Monday, August 3, 2020

“Rare and Refreshing Fruit” in the Mediterranean (1912)

From the August 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The greatest democratic Government of our times” were returned to power as a protest against the “wicked extravagance” of the Tory party. They ran on a programme of “Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform,” and claimed their three hundred odd majority as an emphatic mandate for their policy. Six and a half years have passed, and the Ministerial “Daily News and Leader” of July 16 tells us that: “There is the great fact that since the Liberals came into office in 1906 the Naval Estimates have gone up from £33,000,000 to £44,000,000—an increase of £11,000,000 in all. Add to that the £1,000,000 just given from the realised surplus, and you have an increase of £12,000,000.”

In complete answer to would-be apologists the same paper says that: “The Germans spend 22 millions less than Great Britain on her navy —or only half as much—£1 German to every £2 English. Is not that an adequate margin to a great naval nation like ourselves ?”

But the Government does not stop there. Following upon the return of the Featherstone butcher Asquith from the Mediterranean meeting with the Soudan butcher Kitchener, three new Dreadnoughts, we are informed by the Cocoa News, each costing two millions, are to be built. In the words of our informant, “the increasing expenditure following upon these demands will be not less than £4,000,000, and probably £5,000,000, the year after. In other words we are now within easy distance of a £50,000,000 Navy.”

The Cabinet says that the road to Egypt is insufficiently guarded! True once again to Liberal traditions, the policy adopted is in total conflict with every promise Liberals have made regarding Egypt. Gladstone and his successors repeatedly said that England’s stay in Egypt would be very brief and “we” should evacuate directly peace was restored. “Peace” was restored after the most cold-blooded butchery of a people “rightly struggling to be free” (vide Gladstone) that annals can show. Thirty years have passed, but warships and soldiers are still there in great numbers.

While they are prating about peace the Liberals are heaping up armaments all over their empire. Not only in Persia and Egypt are these preparations for slaughter being made, but at home as well, and these forces will be used to crush the toilers by both Liberal and Tory sections of the employing class. And this is the Government which the Labour Party are supporting with their votes.
Adolph Kohn

The S.P.G.B. Lecture List August (1912)

Party News from the August 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

Voice From The Back: Dying for work (2004)

The Voice From The Back column from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dying for work 

After the death of ex-president Reagan it was reported that he had once said “They say that hard work never killed anyone, but why take the chance.” Figures from the PSA Journal (June 2004) show that this no joking matter. This journal of the Public Service  Association of New Zealand trade union quotes International Labour Organisation statistics on the subject. “The ILO estimates the number of deaths of workers worldwide, through health and safety causes, to be two million per year. Those figures on a daily basis are that around 6,000 workers are dying from employment based disease and accidents, more than are caused through wars. This is the equivalent of one worker dying every 15 seconds from employment related causes.”

Contrasts (1)

Nothing illustrates the madness of capitalism more graphically than the lot of poorer paid workers and the conspicuous consumption of the owning class. A particularly glaring example of this appeared in two different articles in the Times (25 June) “A fifth of parents on low incomes do not have enough money to feed their children healthily, research claims. The report published today by the children’s charity NCH, warns the government that any attempt to improve the nation’s diet and tackle obesity must consider ways of making healthy food more affordable . . . Half the parents questioned in the survey had gone hungry themselves to feed their families. A minority had considered doing something illegal to get money for food.” Contrast that with a report about some parasites in a St Tropez club. “And if you can get in, you can probably afford a methuselah (the equivalent of 8 bottles) of champagne – the Cristal Roederer goes for a cool £16,500 a pop. When P. Diddy showed up in 2002, the Sultan of Brunei sent five methuselahs to his table. That same summer, two Pakistani brothers set the record by spending £260,000 at the Caves in one night. When a glass of water costs £16, it’s not that difficult to see how it could happen.” In Africa and Asia many children die from the lack of clean water. Why are you not a socialist?

Contrasts (2)

“A black doberman-labrador cross, who travels in a stretch limo and has his own share portfolio, has been named one of Britain’s most pampered pets. Jasper, who lives with Sir Benjamin Slade at Maunsell House near Bridgewater, Somerset, dines on medium rare sirloin steak, Dover Sole and freshwater mussels. “He doesn’t like shooting and is not very sporty” said Sir Benjamin, “but he is big on the social side.” In 1988 the dog was the centre of a custody battle between former girlfriend Fiona Aitken. Thanks to a legacy from a former owner, Jasper was able to pay his own legal fees” Sunday Times (27 June). “Many hotel workers are among the lowest paid in the country – a chambermaid on £4.50 an hour for example, would have to work for four months to make what most of these hotels spend a week on their flower arrangements. When people talk about exploitation in the tourist industry they always assume it’s happening in some far-off developing country” Observer (4 July).

An indictment of capitalism

It is not just Socialists who see through the glitter of capitalism to its rotten core. Here is J. K. Galbraith the economist in his latest book The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time exposing the destructive nature of the profit system. “The US and Britain are in the bitter aftermath of war in Iraq. We are accepting programmed death for the young and random slaughter for men and women of all ages. So it was in the first and second world wars, and is still so in Iraq. Civilised life, as it is called, is a great white tower celebrating human achievements, but at the top there is permanently a large black cloud. Human progress dominated by unimaginable cruelty and death” Guardian (15 July).

The failure of reform

“The number of homeless families in Britain is set to hit 100,000 for the first time, more than double the figure when Labour came to power . . . According to the homeless charity Shelter the number of families in temporary accommodation, the standard definition of homelessness, will hit 100,000 before the end of the year. The figure compares with 41,250 families who were registered homeless in March 1997, shortly before Labour took office” Observer (18 July).

Greasy Pole: Countdown To The Election (2004)

The Greasy Pole column from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have it on good authority – the man himself – that Tony Blair can always stifle any doubts he has about what he is doing by telling himself – and us – that it will all be sorted out, some time in the future, when he meets someone he calls his maker. That may be all very well, but the agenda for that meeting gets longer by the day. How will his maker deal with the deceit over weapons of mass destruction, the broken promises, the exposure of his image as the laid-back, informal, trustworthy favourite of the nation? Number one item to be discussed between Blair and his maker will be the question of what has been called his credibility problem.  Which, as it happens, will be central to his developing preoccupation with deciding the date of the next general election.
It was rather different in 2001, when the exact timing was not crucially significant because it was clear that whenever the voters were to be allowed to pass their verdict they would give New Labour another large majority. It is different now, after all those local and European election results and the recent by-elections in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill which, however the government try to brush them aside as “a score draw”, do not exactly encourage Blair to be overweeningly optimistic. But to delay the election in the hope that things must get better because they can hardly get worse may leave the government, like Major in 1997, without any room for manoeuvre if things in fact get worse.  And there are some ominous precedents to help Blair make his mind up.

Wilson 1970
In 1970 Harold Wilson, looking back on events since his government’s crushing victory four years before, agreed with most of the “experts” that he was on course to make a final reality of his boast that the Labour Party he had fashioned had taken over the traditional Conservative role as the natural governing party of British capitalism. Just to make sure his government had taken some precautions, such as increasing welfare benefits and delaying constituency changes as recommended by the Boundary Commission which, the Tories peevishly complained, could have robbed them of up to 20 seats. “We are,” purred Wilson, “really asking for a doctor’s mandate. We’re the best doctors the country has got.” As it was World Cup year the country’s best doctor appeared on a TV sports programme as a football supporter. How many football-crazy votes would have gone Labour’s way, if England had won the Jules Rimet trophy?
The polls agreed – one put Labour as much as ten points ahead – and so did the bookies, who were making Labour 20-1 on for victory. On 18 June 1970 the country went to vote and on 19 June Wilson was leaving Number Ten. The Tories notched up 46.4 percent of the vote (more, in fact that New Labour in 1997 and 2001) and  a majority of 30. Ted Heath, who had been visited on the eve of poll by the Tory grandee Lord Carrington with the warning that if he lost the election he would be required to resign the leadership, was on the steps of Number Ten, thanking a somewhat stunned electorate. In fact Heath later claimed he had never doubted the result because, as he saw it, things were not all that favourable to Labour. A few days before polling the government’s complacency had been shaken by the news of a £31 million trade deficit for May (it was a time when the working class were encouraged to regard Britain’s trading balances as crucial to their interests). Heath also doubted whether Labour’s confidence about living standards was justified. On polling day unemployment was measured as the highest for 30 years. The Child Poverty Action Group (not a natural ally of a prospective Tory Prime Minister) found three-quarters of a million children living at or below the official poverty line and two million people homeless or existing in sub-standard accommodation. An unremarked error in Heath’s assessment was his assumption that workers vote straightforwardly in response to their living conditions; if this were so they would never support the Labour or Conservative parties for a start. But his is the kind of argument that suffices in the feverish, turmoiled delusions of a general election.

Callaghan 1979
In the late 1970s Jim Callaghan, whose exterior as a bluff, avuncular sailor concealed a ruthless political cunning, had to apply what might be called his talents to that same task of deciding when best to go to the polls. He could not, however, enjoy the same confidence as Wilson. In mid-1978 British capitalism’s trading balance had been superseded, as a diversion for workers who did not know where to put their cross, by the price rises which regularly eroded increases in their pay. At that time price rises were between seven and eight percent. The Labour government’s solution to the problem was to try to control pay rises as the cause of, instead of the response to, rising prices. There was much debate in the Labour Party about the advantages of delaying the election date over fixing on one in the near future. Callaghan’s government were about seven percent ahead in the polls, which also suggested that he was a more comforting figure as Prime Minister than Thatcher was likely to be. It was widely assumed the election would happen that autumn but Callaghan signalled this was not to be in typical style, when he sang to the TUC “There was I, waiting at the church . . . Can’t get away to marry you today; my wife won’t let me.” Heading a minority government, he was tired of the need to manage the persistent deals with the small parliamentary parties and hoped that by waiting he could ensure a majority.
But notwithstanding Callaghan’s serenade, he had miscalculated and Thatcher’s Tories came riding into power, with intentions to stop all the nonsense about wages and welfare benefits by battering the unions into compliance, with a majority of 34. It was in fact something of a continuation of Labour’s own policy in government so in that sense it was ironic that it should be the beginning of a long spell in the wilderness for Labour, with steadily increasing Conservative majorities including, in 1983, Labour’s worst result since 1931.

Blair 200?
So Blair and his analysts need to take great care, as they settle down with their history books and their statistical tables and their focus group results. They will need to balance precedence against present reality. They will need to look hard at wages, prices, mortgages, hospital waiting lists and crime. They will have no lack of evidence of capitalism’s inherent inability to work in the interests of its people, and that will be the material which they will fashion into another manifesto of promises to pacify the system’s ferocity. It is impossible to imagine them treating their labours as anything other than an exercise in sordid, power-motivated manipulation bolstered by their assumed ability to reshape facts to their own advantage.

They have,after all, had enough practice at that. Out of it all the decision will emerge, the election date will be fixed and Blair will parade it as a fearlessly generous opportunity given to us by a confident government to pronounce a verdict on New Labour in power.
And the voters – the working class – what about them? What do they think about the insulting assumption that they treat their right to vote so lightly that from time to time they will change it from one party to another, none of them at all effective, so that the timing of an election becomes vital to the parties of capitalism? We can do better than this, and human society is worth better than this. The next election will be a good time to start.

Editorial: Weapons of mass destruction – now they tell us (2004)

Editorial from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under the UN Charter, states have to find a legal pretext before they going to war. The pretext that the governments of America and Britain, acting on behalf of their capitalist class, found for going to war against Iraq last year was that the Iraqi state possessed “weapons of mass destruction” that were an immediate threat to America and Britain’s allies and military bases in the Middle East.

It has now turned out that this was a bad choice of pretext as recent official reports in both countries are admitting that the intelligence reports about this were wrong: Iraq did not possess such weapons. We hold no brief for the “intelligence” services but it does seem a little unfair to blame them for telling their political masters what they wanted to hear.

So where does this leave matters?  It’s common knowledge that the real reason America and Britain went to war was oil – to acquire and secure a reliable source of this key fuel to meet the growing demands of capitalist industry in the West. Under the Saddam regime Iraq was not a reliable source and, in any event, its production and the renewal of its equipment was limited by UN sanctions. In addition, America wanted to add to its military bases in the area, to protect Caspian as well as Middle East oil sources. A useful spin-off, though not the cause of the war, was that America could show to other states, such as France, Germany, Russia and China that unlike Britain were not prepared to fall in line, that it was the top dog in the world.

No doubt if Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction this would have been a good capitalist reason for going to war, but only because these weapons would have been held by a state which represented a threat to the security of oil supplies. That weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as such were not the issue can be seen from the fact that no preventive strikes have been planned, or even dreamed of, against the one state in the region known to possess them – Israel – but then Israel is no threat to oil supplies. On the contrary: it was allowed to come into existence and has been propped up by the US precisely to counter such threats from potentially anti-US Arab regimes.

The same goes for the “nasty dictator” argument. Certainly, Saddam was nasty enough, but there are plenty of other nasty regimes in the area, the worst being America’s main ally there, Saudi Arabia, which is still a mediaeval despotism.

Once the war started the outcome was in no doubt: a walk-over for America and Britain. The Saddam regime was overthrown and a friendly puppet regime installed in its place. Saddam himself was eventually captured and a big show trial is planned (at an American military base). The verdict is in no doubt, though the new puppet regime may well shy away from killing him – lest it set a precedent for them should their turn to be overthrown come. This is “victors’ justice” as, technically, Bush and Blair could also be charged with war crimes for going to war without a proper legal basis as well as for murdering and torturing Iraqi prisoners of war. But that’s not going to happen, of course.

The lesson of all this is that wars are fought today over economic matters such as sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets, and strategic points to protect these. Since competition over these is built into capitalism, so is war. But, in order to get popular support for a war, governments have to come up, these days, with plausible “humanitarian” and “democratic” reasons. The homage paid by vice to virtue. Socialists say: don’t be taken in by such propaganda. As long as capitalism lasts there will be wars, threats of war and preparations for war as well as government lies about the reasons for going to war.

Wars and preparations for war mean destruction and waste in a world that is capable of providing enough to provide every man, woman and child on the planet with decent food, clothing, housing, health care, education and all the other amenities of life. But this is not going to happen within the framework of capitalism, with its class ownership and production for profit. It is only going to be possible within the framework of world socialism, where the Earth’s resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity, to be used, under democratic control, to provide for the needs of all.

Siberian capitalism (2004)

From the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the January 2000 issue of this journal, under the title “Sent to Siberia” we described the development of the Norilsk Metallurgical Combine and the emergence of the city of Norilsk. It has been, and is still called, the Frozen Hell. Before 1935, there was nothing there except a few reindeer and reindeer-hunters. But shortly after, nickel and other metal deposits were discovered.

The then Soviet rulers were only able to develop the area by shipping in hundreds of thousands of dispossessed kulaks, and other peasants and workers, as forced labourers in what we described as Russia’s era of the “primitive accumulation of capital”. At that time all such projects, and all the major means of production, were developed and subsequently owned by the state, which was controlled by a minority of “communist” apparatchiks, of whom many ultimately evolved into a privileged and increasingly prosperous nomenklatura or state-capitalist class.

Following the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union many large enterprises and combines were privatised, and the workers were no longer exploited by the state. The Norilsk Metallurgical Combine was one such enterprise. Vladimir Potantin, already a privileged apparatchik, was able like many other former Soviet bosses to take advantage of the new privatisation laws and, as a business partner of George Soros, acquire the Combine in 1995 for a fraction of its actual value. He soon became one of Russia’s richest industrialists. He and not the state then exploited the workers. And the Combine is now called a Mining Company.

But what of the workers who have created his riches? And what kind of place has the city of Norilsk become?

Pollution and poverty
Since November 2001, Norilsk has, as in Soviet times, been largely closed to foreigners. But after considerable trouble, Nick Walsh managed to get permission to visit the city in 2003. He described the situation and the condition of the workers in the Guardian (l8 April 2003). In the winter the temperature dropped to –62oC which, due to global warming, was about 10oC milder than ten years previously. In the summer, the temperature can reach 23oC, but only for two weeks. Every day the soot from the Mining Company turns the snow black, and the mine sends 5,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which makes the air taste sour.

Indeed, the Norilsk Mining Company produces one seventh of all factory pollution in Russia. Every year, it churns out two million tonnes of waste gas, and 85 million cubic metres of dirty water. Its impact, say ecologists, is felt as far away as Canada and Norway, and it is killing the forests for hundreds of miles.
Walsh comments: “In Russia, big business runs much of the country, so few even raised a quizzical eyebrow when, last year, the co-chairman of Norilsk Nickel, Alexander Khloponin, was elected governor of the local Krasnoyask region. Last year, he declared his income to be £1m a month, but reportedly earned £30m in share dividends alone.”

A Norilsk Nickel Company spokeswoman accepted that only four percent of all adults in the city were healthy. The hardest working 12 percent of the Company’s workers may retire at 45, but one worker told Walsh that “you pay all your life towards a pension you don’t live to collect”. Most workers cannot afford to leave Norilsk, as they do not earn enough to buy a house elsewhere. They average between £200 and £500 a month. Says Welsh: “They live, work and reproduce for the Company. The money goes round, and eventually people pass away. The city’s isolation means that they pour their wages into Company-owned shops and facilities.”

A market economy
Krasnoyarsk, a city of 900,000 inhabitants almost 1,000 miles south of Norilsk, is the administrative centre of the Central Siberian area. Like Norilsk, it has been depressed and is probably in terminal decay. But it is the home of the giant Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Company, owned by the oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal Group. The smelting plant is the second biggest of its kind in the world, producing more than 930,000 tonnes of aluminium a year.

In Soviet times, says Terry Macalister, writing this year in the Guardian (23 June) from Krasnoyarsk, the plant produced aluminium pots and pans for domestic kitchens, but now produces aluminium ingots, which are shipped all over the world, including to Britain, where Oleg Deripaska has a stake in the Anglo-Dutch steel company Corus. Jobs at the aluminium smelter, which originally employed 10,000 in Soviet times, have been cut in the last twelve months to 6,700. Duncan Hedditch, who is the tough new Australian boss of the plant, says that he hopes to reduce the number of workers to below 5,000 within three to four years. Yet at the same time, Deripaska is expanding productivity and, therefore, increasing the exploitation of the remaining workers, and investing $270m in modernising the plant.

The Krasnoyarsk aluminium plant produces three percent of the world’s aluminium, and consumes half a million tonnes of carbon every year. Some of the workers earn quite high wages by Russian standards: $800 a month, compared with an average of $250. But the going is tough. And, like the miners of Norilsk, the workers of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminium Company generally do not live to old age.

Workers of Norilsk and of Krasnoyarsk, like workers the world over, cannot win under capitalism, state or private. Many of their problems, however, would be solved by establishing socialism, although others such as pollution and the effects of ill-health, would take longer to eliminate. But, at least, a start could be made.
Peter E. Newell

Letters: UKiP (2004)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Editors

The editorial (July Socialist Standard) is full of the usual “arguments” for an undemocratic, elitist superstate. I’m afraid I don’t have time to go into it in great depth, but I would like to make a couple of points.

1. UKIP is absolutely not “anti-Europe”, “xenophobic” or “against foreigners”. What we’re against is the corrupt, unreformable institutions of the European Union. We have a large number of non-British members who share the same concerns.

2. The implication that we are somehow racist or linked to the BNP is an outrageous slur. All new members are required to sign a statement that they have never belonged to an extremist organisation and that they agree with the party’s non-racist stance. We have many black and Asian members (and many socialists too!).

3. A free trade agreement is completely different from a political union. One is a treaty entered into by independent sovereign states, the other is the destruction of independence and sovereignty.

4. The most prosperous European countries are Switzerland and Norway. They both trade freely within Europe and have never been members of the EU.
Daniel Moss, 
UKIP London Regional Organiser

We are afraid that you have got the wrong end of the stick. Because we point out that no state today can be independent of the capitalist world market does not mean that we therefore favour “an undemocratic, elitist superstate”. We were just stating an objective fact. As to what trading and inter-governmental arrangements particular capitalist governments adopt to deal with this fact, this is not a problem that concerns wage and salary workers. It concerns only capitalists. As socialists (and we can say for certain that there are no socialists in UKIP), we are completely indifferent on the issue. We are neither for nor against the Common Market or the euro or the European constitution, or whatever. The conclusion we draw from the worldwide nature of capitalism is that socialism too has to be worldwide.

The editorial did describe UKIP as a “know-nothing, any foreigner party”. You deny this. We think the cartoon, reproduced here, taken from a leaflet issued by the UKIP candidates in the South East England constituency in the recent European elections speaks for itself. We are happy to let our readers judge for themselves.
You protest too much, as we did not claim that UKIP was “racist”, only that it was xenophobic. We are, however, intrigued with your statement that UKIP members are required to sign a statement that “they have never belonged to an extremist organisation”, whereas the press has reported (for instance, the Independent, 15 June) that two of its MEPs (Jeffrey Titford and Michael Nattrass) were once members of the far-right New Britain party. We are prepared to accept that people can change their minds and that these two are no longer racists, only xenophobic.
We hesitate to discuss UKIP’s alternative to British capitalism being in the EU since this would be to accept that it is a serious policy, whereas most people who voted UKIP will have been attracted by its simplistic slogans of “No to the EU” and “Keep the Pound for Ever” and by the crude cartoon we have reproduced. But one thing your new MEPs might do is to ask some parliamentary questions about the details of the agreements between the EU and Norway and Switzerland.
They will find that Norway has signed up to the “European Economic Area” and that this makes it an effective member of the EU for all the fields EU members are except for agriculture and fisheries and trade with non-EU countries. Norway, in other words, is in the single European internal market as much as Britain and has agreed to incorporate the relevant EU legislation into its own laws – so it (or, rather, its capitalist class), too, has, as you would put it, surrendered “its independence and sovereignty” on these matters to Brussels. It even pays money to Brussels to help the poorer regions of Europe and, yes, we nearly forgot, accepts the “EU‘s immigration rules”. The Swiss government (representing the Swiss capitalist class) would have liked a similar arrangement but couldn’t get it through a referendum and is still committed to eventually joining the EU.
If that’s the sort of arrangement UKIP is proposing for Britain, then nobody would notice the difference – except the British capitalist class which would have no effective say in what was decided in Brussels.

“Not gradualist”

Dear Editors

Congratulations on an excellent centenary edition. I feel I should point out, however, that there were some errors in the article, “Getting Splinters”, in which reference was made to the 1987 discussion document, “The Road to Socialism”, circulated by Guildford branch and which I co-authored.

This circular did not claim “socialists would use their influence politically (through parliament and local councils) to adjust patterns of state income and expenditure in ‘socialistic’ directions, including the provision of free services”. Something like this appeared in the Spanner magazine long after Guildford Branch ceased to exist, but not in the Road to Socialism document itself – even though this statement seems little different from the Party’s own stated position that socialist MPS while still a minority, would consider reforms on their own merits.

Nor is it true that “Guildford’s vision was a gradualist one in which the materialist conception of history as applied to the coming of socialism was turned on its head: the economic structure of society would be essentially transformed before the socialist capture of political power, rather than afterwards”.  To say capitalism would be “essentially transformed” before the socialist capture of state power implies we are no longer talking about a capitalist society. But this is precisely what was not claimed! Guildford acknowleged the commanding heights of industry will still be in capitalist hands despite the predicted erosion of capitalist economic relationships within society, thus still necessitating  the capture of state power.

Also, far from Guildford’s vision “turning the materialist conception of history on its head”, it affirmed the link between material conditions and the spread of socialist consciousness. The latter is unlikely to happen to any significant extent without being driven to some extent by changes in the material circumstances themselves, viz. the development of non-capitalist economic relationships, prefiguring socialism (e.g. LETS, intentional communities, voluntaristic associations  etc). These will not in themselves automatically lead to socialism; they need to be infused by a socialist consciousness which, in turn, will then be able to harness them synergistically to its advantage.

The problem with the traditional SPGB approach is that it concentrates almost exclusively on the role of “abstract propagandism” (political education) as the means of bringing about socialism. While this is necessary it is unlikely to suffice on its own. This is ironic considering the importance the SPGB attaches to the Materialist Conception of History; its own “exit strategy” from capitalism appears to be an idealist one, relying on the spread of ideas only! In contrast, Guildford argued we need also to develop new material practices to help break the ideological hegemony of capitalism and enable workers to develop the necessary confidence that an alternative to capitalism is materially possible.

Finally your writer claims: “While most members readily acknowledged that the growth of the socialist movement would have profound and perhaps unpredictable impacts, and while it was the already established Party position that socialists would be organised on the economic front as well as the political front to ensure the smooth changeover of production and distribution from capitalism to socialism, this did not equate with seeking to mould capitalism into socialism from within, in a gradual way.”

This is misleading. Firstly, as the Guildford circular pointed out, what the Party meant by organising on the economic front (viz. planning for socialism) prior to the political enactment was not at all the same as envisaging the growth of non-capitalist socialistic relationship within capitalism prior to that enactmnent

Secondly, it is not true that what Guildford was proposing was to “to mould capitalism into socialism from within, in a gradual way”. We were not talking about “moulding” capitalism at all (which smacks of reformism) but, rather, the contraction in the extent and scope of capitalist economic relationships in inverse proportion to the growth of non-capitalist economic relationships within society as a whole.

Thirdly, the Guildford circular went to great lengths to point out that the kind of “socialistic” or non-capitalist relations it envisaged as developing within the interstices of a capitalist society did not constitute “socialism” but only prefigured socialism and then only to the extent that they were infused with socialist consciousness. “Socialistic” in our terms did not equate with “socialism” proper.

Finally and perhaps most disappointingly, no attempt was made to address the key arguments Guildford adduced to demonstrate the implausability of the traditional “Big Bang” theory of revolution held by the Party – dubbed  thus because it assumed capitalism would remain completely unaffected in its scope and extent by the growth of the socialist movement. But if you agree that the “big bang” theory is unsound you are logically bound to accept something rather like the vision that Guildford Branch articulated in its original discussion document.
Robin Cox, 
World in Common

The ‘Getting Splinters’ article dealt with six political tendencies which broke away from the Socialist Party during the course of the last 100 years, with a section devoted to each. The particular section entitled the ‘Guildford Road to Socialism’ was – like the others – a brief description of the key events involved and an articulation of the main points of disagreement that lay behind them. It was not intended to refer solely to the initial discussion document called the ‘Road to Socialism’ but to the line of thinking as a whole and its differing conception of the socialist revolution to the Party’s traditional one. The initial Guildford circular was followed by others and its meaning was clarified further in the journal Spanner produced in Guildford by the same elements.

One essential point is that Guildford/Spanner believed – among many other things – that socialists in parliament and in councils should use the state to redistribute wealth and provide services for free. This was most certainly the group’s stated view. Here’s Spanner’s own explanation of (and justification for) the initial Guildford ‘Road to Socialism’ document, published in its very first edition:
“The document went on to argue that the growth of the socialist movement would nevertheless facilitate the development of non-capitalist or ‘socialistic’ relations which prefigured socialism itself. A variety of forms in which these socialistic relations might invade the capitalist economy have been tentatively proposed. These include: “A massive expansion of free (subsidised) services provided by the state in response to the growing number of socialist parliamentary delegates who would be able to wield increasing influence over the patterns of state income and expenditure.” (‘The Road to Socialism’, in Spanner (1), p.39).
While the Socialist Party has always accepted that, faced with a growing revolutionary socialist movement, capitalist governments may well offer all sorts of reforms such as free services in a bid to ward off their complete expropriation, we have never argued – as Spanner did here – that any Socialist MPs should use any influence they might have to actively seek and promote such reforms, still less hail them as “socialistic”.

When we cut through the semantics, the other points you make about the materialist conception of history, etc merely reinforce what we said in the article. Guildford (and then Spanner) believed that socialism was impossible unless capitalism was ‘invaded’ by what they termed ‘socialistic’ relations of production, i.e. co-operatives, LETS schemes and ‘free’ state services. This is based on completely muddled thinking about these types of productive activities within capitalism – as well as about the general relation between productive relations and social structures – and why they should be labelled ‘socialist’ or ‘socialistic’ when they are nothing of the sort.

As for the supposed ‘Big Bang’ theory, this simply does not represent our views accurately. We certainly do not believe that the growth of the socialist movement will leave capitalism completely unchanged until a cataclysmic revolution occurs. But we cannot now predict in any meaningful way the various ways in which capitalism will change as socialist ideas spread, so we do not think it is possible or advisable to incorporate some version of these changes into our political position. And it is certainly not true that rejecting the caricatured ‘Big Bang’ scenario means accepting the gradualist views put forward in ‘The Road to Socialism’.


Dear Editors

I appreciated your balanced, if inevitably over-simplified, account of the ‘Libertarian Communism’ activists in the article ‘Getting splinters’ in the June special issue.

There was one actual inaccuracy with reference to the ‘Social Revolution’ Group and ‘Solidarity’. For the record, the ‘Social Revolution’ Group, as a whole, negotiated a merger with the ‘Solidarity’ Group on the basis of some significant changes to the Solidarity texts As we see it and As we don’t see it.

‘Wildcat’ was later formed as a local bulletin by Manchester Solidarity, members of the ICC (World Revolution) and others. Wildcat subsequently set up as a separate political group and involved comrades from Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and London. ‘Subversion’ succeeded ‘Wildcat’ after a short break, but was dissolved a few years back.

Never the less, a consistent political and organisational line can be drawn from ‘Libertarian Communism’ right through to ‘Subversion’ covering a period of some twenty-five years.

50 Years Ago: A Rose by Any Other Name (2004)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are all “socialists” now. Let us witness the parade: The Churchill Tory socialists, the French Radical Socialists, the totalitarian “socialist” governments including the black, brown and red shirts, the New-Deal – Fair-Deal creeping “socialists”, the Labour Parties of Europe, the Asiatic “socialist” and “communist” governments as well as those in Africa and South America, the colonial “socialist” groups, the various alleged socialist organisations throughout the world such as the Social Democrats, Trotzkyites, the Communists parties, syndicalists, I.W.W., Socialist Labour Party and the Companion Parties for Socialism in Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand. Then there are the anarchists, Christian “socialists”, pacifists and a whole host of others. By no means have we exhausted the list of marchers in the “socialist” parade.

No wonder M. Rubel in his dilemma: “The Uses of the Word ‘Socialism’” in the Winter, 1954, issue of the American magazine Dissent, would prefer “to abandon the word socialism” and would substitute some other word for it that would “save the conceptual content once attached to this term.”

It is significant of the times we live in to see every strata of society and the entire gamut of conflicting and opposing interests express themselves in terms of socialism. They must in order to rally support. Even though socialism is NOT accepted by the world, it has become recognized and established as the hope of mankind.

M. Rubel describes very well the general nature of socialism that stirs and inspires everyone: “A society from which exploitation would be banished and in which the unfolding of each individual would be the condition of the freedom of all.”  This is the basic appeal of socialism as an ultimate objective which serves as a rallying cry to muster support for the various groups marching in the parade of “socialism.”

Let us suppose that some other word came into use to express the very essence of socialism, its “conceptual concept.” This new word would then be subjected to the very same difficulties. The old word “socialism” would lose its meaning and significance. The new word would become abused in the same manner as the old one. Changing the name would not solve any problem for it doesn’t come to grips with the real situation.

(From an article by I. Rab, Socialist Standard, August 1954)