Saturday, June 27, 2020

Nigeria, Biafra and oil (2008)

From the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
Oil was a major issue in the Nigerian civil war forty years ago.
Nigeria is a country that was created artificially by British colonialism. It has a complex ethnic mixture of groups, with a division between the North, inhabited by Muslim Fulani-Hausas with a rigid feudal system, and the South where a number of different ethnic groups co-existed loosely, the largest of these groups being the Christian Igbos and Yorubas. The trick of British colonialism was the divide and rule system. They knew the nature of Nigeria; that it is a country that doesn’t have the same climate, not the same religion, not the same mentality, not the same food, not the same dress, not the same dialect, and not the same culture. They used their military might to force Nigeria to be one by the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates of Nigeria. They gave the Fulani emirs political prominence at the expense of the Southern population and left a time bomb with the fuse burning.

Prior to independence, and afterwards, many threats of a Northern secession were made by the Northern politicians because they did not want to be part of Nigeria. But in realty these Northern political kangaroos called leaders did not want to lose the benefit of Southern oil and industries. Nigeria was supposed to get its independence before the Gold Coast (now Ghana) did in 1957 but, because Northerners were not prepared to be part of the new country, Nigeria lost many years in debate and compromise until the North agreed to be part of it. It was only in 1960 that independence came.

But the new Nigerian constitutional framework did not resolve everything, it being clear that Nigeria was sitting on a time bomb that would explode and cause real dangerous harm to all Nigerians.

The constitution did not change the relative cultural backwardness of the North compared to the South. What the Northern leaders wanted was a guarantee that they would retain their dominant political position after independence. If not, they would pull out and form an “Arewa Republic” for the interest of the Fulani–Hausa. British imperialists taught that the North were fools to be used, and stole the resources from the South. But, the North got their way in political domination in Nigeria.

Military rule
In 1966, a group of young officers assassinated the Northern leader Bello, the federal Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and the Western leader Akintola who had become discredited in the eyes of the population. The coup leader, Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu (now dead) broadcast the following reasons for the coup on radio:
  “Our enemies are the political profiteers, swindlers, men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand ten percent, those that seek to keep the country permanently divided so that they can remain in office as Ministers and VIP’s of waste, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles”.
In the North, jubilant masses ransacked the governor’s palace and cheered the coup leader, despite his Igbo origin.

The coup did not succeed. In Lagos, General Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi had restored peace and order in the name of the old government with British backing. He placed himself as the first army general at the head of the federation and declared Nigeria under military rule.

Despite opposition from Northern politicians, General Ironsi announced his “Unification Decree” which although it changed little but names – regions became provinces, the federation became a Republic – caused a series of the most violent massacres of Southerners yet seen in the North. “Armed thugs moved across the space between the city walls of Kano and the Sabon Garis where the Easterners lived, broke into the ghetto and started burning, raping, looting and killing as many men, women and children from the East as the could lay their hands on”. It is without doubt that these massacres were deliberately planned by Northern politicians using their own armed gangs to whip up local feelings against the Igbos and other Southerners.

General Ironsi then went on a tour to Ibadan, Western region, to promote the “ One Nigeria” ideal. While he was on this tour another coup was staged, by Northern army officers. General Ironsi and two of his commanding officers were stripped, beaten, tortured and then shot. With taking over command, the coup leader, led by a young British trained officer, General Gowon, issued instructions for Igbos in the army – many off them formed the majority of the technical corps – to be rounded up and imprisoned. And Gowon declared himself the supreme commander of the Nigerian armed forces. During September and October 1966, three months after Gowon’s takeover a large scale massacre of Southerners was reported again from the Northern region.

The British High Commission in Lagos after meeting with the coup leaders came out in their full support – including their demand for recognition of the dominance of the North in any political process. All the regions except the South Eastern region – where the former governor, colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, remained in command with his troops and refused to recognize the new dictatorship. This Ojukwu, son of a millionaire who had been knighted by the British, had been educated in Oxford Universty and Sandhurst college, saw the atrocities of Gowon and decided to lead the South-East to secession and war.

Gowon taught that British imperialism liked him and that was why they would support him to fight a war against Ojukwu. But he failed to understand that Britain and America were only interested in stealing Nigerian oil.

The Biafra War
On 30 May 1967, Colonel Ojukwu proclaimed the independent Republic of Biafra. Biafra fought a war against Britain, the United States of America, the Nigerian federal army and the River State militia. The actual fighting lasted for 24 months and took the form of an initial conquest of towns and a whole region to the west of Biafra by the Biafran Army and then the slow re-conquest of this region and Biafra itself, town by town, with the Nigerian Federal Army with its imperialist backers pushing the Biafran troops further back.

What the Nigeria and Biafra civil war did achieve was hatred, tribalism, nepotism, marginalization, ethnic inquisition, killings of 2 million innocent Nigerians who did not know anything about politics nor the oil in their region by Gowon and his capitalists backers, i.e. Britain and US. It also resulted in the reinforcement of the Gowon regime as the military dictatorship was to remain in power for a further six years before being kicked out of power by another brutal military dictator Major General Murtala Mohammed in 1976.

Rivalries for Oil
The BBC journalist Frederick Forsyth, who reported from Biafra during the war, later highlighted a major factor precipitating the war:
  “It has been postulated that if the Biafrans had had their way as a republic of semi-desert and was allowed to separate from Nigeria, there would have cries of ‘Good Riddance’ in their ears. One foreign businessman said that ‘it’s an oil war’ and felt obliged to say no more.”
Biafra was not a semi-desert, beneath it lies an ocean oil. Approximately one tenth of this field lies in neighbouring Cameroon, three tenths in Nigeria. The remaining six tenths lies under Biafra.

Gowon and his ruling bandits and Ojukwu’s Eastern interest group had attempted to make an agreement over the terms of their relationship with the British and US oil companies in New York in June 1967. Ojukwu claimed the right to the royalties paid in Lagos by Shell/BP. Up until June 1967, £7 million due to Nigeria in oil royalties had not yet been paid. It was discussed that Biafra should receive 57.7 percent of the royalties and the rest be put aside until there was a political settlement. Gowon vehemently refused to pay and threatened to extend the anti-Biafra blockade to the Bonny Island oil terminal. Without respecting the agreement, Gowon’s troops launched their attack and captured the terminal at Port Bonny.

As soon as the Nigerian army took the oil terminal, the British and US oil companies arrived behind them building new oil installations as fast as they could while war was still raging a few kilometres away.

The Gowon regime represented by proxy the interests of Britain, the US and Muslim countries including Egypt whose pilots flew the Ilyushin jets provided by the USSR. The important imperialist interests at work were those of the oil companies owned by the British, Americans and French and backed by their respective governments in the way they lined up for and against Biafra.

Shell/BP was the biggest exploiter of Nigerian oil. This Anglo-Dutch consortium held the major concessions for oil in both the Biafran and Niger delta region where oil had more recently begun to be pumped. When Biafra was blockaded all oil ceased to flow – because the oil from outside of Biafra, from the Niger Delta’ was conveyed to Port Harcourt, now in Biafra, via a large pipeline. The US companies were also exploiting Nigerian oil but their interests were mainly in the Niger Delta region.

As to France, since all oil concessions in the Biafran region were not yet taken by super imperialists, they had been planning to expand their own concession already operating in Biafra in the name of the state-owned company ELF. Because of that they were in direct rivalry with Shell/BP and hope to gain something at their expense.

The President of France, General Charles De Gaulle kept his options open. Though he never formally recognized Biafra, he did support Biafra’s “right to self–determination” and gave aid through France’s colonized states like Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Gabon. Biafra also got support from South Africa, and Israel.

In 1970, after the genocide, a series of peace talks were held and a settlement was reached and Gowon made his famous speech that there were no victors, no vanquished in this war. Of course, this was true. Both sides had suffered severe losses and part of the country had been devastated. But there was one victor not only in Biafraland but, also in the whole world. Imperialism had established a number of new oil terminals and ensured the stability of its oil profits thanks to Gowon.

The “unity” of Nigeria in reality disappeared because of the mistrust built up during the war and the atrocities perpetrated against Biafrans by Gowon and his imperialist backers.

Every war fought in the world is at the advantage of capitalism. The Nigerian-Biafran war, Rwandan genocide, Liberia war, Sierra Leone war, Democratic Republic of Congo war, Ivory Coast war, Uganda war, Eritrea-Ethiopia war, Darfur conflict, Angola war, Iraqi war, Palestinian-Israeli war, Afghanistan war, India-Pakistan war, Somali war, Zimbabwe conflict, Senegal-Cassamace war, Guinea Bissau war, Chechnya-Russia war. All wars to the advantage of capitalism. Beware and be warned.

Do not say that you did not know or hear about socialism and what we do. The choice is yours. Enough is enough – we must work together and join hands and cast capitalism and imperialism to burn in the abyss of everlasting fire.
Cebiloan Hyacint

Obituary: Ron Cook (2008)

Obituary from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Members were saddened to hear of the death of Ron Cook, of Birmingham branch, at the beginning of May. He was born in 1927 and joined the Party in 1948 while he was a student at Ruskin College from where he won entry to Cambridge University. At the end of the war he had been a teenage sailor on the battleship HMS Illustrious. He worked as a teacher and later as a tutor for the Open University.

He was an active member both at local and national level, a regular delegate to Conference until recent years. He had his own viewpoint on a number of issues. A keen student of Marxian economics, he argued that crises under capitalism tended to get worse and worse. He was also impressed by Herbert Marcuse’s 1955 work Eros and Civilization and was inclined to be take on board more of Freud’s theories than most members. In 2001 he published a book Yes Utopia! We have the Technology in which he presented the case against capitalism and for the sort of society he would like to see established, including his own personal preferences, for instance that people in socialism would live in something akin to hotels.

Besides being a speaker and debater for the Party, he wrote for the Socialist Standard (sometimes under the pseudonym of S. Stafford) and drafted pamphlets including the latest edition of Socialist Principles Explained. In 1994 he represented the Party in the elections to the European Parliament, standing in the Birmingham East constituency. Until last year he organised the annual Party summer school at Fircroft College in Birmingham. Members were expecting to meet him there this year but his friendly and encouraging presence is going to be missed from now on. A party representative spoke at his non-religious, humanist funeral where John Lennon’s song Imagine was played.

Our condolences go to his wife and family.

Simon the Sociobiologist (2008)

 From the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard




Letter: Eastern Europe (2008)

Letter to the Editors from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I was interested to read Gwynn Thomas’s article on Kosovo (and Soros) in the April issue.

In the 1990s, the OSCE created a democracy fund to ‘democratise’ East Europe. Reagan and Hurd ‘warned’ Rumania and the GDR, respectively, in their elections, that unless opposition parties enjoyed “reasonable access” to (state-control-led) media, the resulting administration would not enjoy access to low-interest loans from Western banks.

As an enthusiastic investor in/supporter of “democratic” capitalism, Bob Maxwell donated (with others’ money?) to the OSCE fund—and ‘emerged’ with a Polish TV station and a Hungarian newspaper, if I recollect.

And, in the 1996 Bosnian election, a fascist candidate was able to access the OSCE fund, for politicking/propagandising purposes. The Foreign Office denied it had contributed to the support fund, but claimed Italy had provided the funds.

I thought all funds were usually contributed to pro-rata (Guardian article and Foreign Office correspondence to me.)
D. Shepherd, 
London NW4


London election result (2008)

Party News from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party stood a candidate in Lambeth & Southwark in the 1 May elections to the Greater London Assembly when we distributed some 20,000 leaflets. The result was:
Labour 60,601; Lib Dems 36,953; Con 32,835; Green 18,011; Christian 4,432; UKIP 3,012; LeftList [SWP] 1,956; English Democrats 1,867; Animals Count 1,828; Socialist 1,588.

Greasy Pole: Timer for a change? (2008)

The Greasy Pole column from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard
“There is nothing to hope for from a clutch of privileged Tories”
When they woke up on 2 May, did the electorate realise what they had done with their votes on the day before? Were they alert to the fact that they had encouraged David Cameron’s party to an excited optimism that, after all those agonised years of Blair’s Britain, they had been brought to the threshold of again being accepted as The Natural Party Of Government? (The capital letters are used in acknowledgement of how vital such concepts are to the well-being of the Conservative mind). The experience of Labour government, particularly since their last election victory in 2005, went a long way to persuade many of their previous supporters that, apart from anything else, it was time for a change even if the only other choice was a Conservative government. Gordon Brown has not helped his party by being such a tormented gift to the slick operators of the Tory propaganda machine. So it came to pass that people whose daily life is continually threatened with being little short of a wretched struggle to balance their income against what they need to get by were narcotised into opting to be ruled by a government led by an Old Etonian whose great achievement has been to re-fashion his party’s image by blanketing its disreputable past.

 History
Panic-stricken Labour MPs, as they contemplate an approaching electoral massacre, may take some misguided comfort from their history. In the 1968 local elections, when the standing of the Wilson government was at rock-bottom after the devaluation climb-down and the imposition of “necessary austerity measures” (for which read “wage cutting” and “reduction in working class living standards”) they managed only a 30 per cent share of the vote – a little more than their 26 per cent this year. However they staged something of a recovery so that when Wilson called the 1970 general election they were the pollsters’ favourite. The snag, however, was that they still could not avoid defeat by Ted Heath’s Conservatives. This might have taught their successors something about the volatility of voting intentions which are not based on an understanding of capitalism and its destructive machinations. But in the 2005 general election, when Labour’s majority was slashed from 161 to 67, the response of MPs was predictably chaotic, as they queued up to lay the blame at the door of their then leader. “You can’t beat about the bush” said one of them “Blair was a negative factor on the doorstep, time and time again”. Another plunged hastily (too much so, in view of recent events but in any case he has announced that he will not be standing again and the local Labour Party have selected his successor) into: “It would be nice to see Brown crowned as early as the next party conference”. In a moving display of grief at losing her seat, a former Blair Babe speedily adapted her alleged principles and applied to join the Conservative Party. We are witnessing a similar reaction, as the promised post-Blair revival fails to materialise and the Tory threat gets ever more menacing. Brown’s response was as exhausted and as unhelpful as ever:
 “Of course we can recover from this position…by sorting out the immediate problem of the economy and showing people we can come through, as we have in the past..,.by showing people that we have the vision of the future that will carry this country…into its next phase.”
Once again, Labour have no more to offer by way of explaining their defeat than to blame the shortcomings of their leader. Only hours after the results had been declared on May 2, the calls for Brown to go began, with a desperate search for an acceptable alternative. Should it be ex-postman Alan Johnson? Cadaverous John Hutton? Already discredited Jack Straw? Head Prefect David Miliband? Risibly callow James Purnell? There is no cause to believe that any of these would, in the face of capitalism’s anarchy, succeed where Blair and Brown failed. And while Labour commences yet another civil war the Tories have time to wallow in their victory and plan the campaign to take the greater prize whenever the government dares to take their chance in another general election.

London
In this it could not have turned out better for the Tories than for Boris Johnson to be elected Mayor of London, even if they had to bring in some expensive manipulators to persuade this irritatingly professional buffoon to look a little more credible as someone to be trusted to manage a city with a budget of £12 billion and to throttle off his more oafishly empty attempts at humour. There will now be a period during which Johnson’s mayoralty is taken as a measure of the likely success or failure of a Cameron government. It is not only on his avowed intention to replace the lumbering bendy buses with Routemasters with conductors and to ban alcohol on public transport that Johnson will be judged. He has also promised that all Londoners will actually be able to live in homes which they can afford (while accepting that what he can afford is rather better than anything available to most Londoners). There will be special attention given to the problem of youth crime and particularly to the fearful procession of youngsters being murdered in the capital. To this end Johnson has appointed as his Deputy Mayor an admirer of his – Ray Lewis, who was once governor of a Young Offenders Institution and who now runs something gloriously called a Young Leaders Academy in London. Lewis advises the parents of the boys attending his Academy that they should remove the TV from their bedroom and stop any listening to “dirty music”. His boys are taught to march and to salute: “When we go out, they walk in line, they walk in time, they catch the eye”.

Johnson’s approval of the “boot camp” style of dealing with young delinquents conveniently overlooks his history of (suspiciously unrecorded) offences. He did not report to the police an approach from his Old Etonian friend Darius Guppy, asking him to arrange to have a journalist beaten up who was investigating Guppy’s record as a fraudster too closely. During his time at Oxford Johnson (with Cameron and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne) was a member of the Bullingdon Club which, although it claimed to be a sporting and dining club, devoted itself to serious vandalism. One of their achievements was to hire a string band to play at a garden party and then to destroy all the instruments, including a Stradivarius. In a recent outing involving Johnson they wasted a beautiful cellar in a 15th Century Oxfordshire pub. The pub owner called the police – which the club members dismissed as due to his lacking “a sense of humour” – and Johnson remembered their arrest:
  “The party ended with a number of us crawling on all fours through the hedges of the botanical gardens and trying to escape police dogs. And once we were in the police cells we became pathetic namby-pambies.”
To the fury of the pub owner, the police did nothing more than impose a few on the spot penalties – rather different to how they would have reacted if the damage had been caused by youngsters from Oxford’s Blackbird Leys estate. But the Bullingdon is rather more exclusive – to begin with the traditional dining suit costs three thousand pounds and there is a need for a rich relative to smooth things over and avoid calling the police by paying generously for the damage. This is the background of the man elected by the people to rule the heaving, tempestuous city of London.

So is it time for a change? Ten years of Labour rule have shown that party quite unable to prevent, or even interfere with, the crises and malfunctions of capitalism. There is nothing more to hope for from a clutch of privileged Tories. But rather than dither in a futile panic between one bunch of hopeless careerists and another, why not use the vote properly and effectively and opt for a real alternative?
Ivan

Obituary: Robert Russell (2008)

Obituary from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Robert Russell joined the Socialist Party during the second world war. He was born in 1925 and came from a deprived area of Glasgow called Anderson but despite an impoverished background he managed to obtain a bursary grant and attended the fee-paying Allan Glen’s school. He was an extremely intelligent man and after some time working in the shipping trade he qualified as a Chartered Accountant.

Bobby, as he was known to his friends was to become something of a Marxist scholar inside the Glasgow branch of the SPGB. He was particularly adept at conveying this knowledge to younger members of the branch. I for one am grateful for the time he took encouraging me to read the Marxist classics and for his arguments and discussion.

He was a very active branch member and during his membership he must have held about every post in the branch. As a regular branch attender he could always be relied upon to make worthwhile contributions to the branch’s activities. He was a modest sort of man and could often be self-depreciatory about his abilities as a speaker.

Despite this he was a regular indoor speaker and an excellent tutor at many of Glasgow branch’s study classes. During the sixties when Glasgow branch conducted many electoral campaigns he stood as a candidate for the SPGB at local elections.

Bobby was an extremely kind and generous person and when he married later on in his life he was especially kind to his new adopted family. When he retired from work he was the Managing Director of a Glasgow Iron Works and used his pension with great generosity towards his family. He was especially good at dealing with children as many of the young in his family can attest to.

Bobby was in many ways the embodiment of what is called a “self-educated” man. He took a lively interest in politics, science and language, but what he will be remembered for by his Glasgow comrades was his friendliness and generosity.
R.D.

50 Years Ago: The Liberal revival (2008)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

The managers of the Tory and Labour Parties, during the past year, have had to endure a nagging worry of a kind they both thought had gone for ever, the revival of the Liberal vote. To make it worse they see that it has happened not because voters particularly like the Liberals, but because the voters in increasing numbers have had a lively urge to register their dislike of Labour and Tory.

The suffering Labour and Tory leaders, as if by agreement, jeered at the Liberals for having no policy, until Lord Rea, Liberal Leader in the House of Lords, undertook to tell the readers of the Daily Telegraph (18th March, 1958) what that policy is.

He did not make a very good job of it for, like the spokesman of the two big rival parties, he had the delicate task of steering between the fault of saying too little to please anyone and the risk of saying too much and scaring off some potential voters. In this country, with wage and salary earners making up nine-tenths of the electorate, competition for their votes is a tricky business and the three parties have given much thought to working out the best tactics. What has evolved is the situation in which the Tory, Liberal and Labour parties each has a list of vague general principles, and the three lists are almost identical, except for small differences of emphasis. Thus they all say they are working for Peace, Disarmament, low prices, high wages, and making everybody happy, and all declare themselves to be not a class party, but a party of the nation.

 (From editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1958)

Left-Wing Illusions (1943)

Book Review from the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reading Fenner Brockway’s "Inside the Left" (Allen A Unwin, 15s.), we recall that the word "Left" acquired its political significance during the time of the great French Revolution. Those sitting to the left of the Chairman of the Convention were distinguished by their radicalism—the more to the left, the more extreme the views; whereas those delegates sitting to the right were marked by their more moderate outlook, the extreme right being composed of the out-and-out reactionaries. If it be further remembered that the French Revolution serves as the classical example of revolutions of the bourgeois, or capitalist, type, then it must be agreed that the title selected by the author is not inappropriate. His political outlook was, and remains, that of a utopian-radical representing the "left" of capitalist politics.

Since it is the habit of such widely differing personalities as Herr Hitler and M. Stalin to profess themselves socialists, it is, of course, not at all surprising that Fenner Brockway should also stake his claim. It is perhaps unfortunate that nowhere in the book under review does the author explicitly state what he means by Socialism; consequently our criticism must, in the main, be inferential. The final chapter of the book, which in some ways is the most important, seeks to summarise the political evolution of the author. And with the best will in the world, it is difficult to discover any result more important than that, whereas at one time the author hoped that his political objective (he calls it Socialism; in reality, he means State Capitalism) could be achieved by peaceful methods, he now considers the employment of violence to be necessary. Already, in an earlier chapter, Brockway indicates "his developing revolutionary view." On page 240 he writes: "It was Nazi challenge to the democratic institutions of Germany, and the retreat of the powerful Social Democratic and Communist Parties before it, which compelled my reconsideration. During 1931 I had been in Germany and I was profoundly impressed by what I saw and heard ” (Did he, we wonder, happen to notice how, in August, 1931, the "powerful Communist Party" united with the Nazis and the Stahlhelm in support of a referendum, the object of which was to remove the "powerful Social Democratic Party" from its dominant position in the Prussian State Diet? And did he notice how the "powerful Social Democratic Party" gave its support to the most undemocratic emergency legislation by Dr. Bruening, the then Chancellor of the Reich?) To continue, the author goes on to say: "I realised that the Parliamentary Revolutionism of Clifford Allen was not enough, because in a decisive crisis Reaction would suppress Parliament. I began to see that in the last resort the workers would have to depend on their strength in a direct struggle with the capitalist class." Further on, he observes that: "Socialists were living in a fool's paradise if they thought that a majority in Parliament would be enough. Socialist legislation would meet with resistance from the aristocratic, plutocratic, financial and capitalist classes generally." This is given as an example of the author's "developing revolutionary views" which, significantly, "reflected a turning point in I.L.P. thought." Now, in spite of all that has been written and said to the contrary, Parliament, especially in a developed country, mirrors with a fair degree of accuracy the hopes, wishes and desires of the electorate. And if Parliament—or any genuinely representative institution—acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the electorate, could be promptly suppressed by a ruling class whose displeasure it may have incurred, then let us state quite frankly that the prospect for Socialism would be black indeed. Fortunately for the working class, the matter is not quite so simple as that. In developed capitalist society, where at least the passive support of the working people has to be assured if society is to function at all, the ruling class is absolutely precluded from arbitrarily imposing its will on an unwilling populace. Germany is no exception to this, and whatever illusions Fenner Brockway, or for that matter anyone else, may have on this matter, we may be quite certain that they are not shared by those political realists who at the moment lord it over the German people. Goebbels' propaganda agency is not an expensive toy to amuse Goebbels; its function is to ceaselessly present the political and economic aspirations of the German ruling class in a form acceptable to the mass of the German people. In spite of all popular ideas to the contrary, the master minds in Germany, no less than master minds elsewhere, know perfectly well that they cannot sit on bayonets alone. And the most cursory acquaintance with German propaganda is enough to convince anyone that no pains are spared in attempting to persuade the German people that the policy of the German Government is in their (the people's) interest. That the Nazis are where they are, that they have been able to do what they have done, is primarily due to the indifference to democracy and the political incapacity of significant numbers of German workers, not to sinister designs of the ruling class. If Fenner Brockway really believes in the power of the ruling section of society to behave, when it so suits them, in an entirely arbitrary fashion and without reference to the wishes of the majority of the people, it would appear to us that he is wasting his time in addressing his propaganda to the working class. Clearly, it is the ruling class whose conversion he should seek. We know that it is only in relation to Parliament that the ruling class receives omnipotence at Brockway's hands. Outside Parliament the workers are endowed with mysterious and unspecified powers which they cannot exercise inside Parliament. In reality the position is this: if it were impossible for a Socialist working class to gain power and use it through Parliament, there is nothing more certain than that it cannot and never will gain it without.

What does Brockway mean when ho says “that in the last resort the workers would have to depend on their strength in a direct struggle with the capitalist class"? Surely it is not unfair to conclude that he envisages reliance on armed struggle instead of parliamentary methods—our late Communist friend, the “heavy civil war." But in reality, of course, Brockway, in common with all those who talk in this strain, means something entirely different. It is not "direct struggle with the capitalist class" he has in mind, but struggle with other members of the working class who are content to remain the dupes of a ruling class already in existence, rather than become the catspaws of a rival group aspiring to power. When a majority of the working class understand, and therefore want Socialism, we shall get it—not before. It may be improbable that all members of the working class will comprehend socialist ideas in a uniform manner; nevertheless, given a majority of the working class as socialist, it is extremely difficult to imagine a situation where any significant minority of the workers would remain so unaffected by socialist ideas that it would be willing to spill its blood for reaction. Is it not far more reasonable to suggest that even the mere existence of a significant minority, never mind a majority, of the population, acting and organised in support of a real socialist movement would exercise an influence throughout the whole of society that would compel any ruling class to think twice before it acted in a manner grossly inimical to working class interests ?

It is not the question of violence that divides the revolutionary from the reformist. Reformism, that is attempts to modify the exploitative relations characteristic of capitalism, still remains reformism no matter how violent the means embraced to that end; and revolutionary activity, that is, activity directed to the termination of capitalist exploitation once and for all, still remains revolutionary even though conducted by the methods allowed by the capitalist state. The immediate task with which socialists are faced is to popularise socialist ideas and understanding with the aim of developing a political party strong enough to effect working class emancipation. As long as conditions permit, we shall pursue this course undeviatingly, but should subsequent developments unhappily render socialist propaganda illegal, we shall certainly do what we can, but let no one imagine for a moment that theatrical and heroic declarations before the event are in any sense a guarantee of effective action after it. The unpalatable, but nevertheless inescapable fact is that in modern society the suppression of those democratic facilities to which all politically conscious workers quite rightly attribute enormous importance, can only occur because of the approval or indifference of the masses. A working class which allows its political life generally to be determined for it by an absolutist government—no matter what that government may call itself nor what its alleged motives may be—is certainly not the kind of working class to provide a background favourable to socialist propaganda. Socialism will not be the work of a working class prepared to accept tutelage from any quarter; it can only be the work of one that is self-reliant, critical, and politically informed. From this it should be obvious that if freedom of speech, of the press and of association is suppressed, there is precious little that socialists can do about it until developments—notably the corruption which is an inevitable by-product of dictatorship—produce the desire and the determination in the working class to regain the right to openly discuss and consider political affairs. To think otherwise is not only to fool oneself, but to fool others as well.

"The establishment of a revolutionary socialist party can be attempted, in two ways. A few theoreticians can lay down a water-tight programme and invite those who agree with it to join . . . Or a party which has its roots in the working class movement can evolve, grow, to the revolutionary position by thought applied to experience, by learning its lessons from mistakes, by discussions, by the study of the history of the movement in other countries, and by a sincere and constant effort to find the right way. The second has been the way of the I.L.P. Since 1932 the Party has been the crucible of the change from reformism to revolutionism. Into that crucible every idea, every tactic, has been thrown and worked itself out; it has been a microcosm of all the conflicts of theory and practice which have stirred so deeply the world movement." Fenner Brockway is, of course, quite wrong. There are not two ways to establish a socialist party (a socialist party, is by definition a revolutionary party; Brockway, who, of course, believes in the existence of a kind of "socialism" which is either "reformist" or “revolutionary" or a mixture of both, simply displays his confusion on this matter), but one way and one way only. And that is for members of the working class who understand what capitalism is, and therefore what to do about it, to define in unambiguous terms the object for which they strive and the principles for which they solicit support. The object and principles of such a party will not be the free invention of very clever people, but they will be socialist in character and therefore based primarily on critical and realist analysis of capitalist society, and consequently intimately related to reality. Finally—and this is a point which, in spite of its almost overwhelming simplicity, Brockway and his kind will never appreciate—since Socialism is the aim of a socialist party, only those who understand and want Socialism will be asked for their support.

We can, however, agree that the I.L.P. is a crucible into which every tactic, etc., has been thrown. Unkind critics might prefer to call it a political rag-bag rather than a crucible; but this much can be said of the I.L.P.: there is hardly a single nostrum, palliative or form of political quackery that the I.L.P. has not advocated at some time or the other. Even now, its members speak with a medley of voices (revolutionary flexibility!), and of some of them it can be quite seriously said, that so blinded are they by loyalties of a personal character, that if to-morrow the I.L.P. advocated Yogi as a remedy for social problems, they would do their best to conform. In the '20's the I.L.P. advocated a "Living Wage" policy; in the '30's it had got as far as demanding “Socialism in our Time." But so much progress has been made by this truly remarkable Party that to-day, in the '40's, it imperiously demands “Socialism Now!" Just like that! The mere fact that there happen to be a few odd million people who so far have shown no obvious enthusiasm for even the peculiar kind of “socialism” peddled by the I.L.P., but whose wishes nevertheless have to be taken into account, does not unduly perturb the “revolutionary strategists" in charge of this wonder-working outfit. After all, there always remains the “revolutionary situation" of which all good Bolsheviks dream!

It would be unfair to conclude without paying tribute to the author's undoubted sincerity of feeling. From the socialist standpoint, it is not his intentions that are in doubt, but his understandings. In the struggle for Socialism, however, the same can be said as of other aspects of life: “the way to hell, etc."
Arthur Mertons


Blogger's Note:
"Inside the Left" was actually reviewed twice in the Socialist Standard. Edgar Hardcastle had previously reviewed it in the May 1943 issue of the Standard.

What happened to Brockway and his revolutionary rhetoric? Well, he rejoined the Labour Party after the war, gaining a seat in Parliament at the 1950 General Election. Despite Labour winning the 1964 General Election, like Patrick Gordon-Walker in Smethwick, Brockway lost his Eton & Slough because he was seen as soft on immigration. (As an aside, Labour won back Eton & Slough at the 1966 General Election with ex-SPGBer, Joan Lestor, as their candidate.) Brockway got his seat in the House of Lords and lived to the ripe old age of 99. If you're in London, you can see his statue in Red Lion Square outside Conway Hall.

Inglorious End of the Comintern (1943)

Editorial from the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Twenty years ago the working class of a war-weary world were presented with what claimed to be a quick way out of their submerged position. A new International had been formed in Russia under the guidance of the Bolshevik leaders which was to cut adrift from the old bad reformist Second International. Its birth was heralded by vituperation of the persons and parties forming the Second International, and one of the central charges against the latter was that they had entered willingly into the war. All wars were stigmatised as attempts to further the imperialist ambitions of capitalists of different democratic nations. The new group, the Third International, was to be genuinely representative of working-class aspirations and opposed to all capitalist interests.

But time has had its little joke, and the Third International has been disbanded so that the interests of capitalist democracies may not be hindered in another great war.

The Comintern has succumbed to the needs of Russian foreign policy in World War No. 2. The ideas on which it was based—chief among them being the illusion that the workers of the world in 1919 were ready for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism—have long since been abandoned. Why then did the organisation outlive the ideas which once inspired its adherents? The answer in brief is that it was an instrument of foreign policy of the Russian State. Whatever policy the Russian Government pursued from time to time was blindly and enthusiastically supported in each country by the Communist Party there. If this instrument once had its uses to the Russian Government, there came a time, with the rise of German military power, when new conditions demanded a new instrument. In 1935 the Russian Government sought safety by entering the League of Nations (formerly denounced as a thieves' kitchen) by aiming at an alliance with Powers that might have the strength and the interest to oppose re-armed Germany. To aid this policy of contact with the democracies the Russian Government also, in 1930, introduced a new “democratic" constitution. The continued existence of the Comintern was however an obstacle to the policy of alliances. Powerful groups in Britain, France and America continued, even after the outbreak of war in 1939, to fear the “subversive" activities of the Moscow-directed Communist parties. This last act of formally burying the Comintern is designed to remove this obstacle. As the Manchester Guardian (May 24th) remarks, “it is plain that the dissolution has been ordered to improve relations between Russia and the other Allies, the United States in particular."

During recent years, and particularly since the German invasion in 1941, Nationalist feeling has been officially encouraged in Russia by every possible means, and internationalism has been less and less featured in Russian Government and Comintern propaganda. The dissolution of the Comintern, which marks the delayed burial of Lenin's theories of international working-class action, therefore comes fittingly just after a May Day manifesto issued in Moscow which directed its appeal to the “patriots" of the European countries, urging them to unite against the Fascist enemy. Marx's famous appeal. "Workers of all Lands, Unite.” this gives place to an appeal to the workers of one group of countries to unite in the name of patriotism against workers in other lands.

We do not assume that this will be the end of the British Communist Party. If, helped by this new departure, they can increase their membership and influence inside the trade unions, and possibly the Labour Party, they will be able, more effectively than before, to give support to policies in line with those of the Russian State. Freed from the incubus of being openly directed from Moscow, the British Communist Party may well be able for a time to gain members and influence by a reformist programme, and thus rival the I.L.P. in its heyday.

The dissolution came like a bolt from the blue to the Communist parties of the world, who were not consulted beforehand. It was endorsed by the leaders of the English Communist Party without consulting the membership. The sheepish membership, both high and low, accepted the verdict of virtual death. Thus the Third International died, as it was born and lived, a dictatorial organisation incapable, for this very reason, of solving any of the basic problems of the working class.

The tragic side of the final phase is the fact that the aspirations of myriads of genuine adherents to the working-class movement for freedom are buried in this grave of hopes and illusions.

Capitalism Cramps The Clipper (1943)

From the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard
"The war is forcing great changes in the lives of people all over the earth . . ."
  "The greatest permanent change will result from the increasing use of air as a realm of transportation. Therefore unnumbered millions of persons are restudying geography. . . . Aeroplanes cancel the surface barriers and change the proximity of the places. Inevitably, as all peoples continue to become closer neighbours, they will have a more direct influence on each other. No phase of our lives will be immune to this new propinquity. . . . Air is one unit, boundless and universal . . . and is available alike to all inland and coastal places everywhere. Therefore we believe air is the dominant realm for transportation. We know that there will always be need for ships, trains and motor vehicles, but we believe that the relative value and effectiveness of all surface methods will be determined according to how well we use what only air transportation makes possible. . . . United States has the world’s greatest system of air lines. . . . Immediate development and expansion of America’s aviation is necessary also
   " . . . at the Peace Conference. Then either we will be dominant in the air or we will be dominated in the post-war air-world.”
The above is culled, not from a new preface to a 1943 edition of the Communist Manifesto, but from an advertisement of American Air Lines Incorporated, in the American magazine, United States News (January 8th, 1943), forwarded to us by the courtesy of our colleagues of the Workers' Socialist Party of America.

Meantime, the U.S. Government has organised Air Transport Command, which has already driven a new route across Africa, to the Near East, and the press has announced that the first licence has been granted to a civil U.S. Air Line to operate a new route from Boston to Moscow. It has been stated that the cost of a ticket will be slightly under one-third of the third-class steamship fare.

Perhaps this has some connection with the concern displayed by Mr. Walter Runciman and Lord Cowdray, who, with other shipowners, have recently resigned the directorship of British Airways Corporation.

The British Air Ministry has organised a British imitation of Air Transport Command on the American model, which put the fat in the fire in British Airways Corporation. Mr. Runciman said on March 9th in Bristol (Daily Telegraph, March 10th):
  On the one hand, the Americans are pushing on air transport to quite extraordinary lengths. We are told that they flew rather more than a ton of frozen strawberries to Africa so that their troops might have the minimum of discomfort on Thanksgiving Bay.
  On the other hand, the rather more austere British effort is confined to meeting, as far it can, the almost unlimited demand for space for wartime purposes.
  After the war, if care is not exercised, there will be air line competition between governments. If that happens, the Americans will have all the advantages, because they have the planes and the money. . . . Those who are going to put the world right, after the war, must see that there is an area in Europe, as free as the U.S., without rival aircraft factories; you have got to do it, if you are not going to have the Americana overrunning the whole of the European routes.
Thus the cynical millionaire-shipowner gives Churchill & Company ("those who are going to set the world right”) (sic) their orders to establish a British Air Transport Monopoly on the European Continent after the war. "You have got to do it,” etc., etc.

The House of Lords is most perturbed. Lord Londonderry declared in the House (Daily Telegraph, March 12th):
  What they desired most was to link the empire by air . . . this matter must be considered now. There is danger in delay. It is highly important that countries like America should be fully aware of our plans, so that there should be no misunderstanding.
While Earl Stanhope pertinently asked:
  How were we going to prevent Germany from building aircraft, nominally for civilian purposes, but actually as heavy bombers, or so-called sports engines as fighters?
In fairness to Lord Londonderry and colleagues, we must admit that the Americans are making no bones about it.

Congresswoman Clare Booth Luce, the playwright wife of the editor of the most popular U.S. magazine, Time, declared in Congress:
   We ought not to risk competition from the British, but rather get everything we can grab during the war, and then hang on to it fiercely.
   The Wall Street Journal Correspondent says:
  One leading plan is to convert Lend-Lease into a gigantic lever to make bargains in America’s favour. She would be the only nation in the world permitted to manufacture civil and military aircraft.
   Senator Brewster, of Maine, said:
   The British used sea power to become the most powerful nation in the world. America will take world leadership with air power. . . . The past belonged to ships and the past belonged to Britain. But the future lies in the air, and that is America’s future. . . . We have got the whip hand and we are going to keep it. (Tribune, April 2nd, 1943).
The American correspondent of the News Chronicle reports that Clare Luce’s speech “produced an obviously approving reaction among a large proportion of her fellow-congressmen” (News Chronicle, February 15th). A technical committee has been set up here to enquire into the types of planes needed after the war.

As far as can be judged, it seems that the scales are weighted heavily in America’s favour, though startling new technical developments will probably appear. In any case, if America has the planes, Britain still has control of the territory of potential air-fields.

In addition to removing boards of directors. Sir Stafford Cripps, on behalf of the Government, has stepped in and taken over Short Bros., lock, stock and barrel, causing consternation among more backward sections of the Capitalist class. Over one hundred M.P.s tabled a "prayer" as to the probity of this action in the House of Commons.

Sir Hugh Dowding, ex-Air Marshal, one time chief of design at the Air Ministry, is alarmed. He has burst into print in the Evening Standard with an article entitled "The Red Light.” This sort of article has been regularly churned out by retired generals and admirals for centuries. They spend most of their enforced idleness seeing "Red Lights.” One thing must be said for the bluff old Marshal. He quite clearly appreciates the pious stupidity of the demands of the Tribune group for "International Aviation, Ltd.” The Tribune says:
  Complete international control is . . . the only practical . . . solution. . . . But not until vested interests have been ousted shall we be in a position to make International Airways a going concern. (Tribune, April 2nd, 1943.)
They evidently mean the nationalisation of Air Traffic. They need not worry; it is practically inevitable. But control by existing capitalist governments—equally inevitable so long as private property persists—can lead to only one thing, WAR.

Says Sir Hugh ;
  Our visionaries may argue that after the war there will be universal disarmament, and that no military aircraft will exist, except, those in the hands of the international police, so it won’t matter how inefficient they are . . .
  Well, I’m all in favour of beautiful dreams myself, but let us see whether the dream is coining true. (Evening Standard, April 8th.)
Very true, universal disarmament under Capitalism is "a beautiful dream.”

The one thing farthest from the thoughts of the Runcimans and Clare Luces—in the heat of their squabbles about air-domination, is a third alternative.
  The greatest permanent change (in the lives of the people) will result from an increasing use of air transport. (American Air Lines, Inc.)
National frontiers will be superseded, workers of different states will realise their identical economic interests as producers and operators of the mighty ships of the skies, while the quarrels of their masters will dwindle, in their estimation, to vanishing-point, in the same manner as human beings appear like ants from the air.

You cannot have “freedom of the air,” said Clare Luce, it's "globaloney", meaning that the U.S. capitalists must dominate the air. The workers will be enabled to see more clearly the paradoxical stupidity of a property-owning minority class, utilising ownership of the wonderful modern air liner to conserve privilege and obstruct progress.

Almost one hundred years ago Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, in the "Communist Manifesto,” described the historic process of the organisation, education, and centralisation of the modern wage-working class by the development of capitalist large scale methods of production and transport —especially the railways. In a few masterly strokes the whole course of development was revealed—how a national working-class evolved.
  The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. (Communist Manifesto, Reeves' Edition, p. 10.)
  But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. (p. 13.)
  And that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Agee, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarians, thanks to railways,' achieve in a few years, (p. 14.)
  The revolution in the method of production in industry and agriculture, likewise necessitated a revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production, that is to say, in the means of communication and transport. (Capital, Marx. Allen & Unwin Edition. Vol I., p. 406.)
To-day, in 1943; we are indebted to the directors of American Air Lines, Inc., for the reminder that Marx's indefatigable engine of history is being driven at top speed by 4,000 h.p. motors across whole continents to establish a single homogeneous world's working class. Millions of workers are being transported all over the globe to fight and work, perforce acquiring a world outlook. William Liebknecht, in his well-known account of his long comradeship with Marx (re-published in “Karl Marx, 1818-1883,” Lawrence and Wishart; London, pp. 15), recounts how “Marx related to me, full of enthusiasm, that for the last few days there had been exhibited in Regent Street the model of an electrical machine which pulled a railway train.” “Now the problem has been solved, the consequences are unpredictable. The economic revolution must be followed by n political one, for the latter is only an expression of the former,” said Marx.

The third alternative to Miss Luce’s American domination of the uncontrollable air is common ownership of the means of wealth production—Socialism. The revolution in air transport will accelerate the growth of the Socialist mentality which, upon attaining social maturity, is a political revolution. It will hasten the dawn of Socialism.
Horatio.


After the above was written an article appeared in the Sunday Express (16 May) which indicates how some of the technical requirements of air transport may be met in the coming struggle between British and American interests. The following extracts deal with a plan for "floating islands” to serve as air bases.
  America, as part of the fight for the post-war control of world civil aviation, is rushing ahead with plans to build a chain of seadromes, or floating islands, across the Atlantic when peace comes.
  A powerful group of air lines has applied to the Civil Aviation Board or the necessary permission. It is backed by some of the biggest steel and icon companies in the States, including the U.S. Steel Corporation, the Sun Ship Building Company, Wirth Steel Company, and the Belmont Iron Works.
  But Britain need not leave such an important development as floating islands in the Atlantic to American enterprise. There is in existence a British invention, the pioneer of the kind which is available to us now. It is the invention of Mr. F. G. Creed, of Croydon, who is no mere visionary but the man who by his invention of the Creed telegraphic system revolutionised the speed of telegraphy. It was indeed that invention which gave birth to his floating island plan.
  “And still,” said Mr. Creed to the Sunday Express yesterday, "with this invention available to us we are apparently to sit and watch American air interests grab the control of the Atlantic from us when peace comes.”

Is Russia Socialist? (1943)

Book Review from the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of the misconceptions regarding Socialism and Russia that have been propagated during the past twenty odd years by the Bolsheviks and the Communist Parties are to be found rehashed in "The Socialist Sixth of the World.” This book was written by Hewlett Johnson, the Dean of Canterbury, just prior to the outbreak of the war. An abridged edition of it, with the title "Soviet Power,” has sold widely in America.

The Socialist Sixth of the World” is worth notice, as it gives us an opportunity of explaining some of the fundamental principles of Socialism and of dealing with the economic base of Russian society. Let us say at the outset that the Dean of Canterbury makes out a good case against capitalism, and exposes many of its contradictions. His book, however, is intended to point to a solution of these contradictions, and the solution he offers is not Socialism. Moreover, his "programme” is full of weaknesses.

Where the Dean Fails
Though the Dean of Canterbury can see the contradictions of Capitalism, he is unable to explain how they arise, and the weakness of his whole case hinges on this point. He does not carry his analysis of Capitalism far enough. He can see that it is a society run for profit, and that the worker is exploited. What he does not understand is how this exploitation of the worker is effected; he does not understand what are the essentials of Capitalism—those features which distinguish present-day society from preceding systems of society: in brief, those features that are the hall mark of capitalism.

This brings us to the very important question: "What is Capitalism?" "What are the essentials of Capitalism?”

Every society has a very definite basis, and every class society a very definite method of exploiting its subject class. This exploitation was not veiled in slave society; one man owned another and made him work. The master gave the slave the necessities of life and retained for himself what was produced over and above the slave's maintenance. The exploitation and slavery of present-day society are to some extent veiled. They are there all right, none the less. The capitalist does not own the worker, but still the worker is dependent on the capitalist class for his livelihood. And how is the worker exploited? Before production takes place today we have capital. This is money invested, for the purpose of profit, in the purchase of machinery, raw materials, factories, etc. But these things are useless without workmen, so capital engages too the energies of the worker. The energies of the worker are used up in producing articles for sale, commodities, but the worker is not paid for the produce of his work for the whole duration of the day. In a working day of eight hours a worker may receive wages equivalent to, say, four hours' produce of his work. The other four hours are given free to the capitalist. It is thus that the worker is exploited under capitalism. Were he paid for the full produce of his eight hours' work there would be no profits for the capitalist class. Whatever minor modifications present-day society may undergo, this is, simply and briefly put, an explanation of the productive process. It is plain to see that wage-labour and capital are the roots of the whole system. Machinery, in simple or complex form, may be employed in any social system—but WAGE-LABOUR AND CAPITAL ARE PECULIAR TO CAPITALISM, and it is by their presence or absence that we can decide whether a society is capitalist or not.

In his "Wage-Labour and Capital" Marx rightly points out that the two are complementary. The one does not exist without the other. He writes: "Capital and wage-labour are two sides of one and the same relation. The one conditions the other in the same way that the usurer and the borrower condition each other. As long as the wage-labourer remains a wage-labourer, his lot is dependent upon capital" (P. 33. Lawrence and Wishart edition.) And again: "Capital therefore pre-supposes wage-labour; wage-labour pre-supposes capital. They condition each other; each brings the other into existence." (P. 32. Emphasis by Marx.)

It is true that with the development of capitalism and in different countries the form of ownership and control of capital may differ. But the form of ownership of capital is not the vital question. It may be owned by the small private trader, the large owner, the trust or by the state—"the executive committee of the capitalist class." But in all cases its presence proves the existence of capitalist society.

The Dean's Proposals
Dean Hewlett Johnson does not see that the roots of capitalism are wage-labour and capital, that these are the features distinguishing capitalism from all earlier forms of society.

It is not surprising, therefore, that he fails to understand the need for their abolition if we would be rid of capitalism. So it happens that in the "new order" proposed by the Dean we still have wage-labour and capital—which, as we have seen, spell exploitation and poverty for the working- class.

For the Dean, the term "modern capitalism" means unbridled competition, and his solution to the whole problem is the scientific planning of capitalism, so as to cut out competition and make the most efficient use of wage-labour and capital. His "new order," then, is still capitalism, even if he wants wages to be paid according to ability and according to the work done. He relegates to the very distant future Socialism, wherein each will give of his best to society and partake of society's products according to his needs. It is the old story. He is like other reformists, in that not accepting the Socialist case, he is bound to put forward proposals to remodel capitalism—proposals which would still leave the worker a wave-slave and in poverty.

It is from Russia that the Dean has obtained his inspiration and ideas. He would like to see "the Russian experiment" attempted here and in other countries.

We must now examine what he tells us about Russia and see if the title of his book is justifiable. Has Socialism been established over a sixth of the earth's surface?

Some Fundamentals of Scientific Socialism
Hewlett Johnson claims to have studied Scientific Socialism. More important, he claims that since 1917 Russia has been attempting to put Socialist principles into practice.

The book under review proves two things; first, that the main teachings of Socialism have completely escaped the Dean: and secondly, that Russia is not, and never has been, Socialist.

The principles of Socialism are to be found defined and elaborated in the works of Marx and Engels, who gave a scientific basis to Socialist thought.

Scientific Socialism explains how and why society evolves, how one social system is replaced by another. It is one of the main conclusions of Socialist thought that Socialism cannot arise BEFORE the economic basis is ripe for it. And this is sound common sense. Each economic system is a growth—out of the previous system. Capitalism grew out of Feudalism, and could not, as a system, precede it. A new society cannot come into being until the need for it and the practicability of it, arises. Hence Socialism could not precede capitalism, for Socialism requires a very high level of production, giant machines, and an educated and trained population to work them. It is capitalism which provides these, and it is because capitalism cannot use the means of production for the benefit of society that the need for Socialism arises.

The Dean ignores this very important teaching of Socialism. He admits that in 1917 Russia was backward economically, much more so than Britain, Germany, the U.S.A., France, etc. With a semi-feudal economy, the Russian population too was naturally backward. Illiteracy and superstition were both rife. Stalin is quoted as follows: "We inherited from the old regime a technically backward and ruined country reduced to semi-starvation. Ruined by four years of imperialist war, and again by three of civil war, a country with a semi-illiterate population, primitive means of production and small oases of industry scattered in the desert of petty peasant farmsteads " (p. 167). The mass of the people being peasants, they neither needed nor desired Socialism. This the Dean admits (p. 101) when he writes: "Not only was Russia handicapped with a mediaeval agriculture, but possessed . . . a peasantry the most ignorant, superstitious and backward that Europe could show; a peasantry not only using the wooden plough, but wishing for no better; a peasantry capable of fighting burning thatch in a cottage conflagration with gallons of milk, through superstitious dread of using water for the purpose."

And yet he proclaims that of all countries Russia was the one most suited for the first Socialist revolution. "Providence," he says (p. 87), "surely planned Russia as the stage for the first Socialist civilisation."

Providence indeed! Scientific Socialism which the Dean is supposed to have studied proves that evolution and revolutions are not haphazard affairs, dependent upon miracles. Before leaving this point, let us quote one more passage from Marx. The sound common-sense it contains becomes all the more evident when placed alongside the confused writings of the Dean:—
  "No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore, mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation." (Preface to " Critique of Political Economy.")
Clifford Allen.

[To be continued]

The Rewards of Abstinence (1943)

From the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard
  ". . . There are so many snags that most of the smart-money boys worry themselves to death—like the first Sir John Ellerman, the smartest of the lot in his day: he successfully exploited three wars, bought low and sold high in every market, from newspapers and ships to weekly periodicals, breweries, and real estate, and died of a stroke at 71 owning property worth maybe ten millions in a slump, fifty millions in a boom, and thirty millions as the tax-gatherer finally assessed his estate for death duties."
Strand Magazine, April, 1943.

Unity: A Misdirected Fable (1943)

From the June 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Labour,” published by the T.U.C., contained in its April issue a Russian fable on unity. It tells how a fish, a swan and a crab harnessed themselves together to pull a load. The load never moved because the swan tried to fly up, the crab stepped backwards, and the fish headed for a pond. "The moral is: Unity," says "Labour."

The Daily Worker noticed the fable and retorted that the moral obviously is that the Labour Party should accept Communist affiliation.

They are both wrong. The moral is that harnessing together incompatible Socialist and non-Sucialist elements, which move by different means towards different objectives, is not unity. It produces paralysis, not progress.

Rear View: ‘Will COVID-19 Make Us More Socialist?’ (2020)

The Rear View Column from the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Will COVID-19 Make Us More Socialist?’

This is an intriguing question, one which a recent article (blogs.scientificamerican.com, 20 April) attempts to answer. The first paragraph provides this curate’s egg: ‘The system I have in mind would be fully democratic, unlike China, and it wouldn’t abolish capitalism, which even China has embraced. It would simply give more to those who need it and take more from those who don’t’. Identifying China as a (state) capitalist dictatorship rather than communist or socialist is welcome, but yet another recipe from the reformist cookbook less so. The author opines that ‘governments should ensure that all citizens have adequate food, housing, healthcare, energy and so on. ‘ Such thinking is utopian, As one commentator noted you ‘. . . can’t have it [socialism] in capitalism’. Science itself has become bourgeois and is dependent upon capitalism for its operation and expansion. In 1850s America a Dr Cartwright identified a condition, drapetomania, that caused black slaves to flee plantations. Russian psychiatrists famously aided Stalin by diagnosing dissidents as insane. Contemporary examples include the sociobiology of E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker’s evolutionary psychology. Scientific socialism, by contrast, provides an analysis of the capitalist system that explains how wealth comes to be produced and distributed and who gets what from the pool of social production. It is able to place this in an historical context showing the development of its productive relationships from past systems. It is also able to define the economic limitations of political action within the system and reliably predict the results of various political policies.


Strike – for what?

‘On Friday, May 1, an ongoing General Strike campaign begins…. COVID-19 exposes the fact that essential workers who provide food, healthcare, and deliveries to our homes are mistreated and underappreciated. Workers are underpaid and are not being provided with protective equipment or allowed sick leave. The COVID-19 rescue laws have given trillions in funding to investors and big businesses while leaving people and small businesses with crumbs’ (popularresistance.org, 26 April).

‘The #GeneralStrike has five demands:

‘(1) Protection from Covid-19′

This is more Utopianism: ‘Coroners have been told that inquests into coronavirus deaths among NHS workers should avoid examining systemic failures in provision of personal protective equipment (PPE)… Mark Lucraft QC, the chief coroner for England and Wales, has issued guidance that “an inquest would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate general policies and arrangements were in place for provision of PPE to healthcare workers”’ (theweek.co.uk, 30 April).

‘(2) Safe Housing.’

Clean, dry, warm, safe, decent housing is a fundamental human need. Capitalism has never placed that need very high up its list of priorities. History makes that sad fact abundantly clear.

‘(3) Living Wages.’

Workers always have a struggle to get by and always have to fight to keep up their living standards.

‘(4) Medicare for All.

As our companion party in the US puts it in their pamphlet Revolution, Not Reform: ‘Rather than focusing our energy on developing medications that will make money, we could finally focus on finding cures to every disease possible. Rather than patients having to pay outrageous amounts of money just to stay alive, everyone will have free access to whatever medications or treatments they need. No outlandish debt for ambulance rides, insulin, sleeping pills, you name it ‘.

‘(5) Equal Education.’

Schools take into compulsory custody millions of innocent children, dull their imaginations as best they can, force them to suck up quantities of second-hand information, qualify some for entry into other institutions, and commit the rest to a lifetime of servitude and hard labour. In a conveyor belt world dominated by competition they can operate in no other way.


Capitalism is THE pandemic

Capitalism has eradicated rinderpest and smallpox, yet its driving force is the pursuit of profit not health. Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are aptly named as they are largely confined to members of our class living in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The eradication of NTDs is possible but not profitable. Mainstream media focuses almost exclusively on a pandemic that has killed 245,000 people over five months rather than the 25,000 who die every day from unnecessary starvation, the 3,000 children who die every day from preventable malaria, and the 10,000 people who die every day because they are denied healthcare. COVID is exacerbating inequality, but we must not be panicked into believing that the threat is greater than it is: ‘. . , estimates from cities in Europe and a study by the University of California, Berkeley, put the virus’s death rate at between 0.19 and 0.5 per cent. In comparison, the death rate of flu is thought to be around the 0.1 per cent mark’ (dailymail.co.uk, 28 April).



What is Economics? (2020)

From the June 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Open any textbook on economics. The concept of ‘scarcity’ soon appears, maybe even on the first page. And you’ll read that there are scarce resources and unlimited wants, and that economics is the study of the choices that people make to deal with this situation.

The concept of ‘scarcity’ used in these definitions is an abnormal and a circular one; and human wants are not unlimited. In any event, the relationship between scarce resources and unlimited wants is not really what economics studies. This definition is an ideological construct to justify one particular way of organising the production and distribution of goods and services – the capitalist system of production for profit, involving markets, money, prices, profits, wages, interest, banks, etc.

What is scarcity?

Taking at random a typical economics textbook, Economics by Ralph T. Byrns and Gerald W Stone (5th edition, 1992), it opens with a chapter titled ‘Economics: The Study of Scarcity and Choice’. Paul Samuelson in his widely-used textbook of the same name writes of ‘the law of scarcity’. Actually, it’s not a law but a definition. And an odd one at that.

When someone says that something is scarce, what comes to your mind? Probably you think that there’s not enough of it, that it’s in short supply. That’s the normal usage, but for modern academic economics it’s something rather different. In his statement of the so-called ‘law of scarcity’ Samuelson contrasts scarcity to a situation where ‘an infinite amount of every good could be produced’. The other textbook starts a paragraph headed ‘Scarcity’ with ‘A world in which all human wants are instantly fulfilled is hard to imagine.’ Yes, it is. In fact it’s preposterous. But that’s what is behind what economics means by ‘scarcity’ – it’s the absence of an infinite amount of every resource and every good, the absence of a state of affairs in which everything would be provided free by nature, in which, as in the mediaeval legend of the Land of Cockayne, geese would fly around ready-cooked saying ‘eat me !’ And we’re supposed to take their definition seriously.

It’s the same with what economics means by what is normally regarded as the opposite of scarcity – abundance. The normal definition and usage of this is, to quote a few dictionaries, ‘plenty’, ‘more than enough’, and even ‘ample sufficiency’. It does not mean everything being what economics calls ‘free goods’. ‘Free goods’ is in fact the last trace in economics of the labour theory of value, which was embraced by Adam Smith and David Ricardo as well as by Marx, since they are goods that are available without having to be the product of human labour. They have no price because no labour has to be expended to produce them.

So, economics is defining ‘scarcity’ is such a way that it exists by definition and irrespective of human needs; that it’s part of the human condition. In fact in a sense it is, though this is a strange way of putting it. A much more straightforward way would be to say that humans have to produce by their own work most of what they need. But that of course leads back to the dreaded labour theory of value as it would bring out that the only sort of goods that economics is interested in are those that are the products of human labour, past and present.

But this definition of scarcity is still not adequate for the ideological aim of justifying a system where people’s consumption is rationed by money. The imagined killer argument here is that productive resources, however abundant (in the normal sense), will never be enough to satisfy human needs and wants as these are ‘unlimited’. So there will always be a need to ration what people can consume.

This view is stated very clearly in the textbook’s definition of economics: ‘Economics is the study of how individuals and societies allocate limited resources to try to satisfy their unlimited wants’.

This definition is accompanied (page 5) by a Figure 1: ‘The Origins of Scarcity’ which aims to illustrate this. On the left side there’s ‘Limited Resources and Time’ and on the right side there’s a long list of ‘Virtually Unlimited Human Wants’. This is introduced by ‘Scarcity occurs because our limited resources and time can only yield limited production and income, but people’s needs are virtually unlimited.’ Note how this already begs the question of the necessity of a system with monetary incomes.

What are human needs?

Philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, nutritionists and others have argued over the definition of both ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ but clearly/there is a ‘hierarchy of needs’ based on, first of all, physiological/biological needs, primarily food. But ‘man does not live by bread alone’ as humans are social animals and have other needs beyond this level, basically to be members of a community and to have social recognition and esteem within it. This is not purely social and non-material but has a material aspect to it as what a person consumes affects how they are socially regarded, how they regard themselves, and what their aspirations are. In other words, ‘wants’ are socially-determined, not just a matter of individual whim. They are shaped by society, not by biology in the way that basic human needs are (though even how these too are met is socially-determined).

So we’ve got:

1. Basic, physiological needs.

2. Non-material, social/psychological needs

3. Material needs and wants arising out of these.

So let’s apply this to the list in the textbook. These on the list can be regarded as basic needs: food, clothing, shelter.

The list contains some other goods to meet people’s material needs over and above the minimum to stay alive, e.g. transportation, comfort, good health but also useful things such as microwaves, telephones, washing machines, computers, music equipment, etc. But there is no problem in producing enough of these for everyone. In fact most people have already got them (or their modern equivalents) now.

And then there’s non-material, social needs: recognition, sense of personal worth, peace of mind, success in life.

And, finally – and this is where it becomes revealing – the material goods to satisfy these non-material needs: jewellery, three-car garage, golf lessons, plastic surgery, swimming pool, fancy automobiles, ski boats, yachts, designer wardrobes, country estate.

Non-material needs (such as the listed recognition, sense of personal worth, and success in life) can be met in a number of ways depending on what kind of society people have been brought up in and live in. The textbook’s list of ways to meet them today (jewellery, etc) clearly reflects a society divided into rich and non-rich where to be rich is a measure of success in life and a way of gaining recognition.

The dogma of unlimited human wants which economics preaches assumes such a society and that wants are infinite because the non-rich aspire to be rich and the rich want to be richer. This latter is itself a reflection of the fact that capitalism is a system of continual capital accumulation.

The ‘wants’ that capitalist society generates may well be ‘virtually unlimited’ but capitalism is not the only way of producing and distributing wealth, nor of satisfying people’s need for recognition, sense of personal worth, and success in life. These needs could be met in other ways in a different society and have been in the past.

What Economics really studies

So, if resources are not in short supply and if human needs are not unlimited, where does this leave economics or rather its definition of itself? It would have to be redefined along the lines of: ‘The study of how individuals and societies allocate available resources to satisfy their needs and wants’.

But would that still be economics? It sounds more like a branch of sociology or even the Marxist Materialist Conception of History.

In any event, it is not what economics does study. So what is it that it studies? Samuelson listed various definitions of economics which he rejected before offering his own. One of these he rejected does describe what in practice economics studies:
‘Economics is the study of those activities that involve money and exchange transactions among people’.
This is a good description of what you do find studied in economics textbooks beyond the opening chapter. It is also what political economy studied in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as economics was then called.

In effect economics is the study of the capitalist economic system as the most developed form of exchange economy, one in which nearly everything is produced for sale on a market; where people have to acquire money to access what they need to live; and where even human mental and physical energies are bought and sold.

Where all these are the case, economic laws come into operation which act as if they were natural laws and which economic actors (whether governments, employers or workers) have to follow and submit to. The ‘political economists’, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and the others, believed that these economic laws really were natural laws and so saw the capitalist exchange economy as the natural way of organising the production and distribution of wealth. But capitalism is only of comparatively recent origin in human history and is not the only way to organise production and distribution.

Economics is, whether the writers of economics textbooks realise it or not, the study of the economic laws that come into operation when goods and services are produced by wage workers for sale on a market with a view to profit. Laws which can be summarised as ‘No Profit, No Production’, ‘Can’t Pay, Can’t Have’ and ‘You Can’t Buck the Market’.

Of course as long as there is an exchange economy, with money, markets and the rest, there will be a need to study how it works, not to advise governments or corporations but to show that it can only work in the way it works and so not in the common interest. It’s true that you can’t buck the market. You can’t give priority to meeting needs.

If economics really was the study of how individuals and societies use resources to satisfy their needs and wants, its textbooks would study non-monetary and non-market ways of doing this as well as the capitalist way. There would be chapters examining what resources are available, what human needs and human wants are and what determines them. But economics leaves these to other sciences – and then takes no notice of their findings.

Take food resources. There are plenty of studies which show that the planet could produce enough food to meet the food needs of every man, woman and child alive today and many more. So, why are there so many malnourished and starving people in the world? You might expect economics to invoke its founding myth of scarcity and infinite wants to explain this and say it’s the result of there being too many people. But they can’t because year after year the FAO reports that enough food is already being produced to meet at least the basic food needs of everyone on the planet. So, whatever the reason why people are malnourished it’s not because there’s not enough food. It is not because food is scarce.

It is here that the more accurate description of economics – as ‘the study of the activities that involve money and exchange transactions among’ – can help. Food, like nearly everything else, is produced today to be sold to provide a monetary income for the seller. It is not produced to feed people. This means that it only goes to those who can pay for it. If you have no money you don’t count and can starve. And if you have money, the more money you have the more and better food you can get. That’s what determines how food is distributed today.

That’s why, although even now enough food is produced to meet the basic, biological needs of everybody, it is not distributed to do so. It is not even produced with that in view. But it is not a question of just sharing out more evenly what is produced today since, if it wasn’t for the market system even more could be produced, enough to adequately satisfy everybody’s food needs well above the basic level.

Much more constructive than studying how the capitalist exchange economy works would be to study how best to use available resources to satisfy human needs and wants. And not just to study this but to see this implemented. Implementing this assumes the disappearance of capitalism and its replacement by a system where resources would no longer be owned and controlled by corporations, governments or rich individuals and used to produce goods for sale on a market with a view to profit, but would instead have become the common heritage of all. Only on this basis will the economic laws of capitalism no longer operate and society be free to produce and distribute wealth directly to satisfy human needs.

And of course, with the disappearance of capitalism and its economic laws, there’d be no need for a science to study them and what we now call economics would disappear too. But ex-economists would surely find more satisfaction in studying how humans can allocate resources to meet their needs in conditions of relative abundance.
Adam Buick