Thursday, October 20, 2022

Mr. Thurtle misfires (1946)

From the October 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Ernest Thurtle, Labour M.P. for Shoreditch, sometime member of the Fabian Society and I.L.P., and sometime belligerent war-supporter turned pacifist turned war supporter, writes a weekly column of pontifical political comment and behind-the-scenes chit-chat for Beaverbrook’s Sunday Express under the title “ Labour Point of View.” On Sunday, September 1st, he wrote the following: —
"Sympathy for the little fellow struggling against the big one is natural, but in the present dispute between the little and big unions of the transport workers common sense appears to be on the side of the big battalion.

Mr. Frank Snelling, the national organiser of the little union, which is fighting so spiritedly, is what is known in Labour circles as an S.P.G.B’er. Decoded, this means a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a strict Marxist sect of microscopic membership.

Because the little party had so few members, who oozed Socialist self-righteousness, the larger movement was wont to refer to them derisively as the Small Party of Good Boys.”
That is all Mr. Thurtle has to say. He gives no facts about the dispute and no reasons why he believes that all the common sense is on one side. He does not mention that the S.P.G.B. has members in the T. & G.W.U. as well as in the N.U.P.W., and it is evident that his sole object in. referring to the dispute was to provide a peg on which to hang the unoriginal remarks about the S.P.G.B.; from which we conclude that his anguished outcry is really due to some of the “microscopic membership” of the S.P.G.B. having got under his skin some time or other.

We thank him for one thing. He concedes that the kind of self-righteousness we ooze is “Socialist”—our complaint about Mr. Thurtle and his party is that Socialism is the last thing they can be self-righteous about.

Nearly all of the remainder of Mr. Thurtle’s column was devoted to a penitent’s lengthy explanation of his own errors.
“Let me confess,” he wrote, "that I, along with other Labour candidates at the General Election, in stressing the importance of good relations with Russia, avowed confidently that a Labour Government would win the co-operation of the Soviet. We believed this. How wrong we were !”
Yet he still cannot see that the capitalist clash of interests is not altered by having British capitalism run by a Labour Government and Russian State capitalism run by a so-called Communist Party. He still Ands the situation ‘‘puzzling.” If he had any Socialism to ooze he would not have believed the nonsense he told the electors. (Incidentally, as he obviously obtained votes under a misapprehension, what about emulating his father-in-law, the late Mr. George Lansbury, and resigning to give the electors a chance to say whether they still want him as their M.P.?)

There are occasions when Mr. Thurtle, in his efforts to coin a telling phrase, tells more of the truth than he ever intended. On April 14th, in his Express article, he congratulated Mr. Dalton on having “achieved another Budget success ” ; but he added the following two-edged remark: —
"His 1946 favours are neither large nor numerous, but they have been distributed with great skill. It needs much knowledge of human nature to be able to please so many with so little." (Our italics.)
That final sentence should be treasured as a fitting emblem of Labour Governments—but it needs to be read alongside another saying; that you can’t fool all the people all the time.
P. S.

SPGB Meetings (1946)

Party News from the October 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Editorial: Beyond the revolution (1979)

Editorial from the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The occasional reference to socialism from the so-called revolutionary left betrays the historical irony that those who now adopt the terminology of socialist revolution are deeply committed to the maxim of the German reformist, Bernstein, that “the goal is nothing, the movement everything”. They care more for movement than for direction; more for growth than for principle; and more for the tactics of struggle than for the nature of victory.

Those who refuse to sacrifice socialist intention for reformist demands are labelled utopian. This universal smear of the left is reserved for those clear-sighted workers who enter the historic battle of the classes because they look forward to the fruits of victory and not the ‘reality’ of repeated defeats.

For them the goal is everything, the movement never more than a means to it. The Socialist Party of Great Britain aims to establish a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. Those who reject that aim are idealists, stumbling among the chaos of capitalism, searching for new brick walls to bang their heads against. A definition of socialism is not a blueprint of how it will be.

It would be extreme arrogance for socialists, in 1979, to devise detailed plans for the lives of emancipated humanity after they have carried out the political act to establish socialism. Like Marx, we are not the designers of a Utopia, but we do not fear prediction and speculation regarding life in a socialist society.

In socialism (under socialism somehow seems to be the wrong means of expression here) a baby will not be destined to accept the label of class. Male or female, black or white, mentally and physically normal or abnormal, it can expect the freedom to develop as a social individual in a world based upon the practice of co-operative equality. The capitalist-style family will not exist, if indeed the family is retained in any form. Certainly there will no longer be imposed sex roles, indoctrination in the name of education, and repression in the name of discipline. Now, a child must learn to become a wage slave — or, if lucky, a supposedly cultured parasite. In socialism children will learn from experience over which they will have control.

No society can operate without work, and neither will socialism. Not employment, which is simply the capitalist word for slavery, but useful, self-imposed, creative work. Production in a socialist society will be for use, not profit; with each member of society giving according to his or her ability and taking according to self-determined needs. There will be no wages as a price for a worker’s labour power, nor money as a barrier to the world’s wealth. Free access will be the basis of wealth distribution.

Without the compulsion of wage labour, men and women — and children, if they are able to — will contribute to the tasks of production and distribution. Work will be transformed by socialism; no more dull conditions, no more master-slave relationships, no more shoddy production of cheap commodities, no more need to do one job for life. The aim of work will be production of the best and the satisfaction of the producer. The latter is an important qualification. There will not be a producer-consumer division in socialism, but satisfactory lifestyles both inside and outside the production process.

Socialist society will be a political and economic democracy. Everyone will own everything', since private property will not exist. Does that mean we shall have the right to take each other’s coats? No: it means that men and women will use what they need, sometimes permanently as in the case of a coat, sometimes temporarily as in the case of a library book. There will be no rights of property. If someone takes another’s coat — either by accident or because they are acting irrationally — then there will be free access to as many new coats as are needed. Economic democracy will mean that decisions about production and distribution will be made socially, either by the whole of society — which would be no problem even today, with current methods of world communication — or by those involved in the processes, if society is prepared to leave the decision to them. We do not aim to replace the present capitalist elite with a new bureaucratic elite. The socialist revolution will be a permanent revolution in the sense that once enacted, people would have to participate in running society.

Free mobility will be available for everyone in a socialist society. Today, workers are born and they die in one country, usually without travelling far out of its borders. No boundaries, nations or provinces will divide socialist society. The world will be one. That is not to say that we aim to create a monolith, devoid of cultural, language and other variations.

Social organisation in socialism will not depend upon governments, leaders or parties. These only exist in class society, where laws are the expression of the ruling class interest. When the socialist working class take power, they will use the law to dismantle capitalism and build socialism. Once that has been done, there will be no laws created by one section of society in order to control another.

Just as there will be no secular laws, so there will be no laws of the phoney creation of primitive man — god. Socialist society will have no need for religions and utopias beyond the grave. What if a minority within socialism want to continue their religious lifestyle? Then they shall be free to do so, and those who want to walk across the Red Sea or jump from a high building without a parachute may do so too.

The morals of socialism will be fashioned by common ownership and free access, and by the sovereignty of democratic decisions. Taboos about sex will be as laughable as taboos about witchcraft are today. To those conditioned by the popular prejudices of capitalism, socialism seems amoral. In truth, it will be a society which will reflect human urges — the imagination and the self-interest of humanity.

Labour's mock battle (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are about to witness yet another Battle for the Soul of the Labour Party, which might be an awe-inspiring spectacle were it not for the fact that the amount of inspiration will be in inverse proportion to the degree of understanding.

Cynics will take hot-blooded part in this Battle, rather like troops who have just swallowed their rum ration before going over the top. They are convinced that it is a significant event which will affect the history of the British working class. Realists will know that it has all happened many times before. The prize in the Battle is less the Soul of the Labour Party (whatever, and wherever, that may be) than its seat, which it wants to restore to the benches of power as quickly as possible. And that, really, is what all the excitement is about; the Battle is being fought only because Labour was defeated at the last election.

The battle lines, as usual, are drawn up left and right, and each side has begun bombarding the other with missiles stuffed like shrapnel with nonsense. From the left comes a pamphlet called Labour Activist, which splutters:
The last Labour government ignored the advice of the trade unions and the party at large, and let the Tories in . . . The only question is whether the unions and the party will be mugs enough to fall for this a second time around.
Obviously there is something wrong with the left’s arithmetic if they think that this is only the first time a Labour government has disappointed its own supporters. However, they show a proper concern, for a party of capitalism, for winning and holding power, and this is shared by their opponents on the right. Sailing over from them, in a pamphlet called Labour Victory, is this:
The Left’s preoccupation is in controlling the Labour Party, it is not in achieving government.
Clearly, since the left and the right have been lobbing grenades like those at each other for a very longtime, there has been small progress in the techniques of manufacturing political ammunition. There is little better to hope for from the ambitious ones, whose main contribution to the Battle will be their bid for the Labour leadership. People like Healey, Benn, Shore, Silkin and Hattersley will be trying to convince their party that they each offer the best hope of misleading enough workers into voting for another dose of Labour government. They have little more to sustain them than unsavoury memories; apart from that, they are a drab lot. Indeed, one of them — Sam Silkin — thinks that becoming unexciting was the big problem with the last government, that it ran out of steam — which makes it sound as if the working class can most easily be induced to vote for capitalism in a state of sweaty hysteria.

There is as much to be said for that point of view as for another which is more popular — the idea that the working class are a stolid, reliable lot who want a new society and are only waiting for the Labour Party to be true to itself before they vote it into power for evermore. Part of that theory is that Labour was once on the right track but has somehow lost its way. Labour Activist, for example, complains about Labour MPs who supported “. . . incomes policies, public spending cuts, or any other policies which fly in the face of the Labour Movement.” Roy Hattersley (The Guardian, 30 July 1979) puts a different slant on this idea when he worries that Labour’s defeat came because “We appealed to the public simply as good managers who could run the economy more efficiently than our opponents.” Hattersley does not complain that there was anything wrong in that appeal, nor that it exposed Labour as an anti-socialist party; only that as tilings turned out, and capitalism’s crises overtook them, they were seen as bad managers of the economy.

Far from having lost their way, the Labour Party have remained steadily on course. For example, soon after they won power in 1964 there was a flurry of anxiety on their part that nobody should take seriously anything they might ever have said about abolishing capitalism. Perhaps, in some unguarded moment at a miners’ gala, one of them had made an unwise statement. The capitalist class needed to be reassured:
Profits, provided they are earned by efficiency and technical progress, and not by restrictive practices or abuse of monopoly, are the sign of a healthy economy. (Douglas Jay, at the International Chamber of Commerce, 20 October 1964.)

Business men have more hope of making progress and money under a Labour government than they had before. (George Brown, interview in The Director, April 1965.)
That government, which was intending at one time to solve all our problems, grappled for a few years with the crises of British capitalism, and then, discredited and in disarray, was turned out by the working class. That defeat was followed by — yes — an inquest and a Battle for the Soul of the Labour Party. At that time the leading opponent of Harold Wilson was Roy Jenkins, whose reputation was for an elegant, witty, ‘liberalism’. Jenkins was obviously pretty desperate to become leader because he went to the lengths of almost speaking the truth about the Labour Party, which is akin to a boxer hitting his opponent below the belt after the bell has gone to end the round. To begin with, he debunked the promise on which the Wilson government had won a lot of support in 1964, that the ‘technological revolution’ would bring greater prosperity for us all:
. . . there is some reason to believe that the social and technical changes which accompany and make possible a faster rate of economic growth may even intensify inequality, unless strong countervailing measures are introduced.
And he summed up the achievements of that government:
The poor are still poor. Property speculators — and some others — are as relatively rich, as were those with an accepted position at the top of the social structure. The result, quite inevitably, is increasing social strain. (The Observer, 12 March 1972.)
After that it would have been difficult for Jenkins to ignore the part he had played, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in keeping the poor and the property speculators in their respective poverty and riches. “Not enough”, he said, “was done to change society. I take my fair share of the responsibility.”

Well, Labour ministers seem to have learned a little since then; so far there are no signs of any member of the Callaghan government taking any blame for their record. No minister has yet put their head on the block to atone for the fact that the rich actually got richer during the first two years of the last Labour government. According to a report published in July by the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Wealth and Income, between 1974 and 1976 the richest one per cent of the population increased their share of wealth from 22.5 per cent to 24.9 per cent. During the same period, the richest ten per cent had their share increased from 57.5 per cent to 60.6 per cent. And this after their share had declined under the Heath government.

So after all the risky fulminations from people like Jenkins, and the implication that it would be different next time, the property and share speculators continued to prosper under Labour. One example is Tory MP Edward du Cann, who in March, while Labour was still in power, made £1.4 million from a deal involving Cannon Assurance, in which he was a major shareholder.“The country”, he commented, “needs people who are prepared to be adventurous.” (Financial Times, 9 March 1979). The day after that, the Daily Mail reported what had happened to someone less adventurous, from the non-property speculating, non-share owning class: a foreman at a GEC factory, who committed suicide when he and eight workmates were made redundant.

There is no prospect of this situation being changed as a result — whatever it is — of the great Battle for the Soul of the Labour Party. Indeed, one of the most prominent participants in that Battle, Tony Benn, seems to think that Labour has been steadily advancing backwards for over forty years. In his recent book, Argument for Socialism, Benn says:
I have copies of Labour’s election literature which 1 distributed in the 1935 election . . . That manifesto was far more left wing — with its demand for the nationalisation of the Joint Stock Banks — than the Labour manifesto of 1979.
In spite of this, Benn’s loyalty is unshaken: “. . . I was born into the Labour Movement, like millions of others, and I intend to be in it when I die.”

Those millions are fighting a mock battle over the details of organising the capitalist system in which property speculators grow rich off the workers who suffer — and often crack — under the strain of it all. The great lie of the Labour Party, which its members are required to swallow and to regurgitate at times like elections, is that basically they stand for a different society. Sometimes, says the lie, one or two things go wrong which delay Labour’s plans to bring in the new world. But always they are working towards it.

It is fair to ask how much more profit the du Canns need to make, and how much more suffering the working class must absorb, before the lie loses its attractions. The failures and the frustrations of the Labour Party have been with us for a very long time now, and promise to be with us for a very long time to come. So, too, have their great purges and their historic Battles for their Soul.

In the excitement and the chaos of the fighting, one fact will be obscured. When the gunsmoke clears it will be the ruling class, people like du Cann. who will survive to drink a toast to victory — their victory. And it will be members of the working class who will populate the casualty lists.

Mountbatten: ruling class casualty (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Violence, within and between individual states, is inescapable under the social system of capitalism. States often disagree over their mutual boundaries; each, in normal circumstances, wishes to preserve, or to extend if possible, its frontiers. The larger the territory, the greater the chance of profit. The ideas of ‘race’ or nationalism, of separate language-groupings or cultures, or the traditions of such groupings, are often called on by both sides in such disputes. So is religion. Among capitalists in Great Britain and Ireland at the present time, and among those who take up the banners of either the British or the Irish capitalist class, there is such a dispute. Should Northern Ireland become part of Irish capitalism, or should it remain part of British capitalism? Cultural and racial traditions are appealed to by both sides. The slogan of a ‘united Ireland’ is opposed by the cry that the six counties are really British. Catholics are exhorted to support one side, and Protestants the other.

Many Northern Irish workers, deceived by the ever-active propagandists of capitalism, have strong views as to whether they would rather be exploited by Irish or British capitalism. Capitalist boundary disputes cannot be ‘solved’, except by the forcible transportation of thousands or even millions of people such as we saw, for example, in eastern Germany and eastern Poland after 1945.

In the capitalist struggle over Northern Ireland, twenty-two people were killed by the IRA on Monday August 27. As a single day’s casualty list, it was high by Ulster standards, being rivalled only by the numbers of demonstrators killed in Londonderry on one day in 1972 by the British army, and by some massacres in public houses caused by bombs planted by the other side. Among the twenty-two dead in August was Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Why was his death greeted with such grisly satisfaction on one side, and such ostentatious horror on the other?

Unemployed royalty
Mountbatten was by descent a member of a kind of condottieri of minor German royalties who ranged over Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seeking new positions, new countries, and (with luck) new thrones While in northern and western Europe the feudal barons had given way to kings and eastern and south-eastern Europe was split among the Russian, Austrian and Turkish Empires, in the middle of Europe the barons had evolved into petty princelings of small states, mostly German-speaking. Some were consolidated by Napoleon, and the 160 principalities of 1789 became only thirty-eight in 1815. Nevertheless, that still meant a lot of royal families, all with younger sons and daughters to be provided for as improved medical care led to the survival of more babies.

At the same time, two careers opened to the fortunate: marriage into the more important royal houses of Europe, or the filling of new thrones in the east of Europe as the older empires crumbled and new independent states were established. Others of the successive ducal broods followed their more fortunate brothers and sisters, and commanded armies or navies or found other well-paid niches — or rich spouses, or both — within the ruling hierarchies of the larger European countries. Some had to try two or even three different states before finding a satisfactory position for themselves.

The royal base from which these adventurers set out was obliterated in 1871 when Prussia swallowed up most of these petty territories in the creation of the new greater Germany. But the destruction of the thrones did not mean the destruction of their occupants, and for many decades after 1871 these ex-royalties continued their ancestral occupations.

British connection
Mountbatten came from the line of dukes of Hesse. Already very well connected, the Hesse royal family came into the British royal family's circle of acquaintance, and two of the four sons of Alexander and his Polish countess (Louis, Alexander, Henry, Francis) decided to become British and make their fortunes in the UK; Prince Louis of Battenburg was chosen as the husband for another of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters, and Prince Henry was accented as the husband for Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter. Honours quickly flowed in: Louis became Admiral of the Fleet, personal aide-de-camp to Victoria, Edward VII and George V, and First Sea Lord.

Another of the Battenburg boys seemed to have hit an even bigger jackpot. In 1879, the Bulgarian capitalist class established its de facto independence from the Turkish sultan and invited Prince Alexander of Battenburg to become the country’s monarch as Prince of Bulgaria. Immediately, Alexander’s younger brother, Prince Francis, the fourth of the Battenburgs, turned up as a colonel of Bulgarian cavalry, only too ready to swear undying allegiance to Bulgaria as soon as he could find it on the map. After Alexander had enjoyed only seven years as front man for the Bulgarian ruling class, however, Russia decided the country was getting too big for its boots and kidnapped Alexander, forcing him to abdicate. This nasty experience subdued him, and he returned to Hesse, still financially well provided for, and settled down there as an ex-monarch. Prince Francis, however, was not beaten yet. He married the daughter of Nicholas I, King of Montenegro; but his efforts to learn the Montenegrin national anthem were in vain, as the country, and its royal house with all the perks attaching to it, disappeared in the First World War.

These royal adventurers often fought loyally for ‘their’ countries, despite relatives on the other side. Nor did they worry too much about how repressive or otherwise the regime they served turned out to be: relatives of the British royal family ran anti-Semitic pogroms and jailed or executed opponents in Russia and elsewhere, and other relatives of British royalty fought for the Nazis in the last war — Prince Charles has a German cousin, born in the 1930s, named Adolf after Hitler. The international background of this stratum of ex-German royalties contrasts strangely with the jingoism and chauvinism — ‘my country, right or wrong’ — which each state shoves down its workers’ throats in war and peace.

The British Battenburgs found themselves under suspicion in 1914 when a wave of anti-German hysteria swept the country. Prince Louis of Battenburg, whose brother-in-law was a Grand Admiral in the Imperial German navy, was forced to resign as First Sea Lord. They avoided all such future complications by changing their name to Mountbatten. George V further anglicised his cousin’s husband by creating him Marquis of Milford Haven. Prince Louis had four children: George, second marquis; Louis, later Earl Mountbatten; Victoria, who married Prince Andrew of Greece and was the mother of Prince Philip; and Louise, who married Gustav VI of Sweden, becoming Queen of Sweden. Louis entered the British navy and eventually became an admiral, filling many top posts in the armed forces and elsewhere. He was personal aide-de-camp to Edward VIII, GeorgeVI and Elizabeth II. He was Chief of Combined Operations in 1942-3, Supreme Allied Commander in south-east Asia in 1943-6, Viceroy of India in 1947, Governor-General of India in 1947-8, First Sea Lord in 1955-9, and Chief of Defence Staff in 1959-65.

He chaired a committee investigating security in British prisons, and recommended the formation of new high security units. His personal fortune was greatly extended by his marriage to the Hon. Edwina Ashley; her father was a Conservative MP, a government minister and a peer, and her mother the only daughter of Sir Ernest Cassel, who made much money out of publishing. Mountbatten’s personal record of prominent positions in the service of British capitalism, particularly in the titanic struggles (so costly in destruction and in human suffering) of the British state earlier this century against its rivals, together with his close relationship to the royal family, ensured him the panegyrics which duly appeared in every national newspaper on his death.

It is true that some past criticisms were mentioned in the obituaries. Some recalled the heavy loss of life, allegedly through faults of advance planning, in the Dieppe raid of 1942 which Mountbatten masterminded. Others referred to the slaughter which followed when he went to India in 1947 (the British ruling class not being able any longer to keep such a vast country as its own private possession), pushing through the partition into India and Pakistan so quickly that many minorities were caught on the wrong side of the new frontier and were promptly massacred; perhaps half a million died.

Northern Ireland
Both sides in the Northern Ireland dispute stand aghast at violence — when it is committed by the other side. The IRA deplore British violence, but they have not only killed British soldiers and prominent men like Mountbatten; they have frequently killed also mere bystanders. The Mountbatten bomb also killed a local boy who worked on the yacht. British newspapers were horror-struck at such indiscriminate homicide, but the British army in Northern Ireland has also killed innocent bystanders who got in the way of gun-battles (apologising afterwards, like the IRA does). And during the Second World War, while Mountbatten played a leading part in the direction of the British war effort, many innocent German women and children were deliberately slaughtered in bombing raids. The 100,000 killed in a single Allied raid on Hamburg (many of them burned alive in a fire-storm) must have included thousands of babies, boys and girls, women and old people, as well as hundreds of foreign conscripted slave-workers — besides all those left mutilated, crippled and disfigured. Nor was any apology considered necessary. Where were the horrified newspaper articles and broadcasts then?

If you handle pitch, you get dirty fingers. If you support and work for capitalism, violence — committing it and suffering it, as Mountbatten did — is likely to be part of the deal.
Alwyn Edgar

50 Years Ago: On leadership (1979)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard 

The society we aim at building in the future is one wherein all will have a free and equal hand in the ordering of affairs. When can such a society be built on foundations such as blind worship of the leaders of a day?

We repeat, therefore, again the lesson we have been repeating for the last 25 years: no leader, however' honest, clever or well intentioned, can lead the workers out of slavery. No man or group of men, however intellectual, can found a new society which depends for its success upon the knowledge and understanding of the bulk of the population. There is no royal road to socialism. It can only be attained by working men and women who know what socialism means and how it is to be obtained. Therefore it is necessary for working men and women to do the comparatively small amount of thinking that is necessary to understand socialism. When they have done so they will know the steps to be taken, and will no longer need to rely on the weak reed of leader ship.

(From an editorial ‘The Communist farce’, Socialist Standard, October 1929.)

The theory of capitalist crises (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the long run, production under capitalism expands. The accumulation of capital, the self-expansion of value, is, after all, the economic logic of capitalism. The expansion of production, however, does not proceed smoothly at a steady rate but is interrupted from time to time, so that the graph of production under capitalism has the appearance of a series of peaks, each generally higher than the previous one (see graph). The troughs in between represent periods variously described as crises, depressions, recessions.

World capitalism is now in one of these troughs, and has been since 1974. But sooner or later it will recover from this depression, just as it has from all previous ones. This is because a depression itself creates the conditions for a re-expansion of production.

In a depression, three things occur which tend to raise the rate of industrial profit. First, a number of capitalist enterprises go bankrupt and their assets are sold off cheaply to their rivals. The result is a fall in their capital value, or a depreciation of the capital invested in them, so that less profits are needed to maintain the same rate of profit. Secondly, the increased unemployment tends to depress wages, and this once again tends to raise profits. Thirdly, the cutback in productive investment means that the demand for money-capital is reduced while at the same time the supply (from capitalist enterprises who are not re-investing) is increased, resulting in a fall in the rate of interest and so to a rise in the proportion of surplus value going to industrial profits.

These — depreciation of capital, lower wages, lower interest rates — eventually raise the prospects of making profits high enough to encourage those capitalists who have not been re-investing to begin investing again. Business confidence returns. Production begins to pick up and, through the chain reaction effect of more money being spent both by capitalists investing in new means of production and by workers now earning wages again, at an increasing rate.

So begins the process of economic recovery which develops into a boom . . . and eventually ends in a crisis and another depression. This is because boom conditions lead to ‘over-investment’, to too much wealth being devoted to expanding the means of production. This is inevitable due to the anarchy of production under capitalism, to the fact that production is not socially controlled and planned but is decided by hundreds of competing enterprises — and, on the world scale, states also — acting independently and in isolation.

When business is booming, capitalist enterprises assume that this will continue and so plan to expand their productive capacity. The demand for labour power increases, unemployment falls as the ‘reserve army of labour’ is drawn into production; wages, under the pull of enterprises competing among themselves for scarce labour power and the push of trade union action from the workers, rise. This in itself tends to reduce the rate of profit.

But what generally sparks off a crisis is one key industry over-expanding in relation to its particular market. The competing enterprises in that industry will all have assumed that they would be the beneficiaries of the expanding market and all of them will have expanded their productive capacity. The result is that the market for their particular product becomes saturated; they have over-expanded their productive capacity in relation to their industry’s market. Unsold goods pile up, the expected profits are not realised, the industry in question is forced to cut back its production. Now the chain reaction which encourages the recovery of production after a depression works in the opposite direction. Other industries are affected by the cut-back in the industry, which has over-expanded and, if this is a key industry, the end result is a generalised depression.

So the cycle — depression, recovery, boom, crisis, depression — has been completed and is ready to begin again. Governments try to intervene to stop this cycle, and occasionally make matters worse by their mistaken monetary policies, but there is essentially nothing they can do about it. This — boom, slump, boom, slump, boom, slump — is the way capitalism works.

It is important to realise that crises are not caused by overall production having expanded beyond overall market demand, as is suggested by one theory which was once popular in social democratic circles, and echoes of which are still to be found in the writings of some calling themselves Marxists. Such ‘under-consumptionist’ theories argue that crises are caused — and, in an extreme form, that capitalism will eventually collapse — through total social production coming to exceed total social purchasing power, or what amounts to the same thing, through total purchasing power coming to be insufficient to buy the total social product.

Crises under capitalism are not caused by a lack of purchasing power. They are caused by the anarchy of production under capitalism leading to an overexpansion in relation to a particular market, or, from the point of view of production, over-expanding disproportionately in relation to other industries. When this happens, the purchasing power to buy the over-produced commodities is there but it is not used because the commodities in question are not what those who have the money want to spend it on.

To be more specific, what happens in a depression, as far as overall market demand is concerned, is that some capitalists choose (because of low or nil profit prospects) not to spend their money on buying machinery, raw materials and labour power. This non-spending, or hoarding of money, interrupts the circulation of capital. Which is precisely what a depression is: an interruption in the circulation of capital. It is also why depressions are never permanent. Sooner or later, in one way or another, the conditions will arise which will encourage those capitalists who have been hoarding their money-capital to re-invest, so restoring the circuit.

Those who hold the under-consumptionist view that crises are caused by capitalism’s tendency to produce more than it can sell have got it wrong. If it were indeed the case that built in to capitalism was a chronic tendency for market demand to fall short of production, then how could capitalism have continued for so long? It should have long ago foundered in a glut of unsaleable goods. The fact that capitalism still exists, and still manages to expand production in the long run, is a living, if unpleasant, proof of the falsity of all under-consumptionist theories.

The fact is that there is no flaw in the economic mechanism of capitalism that is going to cause it permanently to break down or clog up. Capitalism will continue going through its cycle of depression, recovery, boom, crisis, depression until the working class consciously decide and act to end it by bringing production under the conscious democratic control of society on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production.
Adam Buick

The GDR: up against the wall (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The German Democratic Republic’s location on the periphery of the Soviet bloc and its constant confrontation with one of the most powerful economic forces of the Western world, the Federal Republic, has had its effect on the formation of internal opinion and dissent. In contrast to its East European neighbours, there is no sustained civil rights movement and manifestos of ‘opposition’ have appeared in official publications. As the country celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, however, there are signs that the East German leadership cannot re-establish with the population an understanding similar to that which existed in the early 1970s.

A new, tough orientation on the regime’s part is linked to a challenge to the Communist Party leader Honecker’s authority. His failure to manage the economy over the last few years (and what some see as his dangerous concessions to consumerism) have laid him open to attack from sections of the leadership who fear a general decline of political controls. Since the spring, the government has sought to link political repression against writers directly to its drive against the ‘grey’(Deutschmark) market. Sharply rising prices for raw materials and a deterioration in the terms of trade with the Soviet Union have led to demands for greater effort, without the Party being able to provide adequate rewards. Wages of East German workers have risen faster than the supply of consumer goods, with private savings at the beginning of last year standing at a record level of 80,000 million marks. A reluctance to respond readily to yet another call by the Party for increased production, voluntary shift work and rationalisation points to further clashes.

Although rents, electricity, transport services and basic goods like bread, potatoes, sugar and salt are relatively cheap, their sales price does not cover production costs — the low prices of these products correspond to the extremely low wages drawn by the majority of the population. The state takes its subsidies, which maintain the price of necessary goods at a low level, from the enormous differences which exist between the production costs of luxury items and the sales price to the consumer. For the majority, then, there are low wages, and therefore necessary goods are cheap and permit the reproduction of their labour power, while the privileged receive high salaries and have access to luxury items. ‘Illegal work’, normally undertaken at weekends, brings more income than a whole week of regular work in state enterprises.

Additionally, the suicide rate in the country is striking. According to the most recent figures it stands at 35 for every 10,000, while there are 22 for every 10,000 in the Federal Republic.

Widespread anger and resentment exists, on the one hand over the privileges enjoyed by the ruling elite in the form of exclusive shops selling Western goods, and on the other over the scarcity of items such as cars, television sets, good clothes and furniture. Recent strikes in the Fritz-Hekert-Werke in Karl Marx- Stadt, the Narve electric lamp factory in Berlin, and demands for payment in hard currency (Deutschmarks) for workers who are employed in export production for the West, indicate the scope of the difficulties with which the Party is faced. An ‘affluent society’ similar to the West is not just the ambition of the rulers anxious to perpetuate their power, but also corresponds to the immediate interests of the ruled.

While the size of the country and the thoroughness of police surveillance have prevented the growth of a significant underground, the last two years have seen the coming into the open of the first dissident, inner-Party opposition in Eastern Europe. Coping with such internal critics has posed more of a problem than would be the case with religious/ ethical reformers and ‘anti-Marxists’.

At the beginning of 1978 a manifesto purportedly drawn up by the ‘League of Democratic Communists of Germany’ was published in the West German magazine, Der Spiegel (2 and 9 January). Predictably, the document’s main concerns were with the establishment of a pluralist democracy in the East and the reunification of Germany. Attacks on the Soviet Union and the corrupt and inefficient system in the GDR were the manifesto’s other main thrusts:
No ruling class of Germany has ever sponged so much and secured itself against the pepple as those two dozen families who run the country like a self-service store. None has ever had such excessively golden ghettoes built in the forests which are guarded like fortresses. None has so shamelessly corrupted and enriched itself in special stores and private imports from the West, through decoration, bonuses and special clinics, pensions and presents, as has this caste.
Calling the Soviet leaders ‘Red Popes’, Communist leaders generally ‘Red-lacquered Nazis’, and the East German Party’s Politburo ‘Polit Quislings’, the League seek an end to what they call “the Asian production method of bureaucratic state capitalism”.

The most telling attack on the Party in the 1970s has come from a middle ranking cadre, Rudolf Bahro, presently serving an eight-year sentence after being found guilty of ‘treason’ in July 1978. Published in West Germany in 1977 (and in England last year), The Alternative in Eastern Europe is a left-Communist critique of the GDR system and what he calls a “strategy for a real communist alternative”.

Bahro argues that the Soviet type system, which is a model for the GDR. constitutes a distinctive type of social formation which is neither capitalist nor socialist. He suggests a parallel to Marx’s concept of the Asiatic mode of production in which there exists a ruling class not based on private property ownership but organised as an administrative and ideological apparatus. But he ignores the hallmarks of capitalism which predominate in the GDR just as much as in the West. The fact that a monopoly of the means of production is not legally recognised is immaterial — wealth is in effect the property of an individual or group if there exists a right in fact against the other members of society to use it and control its use.

Bahro’s position is not the familiar Trotskyist one, however. He shares our view that the objective backwardness of revolutionary Russia and the weakness of the working class there led inevitably to a new omnipotent state apparatus; that Lenin and the Bolsheviks, whatever their intentions, had paved the way for Stalin’s forced industrialisation and all the “practically unavoidable consequences of a definite historical progress”. For him, as for us, the East European system is not a deformation of socialism.

In the GDR, social and political needs are subservient to the goal-rationing objectives of the state Party apparatus. The oligarchy at the top of the pyramid decides the goals for which the surplus product should be used, and subjects the entire reproduction process of economic, social and cultural life to its regulations. Bahro’s concern is with the conception of the division of labour in society, and he argues that the basic attitude of the producers to ‘their’ state is not essentially different from that of workers in Western society to ‘their’ corporations. He points out that “given the perpetuation of the division of labour, commodity production and money, nothing has altered in the principle of how work is assessed. Wages are simply the price that the appropriator state pays for the commodity labour-power.” (p.205). Just as the worker in the West not only improves his own conditions of existence by productive activity, within the given limits of the system, but above all expands capital, so in the GDR “he increases the potential for the Party and state machine’s power of disposal, and thus increases his own impotence in relation to it” (p.241).

Bahro maintains that for the last twenty years the GDR has been spending labour on a growing scale for luxury goods for the privileged strata. “We can hear”, he says, “ the director of a Berlin textile works, a factory moreover which predominantly employs female labour, say on the radio that ‘the growing needs of the population dictate to us the three-shift system’ — even if wardrobes are bursting! If you do not want to remain ‘backward’, you must throw out your furniture three times in the course of your life. We accelerate the ‘moral depreciation’ of technical consumer goods.” (p.269). This pressure on workers to keep buying is depressingly familiar, although Bahro rightly points out that while in the West trade unions are a reality, it is scarcely possible in the GDR to influence the relative level of income since it is the Party and government which adjust the proportions in favour of particular groups.

Bahro places his hopes in an accumulation of what he calls “surplus consciousness” which can no longer be satisfied and contained within the system of subordination and hierarchical division of labour. For the first time in human history, he argues, an energetic capacity is no longer absorbed by the immediate necessities of human existence. Whereas previously the scarceness of the means of satisfaction always opposed educated elites with uneducated masses, the increasing demands of technology bring about the conditions for widespread growth of individual development and consciousness.

Unfortunately, though perhaps inevitably, his ‘alternative’ programme leaves much to be desired: the abolition of all bureaucratic privileges and the democratic control of administrative processes is its extent. A new ‘League of Communists’ is to implement a series of measures, including university education for all and the rotation of manual and intellectual work, and the result (which he calls socialism) will demand the continued existence of the Party.

To be an effective opposition, however, the workers’ struggle for legal rights of political expression in the GDR must be coupled with a determination to achieve socialism, a world society where goods and services are freely available according to need; where the state, national frontiers, political parties and the wage labour and capital relationship itself no longer obtain. Only this is worth an eight-year prison sentence.

It should not be forgotten that the GDR remains a Soviet military zone, with twenty Russian divisions kept on a war footing. The three million East German workers who voted with their feet between 1949 and 1961 doubtless have few regrets about leaving what is now considered the best example of ‘socialism’ in practice. Yet it would be wrong to say that the grass is greener over the Wall; seeds on both sides have scarcely taken root.
Melvin Tenner

Grappling with Grundrisse (1979)

Book Review from the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Making of Marx’s ‘Capital’ by Roman Rosdolsky, Pluto Press, 1977.
There has never been a time when the conditions for a transformation to a Socialist society have been so ripe. Socialism has never been as indispensable and economically feasible as it is today, (p.488)

 This is certainly not a book for the dilettante or the dabbler, but for the dedicated Marxian buff. We have here a systematic comparison of the seven large notebooks compiled by Marx during fifteen years exhaustive study of the bourgeois economists, with the published product, the Critique of Political Economy and Capital.

These notebooks came to light, somewhat mysteriously, in 1931. The source, presumably, was the archives of the German Social Democratic Party, known to be Marx’s (and Engels’) literary executors. They next turned up in Moscow at the Marx-Engels Institute, which published them, but they were not translated into English until 1973.

They are now published by Penguin under the title Die Grundrisse, referred to as ‘the rough draft of Capital’, and reading like a telephone directory or railway timetable. Here is no Karl Marx the brilliant political literateur whose searing epigrams made Capital world famous, but Dr. Marx the methodical, painstaking craftsman systematically cutting down sequentially P. Proudhon, David Ricardo, Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, J.B. Say et al.

Rosdolsky’s work is no slavish recap of Marx but a rigorously critical reappraisal. He claims that a mistake was made in The Communist Manifesto in stating that capitalism could “no longer maintain its own paupers”, and that Marx was unduly influenced by the crises of the 1850s. Leafing through Rosdolsky’s copious quotations, we can almost hear Marx’s cerebrum ticking over, following his devastating onslaught on the orthodox and radical economists to his positive conclusion — Surplus Value. Item: Adam Smith, who never understood the real nature of creative labour, calling it all ‘pain’. Item: David Ricardo, who could never accept the existence of constant capital. Item: P.J. Proudhon, with his pathetic ‘free credit’, and many others.

Not content with all this, he then embarks upon a rasping re-evaluation of the whole of the ‘Golden Age’ of Marxian literature, from 1890 to 1925. He reviews and challenges almost every writer of note: the Germans — Kautsky, Bernstein and Luxemburg; the Austrians — Hilferding and Bauer; the Russians — Plekhanov, Tugan, Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin; Joan Robinson (Britain); and Sweezy and Baran, the Americans, are all taken to the cleaners.

It is difficult to follow Martin Nicolaus’s somewhat obscure, if not peevish, stricture in a footnote reference to Rosdolsky in his foreword to Die Grundrisse. He calls Rosdolsky’s book “quotation- ridden” and complains that ‘Ros’ has “not taken the science [of Marxism] a single step further”. How you evaluate Marx’s work without quotations is a secret known only to Mr. Nicolaus. Seeing that Rosdolsky was exposing the Stalinist economists (?) for the sycophantic fakes they were when Mr. Nicolaus was writing rubbishy pamphlets about the ‘Workers’ State’, we are satisfied that it was Rosdolsky who ‘took the science further’.

An intriguing sidelight of Die Grundrisse is the further evidence it gives on the notorious Bohm-Bawerk controversy, that is, Bohm’s claim that Marx ‘invented’ Production Price in the third volume of Capital to explain away the ‘discrepancy’ between average profit and the Labour Theory of Value in the first. We now know not merely that Marx wrote (as Hilferding proved) Production Price before Volume I was finished, but that it was in Grundrisse years before Capital was even started.

Incidentally, the little old SLP (now defunct) published Hilferding’s reply to Bohm in 1920, much to its credit; and Eden and Cedar Paul, the English translators, sparked off what Rosdolsky called a ‘splendid polemic’ between Bernstein and Hilferding (in Die Neue Zeit) over the use of the German word ‘daher’ — ‘consequently’ or ‘therefore’. Hilferding claimed that Bernstein left it out deliberately to distort Marx (p.519), but Rosdolsky points out that Engels had already put it in (in Volume I).

Rosdolsky is slightly suspect in accepting what he calls “Luxemburg’s breakdown theory”. This all turns on the precise translation of the German word ‘Zusammenbruch’ which means ‘collapse’. (Whether he means this or ‘break-down’ is arguable.)

The section on the Law of the Falling Rate of Profit and the almost complete recap of Marx’s private ruminations on the nature of the Law of Value and Labour in socialist society, are well worth re-publishing in the Socialist Standard.

‘Ros’ suggests that the notorious ‘increasing misery’ thesis refers to the industrial reserve army only, and corrects common fallacies regarding the proportion of Surplus Value to increases in Constant Capital, which is inverse.

As a result of this book, and the ‘rough draft’ on which it is based, we now know considerably more about the origin of Marx’s Capital. Certainly Lenin, Hilferding, Luxemburg and Franz Mehring (Marx’s biographer) were all unaware of its existence, as were the founders of the SPGB. Despite this, we were able (in 1904) to get it all absolutely right. Everything in Die Grundrisse proves this.

Labour under socialism — intense exertion (1979)

From the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
“In the sweat of thy brow shaft thou labour”; this was Jehovah’s curse upon Adam. Once this is labour for Smith — a curse. Tranquility appears as the adequate state, as identical with ‘freedom’ and ‘happiness’. It seems quite far from Smith’s mind that the individual “in his normal state of health, strength, activity, skill facility”, also needs a normal portion of work and of the suspension of tranquility.

But Smith has no inkling whatever that the overcoming of obstacles is itself a liberating activity . . . hence as self-realisation, hence real freedom whose action is precisely — labour. He is right that in its historic form as slave-labour, serf-labour and wage-labour, labour always appears as repulsive, always as external forced; and not labour by contrast as ‘freedom’, ‘happiness’.

. . . for labour which has not yet created the conditions for itself in which labour becomes attractive work, in no way means it becomes mere fun, mere amusement, as Fourier conceives it.

Really free working, e.g. composing, is, at the same time, precisely the most damned seriousness, the most intense exertion.
(The Making of Marx’s Capital, p.611.)

Running Commentary: Blue murder (1979)

The Running Commentary column from the October 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blue murder

Why is it that in wartime there are so many objections when the other side does its job and kills people to further its own cause?

In the last war, for example, the Allied propaganda machine treated every one of its own casualties as a massive tragedy, while it encouraged the idea that the only good German was a dead German. Blue murder was screamed when German aircraft attacked Britain, but the Allied raids on Germany — far, far worse than anything the Luftwaffe managed over here — were praised as acts of heroism with a central streak of humanity.

A similar situation — although on a lesser scale — exists now in Ireland. The IRA say they are at war with Britain and the British government have responded by sending troops to Northern Ireland to wipe out the IRA.

And of course people are going to get killed. When this happens to a member of the IRA there is a chorus of approval in the British press; good riddance, we are told, to another murdering terrorist. So it was in Palestine just after the war, in Cyprus, Aden, Malaysia . . .

But the reaction is very different when a British soldier meets his end at the hands of the IRA. When this happens the incident is usually described as an 'outrage’, as a ‘murder’ carried out by ‘cold-blooded cowards’. This was the response when the IRA operation at Warrenpoint killed an unusually large number of British paratroops.

If the IRA were really no more than a bunch of cold-blooded, bungling and cowardly murderers it is very doubtful if they would have lasted so long in their guerilla campaign. The attempt to convince us otherwise is another example of the truth falling as the first casualty in war.

The great tragedy of Ireland gets no mention in the media, nor from the respective propaganda machines. Once again it is members of the working class who are dying on both sides. They die not in their own interests, nor to build a world fit for human beings, but in the interests of their own ruling class.

In the wars of capitalism, every working class death is an outrage, and in the war in Ireland, as in every one before it, all workers should refuse to take part. They have a bigger job; to live to build a new society in which war will be a black memory.

Not what it was

If we are to believe the press, there was not exactly a desperate rush to take on the job of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Two bishops were up for consideration; one of these had already declared that he disliked the prospect of being Archbishop, and the other—Robert Runcie, who got the post — took a fortnight to decide, changing his mind several times in the process.

Now why should there be this reluctance to take on the job of head of the Anglican church? Was it because being Archbishop is too strenuous a way of getting a living?

Perhaps it is hard work, trying to persuade millions of people to accept meekly their inferior, degrading position in capitalist society while you have two palaces at your disposal and are having to get by on £12,500 a year.

Then there is the matter of having to churn out all that old, discredited religious mumbo-jumbo, always under pressure to justify itself against the expansion of human knowledge. There is the realisation that day after day religious taboos in sexual and social relationships are being treated with open contempt. They simply don’t fit in with material experiences.

And of course the job is just not what it used to be. Although ranking, in theory, immediately below the Queen and above the Prime Minister, the Archbishop can have no illusions about the real extent of his powers. It is, for example, a long time since the contents of the Book of Common Prayer was a hot political issue.

It can be small consolation that the Archbishop has the occasional get-together with his fellow purveyors of nonsense in other religions to decide how religious ideas can best survive in a hostile intellectual environment. And even less, that he must sometimes intervene in the sexual and marital problems of the royal family.

The new man has been written up as an attractive person who is a clever negotiator and who wants to make his church a more open institution. And he is said also to be very brave; during the war he was a good Christian in the tanks and he got a medal for his contribution to killing people.

A lot of rubbish has been talked about the man and about the appointment and about the Church of England. This is entirely appropriate; religion is itself a nonsense, one which workers should reject in favour of working for the best possible existence in the only life they have.

Striking fallacy

Among the many durable fallacies which do their bit towards sustaining property society is the notion that strikes are indulged in only by ‘blue collar’ workers — the lower paid industrial or manual workers who are persistently selfish and disruptive.

Blue collar workers, as is well known, lounge amid forests of parked cars on sumptuous council estates. They bleed the Welfare State dry, and when, in the rare intervals between being on strike or pretending to be ill, they are at work, they spend their time playing cards out of sight of the foreman.

Meanwhile, the Germans and the Japanese are hard at it, turning out cars and radios and cameras which capture the traditional British markets.

Last winter this notion was revived when there was the inevitable backlash against the Labour government’s long campaign to hold back wages. There was then a number of strikes which, receiving disproportionate publicity, were blamed for the fall of the Callaghan government.

But of course strikes and other industrial action are not confined to any particular type of worker. Among the other sort — ‘white collar’ workers — they are now common enough not to cause any surprise. One recent example was the unprecedented action by staff at magistrates’ courts who were forced into strike action by an intransigent negotiating attitude from the Home Office.

Another group showing a remarkable tenacity are the television technicians, whose strike blacked out all ITV programmes. While nobody is starved as a result of this strike, there were rumours of serious withdrawal symptoms among addicts of Crossroads and News at Ten — and of even graver cases sitting for hours watching the unblinking apology on the screen for the break in transmission.

Now many of these technicians are high up in the wages league. Theirs is not a dispute over low pay; it is an example of workers using all their muscle to resist a lowering of their standards.

Whatever job a worker does, and whatever the pay for it, does not change the facts of their class position in capitalist society. Capitalism is divided; on one side are the workers, who sell their abilities for a wage, and on the other the capitalists, who buy those abilities.

The interests of those two groups have always been opposed, and that will stay as long as capitalism lasts. Only a basically different society can bring us social harmony.