agree what day of the week it was). He ruled for seven years, and then another “vote” was held.  This time the officials in charge thought it would be a good idea to claim an even better result, so they said that 97.6 percent had supported the dictator.

Bashar has proved to be a chip off the old block: dissent is dealt with by torture, imprisonment, and death. When early in 2011 a big demonstration was held against his rule, the demonstrators were chased away by the security forces. The regime announced first that there had been no demonstration, and second that there had been a demonstration in favour of Bashar. Protests continued in many towns and cities across the country; soldiers began deserting and taking their guns with them.  Now Syria appears to be on the brink of civil war, with the army moving in to kill any who oppose Bashar and bringing up artillery to pound any supposedly disloyal areas. Districts regained by government forces are decorated with corpses, either with their throats cut or decapitated. Some estimates of the dead put the total as high as 8,000. Many other countries have decided that Bashar cannot survive and regularly issue statements deploring Bashar’s excesses, though Russia and China, in both of which democracy is a rude word, cannot apparently see anything wrong with Bashar’s dictatorship. It is curious to hear the American government, rulers of a country which killed at least 100,000 Iraqis (many think the death toll was at least half a million, or even a million) claiming how shocked they are by a death toll so much smaller than the one they have achieved.

Some people in Syria still support Bashar. They include Alawites, since the privileged position they have held since Hafez took power may provoke revenge if Bashar falls; the Druze, an unorthodox Muslim sect; and the Christians of half a dozen different denominations. All of them fear that if Bashar is succeeded by a Sunni government extreme Islamists may persecute minorities. And, of course, Bashar’s close friends and relatives back him to the hilt.  Bashar’s wife is called Asma. Her parents were Syrians living in London, and she was brought up in England.  And while Bashar’s trusted soldiers and militias polish up new ways to torture and murder the regime’s opponents, Asma has been ordering luxury goods from Paris, including a £10,000 consignment of chandeliers and silver candlesticks.  Why shouldn’t Bashar’s inner circle champion him?

The opponents of Bashar are from every point in the political spectrum, including some who, if they gained power, might well establish a regime compared with which Bashar would look like Little Bo Peep. Those who opposed Stalin included loathsome dictators like Hitler; those who opposed Hitler included loathsome dictators like Stalin. Anybody can claim, probably with absolute sincerity, to be a zealous opponent of the present Syrian Government; but a much more significant question is this – what kind of a regime is it proposed to establish in place of Bashar’s? There are those who think that if Bashar was killed out of hand like Gaddafi of Libya, or hanged like Saddam Hussein of Iraq, or put on trial like Mubarak of Egypt, or chased away into exile like Ben Ali of Tunisia, then democracy with free speech and free elections would miraculously appear fully formed. That may, to say the least, be over-optimistic. No one knows exactly what the future holds; but it is certain that at the present time anybody or any group replacing the present rulers of Syria will continue to run Syrian capitalism for the benefit of the Syrian capitalists, whatever cosmetic reforms they may think it necessary to make.
Alwyn Edgar


Now … and Then (2012)

From the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
In a socialist society, people will still eat and drink and love and argue, much as they do now. But in other respects, socialism will be very different from capitalism.
Inequality
Capitalism involves a great deal of inequality, which manifests itself in various ways. We’ll begin with inequality of wealth and income. A look at job ads in the paper will show the differences in wages on offer, but that is only a small part of the story, for the income of the richest people is far higher than anything that comes from a wage or salary. The wealthiest family in Britain is the Mittals whose joint worth is over £17bn, while Richard Branson has a mere £3bn. In contrast the median wage for full-time employees is just over £25,000 a year, and the maximum weekly benefit for a person over 25 on jobseeker’s allowance is a paltry £67.50. In his recent book Injustice, Danny Dorling argues that as many as one quarter of households in Britain are ‘just getting by’. The extent of poverty is shown by the spread of pound shops and charity shops and the increasing numbers resorting to payday loans to survive. Of course such problems do not arise at the top of the wealth and income pyramid, where a couple of years ago Lakshmi Mittal paid £78m for a twelve-room mansion in Kensington.

In contrast, socialism will be a society based on equality. This will not involve everybody consuming the same amount of goods; rather, it means that via free access everyone has at the very least their basic needs and wants satisfied, and nobody is privileged in the way that a small part of the population is now. We can’t make all homes the same, but nobody will live in a twelve-room mansion and no-one will live in a slum or a home that is too small for them either. Likewise, nobody will have to choose between heating their home and eating or have to keep saying no when their child wants new clothes. It is unlikely that socialism will be a consumer’s paradise, and people will soon appreciate what having ‘enough’ involves, but it will emphatically not be a society where people are forced to go without.

Power
Inequality is not just a matter of consumption, for under capitalism there is inequality of power as well. This is partly a straightforward consequence of poverty, for being poor means you have less control over your life: you cannot make a genuinely free choice to move house or take a holiday or even have an evening out if you cannot afford these things. More widely, you may have to stick with a boring or dangerous job if you need the pay but have no realistic chance of finding anything else. And being poor creates a great deal of stress in the struggle to make ends meet. But the rich have no such worries, and further they are far more likely to exercise control over the lives of others. When Rupert Murdoch decided to close the News of the World, this was a stark illustration of the power held by a few ‘captains of industry’. The same kind of thing happens when production is outsourced to another country that offers lower wages and maybe less government regulation. It is all very well to say that Britain is democratic, but electing MPs is not enough to make ‘rule by the people’a reality. And the rich exercise massive influence by means of donations to political parties and organisations (see the US primaries and presidential elections for clear examples of this).

Socialism will instead furnish the context in which people can take control of their own lives, by enabling them to undertake useful and rewarding work, with plenty of leisure time too. In fact there may not even be the clear distinction between work and leisure that obtains now. But people will be able to switch from one kind of work to another, more or less as and when they wish, and they will be able to travel and see the world without restrictions like passports and borders and ticket prices. And at societal level, there will be true democratic control of production. For instance, decisions about the use of resources and the balancing of environmental concerns will be made by those involved or their freely-chosen representatives, without politicians or millionaires or pressure groups of the powerful influencing what is decided (or just deciding on their own). Moreover, decisions will be made by people weighing the pros and cons for themselves, not on considerations of profit. There is no simple answer to the question of how democratic procedures would operate in Socialism, but we can say at the very least that it will be a far more democratic society than capitalism can ever be.

Violence
Lastly, we can look at the issue of violence. Capitalism is a violent society in many ways, from the battlefield to the workplace. In the US-led invasion of Iraq from 2003 (misleadingly called ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’), 4,800 coalition soldiers were killed and (though estimates vary widely and even rough accuracy is unlikely) several hundred thousand Iraqis. Those killed in capitalism’s wars are by no means all combatants: the nature of warfare has changed, with air raids and bombs and the shelling of towns, so that far more civilians than soldiers are killed and injured. As far as workplace violence is concerned, on official figures there were 171 fatalities among people doing their jobs in Britain in 2010–11. In addition, 24,700 suffered major injuries at work. In the US, the figures are far worse, with 4,547 fatal work injuries in 2010, and over a million cases of non-fatal occupational injuries and illnesses. More generally, as Studs Terkel wrote in Working, his collection of interviews with American workers: ‘This book, being about work, is, by its very nature about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body.’

Socialism will have no countries or classes that compete frantically with each other, so we can say emphatically that there will be no wars. We cannot equally assert that there will be no workplace deaths, just as we cannot say there will be no traffic accidents. But, with the profit motive removed, there will be a stress on health and safety at work that goes far beyond what happens under capitalism. It will be in nobody’s interests to introduce or maintain dangerous working practices, and safety will be the number one priority. Many tasks which cannot be made entirely safe can perhaps be performed by robots or other machines, while others may simply be left undone to see how crucial they really are. Terkel’s description applies not to work in general but to work under capitalism, i.e. employment.

We should not give the impression that socialism will be a society without problems. But in any number of respects it can be contrasted with capitalism to show how it will solve or avoid many present-day problems and how its establishment is a matter of the utmost urgency.
Paul Bennett

Letter: Dight's Dilemma. (1922)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editors, Socialist Standard.

Dear Sirs,

On page 104 of the Socialist Standard of this month's issue you quote from Marx’s "Critique of Political Economy," as follows :—
  "No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed ; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions for their existence have matured in the womb of the old society."
And then, for the purpose of emphasising the above quotation, you quote again, this time from the "oft-quoted passage" (so gleefully and gloatingly quoted so often by yourselves since the November Revolution in Russia) from the preface to Marx's "Capital
  "One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement—and it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society—it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs." (Italics mine.)
And this is your interpretation as instanced by your comment which follows immediately upon the quotations :—
  "These quotations prove not only that Marx did not expect a country in a backward condition economically to be able to establish Socialism, but also that he expressly denied such a thing possible. So far from following Marx as 'Judex' suggests, Lenin has acted in direct opposition to Marx’s teaching. To suggest that, a country like Russia, still largely feudalistic, with only the beginnings of capitalism, is 'most suitable for Socialism,' shows a most complete ignorance of Marx, coupled with a boundless recklessness of assertion."
Far from wanting to defend "Judex," of the "English Review," I am nevertheless opposed to the possible inference that can be drawn from the above, that Lenin, as well as "Judex," displays "ignorance of Marx, coupled with a boundless recklessness of assertion," as well as your "reckless assertion" that "Lenin has acted in direct opposition to Marx's teaching." Marx, of course, "did not expect a country in a backward condition economically to establish Socialism." But did Lenin? Again and again did Lenin assert the necessity for the economic development of Russia as being requisite for the establishment of Socialism. But if you wish to imply that that means that Russia must first of all pass through all the phases of capitalist development, then how do you account for, say, America (among other countries) not having passed through feudalism as well as others that have not passed through all its phases? Marx, when referring to a society being on “the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement,” clearly refers to a revolutionary period within that society. Hence his reference to the "birth pangs.” And then if we read that this revolutionary period cannot be cleared “by bold leaps,” nor that "the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development ” can be removed “by legal enactments,” we shall then be able to reconcile your quotations with the following:—
  “Let us now look at Russia. At the time of the Revolutions of 1848-1849, the monarchs of Europe, like the European bourgeoisie, saw in Russian intervention their sole means of protection against the proletariat, at that time just awakening to a consciousness of its strength. They placed the Czar at the head of European reaction. To-day, he is a prisoner of revolution at Gatchina, and Russia is in the front rank of the revolutionary movement of Europe. The burden of the Communist manifesto was the declaration of the inevitable disappearance of existing bourgeois property. But in Russia, along with the capitalist system which is developing with feverish haste, and of the large landed property of the bourgeoisie in course of formation, more than half of the land is the common property of the peasantry. The question is, therefore, whether the Russian peasant commune, that already degenerate form of primitive commune property in land, will pass directly into the superior form of communist ownership of the land, or whether it must rather first follow the same process of dissolution that it has undergone in the historical development of the West? The only possible way to reply to that question to-day is as follows : If the Russian Revolution is the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West, and if both should be successful, then the existing communal property of Russia may serve as the starting point for a communist development.” (Preface to 2nd Russian edition of Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels, 1882. Italics mine.)
If my reading and interpretation (which opposes yours) of your quotations is incorrect, how do you reconcile your quotations with mine? It seems to me you’ve got some job.
Yours faithfully,
Hy. Dight.


Reply—
Mr. Dight’s method of discussing Marx in relation to Russia is so delightfully simple as to almost cause one to wonder if it is genuine. If we will only suppose that Marx meant something quite contrary to what he wrote, then it will be easy to follow Mr. Dight. But if one decides to keep closely to what Marx wrote and taught, then Mr. Dight is hopelessly out of the argument.

Mr. Dight’s "possible inference” only becomes so by straining language beyond all reason. The very quotation, "most suitable for Socialism,” shows that it was "Judex” who showed a "most complete ignorance of Marx, coupled with a boundless recklessness.” Lenin is not ignorant of Marx. But this only makes matters worse for Lenin.

Mr. Dight says: "Marx, of course, 'did not expect a country in a backward condition economically to establish Socialism.’ But did Lenin? ” The answer is Yes! Lenin proclaimed the upheaval in 1917 as a "Socialist Revolution” even as late as his "Left Wing Communism,” written in 1920. It's true that later Lenin had to modify his own words, as he has had to do on so many other points. But that hits Lenin and Dight —not us.

Almost any elementary school child could answer the question about America. That country was colonised by people who had already reached the early stages of capitalism, and is an example of capitalist development by transplanted material. It is not a case of a nation passing over to capitalism without going through Feudalism, as the natives did not develop at all—perhaps because they were exterminated by the newcomers.

It is in his next sentence that Mr. Dight tries to saddle us with the simple assumption referred to above when, in dealing with the quotation from "Capital,” he says : "Marx . . . clearly refers to a revolutionary period, etc.” Marx, on the contrary, "clearly” does nothing of the sort. He was dealing with the "normal development” of societies and how they cannot evade the "successive phases” of this "normal development.”

But even if one takes Mr. Dight’s absurd assumption, for the purpose of the argument, Mr. Dight’s conclusion is still false. When Marx writes of "revolutionary periods” he takes care to explain that he is dealing with "social revolutions,” where one system is broken up and another takes its place. No such "revolution” has taken place in Russia. Due to the war and the corruption it developed among the ruling class, Czarism collapsed, and in the chaos following, the Bolsheviks—a tiny minority— after a first failure, seized power in 1917. No fundamental change took place in the methods of producing and distributing wealth. In other words, there was no "social revolution.” All that happened was that one minority began to rule instead of another. The attempts of this minority to impose economic methods and conditions upon a people not yet developed to a level of these conditions has been without success. That is to say, that they have failed disastrously to "clear by bold leaps or remove by legal enactments” (though the latter have been turned out by the ton) "the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development.” To any normal person the facts of the situation in Russia would be a complete and crushing answer to Dight. Not so to the short-sighted and intellectually limited fanatic. Calmly ignoring the situation, he tries to find comfort in idiotic interpretations of Marx’s writings.

As Mr. Dight’s first point falls, his second —dealing with the 1882 preface to the "Communist Manifesto”—no longer holds. But even apart from this, the quotation itself is a flat contradiction to the position of Mr. Dight. Take the very sentence he has put into italics because he thinks it gives us "some job.” (It does—to avoid choking with laughter at his blindness.) The sentence contains three points, each of which is in direct opposition to the position in Russia:—
If the Russian Revolution is the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West . . . "(Italics ours.)
As the upheaval in Russia in 1917 scarcely raised a ripple among the "workers of the West,” and certainly not the faintest suggestion of a Revolution, this point by itself smashes Dight’s attempted case. At the Berlin Conference of the three "Internationals” Radek made a statement showing how correct our attitude is. He said in reference to the Soviet Republic "which no one denies is, if not a workers’, at least a revolutionary state (“Communist,” 15/4/1922). As he admits it was not a workers' "revolution,” it would be interesting to know whose "revolution” he considers it to be !

The second point is :—
 "and if both should be successful, etc.,”
As neither came into existence, Mr. Dight cannot draw even the pretence of support from this phrase.
  "then the existing communal property of Russia may serve as the starting point for a Communist development.”
Even in the conclusion, nothing positive. Marx and Engels do not say that it “will” be a starting point, but only that it “may.” Two "ifs” and a "may” in the sentence —with the "ifs” not yet fulfilled! And this is the sort of stuff Dight relies upon when he tries to falsify the teachings of Marx. But the matter may be taken a point further.

The great blunder made by Lenin and Trotsky was that they, in their ignorance of Western conditions, expected a revolution by the workers of England, Germany, and France. Even after their first disappointment, when they had to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, they still hoped for this Western Revolution. Only now are they beginning to realise the hopelessness of such an event for some time ahead. Hence their concessions and offers to the European and American capitalists.

A great deal of injury has been done to the propaganda of Socialism by attempting to foist upon Marx the responsibility for the wild-headed schemes of the Bolsheviks and their supporters. The blind praise of anything emanating from Russia has led these fanatics to actions injurious to the Bolsheviks themselves. Instead of recognising the overpowering conditions against the Bolsheviks and giving them praise for certain things they have done, these ranters have devoted their whole attention to boosting the absurd claims of the Bolsheviks. Fantastic decrees that had not the slightest effect outside of the office issuing them, were hailed as marvels produced by geniuses, that changed Russia overnight from a private property basis to one of advanced Communism. Millions of peasants who could not read were converted, we were told, into class-conscious, highly intelligent Marxians by the shoals of pamphlets distributed among them.! Only its tremendous tragedy saves it from being a farce.

And all the time, as we have continually pointed out in the pages of the Socialist Standard, the Bolsheviks were doing things that deserved high praise and which, put in their proper perspective, gave valuable lessons to the Western workers. The first lesson they gave was to show that a minority, who were not capitalists, could run the affairs of a huge country, under the special conditions existing there, in an efficient manner. This lesson tends to break down the superstitution still held by many workers, “that you must have the capitalists in control,” and has aroused shrieking opposition from the Churchills and Poincares of the West.

One of the Departments whose efficiency has been most loudly advertised by the supporters of Bolshevism is the War Department, whose head, Trotsky, has appropriated most of the praise to himself. But, as a matter of fact, Trotsky’s work— assuming it was his—was far less difficult than that of every other Department. After being under Conscription for generations, the Russian peasant falls almost automatically into the position of a soldier if he is supplied with munitions. It was a task of immensely greater magnitude to manufacture a rifle in Russia than to use it once it was made. The difficulties of transport were colossal, and under the conditions prevailing the Transport Department worked in a marvelous manner. The question of obtaining food for the townspeople, and the paralysing problem of how to transport such food as existed in face of the Army’s demand for railways and wagons, was sufficient to appall the strongest. In education, too, the attempt to adopt the best of Western methods, and the care given to the children will stand like a monument to the credit of those responsible for the Department.

It is for things of this kind that the Bolsheviks deserve high praise—not for ignoring the teachings of Marx. And even here the Marxian dictum receives marked illustration. What was the first obstacle the Bolsheviks met? The answer is, "Lack of sufficient men and women capable of carrying on the work.” With all the good-will in the world, they were too few in numbers to "man” all the Departments themselves, and there was a lamentable shortage of others, capable of doing so, in the country. Practically every visitor to Russia, even if a bitter opponent of the Bolsheviks, agrees that the latter have been "bled white” under the terrific strain imposed upon them by the attempt to administer so huge a country.
Jack Fitzgerald

Extinction Rebellion: New Label Old Idealism (2019)

From the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Extinction Rebellion: what do they stand for?

As its name suggests, Extinction Rebellion (XR) holds the view that continuing to emit greenhouse gases is leading to a change in the Earth’s climate that would be so drastic as to threaten the ‘extinction’ of the human and other animal species, and that this justifies a ‘rebellion’ in the form of civil disobedience and getting arrested for blocking roads, bridges, and government and fossil fuel company buildings.

The political philosophy behind their ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ of 31 October 2018 is strangely old-fashioned. It is based on the idea that there is an implicit social contract between a state and its citizens, under which the state agrees to protect its citizens and guarantee them human rights and democracy while in return the citizens agree to pay taxes and obey the law. According to the declaration, by not doing enough to deal with global warming, the state has broken its contract, so:
  ‘We hereby declare the bonds of the social contract to be null and void; the government has rendered them invalid by its continuing failure to act appropriately’ (https://rebellion.earth/declaration).
Or, more prosaically, as Sutton Local XR put it in a leaflet, ‘the Government has failed to protect us’.
  Nevertheless, XR’s demands are directed at the government. They demand that it adopt the aim of achieving net zero carbon emissions, i.e., that no more is released into the atmosphere than is extracted from it, by 2025. Again more simply, as one of those blocking the A38 in Birmingham at the beginning of August put it, ‘what we are here to do is force the government to pay attention to the issue of climate change and take urgent and decisive action’ (LINK).
At this level, this is pure reformism, calling on a capitalist government to implement some desirable measure within capitalism. This is probably all that most of those taking part in XR activities want or expect.

The famous 3.5 percent
However, their leaders are more ambitious. They envisage overthrowing any government that refuses to accede to XR’s demands. As described by one of their prime movers, Roger Hallam, this begins with only a few thousand practising civil disobedience but eventually:
 ‘The arrogance of the authorities leads them to overreact, and the people – approximately 1-3 per cent of the population is ideal – will rise up and bring down the regime. It’s very quick: around one or two weeks on average. Bang: suddenly it’s over’ (XR handbook This Is Not A Drill, p. 104).
XR’s Media and Messaging Coordinator, Ronan McNern, explains how this figure was arrived at:
  ‘Our media messaging is based on research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, which demonstrates that to achieve social change the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 per cent of the population is needed. It’s that 3.5 per cent that we want to engage’ (p. 126).
There is some ambiguity here. Hallam writes of bringing down the regime while McNern writes of achieving social change. Nor is it clear what McNern means by ‘social change’: is it a change of society (a social revolution) or a change within existing society (social reform). A statement on XR’s website seems to settle this in favour of the former, saying that one of its aims is ‘mobilising 3.5% to achieve system change’ (https://rebellion.earth/the-truth/about-us).

Hallam might be right about bringing down a regime (the state-capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe did collapse in that sort of way) and McNern about achieving some overdue political measure that is no threat to the system (as the Civil Rights movement in the Southern states of the USA), but 3.5 percent cannot bring about ‘system change.’

What system change?
XR are rather ambiguous about what they mean by ‘system change’, but they do identify capitalism and its drive to perpetual economic growth as the problem and they do emphasise that any post-capitalist society should involve a participatory democracy for decision-making, with citizens assemblies and the like. So the question arises: how could a minority of 3.5 percent bring about a participatory democracy (let alone the common ownership of the Earth’s resources that socialists want in addition)?

A participatory democracy has to be based on voluntary participation and voluntary cooperation. It is not something that can be imposed on people; they must want it and understand its implications. At the moment this is far from being the case. Even if Hallam’s 1-3 percent minority did succeed in bringing down a government that refused XR’s demands, this would still be the case. In the absence of a majority wanting system change, the system would remain the same, i.e. capitalism, and the emergence of an understanding and participating majority would still be needed.

Unfortunately, that’s going to take time, more time in fact that XR ideologists, and Hallam in particular, think is needed to avoid climate catastrophe. Interviewed on BBC News Hardtalk on 16 August by Stephen Sackur (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HyaxctatdA), Hallam claimed that, if things continued as now, in ten years’ time there would be ‘social collapse’, the beginning of a period in which only one billion of the world’s current population of 7 billion would survive:
  ‘The capitalist system, the global system that we are in, is in the process of destroying itself and it will destroy itself in the next ten years. The reason for that is because it’s destroying the climate’.
The message is hopeless in both senses of the word: since, given that most people don’t want to replace it with common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s resources (socialism, properly understood), capitalism is not likely to be abolished within the next ten years, humanity and the planet are doomed; six out of every seven of us are going to perish in the Armageddon that will begin in ten years’ time, i.e in 2029.

But are the prospects really that bad?

Is the End Nigh?
Is the threat as serious as XR’s ideologists maintain, i.e. that the human species is threatened with ‘extinction’, beginning in ten years’ time?

At the moment average global temperature is about 1 degree above pre-industrial levels and the UN’s ‘worst case scenario’ assumes an increase to 4.5 degrees (that’s if nothing at all is done to decrease emissions) by the end of the century. Such an increase would certainly cause problems, especially under capitalism, with the flooding of low-lying land, mass population movements, and more extreme weather. But it would not mean that six out of every seven humans will perish.

It is possible that XR’s leaders know this and are painting a doomsday scenario to jolt people into taking action. (It is also possible that they have deluded themselves into believing it; Hallam certainly comes across like this). If so, this approach is debateable and is in fact being debated amongst those concerned about climate change, where the point is being made that such alarmist scenarios risk encouraging inaction and an attitude that the situation is so unavoidable that it is not worth trying to do anything about it or, if it does jolt people into action, it might not be what XR wants; it might be support for some eco–fascist dictatorship.

Whatever they might believe is likely to happen, XR’s leaders obviously feel that they should offer some hope. Hence their reformist demand that the government adopt the aim of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2025 instead of the announced 2050. Although this does seem to offer hope amongst their doom and gloom, it doesn’t really as it’s not realisable (not even if socialism were to be established tomorrow). In his interview with Hallam, Sackur made the following (valid) point that ‘it’s not possible within the framework of our capitalist economy without causing unimaginable damage to people’s lives.’ To which Hallam replied:
  ‘Well, the damage is imaginable and it’s proportionate and it’s necessary because the alternative is social collapse’.
So, even if the government did adopt XR’s policy, there would still be ‘necessary’ damage to people’s lives. Whatever we do, we are doomed to suffer one way or the other.

There is a way out
Climate change, as a result of global warming caused by human activity over the past two hundred years and still continuing, is a problem and something needs to be done to deal with it, but XR’s strategy for doing so is seriously flawed. Capitalism, with its built-in economic imperatives to endless growth (capital accumulation) and to produce as cheaply as possible (to remain competitive in the race for profits) is indeed both the cause of the problem and an obstacle to its solution and needs to go. But what to put in its place?

Socialists contend that the only framework within which the problem of global warming can be tackled is the common ownership (no ownership) and democratic control of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources as this will put humans in control of what is produced, how, and for what purpose and stop the operation of the coercive economic laws of capitalism. However, this can only be established by the consciously socialist action of a majority of the world’s population, which must include those in the developed capitalist parts of the world even if those from the rest of the world take the lead. It is not something that can be provoked by any minority, let alone a small minority of 3.5 percent.
Adam Buick