Thursday, October 1, 2020

Letters: Democracy (2020)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Comrades

The September issue of The Socialist Standard creates the unfortunate impression of a sharp division of opinion within the SPGB and the WSM on the vital issue of democracy within capitalism. The editorial in the September issue of The Socialist Standard states that ‘we must not [conclude] that capitalist political democracy is a sham,’ while RDC writes: ‘It can be argued that even the limited democracy allowed … is a sham’ (p. 10). The apparent discrepancy is bound to confuse readers.

I do not think that any real division of opinion exists on this issue. At most there may be differences of emphasis. RDC acknowledges that voting and the freedom to protest are ‘important rights,’ so clearly he does not regard capitalist democracy as a complete sham. At the same time, the author(s) of the editorial concur with RDC in stressing the limits of capitalist democracy.

I suggest that we formulate our position as follows.

‘No political system under capitalism is correctly described as democratic. However, the political systems of many (though far from all) countries do contain certain democratic elements. These democratic elements have arisen in the course of historical development, often – as the editorial notes – as a result of working class struggle. It is extremely important to socialists that these democratic elements be preserved and (to the extent possible) strengthened and extended, even though they can never neutralize the essentially undemocratic nature of capitalism. The stronger and more extensive the democratic elements in political systems, the greater the scope for the spread of socialist ideas and the surer the prospect of a smooth and peaceful transition to socialism. ‘
Stephen D. Shenfield 

Well done Diego!

Dear Editors

We don’t usually mention sport in the Standard but, just as we are going to press this month, an interesting item popped up on the BBC website. A triathlete approaching the end of a race in Spain saw the chap in front turn off the route by mistake. Out of a sense of fair play, Diego Méntrida just stopped before he got to the finish and waited to allow his fellow athlete to cross the line first. No big deal in sporting terms, because this is not a mega-business like football, but in its small way it helps to counter the lie that portrays life as necessarily a dog-eat-dog affair.

50 Years Ago: Black Power (2020)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rise of the Black Power movement in the United States has spread around the world wherever Negroes live. It has has also invaded this country, gaining rapid momentum mainly among the young.

According to its followers, the poverty that affects the black masses is caused by the whites. We hear daily of white exploitation and the desire by the Black Power advocates to replace this by black exploitation. Now, will this make the exploitation any more worthy? Will the advent of Black Power (whatever that is) create jobs for the unemployed? Will they secure a better price for the fading sugar industry? Except for a change of boss, how different would the life of the man in the street be?

Under the searching light of reason Black Power turns out to be nothing more than another racist organisation, designed to gain power for a few by exploiting the ignorance of the majority. Those who are really interested in solving the desperate poverty we see around us should think carefully before they fall victims to cheap emotionalism.

The problems of black people are not caused by whites. There are whites in developed countries like America and England who are just as poverty-stricken as people are here. It is the social system that the people the world over live under that make poverty and other things a part of man’s life. There is only one race, and that is the human race. Let us realise that we must all work together or the real enemy may never be destroyed.

—from The Socialist Review, published by a group of Socialists in Kingston, Jamaica.

(reprinted Socialist Standard, October 1970)

Editorial: Beyond The False Choice (2020)

Editorial from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The time has come again when American workers are conned into thinking that choosing between Tweedledee and Tweedledum as their next President will make a great difference in their lives.

Oh, but isn’t Donald Trump a dangerously divisive figure and a threat to American democracy? Some argue  that he may defy the election result should it go against him and refuse to leave office. Surely American workers must get behind Joe Biden and the Democrats. Yes, just like they were supposed to get behind John Kerry to defeat the warmonger George W Bush in 2004, only for nice Mr Kerry to become an enthusiastic warmonger in Barack Obama’s government.

This election is taking place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the continuing Black Lives Matter street protests. Trump is taking full advantage of the political unrest to portray himself as the law and order candidate and is accusing Democratic governors of being soft on the protesters. The Biden campaign, on the other hand, wants to present itself as standing up for social justice and being sympathetic to the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement. To bolster his progressive credentials, Biden has picked Kamala Harris as his running mate. Biden is also trying to capitalise on Trump’s alleged mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fallout from the accompanying economic slump.

However, this political posturing obscures the fundamental truth that the Republicans and Democrats are on the same side when it comes to upholding  the existing system. Whether under the ‘liberal’ Joe Biden or the ‘far-right’ Donald Trump, the workers will continue to be exploited. They will have to work for a wage and if they can’t find employment they may face the indignities of poverty and even homelessness. They will still be required to fight in capitalism’s wars.

A New York Times article (‘The Wallets of Wall Street Are With Joe Biden, if Not the Hearts’, 10 August) reveals whom  the two main parties really serve – ‘Wall Street has fared extraordinarily well under Mr. Trump: deep cuts to taxes, slashed regulations and, until the pandemic hit, record stock prices’.

Despite this, more Wall Street capitalists appear to be ditching Trump in favour of Biden – ‘More and more finance professionals, they say, appear to be sidelining their concerns about Mr. Biden’s age — 77 — and his style. They are surprisingly unperturbed at the likelihood of his raising their taxes and stiffening oversight of their industry. In return, they welcome the more seasoned and methodical presidency they believe he could bring’.

Some American workers are getting wise to what these two parties are really about. On 30 August, thousands of American workers joined an online ‘People’s Convention’, which pledged to set up a People’s Party to fight the elections in 2021.

Unfortunately, we cannot support the reformist platform of this new party with pledges such as ‘single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage’ ( But we are encouraged that more workers are looking beyond the established capitalist political parties. Hopefully in the not too distant future, they will begin to look beyond capitalism itself.