Sunday, November 24, 2019

New pamphlet on Racism (1966)

Party News from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new Socialist Party pamphlet, entitled The Problem of Racism, is published this month. The previous pamphlet on this subject The Racial Problem, published in 1947 has been out of print for some time. The Problem of Racism is not just a revision it is a completely new pamphlet. In 1947 it was the Jewish Question that was prominent. Today it is the Colour Question. This change is taken into account in the new pamphlet which examines the colour question in Britain, America, South Africa and Rhodesia. There are chapters too on the scientific theory of race, the historical origins of racist theories and on African nationalism.

There is an unfortunate error. The reference on page 41 to Guyana should, of course, be to Guinea, 

Pamphlet obtainable from Socialist Party (Dept SR), 52 Clapham High St, London, SW4. Price 1/6. 

Letter: "Keep Britains' slums white" (1966)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,

In answer to your new pamphlet The Problem of Racism, although I have not read it I have read many articles on the subject.

It's my belief that a great deal of this so-called “colour prejudice" is due to the fact that they are over here in such large numbers—-“over 5,000,000"—that the British worker feels, and rightly so, that his chance of getting a house to himself today is as remote now that he is getting 4 or 5 times pre-war wages as it was before the war. Although the worker can see the coloured worker by the colour of his skin it does not mean that if all foreigners were white there would be no prejudice. I think most of the prejudice is caused by their presence over here in such large numbers, and while they are here there will be more trouble in the future as we have had in the past. Some people sympathise with the coloured people because they cannot find a job in their own country, but this is caused by the capitalist system and it is up to all coloured people to either put up with unemployment in their own country or vote for socialism, but not to overcrowd this one, which is the second most overcrowded country in the world. They know this country is over-crowded, they also know that the extra pressure drives up the rents of millions of workers in this country and perpetuates the slums for ever more. Yet they don’t care, all they think of is themselves. Look how rents have gone up since the war!

As far as colour prejudice is concerned I would say take all coloured people out of the houses where they are not wanted and put them where they are wanted, that is if you can find them. But of course that would be too "democratic" for members of parliament. Labour, Liberal or Tory. I wonder how many M.P.’s who advocate integration of coloured people into our way of life have coloured people in their houses. After all they get £3,250 a year minimum so they must have plenty of room. And all these members of the various societies for integration, how interesting to know how many coloured people are living in their houses. It’s the slum dweller that suffers most because he has no power or influence to keep these people out of his slum house like the better-off people.

To those who agree that the law should make it an offence to refuse to serve drinks in a pub, or to refuse admittance to a club or Dance Hall, or to put “No Coloureds" in advertisements in newspapers or shop windows, I would say that it should be made an offence for any landlord to put coloured people in houses where they are not wanted—and so treat rich and poor alike.
John Binder, 
Chiswick, W.4.

First let’s cut through the ignorance and prejudice to get a few facts right. It’s an exaggeration to say (not that it’s all that important) that there are five million immigrants in-Britain.

It’s an old theory that the cause of poverty and misery is “too many people.” At first sight this theory might seem to make sense, but what it ignores is that although the population of the world has increased so has its ability to produce. Productivity has increased such that now plenty for all is quite possible—when once the wealth of the world is owned in common so that the motive of production can be used.

John Binder believes this myth of overpopulation. Britain, he says, is already “overcrowded"; this drives rents up; immigration only makes matters worse. We must point out straightaway that it’s quite invalid to treat what is called Britain in isolation. The population and resources of this island are not an independent unit producing for itself in isolation from the rest of the world. Today the world is one economic unit; all the parts of the world are interdependent. But the political units into which the world is divided tend to obscure this. So if we’re discussing economic problems we can only do so validly by treating the world as a whole. In the division of productive functions in the world some parts concentrate on producing raw materials, others manufactured goods, and others workers. These productive resources are only brought together under capitalism through the workings of the market. Today Britain is one of the parts where there is work and the West Indies one of those where there is not. The tendency will thus be for workers to migrate from the West Indies to Britain. Just as if there were a demand for wheat in Germany wheat would tend to go there. This is no fancy example: under capitalism workers are commodities just like wheat, jute, cocoa or coffee.

We haven’t space here to go into housing and its relationship with migration. We suggest that John Binder reads the fourth and fifth chapters of our pamphlet on racism.

John Binder says immigrants should stay “in their own country.” But workers everywhere, save in the legal sense, have no country. The wealth of the world is monopolised by a tiny minority on whom they depend for a living. Workers from the various parts of the world have no opposed interests. They are all in the same economic position: wage and salary workers work for those who own. Their interests are the same: to end the system that degrades them by treating them as mere things.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain doesn’t advocate “integration of coloured people into our way of life." What is “our way of life" but working for the wealthy? Socialists aren’t interested in helping the owners get workers who are less used to wage-slavery to adjust, integrate or fit in with capitalism. Socialists suggest that workers everywhere organise to end the way of life capitalism imposes on them.

Nor do Socialists advocate laws to ban discrimination. The power of the state can’t stamp out the prejudices which arise out of the very system it is used to uphold.

It is only in a world where wealth is commonly owned and democratically run by the community in its interest that prejudice and antagonism between peoples will disappear. In a socialist world there won’t be the built-in generators of prejudice there are under capitalism.
Editorial Committee

The Nature of Russian State Capitalism (1985)

From the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few months before the outbreak of the Second World War was published in Paris, in an edition of 500, a book entitled La bureaucratisation du monde. Its author was Bruno Rizzi (who identified himself simply as “Bruno R.”), an Italian travelling salesman who had come to Paris from Milan in 1938. Rizzi had at one time been a member of the Italian Communist Party and was a Trotskyist sympathiser without ever being a member of any Trotskyist organisation.

This book, despite being frequently referred to in all Marxist discussions on the nature of Russian society, has only just become available in English with the publication of a translation of its first part under the title The Bureaucratisation of the World. The USSR: Bureaucratic Collectivism, with a useful and informative introduction by Adam Westoby (Tavistock Publications, £9.95).

The book’s main theme was that capitalism was being replaced throughout the world by a new social system called “bureaucratic collectivism”. This was, like capitalism, a class-divided society based on the exploitation of the producers but one in which the capitalists had been replaced as the exploiting class by a bureaucracy which collectively owned the means of production through the State. Thus Rizzi argued:
  Class ownership, which in Russia is a fact, is quite certainly not registered with notaries, nor in the most detailed of surveys. The new exploiting Soviet class had no need of such things. It holds state power and that is worth much more than the old records of the bourgeoisie. It guards its property with machine guns, with which its all-powerful oppressive apparatus is well supplied, and not with legal scribblings (p.64). 
  In the USSR, in our view, it is the bureaucrats who are the owners, for it is they who hold power in their hands. It is they who manage the economy, just as was normal with the bourgeoisie. It is they who take the profits, just as do all exploiting classes, who fix wages and prices. I repeat – it is the bureaucrats. The workers count for nothing in the governing of society. And what is still worse, they have nothing to do with the defence of this peculiar nationalised property. Russian workers are still exploited, and it is the bureaucrats who exploit them (p.69). 
  In Soviet society the exploiters do not appropriate surplus value directly, as the capitalist pockets the dividends from his enterprise, they do it indirectly, through the state, which appropriates the whole national surplus value and then distributes it amongst its own functionaries. A good part of the bureaucracy, that is to say technicians, directors, specialists, stakhanovites, profiteers, etc is authorised, in one way or another, to exact its high salaries directly within the enterprises they control. Over and above this they also enjoy, as do all bureaucrats, state services, provided out of surplus value, and in the USSR these services are both numerous and important, as befits the pattern of ‘socialist’ life (p.75).
The transition to Bureaucratic Collectivism, said Rizzi, had been completed in Russia, was well on the way to completion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and had also begun in the old capitalist democracies with measures such as the New Deal in America.

A copy of the book was sent to Trotsky in Mexico. What interested him was not so much the characterisation of Russia as a new class society – which he did not accept since he always considered Russia to be a “Workers’ State”, a degenerate one, but a “Workers’ State” nevertheless – as Rizzi’s analysis of what might happen if, with capitalism in decay, the working class should fail to establish socialism. Trotsky regarded such a failure as a remote theoretical possibility only, but conceded that, in that event, the Trotskyist movement would have to revise its political perspectives because it would be faced with the prospect of defunct capitalism being replaced by the new bureaucratic class society described by Rizzi. As the working class did fail to establish socialism after the Second World War Trotsky was committed to revising his analysis of, among other things, Russia and it can be plausibly argued that, had he not been murdered by Stalin’s agents in 1940, he would have come to regard Russia as “bureaucratic collectivism”.

The idea that Russia under Stalin was pro-working class was so patently absurd that, towards the end of the Thirties, it began to be challenged even within the Trotskyist movement. In France Yvan Craipeau suggested that Russia might be some new class society with the bureaucracy as the collective owning and exploiting class. In America James Burnham argued that, although Russia was not capitalist, it could not be described as a “Workers’ State” either. Rizzi followed, and took part in the French Trotskyists’ discussion of this issue and clearly derived many of his ideas and arguments from it.

The discussion was particularly acrimonious in the American Trotskyist Party where it came to a head over the related issue of “unconditional defence of the USSR” (which is of course a logical consequence of attributing some working class character to the Russian State). Burnham, Max Shachtman and the others who rejected this slogan were, with Trotsky’s approval, expelled from the Trotskyist movement in 1940.

Burnham, disillusioned with Trotskyism, went on to write his best-seller The Managerial Revolution, which first appeared in 1941, where he argued that the capitalists were everywhere being replaced as the ruling class by the managers. Shachtman and his supporters, on the other hand, continued to regard themselves as Trotskyists and founded a new organisation, the Workers’ Party, which, despite a minority led by Raya Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James which came to regard Russia as state capitalist, adopted as its official policy the view that what existed in Russia was neither capitalism nor socialism, but bureaucratic collectivism. The Workers’ Party, which later changed its name to the Independent Socialist League, continued to exist as an independent organisation committed to the bureaucratic analysis of Russia until 1958.

Many have claimed that Burnham plagiarised Rizzi, a view endorsed by Rizzi himself. Certainly Burnham, like Rizzi, saw the world, led by Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, evolving towards a new class society based on State ownership where the workers exploited by a class which owned and controlled the production. On the other hand, there is no evidence that Burnham ever read La bureaucratisation du monde; he may have done in the unlikely event of Trotsky having lent him his copy, but it is much more probable that he learned of Rizzi’s theory through the references to it in Trotsky’s articles and letters.

Trotsky, we have noted, had dealt with the theoretical possibility of what might happen if, with capitalism in decay, the working class failed to establish and had conceded that Rizzi would be right: the world would be heading towards Bureaucratic Collectivism. Burnham, who in his disillusionment had come to the working class as incapable of establishing socialism, merely drew a logical conclusion from Trotsky’s admission: the world was heading towards a new class society based on State ownership of the means of production.

Burnham, however, called this new society “managerial society” and not “bureaucratic collectivism”. This is significant and a reason for concluding that Burnham did not simply plagiarise Rizzi. For Burnham rejected the term “bureaucratic collectivism” precisely because he held that the new ruling class would not be the political bureaucrats but rather the industrial managers, who were directly involved in production. In the final chapter of his book he distinguished his theory from what he called “the similar theory of the bureaucratic revolution”, a reference to theories such as Rizzi’s. Further, Burnham had suggested that Russia might be some sort of “non-bourgeois, non-proletarian State” before Rizzi wrote his book. For he is the B of the “Comrades B and C” referred to by Rizzi at the beginning of Chapter II.

There is another important difference between the theories of Burnham and Rizzi, At the end of Chapter VII, Rizzi suggests that the orthodox Trotskyists should drink the cup of bitterness to the last dregs and recognise that Stalinist Russia was not a “Workers’ State”. But he did not himself drink the cup to the last dreg since he continued to regard the Russian revolution as a proletarian one. Burnham, on the other hand, had no hesitation in declaring: “The Russian revolution was not a socialist revolution . . . but a managerial revolution” (The Managerial Revolution, 1945, p,185).

This is a much more logical position for those who hold Russia to be a class society (whether managerial, bureaucratic collectivist or state capitalist) to adopt – and much more in accord with the Marxist method of judging historical events by their practical outcome instead of by what their participants said they were doing – since it makes the revolution which overthrew the old ruling class part of the process of the rise of the new ruling class.

Rizzi could have made a better case for having been plagiarised by Shachtman who adopted his view of Russia, including the name “bureaucratic collectivism”, unchanged. But then Shachtman did not agree that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were bureaucratic collectivist or that the whole world was evolving in such a direction.

The fact is that Rizzi, Burnham, Shachtman, Dunayevskaya, James and the others drew their ideas from a common pool provided by the discussion in the Trotskyist movement on “the nature of the Soviet State”. In this discussion all sorts of ideas were put forward even if only to be rejected by those who brought them up: that the bureaucracy was a class; that Russia was state capitalist; that a class could own without legal property titles; that Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany had the same social system . . . In these circumstances it is quite out of place for one of the participants to claim that he was plagiarised by another. Rizzi can however be allowed to regard himself as the originator of the term “bureaucratic collectivism”.

In any event, “the theory of the bureaucratic revolution” was proved wrong. It is now more than a generation since both Rizzi’s and Burnham’s books were written, but the capitalist class in the West are as firmly established as ever and show no signs of being ousted by industrial managers or a political bureaucracy. Certainly the Russian system has spread to Eastern Europe and China and to a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but the question here is whether the system in Russia can really be regarded as a new, non-capitalist exploiting society.

It is true that in Russia the exploiting class collectively own the means of production and do not have legal property titles to it, and in this respect they do differ from the capitalist class of the West. But, to use a phrase of Marx’s which comes up in Rizzi’s book, this does not necessarily mean that “the specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of the direct producers” is different. In fact it is basically the same: the producers are separated from the means of production and, in order to live, are forced to sell their labour-power for a wage or salary. In the course of their work they create, over and above the value of their labour power, a surplus value which is realised when the commodities in which it is embodied are sold. Thus in Russia, as in the West, the working class are exploited through the wages system. All the other features and categories of capitalism also exist in Russia: commodity production, value, profits, capital accumulation, and so on. The difference – in the form of ownership but not of exploitation – between Russia and capitalism in the West is best indicated by referring to Russia as State capitalism.

That there is, and has been, a continuous trend towards state capitalism all over the world is undeniable. This has taken place not only in the underdeveloped countries where various groups controlling State power (army officers, party leaders, nationalist intellectuals) have substituted themselves for weak or non-existent private capitalists in the process of primitive capital accumulation (as, indeed, the Bolsheviks had been forced to do in Russia). It has also taken place in the developed capitalist countries where the State has more and more intervened to organise national capital for the struggle for a share of the world market. In this sense Rizzi and Burnham did correctly identify a trend, but they analysed it wrongly. What they saw as a struggle between the old capitalist class and a “new class” was in fact the continuation of the tendency seen by Marx towards the centralisation of production under capitalism, a tendency which makes the private capitalist more and more obviously superfluous.

Supporters and opponents alike often mistakenly analyse this tendency towards state capitalism as socialist. Indeed, as a result of years of misuse the word “socialism” has now virtually come to mean “state capitalism” for most people. But socialism must be clearly distinguished from State capitalism otherwise the working class will be intervening on the political scene only to support State capital against private capital, just as in the last century they intervened to support the industrial capitalists against the landed aristocracy. Socialism means a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interests of society as a whole. While State capitalism retains all the features and categories of the capitalist economy – the wages system, commodity production, profits, money, banks socialism abolishes them. Socialism is opposed to both private and State capitalism and alone is in the interests of the working class.
Adam Buick

Running Commentary: Top people (1985)

The Running Commentary column from the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Top people
In the same week as the official number of unemployed rose to 3,346,000. and as the Secretary of State for Employment, the unelected Lord Young, called for a ban on all wage rises unless they were linked to increases in productivity, a report was published on executives' salaries and fringe benefits.

It shows that managing directors' total average earnings, including bonuses and shares in profits, went up last year by 13.7 per cent — twice the rate of inflation. The average top director's salary is now £37,588. In addition the average executive can expect to receive a company car, subsidised meals, life insurance, medical insurance and a bonus.

For those of us whose rate of pay is nearer £5,000, or whose only source of income is the social; for those likely to get no nearer to a company car than the works bus, no nearer to expense account lunches than free school meals for our children, and whose life insurance is likely to just about pay for our burial — for people like us. the working class, we may even have difficulty reading about how the capitalists live. For if The Times (4 October) is to be believed, it would need a managing director's salary just to buy the report since it costs £125. No doubt they can claim it against tax!

The dispossessed
The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in Britain, has gone to the European Court of Human Rights complaining that a piece of "socialist" legislation has dispossessed him of £2,500,000.

So what is this "socialist" legislation that has sent him whimpering to Strasbourg? Have the rich been dispossessed without the working class noticing? The Act to which the Duke has taken such exception was introduced by that notorious dispossessor of the rich — Harold Wilson. In 1967 his government introduced the Leasehold Reform Act. which was designed to protect poor communities, especially those in the mining villages of South Wales, from losing their homes without compensation when their Victorian ground leases ran out. Freeholders were to be compelled to sell the lease to long-standing tenants at discounted prices.

The Duke of Westminster does not, as far as we know, own any pit cottages in South Wales, but he does have 200 acres of prime real estate in Belgravia in the centre of London. The desirable residences in this area — a little out of the price range of most mining families — are inhabited by members of the capitalist class who were only too pleased that Wilson's "socialist" legislation enabled them to buy their leaseholds at knock-down prices. Hence the Duke's cries of "foul" to the European Court.

While sections of the capitalist class are scrapping it out in front of 21 judges of the European Court, leading to a bonanza for the legal profession, we can't help wondering what has happened to those mining families whom the Act was supposed to serve. Did they manage to buy the leaseholds on their cottages before they were thrown out of work by pit closures? If they did, can they now afford to maintain them? Do they wonder at the antics of the ruling class fighting over the results of a reform intended to benefit them?

Unnatural causes
Socialists would never claim that the establishment of a society based on common ownership and production for use will see an end to all of the world's problems. There will still be events over which we cannot possibly have any control — such as earthquakes. But even so, deaths from such natural disasters will be minimised in socialism in a way that they cannot be now.

Most of the deaths that occurred in the recent Mexico City earthquake took place because buildings collapsed with their inhabitants trapped inside. But why did these buildings collapse? A reporter writing in the Observer (29 September) noted that among all the rubble and devastation many older buildings such as churches and palaces had remained intact and relatively undamaged. Why was it that these buildings withstood the quake and more modern ones did not? Many people are now beginning to ask the same questions. Why is it that when we have the knowledge and the skills to construct buildings that will not fall down in notorious earthquake zones like Mexico City, so many thousands died as soon as the tremor started? The simple and obvious answer is cost. It is more expensive to build houses, offices, hospitals and schools which can withstand earthquakes. In socialism, nobody's life will ever again be sacrificed on the altar of profitability.

Protest limit
In the 1960s the streets of Berlin, as in other cities in Europe and North America, rang with cries of youthful protest. Many protestors focused attention on Axel Caesar Springer, a West German newspaper owner, who died at the end of September this year. He started his first newspaper in the ruins of Hamburg in 1948 with official British encouragement because of his virulent anti-communism. Springer went on to build a newspaper empire — Die Welt, Bild-Zeitung, Hamburger Abendblatt — and also acquired a huge publishing company. His newspapers went in for populist anti-socialist, anti-intellectual slogans heavily laced with sex, scandal and sentiment — a West German equivalent of the English tabloids.

During the late 1960s Springer became a "hate figure" for the youth movements which demanded the dismantling of his empire — the "dispossess Springer" campaign. Demonstrators tried to stop the distribution of his newspapers; writers refused to contribute to them; and people wore badges saying "Bild macht Dumm" — Bild makes you stupid.

But Springer wasn’t dispossessed; the protestors returned to university, and no doubt many of them later entered the corridors of power about which they were so scathing in their youth; and a small minority, including Ulrike Meinhof (herself once a newspaper reporter — she wrote of Springer: "his newspapers have more influence on German workers than their trade unions"), showed their contempt for established political processes by using the futile weapon of violence to make their political points. The demonstrations had achieved nothing: the capitalist class, including Springer, were still firmly in control; the repressive forces of the state had been increased to enable them to deal both with terrorism and peaceful "political extremists” (by means of the Berufsverbot, the notorious legislation which banned anyone with "left wing" views from working for the state, even in the capacity of teacher or social worker).

In the end, to take to the streets to demonstrate against just one symbol of capitalism the concentration of the media in the hands of the few, or the police, or nuclear weapons — is politically futile. What is needed is a political organisation of the whole working class which offers a clear programme of democratic action aimed at destroying capitalism itself.

Imperial Pusher (1985)

From the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rapidly growing drug addiction is becoming a major headache for governments in many parts of the world. Apart from the fact that the conditions of capitalism cause anti-social behaviour among some workers, much of the problem is due to the actions of governments themselves, both past and present. According to the latest (1984) Home Office statistics, the number of drug addicts in the UK rose by 26 per cent to a record 7,400. However, the head of Scotland Yard central drug squad said the figure could be five times higher. This is not high compared with other countries, but it is growing at a faster rate. Drugs are more readily available because the traffic is more profitable, and as long as this lasts drugs will be here to stay.

There is no shortage of pressure groups, ranging from politicians and journalists, to church leaders and broadcasters, all calling on the government to deal with "those evil men who traffic in human misery". All overlook the fact that the capitalist system itself both creates and deals in human misery; for them that is not the issue.

It may come as a severe shock to these anti-drug crusaders to learn that not so long ago Queen Victoria and her ministers, at least one Prime Minister (Lord Palmerston) and many members of the Houses of Lords and Commons, were in fact the evil men and women responsible not only for drug pushing, but for its production also. The gigantic scale of the operation carried out by these highly respected people makes the combined effort of the modern drug pushers look puny.

When the police or the customs seize 100 kilos of heroin or a ton of cannabis, everybody is happy. Yet these are piffling amounts compared to the tons of opium (the basis of heroin) which were shipped into China from India between 1839 and 1890. It would be true to say that the present international drugs problem owes its existence mainly to the legalising of the production and distribution of drugs, primarily by the British government in the mid-19th century and the deliberate use of armed force to thrust them onto the China market. It took three wars, covering a period of nearly 20 years to do it, but it was accomplished.

The opium wars of 1839. 1856 and 1858 broke down semi-feudal China's resistance to foreign trade, particularly to the import of opium from India. In fact, the Indian finances of the British government depended on the opium trade with China, including the contraband trade which was given official assistance and carried out openly by British and American ships. The Victorian politicians knew perfectly well that opium was harmful, but justified its forcible export into China in the interests of free trade;
  Our government in India is dependent for revenue on the sale of opium in China, as the people of England are dependent for their breakfast and their every meal on the produce of that Empire. (Economist, 30 April 1853.)
Before the East India Company, backed by the British government, started shipping small quantities of opium to China as an experiment in 1773 there was little addiction among the Chinese. Rigid laws, thoroughly enforced, prohibited the cultivation of the opium poppy and the use of the drug. Its import was banned in 1800 except for use as medicine and the death penalty was introduced in 1839 for merchants and other persons having stocks of opium. However, there was wide-spread smuggling in 1838; around 50 British and American vessels were engaged in running contraband under the protection of the British Navy. In that year, 20,200 chests of opium each containing 125 lbs (i.e. about 1,127 tons) were confiscated by the Chinese authorities. This was one of the prime causes of the first opium war. Indemnities were demanded of the Chinese. The town of Nanking was seized and the war commenced. A subsequent peace treaty ceded Hong Kong to the British government and five ports were opened to British trade, which of course included the opium trade to which the Chinese authorities were vehemently opposed. Despite their repeated protests the trade continued and expanded.

Marx, in an article to the New York Daily Tribune (25 September 1850) described it as the free trade in poison and showed the complicity of the British government with the producers, merchants, shippers and smugglers in the "hazardous operation of poisoning an Empire". He also quoted R Montgomery Martin, a devout Christian and Treasurer of the Diplomatic Consul Service in China, about the effect of opium:
  "'Why, the slave-trade was merciful compared with the opium trade. We did not destroy the bodies of the Africans, for it was our immediate interest to keep them alive; we did not debase their nature, corrupt their minds, nor destroy their souls. But the opium seller slays the body after he has corrupted, degraded and annihilated the moral being of unhappy sinners, which every hour is bringing new victims to a Moloch which knows no satiety. and where the English murderer and Chinese suicide vie with each other the offerings at his shrine." (New York Tribune, 20 September 1858.)
As the effect of opium on the Chinese was devastating they continued to resist its import and this in turn meant the continuance of the wars which had already lasted for 16 years. Finally, after the bombardment of Canton, carried out by the Bible-banging Sir John Bowring, Britain received by the Treaty of Tiensen the legalisation of the opium trade.

In 1868 the Emperor of China sent a letter to Queen Victoria, appealing to her both as a queen and as a woman, asking her to join with him in suppressing the hideous opium curse. The letter offered anything that might be desired in the way of concessions to British trade if the curse could be removed but no reply was received from the queen, nor was any sent. Obviously the queen was advised by her ministers, and they had already made their views public. In Parliament, Sir John Hobhouse said the government had done nothing to stop the opium trade because it was profitable. Lord Melbourne said. "We possess vast territories peculiarly fitted for raising opium"; he was referring to "the jewel in the crown", Mother India, where the British were supreme landlords. Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister, had declared war on China without the sanction of Parliament.

Chester Holcombe in his book The Real Chinese Question claimed that at the height of the trade some 1,700,000 acres of land were required for opium destined for the Chinese market. In 1878-79 the colossal amount of 91,200 chests of opium were imported into China; each contained 125 lbs. (about 5.089 tons), from which the British capitalist class received £8.25 million in revenue—at today's prices, worth about £239m. At one point China was receiving only opium in exchange for her two imports of tea and silk. For every chest of opium exported from India, the British government received £88.50 (now about £2,966). the Indian farmer £26-£27. and the Chinese £10.50 (Holcombe). In fact, the import duty which China was allowed to charge was fixed by the British at 1/6 (7½p) a pound—a revenue the Chinese authorities did not want. Even so, the tremendous scale of smuggling protected by the guns of the British Navy considerably reduced the revenue collected. In 1879 they took less than £1 million (£29 million today).

In 1875 the Chinese government submitted to all governments represented at Peking, practically all European governments including Russia, and also America, a detailed complaint about the opium trade and requested action to bring it to an end. Nothing was done. Now in 1985 it is the American and European governments who are appealing to the Chinese government about the smuggling of drugs through Hong Kong. Pakistan, Korea and other Far Eastern countries are also being asked to co-operate to stop the traffic. They may agree in principle, but the Nelson eye will be turned because of its profitability.

The black vampire of drugs will suck people dry as they try to escape from the capitalist system itself. The addict sees no future, but there is one. It does not lie in some strawberry fields, but in actively and energetically promoting the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by socialism.
Jim D'Arcy

A Fight to the Finish (1985)

Book Review from the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strike, Sunday Times Insight Team. (Coronet Books £2.50)

This book is unlikely to find much favour among left wing activists, preoccupied as they are with weaving over the calamitous reality of the coal strike a blanket of myths:

  • that it was all caused by the malevolent intent of Thatcher, MacGregor and the rest; 
  • that Arthur Scargill was a saviour of the working class, crucified by the media;
  • that the miners were struggling for "their" jobs and "their" communities:
  • that the coal industry can and should be run for the benefit and comfort of the miners under a capitalist society;
  • that it can all be put to rights by the election of another Labour government who will release the gaoled miners, repay the fines imposed by the courts, re-employ the sacked strikers, restore the union's sequestrated funds . . .
The British coal industry, which in its heyday contributed so much to the profits of the capitalist class, has been in continuous decline since the First World War. In 1913 there were 3.000 working pits producing some 300m tonnes a year; when the industry was nationalised in 1947 there were under one thousand turning out 200m tonnes a year. Even so, the industry in 1947 supplied about 90 per cent of the primary energy requirements in Britain. One plan after another — none of them having much basis in reality — promised heavier investment, busier pits, higher production. more secure jobs. At times — for example in the oil crisis of 1973/4 — the optimism was tinged with hysteria. In the event, the plans were undermined by competition from other energy sources, notably oil and natural gas and by 1974 coal was filling barely one third of the total fuel market in Britain. The profitability of individual pits came under the accountants' scrutiny and many of those which weighed in the wrong side of the balance sheet were closed. This happened under Labour governments as well as under the Tories and when Heath's 1970 victory threw out the Wilson government there were less than 300 active pits.

To begin with, the closures — in spite of the dramatic changes they wrought, for example in the Rhondda which was left with only one pit — were accomplished with little opposition. British capitalism at large was still booming enough to provide plenty of other jobs to miners who were offered seductive redundancy terms. In general the NUM co-operated quietly under a succession of leaders who liked to think they were craftily applying the politics of the possible. But as the slump deepened the miners' resistance to redundancy. to uprooting themselves and their families, stiffened. In 1981, by an emphatic majority, they elected as their president, the much loved, much hated Arthur Scargill.

The new NUM President had been prominent in — perhaps largely responsible for — the miners' victories in 1972 and 1974 and he appeared to be obsessed by, and to have learned nothing from, the experiences. It is difficult to explain his policies and actions other than through a resolve to engage the government in a titanic, no-compromise fight to the finish, at whatever cost. But if the government had been defeated in the 1970s. and had beat an apparently humiliating retreat over closures in 1981, by 1984 they were ready for a war of attrition with whichever trade union was prepared to go over the top. Nicholas Ridley, now Minister for Transport, contributed importantly to the government's strategy and there could have been few more obvious choices for the new Chairman of the NCB than Ian MacGregor (who had first been approached, as a prospective hatchet man for British Leyland. by a Labour Industry Secretary). MacGregor later described the strike as a poker game, in which the first one to blink was the loser: 'I don't intend to blink".

Thereafter, the government's tactics could hardly be faulted. Most vitally they kept the power stations supplied with coal by using small, non-union road transport firms and by importing coal through minor ports like Flixborough. Thus an exceptionally severe winter was survived without any power cuts. They hastily appeased other strikes — in the docks and by the pit deputies — which posed a crucial threat to their strategy. Any possible sympathy among other important unions was diverted with a propaganda campaign which emphasised the comparatively large redundancy payments on offer to the miners. They consistently harped on the NUM's refusal to hold a ballot, which was Scargill's most damaging mistake. Finally, the whole policy was asserted by a massive, massively organised, police presence which did not baulk at breaking the law in order to frustrate the pickets.

Against that the miners could oppose their courage, their ingenuity, their tradition of militancy — and Scargill's empty rhetoric. Unity they could not offer, for Scargill's refusal to hold a ballot had prevented that. As the going got tougher Scargill tried to conceal reality beneath bluster and with claims of an imminent victory, reminiscent of Hitler's last days in the Berlin bunker. The time came when with each day out the miners' resolve was bound to weaken. The NCB response to this was to harden its face, refusing Scargill's desperate appeal to return to a settlement which he had earlier refused. Perhaps the breaking point came at Christmas, when the miners' poignant celebrations were followed by a sickening sense of anti-climax. There was little else for them to do but surrender. leaving the NUM and the rest of the union movement with little strength to resist the employers' onslaughts.

This is not to say that all was well on the other side of the barricades, where MacGregor was a disaster in the cynical, slippery game of ruling class propaganda. At times the divisions in the NCB management were almost as marked as those in the NUM. What counted in the end. above the influences of any personalities, were the basic facts that coal is a commodity — produced for sale and profit — and that the endurance of workers on strike is limited by their inability to survive without an income. As happened in 1926. the miners were really starved into submission.

Strike is a compact, informative account of that year of conflict but its sympathies show through. Andrew Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, introduces the book with glowing praise as ". . . impartial and well-informed . . . accurate . .. scoop of the year. . ." while assuring us that the Insight team work independently of the paper's editorial policy, which is " . . for the sake of liberal democracy, economic recovery and the rolling back of union power''. Perhaps that is why Strike, so illuminating on some issues, gives so little attention to the savage behaviour of the police and to their other illegal policies, such as the obstruction of public thoroughfares, which have such serious implications for political and trade union activity. It is similarly scant about the stoicism and courage of the miners and their families in sustaining so long and bitter a struggle.

This is not a comfortable book for left wingers because of the lessons which can be drawn from it by the class conscious. Workers have no "right" to their jobs; they are employed only on the prospect that their labour will yield profit to the capitalists. In a class divided society conflict is inevitable but in this the strike should be a weapon of last resort, not the plaything of a leader. Strikes should proceed on a democratic decision and ideally should be brief as well as concentrated. It is vital to separate the struggles on the industrial field, which are about the division of wealth under capitalism, from that on the political field, which is concerned with the revolution to dispossess the capitalists of their monopoly of the means of life. It is on the political field, and not the industrial, that the working class is able to contest with the state, to control it for their own emancipation.

For the workers to ignore these lessons is futile and dangerous. History is a guide for future action and that of the coal strike points unwaveringly to the urgent need for a new social system.

Eyewitness: A Socialist in China (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ten months in China, October to August. Peking Language Institute, study Chinese, play table-tennis, holiday to Shanghai, visits to factories, May Day celebrations, Peking University, meet Heath, trip to Sian, back to Britain.

Thus the story of my stay in China. Among the first students to go to China since the Cultural Revolution, we were able to get closer to the Chinese people than other visitors, but even so a Wall (little rather than Great) remained. We could get beyond the pat phrases and slogans, but not to the extent that we wished.

No doubt a fair amount of this lack of familiarity is because visitors to China (the Chinese prefer to call one a “foreign friend” rather than a “foreigner”; or, if they are being polite, a “foreign guest”) are a race apart, receiving different treatment from that accorded to the Chinese themselves. It works two ways. To be served first in shops and given seats on crowded buses is all very well (and a “privilege” that it is impossible to refuse), but it does not make up for total exclusion from Chinese political processes and being unable to buy local newspapers and reference news-sheets.

In Hangchow, a friend and I were reading some wall-posters about local problems when a man came up, asked us which country we were from, and then insisted very firmly that we move on, saying, “Big-character posters are an internal affair of the Chinese.” The sometimes hysterical campaign against Antonioni’s film on China made the atmosphere particularly uncomfortable for anyone who walked around the streets with a camera. To walk about in Peking was to attract the attention of passers-by, while in some of the smaller towns rarely visited by tourists, where we were allowed twenty minutes or so to look round the shops, a crowd assembled to stare open-mouthed at us as if we were inhabitants of another planet — which perhaps we were. Chinese claims to be “internationalist” ring a little hollow after exposure to travel restrictions and to the intensely nationalistic cast of so much of Chinese propaganda.

Connected with treatment of “foreigners” was one of my deepest disappointments — the running of the Language Institute, where the “leadership” acted in a very highhanded, undemocratic and intolerant manner. Any action which they objected to was met by rejoinders that we must “obey the rules” and “respect Chinese customs” (which could clearly be interpreted to mean almost anything). Although we had been promised one when we first arrived, they refused to provide any kind of common room, or even a place for students to meet and discuss problems. They also refused to open up more than a small part of the Institute’s library — and would not believe that overseas students in Britain had the same library facilities as British students. They were quite happy to meet students’ “reasonable requests”, but reserved for themselves the right to decide what was “reasonable”.

I was therefore extremely glad to move at the beginning of May to the nearby Peking University to follow more specialist courses in Chinese history and literature. Here, in an environment enlivened by the presence of Korean and Vietnamese students of English, we were treated as adults rather than children, and covered much interesting ground. Language teaching at the Institute had been marred by an unwillingness to go far outside the texts studied, and with the emphasis merely on increasing one’s passive vocabulary, many students become bored, lazy and very disillusioned.

Fortunately there was more to life than study. For a start there was Peking itself, a city with centuries of history and many fascinating places. We went on coach trips to the Great Wall (which is truly unbelievable), the Ming Tombs, and other tourist spots. We could wander round the city’s parks and streets, searching out good restaurants and bookshops. Restaurants, by the way, provided one of the few chances to talk with Chinese from outside the academic world. Two holidays, to Shanghai, Hangchow and Nanking in winter, and to Sian, Yenan and Tachai in summer, included visits to beauty spots and also to factories and communes — these we visited in Peking too, and this enabled us to form in at least some detail a picture of how the Chinese live and work.

An average visit to a factory was organized as follows. First, an introduction to the factory, usually with statistics of size and production, by a member of its Revolutionary Committee. Then a more or less conducted tour of the workshops, followed by a session of questions and answers. Too often it was impossible to elicit satisfactory replies, but information on wage rates was easy to come by. Average wages, I should say, are less than £15 a month, while apprentices will earn half of this amount and technicians and highly-skilled craftsmen may earn three times as much. Wage levels should always be borne in mind when one reads correct, but misleading, statements about the cost of living in China — such as that a reasonable meal, including beer, can be had for 15p, or that a warm padded jacket costs £3. It is also worth noting that many different qualities of goods are available, and naturally enough they are on sale at different prices. So in China, as elsewhere under capitalism, one gets what one pays for, whether it is a matter of food, clothes or table-tennis bats.

Trade unions, which disappeared in the late ’sixties because they were found to be following the policies of the disgraced Head of State Liu Shao-chi’i, have been reconstructed in the last couple of years. But they bear little resemblance to trade unions as existing in the West, their main functions being to help solve production problems and organize the study of “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung thought”. Thus, like other organizations such as the so-called democratic parties (which still exist but play a very minor role) they are mainly “transmission belts” by means of which Party directives and policies reach various sections of the Chinese working class.

In many factories one sees schoolchildren, perhaps only thirteen or fourteen years of age, working, for many if not all of them have to spend one month a year in a local workshop. At a knitwear factory in Peking, I asked if they received wages. The answer was no, and then another cadre interrupted to say, “But they don’t work on the night shift” !

After visits to a number of factories and conversations with Chinese students and others, the conclusion is that in China the worker is an instrument of production, a mere producer of wealth. A man will decide whether a woman is a suitable marriage partner largely on the grounds of how well she works at her job. A Chinese student told us that it is all right to have a “good time” on a Saturday night, but not on other evenings since this may interfere with production.

But only a minority of the Chinese live in cities or work in factories. Perhaps 80 per cent. of the population live in the countryside, in small villages organized into the people’s communes, which are themselves divided into brigades (normally of village size) and production teams (with several tens of families in each one). The economic status of commune members requires clarification. The Chinese call them “peasants”, but they are not peasants in the sense of agriculturalists who produce primarily for their own consumption on a family farm (owned or rented). For a start, the basic unit of production is the production team, not the single family; secondly, most land is “owned” by the collective not by the individual family; thirdly, their income is a mixture of cash and payment in kind. It is true that many commune members, besides working on collective land, also have their own private plots, where they produce for their own consumption or for private sale. But the importance of such plots varies considerably — for instance, in Hangchow we visited a brigade whose main crop was a particularly famous brand of tea, much of which is exported. Private plots and payment in kind were of minimal importance here, since it is after all difficult to live on tea. Income in communes is mainly allocated on the basis of work-points — a form of piece-work which means that commune members are more correctly described as rural proletarians.

On the communes women are not paid on an equal footing with men. Indeed the model brigade of Tachai were quite open about, and even proud of, the system they employ: for a full day’s work a man can earn up to a maximum of eleven work-points, but the most a woman can earn is eight and a half points. We were given two reasons for this. Firstly, women are physically weaker than men, and secondly, they work shorter hours since, for instance, they have to go home early in order to do the cooking!

One of the most striking discoveries after visiting several communes is the differing standards of living displayed. The tea-producing brigade mentioned above, with a crop which is dependable and much in demand, is comparatively well-off, its members living in solid two-storey houses built by themselves at a cost of about seven hundred pounds; while the inhabitants of the arid and mountainous Tachai have just one small room per family. This stark dependence on local soil conditions is chiefly attributable to the much-acclaimed policy of “keeping the initiative in our own hands”, which effectively maintains the distinction between poorer and richer areas. Chinese boasts as to their lack of reliance on outside help — whether at the local or national level — should not be taken at face value. At the Red Flag Canal in Lin Hsien, we went to a hydro-electric power station. This was held up to us as a fine example of “independence and self-reliance”, but inside was equipment from Austria, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia . . .

But inequality is apparent not merely between different areas, but among different people at the same place, say Peking. Quite apart from the wage differentials mentioned earlier, there are also startlingly different life-styles observable. It is quite common to sec people riding bikes that are literally falling apart with rust, or wearing clothes that have been patched again, while university professors wear smart suits and army officers ride around in big cars. As to the life led by the top rulers, one learns nothing.

When we arrived in China, there was a campaign taking place to “criticise Lin Piao and rectify one’s style of work”. It did not seem that this was being pursued very energetically, and so it was a great surprise when the movement against both Lin Piao and Confucius erupted to dominate newspaper front-pages and demand a great deal of time from the Chinese students. On the face of it, it is pretty unlikely — though not entirely impossible — that Lin, the former successor-designate to Mao Tse-tung who allegedly perished in 1971 after an unsuccessful attempt to kill the Chairman, was in reality a secret follower of the philosopher who lived and died in China two and a half millennia ago. If it is true, it speaks volumes for the lack of Socialist consciousness within the Chinese Communist Party. But the Chinese workers denounced Lin Piao on the sole basis of what the government had said about his deeds and beliefs. It would of course be naive to expect the Chinese authorities actually to publish the plans for Lin’s coup or extracts from his diary, but without such hard evidence it is not possible to accept the official account of the heresies claimed for him, which is what the Chinese appeared to do.

The above account is intended to be a straightforward description of some aspects of China today as seen through the eyes of a Socialist. No doubt supporters of China will object that a lot has been left unsaid, and too much emphasis placed on negative aspects. What, they will say, of the claimed achievements of new China — no homeless, no unemployed, the conquest of famine, education for all, health services where there were none before, engineering feats such as the Nanking Bridge ?

One could not deny that life in China now is far more secure than it was in 1949 after decades of civil war and Japanese invasion. Since then there have been twenty-five years of internal peace, ten years of aid from Russia, the opportunity to buy advanced technology from other countries — and a great deal of toil and suffering on the part of the Chinese working class. But while China can build bridges and huge gymnasia, negotiate to buy Concorde, and explode atomic bombs, it cannot provide decent housing and sanitary facilities for more than a tiny percentage of its population or allow its workers more than sixty non-working days in the whole year. And the basic question, surely, is how the wealth of China is produced, and the answer is that it is produced by exploited workers for accumulation and profit, just as in any other capitalist country.
Paul Bennett

So They Say: The CP Backs Britain (1974)

The So They Say Column from the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The CP Backs Britain
There is a school of thought which maintains that Socialists should view Communists and Labourites, as distinct from the Tories, as having something in common with us.

We don’t, and they haven’t. This was demonstrated in articles on the Election in the Communist Party’s fortnightly review Comment, on 7th September. What was the working-class issue in the Election ? According to Dave Cook, the National Agent:
 In the build up to the General Election, Britain’s economic position is the decisive issue, and it is around the policies to tackle the crisis that this political battle now explodes.
John Purton wrote on the same question—Britain’s Economy and the Crisis in the Capitalist World.

Purton discussed the gravity of the balance of payments situation and the need for economic co-operation with “the poorer underdeveloped oil-consuming countries”:
  Ideally, they should receive large sums of oil money, which would provide larger markets for industrial exports.
  It does not mean that economic relations with monopoly capitalist countries can suddenly be abandoned or completely revised. Obviously, Britain's dependence on world trade would prevent that . . . Furthermore, the contradictions of capitalism provide a basis for a progressive government to bargain with countries of monopoly capitalism for relations which do in fact serve legitimate national interests.
So the “revolutionary”, “Marxist” CP want the working class to accept capitalism’s crisis, world trade, markets and national interests as its “legitimate” concerns. What are we supposed to have in common with this pernicious rubbish ?

Our Father's Up the Poll
The failure of the “opinion polls” forecasts of Election results has provided more talk than the Elections themselves this year. John Akass in The Sun (14th October) argued that they produce cantankerousness: the more predictions there are, the more unpredictability will be cultivated.

Very amusing, but wrong. The opinion polls are not the same as racing tips. Their daily prognoses in the campaigns inform the political leaders of, roughly, where they stand — so that each knows when a new promise or representation has to be made, if he can manage it. It is not the electors who want to upturn the polls, but the politicians.

However, the most recent one is unlikely to be changed. A poll published in the Sunday Times on 13th October found that fewer than one in three people believe that God exists. See what an advantage Wilson has over God. The latter can’t accuse his opponent of having no policy, or promise bigger and better rewards for prayer

A Worse Kind of Jungle
A question to socialists used to be: “What about the backward peoples of the world ?” It is seldom heard now because, like many other questions, it is being answered by capitalism: the tribesmen are becoming factory hands.

A talk on the New Guinea Mission, given at the Royal Commonwealth Society on 24th September, described the head-hunters’ new mode of life. Urban drift “has become a flood”, and started other floods too:
  The move to the towns is dragging in its train all the problems that have long been familiar in other countries all over the world. There is unemployment, inadequate housing, incipient slums and malnutrition. Mental illness, hitherto unknown in Papua New Guinea, is on the increase. So is crime, with juvenile delinquency causing particular concern. There is drunkenness, gambling and prostitution.
The New Guinea Mission’s speaker had a curious explanation for all the crime etc.: it is due mostly to “just plain old-fashioned sinfulness”. If it is old-fashioned, why is it a new phenomenon in New Guinea?

The correspondent who sent this item informs us that Bougainville, one of the larger islands, has a huge opencast copper mine using machines costing £50,000; and because of the copper deposits the island wants — independence. Shades of “Scottish oil” !

The Predatory Process
Some noteworthy facts about American involvement in South-east Asia were given in the Los Angeles Times Business and Finance section on 9th September:
 Direct US investment in South-east Asia was a meagre $200 million in 1950. The total grew to $2 billion by 1970, should reach $5 billion next year, and $10 billion in 1980.
 “It may be that opportunities in Europe have been decreasing but, more significantly, investment returns in Asia tend to be higher than those obtainable elsewhere”, the SRI report said. “One study found US investments returned 13% to 14% profit, and another found the median return on total equity of foreign firms in the Philippines, mostly American, to be over 31%.”
The report also describes the importance of oil in business with Indonesia: “Indonesia’s oil is in great demand due to its low sulphur content.”

Put this information beside the figure of 50,000 American servicemen killed, 350,000 wounded, and 1,000.000 Vietnamese killed to “secure” South-east Asia for “democracy and freedom”.

Superior Claimants
One of the ways in which people stake a claim to be “middle-class” is by running down the “working class” — i.e. manual workers as distinct from white- collar ones — as workshy spongers who milk the welfare services. A survey carried out recently by PEP has concluded that the boot is on the other foot:
  Our finding that managerial and professional workers are the most likely to be drawing unemployment benefit at the same time as both having no intention of taking an official job, and earning from unofficial employment, contrasts strongly with the popular image of the idle, feckless unemployed as manual workers.
(Evening Standard, 18th September)
It sounds revealing, but the revelation should go further. There is an implication that what they are doing should be stopped. We agree. Why should people resort to shifts and subterfuge for crumbs from capitalism when the whole loaf — which they helped to produce — can be claimed ? Managers and professionals need to recognize that they are members of the working class, and that Socialism is the answer.
Robert Barltrop

"Don't blame . . . " (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Don't blame the “wicked capitalists" for throwing people out of work. Most of them have never been near the factories, shipyards, mines, mills and offices where their unearned income is produced.

Workers — from managers to sweepers — are paid to run these places completely — including giving you the sack. Anyway most capitalists have their investments spread over a number of companies — for safety. Their stockbrokers may transfer their investments from one stock to another frequently, into whatever is most profitable at the moment.

So, if you are thrown out of work, you can’t really blame the capitalist — he is probably in the Bahamas, harming nobody — blame the order book and the stock market — the whole economic anarchy of capitalism. There are no hard feelings — no feelings at all, in fact. Capitalism just ignores people.

Leftist Hypocrisy 
about South Africa (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The evils of capitalism are inherent, so that no matter whether it is run by avowed capitalists or alleged socialists, the leopard always has the same nasty spots. One perennial result is that when leftists get into power, they do the dirty work they spent their pseudo-socialist time denouncing while in opposition. It could be said that the reverse of the question: who will do the dirty work under Socialism? is: who actually does the dirty work under capitalism? On the one hand, dustmen, miners, and other workers. On the other, the claimants for the rĂ´le are the leftist political swindlers.

It is possible that some of them, being particularly stupid, at first think they can run the system without the dirt. But experience of office soon makes the real position clear. A government has to govern (one of Wilson’s great sayings).

Examples are legion. During the Tories’ "thirteen wasted years", Wilson and Co. went on about the nastiness of Polaris submarines with their murderous missiles. Three Wilson governments later, and not only are the appalling weapons still in Holy Loch — nobody gives a second thought. Least of all the leftist Aldermaston marchers of the great days of yore, who are now members of the Government.

Another prime example is, of course, South Africa. For many years this has seemed a soft option to the leftists. The racialist regime there is gruesome even by capitalist standards (although it could hardly be worse than those in eastern Europe; or in black African countries such as Uganda or the Central African Republic where President Bakasa personally supervises the beating to death of political opponents). So for years we have endured the spectacle of leftist politicians getting publicity out of such world-shattering matters as the admission of a South African cricket team to this country.

But then, the pseudos get into power (plush offices and black limousines). Lo and behold, one of those who screamed loudest about the cricket tour in ’70 and actually threatened to sit on the wicket at Lord’s — such heroism: he might, in our climate, have got rheumatism in his leftist arse — called Frank Judd, actually finds himself the boss of the Royal Navy. Under the orders of the anti-apartheid Judd, our gallant sailors have been in Simonstown taking part in joint exercises with the South African Navy. Does Judd think this is a lesser encouragement to the racialist regime than playing cricket with them at Lord’s? Well no, he doesn’t. The report (in the Observer — and doubtless other papers too) made clear that Judd was most upset. But the interests of British capitalism (which has enormous investments in South Africa — its third biggest customer, too) demand that the British government plays ball in a more serious way than cricket — and if the blacks don’t like it, it seems they have to lump it.

You might say that if Judd’s conscience was so offended, he could throw up his job; perhaps also his seat in Parliament and his membership of the Labour Party. How can you belong to a party which practises the opposite of what it has preached? Perhaps someone can tell me the last time a pseudo-socialist leader, realising that when in power they were doing the same dirty work as all capitalist governments, left his party and denounced it as being fake-socialist. Some hopes!

About the same time, the TUC was engaged in its annual beano. About a dozen of their prominent leaders (“Mr. Ray Buckton and Others” as the Times put it) wrote a letter to that well-known socialist journal to say how they deplored these junketings contrary to the principles of the Labour Party, etc. ad nauseam. These nauseous specimens did not challenge Wilson when he addressed them a few days later by saying that unless the operation was called off they would leave the Labour Party. All they did was to get their smug letter into print so that later, when challenged about their attitude on the fashionable South Africa issue, they could look righteous and say: “we objected”. Would Vorster be trembling because they had written their useless letter while their government was supporting him (as it did, of course, in 1970 while the idiotic cricket rumpus was going on)? Will the downtrodden black workers feel uplifted by this cant?

Before leaving South Africa, the British Lions rugby team went on a tour of Apartheid-land recently despite the pleas of Wilson and his so-called Minister of Sport, the football referee Howell, to call it off. Wilson instructed the British Embassy there to have no truck with the team and not to socialize with it; no cocktail parties, etc. (Needless to say he did not instruct the Embassy to have no truck with Vorster. That would be serious.) So the Ambassador could carry on socializing with Vorster but not with Willie-John McBride — who would naturally be heart-broken to have to get tight on South African hospitality instead of British. But what happens when the Lions came back ? Why, the Minister of Sport himself drank toasts at their reception.

What unprincipled bastards Labour are !
L. E. Weidberg.

The Brick Industry Drops One (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism cannot work in the interests of the working class, nor can it be controlled. Economic problems are an inevitable result of capitalist society. You have only to pick up a newspaper (published and controlled by supporters of capitalism) to see the number of problems that face society. A good example was The Daily Mirror (July 2nd 1974) with its stark black front page, showing a pound note torn in two and asking the question, “Is Britain going Bankrupt?” The same issue of the paper went on to show how difficult it is for the ordinary Joe Soap to make ends meet.

Not only can capitalism not be controlled to eliminate its ever-increasing range of problems; it is also totally chaotic in its detailed operations. Take for example the house-building industry. Most members of the working class come up against the housing problem at some stage in their lives. They also see the adverts showing the country mansions and town developments — standing empty. They also know that despite the politicians’ promises, house-building has slowed down to its lowest rate since 1929 (Sunday Times June 30th 1974).

But the house-building industry’s blood brother, the brick industry, has really gone to town to demonstrate the total unpredictability of capitalist society. The Sunday Times (June 30th 1974) carried a big splash advert in its colour supplement headed “Brick Information”. The advert boasted of the success of the brick-building industry in 1973:
  Brickmakers had the situation well under control. Not only were the requirements of the construction industry fully satisfied, but manufacturers were able to increase their output to the point where it became possible to build up stocks against future sudden surges in demand. Faced with a steadily widening market for their output, brickmakers pressed ahead with modernisation programmes and with building of highly automated new plants to add to their existing production capacity.
The rest of the detailed advert patted the brick industry on the back for its excellent efforts. As Hamlet says: “He does well to comment it himself, there are no tongues else for’s turn”.

How cruel is fate under capitalism. No doubt the ad was booked a month or maybe more in advance of publication. The same issue of the Sunday Times carried a detailed analysis of the position of the London Brick Company, the world’s largest brick makers, which is responsible for 45 per cent. of Britain’s annual brick production. And what did it say? A booming brick industry? Not a hope.
  Last week London Brick Company announced it will cut output by 8 million bricks at a cost of 700 jobs. THE ACTION WAS NOT UNEXPECTED (Our emphasis).
Later the writer said.
Once again the bottom has fallen out of the construction industry and with it the brick industry.
Of course if it were not for the tragedy it would be hilarious. The grim reality for those who are thrown out of work in this booming industry makes it no laughing matter. Taking an overall view, it means the working class will continue to face the hardships of inadequate housing even though there are some 50,000 unsold houses on the market (Sunday Times again). There is obviously little chance of these houses being sold in the near future. So homeless workers will continue to be faced with empty houses. It just shows how futile are the politicians’ promises to deal with the housing problem. The real tragedy is that workers are still taken in by these promises.

The facts speak for themselves. The left hand, the brick industry, cannot follow what the right hand, the building industry, is doing. With millions badly housed or homeless, bricks are once again stockpiling. What more evidence is needed that capitalism cannot be controlled, let alone work in the interests of the majority? A market is haphazard and chaotic in its operation. Capitalism only knows of production for the market. The misery that follows in human terms is enormous.

By the way, in case anyone is still under the pathetic delusion that more state control can eliminate these inconsistencies, the experience of “managed” capitalism in Russia proves otherwise. The Times of July 10th 1974 reported under the headline “Soviet Brick Plan goes wrong,” the following:
  More than 5 million bricks, the entire output of a factory near Kuyibishev last year have been thrown away because no one wants them, Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party newspaper reported to-day. Five workers complained that with no orders to halt production, they had been dumping bricks straight off the production line onto the rubbish tip.
Socialism will be a system of society with one aim, the satisfaction of human needs in all their various forms. In Socialism, where the market society has been swept away, the farcical situation of surplus bricks and mass housing shortages would be impossible. If houses were needed, and the materials were available to build them, society would do so. Your commitment to socialism is required to put an end to the crazy Alice in Wonderland world of today. So, how about it?
Ronnie Warrington

Correction (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The article "Education For What?" (Socialist Standard, September page 160) contains an inaccuracy. It states that expenditure on education "comprises the biggest public expenditure next to that of the armed forces." In fact education expenditure exceeded defence spending in 1969 and has continued to do so since then as the following table shows: -

Russia Was Never Socialist – and Why (1997)

From the November 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

What We Said Over The Years


When we are told that Socialism has been obtained in Russia without the long, hard and tedious work of educating the mass of workers in Socialism we not only deny it but refer our critics to Lenin’s own confessions. His statements prove that even though a vigorous and small minority may be able to seize power for a time, they can only hold it by modifying their plans to suit the ignorant majority. The minority in power in an economically backward country are forced to adapt their programme to the undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them. Offers to pay war debts to the Allies, to establish a Constituent Assembly, to compensate capitalists for losses, to cease propaganda in other countries, and to grant exploitation rights throughout Russia to the Western capitalists all show how far along the capitalist road they have had to travel and how badly they need the economic help of other countries. It shows above all that their loud and defiant challenge to the capitalist world has been silenced by their own internal and external weaknesses as we have so often predicted in these pages.

( . . .)

We have often stated that because of a large anti-Socialist peasantry and vast untrained population, Russia was a long way from Socialism. Lenin has now to admit this by saying: ‘Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us. How could they be so blind as not to see that our enemy is the small capitalist, the small owner? How could they see the chief enemy in State Capitalism? In the transition from Capitalism to Socialism our chief enemy is the small bourgeoisie, with its economic customs, habits and positions’ (The Chief Tasks of Our Times, p. 11).

(. . .)

Here we have plain admissions of the unripeness of the great mass of Russian people for Socialism and the small scale of Russian production.

If we are to copy Bolshevik policy in other countries we should have to demand State Capitalism, which is not a step to Socialism in advanced capitalist countries. The fact remains, as Lenin is driven to confess, that we do not have to learn from Russia, but Russia has to learn from lands where large scale production is dominant.

(. . .)

That Socialism can only be reached through State Capitalism is untrue. Socialism depends upon large-scale production, whether organised by Trusts or Governments. State Capitalism may be the method used in Russia, but only because the Bolshevik Government find their theories of doing without capitalist development unworkable—hence they are forced to retreat along the capitalist road.

“A Socialist View of Bolshevist Policy”, Socialist Standard, July 1920.

* * * * *

We have always contended that the Bolsheviks could only maintain power by resorting to capitalist devices. History has shown us to be correct. The January 1920 Congress of Executive Communists in Russia abolished the power of workers’ control in factories and installed officials instructed by Moscow and given controlling influence. Their resolutions printed in most of the Labour papers and the Manchester Guardian here show how economic backwardness has produced industrial conscription with heavy penalties for unpunctuality, etc. The abolition of democracy in the army was decreed long ago, but now that the army is being converted by Trotsky into a labour army it means rule from the top with an iron hand.

Russia has agreed to repay foreign property-owners their losses and allied Governments their ‘debts’. This means continued exploitation of Russian workers to pay foreign exploiters. With all the enthusiasm of the Communists they find themselves faced with the actual conditions in Russia and the ignorance of the greater part of its population.

There is no easier road to Socialism than the education of the workers in Socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Russia has to learn that.

“The Super-Opportunists. A Criticism of Bolshevist Policy”, Socialist Standard, August 1920.

* * * * *


The Bolsheviks will probably remain in control for the simple reason that there is no one in Russia capable of taking their place. It will be a question largely as to whether they will be able to stand the strain, for the task is a heavy one, and they are by no means overcrowded with capable men. But this control will actually resolve itself into control for, and in the interests of, the Capitalists who are willing to take up the development of raw materials and industry in Russia. The New Economic Policy points the way.

“The Passing of Lenin”, Socialist Standard, March 1924.

* * * * *


Trotsky presents a long list of remedies which serve only to confirm what we have always said as to the necessity for Russia to go through capitalism. Trotsky does not admit this in so many words. In fact, he vigorously denounces Stalin’s ‘capitalist tendencies’. But when we examine his programme we find that it is all based implicitly on the continuance of capitalism in Russia until such time as a developed capitalist industry and a Socialist revolution outside Russia make Socialism possible.

Most of his proposals might have been lifted out of the programme of any trade union in Germany or England: ‘Equal pay for equal work’, less overtime; more unemployment pay; no more Government faking of labour and industrial statistics; retail prices to be brought down to the world price level; no profiteering by capitalist middlemen; no increase in the rents of working class houses; every effort to be made to lower the cost of production in order to promote the growth of industry; more taxes on rich peasants; abolition of the State sale of Vodka, etc. A long programme of reforms, but no mention of the abolition of capitalist farming, capitalist trading and capitalist investment. Both Trotsky and Stalin draw up their programmes within the framework of state and private capitalism which prevails in Russia.

“Trotsky States His Case”, Socialist Standard, December 1928.

* * * * *


The facts given in this Year-Book sufficiently illustrate how illusory the communist dreams have been. Like many pious hopes embodied in the official documents and constitutions of the rest of the capitalist world these phrases have no relation whatever to the actual facts. Russian capitalism, although administered by the Communist Party, reproduces almost down to the last detail the paraphernalia of the capitalist world as we know it here.

The lesson of this is the one we have tried to drive home for so many years, that it is not possible for a minority to impose Socialism upon a majority who are hostile or indifferent; nor is it possible to remedy backward economic development by means of fine-sounding but ineffective decrees, issued by dictators.

“Russia: Land of High Profits (review of Soviet Union Year-Book 1930), Socialist Standard, September 1930.

* * * * *


As Russia has not established Socialism and is not doing so in spite of the repeated statements of Communists, it has to carry on its work and build up its industries on lines similar to normal capitalist countries; it must therefore enter into normal trade relations with the rest of the world, and it does so.

(. . .)

When, in 1924, the Bolsheviks decided to throw overboard the ‘world revolution’ (except as a mere phrase to give lip-service to) and to concentrate on building up the internal resources of the country on the plea that they were building up Socialism in a single country (a complete reversal of their former views), the Communists of the world, who take their policy from Moscow, have simply been used to help on this object.

The foreign policy of Russia is aimed at living more or less amicably with the rest of the capitalist world, and they can only do this because they are building as the capitalists do. Socialism is a system diametrically opposed to capitalism and impossible in a predominantly capitalist world. It is impossible in one country alone, owing to international economic interdependence. It is international not national.

The extravagant claims held out of the success of Socialism in Russia have one by one been proved by time to be groundless and Russia is rapidly approaching the stage of taking its place as a first-class capitalist power.

“Changing Russia”, Socialist Standard, September 1934.

* * * * *


Russia is not a Socialist country—its low industrial productivity and the non-Socialist outlook of the vast majority of its population do not bring such a thing within the realms of present possibility. It is based on various forms of State capitalism. Goods are produced, not for use only, but for sale at a profit. Industry is carried on largely on lines familiar to us in the Post office and other State-capitalist organisations outside Russia. The Russian Government borrows from investors (mostly Russian citizens) hundreds of millions of pounds for investment in industry, and pays them a high rate of interest on their investments; this payment to the investors being the first charge on industry. Inside the industries there are the same kind of gradations of pay as in capitalist industry generally from the mass of workers on or about the bare subsistence level at the bottom up through numerous grades to the very favoured few at the top who can enjoy the most pleasant and interesting work and live on a high standard of comfort and luxury.

“The New Russian Constitution”, Socialist Standard, January 1937.

* * * * *


Certainly Russia has its privileged section of the population and they will buy (because they can afford to do so) the bulk of the luxury articles which the average worker cannot afford. These privileged people are the party officials, technical experts, writers, doctors, lawyers, etc. Some of these people receive incomes a hundred times bigger than that of the average worker. With the legality of inheritance in force, accumulation of wealth is today bound to be taking place in Russia among the wealthy. They are the exploiters, and the Dean is wrong when he says (p. 282) ‘exploitation of man by man is entirely abolished’. They can obtain their big incomes only out of the wealth produced by the workers.

“Is Russia Socialist?” (review of The Socialist Sixth of the World by Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury), Socialist Standard, July 1943.

* * * * *


The reader of these reprinted articles will have seen that the attitude of the SPGB has been consistent from the start of the Bolshevik regime. We said then as we say now, that it is impossible for Socialism to be imposed from above even if the minority who hold power genuinely have that as their object.

The articles are important also to help to combat the efforts of various political groups which seek to discredit the Socialist movement by holding up Russia as a proof of the impossibility of abolishing capitalism. It is not true that Marxian Socialists at first approved of the Bolshevik dictatorship and Bolshevik policy and only later discovered that Socialism would not be the outcome. As these articles prove, the SPGB foresaw from the first that the attempt must fail.

Nor is it correct that the failure in Russia has been the failure of the men in control—though dictatorship inevitably corrupts those who wield it—it has been the failure of the whole mistaken policy of the Bolsheviks. Had Lenin lived or Stalin died the result would not have been appreciably different.

Postscript to Russia Since 1917 pamphlet, 1948.

* * * * *


The 1917 Revolution overthrew Tsarist Absolutism and allowed nascent capitalist industry to develop more freely and rapidly, but only at the expense of submitting the country to a more barbarous absolutism, the Stalinist regime. Now this absolutism has in its turn become a fetter on capitalist expansion and is being cast aside.

(. . .)

Russia now has the productive forces of a developed capitalist country yet still the political regime of a developing country. This contradiction shows itself in the disagreement between the liberal and conservative elements in Russia, in the campaign against police excesses, in the demand for more freedom of expression in poetry and art, in the Liberman controversy and in anti-Stalinism. Russian industry has developed to such a stage that political and other changes are required before it can develop further. Once liberalisation has triumphed in Russia, as it will, the capitalist character of Russian industry will have become more obvious. Russia will lose its attraction in ‘left-wing’ circles. History, by destroying the illusion that Russia is Socialist, will once again have done our work for us.

“Changing Russia”, Socialist Standard, August 1963.

* * * * *


The social system in Russia can be described as capitalist since the essential features of capitalism predominate: class monopoly of the means of production, commodity production, wage-labour and capital accumulation. (. . .)

A class is made up of people who are in the same position with regard to the ownership and use of the means of wealth-production and distribution. One class has a monopoly over these means of production if the rest of society are allowed access to them only on terms imposed by the group in control. This monopoly does not have to be legally recognised though in fact, as in Britain, this is generally so. Here the privileged minority, the capitalist class, have titles backed by law to the wealth they own. In Russia the ownership of the privileged minority is generally not given formal legal backing, but, as in Britain, they maintain their monopoly through control over the machinery of government. They occupy the top posts in the party, government, industry and the armed forces. Their ownership of the means of production is not individual but collective: they own as a class. Historically this is not a new development as is shown by the position of the Catholic church in feudal times. The privileged class in Russia draw their ‘property income’ in the form of bloated salaries, bonuses, large monetary ‘prizes’ awarded by the government, and other perks attaching to the top posts.

from chapter “Capitalism in Russia” in pamphlet Russia 1917-1967, 1967.

* * * * *


If it is implemented—and it remains to be seen whether or not this reform will suffer the fate of previous ones—perestroika will represent a fundamental change in the form of capitalism that has existed in Russia until now. It will represent a transition from centrally planned commodity-production and exchange to a more competitive system in which the competing units would be, as in the West, legally and economically autonomous enterprises. The economic laws of capitalism will come to operate in Russia through competition rather than through the State which (. . .) has proved to be an inadequate substitute.

“Where Is Russia Going,”, Socialist Standard, September 1988.

* * * * *


It is the longer-term implications of the decision to abandon the Leninist principle of one-party dictatorship that could prove to be the most significant though, as this could herald a change in the way the means of production are monopolised in Russia with the ruling class there changing itself from a class of collective owners into a class of individual owners as in the West.

(. . .)

The transformation of the Russian ruling class from a collectively-owning state bureaucracy into a class of private capitalists with private property rights vested in them as individuals certainly won’t take the form of the present members of the nomenklatura abdicating and handing over their power and privileges to the small group of privately-owning capitalists who have always led a precarious existence on the margins of the Russian state-capitalist economy. Nor would it need to take the crude form of them simply dividing up the presently state-owned industries amongst themselves. It would be more likely to take the form of the Russian government gradually introducing more and more opportunities for private capitalist investment—which only those who have already accumulated wealth would be able to take advantage of. Most of these will inevitably be individual members of the nomenklatura as the group which for years has enjoyed bloated salaries, cash prizes and opportunities to speculate on the black market (. . .).

Gorbachev (. . .) realises that it is now no longer possible for the nomenklatura to rule in the old way and that some sort of flexibility is called for, if only to be able to push through perestroika without provoking a workers’ revolt. He probably isn’t consciously working towards ushering in a Russia where the nomenklatura has disappeared as such and has succeeded in converting itself into a class of Western-type privately-owning capitalists, but it is in this direction that his reforms can now be seen to be leading.

“Russia and Private Property”, Socialist Standard, April 1990.