Saturday, September 17, 2022

Twenty Years On ! (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live in times of revolutionary change. The Second World War predicted by Socialists is now three years old. The tank, the bomber and the long-range submarine are re-drafting the political map of the world. Colossal forces, employing war engines that would have amazed Jules Verne himself, are deciding which group are to control the world’s wealth.

World-famous organisations have been swept into limbo. Dictators have appeared as heaven-sent “leaders” of war-like nations. Politicians, statesmen of long standing, have performed miracles of agility. One-time conscientious objectors become Ministers of Home Security. Strike leaders, Ministers of Labour; leaders of “Socialist Leagues,” who desired to utilise war time to “overthrow capitalism,” Deputy Prime Ministers.

Overnight, when Russia was drawn in, “the enigma, wrapped in mystery” became a “brave and noble ally.” Now Communism (so-called) so far from making a nation “abject and miserable in peace and beaten and humiliated in war,” is the explanation of the Red Army’s courage.

Oh ! unhappy politicians ! who sent a hundred thousand uniforms and greatcoats as well as arms, ammunition and guns, tanks and aeroplanes to Finland for use against Russia in 1940. Oh! unfortunate Sir Walter ! who proved how much superior Finnish democracy is to Russian dictatorship in his “My Finnish Diary.” With what alacrity they have run the Red Flag of Russia up on public buildings (except the Bank of England).

The Socialist, who keeps a cool head and sticks to plain facts, is hotly denounced by Communists. Large numbers of workers, knowing little about the subject, feel the effects of twenty years’ propaganda of “Socialism” in Russia. Once again the Communist Party is able to delude a fair number of temporary dupes, on the grounds that second fronts may speedily terminate the war, and usher in some social improvements. For this is now, they say, a war between Socialist Workers’ Russia and Capitalist Fascist Germany.

How utterly different this is from every anticipation of all Communists of the past, from Lenin downwards, is quite unknown to these latter-day converts.

Still further proof of the complete correctness of the Socialist Party’s stand on the Russian upheaval, its definition of the Russian system, and the present impossibility of Socialism there, is supplied by one of the best-known ex-Communist leaders, Mr. J. T. Murphy, in his autobiographical account of some twenty years’ activity, fifteen of which were spent as a Communist International official.—(“New Horizons.”)

Amid the reams of paper, gallons of ink, and tons of lead used in printing thousands of books on Russia, the short, plain, straight statements appearing in the Socialist Standard in 1918, 1919, and especially in 1920, stand out like the proverbial searchlight, casting a brilliant beam through a cloud of murky confusion.

More astounding still, twenty-two years later, when each and every party has performed a somersault, the Socialist Party statement does not require alteration.

The time will surely come when the obscure, self-taught, proletarian contributor to the Socialist Standard, “J.F.”, [Jack Fitzgerald] will receive due recognition for the merit of his remarkable analysis of the Russian revolutionary drama and the realisation of his clear firm anticipations.

Writing in the Socialist Standard for 1920 on the Russian Dictatorship, he declared : —
“This controversy (between Kautsky and Lenin), along with the events that have taken place since it occurred, adds considerable evidence of the correctness of the deduction we drew from the situation in 1918.

In the midst of the special conditions and chaos caused by the war, when the old exploiting regime had broken down and the new exploiting class were too weak to take hold of power, a small but resolute minority seized the political machinery and took control of affairs. The mass of the workers in Russia are not Socialists, neither do they understand the principles of Socialism, nor desire to see Socialism established. . . .

. . . . rule by a minority—even a Marxist minority—is not Socialism. Not until the instruments and methods of production have reached the stage of large machinery and mass organisation is it possible for social production to develop. . . When the workers. . . reach. . . an understanding of their slave position, and decide to supplement social production by social ownership, through the seizure of political power, then, and not till then, will Socialism be established.

The Bolsheviks may try to save as much of their system as possible, but the events will prove the correctness of Marx’s views on the failure of attempts to jump the stages in social evolution. 
Their failure, however, will not be all disaster. They will have shown the workers of the world that the capitalist class is a useless and parasitic class in modern society.— (“Socialist Standard,” July, 1920.)
Did the Bolsheviks base their hopes on a Western rising. Let J. T. Murphy, delegate to the 1920 Congress of the Communist International, testify, writing in 1941 :
“It is as certain as anything can be that the delegates who arrived in Moscow in 1920 were too emotionally overwhelmed to estimate calmly . . . The World Revolution had begun and it would quickly sweep Europe.

Zinoviev concluded his speech in Moscow with these words: ‘I happened to say (a year ago) somewhat enthusiastically that after one year we shall forget there had been a struggle for a Soviet Government. We were over-enthusiastic, indeed it is likely that we shall require two or even three years before the whole of Europe becomes Soviet.'”
Murphy, after explaining the circumstances of the day, goes on : 
“The Russian revolution was victorious but the European revolution was in retreat. These things did not stand out clearly before us. We thought of ourselves as the centre of the revolution which would spread wave on wave. We were playing leap-frog with history and did not know it.”
One may ask whether any party in history has been so absolutely right, when so many others have been completely wrong.

Even to-day, Mr. Murphy, after admitting twenty years of mistakes, still persists in them, and devotes his time to footling antics with “Popular Fronts” and “People’s Fronts,” now so rapidly discredited.

He recounts how, at the Conference of the short-lived “Socialist League” before the war, “Sir Stafford Cripps ‘swept the Conference’ and secured a unanimous vote.”
“He argued that we would have nothing to do with a war led by a capitalist government, and stated that the issue before us was ‘ War or Socialism.’ Our job was first and foremost to get rid of the capitalist government.”
To-day that same Cripps is Deputy Prime Minister of the capitalist government.

The most politically backward elements of the working-class are now pro-Russian. This experience will justify the prophesy of the Socialist Standard in 1920.
“When the workers awaken to an understanding of their class position . . . and begin to fight the class-war consciously in numbers that count, the rule of the Russian Bolsheviks will be a splendid lesson . . . on the ability of the working-class to manage its own affairs. It will have done its share in shortening and lessening the birth-pangs of Socialism.”

A Labour Leader Who Misreads the Signs of the Times (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Periodically we are informed by those who occupy high places and enjoy high incomes that we cannot expect any further sacrifices from the rich; that they have been literally mulct of their vast incomes and reduced almost to poverty. In fact to have an income of over £4,000 a year, after paying tax, is now really unique and unusual; some of us thought that before the war. It is implied by them, that this shows that an equalitarian society is gradually evolving out of present society and that there will be no need to dispossess the capitalists as they, forced by the exigencies of war, are doing it for us.

An enlightening addition to this idea was in the “Forward” of May 16th, Mr. A. Woodburn, M.P., makes the following statement: —
“I mention these matters because I have been impressed recently at meeting with the almost doleful type of propaganda. One would think that there was no story of progress and accomplishment to tell.

When we think that in 1847 Marx’s Communist Manifesto put forward a “revolutionary programme” which in some cases is now entirely achieved and in other cases partly achieved, we begin to realise what has happened in the last century.

We have achieved a “heavily progressive income tax” (up to 19s. 1d. out of every £1 for the very rich) ; “the obligation of all to labour has come with a vengeance.”
How anyone can imagine that the first item is a sign of gain for Socialism passes all understanding. The tax, however heavy, is not a measure directed against the private property institution. It leaves intact the great fortunes and estates of the capitalist class. However much they pay in tax for the time being, it still remains a basic feature of society that they derive their incomes from their ownership of the means of living. Clearly as it leaves the basis of society untouched, it is not a gain for Socialism, neither is it revolutionary.

There were many seemingly drastic changes advocated at that time (1847), including the Chartist struggle and the Trade Union fight for legal recognition. The practical achievement of these aims is not comparable to the tremendous economic change that Socialism implies.

As a counter to Mr. Woodburn, let us look at society as it is. It still rests on the basis of capitalist private ownership. A small section of society own the lands, factories and machines for producing wealth, and are able by this ownership to live without working. The workers who possess nothing but their energy are forced to sell themselves piecemeal to the capitalists for wages. Each day they produce goods of all descriptions which belong to their masters, who desire neither to consume these goods nor keep them, only to sell them. Failure to sell generally means that the workers are thrown on the streets to search for alternative employment. At this point we can see the ultimate value of the “obligation to labour” that Woodburn proudly exhibits as a gain.

It is true that in a Socialist society all able-bodied people would be expected to do their share of the necessary work of society, but this has no relation to the present enforced labour laws. Because war on such a gigantic scale can be won only by the concentrated effort of the whole of society, the Industrial Reserve Army of nearly 2,000,000 has been absorbed in the production of useful armaments. There is no guarantee that they will have work at the end of the war. The “Economist” (2/5/42) briefly summarised toe Unemployment Insurance Committee’s report for 1941 and contained the following :
“Since no measures have been announced for the prevention of an unpredictable increase in unemployment after the war, there is at present no basis for calculating the expenditure which the fund may be liable to meet.”
The “Economist” suggested that by planned demobilisation” it should be possible “to maintain employment far more successfully than after the last war.” Even were this true it ignores the fact that many representatives of the ruling class have shown that they do not want state control or interference and that what they want is the free play of economic forces. Mr. Harcourt Johnstone stated at Bristol last year—
“We shall have to increase our export trade by £50,000,000 a year. . . . That will involve a tremendous effort. Competition will have been increased in many directions. … It is no part of the Government’s policy to promote an artificially high level of costs in this country as against our export competitors.” (“Daily Herald,” November 24th, 1941.)
In this struggle for markets the need for cheap production will be greater than ever, and more machinery will be installed of a labour-saving nature, thus cheapening goods produced but throwing many workers on the labour market. There will not be any labour laws then forcing all to work; in fact, we may again read of miners sent to prison for working mines that do not belong to them (“Barnsley Chronicle,” September 14th, 1935). We shall probably count the unemployed in millions again and our masters will count their wealth in millions.

Because we state these facts, does this mean that our propaganda is doleful or pessimistic. No, it means that we realise that the economic laws running through society, not a few abstract “revolutionary” measures will determine what kind of a world will emerge following this conflict. Failing Socialism it will be a world where the capitalist class will be still in control; where the struggle for markets, jobs and an existence will be even more fierce than the days of 1930 to 1939. It cannot be altered by a few ameliorative laws passed in Parliament. They can modify or remedy a few glaring anomalies, but so far as the general trend of events arc concerned the “great” statesmen are helpless. The political somersaults since the beginning of this war show only too clearly how incapable our masters are of discerning the future, even from day to day.

We cannot do that either, but we can and have shown that so long as wealth is produced for profit, certain evils must exist. We have shown that reforms cannot alter the basis of society, but merely remedy some defects of capitalism; they have failed to deal with any major evil such as unemployment, poverty, slums, crises and wars. These were with us 150 years ago, and are still with us to-day. All the reforms and planning that is suggested will not alter that. The “Economist” (May 16th, 1942) neatly put it—
“The point is not that capitalism has collapsed or failed to deliver the goods, as all sorts of planners have wrongly argued. It is rather that, for all its technical successes, unemployment, malnutrition and poverty have remained in evidence.”
This is the candid admission of an authoritative capitalist journal, a realisation that capitalism can produce wealth in great quantities but leaves untouched the widespread distress amongst the population. Wealth is produced fairly easily, but often is destroyed because the markets are incapable of absorbing such quantities. Millions live in want, suffer from malnutrition, exist in unhealthy hovels, despite the massive wealth producing machinery of the present day, because in this society the object is not to produce solely for use but for profit.

However progress is being made in the gradual enlightenment of members of our class, and in the growing political knowledge of the worker. Capitalism will throw up such obvious contradictions that the limited nature of their present-day aims will strike the workers as a strange contrast to the task that they will have to tackle, the establishment of Socialism. This is our message to the workers; study the Socialist case, understand why we stand for social revolution and not reform. Knowing these things you will realise that only through the workers possessing Socialist understanding and gaining political control can Socialism be established and human progress guaranteed.
D. J.

SPGB Meetings (1942)

Party News from the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Editorial: The Ugly Reality of Indian Nationalism (1942)

Editorial from the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received a request to give our support to a joint manifesto in favour of the Indian Nationalist movement, and the following resolution has been sent in reply to it : —
“We are not willing to give our support to a joint manifesto in conjunction with other political parties endorsing the Indian Nationalist movement. As Socialists we are opposed to the exploitation of the toilers either by foreign or native exploiters. As that exploitation can be ended only by the achievement of Socialism, through international working-class action, we are opposed to the Indian Nationalist movement which has capitalist aims and is not deserving of working-class support. We are also not prepared to associate with non-Socialist political parties.”
The Indian population consists of a small wealthy class at the top and a vast mass, numbering over two hundred millions, of poverty stricken workers and peasants at the bottom. If the Nationalist movement becomes successful an indication has already been given of what the mass of the population may expect from native rulers.

When for a short time the Congress Party was in control of the government of Bombay, the home of Indian industrial millionaires, they immediately took the opportunity to introduce a Trades Disputes Bill which made strikes illegal, thus taking away from the worker the only industrial weapon he can use against the exactions of employers. When Indian workers were on strike the real leader of the Congress Party, Gandhi, sided with the employers and forsook his much advertised peaceful persuasion principles to give his blessing to the use of force against workers who engaged in the picketing of factories. In all his agitation in India there has been one constant feature of Gandhi’s position : he has been a friend and supporter of Indian capitalists.

In the industrial centres of India, irrespective of the nationality of those in control of industry, working conditions are deplorable, wages are poor, and unemployment flourishes. This is true where the mill-owners are generally native Indians. Religious differences are exploited by local parasites who turn the worker’s attention from the real source of his misery to religious riots. The fact that British capitalists may also have used these religious differences to further their own ends does not absolve the Indian capitalists from responsibility for the economic conditions out of which the riots spring. The real core of the matter is the exploitation of the Indian workers and peasants.

The Nationalist movement is financed by Indian capitalists and, as only a small percentage of Indians are literate, its prominent officials are either capitalists themselves or intimately connected with the upper strata of wealthy people. As landlords, factory owners, and legislators they have shown they are as determined to live on the backs of the Indian toilers as are the British capitalists whom they wish to eliminate.

It is of no real consequence to the Indian worker whether he toils for the profit of an Indian or a British capitalist concern. His real problem is the fact that the means of production are controlled by a class that forces him to labour and suffer in greater or less degree the miseries suffered by his fellow toilers in other lands.

The present position in India is an indication of the differences that would split Indian society if Indians obtain control of their own affairs. One section there, including the Communists, is supporting the war and another section is opposing it. The different sectional interests of landlords, factory owners and traders will also be a fruitful source of strife. The struggle for markets against Chinese, Japanese and other international interests will add further fuel to the fire. And all the time the Indian worker will toil and suffer, his needs forgotten under the new regime, unless he asserts himself in the only direction that will serve his interests.

Many Indian workers and peasants attribute their miseries to foreign rule rather than to the private ownership of the means of production, but the Indian Nationalist movement will not help the Indian worker to emancipate himself from his subject condition. It draws support from wealthy Indian financiers and manufacturers who inflame national prejudice with the object of climbing upon the backs of the workers to positions of greater wealth and power. Too often have the workers’ aspirations for a better life been diverted into the chase after a national independence which has gained them only a different flag to wave over their misery.

The fact that we are opposed to the Indian Nationalist movement does not mean that we acquiesce in the brutal suppression of which the Indians have been victims. We are opposed to the capitalist system wherever it raises its ugly head, but we know that the solution to the workers’ subjective position under it is the same everywhere.

The only road to salvation for the Indian worker is the road to Socialism, and he must travel along that road in brotherly harmony with the members of his class throughout the world.
Executive Committee, S.P.G.B.