Saturday, December 21, 2019

Correspondence: Those Misrepresentations of Marx Turn Up Again. (1920)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editors.

Dear Sirs,

I have formed certain conceptions concerning the nature of a proletarian revolution which are somewhat critical to the position you adopt, and my reason for writing is to get you, if possible, to reply to, or to deal with, what I conceive to be the Marxian position concerning same, a position which opposes yours.

From my reading of Marx and Engels I find that on the question of Parliament you antagonise the Marxian position, even though you claim your organisation to be Marxian.

We accept Marx and Engels, of course, only in as far as their position can be accepted upon its merits, and I assume, therefore, that, as you claim to be Marxian, you will find me quite in order if I did a little quoting from Marx and Engels in opposition to your attitude toward this question.

Under the circumstance of your Marxian claim, how do you reconcile the following statements by Marx and Engels with your declarations, as well as those of your speakers, that Parliament is the political machine that will be used for the purpose of emancipating the workers? In the preface to the "Communist Manifesto" Marx and Engels quote from Marx's "Civil War in France" to the effect that "the working class simply cannot lay hold of the ready-made State machinery and wield it for its own purposes." Does this not run counter to your statement (to quote J.F. in last month's issue of the "S.S.") "when they"—(that is the working class previously mentioned by J.F.)— "agree with Socialism, they will send Socialists" to Parliament ? There is no statement that that mode of procedure on the part of the workers would be wrong, but rather does the writer make the terms Parliament and Power synonymous. He indicates as well what would be to him an obvious reply to his question when he asks why the workers "did not vote themselves into power" by voting for Parliament, which serves again to show that, by direct statement and inference you regard Parliament to be the political instrument for working-class emancipation.

From your conception of the political struggle one would conclude that the struggle occurs only at election times, whereas "every class struggle" being "a political struggle" ("Communist Manifesto"), the political struggle is being prosecuted now and at all times. Again, Marx wrote referring to the Paris Commune that "the Commune was to have been not a parliamentary but a working corporation," and in the same passage he derides the Parliamentary corporation by comparing how the "working corporation" operated "instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to 'represent' and repress the people in Parliament." (Quoted by Lenin. "State and Revolution.") Then again in reference to the Commune Marx says : "its true secret was this. It was essentially the government of the working class—it was the political form, at last discovered, under which Labour could work out its own economic emancipation" (ibid). I would, if the question was discussed on its merits, say that if constitutional Parliamentary action will emancipate the workers, then it will be a departure from the historic fact that there can be no such thing as a constitutional social revolution.

In conclusion I will refer you to the proud concluding passage of the "Communist Manifesto," which is quite different to "a-cross-next-to-his-name-and-into the-ballot-box-revolution." "The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can only be attained by the forcible overthrow of existing social conditions. Let the ruling class tremble at the prospects of a Communistic revolution." I contend that as parliamentarians you conceal your views and aims—if you are Communists ; or else you are not Communists, in which case why are you parliamentarians ?

From the Marxian standpoint there is only one conclusion, namely, that Parliament is part of the bourgeois State which stands in the way of working-class emancipation, and it follows, therefore, that during the proletarian revolution the bourgeois State machine will not be utilised but broken, and in its stead another State erected—the dictatorship of the proletariate.
Yours faithfully,
H. Dight.


So far is Mr. Dight from having read Marx and Engels, that, as the above letter shows, he has not read even the work of Marx that he tries to quote from. Nor is his reading of Lenin's pamphlet either full or clear, or he would have seen how flatly Lenin contradicts his (Dight's) attempt at a case.

Our correspondent says that we make the terms "Parliament" and "Power" synonymous. Had he read our Declaration of Principles and articles in the Socialist Standard, he would have seen that we stated that Power is dependent upon the control of the political machinery and that Parliament is the central organ of that machinery. Hence to obtain Power, control of the political machinery is absolutely essential. How Lenin agrees with this fact is shown in the pamphlet Mr. Dight mentions—"The State and Revolution." On page 29 we read:
  The exploited classes need political supremacy in order completely to abolish all exploitation, i.e., in the interests of the enormous majority of the people and against the tiny minority constituted by the slave-owners of modern times—the landlords and the capitalists.
On page 30 Lenin says:
 The proletariat needs the State, the centralised organisation of force and violence, both for the purpose of crushing the resistance of the exploiters and for the purpose of guiding the great mass of the population—the peasantry, the lower middle class, the semi-proletariat — in the work of economic Socialist reconstruction.
On page 33 it is stated that the general lessons of history set out in the "Communist Manifesto" :
  bring us to the necessary conclusion that the proletariat cannot overthrow the capitalist class without, as a preliminary step, winning political power, without obtaining political supremacy.
When Mr. Dight has read Lenin's pamphlet that he quotes from he might compare the above statements with Clauses 6 and 7 of our Declaration of Principles.

Mr. Dight's great point of what he fancies is opposition to our policy is the statement from Marx's "Civil War in France" that the working class cannot "simply lay hold of the ready made machinery of State and wield it for its own purposes."

As Mr. Dight has not read this work he is unaware that the context of that sentence totally contradicts the interpretation he tries to put upon it. The sentence is taken from section III., which opens as follows:
  On the dawn of the i8th of March Paris arose to the thunder burst of "Vive la Commune." What is the Commune, that Sphinx so tantalizing to the the bourgeois mind? 
  "The proletarians of Paris" said the Central Committee in its Manifesto of the 18th March, "amidst the failures and treasons of the ruling classes, have understood that the hour has struck for them to save the situation by taking into their own hands the direction of affairs . . . They have understood that it is their imperious and their absolute right to render themselves masters of their own destinies, by seizing upon the governmental power.'' But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes. 
  The centralised State power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature—organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labour —originates from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle-class society as a mighty weapon in its struggles against feudalism. Still its development remained clogged by all manner of mediaeval rubbish, seignorial rights, local privileges, municipal and guild monopolies and provincial constitutions. The gigantic broom of the French Revolution of the 18th century swept away all these relics of bygone times, thus clearing simultaneously the social soil of its last hindrances to the superstructure of the modern State raised under the First Empire, itself the offspring of the coalition wars of old semi-feudal Europe against modern France. During the subsequent regimes the Government, placed under parliamentary control—that is under the direct control of the propertied classes— became not only a hotbed of huge national debts and crushing taxes ; with its irresistible allurements of place and pelf and patronage, it became not only the bone of contention between the rival factions and adventurers of the ruling class ; but its political character changed simultaneously with the economic changes of society. At the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified, the class antagonism between capital and labour, the State power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class oppression.
I have given this long quotation from the "Civil War in France" to show how Marx has been misrepresented by the use of a phrase torn out of its context, and to show what Marx himself meant when using the phrase. Here, as even a "Communist" might have understood had he read the work, Marx is referring to the workers' position after they have seized this power.

It is when Mr. Dight attempts to quote Marx on the functions of the Commune that he shows conclusively that he has never read Marx's work. Mr. Dight says :
  "Marx wrote referring to the Commune that "the Commune was to have been not a Parliamentary but a working corporation," and in the same passage he derides the Parliamentary corporation by comparing how the "working corporation" operated, "instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to 'represent' and repress the people in parliament."
It is true that the two phrases quoted above are given by Lenin (p. 47), with other matter, in one paragraph between quotation marks, thus misleading the reader not acquainted with the original into believing that Marx put it in that form. Actually the first phrase occurs in the seventh paragraph of section III., while the second one appears in the tenth paragraph of the same section. Moreover, although Lenin gives the full sentence containing the first phrase, Mr. Dight only quotes a part of it. Why? Because the second part, though only consisting of seven words, destroys the interpretation he tries to place upon the phrase he quotes. The full sentence is: "The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time." (Italics mine.)

The words italicised show clearly that the Commune was to perform parliamentary as well as the other duties imposed upon it.

Paragraph ten of section III. details the work of the rural Communes and contains the following important sentence :
  The few but important functions which would still remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally misstated, but were to be discharged by Communal and therefore strictly responsible agents.
while further on occurs the phrase Mr. Dight tries to use against our case :
 Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to represent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for workmen and managers in his business.
How the quotation from the twelfth paragraph, describing the Commune as "the political form, at last discovered," etc., helps Mr. Dight, who is opposed to political action and policy, I fail to see.

His statement that it is "a historic fact that there can be no such thing as a constitutional social revolution" merely exposes his ignorance of even modern history, for Japan carried through "a constitutional social revolution" in 1871 when feudalism was abolished.

The nonsense chattered by the "Communists" against "constitutional" action is flatly contradicted by Lenin's own words and actions. It was only by "constitutional" action that the Bolsheviks obtained control of the Duma and carried through their revolution, while on page 27 of Lenin's pamphlet "The Proletarian Revolution," where he refers to the people who control parliaments he says :
  "This, of course, does not mean that bourgeois parliamentarism ought not to be made use of; the Bolsheviks, for instance, made perhaps more successful use of it than any other party in the world, having in 1912-14 captured the entire Labour representation in the fourth Duma."
Crushing as this statement is against his own followers, it is surpassed by the views of one who Lenin himself would admit was far greater than any Russian Communist:
  "The irony of the world's history places everything upon its head. We, the "revolutionaries," the overturners," we succeed better with the legal means than with illegality and force. The self-named "Party of Order" goes to pieces upon the legal conditions created by itself. They despairingly cry with Odilon Barrot "Legality is our death," while we from this same legality gain strong muscles, ruddy cheeks, and the appearance of eternal life."
These words are from Engels' last work—the introduction to Marx's "The Class Struggle in France"—written in the year in which he died, 1895.

When Mr. Dight reads Marx's and Engels' writings, he may grasp the substance of their teaching. And when he condescends to read our Declaration of Principles and our Party Organ he will see the utter falsity of his statement that we conceal our views and aims.
Jack Fitzgerald

What about it? (1920)

Editorial from the October 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

A short while ago "Plum" Warner, the old Middlesex cricketer, bid farewell to the public, and seized the opportunity to deliver through the Press, an admonition to the miners under the title ; "Miners, play the game !" (It does not seem to strike him what a vast difference there is between the game he wants the miners to "play"and the game he has been playing the best part of his life.)

On Oct. 3rd appeared in "Lloyd's Sunday News" an article urging the workers to "Work, Produce!" and, again the incongruity of it, the writer was that indefatigable worker and stupendous producer, Lord Moulton.

A day or two ago the "Daily Chronicle" had an article headed "What Every Woman Knows," and drawing moving but obviously true pictures of what is going to be the experience of the women of the working class in the event of a miners' strike maturing, and again it is one of those people of such wide first-hand knowledge of empty cupboards and the sufferings of poverty—a lady of title—who does the writing.

It is meet to ask, at a time when your "betters" are setting you such an example of class-conscious propaganda in the class struggle, what you are doing in the same class struggle: Are you working for the enlightenment of your fellow working men and women ? Are you even studying for your own enlightenment ? Are you talking about Socialism ? Are you pushing Socialist literature ? Every word you read of the right stuff, helps, and every word you speak with knowledge and understanding. So what about it?

Rear View: Oh No, Not Again! (2019)

The Rear View Column from the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Oh No, Not Again!

‘’Colombia was on edge on Thursday as the top peace negotiator for the country’s Marxist guerrillas announced that he was resuming armed conflict, promising to re-start the Western hemisphere’s longest-running civil war three years after a peace deal was signed’ (, 29 August). Socialists welcomed the end of the five-decade-long war, which killed more than 220,000 and displaced millions, as well as the mendacious mass media calling FARC Marxist. But, bringing an end to one such conflict in a capitalist world where war and misinformation are endemic is like a murderous game of Whack-A-Mole. ‘Farc was formed in 1964 as a Che Guevara-inspired Marxist group claiming peasant land rights’ (op. cit.). FARC declare themselves to be Bolivarian and call for ‘Colombia for Colombians, with equality of opportunities and equitable distribution of wealth and where among us all we can build peace with social equality and sovereignty’, rather than for Marx’s call for workers of all lands to unite for the overthrow of all existing social conditions. Marx during his lifetime was implacably opposed to political terrorism. Marxist socialists oppose terrorism, individual, group or state, guerrilla ‘armies’ and so-called national liberation struggles. Instead we organise for and propagate worldwide common ownership, democratic administration, control of the land, means of production and transportation and the abolition of the wages system.

Fighting the wrong war

‘Of course, there are other reasons why the West cannot get any of its adversaries to kneel. One is – that the toughest ones are left. Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea (DPRK), Iran, Syria and Venezuela are not going to run away from the battlefield’ (Suddenly, Western “Regime” Changes Keep Failing,, 28 August). Andre Vltchek’s and others of his ilk continuing support for one group of capitalist countries is no doubt of great comfort to the imprisoned trade unionists in Iran, for example. Sadly it comes too late for the many thousands who have already been executed, including minors, under a theocratic dictatorship where those convicted of adultery, alcohol consumption, blasphemy, burglary, homosexuality, pornography and prostitution, along with, of course, political dissidence, as well as many other ‘crimes’, can pay the ultimate price. We must not forget the state sanctioned use of juveniles as troops during the mass slaughter that was the Iran-Iraq war or oppression of women. Add chronic corruption plus obvious class division and we can say the 99 percent certainly did not vote for this. No war but the class war!

In Space as on Earth

‘Donald Trump: New Space Command will “ensure US dominance” of final frontier. Space has become a focus for the Trump administration due to concerns over the vulnerability of US satellites to China and Russia’ (, 30 August). Long before the first aeroplane flew or mining the Moon’s riches left the realm of science fiction, British politician Joseph Chamberlain made this candid comment with regard to war and its economic causes: ‘All the great offices of State are occupied with commercial affairs. The Foreign Office and the Colonial Office are chiefly engaged in finding new markets and in defending old ones. The War Office and the Admiralty are mostly occupied in preparations for the defence of these markets and for the protection of our commerce’ (from a speech to the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1890). Time and time again evidence has demonstrated that war stems from capitalist struggles for markets, trade routes, sources of raw materials, and places of strategic importance.

Ferengi-free future

If we want a future that is more Star Trek than Star Wars, we must first replace capitalism with socialism and bring about a world where war, wages and want have been eradicated. Given this it is somewhat surprising to find a Financial Times journalist describing Star Trek: The Next Generation as ‘. . . optimistic, moving and wise’ (, 28 August). Whether or not you prefer the post-capitalist society of Trek or Iain Banks’ Culture over the bucolic, craft-industry-based utopia of William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), our first concern should be the making of socialists. Morris put it well: ‘one man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman; two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand?’ (Art Under Plutocracy, 1883).

Pathfinders: Capitalism’s Holy Grail (2019)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Here’s an easy question – what’s your view of censorship? If you’re a socialist and a democrat, you’re probably against it. After all, you argue, the only really effective way to combat bad ideas is to bring them out in the open and put them up against good ideas, and you can’t do that if the bad ideas aren’t allowed to circulate in the first place.The battle of ideas must be fought in public or it becomes totalitarianism.

So how fares this public battle today? Not well, actually. Everyone knows that society has changed rapidly in the last two decades. The mass-market passive consumerism of the twentieth century has given way to the individualistic, two-way street of the internet. But instead of this opening up debate it seems to have done the opposite. Very few people would include a public political meeting as part of their normal week’s activity. Street-corner debates are a distant memory for the oldest among us. Now ideas don’t normally challenge each other in large open auditoriums. Instead they exist in largely separate and closed worlds where each person sees what they want to see.

This is not to say that the concern over social media echo chambers should be overstated. Social media groups tend to reflect the organic composition of friendship networks, which don’t typically consist of one exclusive type of belief or idea. Sure, you may not be besties with a Tory, but you probably know one or two, and you may have friends or relatives who think differently from you on a lot of issues. Social networks are like Venn diagrams, overlapping each other in a multi-dimensional nest. Comfort zones they may be, but most people don’t want or expect them to be hermetically sealed. At least, not reasonable people.

But in the pressured depths of the web where reasonable people don’t go there are unmoderated groups where something quite different is going on. Here the most one-dimensional views are expressed, and there are no dissenting voices to challenge them. Here is where a macabre game of Dare is played out. Far-right bedroom trolls take over a forum and use it as a playground to make violent death threats against black people, Hispanics, Moslems, Jews, gays or some other minority. It’s just talk at first, but the feedback loop ramps it up as each participant tries to outdo the last. Finally someone ups the ante to the limit, thereby winning the kudos and respect of all participants. What is this limit? Carrying out the death threat in reality.

This is what is thought to have happened on the 8chan discussion forum prior to the shootings in El Paso in August, when 22 people were killed and 24 injured, and the next day in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were shot dead and 27 injured. 8chan was also used by the shooter in April’s Poway synagogue shooting in California, and in the mosque massacres of Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, where 51 were killed and 49 injured, and where the shooter live-streamed the massacres on Facebook.

Let’s take a moment to revisit that ethical question on your view of censorship. Given the track record of 8chan, if it was in your power to close it down by pressing a big Kill button, would you do it? Or would you defend 8chan in the name of free speech, saying as some US Republicans did at the time, that’s the price you pay for liberty?

Of course there was no shortage of hackers keen to take 8chan down. One easy way to do that would have been to launch a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on it by bombarding it with traffic until its servers ground to a halt. But this wasn’t possible because the site was protected by online security firm Cloudflare. After the Dayton shootings however, the owner of Cloudflare finally pulled the plug, saying: ‘8chan has repeatedly proven itself to be a cesspool of hate. They have proven themselves to be lawless and that lawlessness has caused multiple tragic deaths’ (BBC News, 5 August –

8chan duly went offline almost immediately, however its users will certainly migrate to a different forum and continue as before. Even if you agree that ‘free speech’ has limits and such sites need to be stopped, the question is how. The internet is just too big.

Artificial Intelligence is held up as the great unbiased censor, the thing that might save society from its own worst nightmares, however the hype around AI is a good deal more advanced than the technology itself. AI is good in situations with finite options and clear rules, which is why it can beat the world’s top game-players. But ask it to make a value judgment or an ethical call, and it won’t have a clue.

Εven so, it’s good enough to ‘benevolently’ censor you. AI manages what you see on the GAFA big four (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), sifting your data to serve up what it thinks you will like and hiding what you won’t. That’s why two people doing the same Google search will get different results. Meanwhile YouTube’s algorithms attempt to keep users on-site by serving up material on a ‘same-but-even-more-so’ basis. With an estimated 500 hours of material loaded every minute, YouTube can’t possibly keep track of its content. Thus, right-wing extremists end up being offered ever more extreme right-wing material, so that the site may be upping the ante in the same way as 8chan. Some people are demanding that it changes its algorithms in favour of more balance, while others are calling for it to be shut down altogether (New Scientist, 24 August).

There is, though, another reason to be highly resistant to any kind of censorship. What if they turn it on us? In China open dissent is impossible. People have to use secretive Virtual Private Networks to hide their identity when accessing forbidden western resources like Wikipedia. No wonder Hong Kongers are fearful. Who’s to say other states wouldn’t adopt Chinese tactics if it saved them money and created more docile populations?

What’s worrying about certain one-dimensional internet trends and also calls for more censorship is their general intention to disable the human critical faculty. They’re not interested in debate, they are engaged in whiter-than-white brainwashing, and never mind the victims or the collateral damage. In a way that’s the holy grail of capitalism too. It aims to create the perfect customer, even at the cost of the perfect storm.
Paddy Shannon

Material World: Indonesia: From Anti-Imperialism to Imperialism (2019)

The Material World Column from the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In August, East Timor (Timor Leste) celebrated 20 years independence from Indonesia. The 1974 left-wing coup in Portugal led to the dismantling of its colonies including what was then called Portuguese Timor. Indonesian forces commenced covert attacks, then invaded in 1975. An estimated 100,000 conflict-related deaths through the entire period 1974 to 1999, including 18,600 violent killings. Indonesia was held responsible for 70 percent of the killings.

With the armed resistance largely crushed Indonesia held civilians in detention camps where there were 84,200 deaths from disease and starvation. In 1976 Indonesia declared East Timor the country’s 27th province. Many countries looked the other way. In 1979 Australia became the only western nation to recognise the annexation of East Timor and quickly sought a treaty with Indonesia to divide the spoils of East Timor’s sea-bed so both could access the off-shore oil resources.

On 30 August 1999 78.5 percent voted for independence. Festivities were short-lived. Indonesian-backed militia groups terrorised the population. A three-week campaign of violence killed 2,600 people, nearly 30,000 were displaced and as many as 250,000 were forcibly relocated into Indonesian West Timor after the ballot.

August also saw a resurgence in the unrest in occupied West Papua with government troops being deployed. When Indonesia gained independence in 1945, the Dutch government declined to cede control over West Papua arguing that it was to be given the freedom to determine its own future. In 1961-1962 West Papua was invaded and annexed by Indonesia. An estimated 30,000 Papuans were killed up to its incorporation into Indonesia in 1969, after a sham referendum.

According to an article in Red Pepper :
  ‘… The occupation of West Papua receives little attention in the UK. This is, in no small part, due to Indonesia’s ban on foreign journalists and its outlawing of West Papuan social movements who try to speak out internationally. However, West Papua has not been forgotten by international corporations, including companies from the UK. For them, Indonesia’s brutal occupation of West Papua provides lucrative opportunities for profit.’ 
The article by Egret and Anderson details how mining companies exploit West Papua’s vast wealth. US company Freeport-McMoRan operates the Grasberg mine in Papua – the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world. It is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, making billions of dollars for the Indonesian government every year. TIME stated that ‘In 2015 alone, Freeport mined some $3.1 billion worth of gold and copper.’

BP profits from the occupation through its massive liquified natural gas fields in Tangguh, BP’s biggest operation in SE Asia. Papuan communities are also being evicted from their land for palm oil. In addition, Papua boasts timber resources worth an estimated $78 billion.

Indonesia is an ethnically diverse country, made up of 17,000 islands, with around 300 distinct native ethnic groups and 700 local languages. The country’s official language is a variant of Malay. Indonesia can be described as an invented nation-state that having been subject to colonialism has become itself imperialist.

In the pursuit of profits and administrative control, the Dutch imposed the authority of the Dutch East Indies on an array of peoples who had not previously shared any unified political identity.

The name ‘Indonesia’ is derived from the Greek (Indian islands) and was employed by an 18th century English naturalist to classify the ethnic and geographic area. ‘Indonesia’ was seized upon by nationalists as a word to imagine a unity of people. By the twentieth century, the Dutch had formed the boundaries of a colonial state that became the precursor to modern Indonesia. During the 1920s and 30s, a small elite began to articulate a growing anti-colonialism and nationalism, striving to carve out a place for themselves. In 1928, the All-Indonesian Youth Congress proclaimed the Youth Pledge (Sumpah Pemuda), establishing the nationalist goals of: ‘one country – Indonesia, one people – Indonesian, and one language – Indonesian.’ After the surrender of Japan, Sukarno proclaimed Indonesian independence. The Dutch attempted to re-establish their rule, and an armed struggle ensued but in 1949, the Dutch recognised Indonesian independence.

The Socialist Party rejects nationalism as anti-working class because it has always tied the working people to its class enemy. Nationalism is the ideology of an actual or an aspiring capitalist class. It is of the practice of native capitalists that when imperialism prevents them for building their own independent capitalist state, they lead resistance against it. Sooner or later, successful anti-imperialism then becomes imperialism.