Sunday, June 14, 2020

Voice From The Back: The Failure of Reformism (2009)

The Voice From The Back column from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Failure of Reformism

The Socialist Party have always argued that a policy of reforming capitalism by a series of legislative acts while leaving intact the basis of this class divided society is doomed to failure. The Labour Party and other reformist organisations have maintained that this is the only way to deal with social problems. So what do these reformers make of the following report? “Millions of people have been condemned to live under “social apartheid” by 30 years of poor housing policies, a damning report on council estates will say this week. The 107-page report, to be published on Friday, condemns successive governments for pushing poorer people into what it condemns as “social concentration camps” set away from private housing, jobs and shops. Children born on such estates are more likely to end up unemployed, suffer mental health problems and die younger than their counterparts in private housing, says the study by the Fabian Society. … According to the Fabians, children bought up in social housing now have far fewer life chances than half a century ago, because they are concentrated on increasingly ghettoised estates. Those born after 1970 in council homes are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems than those born in 1946 in public housing, 11 times more likely to be unemployed and not in training or education, and nine times more likely to live in a household where nobody has a job.” (Independent, 3 May) It is somewhat ironic that this report has been prepared by the Fabians – an organisation whose very basis is one of a policy of reformism!

Not So Boastful Now

Not so many years ago it used to be the boast of industrialists and politicians alike “What is good for General Motors is good for America”. This simplistic mantra was always trotted out in defence of capitalism during the post war boom of US industry and trade but supporters of US capitalism will have to look elsewhere for consolation today. “General Motors, North America’s biggest carmaker, reported a $6bn first-quarter net loss and an accelerating cash drain on Thursday, underlining the pressure it faces to gain concessions from stakeholders or face bankruptcy. The troubled automaker warned that prolonged uncertainty over its financial condition risks creating a vicious circle of shaky consumer confidence and falling production and sales.” (Financial Times, 7 May) It is in no sense in a “told you so” mood that socialists note the boom and slump nature of capitalism has asserted itself once more. After all it is our fellow workers in the US and elsewhere who will have to bear the prospect of unemployment, re-possession and insecurity. What we ask the working class to do is to consider the socialist alternative to this mad market system. We asked you to do so during the boom. We continue to ask you to do so during the slump.

The Failure of Labour

One of the illusions fostered by the Labour Party is that for all its shortcomings at least it is better than the Tories, but recent evidence seems to point out that even this modest claim is erroneous. “That relative poverty – the gap between rich and poor rather than the absolute availability of basic necessities – should be higher than it was when Harold Macmillan was prime minister is a galling discovery. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a sort of non-partisan unofficial opposition party equipped with massive brainpower, tells us that the distance between our richest and our least fortunate citizens is as high as it has been since their data starts, in 1961. Which leaves open the possibility that Brown’s Britain may be more unequal than we were before the creation of the NHS and the modern welfare state.” (Independent, 8 May)

World Poverty

From time to time everybody receives a charity appeal. It may be posted through your door or a leaflet in a newspaper. We receive so many of them that we tend to become a bit blasé about the whole charity thing, but a recent appeal from the Plan charity contained some particularly harrowing statistics. “It’s a tragic reality that one in five children born in the poorest countries won’t live to see their 5th birthday. …600 million children worldwide live on less that 70p a day – that’s ten times the UK population. Working for more than 70 years and with over 100,000 child sponsors in the UK alone, Plan aims to help more children realise their full potential – and improve the lives of future generations.” Despite the sincerity and undoubted humanity of the Plan people the problem has got worse in the last 70 years. Workers contributing a pittance to relieve the problem of world hunger is pointless. What we need is a transformation in the basis of society to one where all food, clothing and shelter is produced solely to satisfy human needs not to make a profit.

Pathfinders: ESA’s eggs in one rocket (2009)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

ESA’s eggs in one rocket

One gets so used to warnings of woe and dire prognostications that the occasional ‘good news’ item really stands up and waves with both hands, and lately there have been more than one such item. We have recently learned, for example, that the disaster attending the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet might not be so bad after all (‘Ice sheet melt threat reassessed’, BBC Online, 14 May). No indeed, instead of the sea level rising by six metres, it may only rise by three. This may not comfort the sub-sea-level Dutch, who can’t afford a rise of three centimetres never mind metres, but you might be able to get by living on the first floor of your house and punting to work. Heartwarming news, too, that some species of insects are not as threatened with extinction as previously believed. “We were a bit surprised that the dragonflies are not that bad off”, says one researcher (‘Dragonflies face uncertain future’, BBC Online, 15 May). Entomologists probably won’t be partying while Rome burns for mammals, birds and amphibians, who make up 63 percent of threatened species. It’s just amazing that the Grim Reaper – that Horseman of the Apocalypse known as ‘Capitalism’ – has been so remiss as to overlook something.

Rather more inspiring news for astronomer buffs came with the successful lifting off of the Herschel and Planck space telescopes on an Ariane 5 on 15 May. Herschel is an infra-red telescope that will see through gas and dust clouds to observe stars and galaxies being born, while Planck will study the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, key to unlocking the secrets of the Big Bang and the proposed Inflation event, and perhaps even finding hints of earlier universes. The holy grail of grails would be to find experimental evidence of the ‘multiverse’, the supposed multiplicity of parallel universes predicted, or rather unavoidably encountered, by string theory. This might then suggest that physics has not, as some suspect, been wasting its time for thirty years tunnelling down a hopeless blind alley.

Easily the most expensive projects undertaken by the European Space Agency, these telescopes were bundled together on one rocket (which has been known to explode) for economy’s sake. So were the scientists nervous at take-off? You betcha. It wasn’t just the prospect of a £1.7 bn firework display, it was the gambling of a huge time investment by hundreds of people. “I woke up at 4.15am this morning, I was so nervous”, said one Cardiff astrophysicist. “Some people have spent 10 years and more on this …. I felt sick to the stomach.”

And it wasn’t just past effort that was riding on the launch. “If this were to have blown up… a lot of people could have lost their jobs and grants and funds coming for it would have gone.” (‘Jitters and joy at rocket launch’, BBC Online, 14 May). As a bonus, Cardiff University looks forward to seeing a big boost in undergraduate admissions as a result of their involvement in the ESA project. In capitalism, even in pure science, there’s always an angle.

Patent Stupidity

Imagine getting cancer and being told that you can’t have a cancer test because one of the genes involved in the cancer belongs to a private company. This is what happened to Genae Girard of Austin, Texas, in 2006, when she ran up against a patent owned by the company Myriad Genetics. Now, with the backing of other cancer patients and professional groups of pathologists, she is suing Myriad and the US Patent Office (‘Cancer Patients Challenge the Patenting of a Gene’, New York Times, 12 May). At stake is the question of whether it is legitimate for companies to own natural processes. Yes, say companies like Myriad, who wish to charge patients like Girard $3,000 and who refuse to work with their health insurers. Yes, says the Patent Office, who argue that patent restrictions encourage technological development. No, say a host of researchers, who argue the precise opposite, that patents limit research and result in mediocrity and stagnation. Other companies say they can do the same work as Myriad, faster and cheaper, but are legally prevented from doing so. Though one patent-owning company drew praise by being generous with free licensing, this is not likely to be the norm, and future research involving the crossing of multiple patent walls will most probably founder. Many scientists are simply outraged at this imposition of market values on the quest for knowledge. For them, the future of science is in the balance. “You can’t patent my DNA, any more than you can patent my right arm, or patent my blood,” says Jan Nowak, of the Association for Molecular Pathology. But in capitalism, you can own anything, no matter how much it flies in the face of common sense and common interest

We can only hope that the next bit of good news is that someone has patented the swine flu virus. That way, none of us will be allowed to catch it.

Lawfare and Disorder

While litigators across the Pond battle over intellectual property rights, litigation over in the UK seems bent on abolishing intelligence. The well-known enthusiasm among member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to pursue libel suits against Western newspapers and individuals seems now to have spilled over into junk science. Using libel law to prevent and punish unwelcome criticism is known as ‘lawfare’ and even ‘libel terrorism’, and is a standard tactic for the OIC, but now snake-oil merchants everywhere will be ecstatic that the British Chiropractic Association has won its libel case against the science writer Simon Singh, who described certain of its practices as ‘bogus’ (New Scientist, 16 May). This victory may owe a great deal to the fact that, in English libel law, the burden of proof is upon the defendant, not the prosecution, a peculiarity which has spawned a UK-centred ‘libel tourism’ industry. Now the homeopaths and crystal-therapists will be catching on. You don’t need to prove that your ‘alternative’ homespun voodoo works, you can just rely on the defence being unable to prove that it doesn’t. Were we to claim in the Socialist Standard that fairies don’t exist, we would nonetheless have a hard time proving it.
 Paddy Shannon

The price of “freedom” (2009)

From the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sean Hodgson (left) sits in his room in the hostel where they are doing their best to help him recover from the past twenty seven years. Before he was sentenced for a murder which, it was eventually conceded, he did not commit, he stood a robust six feet tall and weighed in at 13 stone. Since then the years of “treatment” for a turmoil of conditions – angina, prostate cancer, schizophrenia  as well as the global, persistent, untreatable stress of being locked up although innocent – have rendered him into this fragile, bewildered man. An unhappy man whose experiences tell a lot about this social system, how it responds to its characteristic tensions and does not easily contemplate the possibility that it has got anything so barbarously wrong.

“Freedom? It’s lonely” headlined a recent article about him. He misses the congestion on the prison wings and he is disorientated by the abrupt absence of the repressive demands – so essential to an orderly prison – of going to bed, or wherever, when he is told and for all his actions to be conditioned with the same hostility. If he now wanted, he could spend all night on the streets. Except that all he can manage emotionally is a trip to the nearby 24 hour shop, or an unplanned visit to his solicitor. His symptoms are typical – like the man who on release went to live with his girl friend but spent most of his time in the one bedroom which for its size and shape most closely resembled a prison cell.

If Sean Hodgson ever recovers in the sense of conforming to the life style commonly required of employment (which is doubtful – he says that his previous behaviour was such that “If I hadn’t gone to prison  I’d have been dead now, from the drugs”) he will find that the disciplines he conforms to voluntarily are as demanding and arduous as many he contended with behind the prison walls. And, as the evidence of the emotional deprivations of everyday working life attests, being a “free” employee does not imply any access to a gregariously fulfilling lifestyle. There are tragically many people who live and work in  the busiest of cities and are desperately lonely.

One type of company now available to Sean Hodgson which he is not grateful for was the attention of the tabloid press. His conviction, for raping and murdering a woman, was very media-attractive. With DNA sampling he should have been released eleven years earlier but the records which could have been used in this were mislaid and it took a lot of work by his solicitor to unearth them. Which is probably why a reporter has been following Sean Hodgson around, talking to other people about him, trying to get a story – or make one up if need be. This, Sean said, made him feel “rotten“. But he will have to learn, in his new “freedom”, that the media is as motivated to sell its products profitably as is any other business, no matter what the cost of human suffering.

Sean Hodgson’s time in prison was a comparatively placid interlude in a tumultuous life of addiction, crime and vagrancy. One who has been involved in many discharged prisoners with similar problems gives a gloomy prognosis: “… they all follow a pattern. I haven’t known any who haven’t either been suicidal or wanted to go into jail after a year”. A great deal of capitalism’s resources have been expended, over a very long time, to moderating such problems through what is called the criminal justice system. Sean Hodgson is only the latest example of the obdurate failure within that assumption.

Our thanks for some of the material in this article to Aida Edemariam and her report in The Guardian on 29 April.

Simon the Sociobiologist (2009)

From the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour loyalists (2009)

Book Review from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

A History of the Northern Ireland Labour Party: Democratic Socialism and Sectarianism. By Aaron Edwards. Manchester University Press

The reference in the title to ‘Democratic Socialism’ might well have been an acceptable tautology on the part of the author or, as it frequently is, a manifestation of misunderstanding of the meaning of socialism. In the case of this author’s work it was quickly demonstrated not only that he has peculiar ideas as to what represented socialism, but in dealing with the political events in Northern Ireland that are the background to his narrative, he is, also, below par regarding the acceptable nature of what passes for democracy in liberal bourgeois society.

The term ‘socialism’ was first used to define an alternative form of social organisation to capitalism. There already existed alternative political and economic suggestions for treating the myriad problems associated with capitalism but within the consensus of those who used the term ‘socialism’ was the conviction that such suggestions were inadequate or unworkable. What was required was the total dismantling of the system of class monopoly of the means of life and its replacement with a system of common ownership and free access to goods and services.

The more politically coherent elements among the reformers, liberals and trade unionists that formed the British Labour Party in 1906 would have accepted the need to replace capitalism with socialism but they thought they could circumvent the essential need to create a democratic socialist consciousness to achieve that purpose. Instead they would, by an ongoing and gradual process, reform capitalism out of existence. Their error is transparent in the bunch of self-seeking careerists and ruthless authoritarian Labour politicians currently grasping with yet another of the crises of capitalism.

Following the partition of Ireland by the British government in 1921 some disparate elements from a Northern Ireland community deeply divided into forms of conditioned politico-religious hatreds re-energised residual Labour support under the banner of the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP). The Party would have attracted the same elements as the British party but would have carried the baggage of political and religious division within its ranks. Contrary to Edwards contention it never made a class analysis of Irish politics; instead it joined the ward-healing process while nervously tip-toeing its way through the minefield of tribal divisions that were the political stock-in-trade of everyday political life in its territory.

Still, those divisions were reflected acutely within the NILP. Catholics, who almost exclusively suffered the tyrannies of the notorious Unionist government’s Special Powers Act (a sort of Complete Dictator’s DIY kit) as well as discrimination in employment and social housing, wanted a determined stand against these evils which would seem good political fodder for a reformist group. In this work the author further betrays his ignorance of socialism as well as his ambivalence to democracy by his sympathy with the NILP leadership’s view that a fulsome condemnation of anti-Catholic practices might alarm potential Protestant voters who supported these evils.

In the late 1940s, having failed to achieve meaningful political kudos from its fence-sitting position the Party openly adopted a Unionist position. Ulster Labour, it proclaimed was British Labour. In a display that would have rivalled that of the National Front, Labour election platforms, in Unionist areas, were festooned with Union flags, which traditionally was the banner carried by the Orange mob. The decision caused a major split in the Party; Catholics, reflecting the same political ignorance as their erstwhile ’comrades’, formed the Irish Labour Association (long since demised) predictably under the banner of the Irish tricolour. Curiously, no mention of this latter happening is found in the book.

In the 1950s the NILP won four seats in the Northern Ireland House of Commons. The new MP’s were all men, proclaimed as good men on the strength of their Protestant fundamentalist faith. Eventually, as traditionalist Nationalist politics went into terminal decline before more strident Catholic demands for the democratisation of the Northern Ireland state, there was an influx of Catholics back into the NILP. Again the Party’s internal unease surfaced: the Catholics more and more favouring direct action against the Stormont regime in which Labour’s four holy men were comfortably ensconced to the extent where one had accepted a white-washing position with the government.

The prelude to open sectarian conflagration in Northern Ireland left the gaping sectarian wounds of the NILP increasingly exposed and finally inflicted their coup de grace on its squalid political corpse. Edwards intones the requiem with the acknowledgement of numbers of its members cosying up to the sectarian murder gangs; a measure of what they had learnt in the NILP. His belated obsequies will find little sympathy with genuine socialists but should serve as a warning for those who put political expediency before principle.

Edwards is a Senior Lecturer in Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Richard Montague

Letters: Is capitalism dead? (2009)

Letters to the Editors from the June 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is capitalism dead?

Dear Editors,

I am writing to you because I do not understand why, now that Capitalism has collapsed (it is only giving symptoms of life by virtue of the heart-lung machine of the media), Britain does not hear more from you.

Capitalism is dead. It has been slowly dying for the past 100 years. All one has to do to prove this is to compare the value of the pound sterling 100 years ago with its present value. We have watched capitalism stagger from one financial calamity to another. And now we have reached its death. It is no longer a matter of whether one is a Socialist or not. It is now about survival. There is nothing so irresistible as an idea whose time has come. Britain is a society or it is nothing. Why are we not all working (and being paid commensurately) for the improvement of our society. Where is the logic in allowing a stockbroker to earn five times as much as a schoolmaster? Who is more valuable to our Society? I realise this might not ‘sell’ to the public, but surely you should be point out in no uncertain terms:

(1) A bank collapses and is nationalised, we the people being left to pick up the tab. Why, when we nationalise a losing enterprise does not our government also nationalise the profit-making companies to counterbalance this loss?

(2) Certain aspects of our society are far too important to be left in the hands of a bunch of greedy self-seeking oligarchs? Surely the collapse of our banks has proved this? No-one would suggest we privatise our police or our armed forces or our fire and ambulance services. So, is it not logical that our transport, (land, sea and air), our water, electricity and gas services are together with our steel and nuclear industries equally vital and should also be in public ownership?

Why is this case not being put before the public who are increasingly desperate for an answer to our hopeless capitalist system?

Simple, straight messages showing how Socialism is the answer to our present economic troubles rather than fighting valid but pointless ‘class wars’ would make a great impact right now. 100,000 emails showing how and why Socialism must come because it is the only answer to this death of Capitalism, should be being sent out every week. I get at least one email a week from the BNP. If they can do it why cannot you? Drop being anti-American and anti-Israel. That is a waste of time and space. Start concentrating on being pro-Britain. The people need Socialism only they don’t know it. Tell them.
David Lee (by email)

We would like to be as confident as you that capitalism is dying but be can’t be. We know from past crises – and, in the history of capitalism, there have been at least two, in the 1880s and the 1930s, as big as this one – that capitalism can recover from them. Capitalism won’t die. It has to be done to death, by the intentional, political action of the excluded majority of wage and salary workers. We can of course agree that it is high time they did this, and we are doing all we can (pamphlets, leaflets, meetings, the internet and, yes, emails) to get them to do this and to establish in its place a society of common ownership, democratic control, production solely for use, and free access to what people need, socialism in short.

We must point out that, in our view, socialism can only be established on a world scale. This is because – as is surely obvious from the present crisis – capitalism, the system it will replace, is a world system. It would just not be possible to establish socialism only in one country.

It might be possible to nationalise utilities, transport and other industries just in Britain. But this wouldn’t deprive the “greedy self-seeking oligarchs” of their property and privileges since when an industry is nationalised the shareholders are paid “compensation” which they can then reinvest in some other business. In any event, even though nationalisation is sometimes called “public ownership”, it is not really ownership by “the public”, i.e. the community, i.e. all of us, but only ownership by the state, i.e. by the minority whose interests it serves. Nationalisation, as the experience of the nationalised industries between 1945 and the 1980s shows, is really state capitalism with the employees still needing trade unions to try to get better pay and working conditions from their employer – Editors.

Monstrous system

Dear Editors

We must reject the notion that a money-based, inordinately complex market system, propped up by bail-outs, is the only feasible system of society. It leads to serious poverty for the masses against riches for a minority, widespread stress, one person’s gain at the expense of another, trade disputes, wars, pollution, homelessness. It stifles medical research and education and it makes charities necessary. This monstrous system has already cost millions of lives in wars and famines. Instead, we should campaign worldwide for a system of common ownership of the resources that we need for a happier life.
Vincent Littlemore, 

Historical Materialism (1970)

From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The credit for the elaboration of contemporary materialism undoubtedly belongs to Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The economic aspects of historical materialism, together with the system of views concerning the problem, the method, and the categories of political economy for these we are indebted to Marx and Engels. What had previously been achieved in this field can be regarded as preparatory. Before Marx finalised his views, materials, often abundant and valuable had been collected, but these had not been systematised, and consequently had not been valued or used as they should have been.

The basic question of philosophy is the relation between ideas and things. The treatment of this question divides philosophers into two main contending schools—the Idealist and the Materialist. The Idealist school states that ideas are primary, and that matter is secondary; that the material world as known to the senses is illusory; that mind alone is real. The point of view of the materialist is directly opposite. The materialist contends that matter is primary and ideas are secondary; that mind is a function of matter (the brain) and that ideas are a reflection of material things.

Marx arrived at the materialist viewpoint quite early in his career, but he lifted it to a higher plane by combining it with the dialectical method of Hegel. The dialectic was not new—in fact it was known to the ancient Greeks— but Hegel, by his universal application of it, had given it a new significance.

The dialectic method used by Marx is the system by which he enquired into, and traced the connection and the series of joints and links that make up the process of historical evolution; by which he investigated one stage succeeds another in the development of society.

Marx in these investigations used the dialectical method in a different way to Hegel. Hegel was an idealist, and to him the process of evolution was the outward manifestation of the growth of the absolute Idea, which developed according to its own laws. To Marx, on the other hand, the ideal is nothing other than the material when it has been transposed and translated in the brain. The dialectical method of thought is a reflection of the dialectical process in material life. By combining the dialectical method with materialism and applying it to the problem of social change, Marx produced an entirely new concept of the historical process: the Materialist Conception of History. Previously historians had in nearly every case explained changes in social life and institutions in terms of growth of ideas. These ideas frequently became personified in great men and history was usually regarded as being the story of the activities of these great men. Where and how ideas originated was a question in the main ignored by historians. To Marx, ideas were a mental reflection of material things. To him, therefore, changes in social life were not to be explained by changes in ideas, but conversely changed in ideas were to be explained by changes in social life.

In the introduction to his Critique of Political Economy, Marx wrote:
  I was led by my studies to the conclusion that legal relations as well as forms of the state could neither be understood by themselves, nor explained by the so-called general process of the human mind, but that they are rooted in the material conditions of life.
The material conditions of life include man’s environment and his physical nature. Changes in the physical environment and in man’s own physical nature are hardly perceptible so they cannot explain historical changes. From the physical point of view both the world and man are much the same as they were two hundred years ago. Yet during the last two centuries changes have taken place which have changed man’s social life. The most important condition of life is the social production of the means of satisfying man’s needs. The method of producing the means of life (food, clothes, housing etc.) does change often very rapidly, and this, Marx considered to be the cause of changes in the structure of society generally.

In order to carry on production man has to enter into social relations, that is, to co-operate with his fellows.

The social relations—the relations between men and economic classes of men—existing at a given time correspond to a definite stage in the development of the means of production.

The means of production consist of the tools, machines, all kinds of transport. methods of organisation, discoveries of science used in production. The primitive technique of ancient times had corresponding to it the social relations of slave and slave owner, patrician and pleb; feudal technique, the relations of serf and feudal lord, handicraftsman and merchant; while present day capitalist technique has corresponding to it the social relations of wage worker and capitalist.

Marx called the social relations and the productive technique to which they correspond the economic foundations of society. Upon this rests the legal political, moral, religious, ethical, artistic, in a word, the ideological superstructure. There is a different ideology, for slavery, feudalism, and capitalism.

As technique develops, social relations change and the ideas and institutions resting upon this economic foundation are correspondingly transformed. Though changes in society are brought about by the evolution of the technical basis, social development is not a mechanical process. It works through human beings organised in classes.

At a certain stage in their development the technical forces of production come into conflict with the existing social relations. The interest of the ruling class determine that they should endeavour to keep in existence the prevailing state of things, and that they should attempt to prevent the full development of the productive forces. The interest of the subject class, on the other hand, lies in the direction of changing the existing state of things, of revolutionising society, and of allowing development of the productive forces.

Then comes the period of social revolution, when men consciously identify themselves with the interest of the class to which they belong, and when they consciously struggle to further those interests. If the struggle results in a victory for the lower class, as in the French Revolution, the reactionary ruling class is stripped of power; the state machine and all other institutions are transformed to serve the needs of the new ruling class; and the productive forces are freed from the obstacles placed in the way of their development. For a time economic development proceeds rapidly producing new classes, new social relations, and new ideas. Ultimately the time again comes when the technical forces for production come into conflict with the social relations. The new ruling class, once revolutionary, now becomes reactionary. Again a social revolution is at hand.

Since the days of Marx it has become the normal procedure for the historians to direct attention to the economic factors in history. Many and various ‘economic interpretations of history’ have been offered for popular consumption and very frequently the materialist conception of history is confused with these economic interpretations. Marx, as an historian, not only drew attention to the economic basis upon which society rests, but also recognised the struggle of classes as the vehicle by which society moved from stage to stage. “The history of hitherto existing society has been the history of class struggles," wrote Marx and Engels on the first page of the Communist Manifesto and in the following pages is given the description of the struggles of the capitalist class against its opponents, and its subsequent rise to power.

The modern capitalist class had its origins in the town burghers of the Middle Ages. Mediaeval society was in the main a society of self-sufficient districts, the manorial villages, but with the rise of towns trade and industry developed. This undermined the position of the peasants and their overlords, the feudal aristocracy. The feudal lords struggled to retain their privileges, which enabled them to tax and in numerous ways to place burdens on the urban population. The town burghers, sometimes in alliance with the King, as in England, were able to break the power of the feudal lords and to remove the regulations, taxes and other barriers that hampered the extension of economic activity.

The discovery of new sea-routes and of the ‘new world’ enormously increased the wealth, size and political importance of the new and growing capitalist class and by the end of the 17th century in England, in France 100 years later, and in Russia during this century, they were able to defeat the last remnants of feudalism. The English revolution in its two phases of the Puritan revolution 1641-1660 and the Whig (or ‘Glorious’) revolution of 1688-1690. and following it the French Revolution of 1789 resulted in a victory for the capitalist class of that period. The Russian Revolution of 1905-1917 has resulted in the rise of capitalism in a form suited to the history and economic development of that country.

The opening of new markets in the period following the English revolution created a demand for an increasing production of goods. Methods of production were continuously improved until finally, with the introduction of steam-driven machinery at the beginning of the 19th century, they were completely revolutionised. This revolution in productive methods caused a revolution in productive relations. From the old bourgeoisie there grew a new class of industrial capitalists and from the domestic workers and peasants there grew a new class of factory workers, the industrial working class. This class chained to the new machinery, exploited and oppressed by the capitalist class, began to struggle for emancipation. The class struggle had reached a new stage and a new phase of history had commenced.

The origin of the workers’ struggle is economic. The workers strive to maintain and improve their standard of life, but this struggle itself assumes a political form. With the aid of political enactments and of the police or, when necessary the armed forces, the state enters the struggle as the protector of the property interests of the capitalists and the workers find themselves not only fighting employers but also the capitalist state. When, with the development of large-scale modern industry, the small labour dispute is displaced by disputes of much larger dimensions, the state more and more openly shows itself to be the executive committee of the ruling class. Among workers there must grow the realisation that economic problems can be solved only by their conquest of political power and the overthrowing of capitalist property relations.

Previous revolutions have placed a minority of society in a position to exploit the majority. The next revolution, the Socialist revolution, is a revolution of a majority as the working class constitutes the bulk of the population in modern society, and can achieve its purpose only by the ending of class- divided society and the ending of all exploitation of man by man. With the ending of all property rights in the means of production, that is the establishment of a new form of society, class conflicts will cease.

The way is prepared for the new progress in which man will replace the blind way of economic forces, by the conscious direction of economically free men—Socialism.
Bob Ambridge

Socialism or Anti-Apartheid? (1970)

From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The apartheid policy of the South African government — with its race laws, its industrial colour bar, its segregation, its overflowing jails and its restrictions on free expression — is a brutal system of oppression of the “non-white” people there and particularly of the African workers and peasants on whose backs the South African capitalist economy largely rests.

Everybody knows (including the South African government who have banned our pamphlets) that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to apartheid. However, our refusal to take part in anti-apartheid activities such as the boycott of goods some years ago and the planned demonstrations against the cricket tour is often misunderstood. So let us explain why we say that Socialism, not anti-apartheid is the way out for the oppressed people of South Africa.

The establishment of a democratic socialist world community based on the common ownership of the world’s resources will mean the emancipation of all mankind. It will end not only the capitalist exploitation of the working class but also all existing oppressions based on colour or language or culture.

Capitalism, the system based on the class ownership of the means of production, paves the way for Socialism by creating a world-wide productive system capable of turning out wealth in abundance. Towards the end of the last century capitalism became the dominant world system and so completed this task of building an economic basis for Socialism. From then on world Socialism was an immediate, practical possibility; capitalism had become a reactionary barrier to man’s further social progress. Some parts of the world, however, though dominated by world capitalism had yet to be absorbed into the system of production for profit and wage labour. These were “the backward countries”.

The question arises: is the coming of capitalism to these countries now in the interest of mankind? The Socialist Party says it is not. Before capitalism became the dominant world system it did play a progressive role in breaking-up pre-capitalist societies — a step towards creating an economic basis for Socialism. But once capitalism had come to dominate the world it had no progressive role to play anywhere, not even in the backward countries. The modernisation of these countries is certainly desirable but this can now take place within the framework of Socialism. There is no longer any need for them to pass through the capitalist stage of social development; they can skip this and, along with the already industrialised parts of the world, go straight into Socialism.

Let us now apply this analysis to South Africa.

Apartheid is essentially a pre-capitalist form of oppression; it is an attempt to impose the colour patterns of a frontier farming community onto a modern industrial economy. It will never work properly because what the government is trying to separate the economy keeps bringing together. The mines and factories of South Africa depend on African labour so Africans are attracted into the towns. Apartheid may never work but the attempt to make it do so brings untold suffering since it is partly because it does not make economic sense that it has to be imposed by police state methods.

The big capitalists of South Africa, as exemplified by gold magnate Harry Oppenheimer, are opposed to apartheid; so are the international corporations with capital invested there. Capitalism’s tendency, through the world market for its goods and the labour market for its workers, is to reduce all previous distinctions based on birth or language or colour or religion to one economic one: that between owners and non-owners of the means of production. Ideally — and this comes near to reality in this age of big corporations where the prejudices of individual capitalists do not matter — the capitalist employer is only interested in the quality of a worker’s ability-to-work and is not concerned with his skin colour or his views; he wants to be free to employ those he considers would be the most profitable for him. The free labour market by throwing together workers of all kinds of backgrounds allows him to do this.

South Africa's big capitalists want to encourage this tendency of capitalism so that they can make more profits on the basis of a modern wages system and a stable, integrated urban working class. They recognise apartheid as an obstacle to this and oppose it. Anti-apartheid serves their interests. It is not in the interest of the oppressed people of South Africa since its achievement would mean the final triumph of international capitalism over its backward-looking opponents there.

Those who are merely anti-apartheid and who urge us to join in their latest single-issue campaign about this should ask themselves just whose dirty work they arc doing. Are they really helping the oppressed people of South Africa or are they merely furthering the interests of the capitalists there whose profit-making is being restricted by apartheid? The unpleasant fact is that the overthrow of the National Party government in South Africa and the end of its apartheid policy would mean that political power would pass into the hands more friendly to capitalist magnates like Oppenheimer. This would be so under an African nationalist government (as it is in Zambia or Ghana, for instance) as much as under a United Party or Progressive Party government. The biggest part of the South African working class would be freed from oppression on grounds of colour, but they would still be propertyless and still have to work for wages on the farms, down the mines and in the factories. They would become subject to the straightforward capitalist exploitation the workers of Britain have long known.

Anti-apartheid, then, is not the way out for the oppressed people of South Africa; Socialism is as it will free them from capitalist exploitation as well. To treat opposition to apartheid as a separate issue to Socialism is to become an unwitting tool of international capitalism.

The Socialist Party for other reasons (the dangers of reformism) does not support single-issue protest campaigns in any way event, but, as we have tried to explain, anti-apartheid is not what it seems. We are afraid that thousands of sincere people genuinely appalled at racism in South Africa are going to further the demand of international capitalism for freedom to exploit all workers in South Africa irrespective of colour. We are not prepared to be used in this way and shall not be joining in the demonstrations.

Our advice to those who like us are opposed to apartheid, but who arc thinking of demonstrating is this: Think before you act. Do not let your perfectly justifiable distaste for racism lead you to “do something” that, when you think carefully about it. will not really achieve what you want. Consider whether your efforts would not be more fruitfully employed in working with us for a socialist world community where racism would have no place. In the meantime racist policies will be undermined to the extent that socialist ideas spread.
Adam Buick

Productivity deals (1970)

Book Review from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Employers’ Offensive: Productivity Deals and How to Fight Them, by T. Cliff, Pluto Press. 6s.

In the preface to his new book on productivity deals Tony Cliff tells us that it is intended as a handbook to enable shop stewards to understand and resist offers of productivity deals. He regards such offers as “part of a major offensive by the employing class of this country to shift the balance of forces in industry permanently in their direction”.

This book is a continuation of Incomes Policy, Legislation and Shop Stewards which T. Cliff and C. Barker wrote in 1966. The review of that book in the Socialist Standard (August 1966) ridiculed its claim that out of the shop stewards there would come a new “revolutionary working class movement”. Cliff now admits that we were right and he was wrong — “Life” he says “proved much more complex than the theory put forward”. Specifically he admits that incomes policy did not stop the rise of all wages, it did not provoke general working class resistance “economic, ideological and political”, and there did not arise “a new workers’ movement… overcoming the fragmentation of the working class”.

Nothing daunted, he is having another go. What Incomes Policy failed to achieve he now expects to be achieved by the employers’ campaign for productivity deals. Events will prove him wrong again.

His argument this time is that because of the big increase in the size of investment required for modern industry, the rapidity of technological change and the intensity of foreign competition, capitalism needs to plan years ahead and have long-term control of costs, including wages. The problem is alleged to be particularly great for British capitalism because inflation and the adverse balance of payments lead to “stop-go” and a slower rate of expansion, which in turn raises the cost of production per unit of the products. So the capitalist must have productivity deals which undermine the workers’ shop floor organisation, the shop stewards. This will be resisted with the help of Cliff’s handbook and the new revolutionary movement will emerge.

It will be seen that fate has been very unkind to the author; for about the time his book was being printed the adverse balance of payments was converted into a surplus; also inflation is going on in most other countries too; and productivity deals are going ahead often with the approval of the shop stewards.

One of the author’s errors is to underestimate the resilience of capitalism and the resourcefulness of business managements. Having seen that capitalism would rather like certain things he imagines that there are “musts”; but there is no must about it. Long term wage contracts would be useful to the capitalists but they are not indispensable, especially as employers know by experience that unions have little hesitation about presenting new claims during the life of a contract if circumstances favour this. The situation recently arose in America of the General Electric Company fighting for a one year wage contract while the unions were pressing for three years.

Again, employers would like to be able to enter into long period contracts with buyers to supply at a fixed price, but this is not a matter of life and death. The Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association reports that contracts to build ships are now being drawn up with a clause which allows for some form of price variation to meet unforeseen higher costs (Financial Times, 30 April 1970). Many other firms do the same where completion of the job extends over a long period.

What vitiates much of Cliff’s theorising is that he seems to be quite unaware of the past history of capitalism. He draws hasty conclusions from current events as if nothing very much happened before he came on the scene to observe them.

He tells us for example that in this country it was the Macmillan Government in 1962 which first embarked on an Incomes Policy. It was in fact started in 1948 by the Labour Government when it laid down the principle that there was to be no general increase of wages “unless accompanied by a substantial increase in production”. The same idea was present in the productivity campaign of 1920.

He says that ten years ago productivity bargaining was “a new and strange phenomenon to most workers in British industry”. Little is new about it except the name. The capitalists have always been intent on eliminating unoccupied time and wasted effort from the productive process and workers have always with varying degrees of success, resisted: it and tried to bargain about it. The basic attitude of the employers has always been the same as it is now, to try to get all the benefits of increased productivity themselves. Marx, in Volume I of Capital (Chapter XXI), dealing with the bitter struggles over piece work wages and the workers’ attempts to get higher rates in line with increased productivity and profits, ended the chapter with the following:
  “The capitalist . . . declares roundly that the productiveness of labour does not concern the labourer at all.”
Many of the present productivity deals are concerned with the worker giving up trade union restrictive practices for a wage increase. In the first world war workers were unwisely induced by appeals to their patriotism to give up trade union practices and accept dilution, getting in return only a pledge that after the war what had been given up would be restored. When that time came the workers were not in a position to make the pledge stick and, as Sidney Webb tersely remarked in his History of Trade Unionism “Trade unionists were on the whole ‘done'”.

Cliff has a good deal to say about Work Study (Measured Day Work) and job evaluation. Here again there is little new except that the methods have become more elaborate. Nearly half a century ago factory workers were bitterly resisting employers’ attempts to introduce the Bedaux system of unit measurement (the work expected of a worker in one minute). Job evaluation was years old when in 1955 it was formally introduced in the Civil Service. It was being used in a rough and ready way by the Post Office at the end of the nineteenth century and the Post Office long ago developed its own system of units of work to adjust the numbers of staff to the volume of traffic.

There is one superficial change concerning wage bargaining brought about by years of inflation. For a quarter of a century governments have more or less continuously run a policy of depreciating the currency, with the consequence of an abnormal rise of prices and the cost of living. They have done this as part of their belief that they were thereby securing “full employment”. A rising cost of living is politically unpopular so the governments have also strenuously sought to offset some of the rise by finding ways to increase productivity per worker (Reducing the amount of labour required to produce commodities). As in this situation employers could count on getting continuously rising prices for what they sold they were content to put up a more or less token resistance to wage increases required to keep up with the cost of living, offering their real resistance to increases beyond that level, just as when Marx wrote about it a century or more ago. Official figures for 1969 give a revealing picture of what happens.
“Wages and salaries alone rose by 7 and half per cent; but this increase was reduced to 5 and half per cent by higher personal tax payments and national insurance contributions. Most of the remaining 5 and half per cent rise in personal disposable income was offset by higher prices . . . “ (Financial Times, 9 April 1970.)
The workers would be on sound ground in resisting all attempts to intensify their work or worsen its conditions and should always try to get the highest wage possible in the circumstances of the time, the strike, or threatened strike being the one way to test the possibilities. Cliff turns this simple proposition into something needlessly complicated. He produces a handbook for conducing productivity bargaining but declares himself to be “bitterly and unalterably opposed” to such deals. Then he hedges by saying that you can’t just say no to an employers’ offer, and by directing his fire against “derisory” offers and ones which give only “a few miserable shillings”. His real reason why shop stewards cannot just say no is that many workers want such deals and if the shop stewards take a negative attitude they isolate themselves from the workers.

One of his recommendations is that shop stewards should “invent” restrictive practices the abandonment of which will be of no value to employers and then sell these to the employers for wage increases. It is open to question whether the employers’ negotiators are so easily deceived but if Cliff believes them to be that naive it is for him to justify making these tricks public. Certainly the point was taken by Peter Jay who reviewed the book in the Times (25 March 1970) for he recommends to “any business executive who expects to be engaged in negotiating productivity deals” to get a copy and “know your enemy”.

Cliff is a firm believer in leadership as against the Socialist principle that working class emancipation requires the understanding of the workers themselves. He believes however, that the “natural leaders” of the workers are the shop stewards and other “floor” representatives and not the national trade union leaders.

His case against national trade union leaders and for shop stewards is that the national leaders get out of touch with their members, but he then admits that many of the shop floor representatives also “get completely divorced from their base”. Without knowing that he is doing so he actually shows how little use his “good” leaders are for they cannot act beyond the understanding of the workers; he grants “that a trade union leader can’t be expected to march 10 miles ahead of his membership”, and, as already remarked, he admits that unless shop stewards fall in with workers’ support for productivity deals they become “isolated”.

One of his proposals for reforming the trade unions is that “union officials should get the same rate of pay as the average members”. This is a question that occupied the unions as soon as the need arose to have full-time officials and to many trade unionists. Cliff’s proposal looks a useful one. It was being propagated nearly half a century ago by an organisation of trade union office staffs. It is practicable for unions of comparatively highly paid workers and something of this kind is operated by some unions. But where the membership is of low paid workers it can be quite impracticable. For example, in the agricultural workers union, which has its head office near the centre of London, it would mean that the full-time officials would be paid considerably less than their clerks and shorthand typists because it would be quite impossible to recruit staffs in Central London at the wage of an agricultural worker.

In any event it is misdirected. What is of much more importance is that union membership should see to it that they formulate policy themselves and insist on officials and executives and shop stewards carrying it out.

Cliff’s book is dotted with references to Socialism and the abolition of capitalism but without any real understanding of what Socialism implies — on occasion he indicates that he thinks state capitalism (nationalisation) is Socialism. Emancipation is not going to be achieved by non-Socialists led by shop stewards because it requires a Socialist working class getting control of the machinery of government.

So little does he understand the futility of putting a party of capitalism in control of the machinery of government that he and his organisation (“International Socialists”) were telling the workers to support Labour candidates at the last two elections — and are doing so again at this one. His book is not going to achieve the new revolutionary working class he anticipates.
Edgar Hardcastle

Where Orwell went wrong (1970)

From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many decades now, the ruling classes have employed many devious methods in order to distort working class conceptions of Socialism, and have enjoyed a long success. One of the most successful attempts at distorting working class ideas about Socialism was George Orwell’s horrifying piece of literature 1984. Orwell, a sick and dying man, conjured up visions of a Big Brother state, which many were led to believe would be the result of a Socialist revolution.

Like millions of other people, Orwell’s conceptions were strongly influenced by the outcome of the Russian Revolution, which in actual fact, as all Socialists know, was a capitalist revolution.

The British ruling class did not waste any time in giving Orwell’s ideas widespread propaganda; for after the book was acclaimed by the capitalist press his misconceptions were perpetuated even further through the mass-media of television.

The effects of such harmful anti-Socialist propaganda were only too apparent. Many who had had any beliefs in Socialism became confused.

Orwell’s vision certainly was not of a socialist society where classes will be abolished. But there is now strong evidence to prove that what Orwell really envisaged was the monstrous power of state capitalism which is prevalent throughout the world today. Heavy policing is now being enforced by capitalist governments all over the world; C.S. gas is used against workers, and many other odious methods of repression are used. Demonstrations are photographed, names are recorded, while politicians mouth meaningless words about peace, freedom, and democracy. The exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class has become more and more scientific; in order to increase its wealth millions of workers are enslaved by their capitalist masters, and each individual is timed to the second. Often, when a worker cannot keep up to the speed required of him, his wages are slashed, and it is common for him to be persecuted by the foreman until he is driven out of his job. Workers are even timed when they visit the toilet. When we shop in a supermarket or department store we are watched on a television screen. Even out in the streets of a large city the public are under the watchful eye of Big Brother; the police have televisions on tall buildings. The ruling class have not yet introduced Newspeak, but the national press in Britain is controlled by a small group of milionaires, and the same lies are fed to the British masses daily in order to confuse them even more.

Those who had their ideas of Socialism destroyed by Orwell’s misconceptions should look around in nineteen seventy and they will realise very quickly that the horror of Big Brother has been brought about by the capitalist system of exploitation under which we are living now. The only way to eliminate Big Brother is to abolish the system which has fostered this suppression.

A Correction (1970)

From the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article “Inside the Bolshevik Cul dc Sac’’ (April Socialist Standard) we incorrectly implied that The ABC of Communism written by the Bolsheviks Bukharin and Proebrazhensky made no distinction between Socialism and Communism. In the first part of the book Bukharin describes the society the Russian Communist Party aims at as one based on common ownership without money, wages or profits. This he calls “communism” in line with the then policy of the Bolsheviks of using this word to describe what the Social Democrats had always meant by Socialism. Later, however, the book follows Lenin’s distortion in his April Theses and talks of a society called "socialism" as “inevitable as an intermediate stage between capitalism and communism”.
Editorial Committee

50 Years Ago: Justice and Social Revolution (1970)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The philosophic historians attribute this evolution to the ceaseless action of the Spiritual Forces, particularly Justice, the strongest of all, which according to an idealistic and academic philosopher is always present even though it arrives only by degrees into human thought and into social facts. Bourgeois society and its way of thinking are thus the last and highest manifestations of this immanent Justice, and it is to obtain these fine results that this lady has toiled in the mine of history.

#    #    #    #

A ruling class always considers that what serves its economic and political interests is just and that which disserves them is unjust. The Justice which it conceives is realised when its class interests are satisfied.

#    #    #    #

The feudal and guild organisations injuring the bourgeoisie was in its eyes so unjust that its immanent Justice resolved to destroy it. The bourgeois historians relate that it could not tolerate the forcible robberies of the feudal barons, who knew no other methods of rounding out their fields and filling their purses all of which does not prevent their honest immanent Justice from encouraging the forcible robberies which, without risking their skins, the pacific capitalists have committed by proletarians disguised as soldiers in the barbarous countries of the old and the new world.

It is Justice who gives the slaveholder the right to possess men like a chattel; it is she again who gives the capitalists the right to exploit the children, women and men of the proletariat worse than beasts of burden.

(Extract from The Historical Method of Marx by Paul Lafargue. Socialist Standard, June 1920).

The Revelations of Winston Churchill (1954)

From the June 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The contempt in which the British ruling class holds those over whom it rules is shown by the readiness with which it reveals the truth about its motives and actions in the Second World War only a few years after the event. This column has already remarked upon the revealing statements made since the end of the war about both the Battle of Britain and the invasion of Norway. Now Mr. Churchill himself, the author of those stirring speeches which were so successful in inducing the British working class to fight the battles of the British capitalists for them, has made some extraordinary revelations in his last volume of the history of the war, “Triumph and Tragedy.”

When Churchill met Stalin in Moscow in 1944, they both abandoned the wordy inanities with which they had exhorted their followers to greater efforts, and got down to the business of the real reasons for which the war was fought. Among these reasons the situation in the Balkans in 1939 ranked high. Hitler's successive conquests of Austria, Czechoslovakia and part of Poland gave rise to fears that he was about to begin another "Drang nach Osten,” the drive to the east which had been high on the Kaiser’s programme. Britain wished to conserve her influence over Greece and over the Balkans generally; and Russia was determined not only to keep the half of Poland which she had taken in 1939, but also to extend her hegemony over the rest of Eastern Europe. So when Churchill and Stalin, as the representatives of the victorious ruling classes of Britain and Russia respectively, met at Moscow, they sat down to business with no illusions as to why the other had fought the war.

Blue Pencil
Churchill wrote on a sheet of paper the respective shares which he proposed that each country should have in the various Balkan countries. He suggested that Rumania should be ninety per cent. Russian and ten per cent. British; that Greece should be ninety per cent. British and ten per cent. Russian; and that similar divisions of influence should be made in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the rest. He pushed the sheet across the table to Stalin. "Stalin took a blue pencil, and made a large tick upon it; and passed it back. It was all settled, says Churchill, in no more time than it takes to set it down ” (Reynolds News, 25/4/54). There was no discussion on either side, according to Churchill’s own account, as to how this dividing up of smaller countries (most of which had been on the Allied side in the war) squared with the lofty motives which each had repeatedly given in public speeches as the sole reasons for which the Allies were fighting the war. Does the reader remember the old gag about “the independence of small nations”? No mention of that here. Does the reader remember how the National Anthems of these small countries used to be played to us regularly by the B.B.C. to show us how intimately this country had their interests at heart? Now they were not even called in to give their approval of the settlement reached as to their future by their big brotherly allies. If these Balkan countries had been told, no doubt they would have raised a cry of "No division without representation" but they were not even told.

Honour Among Thieves
Churchill and Stalin kept their respective bargains. When it looked as if the left-wing .political party EAM, and its guerilla supporter ELAS, was going to take power in Greece, Churchill ordered the British Army and the Royal Air Force into action; thus was Greece saved for its Anglo-American future. And not a word of protest came from Russia, or appeared in the Russian press. Similarly, when the Russian army of occupation in Rumania saw to it that the Communist Party took power and threw King Michael out, there was no interference from Britain.

All this is retold frankly by Churchill. Apparently his scorn for the workers is such that he has no fear of any adverse effect on morale in a Third World War; he is not afraid that the workers, having seen how hollow were the speeches made and articles written in the Second World War, might come to think that those in future wars were just as hypocritical. And such is the hold of propaganda on the mass of the working class, he is probably right

Editorial: Our Fiftieth Anniversary (1954)

Editorial from the June 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month our Party has been in existence for fifty years. Fifty years of persistent, single-minded and uncompromising propaganda without ever swerving from the path we set out upon, the path to Socialism. Along that path we have met the laughter, the jeers and the revilings of those who claimed that we were unpractical chasers of dreams. The parties that contained those who laughed, reviled and jeered have either passed out of existence or lost their old identities in the swamps of capitalism. The fire-eaters of yesterday have become the practical politicians of to-day, immersed in the problem of running capitalism more efficiently.

In the course of these fifty years there have been many and shattering changes in the world but none of these changes have in any way affected the soundness of the Party’s fundamental outlook. The Declaration of Principles formulated in 1904 still provides the anchor that has kept the Party solid and safe through the storms of two world wars and the treacherous calms of peace times.

When the Party was formed the British Empire was looked upon as the greatest empire the world had ever known. At that time the maps of the world showed nearly a quarter of the land surface painted with the red that denoted British hegemony and on the sea, well, "Britain Ruled the Waves”! Germany was moving upwards and threatening British trade in a development that eventually led to the head-on collision in 1914. In the East the vast ramshackle Empire of the Czars, built upon the ruthless exploitation of the peasants, spread like a semi-feudal blight. China, still steeped in the customs of olden times, was a promising field of plunder for western trading brigands, whilst Japan was struggling into the sphere of the modern powers. India, with its teeming population, was lying somewhat uncomfortably in the lap of British imperialism and its Durbars were splendid circuses for the edification of its Western rulers. America was too busily employed building from within to exercise much influence outside the American continent. Big business was building up internal fortunes for those who were riding on the rush to mechanise American industry. Standard Oil was one of the few American enterprises that spread its tentacles over the outside world.

The movement that went by the name of "Socialist” was mainly a hotch-potch of nationalist and state-ownership ideas that gave some lip-service to Marxism. In Germany this movement had a large body of adherents, and in France it was fairly strong, but elsewhere it exerted little influence. In England its supporters could only be numbered in hundreds.

What vast changes have come over the world since those days! The British Empire is a thing of the past, India and China have awakened from their slumbers and become powerful states, the empire of the Czars has been replaced by a ruthless dictatorship that has mechanised Russia and built it up into a first class imperialist power challenging America for world supremacy. All over the world the sometime backward countries are rapidly overtaking the erstwhile leaders and building up societies split into the familiar western type of workers and capitalists. In the course of these changes "Labour” has come to power in various regions and revealed the emptiness of the claim that Labour Parties were out to build a new world in which the workers would find comfort and security. Wherever Labour Governments have come to power they have acted in just the same way as avowed capitalist governments they have administered capitalism in the interests of those who own the means and instruments of wealth production. To the workers the change in government has made no fundamental difference.

The facts of history have proved that we were right in our outlook and in our criticisms. In face of this we urge workers to study the position we have been putting forward for fifty years for it is the only position, the only solution to the problems of today that offers the workers hope. We have kept steadfastly to this position for fifty years because we know that Socialism is the system of society that will bring comfort and security for all mankind.

Finally, we are what we were and we will remain what we are.

Geneva and Indo-China (1954)

From the June 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The political all-in wrestling match which has been taking place at Geneva has been the focal point for the eyes of the world. It is not a simple struggle between two opposing sides but a free-for-all for any group with vested interests in S.E. Asia and/or world strategy. The various claims and counter-claims, the advances, retreats, feints, side-steps and trials of strength that precede the really getting down to grips have taken place in the glare of publicity and propaganda, although there is, in addition, the backstairs double-dealing and secret alignments which will, in due course, when put to practical use in the negotiating, have such telling effects. It is understandable that people should take an interest in the goings-on in Geneva, for it is in such trials of strength over the division and redivision of shares of wealth, which have been produced by the workers for their masters, that groupings of powers are formed which could plunge us into another war. For this fight at Geneva differs from some all-in wrestling bouts in that here the fight is a genuine one, with no holds barred.

The Viet-Minh
But there is a fresh young claimant in the ring challenging the French title to Indo-China—the native capitalists. Their interests are represented by the nationalist organisation known by its abbreviated name of Viet-minh, whose chief representative is the so-called Communist, Ho-chi-ming.

Viet-nam is the name given to the combined countries of Tongkin in the north, the empire of Annam in the centre and the former French colony of Cochin-China in the south. “Viet-nam for the Vietnamese” is one of the slogans of the nationalists. By this they really mean that the native ruling-class wish to exploit the workers there without having to share the loot with any other group. This attitude has the sympathy of many of the native governments of Asia who have only recently ousted the hated foreign masters themselves and one of them, India, has offered to act as referee at the Conference in order to help resolve the difference so that the claimants will not resort to war.

The internal situation of Viet-nam is complicated by the unrest in the native people and their desire for land reform. The native farmers operate such small segments of land and with insufficient capital that after they have paid the extortionate interest to the moneylenders there is usually insufficient left to maintain them in health. This, and the impact of revolutionary ideas inseparable from capitalism, have made of these people a force that must be placated. The Viet-minh have won their support by promising them reform if the Party succeed in seizing the reins of government.

The existing native government, usually referred to in the newspapers as Viet-nam, headed by Emperor Bao Dai, is under the influence of the French. This puppet government tries unsuccessfully to steer a course which will satisfy firstly the foreign exploiters who hold much of the military power, secondly, that portion of the native ruling-class who wish for a greater measure of control for themselves but are prepared to leave the responsibility of keeping order to the French, and, thirdly, a native working population seething with unrest.

Though far removed geographically from the scene in S.E. Asia, the large and expanding economy of the U.S.S.R. has a vital interest in world strategy and it is this interest which may be affected by the forthcoming division of spoils being negotiated at Geneva. For France is a member of the European Defence Committee which seeks to combine those with a common interest in opposing the expansion of the Russian spheres of influence in Europe. The preoccupation with the trouble in Indo-China has, by weakening France, thereby weakened E.D.C. It is in the interests of the U.S.S.R. that the French and the other allied powers are pre-occupied with Asia for as long as possible. The Russians have practically nothing at stake there and thus gain greater freedom of action in Europe.

American interests are affected on two counts. One by reason of world strategy and the other arises from the need to safeguard their investments in S.E. Asia.

The American ruling-class regard Indo-China and Korea as bulwarks of democracy against the spread of Communism. To bring such high-sounding ideology down to earth it means that American capitalists wish to prevent their opposite numbers in China and Russia from extending their control of any more markets, sources of raw materials and exploitation of workers, at the expense of American-dominated Western Capitalism.

Apart from a considerable American investment in the French war in Indo-China the American government has invested in next-door neighbour Siam, which his a 900-mile river frontier with Indo-China. If Indo-China passes into the control of a hostile power Siam might be menaced too, and the Americans have no intention of allowing this to happen if they can avoid it.

Between Viet-nam and Siam lie the Buddhist kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia, both comparatively weak through being but sparsely populated, and almost undeveloped from the Capitalists' viewpoint.

With the absence of dangerous revolutionary ideas —and any political unrest—these two countries, therefore, make an ideal buffer state to protect American investment in Siam and this indicates the policy the U.S.A. may pursue at Geneva.

Great Britain
British Capitalism has different interests again and therefore employs different methods to attain these ends. Having a long experience in the East, H.M. Government uses this superiority with telling effect against its rivals in the ring. For instance, probably realising that Dien Bien Phu was past help anyway, they refused any co-operation with the American proposal to despatch without delay all possible air help to the French troops, but giving as their reason that they did not wish to jeopardise the Conference.

The American embargo on war materials to China was evaded by the British, according to American charges, by shipping these goods to the British colony of Hong Kong and then transferring them across the common frontier with China.

The British Capitalists have much invested in some of the countries of S.E. Asia but particularly in the mines and plantations of Malaya. Here there is guerrilla fighting with the adherents of the Communist Party among the large Chinese minority living in Malaya who have been trying to oust the British and seize power.. But the Chinese Communist Party has steadfastly refused to assist their comrades in Malaya in any way, although by reason of British diplomatic representation in Peking, they are entitled to establish consulates throughout Malaya. Consulates are recognised channels for assistance to fifth-columnists elsewhere. Perhaps it suits the Chinese not to take on a venture in Malaya which they are not sure will be successful. Failure would explode the carefully nurtured Communist legend of invincibility, that history is on their side, a policy of inevitability that counts so much with many Asiatics of a fatalistic turn of mind. But also Mao-tse-tung, being an Asiatic, evidently knows what is meant by a bargain and the British Capitalists are probably expecting that their services over the matter of wrecking the American proposal of air help to the French in Indo-China, and their recognition of the present regime in China, will be remembered when the time comes in the East to hand out trade contracts.

It is reported by some of those who have made a study of the subject that China has given no help to the Viet-minh. Whatever the latter have had from China has had to be paid for. The record of Chinese dealings with so-called Communist Parties in other countries of Asia seems to support this view. But nevertheless China has, at the least, a strategic interest in the outcome of the struggle in Indo-China. This country has access to Chinese territory through a common frontier and the Indo-China railway system extends into China for 300 miles. It would seem to be to China’s advantage to have a weak nationalist regime in Viet-nam rather than France and her powerful allies. China, the most experienced of all contestants, will probably make her weight felt to the greatest advantage.

The French
The French are the present holders of the title to exploit Indo-China, which title they have held since 1787. And what a prize they have! For this is a country of profitable mines and the lush countryside produces that valued contribution to Capitalist profits —cash crops—that is, rubber, tea, sugar, rice, coconuts, timber.

At Cam Pha in the north is the coalmine-owner’s dream come true. Here is a seam of anthracite coal of fantastic size lying on the surface, 300 ft wide, 370 ft. deep and over 20 miles long. All that the workers have to do is to shovel the coal into trucks. All the owners have to do is to take the profits. Ocean transport is available in that veritable fairyland of beauty-spots—the islet-studded Bay of Along.

Those who support French colonial policy in Indo-China could also point to the development that has taken place in Cochin China in the south.. In the last 60 years 4,800,000 acres of new land have been reclaimed for agriculture. Swamps have been drained and canals dug; 7 billion cubic feet of land were dredged. Fields under rice cultivation have increased from 912,000 acres in 1868 to 5,760,000 acres to-day. In other provinces even greater increases of land under cultivation has been noted. In all some 12 million acres of tillable soil has been added to the land of Indo-China.

From 1885 to 1940 France invested a total of 5,200 piastres in the country.

Apart from its intrinsic worth, Indo-China has a strategic value arising from its position as a peninsular athwart many of the trade routes to S.E. Asia.

Yet there are people who say that Indo-China is not worth fighting for!

The Workers enter the ring
But it is the workers who drain the swamps, grow the valuable crops and work the mines of Indo-China. It is also they who fight to protect French property which they have created by their own labour or to extend the rights of the rising Indo-China capitalists. But they are not represented at the Geneva Conference and their interests will not even be discussed. Whoever comes out on top in the struggle at Geneva the workers will still be the under-dogs. For them there will be no prize. It will not alter their class position in this capitalist jungle if the French are elbowed out by a native ruling-class.

The Socialist movement alone has a working-class policy which would give a knock-out blow to all of the exploiters and throw the whole lot of them out of the ring for all time. Then will the fullness of the earth and the valuable cultures of all peoples be freely avail- able for the whole of mankind. Socialists have a slogan which in its pithy way expresses our ideas—Workers of the world unite. You have only your chains to lose you have a world to win.
Frank Offord