Monday, April 6, 2020

Paradox or Illusion ? : Old Ghosts in New Pyjamas (1920)

From the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fair but False.

An article by Christopher Sandiway which appeared in “Reynolds’s Newspaper” of June 6th, while written in the fullest sympathy with the workers, presents in a new form errors that were exposed many years ago by Marx in his famous work, ”Value, Price and Profit.” If those who wish to help the workers towards their emancipation would only study this work, they would not be in danger of perpetrating the illusions so ably exposed there.

Mr. Sandiway tells an imaginary friend, who is, presumably, a so-called brain-worker, that when his wages go up the value of the hand-workers’ wages goes down.

Not so Simple.

Now this is obviously untrue, for if one section of the workers obtains a rise of wages the increase has to be paid by the capitalists, who cannot reduce the wages of the other sections, or raise prices because of that increase. They must therefore pocket the loss.

Mr. Sandiway is not aware of this fact, so he goes on to elaborate the idea. He says :
  “Let the entire population be represented by ten men, the product of whose labour is owned and controlled by the landlord and employing class. After the latter have taken all the produce they require, the remainder we will imagine, is placed in a store and will just supply the men’s material necessities. The allowance is a fixed quantity, or may vary in a slight degree at the will of the controllers.”
The True Facts.

This illustration by no means represents what happens. In the days of Pharaoh goods may have been stored and rationed in the manner suggested, but even then the total quantity had to vary according to the number of slaves to be fed and could not, therefore, be fixed. The capitalist method of production does not rest on chattel slavery; its method is wage slavery. Under the first the worker was the property of his master and was completely under his control. But the wage slave is free to bargain over his conditions because he is the sole owner of his labour-power. It is true that he bargains at a disadvantage, but the it he does bargain and can, if he prefers to starve or beg, refuse to sell his labour-power places him in a different position from the chattel slave. The share he obtains of the wealth produced is no longer dependent upon the will of the capitalist and the latter does not take what he requires but what he can.

Continuing, Mr. Sandiway says:
  “Supposing the wages of the men to be equal at first, each is entitled to l-10th of the contents of the store. But one man who goes to work in a silk hat and frock coat, demands an increase to keep up appearances. If therefore his wages are doubled the contents of the store must now be divided into eleven parts, for one man counts as two. This man’s share is thus 2-11ths, and the remaining nine get 1-11th each, prices have thus gone up for all, since the quantity for the same money is less.”
What it Leads To.

As Mr. Sandiway has failed to show that in capitalist society the total share of the workers is fixed, but only imagines it, his figures are purely imaginary and the ten workers, instead of continuing to receive the 10-10ths among them, now receive ll-10ths. The real value of the wages of the nine men has not changed : the tenth man has doubled his income, and the fact that he can buy double the quantity of goods that each of the others can buy does not make their position any the worse.

To see where his suppositions finally lead him we must follow Mr. Sandiway further.

First he supposes that another man of the ten obtains a 100 per cent, rise in wages, which, on his previous manner of reckoning (he cannot even take the trouble to get his own arithmetic right, and when his “silk hat” doubles his 1-10th he has, not 2-11ths but 2-11ths !) leaves the remaining eight with 1-12th each. Then he says
  “The remaining eight seeing prices rising, and being manual workers,’ down tools,’ and as it is a question of mere paper without real material loss to himself, the controller agrees to double their wages. The contents of the store must now be divided into twenty parts to correspond with the money out-flow, each man getting 2-20ths, or 1-10th, and things are as they began.”
There is one question that Mr. Sandiway might have asked himself. If the capitalists can by the issue of more paper money, or by raising prices at their own sweet will, cancel a rise of wages, why do they resist the demands of the workers at all? Why do they not adopt one or both of these expedients and save the disorganisation of business caused by strikes, of which they complain so bitterly ? He is cute enough to see that increased production might not, of itself, bring down prices. He says:
  “Extra production may merely take the form of luxuries for the well-to-do. It may even be wilfully destroyed to keep up prices, or cornered for the same purpose.”
But if any of these expedients are necessary to the capitalists in order to prevent prices from falling, Mr. Sandiway’s previous speculations fall to the ground. Capitalists destroy wealth by agreement when supply overtakes demand, thus showing that they are quite incapable of exercising collective control over the production of wealth. They only find out that supply is overtaking demand when prices fall. That they have to adopt such panic measures as destroying wealth shows how completely they are market ridden with regard to prices.

Among his other illusions Mr. Sandiways imagines that high prices can only be explained by the dwindling value of money. He calls it “the great bradbury illusion” and he thinks that he has explained what happens in his illustration where ” 2-20ths being found equal to 1-10th, things are as they began.” Of course he has really explained nothing.

If two bradburys will only buy the same amount of commodities that one did previously one of three things must have happened. Either the prices of commodities have gone up while the value of the gold represented by the bradbury remained the same, or the value of the gold has fallen, necessitating more of it to express the same value in commodities, or the value of the gold and the prices of commodities have both risen, but prices in far higher degree. If Mr. Sandiway thinks that the pound note does not represent one pound in gold, he must explain why it is that pound notes can be exchanged for gold at the Bank of England on demand.

As neither he nor any of the inflated currency cranks have yet succeeded in explaining this point, nor have attempted to show that the value of gold has fallen, they have failed to prove a paradox, and we are justified in presuming that things are what they seem — that prices have actually risen and not that paper juggling makes it merely appear so.

There are two factors that may cause prices to rise : first, an increase in the labour-time required to produce commodities ; secondly, the demand being greater than the supply. Under the first heading an increase in the labour time required to produce commodities, and under the second an extension of markets, which would increase demand, or the elimination of competition through the industrial paralysis of large wealth-producing areas.

With regard to the main stream of commodities that provides for the maintenance of society, it is an indisputable fact that the labour-time required for their production, instead of increasing, diminishes. Modern machinery and methods, constantly improving are continually reducing the labour-time required for production. It is obvious, too, that no new markets have been discovered. If there had been, the necessity for a world war to decide who should dominate existing markets would not have arisen. There remains, then, only one explanation of high prices—the elimination of competition through the commercial paralysis of large industrial areas. The countries that have been worsted in the world war are failing to compete, thus leaving a shortage of commodities to be made up by the victors, the irony of the situation being that the wage-slaves who fought and created these possibilities for their masters, have to submit to the higher prices, the capitalists strenuously resisting, all the while, every effort of theirs one-time “heroes” to raise wages.

All the cheap clap-trap about the “vicious circle” of wages rising, then prices, to be repeated again and again, is mere bluff, the object of which is to restrain the workers from asking for more. High wages are not the cause of high prices. Prices are high because demand is greater than supply, and the workers are compelled to struggle for higher wages in order to maintain their standard of living. When prices fall it will be because the markets cannot absorb all the goods produced, then unemployment will be greater and wages will fall. Thus wages are seldom for any length of time above the bare cost of living on the average, and such periods are about balanced by the periods when they are below. And it becomes increasingly difficult for the workers to force up wages, even on a rising market, because during the most prosperous times the supply of labour-power is always greater than the demand.

If Mr. Sandiway, therefore, examines the capitalist method of production in itself instead of looking at the results and imagining the process, he will find that the capitalists do not take from the wealth produced by the workers “all the produce they require.” Instead, they take all the wealth produced, and after realising by its sale the surplus value contained in it—the value added to the material over and above the wages paid to those who add that value (i.e., the workers) —use the proceeds partly to satisfy their personal needs and partly to extend the process of exploitation. The difference between the actual result and Mr. Sandiway’s being that the capitalists reduce the quantity of labour-power they purchase when the demand for commodities slackens, and, consequently, reduce the amount of produce that goes to the workers. The workers’ share is not fixed, but varies according to the capacity of the markets to absorb the products of their labour.

If Mr. Sandiways were to examine the figures relating to the number of workers engaged in productive work and the large number serving the capitalists personal interests. He might then realise how small a portion of the total wealth produced goes to the actual producers. He would also realise that prices would go up whether the workers asked for more wages or not, if the markets were favourable. He would also find that wages bear no relation to prices. Being the price of labour power, they can rise and fall quite independently of prices, and that without affecting them, as there is so wide a margin between the total wealth produced and the total wages paid.

If his sympathies are with the workers, therefore, Mr. Sandiway should study these facts instead of telling them that when “the brainworkers get a rise in wages it is at the expense of the handworkers” and vice versa. He should then tell them that the real antagonism is between the working class as a whole and the capitalist class, that while they are forced to struggle for higher wages when prices rise, their wages fall when the demand for labour-power slackens, thus keeping them always on the poverty line.
F. Foan

A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory. (Continued.) (1920)

From the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Link to Part 3.

In previous articles under the above heading we have obtained a glimpse of the Materialist Conception of History. Bound up with this theory is the next one which we propose investigating, namely, the theory of the Class Struggle.

According to this theory history is made up of the struggles of different classes in society for social supremacy ; and the origin of the different clasees is to be sought in the prevailing method of wealth production and distribution at the different periods.

The scientific method of enquiry is in the first place to separate phenomena into different categories, grouping together things that have the same characteristics. For instance, in the animal world all warm-blooded, feathered animals with two limbs in the form of wings are classified as birds ; all cold-blooded, vertebrate, gill-breathing animals living in water and with limbs in the form of fins, are classified as fishes. These are two biological classes. Clearness in distinguishing is a pre-requisite of clear thinking. If things are correctly classified a good deal of the essential work of investigation is already accomplished.

When we apply the method of classification to human society we must separate the members of society into social classes according to their general characteristics.

Now the essential business of society is the material needs of the human beings that compose it—the provision of food, clothing, shelter, and so on. In order to satisfy these human needs the production of wealth must be carried on. Therefore in classifying the members of society they must be put into groups according to the position they occupy in relation to the production of wealth.

Different periods in social evolution are clearly marked off from each other by the different methods of producing the social wealth. Thus ancient Rome was characterised by its chattel slavery, as it was by means of the chattel slave that the bulk of the Roman wealth of that time was produced. The Middle Ages was characterised by its bond slavery, as the bulk of the wealth of the Middle Ages was produced by the bond slave.

Within the society of Roman times and of the Middle Ages there were other classes alongside the chattel slaves and the bond slaves. The relations and interests, created by wealth production based upon the two methods mentioned, split society up into various parts corresponding to the parts played in the production of the wealth of those times.

This is the key to the situation. Once obtain a knowledge of the way the members of a given society at a given period obtain their livelihoods and a clear understanding is gained of that society, its social classes, its development, and its eventual break-up.

Let us now examine present-day society in the manner set forth.

To begin with, we must classify—find out what are the classes that compose society, and in order to do this we must see how the various members of society obtain their livelihood.

If we examine the method of living of all the people we see around us and with whom we come into contact at different times during the course of our lives, we find that they all fall under one or the other of two headings (leaving beggars out of the question)—those who have to work for their living, and those who have their living provided for them by those who work.

Clothes are made, houses are built, railways and ships are constructed, by obtaining from nature the material, then changing its place, its form, its character, and so giving it these qualities and properties necessary to satisfy our requirements. Nature provides the material, but its place and form are changed by the application of human energy—in other words, by the people working. There is no other way of producing wealth than by working. This is too obvious to need labouring further.

Who, then, does the working that produces the wealth of to-day ? Obviously those whom everyone is agreed in calling the working class—the class of people that works. If we go into a factory, mill, mine, or office we see people performing various functions in the work of turning out wealth. Some are tending machines, some hauling ropes, some pushing pens ; some are foremen, some overseers—but all of them are workers. All have to be at their various functions at given times and all have to perform their allotted tasks. None dare cease work without risk of losing his occupation and consequently his means of livelihood, whether he wears a collar or a “kercher” about his neck, sports corduroys or “morning” clothes, smokes woodbines or cigars. In short, they are all employees of that mysterious entity, “the firm.”

Now what is “the firm”? It is not composed of the factory workers as they are employees; nor is it composed of the office staff as they are employees ; likewise the foremen and managers are employees.

The mysterious thing called “the firm” represents people outside the sphere of work altogether, i.e., the people who regularly draw their dividends out of the company, but who are seldom or never seen anywhere near the field of productive operations. The dividend-drawers are scattered all over the earth—here to-day and hundreds of miles away to-morrow.

The mass of the population are those who live by working—who are dependent for their livelihood upon finding employment for their mental or physical energies. In other words they belong to the employed or working class.

A very small proportion of the population (becoming relatively smaller every day) belong to the dividend-drawing, employing, or capitalist class. In spite of the fact that they idle their lives away, wealth pours regularly into their coffers in ever-increasing quantities.

The question now arises: How is one section of the community enabled to occupy the position of employing class whilst the other section has to occupy the position of employed ?

The answer is not far to seek. The members of the employed class are bound to find employment because they do not own either the means of production or the wealth produced. The only possession they have is the capability to perform mental or physical work (the two are, of course, not distinct, although it, is customary to distinguish them in this way).

Consequently, in order to obtain the means to sustain life, they must work for the owners of the means of production, in spite of the fact that they themselves have produced those tame means of production, with the exception of what nature provides.

The employing or capitalist class own the means of producing and distributing the wealth of our times (the extent of the mighty amalgamations that have been portrayed in the papers recently should drive this point home to the most apathetic worker). They can at will (and do during lockouts) deny the workers access to the instruments of production, so that production may be at times suspended (as during so-called over-production) even though myriads of people may be perishing from lack of food clothing, and shelter.

In order that the machinery of present-day production can be set in motion it is necessary that capital shall be invested in certain ways. The employing class supply the capital with which to commence a process of producing wealth. This fact leads many astray, and has given birth to the idea that “we cannot do without the capitalist.” This method of setting the productive machinery in motion, however, is peculiar to the capitalist method of production. In pre-capitalist days other methods operated, and in post-capitalist days different methods will also obtain. In the last analysis, however, the workers produce the very capital that oils the machinery of production. We shall return to this point later.

The capitalists, then, have possession of the wealth of capitalist society (we leave aside for the moment the question of how they obtained or retain possession), and the workers are therefore compelled to sell their power to work under the conditions laid down by the class that own the means whereby the workers live. In return for the duties the workers discharge they are paid at certain rates of wages. The workers do not work because they are fond of work; they work to obtain wages (or salaries) because wages represent to them the means of obtaining to some extent the necessaries to sustain life.

It will therefore be seen that the modern worker is a slave, a wage-slave, and his slavery is every bit as acute as the slavery of the chattel slave or the bondsman of the past, though the leather thong is replaced by the lash of starvation. The sight of dependent loved ones starving has proved a more potent lash than any instrument invented by man.

From the foregoing it will be seen that modern society is composed of two distinct social classes—the capitalist class and the working class. A very cursory examination will show that the interests of the two classes, i.e., their class interests, are, and must be, quite distinct and in direct opposition. A line of action that harmonises with the interests of the one class is directly antagonistic to the interests of the other.

To the capitalist the employment of workers signifies the giving up, in the form of wages, of a certain portion of the wealth he possesses. His aim, therefore, is to reduce this portion to the absolute minimum—to pay as little wages as possible. This object he endeavours to accomplish by the introduction of improved machinery—labour-saving devices—improved methods, and speeding up the employed. The ideal he aims at is the time foreshadowed by Aristotle, when the tool could by itself execute its function—the capitalist could then enjoy all the wealth produced and would have no need to relinquish a part of it to pay troublesome wage-earners !

The worker, on the other hand, who is compelled to sell his energies in one way or another in order to buy the necessaries of life, aims at getting as high a wage as possible and resisting the introduction of new methods, etc., as the latter tends to take away from him his means of obtaining a livelihood. He aims at the ideal of the ceaseless multiplication of jobs.

Herein, then, is apparent the antagonism of interests within present society. This antagonism of interests has bred the modern class struggle—the struggle of the working class against the master class—that has been fought out for years in a vague and half unconscious manner by combinations of workers during the industrial conflicts that yearly attain greater proportions. Ultimately this struggle, like all preceding class struggles, must be fought out on the political field as it is at the bottom a struggle for supremacy; the only solution to the conflict and to the contradictions that exist to-day is the overthrow of the present ruling class, the capitalists.

A Socialist View of Bolshevist Policy. (1920)

From the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Where We Stand

Ever since the Bolshevik minority seized the control of affairs in Russia we have been told that their “success” had completely changed Socialist policy. These “Communists” declare that the policy of Marx and Engels is out of date. Lenin and Trotsky are worshipped as the pathfinders of a shorter and easier road to Communism.

Unfortunately for these “Bolsheviks,” no evidence has yet been supplied to show wherein the policy of Marx and Engels is no longer useful, and until that evidence comes the Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue to advocate the same Marxian policy as before. We will continue to expose and oppose the present system and all its defenders and apologists. We shall insist upon the necessity of the working class understanding Socialism and organising with a political party to obtain it.

Socialism Far Off in Russia

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 program 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.

Lenin’s Confessions

The folly of adopting Bolshevik methods here is admitted by Lenin in his pamphlet The Chief Tasks of Our Times (p. 10).
  “A backward country can revolt quicker, because its opponent is rotten to the core, its middle class is not organised; but in order to continue the revolution a backward country will require immediately more circumspection, prudence, and endurance. In Western Europe it will be quite different; there it is much more difficult to begin, but it will be much easier to go on. This cannot be otherwise because there the proletariat is better organised and more closely united.”
Those who say “Russia can fight the world”, are answered by Lenin:
“Only a madman can imagine that the task of dethroning International Imperialism can be fulfilled by Russia alone.”
Lenin admits that
  “France and England have been learning for centuries what we have only learnt since 1905. Every class-conscious worker knows that the revolution grows but slowly amongst the free institutions of a united bourgeoisie, and that we shall only be able to fight against such forces when we are able to do so in conjunction with the revolutionary proletariat of Germany, France, and England. Till then, sad and contrary to revolutionary traditions as it may be, our only possible policy is to wait, to tack, and to retreat.”
State Capitalism for Russia

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 period from Capitalism to Socialism our chief enemy is the small bourgeoisie, with its economic customs, habits and position” (p. 11).
This reply of Lenin to the Communists of the Left (Bucharin and others) contains the further statement that,
  “To bring about State Capitalism at the present time means to establish the control and order formerly achieved by the propertied classes. We have in Germany an example of State Capitalism, and we know she proved our superior. If you would only give a little thought to what the security of such State Socialism would mean in Russia, a Soviet Russia, you would recognise that only madmen whose heads are full of formulas and doctrines can deny that State Socialism is our salvation. If we possessed it in Russia the transition to complete Socialism would be easy, because State Socialism is centralisation control, socialisation—in fact, everything that we lack. The greatest menace to us is the small bourgeoisie, which, owing to the history and economics of Russia, is the best organised class, and which prevents us from taking the step, on which depends the success of Socialism.”
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 Bolshevist 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.

Lenin and the Trusts
  “My statement that in order to properly understand one’s task one should learn socialism from the promoters of Trusts aroused the indignation of the Communists of the Left. Yes, we do not want to teach the Trusts; on the contrary, we want to learn from them.” (p. 12)
Thus Lenin speaks to his critics. Owing to the untrained character of the workers and their failure to grasp the necessity of discipline and order in large scale production, Lenin has to employ “capitalist” experts to run the factories. He tells us:
  “We know all about Socialism, but we do not know how to organise on a large scale, how to manage distribution, and so on. The old Bolshevik leaders have not taught us these things, and this is not to the credit of our party. We have yet to go through this course and we say: Even if a man is a scoundrel of the deepest dye, if he is a merchant, experienced in organising production and distribution on a large scale, we must learn from him; if we do not learn from these people we shall never achieve Socialism, and the revolution will never get beyond the present stage. Socialism can only be reached by the development of State Capitalism the careful organisation of finance, control and discipline among the workers. Without this there is no Socialism.” (p. 12.)
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.

The Internal Conflict

Lenin goes on:
  “The workers who base their activities on the principles of State Socialism are the most successful. It is so in the tanning, textile, and sugar industries, where the workers, knowing their industry, and wishing to preserve and to develop it, recognise with proletarian common sense that they are unable at present to cope with such a task, and therefore allot one third of the places to the capitalists in order to learn from them.”
This concession is another example of the conflict between Bolshevik theory and practice, for the very argument of Lenin against Kautsky and others was that in Russia they could go right ahead without needing the capitalist development such as it exists in other countries.

The whole speech of Lenin is directed against the growing body of workers in Russia who took Lenin at his word. These people fondly imagined that after throwing over Kerensky they could usher in freedom and ignore the capitalist world around them. They thought that factory discipline, Socialist education, and intelligent skilled supervision were simply pedantic ideas.

A further quotation from Lenin will make this clear:
  “Naturally the difficulties of organisation are enormous, but I do not see the least reason for despair and despondency in the fact that the Russian Revolution, having first solved the easier task—the overthrow of the landowners and the bourgeoisie, is now faced with the more difficult Socialist task of organising national finance and control, a task which is the initial stage of Socialism, and is inevitable, as is fully understood by the majority of class-conscious workers.”
He also says:
   “It is time to remonstrate when some people have worked themselves up to a state in which they consider the introduction of discipline into the ranks of the workers as a step backwards.” 
And he points out that
  “by the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and landowners we have cleared the way, we have not erected the structure of Socialism.”
How far they have cleared the capitalists out of the way is uncertain, as they are a long way from self-reliance. The long road ahead is admitted by Lenin in these words:
  “Until the workers have learned to organise on a large scale they are not Socialists, nor builders of a Socialist structure of society, and will not acquire the necessary knowledge for the establishment of the new world order. The path of organisation is a long one, and the tasks of Socialist constructive work require strenuous and continuous effort, with a corresponding knowledge which we do not sufficiently possess. It is hardly to be expected that the even more developed following generation will accomplish a complete transition into Socialism.” (p. 13.)
The Rule of the Minority

The denunciation of democracy by the Bolshevik leaders is quite understandable if we realise that only the minority in Russia are Communists. Lenin therefore denies control of affairs to the majority, but he cannot escape from the compromise involved in ruling with a minority. Not only is control of Russian affairs out of the hands of the Soviets as a whole, but not even all the members of the Communist Party are allowed to vote. Zinoviev, a leading Commissar, in his report to the First Congress of the Third International said:
  “Our Central Committee has decided to deprive certain categories of party members of the right to vote at the Congress of the party. Certainly it is unheard of to limit the right voting within the party, but the entire party has approved this measure, which is to assure the homogenous unity of the Communists So that in fact, we have 500,000 members who manage the entire State machine from top to bottom.” (The Socialist, 29.4.20. Italics not ours.)
So half a million members of the Communist Party (counting even those who are refused a vote within the party) control a society of 180 million members. It is quite plain why other parties’ papers were suppressed: obviously they could influence the great majority outside the Communist Party. The maintenance of power was assured by the Bolshevik minority through its control of political power and the armed forces.
Adolph Kohn

The Russian Dictatorship. (1920)

Pamphlet Reviews from the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1918 a sharp controversy took place between Karl Kautsky, of the German Social Democratic Party, and Nikolai Lenin, of the Russian Bolsheviks, on the question of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The debate has lately been translated into English, Kautsky’s contribution by the ILP, under the title The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and Lenin’s by the BSP, under the title The Proletarian Revolution.

Lenin’s pamphlet is the more lively, the more abusive and, on a superficial level, the more effective statement. One capitalist critic has been so carried away by the stream of denunciations that runs from one end to the other of the pamphlet that he declared that Lenin had practically pulverised Kautsky.

But denunciation, however justified, is not argument, and when the case is more closely examined one gains the impression that a good deal of the abuse is used to hide the lack of argument, that in some cases is painfully apparent.

How valueless is Lenin’s judgement of Kautsky is shown by one outstanding fact. In Lenin’s view Kautsky was a Marxist until the war broke out in 1914, when he became a “renegade”. Yet as every Socialist knows, apart from previous actions in Germany, 14 years before the war Kautsky had proclaimed his renunciation of Marxism when he drafted the well-known “Kautsky resolution” at the 1900 International Socialist Congress. That resolution stated that a Socialist could accept a gift of a seat in a capitalist cabinet in a national emergency, such as war. His support of the German capitalist class in the war was therefore only the logical outcome of his resolution in 1900.

Kautsky says the question is one of the “clashing of two fundamentally distinct methods, that of democracy and dictatorship” (p. 1). Lenin retorts by claiming that the question is one “of the relation between the proletarian State and the bourgeois State, between proletarian democracy and bourgeois democracy” (p. 10).

It is obvious that Lenin’s statement is a shuffle. For relations to exist between a proletarian State and a bourgeois State both these States must exist at the same moment. Are these two States existing in Russia to-day? If not there can be no question of such a relation there.

Again, what is “Democracy”? Kautsky says “Democracy signifies the rule of the majority, but not less the protection of minorities” (p. 30).Lenin pours scorn upon the latter part of this definition, and refers to the repression of strikers, internationalists, and others in democratic countries like America, Switzerland, and England. True as this retort is against the “protection of minorities”, it does not touch the question of what is democracy, and Lenin carefully evades any definition himself. His use of the terms “proletarian” and “bourgeois” democracy merely clouds the issue.

Democracy means “Rule by majority”, and the trimmings introduced by both Lenin and Kautsky are quite secondary to this main point. It is generally taken that the minority shall be allowed to express their views and may endeavour to convert the majority to their ideas, while accepting for the time being the majority decisions. This, however, depends upon circumstances and conditions, such as war, where this allowance would not be made. Kautsky himself supported the German Government in repressing minorities in Germany.

His grief at the capitalists being deprived of the vote under the Bolsheviks, receives an answer from Lenin that will hardly please the supporters of the latter here, who have proclaimed it as a necessary factor in working-class policy. He says: “One may say in this connection that the question about the suppression of the franchise of the exploiter is entirely a Russian question and not at all one of the dictatorship of the proletariat in general” (p. 38. Italics in original).

As a matter of fact, it is a question of the conditions existing at the time. If the capitalists were endeavouring to foment civil war – as they were doing at that time – they would be outlawed and thus deprived of most civil privileges.

But what is “bourgeois” democracy? Lenin points to modern capitalist countries as examples. Yet in all these countries the proletariat not only form the majority of the population, but also have the majority of the votes.

So a “bourgeois” democracy is one where the proletariat are in a majority. Then what is a “proletarian” democracy? We are told that it is “a democracy for the poor” (p. 31. Italics Lenin’s) while in a bourgeois democracy, even the best, “We are ruled, and our State is run by bourgeois bureaucrats, by capitalist parliaments, by capitalist judges” (Ibid.).

But if democracy is the rule of the majority, and in the capitalist countries mentioned the proletariat form the majority of the population and have the majority of the votes, it is clear that the proletariat must have voted the capitalists into Parliament and power. Why did they not vote themselves into power? Lenin’s statement on this point is such a stupid lie as to cause wonder that a man of his abilities should have written so glaring a contradiction of the facts. He says: “The labouring masses are kept away from bourgeois parliament (which never decides the most important questions in a bourgeois democracy as they are decided by the Stock Exchange and the banks) by a thousand and one barriers” (p. 29).

Lenin does not give one, let alone a thousand and one of these barriers, for the simple reason that they are non-existent outside his imagination.

This is one of the points on which Kautsky scores heavily and Lenin is reduced to evasion.

On page 12 of his pamphlet Kautsky says:
 “Every conscious action presupposes a will. The Will to Socialism is the first condition for its accomplishment.” 
  “This Will is created by great industry . . .  Small production always creates the Will to uphold or to obtain private property in the means of production which are in vogue, not the Will to social property, to Socialism.”
This is the situation. While the workers agree with capitalism, they will vote capitalists into Parliament. When they agree with Socialism – or “Will to Socialism” – they will send Socialists there.

And – how short is Lenin’s memory! – both he and his colleagues were voted into a “bourgeois” Parliament by the “labouring masses”.

Lenin on p. 30 of his book says: “the Soviet regime is a million times more democratic than the most democratic regime in a bourgeois republic”.

What is the Soviet Regime?

The word “Soviet” is used by many supporters of the Bolsheviks as though it denoted some newly discovered magical power. When one is told that it merely means “Council” the magic vanishes.

At the base of this system are the Urban and Rural Councils, directly elected by the sections qualified to vote. The delegates are elected in the proportion of one delegate to every 1,000 members in the towns (up to a maximum of 1,000 councillors), and one delegate to every 100 in the country.

Above this comes the Volost Congress. A Volost is a group of villages, and the Congress is composed of delegates from the Councils of these village groups.

Next above in the order is the District Congress composed of representatives from the Village Councils.

Still higher is the County Congress consisting of representatives from the Urban Councils and the Volost Congresses.

Overriding all these bodies is the Regional Congress made up of delegates from the Urban Councils and Congresses of the County Districts.

At the apex of the system is the All Russia Congress of Councils which is the supreme authority of the Russian Republic. This is formed of delegates from the Urban Councils and the Congresses of County Councils.

We have, then, six grades of authority in the Russian system. But note how they are elected.

The “labouring masses” vote once – namely, at the local councils, urban and village. This is their one and only vote. All the other grades are elected by the delegates of the Congress immediately below it.

This the Volost Congress is elected by the Village Group Councils; the District Congress by the general Village Councils; the County Congress by the Urban Councils and Volost Congresses; the Regional Congress by the Urban Councils and Congresses of County Districts; and the All Russia Congress by Urban Councils and Congresses of County Councils.

We see, then, that “the supreme authority of the Russian Council Republic” is removed five stages beyond the vote, reach, or control of the workers.

Another interesting point is the ratio between the urban and country representatives. Thus for the All Russia Congress of Councils the Urban Councils send one representative for every 25,000, while the County Council Congresses send one delegate for every 125,000, or to put it another way, the Urban Councils have five times the representation of the County Councils. The same ratio applies to Regional and County Congresses. These figures have a peculiar significance.

The Bolsheviks, naturally, find their chief support in the urban centres. By this basis of representation they are able to ensure the practical certainty of a majority in “the supreme authority of the Russian Republic”. “And that’s how it’s done”, as the stage conjurer says.

This method may be suitable to Russian conditions, but to claim for such a system that it is “a million times more democratic than the most democratic regime in a bourgeois republic” — where the workers have a direct, and overwhelming, vote for the very centre of power — is the wildest nonsense.

But what of the Recall? we may be asked. Let us see what the clause says.
  “The electors have at any time the right to recall the delegates whom they have sent to the Council and to proceed to new elections.”
Two interpretations may be given to this clause. First — if as the words state — the recall is limited to the Councils, all the Congresses are free from this control. Secondly, if the clause is intended to apply to all the grades, then the workers can only use it for Local Councils as they are not voters in any other grade.

Marx, of course, is freely quoted by both writers. On p. 140 Kautsky, while stating that the Bolsheviks are Marxists, asks how they find a Marxist foundation for their proceedings.
  “They remembered opportunely the expression ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, which Marx used in a letter written in 1875.”
Kautsky states that this is the only place in the whole of Marx’s writings where this phrase occurs, though Engels used it in his preface to the 3rd edition of Marx’s Civil War in France.

Lenin’s reply to this is to call the passage a “celebrated” one, and to call Kautsky several names. He then makes the following statement:
  “Kautsky cannot but know that both Marx and Engels, both in their letters and public writings, spoke repeatedly about the dictatorship of the proletariat, both before and after the Commune” (p. 12. Italics in original).
Here was a grand opportunity for Lenin to get in a powerful blow by giving some of these “letters and public writings”, but, to the chagrin, no doubt, of his followers, he does not give a single case outside those mentioned above. There are endeavours to twist some of Marx’s statements on the Commune of Paris (1871) into a support of this claim, but they are all dismals failures. Only in the Communist Manifesto is found a phrase – “the proletariat organised as a ruling class” – that bears any resemblance.

But a more important point remains. Every student of Marx knows how he laid bare the laws of social evolution and claimed that, in broad outline, all nations must follow these laws in their development.

Kautsky uses this fact with great effect, and it forms the strongest argument in the whole of his pamphlet. On page 98 he gives the well-known phrase from the preface to the 1st Volume of Capital.
  “One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement — it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs.”
How does Lenin deal with this famous phrase of Marx’s? By entirely ignoring it. There is not a single reference to it in the whole of his reply. More than this, the quotation given above from page 140 of Kautsky’s pamphlet is printed by Lenin on page 11-12 of his reply. Immediately preceding the sentence quoted Kautsky says:
  “The Bolshevists are Marxists, and have inspired the proletarian sections coming under their influence with great enthusiasm for Marxism. Their dictatorship, however, is in contradiction to the Marxist teaching that no people can overcome the obstacles offered by the successive phases of their development by a jump or by legal enactment.”
This ignoring of one part of a paragraph while quoting the other part is full proof Lenin deliberately avoided this important question.

Kautsky’s analysis of the conditions prevailing in Russia, with the danger to the Russian Republic from American and even more from German capital, is well done, but is entirely ignored by Lenin.

This controversy, along with the events that have taken place since it occurred, adds considerable evidence to the correctness of the deduction we drew from the situation in 1918.

In the midst of the special conditions and chaos caused by the war, when the old exploiting regime had broken down and the new exploiting class were too weak to take hold of power, a small but resolute minority seized the political machinery and took control of affairs. The mass of the workers in Russia are not Socialists, neither do they understand the principles of Socialism nor desire to see Socialism established.

The new ruling minority promised peace and — to their highest credit — established it. That this peace has been broken and they have been compelled to take up war again is due entirely to the Imperialist aims of the capitalist class of Europe. Despite this great burden and the appalling chaos in which they found Russia, they have, according to the accounts of various witnesses who have visited Russia since the Bolsheviks came to power, done wonders in the way of reconstruction and reorganisation. Their success in these matters has caused large numbers of Russians who are opponents of Socialism to give their support to the Bolsheviks as the only party in the country who can get things done.

But rule by a minority — even a Marxist minority — is not Socialism. Not until the instruments and methods of production have reached the stage of large machinery and mass organisation is it possible for social production to develop. When the workers, organised and trained in this social production, reach an understanding of their slave position, and decide to supplement social production by social ownership, through the seizure of political power, then, and not till then, will Socialism be established.

The Bolsheviks based their hopes on a rising of the proletariat of Western Europe to make their position secure. But the Western proletariat did not rise, nor do they show any signs of doing so up to the present. This failure of their basic hope leaves the Bolsheviks in conditions that make inevitable the entry into, and development of capitalism in, Russia.

The Bolsheviks may try to save as much of their system as possible, but the events will prove the correctness of Marx’s view on the failure of attempts to jump the stages in social evolution. Their failure, however, will not be all disaster.

They will have shown the workers of the world that the capitalist class is a useless and parasitic class in modern society. They will have shown that men holding Socialist views and of the working class could take charge of huge affairs and manage them with great success, in the midst of the wildest chaos, and while hampered by enemies within and without. Already the lesson is beginning to be learnt, and though only affecting a few relatively at present, it is spreading with steady persistence.

When the workers awaken to an understanding of the position in which they exist, and begin to fight the class war consciously in numbers that seriously count, the rule of the Russian Bolsheviks will be a splendid lesson, not on the value of “Soviet” or “Dictatorship”, but on the ability of the working class to manage its own affairs. It will have done its share in “shortening and lessening the birth pangs” of Socialism.
Jack Fitzgerald

The Historical Method of Karl Marx by Paul Lafargue. (1920)

From the July 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reprinted from the “International Socialist Review,” Oct., 1907.

IV. The Natural Environment and the Artificial or Social Environment—Continued.

A simple change in the habits, by subjecting one or more organs to an unaccustomed use, sometimes results in radical modifications in the whole organism. Darwin says that the mere fact of constantly browsing on steep slopes has occasioned variations in the skeletons of certain breeds of Scottish cows. Naturalists agree in regarding the cetacean – whales, cachalots and dolphins – as former terrestrial mammals which, finding in the sea food more abundant and easier to procure, became swimmers and divers: this new sort of life transformed their organs, reducing to a rudimentary state those no longer used, developing the others and adapting them to the needs of the aquatic environment. The plants of the Sahara Desert, to adapt themselves to the arid environment, have been obliged to dwarf themselves, to reduce the number of their leaves to two or four, to take on a layer of wax to prevent evaporation, and to prolong their roots enormously in search of moisture: their periodic changes come counter to the ordinary seasons; they are dormant in summer during the hot season and vegetate in the winter, in the season relatively cold and moist. Plants in other deserts present analogous characteristics: a given environment implies the existence of beings showing a combination of definite characteristics.

The cosmic or natural environments, to which vegetables and animals must adapt themselves under pain of death, constitute, like the organised being of which Cuvier speaks, combinations, complex systems without precise limits in space, the parts of which are: the geologic formation and composition of the soil, nearness to the equator, elevation above the sea level, courses of rivers which irrigate it, quantity of rain which it receives and the solar heat which it stores up, etc., and plants and animals which live in it. These parts correspond to each other in such a way that one of them cannot change without involving change in the other parts: the changes in the natural environment, although less rapid than those produced in organised beings, are nevertheless appreciable. The forests, for example, have an influence on the temperature and the rains, consequently on the humidity and the physical composition of the soil. Darwin has shown that animals apparently insignificant, like the worm, have played a considerable part in the formation of vegetable mould; Berthelot and the agricultural experts Hellriegal and Willfarth have proved that the bacteria which swarm in the protuberances of the roots of the leguminosae are active in fertilising the soil. Man by tillage and cultivation exercises a marked influence over the natural environment; forest clearings begun by the Romans have transformed fertile countries in Asia and Africa into uninhabitable deserts.

Vegetables, animals and man in a state of nature, all of which are subject to the action of the natural environment, without other means of resistance than the faculty of adaptation of their organs, must end by differentiating themselves, even though they might have a common origin, if, during hundreds and thousands of generations they live in different natural environments. The unlike natural environments thus tend to diversify men as well as plants and animals. It is, in fact, during the savage period that the different human races were formed.

Man does not merely modify by his industry the environment in which he lives, but he creates out of whole cloth an artificial or social environment, which permits him, if not to remove his organism from the natural environment, at least to reduce this action considerably. But this artificial environment in its turn operates upon man as he comes to it from his natural environment. Man, like the domesticated plant and animal, thus undergoes the action of two environments.

The artificial or social environments which men have successively created differ among themselves in their degree of elaboration and complexity, but environments of the same degree of elaboration and complexity offer great resemblances among themselves, whatever may be the human races which have created them, and whatever may be their geographical habitats: so that if men continue to undergo the diversifying action of unlike natural environments, they are equally subject to the action of similar artificial environments which operate to diminish the differences of races and to develop in them the same needs, the same interests, the same passions and the same mentality. Moreover, the same natural environments, as for example, those situated at the same latitude and altitude, exercise an equal unifying action on the vegetables and animals which live in them; they have an analogous flora and fauna. Like artificial environments thus tend to unify the human species, which unlike natural environments, have diversified into races and sub-races.

The natural environment evolves with such extreme slowness that the vegetable and animal species which adapt themselves to it seem immutable. The artificial environment, on the contrary, evolves with an increasing rapidity, thus the history of man and of his societies compared with that of animals and vegetables is extraordinarily mobile.

The artificial environments, like organised being and the natural environment, form combinations, complex systems without precise limits in space and time, the parts of which correspond to each other and are so closely bound together that one alone cannot be modified without all the others being shaken and being compelled to undergo retouchings in their turn. The artificial or social environment, of an extreme simplicity and consisting of a small number of parts in savage peoples, becomes complicated in proportion as man progresses by the addition of new parts and by the development of those already existing. It has been formed, since the historic period by economic, social, political and legal institutions, by traditions, customs, manners and morals, by common sense and public opinion, by religious literatures, arts, philosophies, sciences, modes of production and exchange, etc., and by the men who live in it. These parts, by transforming themselves and by reacting on each other, have given birth to a series of social environments more and more complex and extended, which, in proportion to the extension, have modified men; for, like the natural environment, a given social environment implies the existence of men presenting a certain combination of analogous characteristics, physical and moral. If all these corresponding parts were stable or varied only with excessive slowness, like those of the natural environment, the artificial environment would remain in equilibrium and there would be no history; its equilibrium, on the contrary, is extremely and increasingly unstable, constantly put out of balance by the changes working in one or another of the parts, which then reacts on all the others.

The parts of an organised being, like those of a natural environment, react upon each other directly, mechanically, so to speak: when in the course of animal evolution the upright posture was definitely acquired by man, it became the point of departure for transformation of all the organs: when the head, instead of being carried by the powerful muscles at the back of the neck, as in the other animals, was supported by the spinal column, these muscles and the bones to which they are attached became modified, and with their modifications modified the skull, the brain, etc. When the layer of vegetable soil in a locality increases through any cause whatever, instead of bearing stunted plants it nourishes a forest, which increases the rainfall, which again increases the volume of the water courses, etc. But the parts of an artificial environment can react on each other only through the intermediary of man. The part modified must begin by transforming physically and mentally the men whom it causes to function, and must suggest to them the modifications which they must bring to the other parts to put them on the level of the progress realised in it, in order that they may not hinder it in its development, and in order that they may again correspond to it. The parts not modified manifest their inconvenience precisely by the useful qualities which formerly constituted their “good side”, which by becoming superannuated are hurtful and then constitute so many “bad sides”. They are the more insupportable according as the modifications which they should have undergone are more important. The re-establishment of the equilibrium in the parts of the artificial environment is often accomplished only after struggles between the men particularly interested in the part in course of transformation and the men concerned in the other parts.
Paul Lafargue
(Translated by Chas. H. Kerr.)