Saturday, August 20, 2022

Letters: Internet revolution (2000)

Letters to the Editors from the October 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Internet revolution

Dear Editors,

I found the series on the Internet earlier this year (Socialist Standard, Jan-Apr) thought-provoking. I think Paddy missed out some points which are worth making. I’d like to hear other’s thoughts on these.

Fellow workers ought to read the series in conjunction with section one of the Communist Manifesto by K. Marx, since the points I am making derive mainly from this “idea association”.

At the recent Tokyo G7 meeting, there was a fair amount of talk about putting the African continent online. Some might be cynical and say this is just Sony’s way of creating a market for its computer section. However it should also be viewed as essential for the smooth running of African capitalism—they have to, are forced to, adopt the new technology. (“The bourgeoisie creates a world in its own image.”)

In order to win its political dominance the capitalist class had to enlist the working class in the battle against feudalist reaction. The Manifesto noted that capitalism creates its own gravediggers: the proletariat. It concentrated the workers into great cities, allowing our class to come into close contact. By using the workers in its politics, the capitalists are also unwittingly making workers think politically. They educate our class.

By pushing for parliamentary democracy the capitalists had also to give in to a demand of the workers: the vote—a weapon which the workers can use for their own interests at such a time as when they are no longer under the influence of capitalism’s sweet talk.

The internet is essential to the global capitalist system. But it, too, is a weapon the workers have acquired. Workers in Denmark can talk to workers in Canada, etc, etc.

The Internet will lead to a structural change; how big it will be is something we shall have to wait and see. Home-working may lead to a breakdown in social alienation—workers will begin to form communities again akin to feudal society. In Volume Two of Capital, Marx discusses the time in which capital circulates; whilst it is in circulation it cannot be realised—hence the growth of banks, etc which are the “middlemen” who reduce that time, and have become capitalists in their own right. The non-productive workers (bank clerks, who are also exploited like productive workers) may begin to find their position threatened by the advance in technology, and soon to swell the ever existent reserve army, along with the blue collar, whose labour is also threatened by machinery. The middlemen capitalists may also begin to be squeezed out with the advent of home banking and home shopping—capital will begin once more to be increasingly in the hands of a smaller, dwindling capitalist class.

And Communists? We disdain to hide our views! We will use the Internet to disseminate our views and create socialist party organisation. Let the bourgeoisie tremble at the prospect of an Internet revolution. Workers of the world log on!
Graham Taylor, 
Brabrand, Denmark

Human nature

Dear Editors,

Capitalism and its unpleasant side-effects rides roughshod over us all (like some giant steamroller crushing and flattening creativity, talent, feelings and our natural inclinations) for example, in so-called “education” which does little more than pour out a certain quota of information and propaganda, necessary to turn out more compliant wage slaves.

We’re constantly encouraged to work against nature, and in turn our own human nature and instincts, in order to get by under this system. When we’re ill we’re encouraged and advised to pump pills and chemicals into our overloaded and abused systems—in order to swell the coffers of the multi-million pharmaceutical firms—when we’d be better off, in most cases, relying on nature and working with it to help our bodes. All the time, it’s moving away from nature.

Manners, politeness and consideration are natural reactions to others and up until recently were taken as such. However it’s no coincidence that they’ve disimproved in the last 20-odd years, exactly since capitalism and greed tightened the screws even more acutely, under the reigns of “leaders” such as Thatcher and Reagan and more recently, Clinton and Blair. It’s a wonder that despite all this, people’s natural consideration for others still surfaces when the chips are down.

I recently got a taste of this, first-hand, after suffering a badly sprained ankle whilst out for a hike. I found myself—luckily in a location I knew well—unable to move by myself on a small beach. Lo and behold people arrived and everyone, without exception, upon learning of my predicament, was helping whatever they could. I was taken by lifeboat ambulance to hospital and all three of their personnel were courteous, helpful and kind, despite, under capitalism, performing a stressful, overworked and thankless job. Despite a system that tries to knock it out of them, every hour of every day, people’s human nature to be social animals and work with each other, still rises to the surface. These people helped me in a situation where I had no choice but to rely on my fellow human beings, and I’m glad to say they all came up trumps.

I’ve had a week to take it easy and plenty of time to mull over things and in reflecting on this topic, it’s overwhelmingly clear, that in our lives greed, selfishness and couldn’t-care-less attitude is merely a result of human conditioning, drummed into us all since the word go (to do better than the next kid in school and get a better job than Johnny next door) but that basic human nature is instinctive, natural and spontaneous. It’s what I witnessed on that beach last week and it’s what we’d all witness, all the time in a proper society. This can only occur when capitalism and its unnatural effects are replaced with a society in which everyone benefits from everyone else’s natural sense of caring and fair play, i.e. Socialism.
David Marlborough, 

Money system

Dear Editors,

Tim Collier (Letters, July) is right when he says that reform of the tax system would be Utopian, for greed, self-interest and aggression are endemic to any money system. We are so accustomed to dealing with money that we have come to think in its terms and find it difficult to imagine a world without it.

Money was useful in the past when local conditions created temporary shortages, but had there been overall scarcity, world populations would not have expanded from a few scattered tribes to the billions we have today.

It is the money system that creates the scarcity, because money has to be limited in order to maintain its value. But since today our digital information systems can make knowledge of what is required instantaneously available, and we can manipulate the bases of matter to produce it without limit, the use of money is the only impediment to the satisfaction of wants.

We have laws to protect property so that eventually, without market pressures to buy and the need to flaunt luxury articles as a sign of wealth, the concept of possession, individual or collective, would disappear.

It is the money system that restricts choice and freedom.
M.B.A. Chapman, 

More on Dan Billany

Dear Editors,

I was interested to read the book review for Dan Billany: Hull’s Lost Hero by V.A. Reeves and V. Showan.

Dan Billany was my twice cousin and I have been researching my Billany ancestry since 1989. I naively helped Reeves and Showan with details of the Billany family history and my name is among the acknowledgements.

However, the biographers did not allow me to see the manuscript of the book before it went to print and I do not approve of some of its content, especially when the biographers claim that my cousin was homosexual. I totally agree with your comments in your review but perhaps for different reasons.

Can I state for the record that there is no evidence that Dan Billany was homosexually inclined. His only surviving sister, Joan is not aware of it and no-one in the family has ever said it of Dan Billany. I questioned the biographers about their comments. They said Dan was homosexual simply because he wrote about it and that his friends knew, although he kept it from his family because he was deeply ashamed. Hogwash! Then Showan admitted over the phone that it was only their opinion that Dan Billany was homosexual but she still insisted it was true. Anyway, the biographers have shown a lack of gratitude for the help I’ve given them and are now calling themselves the “authorities” on my family history. So I have demanded that they remove my name and contribution from their book.

I just want to thank you for your review and for helping to set the record straight. Yes, there is indeed a world of difference between fact and fiction!
Gaynor Johnson (by email)


Dear Editors,

Recently at my school, the council changed the cafeteria system. Before, there was one queue and it looked a bit like a proper café. Now it ‘s a McDonalds-style restaurant. It has four queues so that as many staff as possible are working at the same time. The school says that its because they want to serve us quicker but it’s really because they want the staff in the cafeteria to work harder so that our rulers get more money. The first thing I thought when I saw it was that it may cost some money to make it like this, but as the nearest McDonald’s is about a mile away and that the pupils actually like junk food like this, they would get a monopoly on the food sales for pupils at that school, and also get some more money for “our” rulers. I told someone I was walking about with that, the food had better be better than the other food we used to get. Yeah, right. At least the food they used to sell was half-decent, and although it was probably GM, the energy that I got from it gave me the energy to endure their attempts to indoctrinate me into believing that capitalism is the right way to live.

Now, the food is rubbishy—it is all mass-produced—and you have a choice of a burger, fries and a soft drink; a bit of pizza, fries and soft drink or a sandwich in which the roll is shaped for a hotdog. The burger is tasteless, the fries are soggy, the pizza is a cheap pizza base with a bit of cheese on it and the soft drinks are flat. In the pizza meal they even put the fries in the pizza box to save money on cardboard. When I was eating this I thought “That at least I only have to stand for this for the next two years” (I’m in third year). They have even introduced a card system in which you have a credit card-like card which if you swipe it on a machine in the school, it tells you how much money you have on it and your name.

The school probably have an account of how much you have spent on this rubbish to see if you have fallen for it. I’m sorry I don’t have any photos of the cafeteria, but think of what a McDonald’s looks like inside and change the name to “kids” and the main colour to red and you will be close enough.
Richard Cumming, 

Big problems, but are there big solutions? (2000)

Book Review from the October 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
No, according to the author of a new book. We argue that there is: socialist revolution.
William Morris, the 19th-century poet, designer and Socialist agitator, is now relatively well-known and is much admired. It has to be said, however, that this is more for his design and crafts work than for his socialist ideas. Even so, that he was a revolutionary socialist in the tradition of what might be called “Anglo-Marxism” or “impossibilism” is now more widely understood, thanks to the writings of Florence Boos and Nicholas Salmon, as opposed to the earlier work of writers linked to the so-called Communist Party who tried to make Morris out to be a proto-Leninist.

Most of those who are interested in Morris’s political ideas don’t really agree with his approach, though few are prepared to spell out where and why they think he was wrong. An exception is Labour Party member John Payne in his recent book Journey Up The Thames. William Morris and Modern England. Although this is mainly a travel book on the towns and villages of the Thames Valley today on the basis of the astute observation that “Utopia for Morris was a real place—England”—or more exactly, South East England on a summer’s day—Payne gives it a political dimension by declaring right at the start that he is also going to “try to demonstrate ways in which Morris was wrong—both in his predictions about the future and in the political positions he adopted in the 1880s and 1890s”.

Payne summarises Morris’s views, not entirely inaccurately, as:
  • “that capitalism cannot be tamed, only overthrown, and that any other approach was a diversion from the ‘real task'” (p. 143).
  • “that the function of a socialist party is to ‘make socialists’ and that anything short of that was a waste of time and effort” (p. 40).
  • “that ‘the change’ (the overthrow of capitalism) can only be achieved by violent conflict and upheaval” (p. 20).
Payne’s counter-argument is that capitalism has been tamed to a certain extent thanks to the Labour Party operating through Parliament and local councils and to the work of trade unions and other such bodies; that “revolutions more often produce dystopia rather than utopia”; that “there are big problems ( . . . ) but there are no longer big solutions”, i. e. that socialism as a “big solution” is no longer on the agenda.

If socialism, and so making socialists for getting it, is not on the agenda, what is?
“At a local level, and in loose alliances at national and international level, people will do what they can to mitigate the worst effects of human kind’s enemies: greed, militarism, global capitalism, disease, ethnic tensions, global warming and environmental degradation.

People have to function at the level that seems real to them, where they think they may be able to produce small, local changes, even if they have no picture of what the sum of their small, local solutions might look like.”
So it’s come to this. Not only is the idea of any alternative society to capitalism abandoned, but so even is trying to achieve one by reformist political action at national level. Instead, all we are offered is a species of sub-reformism: little local attempts to mitigate things without any vision of where you’re trying to get to, exclusively defensive actions without end.

It’s pathetic stuff, but the conventional wisdom today amongst the sort of people who only a generation ago were thinking in terms of a big solution (even if more often than not the wrong one). But, with the collapse of state-capitalist Russia and the transformation of Labour into New Labour, in one or other of which they placed their hopes, they’ve had the stuffing knocked out of them. Unfortunately, the resulting disillusionment and pessimism which they have spread has made it more difficult to get the case for socialism, as indeed a “big solution”, across. But we can’t believe that many of those involved in these petty, sub-reformist struggles won’t eventually come to realise the utter inadequacy of endlessly trying to merely stop things getting worse.

Morris did indeed envisage that the changeover to socialism would involve some degree of violence—he introduces this into his description on how socialism came to be established in News from Nowhere—but this was never the essence of what he meant by “revolution”, and Payne is being misleading in suggesting that Morris was advocating violence as a socialist tactic as opposed to expecting the violence to be started by those opposed to the socialist revolution.

Morris was quite clear what he meant by “revolution”. As he put it in the opening paragraph of his How We Live and How We Might Live:
“The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use, has a terrible sound in most people’s ears, even when we have explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society, people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you will speak of reform and not revolution. As, however, we Socialists do not at all mean by our word revolution what these worthy people mean by their word reform, I can’t help thinking that it would be a mistake to use it, whatever projects we might conceal beneath its harmless envelope. So we will stick to our word, which means a change in the basis of society.”
This is exactly our definition too. “Revolution” means a change in the basis of society, irrespective of whether or not this happens to involve violence. It also implies that this change will be fairly rapid rather than a prolonged, gradual one, so that terms such as “overthrow” and “upheaval” are not out of place. It’s our view in fact that, these days, the socialist revolution could be carried out more or less peacefully, with a socialist-minded majority using existing elective institutions to win control of political power and employing this to overthrow capitalism. In other words, we don’t see Morris’s description in News from Nowhere of how socialism came to be established as a likely scenario today.

But do revolutions tend to lead to dystopia rather than utopia? This was certainly the experience of the Russian revolution but this was never the sort of revolution we (or Morris) advocated. It was a political revolution that led to a social revolution—a change in the basis of society—but from feudalism to capitalism via a prolonged period of state capitalism rather than from capitalism to socialism. Since this was only a change from one class society to another it could be, and was, carried out by a minority some of whose members became the new ruling class. Indeed dystopia, rather than the utopia the minority revolutionaries originally promised.

We, however, would reject that this has any relevance to the sort of revolution we have (and Morris had) in mind. We’re talking about a majority revolution from class society to classless society, not about a minority revolution from one class society to another. Unfortunately for us, these latter type of revolutions described themselves as “socialist” and it is their failure to bring about the equality associated with the word “socialism” that has led people like Payne to conclude that there is no “big solution” and indeed that trying to achieve one can only make things worse.

But to say that we shouldn’t seek a “big solution” but only “small, local changes” is in effect to accept that there is no alternative to capitalism. This is because capitalism is a big—a world-wide—system and, as Payne admits, causes big problems. Any alternative to it—any solution to these problems—must therefore be “big” too, global in both senses—world-wide and a total new system.

If you reject this analysis then you are accepting that we cannot get rid of capitalism and that the best we can expect is to mitigate its effects a little. It is because we refuse to accept this defeatist conclusion that we say that Morris’s policy of making socialists is still the most constructive activity that those who want a better world should engage in at the present time. Fight to save your local beauty spot if you like, but don’t accept that that’s all that can be done.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Leopold (2000)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The recent disturbances in Belgium over the return of King Leopold provide a good illustration of how the Communists and Social Democrats waste their time. The Daily Worker (4-8-50) praised the leaders of “this historic movement,” or at any rate the Communists among them. After Leopold returned, said the article, “it took the Belgian working class just five minutes to get angry and five days to get organised.” It applauds the “working class unity” that was attained; it describes the strikes, the riots and the processions, and talks about “this great class battle.” And it leads up to the triumphant conclusion when Leopold agreed to hand over his powers to his son Baudouin—though it blames the Social Democrats for not having insisted on his complete abdication.

When all the shouting and the shooting was over, what had happened? Before the agitation against the king, the Belgian workers were being exploited by the Belgian owners under the nominal presidency of someone called Leopold; after the agitation, the Belgian workers were being exploited under the nominal presidency of someone called Baudouin. Which makes a lot of difference. And yet to obtain such an insignificant change, the “Left-wing” parties strained all their energies, and three men who were following the lead of these parties were shot by the police at Grace-Berieur. The three men were called “martyrs,” and the name is just; the men were martyrs to the ideas of those “leaders” of the working class who, instead of encouraging the workers to understand and bring about encouraging the workers to understand the bring about Socialism, spend all their time in noisy pursuit of aims which in the end bring no benefit at all to the workers.

(From “‘Passing Comments”, Socialist Standard, October 1950)

Czechoslovakia ten years ago (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Czechoslovakia, as its unwieldy name suggests, was one of the artificial “nation-States” set up after the First World War, containing within its borders not only people whose mother-tongue was Czech or Slovak but considerable minorities speaking Hungarian, Polish, German and Ukrainian. These last two minorities provided the excuse, before the war, for parts of Czechoslovakia to be annexed by Germany (since restored) and, after the war, for parts to be annexed by Russia (where they still are today).

A mere glance at the map of Europe shows why, for strategic reasons, Czechoslovakia could never hope to pursue an independent foreign policy for any length of time. One end of the country points into the middle of Germany, the other (even more prominently on pre-war maps) into Russia. The victorious powers in the First World War who had set up Czechoslovakia in 1919 agreed twenty years later, at Munich, that it should form part of the German sphere of influence. After the war, at Yalta, it was agreed that it should be transferred to the Russian sphere, where it has been since the Stalinist coup d’etat in 1948, a position which was dramatically re-asserted ten years ago this month when Russian tanks rolled into the streets of Prague.

The Russian re-invasion of Czechoslovakia was motivated mainly by strategic considerations, the fear that the political changes begun by the Dubcek government would get out of hand and lead to Czechoslovakia trying to break away from the Russian empire.

Dubcek had succeeded Novotny, a hard-line Stalinist, as the leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in January 1968 as part of a process in which the “liberals” in the Party triumphed over the “conservatives”. The sort of state capitalist regime which exists in Russia and East Europe is based on a State monopoly over the means of production, but where the State is itself monopolised by a privileged group who thus own and control the means of production just as much as the more traditional capitalist class of Western countries.

This state capitalist ruling class monopolises the means of production as a class, but within it there are various groups with their own sectional interests such as the military, Party and managerial bureaucracies. In the classic Stalinist model, power is firmly in the hands of the Party bureaucracy — people as often as not originally from working-class backgrounds, who are basically politicians without technical qualifications; they make policy and it is to them that the military and managerial bureaucracies are subordinated. But because factory managers and other technocrats are also generally obliged to be members of the Party, conflicts of sectional interest within the state capitalist ruling class express themselves as conflicts inside the Party.

In Czechoslovakia the election of Dubcek as Party leader, and the “Prague Spring” which followed with the relaxation of censorship and talk of “socialism ( = state capitalism) with a human face”, represented the victory of the managerial section of the ruling class over the more strictly party-political section. The overcentralized state capitalism of the Stalin era, in which all decisions were taken centrally by the Party bureaucracy and industrial managers had merely to execute them was beginning to become inefficient even in Russia itself and various experiments in decentralization and so-called “market socialism” (an absurd contradiction in terms since socialism necessarily involves the disappearance of the market) were made. It was the implementation of such measures that in Czechoslovakia gave the managerial bureaucracy a certain degree of independence and allowed them to mount a challenge against and eventually oust the Stalinist old guard.

The Dubcek period in Czechoslovakia, then, represented the coming to power of a different section of the capitalist ruling class: the managers as opposed to the politicians. Some people were quite frank that this was what it was all about. The present writer recalls a Czech tourist at one of our meetings in Hyde Park in the summer of 1968 who somewhat arrogantly declared that Dubcek represented the end of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” by which he meant the end of “stupid workers”, i.e. political leaders from a working-class background) giving orders to more educated managers and technocrats like his father.

The programme of the triumphant Dubcek wing of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was essentially an extension of “market socialism”. This would have involved a further relaxation of centralized planning and more competition between enterprises for sales and profits. Enterprises were to be given the right to hire and fire, so turning the “hidden unemployment” (over manning) associated with the old system into an open reserve army of labour. There was even talk of enterprises being allowed to raise money by issuing bonds which would be traded centrally on a revived stock exchange! Ota Šik, the theorist of all this, now recognises, in exile, that the old system was a form of State capitalism but fails to realise that his “market socialism” was even more recognisably a form of capitalism.

Together with this economic liberalisation was to go a political liberalisation. Censorship in the newspapers, on the radio and television and in the arts was relaxed; the powers of the police were reduced. Here, as opposed to the economic reforms, was something from which the working class might have benefited. For freedom of discussion is the ideal, even indispensable, condition for the development of socialist ideas since it is only out of a full and frank discussion of their experiences under capitalism that the working class can come to acquire the majority socialist understanding necessary before capitalism can be replaced by Socialism. In the spring of 1968 a small, tentative step was taken in Czechoslovakia in a direction which might have led to the limited political democracy such as exists in Western countries, with its relative freedom of speech, more than one political party, collective bargaining between trade unions and employers, etc.

It was precisely a fear that such a system might eventually lead strategically-important Czechoslovakia out of the Soviet bloc that led the Russian ruling class to decide to send its troops in to overthrow Dubcek and install the puppet regime under Husak which is still in power today. The Dubcek regime itself had never suggested leaving the Soviet bloc (they had learnt the lesson of Czechoslovakia’s brief history: that it can’t have an independent foreign policy but must be dominated either by Germany or by Russia), but, as far as the Russian ruling class were concerned, this was no guarantee as to what, with the advent of a measure of political democracy, some future Czech government might try to do.

Socialists are naturally concerned about whether or not political democracy exists under capitalism. For the existence of some political democracy, limited and distorted though it must be by the class structure of capitalism, is central to our case for the peaceful propagation of socialist ideas culminating in the peaceful establishment of Socialism by democratic political action based on majority socialist understanding.

The Dubcek regime represented a section of the state capitalist ruling class and would have proved to be just as anti-working class as the previous Stalinist governments of Czechoslovakia. So no tears needed to be shed for it. But this split in the ruling class was beginning to allow workers in Czechoslovakia (just as had happened in Western Europe in the 19th century) a certain freedom to manoeuvre, both on the political and industrial fields and the continuation of this process might have led to a situation in which the open propagation of socialist ideas in Czechoslovakia became possible.
Adam Buick

Time and chance (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

If the lights are observed burning late in Number Ten nowadays, there is no reason to be worried about the Prime Minister suffering from insomnia. More likely he is sitting up with his advisers, juggling with the slide rule, metronome and egg-timer, trying to decide the date of the next general election.

There is, as usual, no lack of advice for him in this, from all those political hacks who earn their living writing clever columns in the newspapers, largely designed to show how basically easy it is to run British capitalism without all those tiresome crises and upheavals. But the timing of an election is more than a game; if the big parties need any encouragement to take it seriously they need only remember how Wilson lost power in 1970. When that campaign opened there was a pretty widespread assumption that the Labour Party was going to win and that the election was little more than a short break in Wilson’s administering the affairs of the British capitalist class. When they were defeated it was put down to a miscalculation in timing by Wilson, largely to do with some unfavourable trade figures which were published a few days before the poll.

The implication of this excuse was that, had those figures come out a couple of weeks later we might never had endured the Heath style of running capitalism. It enabled the politicians to ignore the possibility that Labour might have lost because of their record — their attacks on working class living standards, their support for the napalming Americans in Vietnam, their racist immigration laws, their whole dismal performance of fumbling through one crisis after another.

If this is remembered by Callaghan, he will be weighing up several factors, hoping that if Wilson did make a mistake he will not make it again. Some of the more recent by-election results may have given him some hope that, punch-drunk though they may be, Labour voters still have enough strength to bounce back off the ropes.

Then there are the official statistics, which regularly jerk out of the Treasury, the Department of Employment and so on, which are supposed to tell us how British capitalism is doing compared to its rivals. We have already mentioned the trading figures; there are others which tell how many of us are queueing up for dole money, how much we are paying in the shop for the necessities of life, how successful the government has been in its efforts to hold down our wages, by how much they have inflated the currency.

Workers are usually impressed by these figures, regarding them as something like the temperature chart at the end of a patient’s bed, except that the illness is in this case treated as if it were the patient’s own fault. But if Callaghan also thinks they are important, he is at once faced with a problem; he is dealing with the unpredictable.

No government is able to foretell the prosperity or the failure of its industries. They may guess and perhaps sometimes be right — which will allow them to claim special powers — but it all rests upon the market, which itself is anarchic and uncontrollable. Of course, when a government is able to publish figures which are seen as hopeful — falling unemployment or lower prices for example — Chancellors are quick to claim credit for them. It is only when the statistics tell a different story — when the jobless are increasing or prices spiraling — that governments take refuge in the excuse that they have been hit by the equivalent of a snowstorm in August.

But if the markets — which means the economy — of capitalism were controllable and could be predicted then most of capitalism’s problems would not exist. It would also mean that a lot of economic experts — perhaps even a Chancellor of the Exchequer or two — would be redundant, which many people might consider a small price to pay for such relief.

Meanwhile, as he is wrestling with the unpredictability of capitalism, the Prime Minister must also be keeping an eye on his calendar, aware that we are approaching the conference season. These events can sometimes be useful propaganda exercises to a party anxious to hide its record (although the miners’ conference, with its threat of a repeat of the 1973 confrontation with the Heath government was, at face value, anything but reassuring to the Labour government). There was a time when members of the Labour Party may have thought that their party conference mattered and that if they took policy decisions there they would be written into a Labour government’s programme.

There could be no other explanation for all the effort which went into those conferences, which voted for unilateral nuclear disarmament, or Clause Four, or for something equally unrealistic. But after the celebration of their victory in the vote, the delegates were confronted with the fact — by Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson — that Labour governments run capitalism as it has to be run — in the interests of the ruling class — and that this would not be affected by woolly minded resolutions from over excited delegates. In the practical world of capitalist government promise is one thing; performance is another.

There have been many such examples of Labour conferences being an embarrassment to their leaders in the hunt for votes. Callaghan will be hoping that there will be no repetition this year (he is, after all, acting with considerable dispatch in the matter of Labour campaigning for the abolition of hunting, not on the grounds that he hates foxes but that such a proposal is likely to lose Labour votes in crucial seats) and that the party will be able to hold a rousing event glittering with promises for the future. He may gain inspiration from the performance of Harold Wilson, at his first conference as leader in 1963, when he dazzled the assembly with his talk about the good life waiting for us in the technological revolution. It quite made the conference forget Labour’s record in office, their electoral humiliations and their internal disputes.

The Tories need have no fear on this score since their conferences are, almost without exception, hearty affairs with one leader after another stepping up to enthuse the faithful and to pretend that the microdot differences between them and the Labour Party are worth getting passionate about. Rarely is the boat rocked; everyone is given an ovation because the Tories love to clap and cheer. It is almost as if, after a long muscle-wasting illness, they have been advised by their doctors to get a little exercise about the hands and forearms.

While Callaghan is musing on these factors, timing his effort like a jockey waiting for the right moment to run for the winning post, few people are likely to be asking why he is so concerned. The simple answer, that Labour is hoping to get some advantage in terms of votes if they get the timing right, does not go far enough. After all, if Labour government is so good for us, should there not be millions of grateful workers ready to vote for another dose of it, no matter when the election happens?

We might do well to approach this question from another angle. The importance attached to the timing of an election implies that the voters will change their minds over a very short period (in the case of 1970, the argument runs, over just a few days) in response to some event or piece of information. Now what sort of influence is needed, to bring such a change about? We have already seen that the trade figures are supposed to have that effect. Another might be a political event — Powell’s advice, in 1974, to vote Labour is one. Another was the sudden change in the Russian leadership in 1964, which came during the general elections here and which had Wilson worriedly claiming to know Kosygin well and to be able to talk to him man to man. What could be more appealing, to a working class concerned that their masters’ interests should be adequately represented in the conference chamber?

Which brings us to the crucial point. Accepting that votes are influenced by the timing of an election, what sort of vote is it which acts in that way? What level of consciousness does it suggest, behind the swinging vote? A worker who is impressed by a set of figures about capitalism’s trade, or by a change in the dictatorship in another capitalist power, sufficiently to change his vote is clearly not about to use that vote to its full power; he is not about to use it to overthrow capitalism. He is voting in ignorance of his class standing, his exploitation and of the essentially anarchic and inhuman operation of capitalist society.

In that political ignorance he is open to any persuasion. He will vote Labour because his dad always did, or Conservative because he has moved to a semi in the suburbs. He will experience, and grow angry and frustrated under, the pressures of capitalism and he may change from one capitalist party to another in desperation that each cannot possibly be worse than the other. A kitten chases its tail to better effect.

A voter who thinks like that may well be susceptible to the skills of timing, which are supposed to be part of the top politician’s essential equipment. If there are enough such voters it may be worth Callaghan’s while to fix polling day so that it might bring in a bigger vote for Labour. But what is the end of it all? Such an appeal is to the politically unconscious; it is a deception, an invitation to trust blindly in leadership when all the evidence is that this is futility. As long as this attitude holds sway, capitalism will continue with its problems, its degradations and its repressed and frustrated workers.

There is at present little attraction for the working class in the appeal to reach out for something better, for an understanding of capitalism and of what it does to us all, of the cynicism of its politics. When the political parties of capitalism set out to manipulate the voters—with promises, flattery or the strategy of timing — they are expressing a contempt for the workers which, sadly, may be somewhere near realistic. The working class should resent this and determine to act for themselves. And this resolution should get through to Callaghan and his like so that in their preoccupation with fixing a date when we are to vote they begin to hear a far disturbance, and know that the bell is beginning to toll for them and for all they represent.

State capitalism and the Russian dissidents (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to Andrei Sakharov, a leading Russian dissident, the view that Russia is state capitalist is fairly widespread there:
In my opinion, contemporary Soviet society can be concisely characterised as a society based on state capitalism; that is, a system differing from contemporary capitalism of the Western type by virtue of complete nationalization, a Party-State monopoly of economic affairs—and therefore in culture, ideology, and other basic aspects of life. This opinion is apparently shared by a great many people abroad and in the USSR—although in most cases the latter of course do not voice it (My Country and the World, p. 14)
To call Russia state capitalist is to reject the claim of the Russian leaders to have established a classless egalitarian society. That there is no social equality in Russia is evident to any impartial observer. Even a superficial glance at Russian society will reveal that the mass of the people are poor and at the same time have no say whatsoever in the way society is run. On the other hand, the group which does take the key economic and political decisions can be seen to enjoy considerable material privileges too. The term “state capitalism” however conveys not only that a situation of social inequality exists in Russia but also that the society has a definite class structure and, like capitalism everywhere else, is based on the exploitation of the working class.

The Soviet oppositionists do in fact give us a fairly detailed picture of the class structure of Russia. In 1969 there appeared a samizdat document Time Does Not Wait written by two authors using the pseudonyms Zorin and Alexeyev. Here we read:
The Party and government leaders not only possess total political power but also have at their disposal the entire economy. State ownership of the means of production and the centralized planning system mean that all the budget figures, all the surplus products created by the people’s labour, are disposed of collectively by a closed circle of people, according to each one’s rank. Here the nomenclature appears as a form of property. In reality this is a single state-monopoly trust in which positions and posts are equivalent to the ownership of shares, (translated for the Socialist Standard by C. S.)
So the ruling class is here seen as the select group wielding, on the basis of the State monopoly of the means of production, complete economic and political power and is identified with the “nomenclatura” which is thus a legally-recognised hierarchical corporation collectively exploiting the surplus labour of the Russian people.

The “nomenclatura” is a list of posts, appointment to which is the prerogative of the Party. All the leading posts in national and local government figure in the “nomenclatura” and nearly all are filled by members of the Party. The “nomenclatura”, then, in so far as it is a list of posts the ruling Party itself considers it should fill in order to maintain its control is a reasonable enough starting point for defining the Russian ruling class. We say starting point because there are others not strictly in the “nomenclatura” who would also need to be considered part of any ruling class; the full-time bureaucracy of the Party itself for instance.

Andrei Sakharov himself, in his rather naive first public pronouncement in 1968 of his differences with the Russian government entitled Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, made a passing reference in a footnote to the view that the “nomenclatura” constituted a ruling, exploiting class enjoying material privileges:
It is sometimes suggested in the literature that the political manifestations of Stalinism represented a sort of superstructure over the economic basis of an anti-Leninist pseudo-socialism that led to the formation of a distinct class—the bureaucratic élite of those who figure on the nomeclatura lists and who appropriate the fruits of social labour by means of a whole series of officially recognised or concealed privileges (Sakharov Speaks, p. 84, changed on basis of French version)
By 1975, Sakharov, without doubt because of his experiences during the intervening period, had come to fully accept this view himself. By then he realised that he was fighting not just to change the policy of the government but against an entrenched ruling class determined to defend its power and privileges. In his book My Country and the World he writes:
Although the appropriate sociological studies either have not been carried out in our country, or have been classified as secret, it may be affirmed that as early as the 1920’s and 30’s — and definitively in post-war years—a special Party-bureaucratic stratum was formed and could be discerned. This is the nomenclatura, as its members call themselves; or the “new class”, as Milovan Djilas has named them. This élite has its own life style, its own clearly defined social status—"bosses” and "chiefs”—and its own way of talking and thinking. The nomenclatura has in fact an inalienable status, and has recently become hereditary. Thanks to a complex system of covert and overt official privileges, along with contacts, acquaintanceships, and mutual favours—and also thanks to their high salaries—these people are able to live in much better housing, and to feed and clothe themselves better (often for less money in special ‘closed’ stores or for currency certificates, or by means of trips abroad—which, under Soviet conditions, constitute the highest award for loyalty) (pp. 25-6)
Sakharov had first used the actual term “state capitalism” to describe Russia in an interview given to a Swedish radio and television correspondent in July 1973 (see Sakharov Speaks, p. 167).

One of the weaknesses of Sakharov’s analysis and that of Zorin and Alexeyev is the way they seek to show that the “nomenclatura’s” rights are legally-based and hereditary. Both Sakharov and Zorin and Alexeyev state that the “nomenclatura’s” right to a privileged situation is “inalienable” and Sakharov adds that it “has recently become hereditary”. What they have in mind is clear: a member of the “nomenclatura” who ends up on the losing side in an internal party controversy may lose his top Party or government post but he will not be thrown out of the “nomenclatura”. The members of the “anti-party group” of die-hard Stalinists (Molotov, Malenkov, Bulganin and Kaganovich) ejected from power in 1956 were all given other, though comparatively minor, posts in the “nomenclatura” and Khrushchev died a wealthy man in his own private dacha. In describing the “nomenclatura” as hereditary Sakharov no doubt has in mind the fact that children of members of the “nomenclatura” can enter, and have been entering, its ranks without any difficulty and almost automatically.

No doubt both these facts are true, but to include them as key features of the Russian ruling class is to accept a legalistic rather than a sociological definition of class and to lay yourself open to the criticism that the individual member of the "nomenclatura’s” position and privileges are not in fact legally enforceable. From a legalistic point of view, such a criticism has some validity. The members of the “nomenclatura” have no legally-recognised and legally-enforceable right either to a post in its ranks or to transmit such a post to their children. Their position may in practice be virtually permanent and it may in practice always be possible for them to get their children a post in the “nomenclatura”, but if, for some reason, they were thrown out of the “nomenclatura” or if their children were refused entry into its ranks they could not have recourse to the courts to enforce their claim.

The legalistic definition of class suggests that, to constitute a possessing class, a group must have legal property rights over the means of production including the legal right to bequeath their property to their descendants. But this is not so. Marx’s method was to judge a society not by its political or legal superstructure but by its real social relations of production. A possessing class in the Marxist sense can be discerned in any society if an empirical investigation reveals that a distinct and reasonably stable group exerts a de facto monopoly control over access to the use of the means of production. This monopoly will always (except in periods of revolutionary social change) be backed by political power and may also be legally recognised, but this latter is by no means essential. The absence of legal recognition would not negate the existence of a possessing class.

On this definition, a ruling, possessing class, as a group exerting a de facto monopoly over the means of production, has long existed in Russia. This does not mean, however, that a class of individual private property owners might not still evolve, either from the ranks of the bureaucracy or from the at present severely restricted illegal and semi-legal private entrepreneurs of Russia.

State capitalism and private capitalism
None of the Soviet oppositionists are Socialists in the Marxist sense of the term (they do not stand for the establishment of a moneyless, wageless, Stateless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole community). So what do they stand for? What do they wish to see established in Russia in place of state capitalism?

Their key demand is for the establishment of a genuine political democracy in Russia with freedom of expression, freedom to organise in political parties and trade unions, a democratically elected parliament, etc. There can be no doubt at all that they are sincerely and courageously struggling for this aim. But since politics and economics cannot be separated it is pertinent to ask what sort of economic system they envisage, even if by default, for a democratic Russia.

Here it is hard to resist the conclusion that many of those who speak of “state-monopoly capitalism”, including Sakharov himself, are more opposed to "state-monopoly” than to “capitalism”. In a sense this is understandable in that what they are fighting against day by day is the monopoly exercised by the State in the fields of politics and ideas—the dictatorship of the leaders of the CPSU—while the term “capitalism” is not properly understood and is being used as a term to express their rejection of the claim of the CPSU leaders to have established a classless society in Russia.

However, class society in Russia has certain features in common with pre-capitalist class societies in that the privileges of the rulers—even though they derive in the end from a monopoly over the means of production—are expressed in political terms. Thus, just as in feudalism society was divided into legally-defined estates, so in Russia today society appears to be divided according to political criteria: into those in the top and middle ranks of the CPSU who, by virtue of their political status, enjoy access to the top jobs (through the “nomenclatura” system) and to the best goods and services (through exclusive shops and politically-motivated “prizes” as well as through high salaries), and into the rest of society.

This special feature of the Russian class structure has given rise to the illusion that the mere abolition of the political monopoly of the CPSU of the “nomenclatura”, of the exclusive shops and other perks would be equivalent to abolishing class privilege in Russia. But this would no more be the case than the abolition of feudal privileges established a classless society in Western Europe, as imagined by 19th century democrats.

What the abolition of these politically-derived privileges would do would be to leave no class distinction but the ownership (or non-ownership) of wealth. This is the grain of truth in the claim made by the CPSU leaders that what their opponents seek is the “restoration of capitalism” in Russia. "Restoration” is of course the wrong word since it suggests that capitalism was at one time abolished in Russia (which was never the case), but it is still true that in practice what the Russian dissidents would achieve if successful would be a transition from the existing “bureaucratic” or “state-monopoly” capitalism to a type of capitalism similar to what has emerged in the West.

Such a transition would not need to involve the complete denationalization of land and industry in Russia For, after all, a large proportion of industry in Western countries is now in the hands of the State. There is, however, a difference between Western state capitalism and Russian state capitalism in that in the West the State sector is subordinate to the private sector, whereas in Russia the state sector, the source of power and privilege for the political bureaucracy which controls it, completely dominates (but has not entirely suppressed) the private sector. The establishment of democratic political institutions in Russia would create the same sort of relationship between the private and State sectors as currently exists in the West: the nationalised industries would be run in the interests of a political bureaucracy.

But what is, or would be, the Russian private sector? There already exist in Russia today many people who are individually wealthy. Not so much those who have made money out of illegal or semi-legal private enterprise, but mainly those who. after years of privilege deriving from membership of a corporation which collectively owns and controls the means of production have amassed considerable fortunes and become wealthy individuals in their own right. But there is no legal way in which they can invest this wealth productively so it is generally hoarded in the form of dachas, precious metals and art collections. The partial denationalization of industry proposed by Sakharov in My Country and the World, as a means of weakening the “state monopoly” would provide such an outlet. For who does Sakharov think would have the money to buy the factories he proposes should be sold off? The only people who could are bureaucrats who have become individually wealthy — and others, we might add without being unfair, like Sakharov himself who became so by providing special services to the political bureaucracy in the scientific or artistic fields.

So, ironic as it might seem, the main beneficiaries of the democratic programme proposed by the Russian oppositionists would most probably be a section of the very bureaucrats they are so courageously struggling against. Which is why other dissidents like Roy Medvedev may not be entirely mistaken in expecting democratic reform in Russia to come from above, from a section of the bureaucracy itself.

This, then, is the ambiguous position of those in Russia who recognise the system there to be a state capitalism. Not being socialists, the only alternative they can offer—even if they don’t always do so explicitly—is private capitalism. The Russian oppositionists’ fight for political democracy is in effect a fight against state capitalism on behalf of private capitalism. Which is why we, as Socialists, cannot support them.
Adam Buick

Diary of a Capitalist (1978)

The Diary of a Capitalist column from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard


I came to stay at Claridge’s recently, during the strike by some of its staff, to demonstrate my solidarity with the hotel’s owners. The rooms cost from £38.50 a night upwards (Times, 11.4.78 and 15.4.78), so it was not a cheap gesture. In contrast, a London waiter’s pay had just been increased to £30.27 for a forty-hour week. The take-home pay of a Claridge’s chambermaid on the picket line was, after various deductions, £23 a week. The strikers had come out for two things: recognition of their union, and the re-instatement of their shop steward, who had been sacked — victimized, according to the strikers.

As often happens in these affairs, the strikers went back empty-handed (Times, 25.4.78). The shop steward later accepted compensation from Claridge’s, but he stayed sacked, as the hotel had insisted he would. We capitalists get the best of both worlds. The hotel-workers, like the firemen, the Grunwick employees, and many more, were beaten into submission; and at the same time many workers remain entirely convinced (by the press and television) of the ungovernable power of the unions, which can therefore be blamed for the miseries of their lives.


It is absolutely essential for us that the working class do not discover what Socialism really is. In this we are much helped by the left-wing parties—the Labour Party, the Communist Party, the various Trotskyist groups—who allege that certain capitalist countries such as Britain, Russia, China, or others, are really Socialist, or could easily become so with a few more reforms. These allegations are naturally made much of by avowedly capitalist-supporting media-men. Peregrine Worsthorne had an article in the Sunday Telegraph (2.4.78) in which he commented sarcastically on James Callaghan’s stay at the British Embassy in Washington, being waited on by servants and taken round in chauffeur-driven cars. The article was called The Splendours of Socialism — in reality a completely irrelevant title, but an effective piece of propaganda — and the article went on with attacks on state capitalism (labelled “Socialism”), of which Russia and what he called the “Communist countries” were given as dreadful examples.

Worsthorne made another good propaganda point, alleging that Callaghan was living it up in a way that “no British capitalist, however successful, could hope to emulate” (who does he think stays at Claridge’s?) Thus the workers who read the paper are assured that the capitalists are not really very well off. Well done, Worsthorne!


With my business interests I need a pied-à-terre in town, and for the last couple of months I have been paying £500 a week rent for a furnished flat in central London—really luxurious ones bring up to £1000 a week (Times, 5.6.78 and Observer, 11.6.78). However, I have decided to get somewhere more permanent. I think 1 will go after a house in St. John’s Wood: it’s a nice size, with five bedrooms and two bathrooms, and is offered at £475,000 (Times, 9.6.78). At a modest price like that, not even half a million, of course it’s not freehold: the lease is fifty-seven years.

I’ve made a start on the furnishings. A pair of George III mahogany commodes was sold by Christie’s for £95,000 to a London dealer “on behalf of a private collector” Daily Telegraph, 16.5.78). They should look well in my new house.


A film starlet recently told a journalist (Sunday Express, 21.5.78) of a discovery she had made while filming The Greek Tycoon. They borrowed a luxury yacht, and she found that “there was a crew of twenty-seven to look after just eight guests. That’s all they can have on board; there are only four guest cabins. Now that’s ridiculous . .” All in all, “I realized for the first time that rich people do live lives quite different from the rest of us.”

Well, yes, my dear, we do. We have more money, you see. Some of us throw it away foolishly. Mrs. Kitty Milinaire, the Duchess of Bedford’s daughter-in-law (who was recently charged with taking away on approval from Cartiers’, the royal jewellers, a gem stone and a couple of rings worth £204,000 and not returning them, but was cleared of any blame after a court case) — Mrs. Milinaire admitted losing £3 million in five years by gambling (Daily Telegraph, 29.6.78).

Even she was slower than Sir Hugh Fraser, the millionaire industrialist, who confessed some time ago to losing one and a half million pounds on the roulette tables “in the last year or two” (Times, 8.12.76). That’s throwing away about £20,000 per week, taking the average week in, week out, for eighteen months. To get through that much he had to play several tables simultaneously, sometimes as many as five, and make his rounds continuously among them.

These, however, are exceptions. And even this money isn’t “lost”: it goes into the hands of other rich people, either fellow gamblers or casino owners.


Poor results have been reported from one of the companies represented in my portfolio of shares. Dunbee, the toy manufacturers, didn’t do as well as expected in 1977, particularly in the last half of the year (Daily Telegraph, 16.5.78). As the joint managing director said, “Christmas didn’t happen last year". (The remark, incidentally, shows a refreshing candour as to what Christmas really amounts to in a commercial society, despite the annual dose of religious propaganda.)

The disappointing sales no doubt resulted from the fall in many people’s purchasing power owing to the failure of after-tax pay to keep pace with prices (City Comment, Daily Telegraph, 16.5.78). That is one of the many dilemmas of our society: we capitalists strain every nerve to keep our workers’ pay down, but at the same time we must bear in mind that they are our customers. It is these contradictions within capitalism which lead to struggles between political policies which take place in every capitalist country (that is, in every country in the world).

After reading the Dunbee report, I had to console myself by arranging a week’s salmon fishing—I took a week on a crack boat on the Tweed, one rod, £1000 a week (Times, 16.5.78).


My old friend Lord Lilford has triumphed in the Court of Appeal. Lord Lifford’s fourth wife, who is now married to her third husband, sued Lord Lilford (who is now married to his fifth wife) for extra provision for their two daughters. When the plaintiff and the defendant got married, Lord Lilford “made financial provision for her former husband and her two children by that marriage” (Sun, 13.5.78). When they were divorced, Lord Lilford gave his ex-wife at least £200,000 in money and properly and shares, and also handed over £30,000 for each girl’s education, plus £1812 a year each until they were eighteen. The girls’ mother thought that that was not enough, and sued the baron for another £25,000 for each girl. She won in the High Court, but Lord Lilford’s appeal has now been upheld. The former Lady Lilford said after the case: “I think he should feel very proud of himself over the trifling sum of £25,000 for each of the girls out of his untold millions.”

But it’s the principle of the thing that counts (or, as you might say, the principal—and the interest). £50,000 is neither here nor there to people like Lord Lilford and me, but you have to draw the line somewhere.


Went shopping in the West End. Bought rather a nice little book about the various New Zealand Rugby touring teams, for my nephew, who is keen on the game. It cost £200 (Times, 12.4.78). I met my girl friend, and 1 bought her a straw hat for £68 (Times, 25.5.78), and a pair of silk pyjamas, £200 (Eastern Daily Press, 16.6.78).

Have just booked for a three-months’ cruise with the QE2 later this year. In April 900 passengers landed from a three-month Far Eastern cruise, for which they paid charges ranging from £5000 to £100,000 (and that’s apart from their spending money on the trip). They included 150 “well-heeled English gentlefolk” (Observer, 23.4.78).

Capitalism is run, naturally, for the benefit of the capitalists, but that fact must be concealed as far as possible. Thus, while some capitalists go on fantastically expensive holidays, their journalistic apologists like Worsthorne continue the task of persuading the rest of the population that no British capitalist could afford even a chauffeur- driven car.

If we members of the ruling class did not have such a vast propaganda organization working for us, how long, I wonder, would our system last?
Alwyn Edgar

SALT in the wounds (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the post-war struggle between East and West to establish spheres of economic and political influence, global networks of alliances have been sealed with aid in the form of arms and supportive technology. The foreign policies of the two major powers have been essentially nothing more than preparations for war. While direct confrontation has been avoided, opportunities to test the kill-effectiveness of their respective arsenals have not been lacking. The first thirty years of the United Nations saw 119 wars waged on the territories of 69 countries, involving 81 states, with a total duration of conflict exceeding 350 years and at a cost of tens of millions of casualties. The invitation of nominally independent, but in fact puppet, governments has been invoked to justify the presence of American and Russian armed forces in the Third World. An increase in the number of wars fought by proxy on foreign soil and the spread and strengthening of capitalism through nationalist movements and new states are responsible for the huge increase in conventional armament expenditure in the last decade.

Seventy million men and women are now fully engaged, directly or indirectly, in capitalism’s military programmes. Spending on ‘defence’, including research and development, has trebled in real terms since 1948 and now accounts for more than 7 per cent, of total world output, a figure representing the combined incomes of almost half the world’s population. No sharp contrast is evident between the general conditions of the Cold War and Detente eras; in fact, as far as actual war is concerned the latter is the more violent. The major powers have nevertheless gone to some trouble to ensure a truly lasting world peace. We have witnessed a considerably more polite use of diplomatic language and the number of nuclear weapons rise to 40,000, a figure exceeding the level of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). With fire strength increased a millionfold since ‘Little Boy’ fell on Hiroshima, present stockpiles are sufficient to annihilate the total world population a little over 690 times.

It was against this background that in June a United Nations Special Session on Disarmament was convened in New York (a monastic gathering to chat about the sanctity of life) and NATO heads of state at a Washington summit decided upon substantial military reinforcement in Europe.

The Big X-Ray
In April and May tentative agreement was reached in Moscow on the terms of the second SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) treaty intended for signature next winter. We can safely state that its concern will not be with reduction of nuclear weapons, but the setting out of marginal differences in their increase. According to a spokesman from Washington’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency the treaty ‘will not prevent the United States from doing anything that it would otherwise have wanted to do’ (Guardian, 28 April); the quantity of nuclear warheads ‘permitted’ by 1985 will be at least double that of 1974. On 8 May, when nobody was looking, the two sides adjourned indefinitely quite separate talks in Geneva on banning radiological and mass destruction weapons.

Seven thousand nuclear warheads are deployed in Western Europe and half that number, but with considerably higher yields, behind the Iron Curtain. The strategy of massive nuclear retaliation has fallen out of favour as the capabilities of both sides have increased and underground and submarine based delivery systems introduced. United States policy in the event of a (much discussed) Warsaw Pact blitzkrieg is that attempts should be made to restrict the war to Europe, using tactical nuclear weapons (‘the theatre nuclear rung of NATOs ladder of flexible response by controlled escalation’ as the military would put it — or calculated genocide in English). The concept of ‘limited’ war, with homelands as sanctuaries and Europe as the graveyard, has not surprisingly found little support among political victims. This scenario has been played out in five NATO nuclear war games in the last two years, with victory being secured at the expense of Europe and the copyright sold to Waddington’s.

In 1977 American military strategists, concerned at the increased ground attack capability of Eastern block forces and inspired by the President’s Human Rights campaign, enthusiastically adopted the neutron bomb. What endeared the device to them was its ‘increased kill capability, principally against personnel’ (US Defence Department spokesman) and relative sparing of property. Radiation emitted on impact would penetrate the armour of advancing tanks and kill cleanly those within a mile radius; after the crumbling off the skin, several days of spontaneous internal bleeding would be faced before death. The weapon could wipe out Russian armoured divisions in St. Peter’s Square without harming the Pope or damaging the Sistine chapel. Thus, not only would Christian civilisation survive, but the clearing away of bodies rather than the rubble of cities would mean significant savings. In short, a really effective labour killing and labour saving device. The diplomatic heat generated by the warhead’s proposed deployment led however to its temporary shelving; in June the United States Senate authorised procurement of components for its manufacture in 1979.

American capitalism’s investment has in the past few decades been increasingly transferred to ‘developed’ regions rather than raw material and extractive operations. Its vast investment in European industries, unsuccessful military intervention in Vietnam, and concern at the modernisation and expansion of Warsaw Pact forces (they are unsportingly weakening ‘NATOs historic qualitative advantage’) explain the desire to re-establish military credibility. At NATOs summit meeting members of the alliance agreed on an eighty million dollar increase in military spending for 1979 and outlined plans to bolster the morale of combat troops and patch up the southern flank. Calls were made to expand NATOs traditional military role, particularly to include Africa, where super power involvement is naturally discussed in terms of ideology rather than economic interest. On occasion however the military is liable to express clearly capitalism’s priorities, and in the week of the summit the last chairman of NATOs Military Committee stated:
The Allies are united in their detestation of the South African Government . . . but . . . South Africa produces three quarters of the West’s gold, she has three quarters of the world’s known reserves of chrome and is second only to the Soviet Union in its production, she has a similar share in industrial diamonds, and is second only to the United States in the production of uranium. All these undeniable facts make it mandatory for the Alliance to devise adequate defence of the Cape.
(Sir Peter Hill-Norton No Soft Options: the Politico-Military Realities of NATO)
Standardisation of arms equipment was also on the summit agenda, providing an example of possible conflicts of interest within the western capitalist class. Although its need is generally accepted, standardisation could mean a loss of home development and production programmes by some countries, leading to a loss of technological expertise and profits from arms exports.

Meanwhile, back at the UN Disarmament Session the main Soviet speaker Gromyko was radiating goodness and light, calling for an end to the production of nuclear weapons and the complete destruction of nuclear stockpiles. President Carter sent film actor Paul Newman along, John Wayne being indisposed. Those awake were treated to a brief repetition of the Soviet government’s views on unpleasant wars and cruel weapons of mass destruction; they very much favour old fashioned mass destruction and humane devices like their own chemical warheads.

The peculiarities of the Soviet language were further illustrated in two recent documents. In a letter sent to President Carter by Russian scientists, we read that "for the first time in human history, favourable conditions have been created for concerted international measures to curb the arms race” and learn of a “disarmament campaign which progressive forces around the world have been waging for years” (Soviet Weekly, 25 March). The architect of the Russian Navy, Admiral Gorschkov puts it in a slightly different way however:
Soviet naval power, merely a minor defensive arm in 1953, has become the optimum means to defeat the imperialist enemy, and the most important element in the Soviet arsenal to prepare the way for a communised world.
(The Sea Power of the State, Moscow 1977)
This confusion of peace with war is not an easy mistake to make. The Soviet Union has 87 strategic nuclear powered and 286 conventional submarines, with an armoury of 845 nuclear missiles. They have not been sitting back contemplating their naval strength either. The tank force has increased from 47,000 to 60,000 in ten years, 4,600 combat planes are deployed on the Eastern front lines and 3.67 million people are under arms or engaged in support activities. The Soviets are also planning a new intercontinental missile family for the late 1980s.

The recognition that war may be suicide does not affect the drive towards a new world war. To argue, as would the liberal, that arms production and trade arc a cancer on the body politic is to misunderstand the nature of society. Militarism is a natural growth of capitalism. Armament expenditure offers the liberal a convenient explanation of world poverty; the transfer of ‘scare resources’ and money to areas of need is viewed as simply a question of will. In fact under capitalism war is the extension and consequence of underlying international conflict in trade and other spheres, and for the ruling class arms are essential for the maintenance of their privileged position and defence of their interests against rival states. Indeed in some cases, greater economic aid could result in radical changes in the economic and social structure of developing nations and so lead to the overthrow of political alliances favourable to the superpowers.

There is evidence of a strong association between high military spending, high rates of industrial growth and foreign dependence. The rise of weapons system armies coincides with the beginning of industrialisation and the need to create or preserve a social structure in which economic expansion can take place. The overwhelming part of aid received by underdeveloped nations consists of military assistance. Although Third World defence industries are growing in size and becoming more widespread, international trade in arms remains the chief source of major weapons. America and the Soviet Union have captured, respectively, 38 per cent. and 34 per cent. of the conventional arms market, with Britain and France bringing up the rear. In the Middle East, with its resources vital for the economic expansion of the major powers, arms spending has now increased at an annual rate of 22 per cent. since 1965, compared with 15 per cent. in Asia and Africa. Iran has one of the world’s most sophisticated defence systems and in May signed a protocol with the British Government which could lead to the latter’s biggest ever arms contract — £750 million.

Force has played an essential role in the process of economic and social change throughout history, the particular form of force reflecting its social setting. Whereas formerly the weapon was the instrument of the soldier, the soldier now appears to be the instrument of the weapons system, reflecting the importance of machines in society as a whole and minimising the possibility of individual action. Developments in electronics are rapidly rendering weapons platforms, aircraft carriers and tanks vulnerable and completely depersonalising the killing between enemies at war.

The barbarism of the Twentieth century cannot be explained in terms of conflicting ideologies of malevolent leaders and nothing is more fallacious than the idea that increases in knowledge and the progress of what is called civilisation bring with them increased social harmony. The sterility and waste of capitalism are laid bare in its wars — men fall in their millions that shares might rise.
Melvin Tenner

SPGB Meetings (1978)

Party News from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard