Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Recent events in Russia (1956)

Party News from the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

Report of Meeting at Denison House

As was reported briefly in the May issue of the Socialist Standard a successful meeting to put the Socialist estimate of recent changes in the situation in Russia was held at short notice at the Denison House Hall.

Two speakers stated the Party viewpoint. Comrade D'Arcy devoted his attention mainly to consideration of the international aspect of the question.

Comrade Young dealt chiefly with the Communist Party in this country.

Unfortunately, the raucous and rowdy elements who have been noticed around the Party platform at Hyde Park recently were conspicuous by their absence, preferring not to avail themselves of the opportunity to state the C. P. case inside the hall.

Even so, there were the usual individuals who heard for the first time that the Russian Government borrows vast sums upon which it regularly pays 4% interest

Comrade D'Arcy quoted from the election speeches of Kruschev, Bulganin and Molotov (delivered in 1955) to show that they were still eulogising Stalin a year after his death.

He further drew attention to the impact of the international economic situation on Russian affairs. He thought that the renunciation of Stalin and the appeals for co-existence were the reflection of the Moscow Government's need for a larger share of world trade. The economic development of Russia would be bound to produce its political counterpart. The growth of the working class in that country would make it more difficult to run by simple police state methods.

Several amusing instances were given by the second speaker of the ludicrous position of the British Communist Party throughout the years. After quoting the Daily Worker to show that the articles on the death of Stalin were completely repudiated two years later, the speaker gave examples of the antics of the Communists resulting from their lack of principles. Supporting the Labour Party in 1924—opposing it in 1929—supporting it in 1940 and 1945, supporting the war, opposing it—supporting it.

Calling on the unemployed to march to die military barracks at Burnley and fraternise with the soldiers, only to find them empty, and converted into slum property.

With reference to the so-called “day-to-day” struggle, the speaker read two extracts, one from the Daily Worker and one from the Workers Weekly
“Many times we light-mindedly call for strike action without the semblance of preparation having been made, so that in some districts, when workers see our comrades, they are apt to say, 'Hullo, what are we to strike for to-day?’ "—Daily Worker,  January 25th, 1932.

“ The unemployed have done all they can, and the Government know it. They have tramped through the rain in endless processions. They have gone in mass deputations to the Guardians.
They have attended innumerable meetings and have been told to be “solid.” They have marched to London enduring terrific hardships. All this has led nowhere.— Workers Weekly, February 10th, 1923. (Italics ours.)
Both speakers emphasised the repeated declaration of the Socialist Party that the fundamental mistake of the Bolsheviks was their illusion of minority action.

Socialism can only be majority action.—Democracy.

As a result their policies resulted in increasing disaster, throwing “Communists” in this country into even greater confusion and panic.

Numerous questions were answered and an interesting discussion took place in which various points of view were expressed. One contributor thought there might be a likelihood of a genuine democratic advance in Russia due to working class maturity.

Others questioned this view, asking for evidence for the statement that there had been any real change there, seeing in the "new Party line" just one more adroit manoeuvre.

A request was also made for still further consideration of this aspect of the business, which some thought inadequately dealt with by the meeting.

Editorial: Who will switch on the lights for the Electricians? (1956)

Editorial from the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Electrical Trades Union has been having a spot of bother about its Executive’s gift of £20 to a fund to provide legal aid for Cypriots arrested under Emergency Regulations. Much heat was generated in the dispute between members who disapproved and others who approved—much heat but no light Outsiders soon joined in, including the Sunday Express (10 June, 1956) with a demand for the curbing of the power of the E.T.U.; defenders of British Colonialism who call the Cypriots “terrorists,” and opponents who call them “Patriots”; and critics of the “Communist” officials of the ET.U. The latter defended their action on the ground, among others, that it is right and proper for a trade union to come to the aid of other trade unionists when denied a “fair trial.” Nothing wrong with this of course but one wonders if it extended to the numerous Russian workers now admitted to have been “framed” under the Stalin regime.

In the public controversy much excitement centred round the alleged Communism of the ET.U. officials and the merits of the Cypriot movement against British rule but as is usual on such occasions the working class and Socialist viewpoints were not heard.

There is no evidence whatever that the officials of the E.T.U. who acted as spokesmen in the affair are interested in Communism, and abundant evidence to the contrary. Members or sympathisers of the Communist Party they may be, but this long ago ceased to mean an interest in Communism. What it now implies is a muddle-headed belief that State Capitalism is the same as Socialism or Communism, and that this is a fine thing provided it is administered by the Russian Communist Party not by the British Labour Party. If the E.T.U. officials had been supporters of Communism they would be internationalists and opponents of State Capitalism everywhere. They would be trying to convince the electricians that Russian State Capitalism is no more deserving of working class support than is the Electricity Board in Britain, that is not at all, and that the growing competition of Russia in world markets is no more a matter for congratulation by British or Russian workers than is American conquest of markets a matter for congratulation by American workers. They would be trying to get misguided workers in Britain, Cyprus and everywhere else, to recognise that Nationalist movements are of use only to the Capitalists and do nothing but harm to the workers of the world. A united trade union movement acting internationally to further working class interests against all the governments of capitalism and all the employers, everywhere, would achieve something for the workers, which no Nationalist movement ever did.

Unable to point to positive benefits to the workers through support of Nationalist movements their propagandists often take refuge in the vague abstraction that movements for national independence are in favour of “freedom” and should therefore receive the approval of "lovers of freedom.” The one freedom Socialists are interested in, freedom from capitalism, is opposed by nationalists but even within the framework of capitalism the identification of Nationalism with libertarian ideas is false. Every Nationalist movement of modern times has built itself up on the directly opposite doctrine, that of forcing unwilling or indifferent people to support it in the last resort at the point of the gun. No Nationalist movement is ever content to let people freely choose; always the resort is to force. Cyprus is no exception in presenting the spectacle of Cypriot Patriots shooting other Cypriots for choosing not to support the independence movement. And the long history of sentimental movements by "friends of freedom” to help Nationalists gain their independence has been littered with the examples of "ex- prisoners turned jailers,” of national groups, having gained independence, turning to suppress some other group. And so it will go on while capitalism lasts.

Socialists therefore do not support Nationalist movements and do not support the efforts of other Capitalist groups to suppress Nationalist movements. Instead Socialists try to induce the workers to recognize their interest in Socialism and in the internationalism that goes with it, in opposition to Capitalism and its tool, Nationalism.

Psychology and Socialism (1956)

From the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

The famous thinkers of modern times are easily named and their realms identified: Darwin for evolution, Einstein for relativity and so on. That is as far as it goes for most of us, and it is much less easy to be aware of their influence on everyday life and thought. There is no doubt, however, of the influence of Sigmund Freud, whose birth-centenary was celebrated recently. “Ego,” “inhibition" and “unconscious" are words in daily use; people as a matter of course comment on others' behaviour in terms of complexes and subconscious wishes.

In a television programme on May 13th, eminent men testified to Freud's influence in many fields of thought. “All anthropology today assumes the Freudian view of human character," said Professor Blackburn. "Through the teaching of Freud we are forced to pay attention to the personality of the delinquent. . . rather than what he has done," said Professor Sprott. Cyril Connolly spoke of the Freudian inroad on literature—“we’re all still reading from it"—and another speaker quoted the Catholic Charles Baudouin: "Modern man cannot conceive of himself without Freud."

Anniversary tributes are always lavish, of course. Nevertheless, there can be no question of the part psychological theory and psychiatrical practice have come to play in modern life. The classic doctrines remain their basis. Freud himself, with his emphasis on "the Unconscious," the mass of repressed thought and memory, is pre-eminent His one-time followers, Jung and Adler, proposed other driving-forces of behaviour for Freud's sexuality: for Adler it was power-striving, for Jung "the Libido," a generalized force giving rise to all creative activity. In the study of conscious thought, the Behaviourists led by Pavlov and Watson have stated and exemplified the doctrine of the conditioned reflex, which was described by Bertrand Russell in "The Scientific Outlook" as “ the basis of learning, of what the older psychologists called the ‘association of ideas,' of the understanding of language, of habit, and of practically everything in behaviour that is due to experience."

In addition to these two main schools, there are several branches of psychology dealing with specific aspects of behaviour. For example, there are the "investigators of intelligence" whose conclusions still hold sway in the educational world and their tests applied as measures of innate abilities. Many others, too: group behaviour, leadership, art, crime, all have come in the psychologists' orbit.

More than anything else, psychology is an attempt at a solution, and before there is a solution you must have a problem. Freud's theories grew out of his own clinical research into cases of hysteria and neurasthenia; the existence of a study of the mind implies the growth of mental and emotional disorder in the modern world. True, there were disordered minds before modern times—Shakespeare wrote about them, Nero seems a clear case of paranoia—and before the statistics. Nevertheless,  there is no question of the tremendous growth of such illness in the twentieth century. No big hospital today is without its staff of psychiatrists.

The central theme of Freudian psychology is the supposition of an unconscious mind, receiving the impressions of experience and shaping, like an unseen hand, the acts and motives of conscious life. "The unconscious," wrote Trotter in Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, "is the realm of all the experiences, memories, impulses and inclinations which during the subject's life have been condemned by the standards of the conscious, have proved incompatible with it and have therefore been outlawed from it. This banishment in no way deprives these excluded mental processes of their energy, and they constantly influence the feelings and behaviour of the subject. So strict, however, is the guard between them and the conscious that they are never allowed to pass the barrier between one sphere and the other except in disguised and fantastically distorted forms by which their true meaning is closely concealed."

That is all very well as far as it goes. There is nothing far-fetched in the idea of a fantasy-life as a source of conflict and frustration and ultimately illness; indeed, it is only too recognizable. The converts to religion are seeking stability and assurance which ordinary life does not give them; the film-star and speedway worshippers, the tough novel addicts are only snatching at secondhand emotional satisfactions. If one grants, however, that fear, guilt and unhappiness may be rooted in the subconscious, there is still the fact that the subconscious and the conscious both are rooted in society. Consciousness of itself has no meaning: man, the social animal, has only social consciousness.

To some extent psychiatrists, are compelled to recognize this. A good deal of their work amounts to rehabilitation rather than anything else—finding different jobs, recommending for re-housing and so on. This writer once saw the line of waiting patients for psychiatric treatment in a London hospital: written over them, as plain as the marks of a physical beating, were the signs of poverty and care and the fact that what they really needed most was an extra ten pounds a week apiece. That is why generally psychiatrists are as impotent as most other therapists, trying to cure the complaint without removing its cause.

It is a mistake to brush off the question of psychiatry as an amusing vogue for idle rich people or a refuge for nuts and ninnies. The first suggestion was tested in America a few years ago by two Yale investigators who grouped all the mental cases in one city—New Haven—according to income and social background. By far the greatest proportion (36.8 per cent.) came from the bottom group of unskilled poorly-paid workers with incomplete elementary education. To debunk psychiatry does not explain why currently one person in twenty in America or one in sixteen in Britain is finding his way to a mental hospital at some time or other—to say nothing of the aspirin addicts.

Our complex, class-divided society imposes a thousand and one repressions on its people, from the material discomforts which turn lively girls into nagging wives to the ulcerating strain of city life and the loneliness of the crowd. Fear is ubiquitous in modern life: not man's sensible fear of physical danger, but a multitude of small relations of it. The insecurity from which no-one is free means perpetual fear of losing one’s job, of illness, of being unable to pay the instalments, of dropping places in the contemporary caste-race called “standards of living." The case was stated very well in a broadcast on Crime Comics and the American Way of Life by Irving Sarnoff, in March last year:
"Unfortunately, not every American can get more. Unfortunately, too, the very process of striving after more, by foul means or fair, pits person against person in an endless struggle. For those who cannot show constant increments, the struggle is especially bitter. . . . Paradoxically, success is so often dependent upon the masking of the very antagonisms engendered by the struggle, that we are required to wear an armour of good humour, compliance, duplicity and detachment. Nevertheless, the inner anger remains and finds devious outlets in psychosomatic complaints, insanity, divorce and crime."
Only it isn't exclusively American, of course. And to all of that may be added the host of petty anxieties reflected in present-day advertising, the basis of which seems to be that you can sell most of a thing by making people afraid to be without it. Thus, the accent is on fear of not getting on; of leaving one's family unsupported; of the social and sexual consequences of off-white shirts, perspiration and strong breath.

This is perhaps the appropriate point to refer to the Behaviourists. Pavlov’s and Watson's experiments are so well known as to need little description. Show a dog food, and its mouth waters; ring a bell at the same time, and eventually its mouth waters at the sound of the bell; unless its cerebral hemispheres have been removed.

Or have a child play with a white rat; scare the child with a bang, and soon it fears the rat. The possibilities for manipulating behaviour were so extensive, in fact, as to lead to the conclusion that thought itself was but the inward expression of conditioned reflexes. Watson wrote: "States of consciousness provide no objective data that admits of scientific examination, nor can the behaviourists find any evidence for mental existence of any kind."

Conditioned reflexes are recognizable enough in the modern world. See them in the woman's magazine adulation of royalty; the wartime hatred of the other side; the emotional stirrings to a hymn or a military band; the advertisements for every washing-powder. And the fact is that the Behaviourists discovered nothing in the laboratory that others have not found out empirically. Bernard Shaw, as acute at some times as he was silly at others, is recorded as having said when Pavlov’s treatise was first published: "If the fellow had come to me I could have given him that information in less than 25 seconds without tormenting a single dog."

It was probably true. Advertizing and salesmanship practise as a matter of course what Behaviourism preaches as a matter of theory (and other departments of psychology too. The magazines of popular psychology invoke Freud and Jung, but their material is the sell-more-and-get-on doctrine of How to Win Friends and Influence People). The Behaviourists' conclusions about the nature of thought conclude only how little is yet known about thought. The brain and nervous system have been charted, the parts named which are associated with some mental processes—and that is virtually all.

K. S. Lashley, after a long series of experiments, could say no more than "the learning process and the retention of habit are not dependent on any finely localised structural changes within the cerebral cortex" and “the mechanisms of integration are to be sought in the dynamic relations among the parts of the nervous system rather than in details of structural differentiation." And again, of his findings from mutilating the brains of rats: "Such facts can only be interpreted as indicating the existence of some dynamic function of the cortex which is not differentiated in respect to single capacities, but is generally effective for a number to which identical neural elements cannot be ascribed." These, from Lashley's “Brain Mechanisms and Intelligence," are among the most positive statements made on thought and habit, and they are so tentative as to be almost speculative.

One aspect of psychology certainly should not be overlooked. Whatever knowledge of individual and collective behaviour has been gained is used to further the interests of the ruling class: to tame the recalcitrant and choose the efficient worker, to boost morale in wartime and help productivity in the factory. The social psychology of industry is a product of the last 80 years, the era of relative surplus-value—when exploitation has taken the form of squeezing and cajoling more out of the worker in a shorter working day.

That psychology has thrown side-lights on human behaviour is true, though the evidence suggests that the same would have been forthcoming from other sources. It raises questions—but fails to answer them. Freud saw that 19th century civilization was bad for people, but he offered no alternative. The psycho-therapist deals with introspection, with repression, tension and anxiety as personal conditions when in reality they are social conditions. Individual mental illnesses may be cured in the same way as one man’s ulcer may be excised—and the way of living which produces thousands more remain.

A million acts of charity point to but do not remedy an economic condition of poverty. Similarly, psychology underlines but offers no solution to a problem of society. The answer cannot lie in “adjustment” for individuals: is it to be adjustment to a rotten society? The only real solution lies in changing the structure of society itself.
Robert Barltrop

50 Years Ago: A Working Man’s Education (1956)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is difficult to see what connection the present “Education” Bill or the outcry regarding it has with education itself. Indeed, the frothy struggle for religious domination almost completely obscures the really important matter beneath.

Most people do not distinguish between education proper and the mere imparting of information, but the distinction is vital. To educate is not to merely pack the brain with facts or cut and dried formulae, but is to bring out the powers of the mind, to train the faculties for the reception and use of life’s present experience and of the knowledge handed down from the past; to prepare the mind for the first-hand gathering of knowledge, and the co-ordination and right use of it.

To fill children’s minds with facts and dead formulae whose inner significance is not understood may make excellent parrots, but cannot make thinkers. Such a procedure causes a one-sided, mechanical development, and leads to a taste for snippety bits. It does not enable the mind to draw useful knowledge from the facts of life; it brings about an incapacity for sustained and logical thinking, and creates a habit of mind that is eagerly receptive of superficials, but in no wise creative.

#    #    #    #

Naturally . . . we find that the quality of the worker’s instruction is traceable to the demands of the prevailing methods of wealth production. There is no necessity to the Capitalist of a mass of fully-educated, original-minded and high-spirited men as wage-slaves; they would be in the way, and far too costly. The necessities of the day demand workers who are mechanical one-sidedly developed, and eminently submissive. It is necessary to the Capitalist, not only that the workers be not taught things which may injure his domination, but also that they be trained so far and no farther; that they be disciplined in routine work, and fitted with just sufficient knowledge to do the worker’s work cheaply and fairly efficiently.

(From the Socialist Standard, July, 1906)

The Critics Criticised – Professor Popper Looks at History pt.2 (1956)

Book Review from the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard

(Continued from the June Issue)

Mr. Popper’s own evaluation of history can hardly claim any scientific pretentions. In the main he largely garbles the anti-Christian Nietzsche’s “power drive theory of history.” With Mr. Popper this power drive reveals itself in the history of political power which, he says, “has been elevated into world history.” This political power drive theory is explained by Mr. Popper as the impulse to worship or be worshipped. He repeats Schopenhauer that man’s besetting sin is making power synonymous with success. This worship of power it seems is due to fear (p. 272) although (same page) he appears to have changed his mind and made the power drive one of instinct which in that case makes him a Bertrand Russell adherent. This, then, is Mr. Popper’s theoretical contribution to the understanding of our times. One might add in passing that to grasp the significance of political power or any aspect of social power lies not in assumptions about some neurotic impulse or instinct but in an analysis of the historical conditions and social formations which explain not only the nature of political power but why different societies have thrown up different forms of political organisations. When this is done the power drive theory of history becomes supernumerary.

Mr. Popper has quite mistaken notions as to what constitutes history. For him, technocracy, political power, historical records, etc., are history. In fact they are not history, but the outcome of history. History itself is the story of man—not this man or that man but socially organised man in pursuit of his ends under given and determinate conditions. Since the passing of primitive society the pursuit of these ends has taken place via the agency of social groups whose aims and interests have been conflicting ones. It is by an examination of these social productive relations—the economic factor—that we reveal the rise and fall of institutions, traditions, politics, ideologies and other cultural phenomena and thus allow a theory of historical causation to become possible.

Marxism is an attempt then to show the prime causal factors in the evolution of human society. In spite of Mr Popper’s efforts to show that Marxism believes there are mysterious impersonal forces in history which shape man’s destiny, it is no more mysterious than other evolutionary concepts which seek to account for development in other fields.

Men make history Marxists contend and what some men have made, other men can understand. In this way history becomes an intelligible process and the past capable of being reconstructed by the same pattern of enquiry which marks other fields of scientific investigation. In the light of this, Mr. Popper’s remarks that men have only faked history seems more than a little foolish.

Mr. Popper is unoriginal enough to seek to be original and daring and too often succeeds in being merely dull and pretentious. He plays to the gallery by announcing that all the history which exists, i.e., our history of the great and powerful, is a shallow comedy. He brings in the usual gods whose function it is apparently to mock at human affairs and they indulge in the conventional guffaws at our expense. At other times he converts the comedy into crude melodrama by assuring us that the history which is advertised as the history of mankind is but the history of international crime and mass murder (p. 270).

Mr. Popper’s views on history seem to waver between a cloak and dagger conspiracy and another version of the fall of man. Neither of them can validly explain the actual evolution of human society: Why it has pointed in a determinate direction, viz., primitive society, slavery, feudalism, capitalism. And why in that order.

In spite of the nonsense talked about by Mr. Popper, Isaiah Berlin and others, that “historic inevitability” is another name for an automatic impersonal force which supposedly operates in history, Marx’s views on history were sharp and clear. Human effort and struggle he held were the means which brought about the historically determined. He never sought to make history a mystery. Indeed he claimed that history had no greater reality than that which could be discovered by the analysis of actual historical events. While unlike Hegel he never believed that history was the outcome of logic and reason, he nevertheless believed that it could be rationally explained.

Marx had then a view point on history. He did not believe it could be explained by abstractions like power drives or impulses. Nor it might be added by spirit, nature or some economic first cause. For Marx history had no purpose which was not the purpose of man. No goals which are not human goals. It is men who will to do things. But what men will is always contramenious with elements in the social situation which are unwilled. Because society is a continuous process, men always find themselves in a set of conditions which is given. It is these conditions which give the scope and set the stamp on particular social aims and goals. When and whether they will be effectively realised will depend upon the objective possibilities within the social situation. It is true for instance that Socialism must be willed by men but it is not until a particular set of social relations namely capitalism, appear, can there arise the objective means for Socialism to be realised. Marx’s theory of historic causation explains then why men in different historic phases seek to achieve certain ends and what have been the nature of the circumstances which have allowed them to succeed —or fail. Critics of Marx have seized upon the term “objective” conditions, isolated it from its context and then accused Marx of propounding a prime mover on economic first cause which propel men along some predetermined path. Mr. Popper is an incorrigible exponent of this type of distortion.

It has already been noted that Mr. Popper’s conception of history, i.e., the story of power politics, technocracy, historical records, etc., is not history, even though each of them has a history, and even when he presents them as history he converts them into a masquerade of power drives and neurotic impulses. Because Mr. Popper denies there is any valid continuity, any causal connection in social development, he asserts it is only we who live in the present, who can change things not something called history. Almost a century before Marx had said: “Things cannot remain that way, they must become different and we human beings must make them different.” Indeed the whole purpose of Marx’s teaching was that only by understanding capitalism and acting upon that understanding would we be effective in changing it to something better.

Mr. Popper wants something better. He refers vaguely to the need of justice, democracy, equality, without any real reference to the social context. His own assertion that something called historicism alias Marxism sees men as pawns in some inevitable cosmic evolution which ignores their personal aims and attitudes, renders politics null and void, and allows “the social scientists to say what shall or shall not be done,” is a sheer invention on his part. He refers innocuously to the brotherhood of man but he has no serious quarrel with the present set up. He fails to recognise that the removal of class privilege based on productive ownership must be the indispensable and elementary step for achieving that “brotherhood.”
Ted Wilmott

Inflation and Deflation (1956)

From the July 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard
“In so far as the payments balance one another, money functions only ideally as money of account, as a measure of value. In so far as actual payments have to be made, money does not serve as a circulating medium, as a mere transient agent in the interchange of products, but as the individual incarnation of social labour, as the independent form of existence of exchange value, as the universal commodity. This contradiction comes to a head in those phases of industrial and commercial crises which are known as monetary crises. Such a crises occurs only where the ever-lengthening chain of payments, and an artificial system of settling them, has been fully developed. Whenever there is a general and extensive disturbance of this mechanism, no matter what its cause, money becomes suddenly and immediately transformed, from its merely ideal shape of money of account, into hard cash. Profane commodities can no longer replace it. The use-value of commodities becomes valueless, and their value vanishes in the presence of its own independent form. On the eve of the crisis, the bourgeois, with self-sufficiency that springs from intoxicating prosperity, declares money to be a vain imagination. Commodities alone are money. But now the cry is everywhere: money alone is a commodity. As the hart pants after fresh water, so pants his soul after money, the only wealth.”  
(‘Capital” pages 154-155, chapter 3, on “Money or the Circulation of Commodities.” Kerr edition.)

Voice From The Back: Blood money (1999)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blood money 

The international arms bazaar has always been a dirty if highly lucrative trade. And Britain, despite the hypocritical stance currently adopted by the Foreign Office, has never been slow to sell lethal hardware to warring foreigners if the price was right . . . To that end, the Ministry of Defence’s commercial offshoot, Defence Export Services Organisation, produced a global survey in 1998—the year after Labour came to power—identifying existing and potential customers and their future requirements. While paying lip-service to New Labour’s stated aim of “ethical arms exports”, the strategic survey rules out few of the world’s rogue states as possible clients. Libya, Syria and Iraq are still not welcome. For the moment at least. Chile, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, all of which have appalling human rights records, are well quoted . . . Malaysia is another client. It has cash aplenty and it serves as a counterbalance to Indonesia. The arms race allows the UK to quite literally make a killing and keep some kind of bloody order in its perceived spheres of influence. The Herald, 9 September.

A plague on both your houses 

The truth is, both superpowers have decided to embark on a biological weapons arms race with incalculable consequences. The Russians, accomplished cheats on biological warfare disarmament, have been pursuing offensive research on smallpox for years. The Americans, who know only too well of this Russian deception, feel obliged to pursue defensive measures. But compounding the mutual suspicions is one essential truth in the grim world of plague wars research—the line between defensive and offensive is invisible. Western Australian, 19 June.

A fair day’s cop-out 

This year, the Bunbury [Australia] RSL is proud to honour the men of the Merchant Marines who served their countries so well during the world wars. It is sadly true to say that they have not received the recognition and thanks that has accrued to the members of the military forces that relied so much on their efforts. The men of the British Merchant Navy (30,000 of whom fell victim to the U-boats between 1939 and 1945, the majority drowned or killed by exposure in the cruel northern oceans) were quite as certainly front-line warriors as the guardsmen and fighter pilots to whom they ferried the necessities of combat. Neither they nor their Australian, American, Dutch, Norwegian or Greek fellow mariners wore uniform and few have any memorial . . . under British law, when a ship was sunk, the obligation of the shipowner to pay the crew’s wages went with it. Bunbury Herald, 20 April 1998.

Counting our blessings 

In Britain, the richest 10 percent enjoy, on average, seven times the income of the poorest 10 percent; in Russia the difference is 40-fold, with devastating effects on people’s health. Guardian, 18 August.

Divide and rule 

One of communism’s greatest paradoxes was its attitude towards the workers. The official doctrine held them as the ruling class. However, in daily life they were treated with contempt and were the victims of numerous abuses. It took the events of August 1980 to shatter the false image of the workers and show their true nature as people willing to fight for the freedoms and rights of workers and of the whole of society. Following that experience, the bond of co-operation between the intelligentsia and the working class was born. It was exactly that bond that gave great power to the Solidarity movement . . . The death knell of this bond came in the form of the collapse of the communist system and more specifically the extremely liberal method of reforming the economy. Very quickly these reforms brought on great financial disparities. To some extent this stratification could not have been avoided in a market economy, but in Poland these changes became so extreme that they ruined the former social cohesion. Over 90 percent of society living quite modestly will continue to pay taxes at an unchanged level. Meanwhile, the tiny group of the most affluent will see their taxes fall by 4 percent from 40 to 36 percent. The effects of the decrease in budgetary intake will be felt by those earning the least . . . Solidarity’s great drama is that 10 years after its triumph it takes care of the wealthiest few and has truncheons and rubber bullets for those who demand bread and work. Wprost Weekly (Polish language paper), 4 July.

Food: why we don’t get the best (1999)

From the November 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Food matters to everyone. People have been led to revolt if unable to obtain enough. But quality, rather than quantity, is just as important. Politicians, their profit-chasing overlords and the marketplace that unites them, are attracting unfavourable scrutiny after successive well-publicised poisonings, adulterations, scams and animal abuse cases. 
Following salmonella, E. coli, BSE and a spate of more recent food scandals, people are unsurprisingly alarmed over just what they are eating and just what can be done to ensure meals are safe. Here are just four disturbing news reports of late which emerged in less than one week: 
The [Pesticide Safety Directorate] working party on pesticide residues found that some of the largest retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Safeway, sold produce that had levels of pesticides above the maximum residues limit, including illegal growth regulators and known carcinogens (Guardian, 17 September). 

Food hygiene inspectors from the European Commission are to start an urgent investigation into standards in French rendering plants following allegations that untreated water, blood and discharges from animal carcasses, and sewage have been used in making poultry and pig feed. The Commission and the French government have been anxious to play down the accusation for fear of sparking a new European food crisis . . . The common factor in this summer’s crises has been manufacturers’ failure to maintain hygiene standards in the highly competitive food industry (Guardian, 18 August) 

Children who eat fishfingers are being fed ‘undesirable’ levels of two of the world’s most feared poisons, reveals an official report. Dioxins and PCBs—believed to cause cancer and have ‘gender bending’ effects—were found by Government researchers in all the samples of fishfingers bought in different supermarkets. Higher levels were found in the fresh fish on sale, particularly in oily fish such as herring which the Government has been urging people to eat for health reasons . . . Despite the fears, the Government has decided against issuing any warnings when the research—the first of its kind by the Agriculture Ministry—was published quietly in August on an official website (Daily Mail, 20 September). 

Belgium yesterday warned the EU that tests carried out on meat for export . . . show that livestock reared on farms near industrial plants carries higher levels of dioxin contamination . . . Belgium’s food crisis in May caused consumer panic after the revelation that animal feed had been contaminated by potentially cancer-causing dioxins at a food plant in Flanders which allegedly mixed motor oil with fats to bind the feed . . . the Belgian crisis of confidence in food safety worsened yesterday after revelations that sewerage sludge had been mixed into fodder, as in France . . . sludge from toilets and showers, water from slaughterhouses and cleaning products had got into the food chain (Guardian, 22 September). 
The September 18 “highly competitive food industry” reference says it all, and should enlighten concerned shoppers to the total incompatibility between access to continuously high-quality comestibles and competitive production for financial gain, due to market forces always tending to value profits ahead of excellence. 

There will never be a time when most people become wealthy enough to buy only the very best, since while competitive production exists so, too, will competitive employment. And with competing employers, driven by those same market forces to hold down wages and salaries (and taxes that provide welfare benefits) so as to favour profits and stay in businesses, there will always exist a great many working and non-working people with limited incomes who nevertheless must purchase sustenance. This section will vary in size according to the needs of capital. 

Official DSS figures released in February showed that, after deducting housing costs, no fewer than 14.1 million people had below half the average income. While food producers are going to be keen to obtain this poorly-paid group’s money, competition to grab a greater market share by supplying the least expensive food means there will be an ever-present pressure to minimise quality, because superior ingredients, more thorough procedures, better trained employees, etc all cost more. Include today’s international intensification of competitiveness through deregulation and the steady removal of tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies in pursuit of a correctly functioning global market, and the seemingly endless appalling procession of scandalous headlines becomes perfectly clear. 

Uncompetitive regulations 
The Blair Government knows that inferior and dangerous food means antagonistic voters; a situation to be earnestly avoided. Labour certainly doesn’t want to end up like the former Belgium government of Jean-Luc Dehaene—booted out of office largely due to carcinogenic dioxin at up to 700 times permitted “acceptable limits” being found in eggs, chickens and then pigs, just weeks before a general election. So what’s their approach? A proposed “independent” Food Standards Agency. 

The FSA proposal emerged not long after Blair came to power. Large retail firms and manufacturing interests were soon applying pressure, insisting the agency be made less regulatory. Then businesses caused the agency to remain on the drawing board longer by complaining that the FSA should not be funded through levies on their food outlets. And despite the BSE catastrophe under Tory rule, the Ministry of Agriculture—which former minister Edwina Currie said “had long ago set itself up as a trade union for producers”-was once again siding with the food industry. Yum, yum: prole food Yum, yum: prole food. 

There is to be publication of an annual report from the Working Party on Pesticide Residues, who will have a small number of food samples tested, and name retailers selling produce with residues above the “maximum residue limit”, and identify the goods concerned. However, this can be nothing more than a show to dispel the public crisis of confidence in food. 

Can consumers turn to organic foods? Perhaps some will be able to keep paying higher prices to reduce their contamination levels (except from equally dangerous airborne chemicals). But the majority can never have high quality organic food and freedom from various other sources of pollution, because of the international competition that is an integral feature of capitalism. Britain cannot go “green” alone. The additional financial burden on capital to establish and maintain a far safer and healthier environment would result in an economic crisis in no time. Britain simply cannot impose rigorous standards on producers without increasing their costs, and in a global market, that would spell disaster for UK firms. 

Everyone concerned about avoiding dangerous and inferior produce has to ask themselves this question: “What did I vote for at election time?” Since, whenever the electorate empower yet another bunch of politicians to—unavoidably—cater to the needs of business as the priority, the very conditions that give rise to food scandals will remain in place. If different competing groups retain ownership of productive resources, they must continue exploiting those assets in the most profitable manner in order to sell and prosper from what is produced. One result? BSE and 43 people dead (that we know of), and a renewed chilling warning this September from Professor Liam Donaldson, the government’s own chief medical officer: “What is absolutely certain is that the present relatively low number of cases [of nv-CJD] should not lead anyone to conclude that the worst is over. Levels of human exposure at the height of the BSE epidemic would have been high.” 

Misuse of GM technology; pesticide-induced cancers; animal maltreatment; cover-ups; no or inadequate labelling; abysmal hygiene standards. None of these need happen. We do not have to futilely hope profit-biased governments will impose uncompetitive regulations and strict enforcement. There is another option to capitalism’s inability to deliver continuously high-quality food for all. If we all own the means of producing food, then we all own the produce, which means never buying it or having any financial restraints on its quality.
Max Hess

Letter: The Need to Control Parliament. (1932)

Letter to the Editors from the July 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (Mr. W. T. Birch, London, S.E.22) objects to what he (mistakenly) regards as our view on fighting elections.

He quotes from a publication called “From Slavery to Freedom” a passage which he gives as follows :—
(1) Of serious import is the declared policy of the S.P.G.B. organ to run candidates in non-socialist constituencies provided the money is forthcoming. This policy has possibilities too dangerous for Socialists to entertain. A Socialist elected by non-Socialists “willing to give him a chance,” or for his personality, is a party to a fraud against the working-class. Such an individual would not be an empowered delegate, but would be more unsavoury than an honest reformist.
Mr. Birch then adds his comments :—-
That this charge is correct I know, because I remember the reference in the Socialist Standard, and if my details are correct, the constituency considered was Battersea. Now it is well known that, unfortunately, only a mere handful of Socialists {I mean real revolutionary Socialists, not people who call themselves such) are to be found in any constituency. Suppose your candidate had been elected if he had run for Battersea, and there is the chance that he may have been. He certainly could not have gone to the House of Commons and said that he represented, say, 10,000 people who understood Socialism and were prepared to substitute this system for Capitalism. I repeat that your candidate might have been elected if he had run. People vote from all sorts of motives. Some are “fed-up” with their present member, others like the personality of a candidate, etc. I doubt, however, if there are enough real Socialists in the country to get a single man into Parliament, if they could be collected into one constituency.

(2) And what could the member do in the House? Put the Socialist position before the M.P.s? They already know it, and the newspapers would not publish the speech. Far better to do propaganda work outside. Under Capitalism a man can only go to the House of Commons to help to administer Capitalism, and to talk about voting on the merits and demerits of legislation introduced into a capitalistic legislative chamber is sheer reformist nonsense; and if the candidate himself were to introduce Socialistic measures (say a Bill declaring the land and everything on it and in it to be communal property) he would be doing something for which he had no real mandate from his constituents.

(3) Perhaps, however, the Socialist Party of Great Britain no longer holds such a policy. If so, it would be well to have an assurance to this effect.
(For convenience of reply we have numbered the paragraphs in Mr. Birch’s letter. – Ed., Comm.].

(1) Mr. Birch quotes a passage referring to ourselves, and “remembers” that certain statements were made in the Socialist Standard without, however, referring to the issue in which they appeared or saying what those statements were. This is not surprising. No statements were made bearing the slightest resemblance to those ascribed to us by Mr. Birch. Anyone who reads Mr. Birch’s letter, without knowing the facts, will assume that we put forward candidates intending to get them returned on a non-Socialist programme and on non-Socialist votes. The truth is far different. What we proposed in 1928 was to do in the Parliamentary elections what from the formation of the party we had done in local elections, that is, put forward candidates for the propaganda value of that action, knowing full well that they could not possibly be elected.

Mr. Birch says that he read our statement about the candidate we proposed to put forward in Battersea. If he would consult the Socialist Standard of February, 1928, he would see that we made plain something which would be already known to every reader of the Socialist Standard, viz., that our candidate would run on the Socialist programme, seeking a mandate for the establishment of Socialism and nothing else. Yet in face of this Mr. Birch affects to believe that our candidate might have been elected by the non-Socialist majority of South Battersea electors. We can only say that we are appalled by the ignorance of electors and elections exhibited by Mr. Birch. He asks us to believe that only “personality” stands between victory and defeat for the capitalists at election times, and that electors who are in favour of capitalism are always liable when “fed-up” to vote against capitalism. Mr. Birch gives no evidence for his belief, but the matter can be quite easily tested. Will Mr. Birch give us a few instances of elections where voters who wanted capitalism voted against the various reformist candidates, and voted for candidates running simply on the Socialist programme.

And if Mr. Birch is still convinced that non-Socialists are always liable to vote for what they do not want and against what they do want, will he tell us how he proposes that we should guard against this except by our invariable precaution of putting forward a candidate simply on the Socialist programme?

One other point in the passage Mr. Birch quotes is the reference to money. Are we to understand that Mr. Birch objects to us asking our sympathisers to contribute towards the expense of carrying on the activities for which the party exists? (Having read the statement in the February, 1928, Socialist Standard, Mr. Birch will remember that the appeal was addressed to our sympathisers.)

(2) In this paragraph of his letter Mr. Birch implies his opposition to the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s policy of gaining control of Parliament. May we ask Mr. Birch in what way he imagines that Socialism can be established without the workers gaining control of Parliament and the rest of political machinery?

Mr. Birch tells us that the newspapers would not record the doings of Socialists in Parliament. How does he know this? Why does he suppose that the newspapers which already to a limited extent report our propaganda activities would cease to do so as soon as Socialists are numerous enough to win elections? And what of it, anyway? It is necessary for the workers to control the political machinery irrespective of whether the Press cares to report it.

Mr. Birch tells us that we should do propaganda work outside Parliament. Does Mr. Birch really imagine that the working class can overthrow capitalism while leaving the capitalists in control of Parliament merely by doing propaganda work outside. This is anarchism with a vengeance.

We cannot follow Mr. Birch’s statement that candidates of ours put forward for the purpose of establishing Socialism would, if elected, have “no real mandate” from the electors.

(3) In his third paragraph Mr, Birch asks if we have now abandoned the policy which he describes. If he means have we abandoned the policy of capturing the political machinerv in favour of the anarchistic policy of only doing propaganda work outside and leaving the political machinery in the hands of the capitalists, the answer is NO.

If he means our policy of fighting elections for their propaganda value even when there is only a minority of Socialists, and therefore no possibility of a Socialist candidate being elected, and if he means our policy of running candidates simply on the need to overthrow capitalism and establish Socialism through control of the political machinery, our answer is again NO !

May we recommend lo Mr. Birch that he read again the statement in the February, 1928, Socialist Standard that he read once before but has failed to remember?
Editorial Committee.

Blogger's Note:
The “From Slavery to Freedom” pamphlet quoted in the above letter was a 1932 pamphlet produced by the Socialist Propaganda League, which was an early split from the SPGB (Pre-WW1). The split centred on the WB (Upton Park) controversy. According to the SPL's wiki page, the pamphlet was reviewed in the November 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard. The review is not on the net yet  . . . but it soon will be.

Letters: The Socialist Attitude to Reforms. (1932)

Letters to the Editors from the July 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two correspondents (A. T. Delman, Los Angeles, and a reader in London, E.C.1) ask us to explain our attitude and Marx’s attitude towards reforms. The two letters and our reply arc given below.

Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Comrades :

The following is Marx’s introduction to the French Labour Party Programme of 1880. This appeared in the Proletarian Opposition Bulletin of Chicago, Illinois, Number 3, January, 1932, and is a translation from the “Elementarbuecher des Kommunismus”—Wage. Labour and Capital—Berlin, 1930, page 67, and “Marx-Engels Program Critiques”—same series as before, pages (69 and 70. These works are published by the German Communist Party.
Whereas :—
The emancipation of the productive classes is that of all mankind, regardless of differences of sex ;
The producers can be free only to the degree in which they control the means of production ;
There are only two forms under which they can possess the means of production ;
1. The individual form which never existed as a general condition and is being more and more eliminated by the advance of industry ;
2. The collective form, whose material and intellectual elements are being perfected by capitalist society’s own evolution ;

Whereas :—-
Collective appropriation can be achieved only through the revolutionary action of the class of producers, or the proletariat organised as a separate political party ;
Such organisation must be effected with all the means at the disposal of the proletariat, inclusive of the right of universal suffrage, so that the ballot may be changed from the means of deception it has been until now into an instrument of emancipation.
The French socialist workers, proclaiming the aim of regaining all means of production to collective ownership have decided, as a means of organisation and of conflict, to enter the election campaign with the following demands :

(A) Political Demands.

1. Abolition of all laws against the press, associations and unions, and particularly of the law against the international association of the workers. Abolition of the work book, this degrading insignia of the working class, as well as the laws which place the worker in relation to the employer and woman in relation to man in a subordinate position.
2. Elimination of all budget appropriations to the church and return of the property (known as the “dead Hand”) to the state of all mobile and immobile property belonging to the religious societies (decree of the Commune of April 2nd, 1871), including all industrial and commercial properties of these societies.
3. Abolition of the state debt.
4. Abolition of the standing army and general military conscription.
5. The Communes shall be granted home rule, and their own police.

(B) Economic Demands.

1. A weekly day of rest, or a law that will prohibit employers to operate more than six days out of seven. Legal limitation of daily hours of labour to eight for adults. Abolition of the employment of children under fourteen years of age in private places of employment and a reduction of the hours of labour to six for those between the ages of fourteen to eighteen.
2. Protection of apprentices in the form of control through the labour unions.
3. A definite minimum wage which shall be determined annually through a statistical labour commission in accordance with the prices of necessities prevailing in the given communities.
4. A law which shall prohibit the employers to hire foreign workers at wages lower than those demanded by French workers.
5. Equal wages for both sexes performing the same work.
6. Education and vocational training of all children who shall be supported by the community through the state and the commune.
7. Support of the aged and those unable to work by the community.
8. Prohibition of all interference by employers in the administration of labour mutual aid banks, insurance, etc., which shall be entrusted to the exclusive directions of the workers.
9. Responsibility of employers in case of accident through deposit of a bond which the employer has to pay to the labour banks and which shall be adjusted in accordance with the number of workers employed in an enterprise, and to the degree of danger connected with activity in such enterprise.
10. The right of objection by workers to the special labour rules in the various places of work, prohibition of the privilege assumed by employers to penalise their workers in the form of fines or wage reductions (decree of the Commune, April 27th, 1871).
11. Abolition of all contracts in which public property is entrusted to others (such as banks, railroads, mines, etc.) and transfer of all state places of employment to the workers employed therein.
12. Abolition of all indirect taxes and change of direct taxes into a progressive income tax on all incomes over 3,000 francs, prohibition of inheritance in the indirect line, and of all direct inheritances amounting to more than 20,000 francs.
Taken In its broad aspect the revolutionary method as held by the S.P.G.B. is unalterably opposed to reforms or palliatives as confusing and obscuring the class conflict.

The S.P.G.B. maintains that —
1. Reforms deal with effects.
2. Further entrench capitalism.
3. Lead to compromise and bargaining with capitalist parties and candidates.
4. Nothing short of Socialism can cure existing evils.
How does the S.P.G.B. reconcile its revolutionary method to Marx’s advocation of these Political and Economic demands “as a means of organisation and of conflict, to enter the election campaign”?
Yours fraternally,
A. T. Delman

* * *

The second letter reads as follows : —

Dear Comrade,

I see in the ”Communist Manifesto” that Engels, in his preface, writes :—
As I write these lines, the proletariat of Europe and America is holding a review of its forces ; it is mobilised for the first time as One army, marching forward and fighting for One immediate aim : — Eight-hour working day, established by legal enactment (as was demanded by the Geneva Congress of the International Working men’s Association, and again by the International Socialist Congress held at Paris in 1889).
(“Communist Manifesto,” Engels’ Preface. written in 1890. E. & C. Paul’s translation. Published, Modern Books, Ltd.. 1929.)
The S.P.G.B. is opposed to fighting for reforms on the political field, yet here we see Engel’s advocating an “eight-hour day.”

Do not the above quotations show that the S.P.G.B. is at variance with Marx & Engels.
Yours, etc.,
London, E.C.1.

The translation of the programme adopted in 1880 by the French organisation “Le Parti ouvrier” does not fully agree with the original, doubtless due to its having been translated first into German and then into English. The original is reproduced on page 261 of Paul Louis’ “Histoire du Socialisme en France” {published in 1925 by Marcel Riviere, Paris). While the version quoted by our correspondent is substantially accurate, several phrases are omitted, some words are mistranslated, and in some passages the English wording is not clear. For reasons of space we cannot reproduce the whole programme here, but one or two mistakes are worth correcting.

In the opening sentence the original reads “productive class” not “productive classes,” and “differences of sex” should read “differences of sex or race.” The original gives a list of kinds of means of production (“land, factories, ships, banks, credit, etc.”). The sentence immediately preceding ”A. Political Demands” should read “with the following immediate demands,” not “with the following demands.”

Clause 4 under “Political Demands” should read “general arming of the people,” not “genera! military conscription.”

The precise part played by Marx and Engels in drafting it is not clear, although it is evident that they did have a hand in it. Paul Louis, in the work referred to above, says (page 261, “The programme was the result of ihe collaboration of Guesde and Lafargue with Marx and Engels.” In a letter dated 7th May, 1932, Louis writes, “It is impossible to fix exactly the part that Marx took in drawing up the manifesto of the Parti Ouvrier in 1880. One knows only that he collaborated with Engels, Guesde and Lafargue.”

B. G. De Montgomery, in his “British and Continental Labour Policy” (Kegan Paul, London, 1922, page 12) says that Guesde came to London to confer with Marx and Engels. Montgomery says that, this programme was “worked out after the so-called Gotha programme, which was adopted in 1875 by the German Social Democracy.”

Ryazanov, in his “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels” (Martin Lawrence, London, 1927), says (p. 211) that Marx “was taking an active part in the working out of the programme.” Ryazanov also says that this 1880 programme of the French Party served as the pattern for the subsequent programmes of the Russians and the Austrians, and as a pattern for the later German “Erfurt Programme,” and that a book in which it was elaborated (“What the Social Democrats Want”) exercised a great influence on the Russian Movement.

One thing that has to be remembered is that Marx and Engels were prepared on occasion to compromise in order to secure agreement which they thought would help on the Socialist movement. They accepted statements with which they disagreed in order to secure general agreement on a programme of whose main points they approved. Ryazanov, in his “Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels” tells how this happened in connection with the constitution of the International Working Men’s Association (See Chapter VIII). Consequently the knowledge that Marx and Engels were consulted about the programme of the French Party m 1880 does not necessarily mean that they approved of all of it.

Having now cleared the ground we can come to the point which our correspondents raise. They find that the S.P.G.B., which claims to be a Marxist organisation, does not issue a programme of immediate demands and does not fight for reforms on the political field. Yet Marx and Engels associated themselves with programmes of immediate demands.

The first point to notice is that the S.P.G.B. holds precisely the same view as Marx and Engels on the need to abolish Capitalism and establish Socialism. In the preamble to the French Party’s programme the statement that the French Socialist workers “have decided as a means of organisation and of struggle to enter the elections with the following immediate demands,” is preceded by the declaration that “the object of their efforts” was “the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and ihe restoration of all the means of production to collective ownership” {Louis, page 263). It is important to notice that this attitude is not that of the various reformist parties which wish to retain capitalism while improving it with reforms. These parties are not seeking power to expropriate the capitalist class and institute social ownership of the means of production. They make reforms the object of their activities, while the drafters of the French programme were entering the elections with the programme of immediate demands “as a means of organisation and of struggle.”

That was the view in 1880 of those who drafted the programme in question. It is not the view of the S.P.G.B. Experience has taught the lesson that programmes of immediate demands do not serve as a means of organising socialist parties. They serve as a sure means of destroying socialist unity, of thrusting the socialist objective into the background, and of attracting into the organisation non-socialist elements which drag it into the mire of compromise and bargaining with capitalist parties. Every one of the capitalist countries provides its examples of parties whose original socialist aims have been submerged and their organisation disrupted in this way. The French 1880 programme is a case in point. The party which adopted it did not last for a year. Within 12 months one wing, which wanted to work through the existing political groups, broke away and formed the “Alliance Socialiste Republicaine.” Another wing, composed of Anarchists, renounced Socialism entirely. The third group, the majority, formed the “Parti Ouvrier Socialiste Revolutionnaire.”

And within another year this latter party broke up further into “possiblists” and “impossiblists.” (See Bliss, “A Handbook of Socialism.” Swan Sonnenschein, 1907, p. 76.)

So much for the immediate demands which were intended to be a means of “organisation.” Other countries provide similar examples. Reference was made above to Ryazanov’s statement about the 1880 French programme having served as a pattern for parties in Germany, Austria and Russia. Where now are these parties which were to fight for Socialism on this programme? With the exception of the Bolshevist wing of the Russian Party, and minorities in the German and Austrian parties, they all of them developed before 1914 into parties of reform and nothing else, parties of political bargaining, parties of war supporters. History has proved the danger of building a party on such a basis.

The S.P.G.B., in declining to put forward a programme of immediate demands, does not take up the untenable position that the position of the workers under Capitalism is such that they could not be worse off if they gave up the struggle to defend their wages and working conditions; nor do we maintain that reforms are valueless. What we do maintain is that reform programmes inevitably attract reformists, and produce reformist organisations incapable of working for Socialism; that only by working directly for Socialism will it be achieved ; that parties lacking solid socialist support and depending on reformists cannot achieve Socialism even if they obtain control of the political machinery ; that reforms cannot end the subject-position of the working class although they may be of small temporary or sectional benefit; that the small value of the reforms obtainable by reformist political action is In no way commensurate with the years of work and the volume of effort required to achieve them ; and that incidentally the capitalists will give concessions more readily in an endeavour to keep the workers away from a growing socialist movement than they will in response to the appeals of bodies based on programmes of reforms.

Does it follow from this that we believe Marx and Engels to have been wrong? The answer is that Marx and Engels, even after discovering the main laws of social development, still had to learn by experience how best to apply their knowledge to the practical tasks of working-class organisation. They never ceased to clarify their views and change them whenever experience showed the need for a change. As Engels states in his 1891 preface to “Wage-Labour and Capital,” all of Marx’s writings which were published before the first part of his Critique of Political Economy differ from those published afterwards, and “contain expressions and even entire sentences, which from the point of view of his later writing, appear rather ambiguous and even untrue.” (See “The Essentials of Marx,” published by the Vanguard Press, New York, 1926, p. 71.) This was because Marx had studied further and learned more. Among the early ideas which Marx and Engels abandoned in later life was the idea of armed revolt. Experience taught them the futility of “barricades.”

We have learned from the endeavours of Marx and Engels, and are only proceeding in accordance with their fundamental ideas when we point out that experience has also shown the danger and uselessness of programmes of immediate demands.
Editorial Committee

Blogger's Note:
The Proletarian Opposition Bulletin of Chicago mentioned in A. T. Delman's letter was a journal that was produced by a dissident faction of the Proletarian Party, which had broken from the Proletarian Party's longstanding opposition to reformism (hence the bulletin's emphasis on the immediate demands of the Le Parti Ouvrier and Karl Marx's input on the matter.) There's little or no mention of them on the net but I did find this article by the American Trotskyist leader, James P. Cannon, from a 1932 issue of Militant, where he comments at length on the split/expulsions, and indulges in a few funny digs at Keracher and the politics of the Proletarian Party. (To be honest, Cannon's sticking the boot into the PP's 'impossibilism' so, in his own way, he's also criticising the politics of the SPGB.)