Monday, October 5, 2020

Another Labour Government or Socialism? (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party

Why does anybody join the Labour Party? Some join to make a career for themselves; to become leaders, rulers, future Labour Lords, men and women entrusted to run capitalism. At every Labour Conference it is easy to spot the opportunists: minds dominated by the opinion polls, concerned to be seen supporting whatever illusions or prejudices will win them seats in the places of power, red ties and smiles for the rank and file, but really they are aching to get away from all the noise, back to “the real job” of becoming successful politicians. The average Labour voter is being used by them.


Then there are those workers who join the Labour Party because they want modest reform of capitalism. They want to attend to this or that symptom of the capitalist disease, but will not get involved in the revolutionary work of abolishing the cause of the problems because “that would be immoderate –a vote loser”. These Labourites devote hours every week and years of their life trying to make the profit system just a little more humane. They have been at it since 1906 when the first Labour MP’s entered parliament: trying to empty the ocean of social distress by the bucketful. These people belong in the Labour Party because it is, at its best, a party of capitalist reform.


There is another category of workers who join the Labour Party: those who want to change society – transform it. This category includes not only the infantile Leninists of the Militant Tendency (whose conception of revolution is as outdated as it is elitist), but very many other ordinary Labourites who think that the election of a Labour government is the way to bring about socialism. It is to these people in particular that the Socialist Party–an organisation entirely separate from the Labour Party –addresses itself. It is our claim that by voting for and joining the Labour Party you are not in any way furthering the cause of socialism; the election of another Labour government would indicate that the workers do not yet understand or want socialism.

This was it

From the outset there have always been Labourites who have said that they are out to achieve socialism. Their sincerity is not in question. At the 1925 Labour Party Conference, George Lansbury stated that “Socialism is inscribed on our banners … we intend that the land of Britain and all its resources shall be owned and used in the service of the British people”. In Labour’s 1945 election manifesto, Let Us Face The Future, workers were told that: “The Labour Party is a socialist party and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose is the establishment of the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain”. When that 1945 government was elected many workers thought that this was it–the dawn of socialism. What happened? Industries were nationalised – only to leave workers like the miners exploited under state capitalism. Troops were sent to Korea, the NATO gang was joined, the British atom bomb was secretly initiated, and support was given to the bombing of Hiroshima, all by a so-called socialist government. The dockers’ strike was smashed by the use of troops. Bevan promised there would be no homeless workers in Britain by the time the Labour government left office; in 1951 they lost the election and capitalism in all its ugliness was still wholly intact.


Then came the Wilson and the Callaghan years; radical transformation remained something to talk about at Conference, but running capitalism in accordance with its harsh economic laws was what those governments were all about. Many workers voted Labour in 1945, 1964 and 1974 and concluded in disillusion, “If that’s socialism, we won’t bother to vote for it”. That is why Labour’s share of the vote has fallen: workers do not believe the promises as much as they used to and they are right not to.


“But we’ve got the wrong leadership”. This is the perpetual cry of Labourites who are mystified as to why the great change is not coming. It is not very long ago that Neil Kinnock was the golden boy of the Left. But now he has become a “realist”, as all leaders seeking to run capitalism must. The recently published Labour Party programme does not even mention the word “socialism”. Tony Benn, a member of the last Labour government, has described it as “violently anti-socialist”. Therefore it would seem that reality must be to leave a party which possesses such a programme. Of course, you will hear rousing speeches from Leftist leaders who will tell you that “Socialism is inscribed on our banners”; you will meet Labourites who will tell you that “anything” is better than the Tories; you will hear on the grapevine that there is a new socialist leader waiting in the wings and that, when they get power, socialism will be back on the agenda. The dogmatic belief that another Labour government is in the interest of the working class is one that will be thrown at you from every angle. But in your own mind you know very well that you will never see the establishment of socialism by sending Labour MP’s to Parliament.

The Alternative

Socialism will only be established when the vast majority of workers understand it, want it and democratically organise for it in a party which is not out to mend capitalism, but to end it. Socialism means the total abolition of capitalism. An end to private and state ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution, production would be solely for use, with all people having free access to the common store of goods and services, instead of production for sale on the market with a view to profit. To win workers to organise for socialism is a massive task and it is easy to be demoralised and deceive yourself that there is an easier way to initiate the new system. But there is no alternative to the hard work being carried out by the Socialist Party–and the sooner those who want us to succeed join us, the sooner it will be done.

Why you should (still) be a socialist (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
A myth is being celebrated. The rejoicing conveys all the emptiness of idiot-priests delighting in the exorcism of a demon spirit. The slayed ghost in question is “communism". The claim is that it, together with Marxism, socialism and anything else at all that dares to question the immutability of the capitalist system, is no longer on the historical agenda.

So it was that Jean-Denis Bredin. writing in Le Monde (4 September), a few days after the dissolution of the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union, could state triumphantly:
  Communism is dead—the word, the party, the empire, the theology, it’s all dead and everyone is happy . . . Mr Gorbachev was the timorous individual who started the progress . . . on the road which history had forced upon him. into the brilliant sunshine of the market economy. Are not the communists, if any are left, blind men and women who never understood that capitalism has taken over human destiny, that there would no longer be a Revolution but rather an eternal reform making the rich a little less rich, the poor a little less poor, not overnight but through the patient work of centuries. promising freedom and bread for all?
This crazed triumphalism has become an ideological hysteria, pushing the enemies of social change into ever new regions of intellectual arrogance in their assertions that—to use the catchphrase of She Who Was Deposed—There is No Alternative. What they are saying is that the decades of misery which followed the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 are proof that the consequence of deposing the dictatorship of Capital is ruin and grief. The tearing down of the statues of the Leninist leaders demonstrates, it is argued, that workers will never again be misled by those who dare to doubt the eternal life-span of “the brilliant sunshine of the market economy”.

The fundamental error—more than error: grand deception—upon which such reasoning is based is twofold. Firstly, the Leninist revolutions did not remove capitalism. Secondly, "the brilliant sunshine of the market” still does not shine upon the workers who form the majority of the world's population; on the contrary, we live under black clouds of debt, poverty, pollution, war, mass starvation, economic anxiety, all of which are direct consequences of the system of production for profit.

Lenin led to Stalin
Lenin and his Bolshevik Party were not socialists or communists (properly understood, the two words stand for the same thing: a society of common ownership), but élitists who sought to impose a new regime by minority insurrection. In the 19th century Engels had warned against the outdated notion that a so-called enlightened vanguard could emancipate the workers without the latter knowing about it. Marx had as his basic political motto that the working class alone could emancipate themselves, not leaders or vanguards.

By contrast, the Bolsheviks, in the style of capitalist revolutionaries such as Jacobins or Blanquists, took power in Russia where the workers were in a small minority and wanted only peace, land and bread, not socialism. It was impossible then, as it would be now, to establish socialism without a majority of socialists in society. It was inevitable that the Bolsheviks formed a dictatorship. The iron rule of Lenin, where opposition parties and newspapers were outlawed, the trade unions were turned into errand boys for the state, and secret police were at the service of the Party-run state, turned into Stalinism with all of its mass slaughter and torture and systematic suffering and pervasive lying. Stalinism was the product of Leninism.

In fairness to Lenin, his clique took power and knew that they had no hope of creating socialism in one country. Lenin was quite clear that the best that could be achieved was state capitalism in Russia. It was such a form of capitalism which was built up within the Russian Empire and which has failed so wretchedly. The Stalinists were to call this state capitalism “socialism” and "Communism”, and many leftists in the West convinced themselves that Russia was an island of socialist freedom in a capitalist ocean. They were as foolish as those in Russia who now look to Britain and the USA and see the mixture of state and private capitalism here as some sort of utopia. Distance creates absurd illusions.

The long history of the Leninist belief in the liberatory character of the Bolshevik regime has been one of the greatest obstacles to socialist understanding in this century. How often have we socialists talked of a free, co-operative, democratic social system to replace capitalism only to be told that if that is what we stand for we should go to Russia—where, incidentally, we would probably have been locked up for advocating such revolutionary ideas. The death of state capitalism and its naive supporters in the form of the Communist Parties can only be good news for socialists.

The Socialist Party has a proud record of exposing the pretensions of the pseudo-Communist dictatorships. While Stalin was being praised in Britain as “our democratic ally” we were exposing the purges, the show trials and the wage-slave status of the Russian working class. When Leninist newspapers such as the Morning Star, backed by money stolen from the Russian workers, told us about the happy lives of Russian workers and the peaceful intentions of the Warsaw Pact and the way in which nationalist and racist prejudice had been overcome within the Russian Empire, this party responded with utter scorn.

From food queue to dole queue
The celebrations in the West are all the more ridiculous when it is considered that orthodox capitalism is in the midst of a huge economic crisis which will be added to by the new demands upon the ailing Western economies to aid Russia and the new states which are coming out of its Empire. Bush has plenty of rhetoric to offer gullible listeners enchanted by his New World Order, a fairy-tale image of international capitalist unity, but is short on cash to pay for his little scheme. The fact is that the USA faces a record budget deficit; whole cities are on the brink of bankruptcy and working-class discontent is of a proportion which creates inner-city rioting and crime on a scale which makes Belfast look like a tame theme park. Is Bush to export to Russia and the Ukraine the economic wonder-drug which places the American workers in a position that one in five of them are living below the official poverty line?

As for the British government, its leader is so concerned about the coming of "freedom" to Russia that he celebrated it with a flight to visit his trading partners in the leadership of the brutal regime which butchered the workers in Tianenman Square. If Mr Lamont is to go to Moscow we suggest that the workers there prepare for a few more years of queuing, just as millions here queue for the dole in a country which tells talented and eager wealth-creators that it would be better for them to sit at home doing nothing because it is unprofitable to exploit them. The economic “experts" who are to lead Russia into the “free" market propose that there will be 30 million unemployed Russians within a year. Such is “the brilliant sunshine of the market economy”.

The Leninist left has no future. Those who went along with the nonsense of "Soviet socialism" are discredited and have one final historical task; to apologise to the workers for misleading them—and to socialists for getting in our way. The Right is in trouble because it no longer has the Russian bogey-man to frighten the workers with. Of course, there will be a sustained and vicious attempt to drown the vision of socialism in the muddy pit of the Leninists' grave. Anti-socialists have used this tactic since 1917 and have been more than adequately answered.

The future for genuine socialists—libertarians not statists; democrats not vanguardists; Marxists not Leninists; clear thinkers not sloganising sheep—is a good one. Our opponents in the Labour Party, who once posed as short-cut socialists, have now come out in the open as no-way socialists. Kinnock would be happier to be seen as a left-wing conservative than a real socialist. So, that red herring is out of the way. And the myth of “the socialist world" is now virtually buried. That leaves us with one final myth to shatter. The Big Lie: that capitalism can ever work in the interest of the majority.

The "magic of the market” and the miraculous power of “market forces" have enjoyed an improper reputation during the 1980s as having something to offer. That reputation will be short-lived, not simply because we socialists are going to expose its falsity at every turn, but because the market itself will fail to deliver the promised goods to the workers. Frustration will create an appetite for an alternative. Not a phoney alternative, as workers have so often fallen for. but the genuine socialist article: common ownership and democratic control of all the resources of the planet by all the people of the planet. Communism is dead? No, it has yet to be tried. And when the recognition that common ownership is the answer dawns upon more and more workers, as surely it will, the swines who bathe in "the brilliant sunshine of the market economy" will experience a severe case of sunstroke.
Steve Coleman

Reform or revolution? (1991)

From the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been a busy year for the reformers. There have been local taxes to abolish, NHS reforms to reverse, seven-plus tests to get rid of, the homeless to be provided with emergency shelter, bank charges to be made less harsh on the small borrower. Every year is a busy year for the reformer. No sooner has one minor concession been won—or, more often, half-won or quarter-won—than a ton of new problems, or old ones returned, fall upon society. The reformer's job is never done. The paint on the rusty machine is no sooner dry than it is peeling off.

The reformer is always busy. Petitions, marches, visits to MP’s, conferences of good-willed people to organise. Busy—too busy to stop and think. Have we been down this road before? Is the fight for a larger crumb worthy of their energies? When all the short steps forward are added to all the shoves back is any headway being made at all? No, the reformer has no time to think about that. After all, politics is not about theorising, says the reformer. They are people of the practical world.

Take the fight against the poll tax. Now, that was practical. No time to think about what taxes are . . . So, the opposition to the tax was mobilised and led on marches and forward unto the great victory of ... a new local tax.

To the reformist, with an immutable sense of the here and now, the revolutionary socialist presents a quite unacceptable spectacle. Here is someone who wants to go beyond the here and now into a system which is not here in a time which is not now, but could come as soon as the workers so decide. This discomforts the reformist because at root, despite all radical protestations to the contrary, the busy reformer is a hopeless conservative who cannot see more than the most trifling of changes as being possible. Reformists claim that revolutionaries irritate them because we seek what is impossible: we are “impossibilists”, to use the term of abuse applied to us back in 1904. But in reality it is the reformer’s conviction that nothing very much can change—a conviction shared between the left and the right wings of capitalist politics—which defines revolution as an unthinkable impossibility.

Sometimes the reformist will grant the necessity of a grand socialist change. But this must always be some time in the distant future. Reformists who flirt with the socialist vision turn socialism into a utopia. The conquest of the bakery is for the future, but for now the struggle for the crumbs must be all-consuming.

The political battle between Reform and Revolution is not a matter of tactical strategy: you take the high road and we'll take the low road. The reformist is taking the roundabout, never intending to stray from the here and now. All reformist talk about socialism in the future, but in the meantime . . . is so much hot air. The meantime of reformism is an eternity. Workers have died within this never-ending meantime. Indeed, it is a mean time, because the reformers aim is ultimately narrow and mean and constrained by a poverty of desire.

The revolutionary sets out to end and not mend the capitalist system. For the socialist there can be no such thing as humanised capitalism: the only good policy for capitalism is its abolition by the force of democratic, class-conscious action. Once workers get busy working for socialism, in larger and larger numbers, the owners and controllers of the Earth will shower us with piddling reforms. The capitalists will concede anything except their right to monopolise the resources of the Earth. It is this freedom which socialists, committed to common ownership, democratic control and free access to resources for all, will take away from the existing rulers.

The revolutionary seeks to defeat the class enemy—and defeat can only mean total defeat, i.e. dispossession. The reformist seeks to leave the possession of class power in the enemy’s hands and then plead for a better deal. It is a futile and time-wasting policy, however sincere its many advocates undoubtedly are.

Next year will be a busy year for the reformers—and the one after and so on into the next decade and century. Unless the political folly of Reform is understood. Unless the partial victories of the crumb-collectors are abandoned and workers realise that we have a world to win. Not to ask for, but to take.
Steve Coleman

Turgid Tolstoy (1991)

Book Review from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

What Then Must We Do? By Leo Tolstoy. Reissued 1991 with an introduction by Ronald Sampson. Green Books. £8.95.

Leo Tolstoy was a writer of genius: his novels are amongst the best ever written, but this is without doubt his worst book and it is difficult to believe that the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina could write this also.

This book was written in 1886 when Tolstoy believed that his idiosyncratic religious views had given him the answers to society’s problems. A quarter of the book is devoted to Tolstoy’s guilt-ridden forays among the destitute to offer them charity. He rightly concludes that charity is not the answer to poverty but the point could have been made much more succinctly. Tolstoy concludes that money given by the rich to the poor is money that was gained by exploiting their labour in the first place.

Of wage labour he notes:
  Money is the new form of slavery, differing from the old only in its impersonality. in the freedom it gives from any human relation with the slave.
A large section of the book is devoted to the way that institutionalised violence maintains wage slavery. Marxists agree that the state is the instrument which the capitalist class uses to enforce exploitation but Tolstoy overlooks the fact that many workers accept working for wages because they believe it is natural and inevitable. The power of propaganda as a superior instrument of control to avert violence has been recognised more in the present century, but even in Tolstoy’s time the capitalist class used it for their own ends quite successfully.

Tolstoy’s solution to the inequalities of his time was to recommend that everyone should work on the land, living a simple life, without employing the labour of others. But this restriction of consumption would be regressive and not to the tastes of most people. Capitalism has made it possible, through technology, to release productive forces which would be used in a socialist society to eliminate all poverty and austerity.

The introduction by Ronald Sampson is more interesting than the rest of the book, such is the subordination of Tolstoy’s literary skills to the task of getting his message across. Tolstoy the novelist deserves our admiration but Tolstoy the polemicist and self-appointed prophet is downright dull.
Carl Pinel

Between the Lines: From Russia With Confusion (1991)

The Between the Lines column from the October 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

From Russia With Confusion

The mind-numbing simplicities of cold war propaganda dominated the British media's coverage of the Russian coup. News programmes offered a cartoon image of events. Gorbachev the Rather Good had been overthrown by The Big Bad Reds who could only be defeated by Boris the Great. As ever in the capitalist picture of history, the workers were depicted as mere spectators — extras in the scene: the BBC News called them "Yeltsin's people". Is that what all the bravery of the crowd was for — the standing in front of tanks and the demand that democratic rights be retained? All that to become Yeltsin's people?

For the media there was no question that the coup was successful. Great Man Gorbachev had been replaced by Judas Yenayev. And that was that. The media never once considered the possibility that people could alter their history — that the power struggle would be more than the in-fighting of a ruling elite. On the first night of the coup both BBC and ITN News broadcast effective obituaries for Gorbachev. When the crowd began to assemble, the media was shocked. But they did not explain this as the action of thousands of workers fighting against a dictatorship. The defence of the Russian parliament was explained entirely in terms of the will of leaders, notably Yeltsin. When the coup was overthrown the BBC and ITN continued to explain the whole affair in terms of a power battle at the top. But this was not so: the collapse of the Communist Party dictatorship after the coup's defeat was not decided by Yeltsin and his political allies (whose political careers had been carved out within that dictatorship), but by the will of the people, the working class majority. From BBC l's children's news programme Newsround to BBC2’s fairly sophisticated Newsnight the analysis of the collapse of state capitalism and the Russian Empire has been over-simplified to the point of utter distortion. Good has prevailed over Evil. Good equals the market which is portrayed as a redeemer. Yeltsin, a political opportunist, nationalist and populist demagogue, compared by those who know him well as a modem Mussolini, is given an uncritical press. Two days after the coup the ITV News at Ten included a ludicrous report about the failure of "Marxist economics" in Russia. This report claimed that Russia had been run according to policies stated by Marx in The Communist Manifesto written in 1848. This unsubstantiated rubbish was put out without a thought given to the long-standing Marxist analysis of Russia as a state capitalist country — which is exactly what Lenin himself called it at the outset. (Speaking of crazy historical claims, the school's supplement to The Guardian in the week after the coup claimed that Marx supported the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 — thirty-three years after he died!) On the day that Yeltsin's elite banned the Communist Party in Russia (an unpromising start to a liberal democratic government) the ever-mistaken CNN opened its midday news with the proclamation that the Russian people were at last free. Indeed, CNN's American hysteria was reflected on the British news broadcasts by reporters making wild comments about the euphoria of the Russian people. In fact with continued empty shelves in the shops, rent food and fare increases on the way and 30 million plus to become unemployed soon, the delight of feeling free was about as great as in the British cities where workers have spent the nights celebrating with street riots.

On 7 September BBC2 had Charles Wheeler introduce a programme showing excerpts from Leningrad's archives of propaganda films. The Orwellian character of what was shown was chilling. Never again, we suspect will such crude propaganda con the wage slaves. But what of the less crude methods of keeping the proles in their place? We expect that Yeltsin's new TV controllers are studying the methods of the BBC and the US networks for newer, more subtle tricks of deceit; less conspicuous forms of ideological doping.

In the modern battle of ideas the media is crucial. The media bosses are accountable to no-one, least of all the workers. They continue to lie, to twist, to omit, to push workers into believing half-truths, non-truths and cartoon views of the world in which we live. It was no coincidence that the first action of the coup organisers in Moscow was to close the TV stations which they could not rely on. If the parish priest was the ideological mouthpiece of feudal rule, the newscaster is the high priest of capitalist ideology.

This writer cheered at the overthrow of the Leninist dictators. Their downfall and the tremendous political fire within the bellies of the workers who took to the streets, who tragically do not know what they do want but only what they don't, was a great moment to live through. As the cheering of the media hirelings started, with all their phoney talk of the downfall of Communism and triumph of Freedom through Market Forces, this writer's cheering slopped abruptly. Solidarity with our fellow workers, yes; but with the cynical pimps whose champagne corks were popping at the thought of new profits to be made — Never!
Steve Coleman