Chile and Parliament
I have for a year subscribed to the Socialist Standard. I intend to continue to do so because it is the most informative by far of all the left wing papers. I found also that I could agree with more of the Declared Principles than I could with those of any other group. However, in the “Parliament and Private Armies” essay in the November 1974 issue there is a sentence which highlights a basic disagreement over what Socialist principles are:
Socialism can be achieved only by parliamentary means; once the working class understands and wants Socialism it will send its elected representatives to take control of the governmental machinery . . .
In a socialist society there can be no parliament. “Representative” democracy is the form currently dominating the ideology of the British people and most of the world. I would argue that the basic socialist principle is “direct” democracy; the common decision. The existence of parliament and of the parties within it does nothing towards instilling in the people a sense of direct responsibility.
“I give you the authority to act on my behalf so that I need do nothing to affect my own condition.”
The battle Socialism is fighting is against false-consciousness. Concurrently with an understanding of pure Socialism, a very simple concept, comes firstly; the realisation of what parliament really is, and secondly the working class organisation capable of the necessary transformation of society.
The “democratically” elected Communist and Socialist Party coalition entered the institution of parliament and respected the “right” of the bourgeoisie to limit the UP government’s already reformist measures. The very nature of that UP party determined the coup d'état of 1973.
The parties even went as far as to suppress the Chilean people’s attempt to organise themselves and insisted that they alone were to impose and dictate the form of organisations the people would have.
For such an important case-study as Chile there is a serious lack of any reference to it in the whole of this year’s Socialist Standards.
Anyway I ask the SPGB to explain why you are a Parliamentary party?
G. L. Youldon
In Britain it is Parliament that makes the laws and provides for their enforcement. Parliament controls the armed forces and the police — two instruments of class oppression. It can therefore crush any attempt at the seizure of power by a minority. It will be able to continue doing so as long as the working class votes into power its economic and political enemies. The capture of political power and the machinery of government (Parliament) by a Socialist working class is necessary for the successful carrying through of the Socialist revolution. Before abolishing the need for Parliament it must first be captured.
Using Chile as an example of the “failure” of parliamentary action is mistaken. We think you already half-recognize this. You admit that Allende’s government was “reformist” (i.e. it did not have Socialism as its objective), and that they were undemocratic with dictatorial tendencies. What you do not mention is that the Allende government was also a minority government. It therefore lacked the majority necessary to carry through its reformist programme of nationalization and land reform. One final point — we are not “left-wing”: we are revolutionary.
Communists and Kings
It was of course very wrong of the Morning Star to have published an attack on any aspect of the capitalist State, it should know that only the SPGB is allowed to do that. At any rate that is the opinion of the SPGB. Indeed the outside cover of your March issue should have read “Royalty, Rates, Taxes and the Working Class, Tzar Brezhnev and the Jews, Do They Matter?”, since without rates, taxes and Tzar Brezhnev capitalism would still exist as your pages of Socialist Theory make clear.
I notice that although you do not approve of the Morning Star article you nevertheless follow its lead in exposing the character of royalty. You in the end come down in its support because it gives “pageantry and a show”. If they did not get this some workers would have to start reading the Socialist Standard to find out why Royalty was not Rubbish.
Obviously the Socialist Standard makes you wild by being right. If you are prone to the Morning Star, that is understandable; though, curiously enough, we never mentioned the Morning Star in the article you object to. We do not think, either, that anyone else thought the final paragraph “came down in support” of royalty.
However, since you draw the Morning Star to our attention, we will say that no notice need be taken of it. First, because it does not attack the capitalist state. It supports it in Russia all the time and elsewhere some of the time, as expedient. Second, because Communist parties and papers are quite prepared to support national figureheads. The Morning Star's predecessor The Daily Worker in 1947 (21st June) wrote of the present Queen’s 21st birthday:
The dignity of a modern state can only be met when its titular head is chosen from among its most eminent citizens.
In July 1938 the French Communist paper L’Humanite welcomed a visit to Paris by the King and Queen of England in these terms:
We applaud the visit of these rulers in the measure to which it is devoted to this end . . . Our good feeling is extended to that England which fights on the front of Collective Security; that England in the name of whom leading bourgeois such as Lord Cecil, Churchill, Lloyd George, and prelates like the Dean of Canterbury, pronounce regularly such grave warnings . . .
And haven’t you heard yet that a royal visit to Moscow is in the air? Tom Braddock, you are confused.
Soviets and Socialists
I thought that the article in your December issue on the International Socialists made a lot of good points. But one point I am not yet convinced about is your preference for Parliament as a means for the Socialist working class to take power over and transform society.
Parliaments as institutions don’t seem to me to suit the practical work of delegates, under the direct control of their constituents and recallable by them. Parliament is geared to the deliberations of so-called representatives, controlled not by their constituents but by rival Party bureaucracies who make all important decisions behind the scenes.
“Soviet” is only a Russian word for “council”. If by Soviet we genuinely mean a council of direct delegates, then surely this would be a better way of establishing a society in which we all take an active rôle in social affairs. If they were based on workplaces of all kinds, educational institutions, neighbourhoods and so on, they could easily be made as universal and democratic as you think Parliament is. Of course, you could convert Parliament and other State bodies into the form of workers’ councils, or you could develop the councils independently in the course of the struggle, or maybe some of both — I don’t think that is the crucial point.
The Soviets which existed in 1917 were not real Soviets in the direct democratic sense, but often little parliaments in which different supposedly Socialist parties — Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and so on — competed for power. The Party leaders took the decisions, like in present-day Britain, not the workers. Otherwise how could Lenin and Trotsky have taken part in the Soviets — as delegates of fringe journalism? Lastly the Soviets were not a Bolshevik tactic, but a form of organization that Russian workers set up to cater to their needs. The Bolsheviks manipulated them (because the workers were not conscious enough to prevent them, and not because Soviets are particularly fishy organizations) and then suppressed them into tools of their Party dictatorship.
As far as State power is concerned, both your idea of capturing and using it, and the Bolshevik or anarchist idea of “smashing” it, seem to assume that the armed forces are things which must be seized or destroyed. But isn’t State power not a thing, but a form of social behaviour by which we all allow ourselves to be things, the blind tools of others? Surely conscious organized Socialists won’t allow themselves to be used against the revolution — in the armed forces (if they still exist) or in the industries and services which support the forces? State power would fade away.
By the way, do members of the SPGB have views on this or other subjects (Women’s Lib. etc.) which are different from the Party line — or have members differed on interesting issues in the recent past? If so, do they have the right to express minority views, clearly labelled as such, in the Socialist Standard? It would improve your journal still more if the ideas were sometimes discussed from more than one point of view. Otherwise some readers may gain the false impression that Socialists are all identical in their attitudes, without variety.
The capitalist class have economic power because they have political power and not the other way round. They control the state machine and the armed forces through Parliament and are confirmed in their control by the working class at election times.
We are organized as a political party not out of preference (which implies that there are other ways of achieving our object) but because all the evidence of history and an analysis of capitalist society shows that this is the only way to achieve working-class emancipation. Without first gaining control of the state (the public organ of coercion and repression) through which the capitalists maintain their privileged relationship to the means of life by keeping the working class in its propertyless position, any minority movement seeking to challenge them will inevitably be beaten by the armed forces and the police who remain under the control of the capitalist class.
It does not follow that because Parliament is at present an institution of so-called “representatives” it must necessarily remain so. Once a working class who know what they want and how to get it send their delegates to Parliament with a mandate to capture political control of the state machine, it will cease to function as an instrument of class rule and become the indispensable instrument for our emancipation.
Soviets cannot establish Socialism
Before an electoral demonstration of a Socialist majority, Socialist ideas will have penetrated all strata of society — including central and local government, the police and the armed forces and this would strengthen the growing demand for Socialism.
However, control of the state machine is necessary
- to lop off its repressive features; and in order:
- to prevent any possibility of their being used in desperate attempts by counter-revolutionary groups to frustrate the wishes of the majority.
Armed forces will continue as long as capitalism because capitalism needs them. The capitalist class won't simply give up armed forces in the face of opposition. That is, they will still exist until consciously done away with.
On your final point we must point out that membership of the SPGB is dependent on acceptance of our aims and object set out in our Declaration of Principles. No-one is forced to join or prevented from leaving through disagreement. What for example would be the point of an advocate of minority action attempting to join the SPGB, other than possibly to be disruptive? Such a person is at liberty to join organizations which advocate his or her views. Party members finding themselves in disagreement with the Declaration of Principles invariably leave the Party — what would be the point in remaining in an organization dedicated to a method and object with which you disagree?
New situations faced by the SPGB have to be thrashed out, e.g. the Russian revolution of 1917, the rise of CND etc. The Socialist Standard is under the control of the whole of the membership and must reflect the democratically arrived-at Party case. The Socialist Standard does not exist to propagate anti-Socialist views — these are to be found in abundance elsewhere.
Some years ago I read in the Standard that Socialism has nothing to do with morality, that it concerns practical decisions. This point, academic no doubt, has stuck in my mind over the years because I could not reconcile it. Did I, perhaps misinterpret what I read?
It seems to me that in the relationship between people there must be a moral element, implied if not expressed, and that factor will have a bearing on the kind of society created. Is not classless Socialism where all are given equal consideration according to their needs morally superior to the egoistic rivalry and financial divisions, injustice and inequality of a class system? I would appreciate your comment on this.
Taking the opportunity presented by the above question I enclose a recent letter to the Press “The capitalist way”. I would welcome any critical comment you might care to make on my letter. Although I have been interested in Socialism for the past twenty or thirty years and have badgered the Press when possible, I am still learning.
Capitalism disgusts us, and most Socialists would say that their outlook is rooted in indignation at what they have experienced and seen. Nevertheless, the case for Socialism must be based on material interests and not ideas of moral superiority.
Whatever enrages you and us by its inhumanity and unreasonableness in the capitalist world, in fact arises from the class ownership of the means of living. Articles in the Socialist Standard point this out: it is the Socialist (materialist) analysis in contradistinction from beliefs that all can be made well by adjustments of capitalism, or by changes in attitudes and “values”.
Large numbers of capitalists and workers do profess moral attitudes. Political speeches abound in them. But what happens in practice, inexorably, is that “necessity” —i.e. the daily compulsions of capitalism—reduces them to either humbug or impractical personal philosophies. Everyone disapproves of wars, “the rat race”, and misery of all kinds: all who support capitalism go on doing (often expressing reluctance and impotence) the things which cause them.
On the question of relationships between people, we think you have been seduced by one of the claims made by religions and ethics—that “the brotherhood of man” is their preserve and depends on adopting their viewpoint. Man is a social creature with a natural tendency to co-operation and order; if he were not, we should not be here today. Class society opposes that tendency, setting man against man when neither wants it. In this circumstance “love thy neighbour” appears as a special moral teaching, but it is redundant.
Our position is the one stated by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto: instead of seeking morality, justice, etc., we want to do away with them and have Socialism instead. As ways of thinking about capitalist life they obstruct, not facilitate, harmonious relationships between men. And when Socialism is established, people will be able to behave as you, quite correctly, want them to; to cite Marx again, we shall have “human” instead of “civil” society.
Class and the Individual
Being one who glories in the uniqueness of the individual, and who believes, at the end of the day, there are two fixities in this world—the individual and the world—all other relationships are created by man himself, I sometimes wonder where your concentration on the “class” leaves the individual. What will his part and his place be in the Socialist Society? The lessons of modern China repel me.
Certainly an individual is unique—by definition. Having said that one is no further forward—one has learnt nothing, clarified nothing, explained nothing. Our emphasis on class is an important part of our analysis of society. History shows that all propertied societies have been divided into economic (and social) classes each of which has a different relation to the means of production. In capitalist society there are two classes—owners and non-owners of the means of life. We call these classes capitalists and workers respectively.
The class to which any individual belongs is determined objectively by his relationship to the means of life. No matter how unique he is as an individual, if he is a member of the working class he will have interests in common with other workers, interests which conflict with those of the unique individuals who make up the capitalist class. The most obvious clash of interests being the price at which labour-power is bought and sold. This is the interminable wages struggle which is inseparable from capitalist ownership.
The expression of one’s unique individual personality is viciously limited by economic circumstances. For many people at present the highest aim in life is simply to be the same as everyone else. Look round you at the armies of workers churned out by the so-called education process as machine minders and office fodder. Millions of passive participants in the labour process stripped of virtually all individuality by the need to conform to a system of class exploitation. Your example of China (which is not Socialist but state-capitalist) is just as repellent as anything the “free” west has to offer.
Only Socialism can give the individual the freedom to develop his personality and abilities to the full, unrestricted by today’s profit-seeking and measurement by money. When we have established common ownership the individual will take his place as a free and equal member of society, able to give of his best secure in the knowledge that society is being run in a harmonious way for the benefit of all its members.
Lifting a phrase
Readers may be amused to know that at the beginning of an editorial in the Guardian (Feb. 24) there was a reference to “some people” talking about “the Footbill”. I suppose it was too much to expect that the paper would mention that the “some people” were the Socialist Standard (article on the Freedom of the Press, Feb.) but at least it is nice to know that they read the complimentary copy of the paper we sent them. At any rate we need not feel inhibited about sending them another copy. Who knows, one day they may even feel like dealing with our socialist criticism.
L. E. Weidberg
Shall we be corrupted ?
I am an ardent reader of the Socialist Standard and a great believer in the case. My questions are if Socialists one day rule, what proof have the people of this country that the liberators will not become capitalists themselves? Hitler promised this and that and look what happened. The Russian people in the early part of this century fought and died for their beliefs and look at Russia today the worst capitalistic police state the world has ever known. There are scores of such happenings one could refer to, how do the British people know that the same will not happen here?
Also (I think many would agree) the past has shown as time drags on corruption and rot sets in everywhere. In the past wars and revolutions cleaned the dirt from the steps of the country for a while, but in this day and age the world cannot afford such drastic measures. What will the party do if the time ever comes, to clean and keep clean the welfare of the workers?
It would prove a lot if you did not publish and answer these questions.
Ian J. Wright
The SPGB differs from all other political parties in this country. We do not promise to do anything for you. We do not canvass for passive support so that we may rule, but ask for your understanding and active participation in the task of ridding the world of capitalism.
While the working class continue to put their faith in leaders they will continue to be disillusioned by political treachery, double-dealing and broken promises. We ask the working class to trust in their own abilities. They already run a complex world system from top to bottom and could quite easily run a Socialist society in their own interests. All that is needed is Socialist knowledge on the part of the working class. With this they can liberate themselves by voting Socialist delegates to the centres of political power with a mandate to abolish capitalism.
A conscious Socialist majority cannot be sold out, side-tracked or misled by leaders. In the absence of leaders promising to do things for the workers the “corruption” or degeneration of the revolution will be impossible. Delegates will be held to the sound Socialist political principles clearly understood by those who elected them.
Our correspondent has a number of other misconceptions about the SPGB’s case. First, Socialism will be world-wide in nature. It cannot exist in one country only. Second, Socialism will mean an end to the working class and the capitalist class—both will disappear; together with the need for a repressive state machine needed by rulers to keep the ruled in their place.
Comrade Petter in the February issue seems to be basically in agreement with me: most public works were not managed by government officials (though it is correct to add that a few were), and there was small-scale trading throughout the Empire (again it is correct to add that larger enterprises were mostly to be found in specific areas).
However, although I do not wish to take up the pages of the Socialist Standard with trivia, I must protest about Comrade Petter’s remarks on the Chinese language. To claim that it is “almost devoid of grammar” is complete nonsense, a language with little or no grammar being a contradiction in terms. The case for the subordinate role of the CCP in its early years is surely quite strong enough from an examination of its relationship with the CPSU. To appeal to linguistic “facts” weakens the argument, being erroneous as well as irrelevant.
This matter arose from a reference in our Special Issue on China, October 1974. We cannot pursue a debate on the structure of the Chinese language in the columns of the Socialist Standard, but give the following quotations to show that there is warrant for what was said:
The Chinese written language, composed of characters with rich but shadowy meanings and devoid of grammar in the Western sense, provides the most challenging ground for literary exercise.(The Ageless Chinese, Dun J. Li. Professor of Eastern Studies, Paterson State College, N.J.). . . because of the nature of the Chinese language (ideogrammatic characters, the minimum role of grammar, the natural conciseness of the written language.(Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy, Etienne Balazs)Broadly, it may be said that a word may do a duty for any part of speech within the limits set by its intrinsic meaning; and. particularly, that what might at first sight seem to be adjectives, are in a very large number of cases capable of use as nouns and verbs, and almost universally used as adverbs. In spite of the opinions of some eminent scholars, the last word on the question probably rests with Dobson: ‘Undifferentiated, a plerematic word might be said to represent a notion undifferentiated by grammatical quality, rather than any inherent grammatical meaning, that invests the word with that quality.’(The Chinese Language, R.A.D. Forrest, School of Oriental and African Studies.)
R. RAMSHAW, F. ANSELL, R. PHILLIPS and R. SMITH:
Held over, through pressure on space, to next issue.