Thursday, January 14, 2021

Trotsky on Lenin (1972)

Book Review from the January 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Lenin. By L. Trotsky. (Harrap £1.75.)

These notes were collected and published in an English translation in 1925. With the increased interest in Marxist thought the works have now been retranslated and issued. They cover the first period in London in 1902, the October seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the last stage to the New Economic Policy and Lenin’s demise. The book is well worth perusal as an expression of the time.

Some illuminating admissions are made by the author. Writing of the spring of 1918, Trotsky says:
  It was only in Petersburgh and Moscow that the revolution had been really carried through. In the majority of the provincial cities the October Revolution was carried over the telegraph poles.
In other words, most of the Russian population did not really know what was happening.

Trotsky also quotes from Lenin’s Thesis on Peace of January 1918: “For its success, Socialism in Russia needs at best a few months." Was this not a slip of the pen? asks Trotsky and answers No! Lenin repeatedly in speeches to the Council of Peoples Commissars in 1918 said that in half a year we will have Socialism and would become one of the most powerful states.

No wonder the poor ill-fated Zinoviev, Lenin's whipping boy at the Comintern, ran round prophesying the doom of Capitalism throughout Europe before the year was out.

Trotsky’s polemic against H. G. Wells (who interviewed Lenin in Moscow in 1921) is included. Undoubtedly Lenin was right. Wells was an unspeakable petty-bourgeois philistine, but, in his criticism of Lenin, he had a definite point. Wells insisted to Lenin that for the success of Socialism it is necessary to change the mentality of a whole people.

In his panegyrics on Lenin's birthday and at his death, Trotsky contributed as much as Stalin, or anyone else, to building up the Lenin leadership legend, necessitated by the backwardness of the Russian masses.

Trotsky’s fulsome adulation of Lenin’s ruthless physical extermination of political opponents culminated with a Stalinist terrorist ice-pick in our author’s brain.
Horatio

The conspiracy trial (1972)


Book Review from the January 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Conspiracy Trial. Ed. Judy Clavir and John Spitzer. (Jonathan Cape; £5.50).

there is much dramatic material in any trial and that of the Chicago Eight contained more than most. Apart from the unconventional dress and behaviour of the defendants there was the passionate advocacy of their counsel, the binding and gagging of Bobby Seale and such bizarre incidents as the presentation of a birthday cake to him in the courtroom.

A trial transcript bears a formidable appearance and seems to be reading only for the serious researcher. Only when we dip into the transcript does it come alive, with the drama, the humour, the colour and sometimes the simple tragedy leaping out of the cold words of print.

This book is a very hefty piece of work—615 pages, no less, and all in pretty close type. Randomly opening it at first catches the attention, then holds the interest and in the end almost keeps you up half the night. Yet it’s still mainly a reference work, for anyone who has not been tired out by the exposure of this, one of America’s most famous court happenings.

And in between reading it, it makes a useful door stop or flower press.
Ivan

50 Years Ago: ‘Adopting’ the 
Unemployed (1972)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard
 

It is interesting to note how at this time of the year the Press weep tears of tenderness over the starving bodies of the workers who have been cast down to such depths of misery by the workings of the capitalist system; the hypocrisy of the writers is only emphasised by the humility with which the doles of food and clothing are received by the victims of capitalism.

Under the heading of ‘Adopting a Family: A Useful Birmingham Scheme’ the Birmingham Mail (20 Nov. 1921) quotes the Daily Post:- "The suggestion that individuals should adopt necessitous families had elicited a promising response and a considerable extension of the movement appears likely”.

#    #    #    #

Life will be one long holiday for the unemployed, with cakes and pictures thrown in, if this idea spreads. But stay, who is going to decide the scale (useful terms) of food for the adopted family; what will be the menu? Will it assume the proportions of a ration just sufficient to keep alive the victims of capitalism, or will it be on the same scale as the Patron’s family?

We get a little enlightenment on this point when we read in relation to the adopted family of the staff of the Post: ‘It is hoped to keep the family in a state of efficiency until they are again able to provide for themselves’.

So it is evident the adopted are to have just enough for the purpose of keeping them in such condition as, when the depression is over, they will be capable of producing once again a maximum of surplus value for their masters.
(From an article “Foster Parents” by E. J. in Socialist Standard January 1922).

Review: January 1972 (1972)

The Review of the Month column from the January 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

At Home

It was fitting that, in the season of good-will and hand-outs, everyone should get so alarmed by the terrible news about the straitened circumstances in which the queen has been forced to live recently. It was rumoured last year, when she did not make the usual Christmas appearance on the box, that she had virtually gone on a genteel strike for more pay. Many workers must have taken time off from their efforts to balance their own budgets to give a sigh of relief that the figurehead of British capitalism will now be able to scrape by on the more comfortable wage of a million a year and that it will not, after all, be necessary to put up any of the castles and palaces or any of the other symbols of royal penury for sale.

Similar relief must have been felt at the news that our Members of Parliament and our Ministers are also to get a hefty rise. Apparently the inflation of the currency has meant that all these people in Parliament find the buying power of their wage getting less as time goes by. But what sympathy can there be for them, since they are constantly getting their jobs as MPs on the solemn promise that they can control inflation? A prime example of someone being hoist with their own petard, or whatever we might call it.

At the other end of the wages spectrum, the 280,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers were voting for an official strike to start on January 9. The strike —the first national industrial action by the miners since the lock-out of 1926 — was decided on after three years of mounting militancy among the union’s activists, which forced the executive to drop their previous "moderate” policy of concern for the finances of the state capitalist National Coal Board. The miners’ demands may seem to be high but in fact they are asking for no more than enough to maintain or re-establish their standard of living. The press are unable to use one of their usual lies —that strikes are forced upon unwilling workers by their union — since in the secret ballot 59 per cent of miners (75 per cent in the largest coalfield, Yorkshire) voted to strike. In this latest battle in the continuous class struggle, the miners should have the full support of every member of the working class. They’ve got a better case than the queen.


Abroad

The war between India and Pakistan, as part of the long struggle they have waged against each other, was predictable from the earliest days of independence which was, let us remember, sold to us as a step towards peace and prosperity for the sub-continent. Both these nations are regular rattlers of the begging bowl, pleading their inability to support refugees, victims of natural disasters, famine and so on. Yet both seemed to find little difficulty in financing a war, which says something about the order of capitalism’s priorities. The conflict is of course more than a minor matter, since the three leading powers of world capitalism, as they all quickly showed, are vitally interested in what happens there. Russia in particular is determined that this shall be her exclusive area of influence. Altogether an ominous situation, showing again that this is no time of peace and security.

As the statesmen patted themselves on the back when they drew the borders of India and Pakistan in 1947, so they were busily congratulating themselves over their latest "settlement”, this time in Rhodesia. Of course this was a sellout but it was almost impossible, given the facts of life under capitalism, to see any other way out for the British ruling class. Those who were angry at the terms of the settlement should remind themselves that betrayals, of varying degrees of cynicism, are a constant feature of capitalist diplomacy.


Politics

The newspapers were almost damp with the tears of the leader writers, as the news came through that the Parliamentary Labour Party had turned down Barbara Castle as a member of their Shadow Cabinet. (In the event, as must have been expected, Wilson appointed her to his team anyway.) The theme of the comment was to regret this scurvy treatment of so fine and clever a woman. Yet Castle was one of the most prominent tricksters of the late unlamented Labour government; in her role as boss of employment she planned to restrict the bargaining power of the unions. This was her most famous achievement; apart from that she was always ready to defend all the Wilson government’s anti-working class measures on the grounds that she, a “left-wing socialist”, could be trusted to stand against anything which harmed working class interests. What this means is that she. was among the most cynical of this bunch of quacks and liars. Except for the fact that she would simply be replaced by another, equally cynical, politician, no member of the working class need mourn her departure.

Profiting from the pandemic (2021)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the first Covid-19 vaccines were announced in November, Mark Littlewood, the director general of the free-marketeer Institute of Economic Affairs, lauded the profit motive for achieving this (Times, 16 November), even liking the suggestion that ‘it might be appropriate for us all to stand on our doorsteps at 8pm each Thursday and give a round of applause to big, profit-making pharmaceutical companies’.

Capitalist companies, as Littlewood well knows since it’s his job to justify this, only respond to the prospect of profit. The past record of pharma companies in particular shows this. They give priority to the medicines that bring in the most profit and neglect research into treatments and cures for conditions that are not so profitable, such as tropical diseases. This has been described as a typical example of ‘market failure’, i.e. of the failure of the market mechanism to meet human needs.

There is a huge market for a vaccine against Covid-19 in North America and Europe. This has been created by the state borrowing money to buy the vaccine. So, far from being independent of the state, the ‘big, profit-making pharmaceutical companies’ that Littlewood wants us to cheer for are hugely dependent on the market that states provide for their products. So much, then, for ‘free’ enterprise.

Littlewood mentioned that AstraZeneca (the one which bungled their tests and then tried to fiddle the results before having to do more tests) has agreed to sell its vaccine on a not-for-profit basis, commenting that this was ‘a welcome reminder that major companies have myriad humanitarian and reputational considerations rather than always and forever focusing on the immediate, financial bottom line.’

He forgot to mention that this commitment only holds for the duration of the pandemic. AstraZeneca is anticipating (even hoping for and banking on) the Covid-19 virus surviving the pandemic and requiring annual vaccinations like the flu jab to keep it at bay, a demand they will be free to meet at a price that brings them a normal profit.

Littlewood also ignores that, far from there being ‘myriad’ humanitarian considerations for not going for an ‘immediate’ profit, the directors of a company are legally banned from taking into account humanitarian considerations. They cannot act as a charity as they have a legal duty to get the best return they can for the company’s shareholders. Not only is there no such thing as a free lunch, it is not permitted under company law.

‘Reputational considerations’ are another matter as a bad reputation – such as Big Pharma has – can affect sales, and so forgoing an immediate profit to counter this and going for a longer-term profit can be justified in terms of shareholder interest. As can other apparently humanitarian actions such as paying higher wages than others (to attract the best workers) or providing health care and other benefits (to develop a contented and more productive workforce).

What the rapid development of a Covid-19 vaccine does show is that society has the scientific knowledge and the technological capacity to solve a problem if enough resources are mobilised. This is the exception under capitalism (and normally only for military purposes), precisely because ‘no profit, no production’ (sometimes misleadingly called the ‘profit motive’) applies. In socialism mobilising resources to meet a need would be the rule as the common ownership of productive resources by society will allow the motive for production to become the natural one of directly satisfying people’s needs.

What is going on in Belarus? (2021)

From the January 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard 
 An interview with Dmitry Kosmachev, a member of the Minsk Socialist Circle, about the situation in Belarus, the current protests, and where they may lead.
Stephen Shenfield: In the 1990s I made visits to five of the new post-Soviet republics – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan. I got the impression that the situation for working people in Belarus was relatively tolerable. Only in Belarus did I find no evidence of people engaged in a desperate struggle to survive. The regime was authoritarian but enjoyed wide support. There were no serious ethnic conflicts.

How accurate was my impression? And how has the situation changed since then?

Dmitry Kosmachev: You are quite right. Even today things are better here in Belarus than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. In Belarus, unlike Russia and other republics, large-scale privatization of factories, land, and farms has not taken place. Soviet-era industry has not been dismantled and is still competitive. Our trucks, tractors, and buses are bought not only by post-Soviet states but also by some Third World countries. We import our dairy products from other former Soviet republics, not from the EU. We even continue to export clothes and shoes to other former Soviet republics, despite the ubiquity of cheap Chinese imports.

This situation is reflected in our social structure. For one thing, we have preserved a large industrial working class. And with industry remaining in the hands of the state Belarus, unlike Russia and Ukraine, has no ‘oligarchs’ – extremely rich capitalists who influence politics and create their own parties. The levels of crime and corruption are relatively low here, thanks in part to tough measures. The death penalty still exists in Belarus.

SS: Would you say then that Belarus has a more just society than Russia and Ukraine?

DK: No, the preponderance of state capitalism in Belarus does not make it a welfare state. For example, Russia has more progressive labour legislation than we do. In Russia there are several alternative trade union federations, while Belarus has only one trade union independent of the state. It was created and registered under Lukashenko’s predecessors. In Belarus it is almost impossible to conduct a strike in compliance with the formal requirements of labour law. Russian law requires an employer who wants to dismiss a worker to provide two weeks’ warning and three months’ severance pay, while most Belarusian workers are employed on the basis of short-term – usually annual — labour contracts, so that at the end of the year they can be fired without benefits, simply by not renewing their contract.

There has been partial privatization in Belarus. Fully state-owned enterprises have been transformed into joint-stock companies in which the majority of shares are held by the state and a minority by the director. This gives the director a financial interest in the performance of the enterprise, but he remains dependent on the state and can always be dismissed if deemed disloyal.

SS: How has the political situation changed since the 1990s?

DK: Lukashenko did have wide support in the 1990s. He did not need to cheat in order to win elections. People were afraid of what was happening in Russia and Ukraine – the destruction of the Soviet-era economy, the instability, the rising crime, the corruption. In Belarus industrial enterprises continued to operate. Crime was low, as I said.

At that time the opposition did not have wide support. They were nationalist intellectuals with an orientation toward Poland. Nor were they very honest. In fall 2001 the following joke made the rounds:

Who launched the attack on the World Trade Center? The Belarusian opposition, so as not to have to account for grants received from the US government.

In the presidential election of September 2001 Lukashenko inflicted a crushing defeat on the opposition candidate.

But as they say, ‘dripping water wears away the stone.’ There grew up a new generation of young people. They often travelled to Poland and Lithuania – countries that have close historical connections with Belarus – and there they saw a completely different level of freedom. Meanwhile Lukashenko was coming to resemble a Latin American dictator. He started to take his youngest son Nikolai with him everywhere he went. The boy is now 17 years old. This, clearly, is our Kim Jong Un.

The protests that followed Lukashenko’s victory in the presidential election of 2006, influenced by similar protests in Ukraine, showed that by then the opposition had acquired a broader base. Many previously ‘non-political’ students took part. They set up a tent camp on Kalinovsky Square, one of the central squares of Minsk. It stood there two weeks before being brutally broken up by special police.

SS: What led up to the current protests?

DK:
The presidential election of 2020 was carefully prepared. Would-be candidates whom Lukashenko considered serious rivals were barred from standing. Thus he did not allow the registration of Viktor Babariko, former chairman of the board of Belgazprombank (Belarus Gas Industry Bank), which has links to the huge Russian gas company Gazprom. The famous blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, who also intended to stand, was arrested on farfetched charges.

All the same, Lukashenko needed a sparring partner, a rival whom he would easily defeat. He thought that a woman would be a weak candidate – men would never vote for her – so he allowed the registration of Sergei Tikhanovsky’s wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. But it turned out that voters were fed up with Lukashenko and most were willing to vote for a woman. The president and his team falsified the results. According to the official figures, Lukashenko won with 80% of the vote. But most people were more inclined to believe Tikhanovskaya’s claim that she had won at least 60%. She has now been allowed to go abroad.

Falsification of the election results triggered an unprecedented outburst of public indignation.

SS: How do the current protests compare with protests in the past?

DK: First, they are much more massive. The demonstration in Minsk on October 25 was 100,000 strong, which is quite impressive for a city of two million. There have been separate marches of students and women.

Second, these protests have occurred throughout the country, even in the smallest towns. Past protests were confined to the capital.

Naturally, such large and nationwide protests have a broader social composition than earlier protests, the participants in which were mostly students, people in the arts, small businesspeople, and workers in the Information Technology sector.

SS: Have the protests been accompanied by strikes?

DK: In August the opposition managed to organize a quite powerful nationwide strike movement. They tried again at the end of October, after Tikhanovskaya called for a general strike, but this time they failed.

SS: When you mention ‘the opposition’ I suppose you are referring primarily to the Belarusian Popular Front?

DK: No, no, you remember the Belarusian Popular Front from the 1990s, but today this organization is virtually non-existent. The opposition is now represented by other structures. Since the 90s it has become somewhat less nationalist and more pro-Western and liberal. One of the main points in the economic program of the opposition’s presidential candidate was privatization.

SS: Is there a significant section of the population that actively supports the regime?

DK: Lukashenko has many supporters, but their support is passive in nature. When he needs people to attend a rally, he summons school teachers, workers for public utilities, and others who depend on the state for their livelihood.

SS: Should libertarian socialists support the protest movement? What is your opinion?

DK: My opinion is that they should not. Definitely not! Libertarian anti-authoritarian socialists should support neither the dictator nor the liberals.

Unfortunately, however, there are several other groups of self-styled ‘anti-authoritarian socialists’ who are taking an active part in these protests. This is true of anarchists, the Green Party, and the Belarusian Left Party ‘Just World’ – former ‘communists’ who oppose Lukashenko and adhere to the platform of the Party of the European Left [a coalition of ‘communists’ and ‘social democrats’ in EU countries–SS].

A band of four anarchists even tried to start a guerrilla war. They crossed the border from Ukraine illegally with weapons, committed several acts of sabotage, and were arrested while trying to return to Ukraine.

SS: The political situation in Belarus is developing against the background of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Is there any connection between them? How is the pandemic affecting Belarus?

DK: The number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Belarus is 106,000, of whom 91,000 have recovered. About 1,000 have died. For a country with a population of 9.5 million this is not catastrophic.

Lukashenko has responded to the threat of Covid-19 with much less drastic measures than those adopted in Russia and Ukraine. Throughout the spring and summer no restrictions were imposed on economic activity. On May 9 the authorities even held a national football competition and a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. Planes from abroad were allowed to land at the airport, though passengers were required to self-isolate for two weeks, as were people who had been in contact with Covid-19 patients inside the country.

The relatively weak official response to the pandemic may have contributed to the protests in a small way. Many people have voluntarily limited their contacts and worn masks and gloves as a sort of challenge to the authorities.

SS: Is Russia in any way involved in the situation in Belarus?

DK: Lukashenko has usually tried to maintain his independence by balancing between Russia and the EU. There is tension in his relationship with Putin. On the eve of the presidential election there was even a scandal with the arrest of Russian mercenaries who — claimed the Belarusian authorities – had come to Minsk to stage an armed coup against Lukashenko. In fact, they were just waiting for a plane to Turkey to fly from there to Africa. At Russian airports almost all foreign flights have been cancelled on account of the pandemic, whereas Belarus remains open for flights.

But when Lukashenko faced mass protests he abandoned anti-Russian rhetoric and ran to Putin for help. And Putin agreed to help. Not, however, by sending troops or special police to suppress protests, but by sending political experts – so-called ‘political technologists’ — to raise the abysmal quality of the regime’s propaganda and improve Lukashenko’s terrible domestic and international image. It is these experts who are to be congratulated for the fact that the propaganda programs of state television channels have become more professional. The hope must be that Lukashenko can learn from the more flexible political system of Putin’s Russia, which provides scope for dissent ‘within the system’ and is more selective in applying repression.

SS: Are there any countries apart from Russia with which the Belarusian regime has good relations?

DK: Lukashenko considers the Maduro regime in Venezuela an ideological ally. A monument has been erected in Minsk to Simon Bolivar [the anti-colonial leader who is the inspiration for Venezuela’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’–SS] and one of the city squares has been renamed in his honour. State-owned Belarusian construction companies have built several blocks of apartments in Caracas.

SS: Please tell us about the Minsk Socialist Circle.

DK: The Minsk Socialist Circle is a group of 30—40 lecturers and students in the humanities at universities in Minsk. It arose out of an optional course of lectures on the history of socialist thought given at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Belarusian State University in 2017 to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Those of us who started the circle shared a felt need to find a new model of society to restart the socialist project that had been discredited by the Bolsheviks. We hold seminars, public meetings, and discussions with representatives of other left-wing organizations.

SS: So the idea is to make people more aware of non-Bolshevik currents in the history of socialist thought, so that they will distinguish between Bolshevism and socialism as such – and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

DK: As Belarus was part of the Russian empire and before that of Poland, its territory was the scene of the activities of many Russian, Polish, and Jewish socialist parties.

SS: Right. My grandmother, who was from Smorgon in the north-western corner of Belarus, was in the Jewish Socialist Bund. But what about Belarusian socialists?

DK: There were Belarusian socialists as well, but fewer of them. And it was also in Belarus that there arose the first anarchist organizations in the Russian Empire. So our country has a rich tradition of socialist thought – a tradition that was never completely eradicated either through the long years of the Soviet Union or under the Lukashenko dictatorship.

SS: Are you especially inspired by any particular non-Bolshevik tradition?

DK: Yes, we feel a special affinity with those non-Marxist socialists in the tsarist empire who were known in Russian as narodniki. There is no satisfactory equivalent of this term in English. It comes from the word narod, meaning ‘the people,’ because the narodniki believed in ‘going to the people.’ In the 19th century thousands of educated young people went to the villages to preach the ideals of socialism. Hoping to gain the trust of uneducated peasants, they dressed in simple clothes and arranged to work as rural artisans, doctors, and teachers. It was the narodniki who formed the People’s Will Party and later the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries.

By the way, Sergei Stepnyak, at whose London funeral William Morris made one of his last speeches, was a narodnik.

SS: They also committed acts of terror, didn’t they?

DK: Some did. It was the People’s Will Party that planned and carried out the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. You see, the first attempts to ‘go to the people’ failed. The peasants distrusted the strangers from the cities and turned them in to the police. That led some narodniki in Russia to resort to terrorism. But the narodniki in Belarus never did so. There was a separate Belarusian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries, led by a woman teacher – Poluta Bodunova, who died in the Stalinist GULAG.

In any case, there is no longer such a wide gap between conscious socialists and working people. The tradition of ‘going to the people’ can still serve us as an ethical guide.

SS: How many people do you reach?

DK: Attendance at our meetings has risen to about a hundred people. And lectures on Marxism or on the history of the socialist movement can attract hundreds of interested young students. True, that is not much by comparison with the crowds of tens or even hundreds of thousands at mass meetings of the liberal opposition. But just a couple of years ago a mere handful of people came to our meetings.

Now is a good time for socialist propaganda. More and more people are getting disillusioned with the liberal opposition. At the same time, they realize that the Lukashenko regime embodies all the worst features of bureaucratic society in the Soviet era. We do not want to lead people into a new version of the same sort of impasse. That is the focus of heated debates between us and the traditional left parties and groups, who unambiguously associate themselves with the tradition of the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union. I hope that the ideas of anti-authoritarian socialism will again take root in our country.

SS: Are the members of your circle affected by the current repressions?

DK: Yes. Lukashenko is demanding that students who have taken part in the protests be expelled from institutions of higher education. Although we have not taken part in the protests, we too are threatened with expulsion. We may also be deprived of access to the premises where we hold our meetings.

SS: What prospects do you see for Belarus?

DK: In our opinion, the protests are unlikely to improve the situation in the country. If Lukashenko succeeds in suppressing them, there will be less freedom and more repression. If the liberal opposition manages to overthrow the Lukashenko regime, there will be more political freedom. However, a liberal government will probably pursue a policy of privatization. Europe is still the liberals’ ideal. They do not want to know that capitalism is in a deep systemic crisis and they do not want to learn from what privatization has brought about in Russia and Ukraine.

Privatization will create a new class of powerful and wealthy oligarchs and a new split in society. Industry will be dismantled and asset-stripped. Workers will find themselves out on the street with no chance of employment in accordance with their skills, while productive enterprises are turned into warehouses and shopping malls. Agriculture will also be destroyed.

We may then see unfold in Belarus a tragedy similar to what has occurred in Ukraine. The destabilization of society may lead to confrontation between eastern regions connected with Russia and western regions drawn toward the European Union.

SS: But surely Belarus does not have the sharp cultural and ethnic division between eastern and western regions that characterizes Ukraine?

DK: Belarus has a similar division, even though it is not as sharp. In Grodno, in the west of the country, most people speak Belarusian, while in the east – in Gomel and Vitebsk – as well as in Minsk the main language spoken is Russian. Ukraine represents a worst-case scenario for Belarus. There are grounds to hope that it will be avoided. Unlike the protests against Yanukovych in Ukraine, which were almost all in the western and central parts of the country, the protests here in Belarus are nationwide. There is no counter-movement for Lukashenko or for joining Russia.

SS: What is the message of the Minsk Socialist Circle to the citizens of Belarus?

DK: In this situation, we can only appeal to people’s reason, remind them of the socialist traditions of our country, and emphasize the need for a system based on social justice, coordination of the interests of all population groups, genuine popular control over public property, and the widest self-government. Our slogan today is: Neither dictatorship nor privatization, but people’s self-government and workers’ self-management!

A Comrade Falls: Suhuyini Nbang-Ba (1959-2020)

Obituary from the Socialist Banner blog

Suhuyini Nbang-Ba, the socialist activist, journalist and teacher died at home in the Gambia on 16th September 2020.  He was nine days short of his sixty-first birthday and is survived by a brother, a sister, three nieces and four nephews.

Suhuyini was born in the small town of Ejura, near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.  He was, however, a Dagomba, a member of the Muslim tribe of that name from Ghana’s Northern Region. He was originally named Mohammed Yacabou, and known as M.Y. to his friends, but chose the name Suhuyini Nbang-Ba in later life.  This was a political act reclaiming his ancestry and history — his Muslim name could be traced back to colonisation of the Dagomba area by traders between the 12th and 15th centuries.  Instead, Suhuyini chose a name in his mother tongue, Dagbani — ‘Suhuyini’ meaning ‘unity’ (literally ‘one heart’) and ‘Nbang-Ba’ meaning ‘I know them’— a reference to his ancestors and the act of reclaiming them embodied in changing his name.  In fact, having previously been very religious and renowned for his piety, as a young man in the early eighties he renounced Islam and publicly denounced both the activities of certain Muslim leaders and religion in general.  

As a schoolboy, Suhuyini was sent to live with his aunt in the north so he could attend Tamale Secondary School.  He was also educated at the prestigious University of Ghana, Legon, where he took his undergraduate degree and then later began an MPhil in African and European history.  While at university, he became very active politically and was a member of the United Revolutionary Front (URF), an underground anarchist movement opposed to the military junta led by Jerry John Rawlings. However, Suhuyini later opposed armed struggle.  During his time as an undergraduate, he was beaten up by the military, hospitalised and placed under house arrest due to the student union’s opposition to the military junta.

Suhuyini then spent two years as a teacher back in the Northern Region, also setting up a self-help association for impoverished women and a drama troupe.  

In the late eighties, when the ruling regime introduced District Assemblies to lend a semblance of democracy to the dictatorship, Suhuyini contested the Nalung Constituency seat and won 75 percent of the vote. He became one of the first members of the Tamale District Assembly (a sort of district parliament.)

After his time in the north, Suhuyini returned to Accra to take his MPhil. While studying for this he joined the communist Weekly Insight newspaper as a reporter and columnist; the Insight was at that time the only non-governmental newspaper.  His column was titled “The Dark File” and targeted corrupt government officials. As he did not use a pseudonym, he started receiving anonymous threats from the top echelons of Ghanaian society and from hit-men of the military dictatorship.  Despite this he continued his political work.

When he could stand the threats no longer, and when the military turned up at his home while he was out, he fled on foot to the Gambia, having to sell the very shoes he was wearing to pay for his passage and to bribe border guards.  Once in the Gambia he continued his teaching and journalism.

During this period, five of Suhuyini’s close Gambian friends were rounded up by the military on suspicion of being involved in a failed coup attempt; all of them died while being transported between prisons.  Officials claimed at the time that they had died when the car they were in crashed, but the circumstances surrounding the event were suspicious and his fears for his safety led to Suhuyini finally giving up his political journalism in the Gambia.

However, Suhuyini continued his political work by writing for publications based outside West Africa.  He was a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) and contributed articles to the party’s journal The Socialist Standard.  He also edited a magazine of the SPGB called African Socialist which was later renamed Socialist Banner.

At the time of his death Suhuyini was working on a book of essays, despite limited access to a computer and an erratic electricity supply.  Although the hospital did not give a cause of death, he had been increasingly weak for a year with little appetite.  

I came to know Suhuyini in the late nineties when he was living in Nsawam, Ghana teaching English literature and French at secondary school and working at the Weekly Insight.  Here he was known by pupils and teachers alike by yet another name: Afah, a Dagomba word meaning a Muslim teacher. This name had sprung up spontaneously and was indicative of the respect in which his pupils and colleagues held him.  

Tellingly, it was not widely known outside his home region that Suhuyini was born into Dagomba royalty.  In fact I doubt any of his colleagues in Nsawam knew of this fact.  His father was the sub-chief of the tribe and he was the only son of his mother, the tribal queen. However, when Suhuyini became an atheist he also chose not to inherit the chieftaincy and he kept his royal lineage as secret as possible.  I only became aware of it myself at the school where we both taught when one of his pupils, also a Dagomba, prostrated herself on the ground before him as a sign of respect.  Suhuyini quickly told her to get up and that she did not need to do this.  It was only when pressed by me that he explained the meaning behind her actions, otherwise he would not have mentioned it.

This was typical of the man.  There are some people who make a show of espousing socialism in theory, but fall short of its principals in the way they live their lives.  This was never true of Suhuyini — his political views were deeply held and stemmed from his character; he lived socialist principles.  Unlike some of his nominally socialist colleagues in West Africa, he refused to bribe his way into a lucrative post, preferring to remain a poorly-paid teacher with his principles intact.  He tenaciously battled depression, ill-health and constant technical problems to work on his political writing, and throughout his life he campaigned tirelessly, experiencing violence and risking death many times for his principles.

More than that, Suhuyini treated everyone he met as an equal and spoke to everybody with the same friendly respect, from the highest born to the most lowly street-seller.  While teaching in Nsawam he sponsored a schoolboy through his education, even though the child was no relation, out of pure compassion.  He sponsored a child again later in the Gambia, despite his own limited means.  When he died in the Gambia, the family where he rented a room told me he had been like a son to his landlady and like a second father to her grandchildren, who knew him affectionately as ‘Baba.’

He certainly had a life-long effect on me.  When I first met him I was seventeen, and my discussions with him then and over the intervening years helped form the political beliefs I still hold today.  

Indeed, Suhuyini left his mark on everyone he met.  He held strong views, yet was always willing to hear others out — debates never became rows — and with his humanity, sharp wit and easy, infectious laugh he enriched the life of all who knew him, no matter which name they knew him by.  He is deeply missed by those he left behind and the world is a lesser place without him.

Suhuyini Nbang-Ba, political campaigner, journalist, teacher and loved one, born 25th September 1959; died 16th September 2020. 
Anoushka Alexander


Blogger's Note:
Some of Suhuyini's articles can be accessed at the following link.

Woman in a man’s world (2021)

Book Review from the January 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Critical Lives: Rosa Luxemburg. By Dana Mills. Reaktion Books. 200 pages.

In her introduction Mills says that hers is a feminist biography, as one that concentrates on Luxemburg’s life as a woman in a man’s world, not just generally but also within the Social Democratic movement in which she was active all her adult life until her murder in 1919 at the age of 47. Hence, a couple of references to ‘patriarchal capitalism’ (even though not a term that Luxemburg would have accepted) and to Luxemburg as a ‘Jewess’ (often a term of abuse but one which feminists might be expected to want to rehabilitate).

The book is about both Luxemburg’s personal life and her political and economic ideas. These latter are explained accurately enough. There is, however, an odd passage in Mills’s account of Luxemburg’s Accumulation of Capital where Mills writes:
 ‘Marx took ideas from Malthus (without referencing him), claiming that there was a tendency towards deficiency of demand in the market for commodities that capitalists produce to create surplus value. The question arises: who has the purchasing power to buy those commodities?’
A footnote refers to pages 93-4 of David Harvey’s A Companion to Marx’s Capital. Harvey is not always reliable on Marx, but here Mills has misread him. Harvey was not saying that Marx ‘took ideas from Malthus’ but merely that he was discussing them (without, apparently, giving their source). In fact Marx never claimed that there was ‘a tendency to deficiency of demand’ under capitalism and rejected both Malthus’s view that there was and his proposed solution (consumption by aristocratic landowners, sinecure holders and other non-producers). Luxemburg didn’t think much of Malthus’s solution either but she did accept that, among others, he had identified a problem. This set her off on the wrong track as there is no built-in shortage of purchasing power under capitalism; she was seeking a solution to a non-problem.

In her personal life Luxemburg had man friends without getting married; her tastes in music, literature and art were conventional even bourgeois; she had a cat and, as her letters written while in prison for opposing the First World Slaughter showed, a love of nature. A lot of people do but it is rather weak to say that this meant she stood for ‘environmental justice’ (whatever that is). She was rather more radical than that. She was a socialist.

All in all, the book is an interesting and informative read. 
Adam Buick

Poland’s Pro-Choice Protests (2021)

From the January 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘When the state fails to protect us, I’ll stand by my sister’ – protest placard.
Poland is presently experiencing a persistent series of protests, which the police have used tear-gas against, centred around the country’s abortion law. When back in October, a constitutional court barred abortions of foetuses with congenital defects, tightening Poland’s already stringent law on access to terminations, it resulted in mounting anger among young women and led to many tens of thousands taking to the streets under the umbrella of the Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (OSK, or All-Polish Women’s Strike) or more simply, ‘Women’s Strike’ movement which has a red lightning bolt as its symbol. Demonstrations of unity and sympathy have spread widely among the Polish diaspora across Europe and in the UK.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Order (PiS) government was pressured into postponing the implementation of the law although some hospitals are already curtailing abortion procedures.

As often is the case, the immediate reason for the demonstrations has spiralled into demands for the government’s resignation. The PiS government has already withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention on violence against women as being ‘of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful.’

LGBT activists have joined the demonstrations, angered by the anti-gay rhetoric of Poland’s president who has tried to declare his country an LGBT-free zone. The campaign movement is now advocating further changes to Poland’s predominantly conservative Catholic culture. Opposition to the church’s influence has seen its services being disrupted. Three Polish women face trial accused of ‘offending religious feelings by insulting an object of religious worship’. They risk up to two years in prison for blasphemy by putting up pictures of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. This Guardian report (6 November) tried to capture the sentiments of the Polish protests.

‘I think it is a whole backlash against a patriarchal culture, against the patriarchal state, against the fundamentalist religious state, against the state that treats women really badly’ said Marta Lempart, one of the movement’s prominent activists.

Adam Mrozowicki, a sociologist at the University of Wrocław, describes the Women’s Strike as ‘decentralised, locally based, grassroots…’ and says that the protesters have no clear links to parliamentary politics, and their leaders have said they do not want to become a political movement.

Andrzej Kompa, a historian and university researcher, explained that he was protesting ‘not just against this hell for women, decided by this so-called constitutional court, but against this government, against church involvement in political affairs, for minority rights. Simply for freedom’.

The protesters have now re-named Roman Dmowski Square with new street signs changing it to Women Rights Square as a commemoration of Polish women gaining the right to vote 102 years ago.

Protesters apologised for their regular disruptions, ‘We are sorry for the inconvenience, we have a government to overthrow’. Though as socialists know, overthrowing one capitalist government for a different one, tends to swap one set of problems or issues for another set.
ALJO

50 Years Ago: Shadow of a gunman – The Irish Republican Army (2021)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The events in Northern Ireland since 1968 caused a split in the ranks of the IRA but while the immediate problems posed by the troubles in the North may have triggered off this split it was the growing influence of Leninist ideas within the movement, and the effect these had on dividing the IRA’s reaction to events in the North, that formed the core of the division.

The breakaway element, or “Provisionals”, as they have come to be known, were led by those who resented the growing influence of “Communist” ideas in the organisation. Not only did such people feel that politics was an irrelevancy within the context of the Republican ideal of a thirty-two county Irish republic but the new political bias in the movement clashed with their Catholicism. When the Catholics of the North were under attack such elements saw the defence of their fellow-Catholics as an immediate priority and when this course was resisted by the official leadership the long-brewing dissension and division came into the open.

The result is that there are now two IRA’s in Ireland and to confuse matters still more the “official” group, that has moved away from the uncomplicated formula of a Republic, and now pursue a contradiction-in-terms which they refer to as a “Socialist Workers’ Republic”, are known as the “Traditional IRA” while the breakaway group still espouse the traditional cause—even if they are, at least in the troubled areas of Belfast, a mere anti-Protestant counterpart of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The “Provisionals”, in an attempt to maintain their claim to the title IRA are beginning to refer to the other group as the National Liberation Front—a title which demonstrates not only the real differences that led up to the split but also places the “traditionals”, in the view of their erstwhile ex-comrades, in the position of stooges for the “Communist” Party.

Members of the working class, whether in the IRA or lending support to that organisation should realise that Nationalism is the tool of capitalism. The working class have no country—they have the choice of enduring the miseries of capitalism within the confines of national frontiers or enjoying freedom in a Socialist World.

(From the Socialist Standard, January 1971)

Capitalist chaos (2021)

Editorial from the January 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Looking at the world today there are few words that more aptly describe what is going on than the word chaos. We have seen street protests which at times have descended into violent confrontations. Earlier in the year the Black Live Matters protests erupted in the United States and elsewhere in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Many Belarusan workers unhappy with what is seen as the rigged re-election of Alexander Luschenko as president have taken to the streets to demand his resignation, Violent clashes between demonstrators and police have rocked Paris over a controversial security bill that will outlaw the photographing of police by bystanders. Wars are raging unabated in the Middle East and elsewhere. The US has experienced one of the most acrimonious Presidential campaigns in recent years revealing a great deal of anger and division within American society. Closer to home, we have the tortuous process of Brexit negotiations dragged on. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the turmoil. Is it because we have the misfortune to be ruled by megalomaniacs and buffoons? Is human nature to blame?

In asking these questions we will come up with the wrong answers. What we need to look at is how human society is organised. Globally, humanity lives under capitalism, where the human race is divided into two antagonistic classes, the capitalist class, who own the means of production, and the working class, who have to sell their labour power to live. Capitalism can only exist through the production for profit and competition. This leads necessarily to economic crises and war. When the capitalists are unable to make a profit, as has been the case in the recent lockdowns ordered by governments to combat the coronavirus, businesses close and unemployment soars. Competition between capitalist enterprises in the market place periodically lead to crises of overproduction, as we saw in the 2008/2009 financial crash.

Competition between rival states can and often descend into armed conflict. We have seen this happen in the Yemen and in the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Unfortunately, there is also competition between workers over jobs and social benefits. Divisions appear among workers on the grounds of ethnicity and culture, between highly skilled and less skilled workers, between employed and unemployed workers. Being excluded from the means of living, workers are alienated and have feelings of powerlessness. This, at times, is manifested in anger and frustration, which leads to political support for populist politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

The solution is not a change in leaders, but a fundamental change in how we organise society. The working class need to organise consciously and democratically to take political control of the state and convert the current system of private property into one of common ownership, where everyone has equal access to the social product, without the need of money as a means of exchange. There will be no nation states or classes. Just one world community.

We wish our readers, in the absence a happy, at least a safe New Year.