Thursday, August 18, 2022

Voice From The Back: A Billion Reasons For Socialism (2009)

The Voice From The Back Column from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Billion Reasons For Socialism

 There are many reasons why socialists want a complete change in the basis of society. Why we want a new society based on common ownership and production solely for use. Today we have poverty amidst plenty, international rivalry leading to wars, the destruction of the planet because of the profit motive – the list goes on and on. The following statistics though are probably the most compelling of all. “One billion people throughout the world suffer from hunger, a figure which has increased by 100 million because of the global financial crisis, says the UN. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the figure was a record high. Persistently high food prices have also contributed to the hunger crisis. The director general of the FAO said the level of hunger, one-sixth of the world’s population, posed a ‘serious risk’ to world peace and security. The UN said almost all of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries, with the most, some 642 million people, living in the Asia-Pacific region.” (BBC News, 20 June) We live in a society that destroys food to keep up prices while people die of starvation Never mind the statistics, a kid is dying today because of the profit motive. Get up off your knees and organise for a world based on production solely for use. We owe it to the world’s children.

This Sporting Life

 Capitalism corrupts everything it touches. In this society the cash nexus is everything. Sport may be defined in dictionaries as “pleasant pastime, amusement, diversion” but in modern society it is just another business. Sport, of course, is all about the glory of winning and (if you are British) the nobility of defeat. Oh no it’s not. It’s all about the money. Which is why, Max Duthie, of Bird & Bird, says: “In almost every major sport today there are tensions between the regulatory bodies on the one side and the players or the teams on the other – and normally the argument is over money.” Patrick Wheeler, of Collyer Bristow, says that “there are four key areas of law that come into play in a sports dispute: intellectual property, contract, competition and regulation.” (Times, 25 June) Not so much an arena for sporting types more a fertile field for lawyers and accountants.

A Clueless Pope

 At first glance it might appear that His Holiness is getting bang up to date and having a go at the capitalist system, but on closer examination it is no such thing. “Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday condemned the ‘grave deviations and failures’ of capitalism exposed by the financial crisis and issued a strong call for a ‘true world political authority’ to oversee a return to ethics in the global economy. The pontiff’s call for stronger government regulation was made in his third and eagerly awaited encyclical, Charity in Truth, which the Vatican chose to issue on the eve of the G8 summit of rich nations being held in Italy.” (Financial Times, 7 July) What kind of fairy tale society does he live in when he talks about “a return to ethics in the global economy”? Capitalism is a society based on class ownership, exploitation and the profit motive. To talk of ethics in such a society is nonsensical and “government regulation” is powerless to deal with the slump and boom cycle of capitalism. The Holy Father should abandon his foray into political economy and stick to what he does best – scaring the shit out of believers and passing the collection plate.

A BNP Submarine? 

The success of the British National Party at the recent European elections surprised many. Their success was put down by some as due to their new more “moderate” policies. How “moderate” they have become can be gauged by the following.” Boats carrying illegal migrants to Europe should be sunk Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National party, said yesterday. In a provocative intervention, Griffin, elected to the European parliament last month, called on the EU to introduce “very tough” measures to prevent illegal migrants entering Europe from Africa. “If there’s measures to set up some kind of force or to help, say the Italians, set up a force which actually blocks the Mediterranean then we’d support that,” Griffin told BBC Parliament’s The Record Europe. “But the only measure, sooner or later, which is going to stop immigration and stop large numbers of sub-Saharan Africans dying on the way to get over here is to get very tough with those coming over. Frankly, they need to sink several of those boats.” (Guardian, 9 July) Nick Griffin as a U-Boat commander is the sort of fantasy that must appeal to the crazed nationalism of some of the BNP membership.

Letters: Globalisation (2009)

Letters to the Editors from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard


Dear Editors

“Is globalisation just another word for capitalism? The short answer is yes” (Book Reviews, Socialist Standard, July 2009).

 Globalisation is not the same as capitalism. It is a process occurring within capitalism. It has predominated in recent decades, but it was not predominant at earlier stages of the development of capitalism. It will not necessarily continue to be predominant.

 It is important to distinguish between capitalism and globalisation because many opponents of globalisation advocate not socialism but the restoration of national capitalism.
Stephen Shenfield (by email)

That depends on what is meant by “globalisation”. In the middle of the nineteenth century Marx and Engels gave a vivid description that could equally apply to the present day:
“All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations” (Communist Manifesto, 1848).
This “golden age” of globalisation was brought to an abrupt end in 1914 with the start of the First World War and the abandonment of the international gold standard. Thereafter globalisation continued with the help of increased state intervention. Capitalism has an inherent tendency towards globalisation, driven by the competitive accumulation of profits. Globalisation is not a particular arrangement of institutions, for example deregulated markets, or a particular ideology such as neo-liberalism. Of course there are many opponents of “globalisation” who want a restoration of national capitalism, and we agree it is important to counter their faulty conception of what constitutes capitalism – Editors.


Dear Editors,
 I am writing in response to Adam Buick’s article about the BNP. Whilst I would whole-heartedly agree that the best way to deal with the BNP is to confront their ideology head-on, and debate with them if necessary in order to expose the paucity of their ideas, I do feel that it is naive to state that “the BNP is not a fascist party.” Their constitution may not be overtly fascist, and they may no longer espouse fascism in their public utterances, but it would hardly be a vote-winner if they did! Is it really believable that, if the BNP came to power, they would still guarantee free speech to their opponents, or meekly allow themselves to be voted out again a few years later? Er… Remember that Nick Griffin is on record as stating that “well-aimed boots and fists” will win out over “rational argument”!

 Regarding their claims not to be racist, I can only recall an incident from when I lived in east London 15-20 years ago. In those days, the BNP was more of a localised nuisance than a national threat. They used to expound their “policies” by means of small credit-card sized stickers stuck to lamp-posts or other available surfaces. “Hang Black Muggers” is one particular gem that springs to mind. In any case, I recall seeing two of these stickers side-by-side; one read, “Protect British Jobs – Ban Imports.” Alongside this (this still being the Apartheid era), was another which read, “Boycott the Boycott – Buy South African!”

 Ridiculous they may be, but these people are gradually obtaining positions of influence. It is important to expose them for what they are, but please do not underestimate them.
Shane Roberts, 

Irrespective of whether or not the BNP meets the historical criteria for being labelled fascist, their racism and extreme nationalism is bad enough – Editors.


Dear Editors,

 Before retiring, I was a member of the MSF union. (MSF stood for Manufacturing, Science and Finance). One month the union newsletter carried an article about how membership was being boosted by the recruitment of clergymen. I wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking that, as neither Manufacturing nor Science covered the activities of god’s representatives, could I assume their efforts were chiefly concerned with Finance? He didn’t reply.

 However, God apparently does have to take his finances very seriously. In common with numerous other multi-millionaires, his wealth is not what it was. And as always, it’s the workers who suffer when the bosses money isn’t rolling in fast enough. As a cost cutting measure, the Church of England is now looking at proposals to shed the jobs of some of my ex-fellow union members bishops and senior clergy.

 It is concerned that the value of its investment portfolio last year was only £4.4 billion. (Yes, 4.4 billion). In 2007 it was £5.7 billion. Another proposal under consideration which might save your local bishop from having to sign on, is to encourage congregations to be more generous with their donations. Although they currently provide the C of E with £600 million a year, it has been estimated that if they contributed 5 percent of their income, an extra £300 million a year would be generated.

 It has also been suggested, in all seriousness apparently, that priests should preach more about the value of generosity. The Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, worried about his job perhaps, is quoted as saying “A time of recession is also a time of opportunity …”

Now that’s what I call opportunism.
Nick White, 

The Ire Of The Irate Itinerant (2009)

From the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cooking the Books: Sharing with Shah (2009)

The Cooking the Books column from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Eddie Shah? Wasn’t he the capitalist who in 1982 tried to break the print unions and provoked a bitter industrial dispute that lasted seven months and which he eventually won thanks to invoking Thatcher’s newly-introduced anti-union laws? Indeed, he is. He has now found another way to exploit the labour of other people:
“The former newspaper owner Eddie Shah is inviting the public to grow vegetables on his land – but demanding that they hand over 60 per cent of their produce. Mr Shah has offered to give over two acres of his estate to be used by gardeners. Most of their vegetables would then be served in his restaurants” (Times, 30 June).
This is not quite a return to feudalism where serfs were obliged to work so many days on the estate of the lord of the manor. It’s the same principle though, and corresponds to one way in which in some countries those who worked the land were exploited in the sense of being deprived of a part of the fruits of their labour. “Sharecropping”, as it was known, was for instance the system that replaced chattel slavery in the American South after the North won the Civil War. The “free” Negroes were still exploited, but by this new method.

 Whereas under the wages system exploitation is hidden, under sharecropping (as well as under serfdom and chattel slavery) it is obvious. The producers directly surrender a part of what they produce to somebody else.

 It was the same when Shah was a newspaper owner, but not so obvious, because it was then done through money and not in kind. Shah paid his journalists, printers and other workers a wage for the use of their working skills (what Marx called their “labour power”) for an agreed period. The amount of money they received corresponded more or less (probably less as he employed non-union labour) to the monetary value of the working skills they sold him. This appears to be a fair transaction. The workers have something to sell; they sell its use for a contracted period; and get paid its value (what it cost to produce, i.e. the costs of the necessities and minor luxuries needed to reproduce it on a weekly or a monthly basis). And that appears to be it.

 But it isn’t. The amount of labour-time required to reproduce a worker’s labour-power for, say, a month (i.e. to produce what he or she needs to consume in a month) is not the same as the value of what a worker can produce in a month. Not at all. In fact it is considerably less. For instance, it might only take 12 days labour-time to produce a worker’s monthly needs. But that doesn’t mean that workers can stop after working only 12 days. They will have contracted to work for the whole month and this they must do. So, they have to work a further 18 days, free, for their employer. This unpaid labour is the source of the employer’s profits and is in fact why the employer employed the worker in the first place. It is as if the worker only kept 40 percent of what they produced. Just as under Shah’s revived sharecropping scheme.

 But Shah needs to be careful. Sharecroppers can organise just as wage and salary workers can. In fact they did organise in America in the 1920s and 1930s. And by asking for 60 percent he is already fixing a higher rate of exploitation than the ex-slaveowners did in the post-slavery South. They only took 50 percent.

Tiny Tips (2009)

The Tiny Tips column from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Pope and the cardinals of the Vatican help organize tours of Auschwitz for Hezbollah members to teach them how to wipe out Jews, according to a booklet being distributed to Israel Defense Forces soldiers. Officials encouraging the booklet’s distribution include senior officers, such as Lt. Col. Tamir Shalom, the commander of the Nahshon Battalion of the Kfir Brigade. The booklet was published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in cooperation with the chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, and has been distributed for the past few months:
[Dead Link.]

Anwar, 15, can’t read or write, but says he’s good at tunnel work. He needs a new job as Israeli planes bombed his workplace, one of hundreds of smuggling tunnels on Gaza’s border with Egypt:
[Dead Link.]

London’s Conservative Mayor boris Johnson has been labelled “out of touch” with millions of Londoners after he described the £250,000 he is paid for a weekly column in the as “chicken feed”. He said it was “wholly reasonable” to take the annual fee on top of his £140,000 salary as mayor:
[Dead Link.]

Sheehan’s pitch is to free ourselves from our co-dependency with the Robber Class. “... Only buy used, only use cash or bank debit cards, or only buy from local merchants,” she recently wrote. They can only steal from us if we enable them.” And when the Robber Class steals from us they generally get away with it. Sheehan argues that Bernie Madoff was punished so severely because he stole from the rich:
[Dead Link.]

Tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered on Friday at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium and four other major German cities for an international congress, predicting the demise of the “current global system.”
[Dead Link.]

“Yes, I’m fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They’re not responsive to people, they’re responsive to corporate America. The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is for soldiers to not fight their wars. If soldiers won’t fight their wars, the wars won’t happen. I hope I’m setting an example for other soldiers.”
[Dead Link but see this for the quote.]

When the Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya two weeks ago there might have been a sigh of relief in the corporate board rooms of Chiquita banana. Earlier this year the Cincinnati-based fruit company joined Dole in criticizing the government in Tegucigalpa which had raised the minimum wage by 60%. Chiquita complained that the new regulations would cut into company profits, requiring the firm to spend more on costs than in Costa Rica: 20 cents more to produce a crate of pineapple and ten cents more to produce a crate of bananas to be exact. In all, Chiquita fretted that it would lose millions under Zelaya’s labor reforms since the company produced around 8 million crates of pineapple and 22 million crates of bananas per year
[Dead Link.]

The penny drops (2009)

From the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

The second part of “Then and Now – how we live and how we used to live” look backs from a future time at the changeover to socialism.
Who would have thought that humanity could organise so quickly to do away with the tangled mess that their money-based world had created? The campaign for a world community of equals became a mass movement in seemingly no time at all. Once the idea of abolishing money and sweeping away the fetters associated with it had caught the collective imagination, all notions that human beings were too selfish or stupid to establish a communal world without political leaders very quickly came to be seen as absurd.

 The growing dissatisfaction with leaders who had no answer to the environmental and political problems besetting the planet at last gave rise to a general desire to produce solutions rather than simply protest. Campaigners against the individual problems created by capitalism began to realise that its worst excesses could not be got rid of without sweeping it away in its entirety; corruption in political and economic life came to be seen not as a problem in itself but as an inevitable result of a world dominated by the need to make money for the rich and powerful minority. Even many sceptics admitted that the new world being proposed could not possibly be worse than what they had – so why not give it a try?

 It became evident that the capitalist class was fast losing its control of the media. Newspaper articles, television programmes, radio and internet discussion forums became increasingly dominated by campaigns for concerted action to sweep away the world of money and governments.  Famous people, and even some of the more enlightened world leaders, began to give their support to the movement, willing to use their skills as delegates and spokesmen although realising that their own positions as revered celebrities or political leaders would soon be redundant.

 As the global movement grew, so the need was addressed for global co-ordination, and mechanisms were put into place for bringing in the new world society and taking control of the state machinery from those in power. Given that most state employees, including members of the police and the military, had by this time more or less come over to the socialist cause anyway, resistance and violence in this process were fortunately minimal.

 Institutions such as the United Nations, the International Red Cross and national parliaments were adapted for the broader, more democratic requirements of a free world community. There was of course no power-based agenda, nobody with greater voting force than anyone else, no rival economic interests.

 Well before any official declaration was made, people had started to do what was needed to begin creating the new world. It’s amazing how easily most things fell into place; local life soon became largely self-administering and wider co-ordination soon ensured that the world’s land, factories and natural resources came under full democratic control and started to be utilised as effectively as possible to satisfy needs directly. Local plans were devised to make the best alternative uses of buildings that no longer served their original purpose, such as banks, munitions factories and stately homes.

 The first major task was an immediate massive movement of food and other essentials to the areas that needed them, making use of what was left of the old army and police as a core with a not inconsiderable complement of additional helpers. The same was done to ensure that the world’s homeless were provided with secure, comfortable housing – a largely logistical exercise, give the abundance of homes that had been kept empty under capitalism. Communities able to grow their own food very quickly became self sufficient: food surpluses were distributed elsewhere to areas of need without any requirement to pass through that asphyxiating intermediary known as the market.

 Some people were convinced that the massive changes taking place all around were God’s will and continued harmlessly to attend their church services. Not everybody understood or welcomed the move to a new world, however, and some thought it wouldn’t last. I would hear people say, “it’s free, get it while you can, they’ll start charging again soon”. In the short term, others took the absence of political leaders or a coercive police force as an excuse to run riot; many of those who had lived a life of violence and crime continued for a time to exhibit disruptive and antisocial behaviour and had to be restrained, in as humane a way as possible, by their local communities.

 Campaigns to keep money sprang up, led mainly by diehard capitalists and their supporters suddenly left with no-one to boss and bully; some people even still used money in their own local groups believing it to be a measure of how hard you’ve worked and hence how much you deserve – something which had never been true in capitalism.

 For a time the old “capitalist” lifestyles and habits continued, but without money in the equation. People still talked of going to work, going on their holidays, getting married . . . and this is what they did. In some quarters, old habits died hard.

 Some people chose not to do anything much at all, as far as I could see . . . perhaps deeply traumatised by the lives they used to lead, and relieved not to have to “earn a living” any more, they were content to live out their days in a state of near vegetation.  Fair enough, I said, leave them alone, it’s a more than adequate price for the new society to pay, and surely it won’t last.

 And what of the capitalists themselves, those individuals who had dominated the world of money for so long? Where there was no need to interfere, they were left alone. For the most part, they had been as much trapped by circumstances as the old working class, and most of them, accepting that their time was over, willingly surrendered their factories and estates to the common good and helped to form the new world. Not that they had much choice.

 In many ways, these first years were a transitional phase but not in the way Marx visualised it. Within a generation, attitudes and behaviour would be very different.
Rod Shaw

Obituary: Paul Hannam (2009)

Obituary from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

South West Regional Branch regret to have to report that Paul Hannam took his own life at the beginning of July. He was 52. He joined in 1997 and when he worked he was a skilled machinist and member of the AEU. I met first Paul at the National Schizophrenia Fellowship some 15 years ago. He was a generous supporter of both Head Office and more latterly SW Regional Branch, despite being on benefits. Whilst increasing ill health prevented him from attending meetings and he was in and out of St Anne’s hospital, his support for socialism never failed. He never threatened to leave the party, remaining steadfast in his quiet support. He leaves his brother, Barry and his girlfriend, Mary. We wish them our deepest condolences.

50 Years Ago: Mr. Cousins Damp Squib (2009)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The Labour Party is in a turmoil—and the General Election is near. Mr. Cousins of the Transport and General Workers Union has thrown a spanner into the works. He has been making quite a stir in the news by his opposition to the official attitude of the Labour Party on the H-Bomb and nationalisation.

Mr. Bevan has now become quite respectable as an official spokesman. Mr. Cousins has replaced him as the Labour Party rebel—the ” leftist.” It is only farce that is played out every now and then with only a change in the personnel. Is there really any fundamental difference between Mr. Cousins and the leaders of the Labour Party?

He objects to the H-Bomb but supports the Labour Party, which is pledged to a defence programme. Millions were killed in the last war without the H-Bomb being used, but he does not support the only policy that will end war. He believes Mr, Gaitskell is sincere but that his policy on the H-Bomb will not be effective.

At the Transport and General Workers Conference in the Isle of Man Mr. Cousins dropped his bombshell. He is also reported as follows: “I have never believed that the most important thing in our lives is to elect a Labour Government. The most important thing is to elect a Labour Government that is determined to carry out Socialist policies.” (Daily Express, 10th July, 1959.)

Now what does he mean by ” to carry out Socialist policies “? To him it means nationalisation—state capitalism. He objects to the official line on nationalisation— buying shares instead of the state taking over the industries. But to him, just as to them, state ownership is equivalent to Socialism. In other words, in spite of the long experience of state capitalism, he blindly accepts it as the fundamental aim, despite the disillusion and unrest in state owned or state controlled concerns and the labour struggles in them for better conditions.

Thus what Mr. Cousins is after will leave the workers just as they are, the wage slave victims of capitalist conditions and subject to the threat of terrible wars, with or without the H-Bomb.

(from front page article by Gilmac, Socialist Standard, August 1959)

Are the Co-operators Socialists? (1928)

From the August 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many workers appear to believe that Co-operative Societies are a form of Socialism, or at least a step towards the establishment of Socialism. Most of the co-operators are supporters of the Labour Party, or of its allies the Co-op. Party, and it is curious to notice how blind they are to the contradiction in their own position. The Labour Party stands for State and Municipal Trading and the extension of this form of enterprise necessarily comes into competition with Co-operative concerns just as much as ordinary capitalist ventures. But this is a minor point.

The Co-ops. buy and sell at a profit. Otherwise they would very soon cease to exist. This profit is derived from the unpaid portion of the labour of some section of the workers. It is immaterial whether these workers are directly employed in production by the Co-ops. themselves or by the outside concerns who produce goods in which the Co-ops. deal. The fact that some of this profit is distributed in the form of “divi” among working-class consumers and members blinds the latter to the real position.

Any reduction in the cost of living brought about by wholesale buying, irrespective of whether it is done by Co-ops, or other multiple shop concerns, simply enables the master-class to reduce wages accordingly. There is thus no advantage to be gained by the workers in the long run along those lines.

When we come to consider the productive side of Co-op. enterprises we find little, if any, difference between them and capitalist concerns which have no pretensions about bringing in the co-operative commonwealth.

Speaking at the recent Co-op. Congress at West Hartlepool, Mr. A. V. Alexander (Sheffield) is reported to have stated that “the Government policy (i.e., safeguarding of industry) was insidious and dangerous, and corrupted co-operators.”
“If a Co-operative factory was producing an article obtaining Protection, the people concerned did not want to oppose Protection, and the larger interests of the whole consumers were lost in the desire of the factory manager for larger profit in his factory.” (“Sheffield Telegraph and Star,” May 30th.)
Note that “Co-operation” simply divides the workers into “producers” and “consumers,” confuses their minds with issues such as Protection (which are only of importance to the master-class) and rests fundamentally on the “desire for profit.”

A recent instance of friction between the C.W.S. and some of its employees illustrates this point further. The Northumberland Miners’ Association, Shilbottle Branch, issued a manifesto calling attention to the low wages paid by the C.W.S. in their Shilbottle Colliery. This was published in the “Manchester Guardian” of April 20th. In their reply the C.W.S. simply take up the pose of “philanthropic” employers, pointing out that they pay their men for holidays, give them coal free and house them in model villages. It reminds one of Leverhulme and Cadbury and other anti-Socialists, but the tit-bit is the following :—
“It is difficult to understand what is meant by the allegation that hard-working men are getting as low as 28s. per week. As a matter of fact the pit has worked full-time during this year, so that piece-workers with 5½ days per week would earn £1 17s. 7d. as the least possible wage.”
After such an example of the reckless munificence in which they indulge, one can hardly wonder at the Society protesting against the miners’ lodge “appealing to the sentiment of the co-operative movement by a series of mis-statements.” Thirty-seven bob for a week in a pit ! What carping critic dare now say that the emancipation of the wage-slaves is not in sight?

Fellow-workers, Socialism means a system of life in which the instrument of labour will be common property.

Consequently the fruits of labour under such conditions will be freely available to all. There will be no need for the workers to buy and sell that which they own as a result of their collective effort. Organised distribution, democratically controlled according to a definite plan based upon social needs will replace all juggling with “divi.” and wages and such-like features of capitalism. Such a system can replace the existing chaos in which you suffer, just as soon as you are ready to establish it by means of your political power. When you realise the need for this you will have no time left to waste on Labour or Co-op. Parties, which tinker with effects while leaving causes untouched. You will get on with the job in the only way possible, i.e., by joining and helping forward the work of the Socialist Party.
Eric Boden

Correspondence: Ballot or Barricade? Mr. Chapman’s Last Word. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.

(1) “H,” in his reply to my second letter in the June issue of the “S.S.,” tries to make enormous capital from my slightly altered quotation from Marx, so will you kindly state the fact that it merely consisted of substituting “bloody struggles” for Marx’s “sanguinary conflicts.”

(2) Against the two letters that “H” quotes in the May issue of the “S.S.,” re Marx to Kugelman on the Franchise (both are dated 1866), 1 will quote the one of April, 1871, re the policy of smashing instead of conquering the political machine : “If you look again in the last chapter of my ’18th Brumaire’ you will find my (Marx’s) opinion that the next French Revolution will no more attempt to transfer the bureaucratic military state machinery from one hand to another, but will try to break it in pieces.” (Published in the “Labour Monthly,” August, 1922.) Again Marx in his work, “Revolution and Counter Revolution,” Chapter 9, page 68, writes: “When Radetzky, in his camp beyond the Adige, received the first orders from the responsible ministers at Vienna, he exclaimed : ‘Who are these ministers? They are not the government of Austria ! Austria is now nowhere but in my camp; I and my army, we are Austria; and when we shall have beaten the Italians, we shall reconquer the Empire for the Emperor !’ And old Radetzky was right—but the imbecile ‘responsible ministers’ at Vienna heeded him not.“

(3) “H” says (page 150, June “S.S.”), that conditions were different in 1850, etc., and that a policy fit for those times no longer applies. I say that the conditions of the workers were the same in 1850 (in a general sense) as they are now, and that the proletariat at that time were faced with the same fundamental problem as they are now, viz., the forcible overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

(4) “H” says (in the May issue of the “S.S.,” page 141) : “If the workers are com­pelled (in the event of a revolution) to make use of their economic organisation to bring indus­try to a standstill, and to appeal to the armed forces for support,” etc. This has been tried and found wanting in the General Strike of 1926, and with what result? That the present sham democratic government was revealed in its true colours, viz., that it is a bourgeoise military dic­tatorship—Stratocracy !

(5) I should like an academic party like the S.P.G.B. to explain to me the following:—If universal suffrage could emancipate the workers, the tyrants in power would have abolished it years ago !

I remain, Yours faithfully,

Robert Chapman.

N.B.—The onus of explaining how the workers are to be armed, trained, etc., does not rest on me, but on the S.P.G.B., who talk so lightly of conquering the political machinery, and establishing Socialism. I cannot believe that the bourgeoisie would give up their property with­ out a blood-bath.

P.S.—Brevity owing to Editor’s note :—The position that the S.P.G.B. takes up with regard to the Vote is extraordinary in its childish simplicity, and amounts, in effect, to this :—Before a General Election S.P.G.B.’s will say: “Dear Comrades, Just put an X on a card (of so great a value) and everything in the garden will be lovely.” What a revolutionary party ! The Party, in my opinion, fails to realise the enormous obstacles in our path to Socialism.
Robert Chapman.

Our Reply.
(1) The important point was to know whether Mr. Chapman’s alleged quotation came from the section of the address to the Communist League which dealt with the tactics to be pursued in helping the capitalist class to power, or from the section which dealt with the ensuing period after the capitalists had gained control. Until I had from Mr. Chapman the correct wording it was impossible to tell from which section he was quoting. As I have twice pointed out, Marx does not urge the use of armed force for the latter period.

(2) Mr. Chapman quotes from the “Labour Monthly” what purports to be a letter from Marx to Kugelmann. This letter, says Mr. Chapman, is about “the policy of smashing instead of conquering the Political Machine.” He then quotes from the letter and fails to observe that Marx does not even mention the ”political machinery.” Mr. Chapman evidently did not trouble to look up the last chapter in the “18th Brumaire” to which Marx refers. If he will refer to page 142 (Kerr’s edition, 1914), he will see that Marx describes the “tremendous bureaucratic and military organisation” of the then French Government. It is this which must be destroyed, not the political machinery itself. In the last chapter of the “18th Brumaire,” as in all the other passages and works referred to by Mr. Chapman in this and previous letters, there is no statement made by Marx which will support Mr. Chapman’s policy of fighting the armed forces of the State, as distinct from gaining control of the political machinery.

Mr. Chapman instances Radetzky to prove that the workers need not obtain con­trol of the political machinery, and of the armed forces of the capitalist state. As usual, Mr. Chapman ignores most of the deciding factors of the situation. He for­gets that the revolutionaries failed; and that Radetzky was in command of the only effective army in Austria; that the Austrian Emperor had never relinquished power, and had only made certain concessions to the Viennese revolutionaries (including the dismissal of Metternich) expressly at Radetzky’s instruction because the latter rightly considered that the Viennese were not worth serious consideration and could be dealt with at leisure ; that Radetzky’s troops were fully engaged in the much more serious business of the war with Piedmont; and that the revolutionary committee repre­sented no one outside Vienna and only a minority of the Viennese. As soon as the Italian war was settled, the Viennese revolutionaries were dealt with without the least difficulty.

Thus, the Emperor who controlled the political machinery of the Empire (except temporarily in Vienna itself) and the only effective armed forces, defeated the rebels. This, says Mr. Chapman, proves that the workers can use armed force against the capitalist class who control the political machinery and the only armed force. We fail to follow Mr. Chapman’s reasoning.

(3) The proletariat in Germany in 1850 were not faced with the same problem as faces the workers in Great Britain now. They were a small minority and their task was to aid the capitalists to destroy the feudal monarchy. How could they “overthrow the bourgeoisie” when the bourgeoisie were not yet in power? The workers here are the great majority, and their task is to destroy capitalism, not to put the capitalists into power.

(4) In 1926 there was no “general strike” of a Socialist working-class. The working-class were then and are now overwhelmingly anti-Socialist; only a small minority (about 25 per cent.) were orga­nised in trade unions, and only a minority of these were on strike. The workers had not voted Socialist and been faced with the revolt of a capitalist minority. On the contrary, they had in 1924 placed the capitalist class in possession of the political machinery and the armed forces. There is no “sham” at all about the support given by the great majority of the workers to capitalist candidates. It is an unfortunate fact.

I do not know what is meant by “a Bourgeoise Military Dictatorship Strato­cracy/’ and cannot therefore say whether Baldwin’s Government is one or not.

(5) The capitalist class do not abolish the suffrage because the problems of the capitalist system compel them to adopt representative government as a basis for the administration of capitalism.

We might retort with an equally silly “poser” : “If arms could emancipate the workers, the tyrants in power would have abolished them years ago.”

The truth is that the capitalists cannot disregard the needs of their own system. Armed forces and the franchise are equally necessary to the administration of capitalism.

(6) As Mr. Chapman denies that the control of the political machinery can be obtained by the vote, the onus certainly is on him to show how it can be done; or how Socialism can be achieved without it.

(7) It is our aim to make our position “childishly simple,” so that it may be understood by every worker. We have certainly failed to make it understandable to Mr. Chapman. We do not say to the workers, “all you have to do is just put a cross on a ballot paper.” We say that the workers must first understand Socialism, then organise politically, and then use the vote to gain control of the political machinery. After securing control, “everything in the garden will not be lovely.” Only then, in fact, will the real and enormous task of changing the economic basis of Society begin.

We do not underestimate the enormous obstacles in the path to Socialism. The greatest obstacle is to get the workers to understand and want Socialism. If we were ever likely to forget how difficult a work that is, we always have the Mr. Chapmans to remind us.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Treachery of Leaders: A second reply to a critic. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.


(1) Your statement that “Socialists, like any other beings, cannot escape the pressure of the forces surrounding them, and there is no reason to believe that Socialists would be more trustworthy than other people, except that they at least understand the social forces, and may be expected to avoid gross blunders,” bears out my contention that Parliament would offer the same inducement to modify their tune to S.P.G.B.’s as it has done to Labourites.

(2) It is through no gift of prophetic vision that I hold that the Capitalist class will make use of every weapon to stifle Socialist teaching should it be winning supporters. To-day, sheer force is used to suppress anything that threatens, even minutely, their class interests :—The Colonial oppression, the Great War, imprisonment of agitators, and the E.P.A. are witnesses to the fact that still harsher methods would be used to strangle the Socialist Party should it ever look like becoming dangerous.

Parliamentarism and constitutional action leaves the workers unprepared for this. Capitalists will not interfere with the gradual growth of Socialism, they are led to believe, and will unresistmgly, in accordance with the code of sportsmanship, accede to the enactments (the King not daring as head of the Constitution to veto them) that means their expropriation.

(3) The S.P.G.B. to become the preponderating party in Parliament must pass through the phase of second party. There is no sudden conversion that you speak of, when the S.P.G.B. becomes the strongest party during the office of an anti-Socialist government. The Capitalist government can keep the Socialists waiting for years, and, knowing the constitutional law-abiding character of the Party, feel safe in adding another ten to fifteen years to their life.

(4) Your Party, in such respects, is up in the clouds. These things have got to be faced. To speak about generals and officers as workers is to apply abstract economic categories to existing conditions without any attempt to allow for the modifying factors of the psychology of the men concerned, and their close connection with the Capitalist class.

They are used to ordering workers about, and it is well known the hatred they have for Parliamentary interference. The question of how will the officers and generals act when instructed by a Socialist War Minister, is like that of what shall we do if the sun drops from the sky. The two are possibilities too remote to trouble about. The S.P.G.B. will never get so far as a Government unless it intends to legislate for the Capitalists.

(5) I offer at the moment, no alternative to your policy of following the constitutional path as pointed out to you by the Capitalists. Your readers have only to think deeply and face up to unpleasant facts and alternatives will suggest themselves to them.

Thanking you for answering my previous letter, Yours fraternally,
R. M. Phillips.

Our Reply.
(1) The question is not whether Socialist M.P.’s would be offered inducements to modify their attitude, but whether the electors would tolerate such modification. Labour electors do not want capitalism overthrown, and therefore do not object to their M.P.’s non-Socialist politics and actions. Socialist electors would object and would enforce their wishes.

(2) Mr. Phillips here makes the error of assuming that the actions of the capitalist class are synonymous with their wishes. We do not urge the workers to rely upon the “code of sportsmanship” or the voluntary adherence of the capitalist class to “constitutionalism.” The capitalist class maintained the parliamentary system because the problems of capitalism compelled them to do so. The majority of the English capitalist class are well aware of the limitations and dangers of using force openly against discontented workers. They use, and are likely to continue to use, the much more effective weapon of propaganda in the schools, the newspapers, etc. When they use force now they can still defend them selves by the plea that they have the majority of the electors supporting them. When that plea has been undermined (i.e., when the majority of the electors are Socialist) the capitalist class will have to yield or be faced with the problem of trying to administer capitalism by military force, against a hostile majority of the population. That problem is insoluble, not (as Mr. Phillips thinks we believe) because of any scruples of the capitalists, but because of the nature of modern industry and trade, and the complexity of the administration of capitalism.

(3) Mr. Phillips forgets that the capitalist class, being human beings and desiring to go on living, will not be prepared to pay any price, however great, in order to have the satisfaction of blocking the way to Socialism. When the working-class have become predominantly Socialist, and are organised politically and economically on class lines, they will be easily able to obstruct the normal working of capitalism. The majority of the capitalist class, faced with the alternative of yielding to the wishes of the majority of society, or of entering into a period of continued industrial and administrative chaos, will certainly choose the former.

(4) Mr. Phillips said (June Socialist Standard) : “The generals, officers, bureaucrats, etc. . . . are drawn from the ranks of the capitalist class and its lackeys.”

In reply I pointed out that this is not true. Being dependent on their pay for their livelihood, the great majority of these persons are members of the working-class. Mr. Phillips now agrees that they are members of the working-class, but says that I made no attempt to allow for the “psychology of the men concerned.” By this he means, apparently, that these people, although members of the working-class, do not recognise their class position and are not Socialists. This is perfectly true, but in this respect these people are in no essential way different from other sections of the working-class. The great majority of all workers are still ignorant of their class position, and are not Socialists. As regards those members of the working-class who are army officers, civil servants, etc., the majority, even apart from acquiring greater knowledge of their class position, will act in accordance with their bread and butter interests, i.e., they will take orders from the authorities who control the political machinery and their pay.

Mr. Phillips makes a statement that the “S.P.G.B. will never get so far as a Government unless it intends to legislate for the capitalists.” The meaning is obscure, and he gives no evidence or explanation whatever. What we can reply with confidence is that when the working-class are organised in a Socialist Party they will take control of the political machinery with the object not of legislating for the capitalists, but for the introduction of Socialism.

(5) Mr. Phillips, like other critics, here exposes the hollowness of his case. He makes the elementary error of supposing that a policy is proved unsound if difficulties can be mentioned. He forgets that every policy and every action, great or small, has to deal with some difficulty or other. The only test is to compare the practicability of one policy with that of an alternative, and weigh up the respective advantages and disadvantages. Instead of doing this, Mr. Phillips offers no alternative, but naively assures us that our readers “have only to think deeply …. and alternatives will suggest themselves.”

May we ask Mr. Phillips to believe that dead and living members of the Socialist Party have thought deeply before offering the S.P.G.B. Declaration of Principles, and so far none of our critics has succeeded in discovering a practicable alternative.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Transition to Socialism: A Reply to Mr. Fred Montague, M.P. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the August 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard
Mr. Montague, Labour M.P. and editor of the “Social-Democrat,” asks us a number of questions in the June issue of that journal. By an oversight our reply was omitted from the July Socialist Standard. We give below in full the paragraphs which explain Mr. Montague’s point of view.
(1) Questions for "the Socialist Standard." 

Discussing the subject of Communist doctrine, “The Socialist Standard” describes the statement that “The workers must destroy the capitalist state and set up their own workers’ state” as dangerous romanticism, leading not to Socialism but to the shambles. We agree. And we agree also with “The Socialist Standard” that it is nonsense to say that Marx and Engels gave support to the advocacy of violence beyond what appears in a purple passage or two to “round off an occasional peroration.” But if the idea of the destroying of the capitalist state and setting up a workers’ state is dangerous romanticism, what is the idea of leaving transitional politics alone ? Of two things one, surely ! Either revolutionary overthrow, which seems to agree with the Communist position, or transformation of such a character that at no point is the stability of society threatened. As a matter of interest and not of mere debate we invite “The Socialist Standard” to examine this point.

(2) The Logic of It. 

Does any Socialist worthy of the appellation “scientific” imagine that capitalism will end one Saturday night and Socialism begin one Monday morning? Members of the S.P.G.B. are strong on logic. Will any responsible member answer the following points? Suppose it is agreed, as we agree, that nationalisation is only another form of capitalism, and that social reform, as we do not altogether agree, is not worth troubling about. Imagine that a satisfactory majority of class-conscious Socialists are one day returned to Parliament. Socialism is declared by the representatives of the working class. What then? Do the workers carry on and, if so, where and how? For instance, will goods be made for export and trade carried on in automatic continuation of the old machinery until Parliament creates an entirely new organisation? Is it seriously contended that no period of transition will be required, and if it is not so contended is it unreasonable to ask what is to guarantee the efficiency of that diminishing area of production still in the hands of none too sympathetic capitalists during that period?

(3) What the change means.

Nationalisation is only another form of capitalism, but transition means the same thing whoever may be in charge of Parliament. It is not a question of whether the change from one system to another is to be slow or rapid. If the machinery of production, distribution, and foreign exchange is to be taken over as a going concern with a view to socialisation an enormous amount of complicated administrative work will have to be done afterwards, involving, for one thing, tremendous displacement of labour in the closing down of parasitical trades. It may seem a small point, but are shopkeepers, small as well as large, to carry on as private capitalists until a Socialist system of co-operative distribution has been created? Or is it proposed to have the plans for socialisation ready beforehand ? Who will have these plans, and how can they be prepared beforehand without participation in and knowledge of pre-Socialist administration? It is not to the point that workers run the capitalist system now. That might be an argument for syndicalists, but it is not one for Socialists. Scientific Socialism means, besides economic and historical theory, Socialism scientifically applied, otherwise we might as well leave the workers to run the capitalist system. And as this tremendous piece of work is being done, are capitalists going to oblige by running things for our convenience whilst awaiting execution?

(4) Wealth of a kind.

One point that came out of the Maxton-Fitzgerald debate is also worth a little extra consideration. “Under Socialism” wealth will be so plentiful that monetary system will be unnecessary and would be absurd, therefore Socialism cannot mean equal remuneration or socialisation of the means of exchange. We have no quarrel with that, but go easy about the plentiful supply. Plentiful supply of what? Iron girders, aluminium pots, baby’s basinettes, or Brummagem idols for Ballabaloo? All these things come into the term “wealth,” and are included in potential production. Have we a likely plentiful supply of food? Do necessary raw materials materialise like the famous Katie King? Are cotton, wool, leather, wood and tobacco available “like water” ? With more countries in the world than ever producing what they want for themselves this repudiation of “exchange“ may acquire a sinister meaning. The fact is, the “plentiful supply” of means of enjoyment is child’s talk unless we are sure of exchanging our goods for the food and raw materials we want. There is plenty in the world, we know, but is non-transitional Socialism possible the world over at the same moment? If not, what allowances and modifications are admissible, and if capitalistic exceptions are to be made in any way, what logical objection is there to nationalisation? “

Our Reply.

What is the Transition Period?

(1) Although Mr. Montague asks a number of questions, most of the points of difference between him and us can be traced back to his use of the term “transition period.” What is the transition period? We live now in a capitalist economic system with the capitalist class in control of the political machinery and the armed forces of society. They make laws and enforce them, laws which are always framed within the limits imposed by the nature of capitalism and (so far as these limits permit) always directly in their interests as capitalists. When, and not before, the working-class, organised for Socialism, have gained control of the political machinery, the transition period will begin. The working-class cannot begin the work of abolishing the present private property basis of society until they have obtained political control from the capitalist class.

Mr. Montague holds a fundamentally different, and as we consider, a fundamentally false view. He asks (paragraph 1) : “What is the idea of leaving transitional politics alone?”

Our answer is plain. We shall not leave “transitional politics” alone, but what Mr. Montague has in mind as “transitional politics” are merely the politics of capitalist reform now carried on by him and his party. We are not in the “transition period,” the workers have not obtained political control, and the advocacy of nationalisation and other reforms is not work towards Socialism or towards the capture of political control for Socialism.

(2) Mr. Montague here agrees that “nationalisation is only another form of capitalism.” It is then for him to justify his support of nationalisation. He must be quite familiar with our opposition based on the contention that it will not benefit the working-class under capitalism.

Mr. Montague’s further questions about foreign trade are presumably based on the assumption that Socialism can be established in Great Britain alone. It certainly cannot. Socialism will be international, and cannot be other than international.

(3) Most of the points in this paragraph depend on Mr. Montague’s view of “transitional politics,“ and are answered above in my reply to his first paragraph. We deny his statement that “transition means the same thing whoever may be in charge of Parliament.” Socialists do not deny or underestimate the difficulties of the economic transformation to Socialism, but the difficulties of the period after the conquest of power have no relation to the policy of supporting capitalist reforms before the conquest of power.

(4) Here Mr. Montague deals further with the economic problems which will face the workers after they have obtained political control. They will, for instance, have to cease the production of articles no longer required, and produce instead larger quantities of certain goods the supply of which is at present too small. Similar problems were solved in 1914. Mr. Montague (who actively participated as private, as First Lieutenant and as recruiting agent) will know how the Government withdrew men from industrial production in order to build up a great machine for slaughtering their fellow-workers in other countries. They also solved the problem of turning out munitions and then, in 1919, they reversed the process when the weapons of destruction were no longer needed in such huge quantities.

Krupp did not personally conduct the similar change-over in Germany from howitzers to harvesters in the factories bearing his name; the change-over, like capitalist production and distribution in general, was carried through by workers. We cannot, therefore, see why Mr. Montague should doubt our ability to do for ourselves what we now do for the capitalists.

Mr. Montague’s other difficulties arise again out of his two misconceptions : first, that the transition to Socialism is already going on while the capitalists are still in power, and secondly, that Socialism can be introduced on a national basis, requiring capitalist trade to continue between the national groups. Under Socialism there will be no trade, home or foreign, individual or collective.
Edgar Hardcastle