Saturday, April 15, 2023

Letters: Karl Marx and Russia (2003)

Letters to the Editors from the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Karl Marx and Russia

Dear Editors,

I would like to discuss the issue of “the necessity for capitalism to have been achieved for socialism to occur” (“Desai on Marx”, Socialist Standard, November 2002).

Desai suggests that Russian Communism was wrong to use the principles of Marx being as Russia was a backward country. Then he goes on to suggest that Russian Communism developed a capitalist economic model as it developed the Russian economy and industries. What could be wrong about the development of a backward country under socialist principles? What would socialism look like if it only ever occurred in capitalist countries?

Desai appears to suggest that only an economically wealthy country, developed through capitalism can support a socialist system. Does he mean to say that socialism, should it succeed, should stagnate and decay as it devours the capitalist system of economics of its predecessors. A progressive, organised socialist party should enable economic growth to sustain socialism within one country but also to develop new industry and technology under its guiding principles. How is it possible to totally eradicate capitalist consciousness when socialism is developed that relies heavily on its economic principles for stability?

Socialist policies should inform the new methods of economics and seek to build a set of new socialist methods of production, in short a socialist economy based on Marx. This is not merely a question of graduated taxes, but a fairer system with a socialist aim, and cultural and aesthetic values that reflect the working class and encapsulates socialism.

Marx states that socialism should occur out of a capitalist economy because he thought that the working class were the intrinsic factor in a communist revolution; and the working class were common to developed countries under capitalism.

If socialism is to succeed, the party must win the support of the working class who desire to see an end to the current ideology of world capitalism.

In order to eradicate capitalism completely the Socialist Party must have a firm vision fixed in its mind, that by adhering to its principles, must revolutionise the consciousness of the people in areas of politics such as: economics, the environment, foreign policy and culture; in order to achieve power, not for a bureaucratic system (the fault of Russian Communism) but to achieve equality and fraternity among the working class.
G. Cubbage, 
Bolton, Lancs

We define socialism as a society without private property, money, wages, nation states, where production is for use, not profit. In order for socialism to be successfully established, capitalism would need to develop industry to the point where a society of common ownership would be possible. Along with this, a modern working class would need to emerge that understands and desires socialism. It is clear that neither was the case in Russia in 1917. It was a predominantly agrarian country where the industrial working class were in a minority of the population.

It is true that Marx and Engels in the introduction of the 1882 Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto raised the possibility that Russia could, through an old system of common ownership of land maintained by the peasantry known as the Obshchina that existed in Russia at that time, could pass directly to socialism, without the necessity of developing the capitalist mode of production. However this could only be possible if the Russian revolution ignited a revolution in the West. This did not happen in 1917. Although working class uprisings did occur in the West, such as in Germany, they were more expressions of discontent arising from the First World War than a conscious desire to bring about socialism.

The Bolsheviks did not rise to power on a programme of genuine socialism, but to provide relief to a war-weary population and distribute land away from the large landowners to the peasantry. In fact, Lenin admitted that only state capitalism could be established in Russia at that time. As he wrote in The Chief Tasks of Our Times: “Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us”. We also believe that the Leninist theories of the Bolshevik Party are prescriptions for state capitalism: the belief that socialism can only be brought about by a party of professional revolutionaries leading the working class and the establishment of a centralised state under the theory of so-called democratic centralism. We insist that the establishment of Socialism require the political actions of a socialist conscious working class without leaders.

Therefore, we agree with Lord Desai that only state capitalism could have emerged from the Russian Revolution. However, we part company with him when he insists that we need many more years of private capitalism to raise the level of society’s productive forces. We maintain that globally the size of society’s productive forces today would allow for the establishment of socialism.

Our definition of socialism above implies that it can only be established on a world-wide basis. Clearly a society where there is common ownership, money has been abolished and production is for human use cannot co-exist with countries where there is still private property, buying and selling and production for profit. Many of the measures that Marx and Engels outlined in the Communist Manifesto, including the call for graduated taxes, were based on the assumption that the working class would take power in Marx and Engels lifetimes. They would be necessary to develop the means of production to levels required for the establishment of socialism. However, since then, capitalism has done the job for us and there is no longer any need for these measures.

We can only agree with the last two paragraphs of your letter. If you study our object and declaration of principles, we hope that you agree that the Socialist Party fits the bill–Editors.

The urgent need for Socialism

Dear Editors,

Here we are, having finished the twentieth century which saw many advances in science and technology. Yet despite the potential to satisfy world-wide human need, there are still millions of people suffering from hunger and human misery. Unhappily our social organization has not changed in a way that would enable the human race to reap the full benefits of the useful advances—and abandon the harmful ones. Instead science and technology are commodities produced for sale and profit—they serve the needs of the market system. Presently the only access to the means of life is through money and for the majority this means employment of some kind. However, jobs only come when there is the prospect of profit. Also the standard by which men and women are judged is their material possessions. In every country a minority win out at the expense of the majority. Oh how apparent is the most urgent need for the Earth to belong to its entire people! Then, freed from the shackles which sale and profit places on human endeavour, there will be sufficient resources for everyone to have a satisfying way of life.
Justus Weijagye, 
Kabale, Uganda

Castle Breweries Kenya Limited

Dear Editors,

It was June last year when Castle Breweries Kenya Limited ceased its operations in the country. The company had been in operation in Kenya for only five years. A total of 1015 employees were affected by the closure. They, their children, families and relatives were left without any means of earning their daily what is famously called “bread”.

What led to the closure of the company is perhaps illustrative of how capitalism works. Castle Breweries had only one competitor—Kenya Breweries Limited. The South African company thus found it easy going at first but not so during the subsequent years.

Barley, an important ingredient in the manufacture of bee, is grown by a clique of farmers who are contracted by Kenya Breweries for their beer. Most of these farmers are either relatives or associates of senior officials of Kenya Breweries Limited. And thus any other person, or brewer for that matter, had to buy the barley at a higher cost. The only alternative is to import the barley. And this is what Castle Breweries used to do.

Since in its inception in Kenya, their idea or main motive was for profit making, Castle Breweries found it uneconomical to brew and sell its beer at the same price as the competitor, so the company vigorously campaigned for a tax waiver from the authorities.

Kenya Breweries, who had enjoyed monopoly for more than 70 years, found their existence being threatened and thus had to bribe the then President, Daniel Arap Moi. There was to be no tax waiver and in fact in his budget speech, the then Finance Minister Chris Obure increased the taxes on beer from 25 percent to 30 percent.

And thus Kenya Castle Breweries closed its brewing factory at Thika in June 2002 and went ahead at the same time to open others in the USA. The whole thing is Castle Breweries Limited had no intention of remaining in Kenya as long as there were no profits to be made. The welfare of the company’s 1015 employees was far from the concern of Castle’s ‘Bosses’.

The world will continue to witness cases of such nature as long as the so-called investors have only one goal when they are establishing their investments—profits. They go to any lengths to maximise profits and leave the conditions of those making the profits to be the same—Judas wages and salaries and slavery conditions of work.

We, the workers of the world, need to understand that no matter how much money you are paid, you’ll not be able to make ends meet because the wages or salaries are never commensurate to the profits made by the company, organisation or group you are working for. We need to know that the amount of time spent working for profits could be utilised elsewhere working for the welfare of the whole society. Our unity is vital and the capitalist way of doing things will end once we organise and work for the good of all. This will entail us going for political power and make it easy for capitalism to be replaced. Let’s unite to establish the system that caters for the needs of all the members of the society—Socialism.
Patrick W. Ndege,
Nairobi, Kenya

Human nature – no barrier to socialism (2003)

From the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among all the objections to the proposal to replace capitalism with socialism, those based on human nature are the most prominent. So, let’s look at some of the alleged features of human nature that supposedly militate against socialism.

There are six main elements in the “human nature” argument against socialism. People are said to be inherently and incurably aggressive, competitive, selfish, stupid, greedy and lazy.
  • Aggressive. Undoubtedly some people in all societies resort from time to time to aggressive behaviour. But this is only a problem when there is some property issue to fight over. War is organised aggression and has a function in capitalism. The holders of property rights have to employ force (pay others to fight their battles) against those who would seize their property. In a propertyless society, organised aggression would make no sense and would not happen.
  • Competitive. Human behaviour is both competitive and co-operative. It is not surprising that, in a society based on profit-seeking employers, compete with each other for markets and profits and workers compete with each other for jobs and better wages. But even in capitalism people are bound together much more by co-operation than by competition. By co-operating with others we greatly increase what we can produce for our mutual benefit. Such co-operation will increase in socialism. Any remaining competition will be benign and playful, not destructive and need-denying.
  • Selfish. If we were by nature incurably selfish, then there could never have been any sort of stable society, because no one would have co-operated with anyone else. People act selfishly or anti-socially only when they can see no other way of getting what they want. If there is another way (by co-operation, for instance) there is no reason to suppose that they will not choose it when they see it is better to do so.
  • Stupid. Apart from a few gifted leaders, human intelligence is said to be too weak to enable people to solve the complex problems that face them. Ordinary people are supposed to be unable to run society in their own interest. Yet propagandists for capitalism never tell us that we are too stupid to understand the tortuous arguments used to prove that the way to preserve peace is to prepare for war.
  • Greedy. The typical behaviour of capitalists is to seek more profit and wealth. The system makes them act greedily. Workers are remarkably “ungreedy”: having produced all the wealth, they allow it to be appropriated by the capitalist class, while they live in various degrees of poverty. In a society based on common ownership and access according to need, there will be no reason for greed or hoarding things. You will simply go to the nearest distribution centre.
  • Lazy. Again, it is a question of behaviour in certain circumstances, not nature. If work is organised, not to meet your need but for someone else’s profit, it is understandable that you will avoid it if you can. But if you are working for yourself, for others like yourself, or for the community as a whole you will be unlikely to shun work unless you are ill.
The idea of “human nature” as something more nasty than nice is a reflection of class-divided society that is incapable of providing a decent life for all its members. The aggressive, competitive, selfish, stupid, greedy and lazy behaviour that is laid at the door of human nature is really only conduct that is the outcome of a system based on private property. Once class-divided society is replaced by common ownership and production for need, people will willingly co-operate for their mutual benefit just because it is “human nature” to seek that which contributes to personal and social wellbeing.
Stan Parker

War is Crazy (2003)

From the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been written that a battle should not be seen as two armies trying to kill one another, but, rather, one army, committing suicide. If that is the case, we are in the midst of a species engaged in long, slow, mass suicide. That war becomes such a natural part of life shows in that voices are only raised against it when the casualties threaten to reach into the hundreds of thousands, rather than the usual hundreds.

If a fraction of the effort put into devising and creating means of death were put into securing the means of life, the scourge of war would be wiped out. The peace of mind of material security in life would become peace in the world. With an expansion of the practise of co-operating to mutual ends, would come and end to the fractious rivalries of property.

The Socialist Party calls upon the workers the world over to understand the basis upon which they oppose the war, and to understand the potential that it shows. To understand that mere opposition and pious moralising against the war is not enough, and that it lies within their hands to make the necessary changes.

The Socialist Party has always stood against war – asserting the urgency with which the workers must combat and stop any immediate instance of the ongoing global war, and the need to struggle against the system of exploitation and poverty which causes all these wars. We have asserted that war and organised violence are not the means by which a civilised society can be achieved. Where all other parties utter their sanctimonious opposition to war: “Of course, no right minded person wants war,” they say, but then turn round and lay down their plans for just that. Plans for achieving their policy ends by cold-blooded murder.

Consistently, the Socialist Party has counter-posed to war and violence the working class methods of co-operation, and rational application of our minds and imaginations. We have refused to fight, choosing, rather, to point the way to real peace.

As the slaughter once again escalates, therefore, we take this opportunity to avow our solidarity with the workers, of all nations, and their mutual cause. Further, we call upon the workers to organise consciously and politically to use the power at their disposal to bring the bloodshed to a standstill; and secure the space we need in order to build the co-operative world socialist commonwealth.
Pik Smeet

Quiz – Ten questions to answer (2003)

From the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

All these quotations are genuine comments, made by the people named – except that we have put in a single sentence in each interview what the person did not say. See if you can guess which is the made-up sentence we have put in.

1. Jack Straw, British Foreign Minister, speaking after a suicide bomb attack in Haifa which killed fifteen people (Times, 6 March): “There is no justification for attacks on innocent civilians. Except, of course, if we carry out the American generals’ plan to send 800 cruise missiles in to Baghdad in the first 48 hours of the planned war.”

2. Ari Fleischer, President Bush’s spokesman, speaking after the same attack in Haifa (Times, 6 March): “We will continue to pursue the path of peace in the Middle East. Except, that is, when we pursue the path of war against Iraq.”

3. Prince Philip (Observer, 29 December): “If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate how much more comfortable aircraft have become; that is, unless you travel on something called economy class, which sounds ghastly. Of course, most things about the lives of poorer people are ghastly, which is why it is so surprising that so many of them turn out at each election and vote for capitalism.”

4. Senior Vatican official (Observer, 29 December): “Illness is a consequence of sin. So the Pope is going to live for ever.”

5. Tony Blair (Times, 1 March): “At some point, you have a duty if you are to offer any leadership to your country in saying why it is we believe there is a real threat from terrorism and these appalling weapons to the security of our countries and to the wider world. Unless, of course, we had Socialism, when neither Iraq nor America nor Britain would have any appalling weapons, and there wouldn’t be any ‘leadership’ either, since people would be able to think and act for themselves.”

6. The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, and the Archbishop of Westminster, head of the Catholic Church in Britain (Times, 20 February): “It is vital, therefore, that all sides in this crisis engage through the United Nations fully and urgently in a process, including continued weapons inspections, that could and should render the trauma and tragedy of war unnecessary. An even better way to render not only this planned war but all future wars unnecessary – in fact, impossible – is to establish Socialism.”

7. President Bush (Eastern Daily Press, 19 February): “The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security – in this case, security of the people. And if you don’t like leaders, taking decisions which may kill thousands of innocent people, you could always get rid of them by having Socialism.”

8. In an opinion poll, 65 percent of people questioned in the UK (Times, 12 February) said that “although it is right in principle to accept genuine asylum-seekers, we have now accepted our fair share, and cannot accept any more. It is not as if any British people have ever gone to live in other countries, like Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and so on.”

9. The Pope (Times, 10 February): “One cannot do nothing in the face of terrorist attacks, but equally we cannot be idle in the face of the threats now on the horizon. War is not inevitable. But even if we avoid this war, there are plenty of violent conflicts round the world now as I speak, and there will be a lot of wars in the years to come – you will have to establish Socialism if you really want to make war impossible.”

10. Rezan Fakhraden, a woman badly gassed at the age of five, when Saddam Hussein dropped poison gas on the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, killing over 5,000 civilians and injuring many more (Times, 22 February): “I cannot climb more than ten stairs. I cannot run. Sometimes my lungs bleed. I cannot stop coughing and I am often sick. I don’t trust Britain or America at all. They have said nothing about our plight due to the gases for fifteen years. They even supported Saddam then. We have received no medicines from Britain or America in all that time to help us, and now we have no more protection against chemical attack than we had then. Yet we may be the first to get struck. But, of course, hypocrisy is an essential characteristic of all capitalist politicians, including those now using the Halabja gassing to justify attacking Iraq.”

Answers: We have made up the last sentence, and only the last sentence, in each of these statements. All the other quotations on this page are genuine.

Score: 1 – 9: Keep trying. 10. You must have read the Socialist Standard before.
Alwyn Edgar

Who’s a rogue state? (2003)

Book Review from the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower’. By William Blum. (Zed Books, 2002)

The name William Blum will not be familiar to many readers in Britain and the majority of those in the USA who learn about him will probably despise him as a traitor. He was intending to make a career in the State Department but found that he could not accept America’s policy in the Vietnam war and left the service. True-blue Americans might have let this “weakness” pass by condemning him as a “wimp”, but he then committed the unpardonable sin of starting to disclose the truth about the shadier actions of their glorious government . He wrote about the members of the CIA and followed that up by an on-the-spot exposure of their involvement in the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. Soon afterwards he extended his searches to CIA staff and activities in Europe.

The recent up-date of his book Rogue State, first published in 2000, collects together not only his wide and carefully researched exposure of CIA tricks and misdeeds worldwide. It also looks in devastating detail at a whole range of US government actions and policies and at the totally amoral and illegal methods used to carry them out. Lying, murder, criminal interference in elections and other affairs of nations across the globe, covert and overt terrorism, corruption of the UN, continuous brainwashing of its own electorate… The list is almost endless; and all this carried out under the most cynical worldwide propaganda umbrella of “developing democracy” and spreading the “noblest civilised values”.

Many of us will already know, or suspect, some of what Blum has to say, but the sheer power of his detailed exposures makes his book , if not a “must”, a very fine source of ammunition against the present leader of world capitalism, in fact of the world. His listing (with comments) of US global interventions since 1945 and his detailing of little-known US voting at the UN General Assembly over a period of about ten years; these alone are worth the cost of the book.

The slight weakness from a socialist viewpoint is his failure to make a strong enough connection between his many trenchant criticisms and their direct link with the capitalist drive for control and profit. He is quite clear about America’s fifty-year long imperialist expansion and all the accompanying hoodwinking of the American people with endless “wicked enemy” propaganda. He has no illusions about 11 September (“after the attack it was Christmas every day for the security establishment and its corporate cohorts”) : and he knows that the US destruction of Afghanistan was carried out to safeguard its proposed oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean. All this is excellent; it’s just a pity that Blum does not add the clincher argument for socialism that, to those who can see, is so implicit in all his facts.
Cyril Oldfield

Blogger's Note:
An earlier edition of this book was reviewed in the September 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard.

George Orwell's 1984 (2003)

Theatre Review from the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The performance of George Orwell’s 1984 by the Northern Stage Ensemble, at The Lowry in Salford, was dark, stark and brutal.

Directed by Alan Lyddiard and Mark Murphy, using large-scale visual footage filmed on location in Moscow and Newcastle, the adaptation attempted to recreate Orwell’s cold, oppressive, inhuman world. The staging was original, but from the first scenes of torture, beatings and blood-curdling screams, the noise level increased. Subtle, this play is not. It is violence, layered upon violence, which fails to convey the true terror of living in Big Brother’s totalitarian regime.

Craig Conway, as Winston Smith, is believable, putting in an excellent performance, but Samantha Cooper’s Julia (Winston’s lover) was much too lightweight, lacking any sense of passion. Mark Calvert as O’Brien, Winston’s confidant, friend and, ultimately, his torturer, also failed to convey menace, being rather wooden at times.

This version is concentrated mainly on the latter half of the book, skimming swiftly over Winston and Julia’s doomed relationship, turning it almost into a one-night stand. And owing to the loud video background, Winston’s final betrayal of Julia is lost; I had to strain to hear him over the noise say `Do it to Julia!’ – at least, I think that’s what he said.

The play lasts for one and a half hours, and overall is very well done and worth seeing. After two curtain calls, the audience exited to the Salford night in a state of shock. A brave performance all round.
Joan Morris

Our challenge to Blair (2003)

From the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just before he gave the green light for the current slaughter we sent Blair the following challenge.

Mr. Blair,

I have been asked by our Campaigns Department to issue a challenge to you to publicly debate with a representative of the Socialist Party. This would concern what you would see as your ‘moral’ perspective regarding the impending war on Iraq.

In such a debate, the Socialist Party will seek to clearly demonstrate three things:
  1. That, in pressing for war, you are primarily serving the interests of factions of the capitalist class in the USA (and Britain), capitalist factions which are bent on expanding their corporate interests in the Middle East;
  2. That you are acting against the interests of ordinary working people in Iraq, Britain and the USA, and, indeed, against the interests of the world-wide working class;
  3. That, given the nature of modern warfare, you and your administration will have to share responsibility, with George W. Bush and his administration, for the murder of innocent people in Iraq.
In case you should feel that security issues might preclude you from participating in the type of public forum favoured by The Socialist Party, we can say that we would agree to your choice of venue.

I look forward to hearing from you in early course.

Yours for a humane and war-free socialist world.
The Socialist Party.

The reply from Downing Street:

‘The Prime Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter of 11 March inviting him to a public debate with a representative of the Socialist Party.

Sadly, the very heavy pressure on the Prime Minister’s diary at the present time makes it impossible for him to join you for a debate, and he must therefore decline your kind invitation. He is sorry to have to send a disappointing reply.
Yours sincerely,
Katie Kay’

We can understand that Blair has more pressing things to do at present – like organising a war to install a puppet regime in Iraq which will help ensure a secure and steady supply of oil for western corporate capitalism.

Join the campaign against all war!
Join the Socialist Party!

50 Years Ago: Facing facts In Formosa (2003)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

A new war scare is going the rounds. General Eisenhower, in his State of the Union announcement, says that the American fleet would no longer be used to prevent raids by Nationalist Chinese against the Chinese mainland. Such a decision would be in the fashion these days — of a big power using a small one as a cats paw, This contemplated extension of the war in Korea to the great Asian mainland, has aroused the fear that this may be a step towards World War III [. . .]

Formosa is an island crossroads, halfway between Shanghai and Hongkong, and halfway between Tokyo and Saigon, so that control of the island by the Chinese nationalists means that they (on behalf of their mentors) appear to control these routes. Another aspect of the island's strategic position is that along with Japan and the Philippines it acts as a bastion of American defence, or as a springboard in case of invasion to the Asian mainland.

Another use of Formosa to the USA is that so long as control is invested in the Chiang Kai-Shek clique, there is always the inherent danger of invasion of the mainland, and this risk keeps large bodies of Chinese troops tied down — soldiers who would otherwise be available for service against the Allies in Korea.

But viewed from Peking, the American threat may take on a different aspect — it may appear as a sign of weakness. The Chinese may think that after two and a half years of fighting, the armies of the West can no longer see hope of victory arising from action on the battlefield, and are therefore casting about for some other means.

Britain and the USA in the Far East have been traditionally hostile to each other — the friction arising over sharing the spoils from the China trade. Britain, the first on the scene, got the lion’s share — an untenable state of affairs for American interests.

The temptation to grasp this juicy plum has tantalised the US even more since the atrophy of British power and the rise of American power in the “free” world.

The lusty adolescent US capitalist power is swashbuckling with a full purse in the Far East, with the cynical, older and more experienced Chinese and British rulers watching for the main chance.

[From 'Facing facts in Formosa', April 1953 Socialist Standard.]

“ My country is the world” (1965)

From the April 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
"I vow to thee, my country —all earthly things above 
Entire and whole and perfect the service of my love.
Nobody who has been to school can have escaped the regular doses of patriotism which are administered there. The sentiments of Spring-Rice's hymn—which is sung at many a school assembly—are widely accepted, in some form or other.

For example, all capitalist political parties agree that there are some things on which the shadow boxing has to stop; one of these is patriotism. Whatever slant each of them may put on it, they are all agreed that everyone should be proud of his nationality and should work for what they call the interests of his country. In the last general election the Conservatives said in their manifesto that they aimed to ”. . . gain the vitality to keep our country great." The Liberals lamented the fact that “Britain has lagged behind since the war . . ." The Labour Party promised to “. . . rekindle an authentic patriotic faith in our future . . .”

This general agreement also means that anybody who questions the values and the reason of patriotism is often regarded as a little odd, mentally undernourished, somebody who has got the world out of perspective. Yet all facts and reasonable argument show up patriotism for an empty sham, a propaganda weapon which is used to persuade people to do things against their own interests and to obscure where their interests actually lie.

Patriotism is adaptable. It can be stretched to include a number of countries which have united—or which have been united by another power—and which previously had their own, separate patriotism. Thus when Germany became united in the 19th. century there had to be created a German patriotism, to include and dominate those of the states which had been unified. In the same way the leaders of the new states in Africa are trying to create patriotism out of a mixture —and often a clash—of tribal loyalties. They are trying to instil into the people of their countries a pride in being a “ Kenyan”, or a “ Ghanian ”, or a “ Zambian ” worker; a respect for the country's flag, its National Anthem and a love of country to work, fight and die for.

The speeches of these leaders throb with patriotism. Last January, President Kaunda of Zambia promised military measures to “. . . protect our country and preserve our national identity.” When Kenya became what was called a one-party democracy last November, Mr. Ngala, leader of the swallowed up Kenya African Democratic Union, said that he had disbanded his party because ”. . . we consider the cause of Kenya to be greater than any of our personal pride, gains or losses.”

There is a certain bitter irony in this. For it is in the new countries that people should have learnt of the dangers of patriotism. The native peoples of Africa should have learnt this, in the days when they were invaded, carved up and suppressed by the super-patriotic Empire Builders of North West Europe. The same lesson should have been absorbed by the people of India, Pakistan and the new Far Eastern States— and by the people of Israel, many of whom have had their own personal experience of the logical end of patriotism, in the concentration camps of pre-war Germany.

Just as patriotism can be extended to embrace a number of united nations, so it can be contracted when a country is divided. The East German government, for example, works to keep Germany permanently split and to foster an East German patriotism. The guards on the Berlin Wall are encouraged to forget what they were once told about German nationality, and to shoot any of their fellow Germans who try to slip over to the West. In the same way, the North Koreans are now encouraged to treat the people in the South as their enemies; the same thing applies in the war which is going on in Vietnam.

Patriotism needs to be adaptable, yet in essence it should be inflexible and dogmatic. It was Stephen Decatur, in a speech in Virginia in 1816, who gave the famous toast—”. . . our country, right or wrong,” which does not allow for any modification. The unquestioning acceptance of patriotism has made men endure exceptional horrors, it has persuaded them to accept the most degrading of indignities, and to impose the harshest of brutalities upon others. The men in the trenches in 1914/18 suffered the mud and shellfire and the slaughter in the cause of country. The Nazis cut their swath of death and fear across Europe under the inspiration of their patriotism. The men who set fire to Dresden, and who killed Hiroshima, were acting under the same impulses—and the same delusion.

Here again we have an example of the way in which the proponents of patriotism cynically vary their attitude as it suits their purpose. The Allied bomber crews who wiped out the refugees in Dresden were doing what is called their patriotic duty—they were obeying an order, without doubt or question. Yet this is exactly what most of the men who have stood trial in the war crimes courts did. These men have not, of course, been charged with offences against their country; they have been prosecuted for what have been called crimes against humanity. Thus, although the victor countries of the last war insist that their own soldiers should obey orders because it was patriotic to do so, they also insist that German soldiers should have refused to obey their orders in the interests of humanity. They ignore the fact that, to be consistent, patriotism should swamp humanity.

What sort of arguments are used to support patriotism? One that is popularly accepted, especially in wartime, is that it is something to do with a country's scenery. The official propaganda of 1939/45 encouraged us to join up, eat less, save more, by showing us pictures of placid villages, rolling downland, welcoming white cliffs. Anyone who lived through that war can remember the Ink Spots vocal group adding to this propaganda (and presumably to their bank balance) by crooning about an old cottage in a peaceful valley of corn, ending up with the song’s message, and its title—This Is Worth Fighting For.

There are three things to say about this. The first is that all countries have their beauty spots and that if it was right for an Englishman to go to war because of the Sussex Downs then it was equally right for a German to fight because of the Black Forest, or an Italian because of the architecture of Ancient Rome.

The second thing is that a lot of the scenic beauty of this country has been destroyed since 1945; not by conquering Germans but by the enemy which is always there, in peace and war. It is the profit motive of capitalism which tore up enormous areas of countryside for opencast coal mining. It is the same motive which has been responsible for, among other things, the outrages of the big airports, for the housing sprawl into places which not so long ago were green and pleasant, for the high voltage power grid which is now threatening to violate the South Downs. The National Trust estimates that at least five miles of outstandingly beautiful coastline is each year being spoilt by property developers, who see the chance to make big profits as untouched bays and headlands are opened up by new roads, and motorways.

The third thing is that, even though there is a lot of beautiful scenery in this country, the vast majority of people have little chance to enjoy it. Most of us have to work for our living, which means that we spend all day, almost every day, in the heat and noise of a factory or the monotony of an office. Or perhaps we are salesmen, frantically chasing orders, However we get our living, it absorbs the bulk of our time and leaves only the fag end of it for any other activities. And when work is done we go back to the cheap poky place we call home. Millions of us go back to slums, which after all are as typical of a country as its rural scenery. (One First World War writer thought that the trenches were better places to live in than the slums that thousands of soldiers had left to go to war.) But no patriotic posters ever showed the Gorbals or Salford, and somehow these places got left out of the Ink Spots' records.

This, in a way at least, is consistent. The basis of patriotism is pride. No matter what their economic conditions may be—even if they live in a slum or are chronically out of work—patriots are proud of their nationality. British patriots are proud of being British, and do not bother themselves with wondering whether the impoverished peasant in Vietnam is proud of being Vietnamese. In the last war, the same sort of person thought that any decent German should have been ashamed of his nationality. Patriotism is always supposed to work in only one direction.

But anyone who is proud of being British should ask himself whether he takes pride in everything for which this country has been responsible. Is he proud of the fortunes which were built up in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which erected many of the stately homes which we are supposed to include in our national heritage, from the proceeds of slave running and piracy? Does he take pride in the pitiless hardships of the enclosures and the evictions in Ireland, in the savage exploitations of the Industrial Revolution?

The list is a long one. The conquering of India. The penal settlements in Australia. The blatant attempts to crush the young Boer Republic, Suez. And the end has not been reached. The depredations committed by the British ruling class, and by those of other countries, crowd the pages of history and continue to make the story of capitalist conflict. There is nothing in any of them for anyone to be proud of.

In fact, pride is completely out of place in relation to nationality. We are entitled to feel proud about something which we have achieved, but things which are beyond our control should not be matters for pride. We are not proud about the weather, nor about the fact that we were born at a particular time. In the same way, nobody should be proud because he happens to have been born in such a way that he can call himself British, or German, or any other nationality.

The short, simple fact is that patriotism and logic do not mix. Perhaps that is why patriotic fervour is so often so belligerently expressed, and why it can so easily lead to the extremes of racial intolerance, to the theories about a “ Master Race ” and to the “ Final Solution" which is not final, which has nothing to do with any problem, but which is modern barbarity run wild.

This is the grimmer side of patriotism. A more popular one is that of a Blimpish nostalgia for the halycon days of Omdurman and the North West Frontier. It is common, now, for so-called progressive thinkers to poke fun at this, forgetting that under the skin the modern satirist is as patriotic as any choleric Victorian colonel.

No satirist ever hit on the basic tragedy of the thing, which is that patriotism debases a perfectly laudable motive. There is nothing wrong with the notion that the interests of a group are greater than those of any individual in it. Patriotism prostitutes this by restricting the size of the group into small parts of the human race and by bolstering itself with false ideas of superiority which in the end work against the interests of the whole.

Social progress depends upon the denial of patriotism. The majority of people in the modern world are members of the working class whose problems and interests are not confined within national barriers. These people have no country, no national interests; patriotism is poison to them. What they do have is a brotherhood with workers in other countries, which unites them in the need to establish a world of freedom. Thomas Paine once wrote, “ My country is the world,” and that is not a bad way of putting it.

What Are Your Wages? (1965)

From the April 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Do you suffer from that common ailment: too much week left at the end of your money? Most of us do. The doctors, the teachers, the shipworkers, the provincial busmen and many others are all struggling, at the moment of writing, for higher wages. In a few weeks’ time other workers in other jobs will be engaged in the same sort of tussle. As a matter of fact, we have become used to this pattern, since the war, of “rounds” of wage increases. The economy of this country has been “booming” fairly steadily, and unemployment keeps fairly low. But it is rather a strange fact that, in spite of all the increases that have been won in that time, our wages are still inadequate. There is plenty of evidence of this. The fact that the hire purchase debt in Britain passed the £1,000 million mark in 1964 shows just how much people can not buy without getting into debt.

Why is it that this struggle for higher wages is always going on, even in countries like the U.S.A. where workers are the highest paid in the world?

If it weren’t for the money, most of us would stop work tomorrow. After all, wages are the common means of getting work out of men and women. You can hear some of them call it “bloody slavery”. They are not trying to be accurate-only to express their feelings. There is very little real slavery in the world today. It is a very old-fashioned and inefficient system of getting work out of people. The big empires of the past were built up on slave labour; and there was a brief flare-up of it again in America when the virgin land of the new continent was being opened up to agriculture. The slave was caught or bought, like a horse or a machine; and he was fed or flogged when necessary in order to get the maximum of work out of him. Slaves were not really regarded as people: they were denied citizenship; and their owners usually had power of life and death over them. But the quality of work they could do was generally very low; and there is a snag to owning slaves: they have to be fed and housed even when there is no work for them to do.

Although there has always been a certain amount of it, getting work out of people for wages is fairly new as a universal system. Almost everywhere in the world the slave empires were overthrown by the much less highly organised system of feudalism. The feudal serf was a “free” man owning his own bit of land; but to protect themselves from attack serfs clustered round the strong-arm men, the lords of the manor; and they paid for their “protection” by working on the land or fighting the battles of their lords. In the time that was left over, they were able to work their own strips of land. A tenth of what they produced was demanded from them by a highly organised church, which operated in league with the lords to prevent serfs from running away. It is debatable, therefore, whether serfs were much better off  than slaves.

With the rise of capitalism, however, the serfs were gradually freed entirely-by having even their strips of land taken from them. They were no longer forced to work for anybody—except by the pressure of starvation. As it was, they offered themselves for work eagerly, even desperately at times, for there was no other way of getting food, clothing and shelter, except by wages. At last, in capitalism, the system of buying and selling became universal. Everything was for sale. Anything could be bought. The problem for the great mass of humanity was that they had nothing left to sell except their ability to work.

Most of us feel we have the right to live. The trouble is that hardly any of us have got “private means”. We can only get the means to live by “selling ourselves”. It is rather like prostitution; but we have no choice. Because of this, a lot of workers talk about the “right to work” almost as though it were the same thing as the right to live. They take part in marches and demonstrations when jobs are scarce, insisting upon their right to work. They feel offended if they are told that they are demanding the right to prostitute themselves. Actually, of course, workers have no legal right to work. Nor will they ever have. All they possess is a commodity—the ability to work. Millions of people throughout the world own nothing else.

This is what distinguishes them as a separate economic class, the working class. They constitute about ninety per cent of the civilized population of the world. Of course, in the more advanced countries they may own their own house and their own car; but economically their class is determined by the fact that they have to prostitute themselves throughout their useful lives in order to keep these things and live from day to day.

Obviously, if workers are sellers of the ability to work, there must also be a class of buyers. Occasionally and briefly, one worker may buy the services of another to do a job; but as he only has his wages with which to pay wages it cannot be general. Only those who possess the wealth which can be worked upon to produce more wealth, can really afford to pay wages. But why should anyone want to hire us—especially if they already have the wealth, and we have none? Why should anyone pay us wages for the use of our mental and physical energy? There can only be one reason: to increase their  wealth further by our work. And not only that: to increase it by more than the cost of our wages.

Wealth used in this way to make more wealth is called capital; and those who use it in this way are called capitalists. So the bulk of humanity is divided into two classes: sellers and buyers of labour power; workers and capitalists.

So wages are really the price paid for our ability to work. The very existence of wages proves the division into classes, wherever it is found. Every week or every month our pay packet or cheque reminds us of the fact that we belong to the class which can only secure the right to live by offering themselves for work by prostituting themselves to those who find it convenient to buy their abilities-the world’s capitalists.

Such a situation inevitably produces conflict. In buying and selling, the seller always tries to raise the price, while the buyer tries to reduce it. There is no let-up. And the very point of conflict is the wage packet itself. The quickest and surest way for the capitalist to increase his profits is by cutting wages. And yet the worker’s wage is his only means of living, so that he has no choice but to struggle-not only to raise his wages, but to prevent them being depressed.

A Fair Day’s Pay
There were times in the nineteenth century when some wages for adult men with families were as low as sixpence a week; and it meant, of course, that the women and children were forced out to work as well to keep alive. All this is gone now—at least, in Britain. Similar things are still found in the newly capitalist countries, and in places like Hong Kong; even, surprisingly enough, in the U.S.A. But here, for the last few years, the talk has all been of “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”  Harold Wilson has been the most recent public figure to use it, in a demand for greater effort from the working class of Britain. By this, he identifies himself with all other politicians, whether they claim to represent the working class or not, because this is a slogan used purely on behalf of the capitalist class.

There is really nothing “fair” about the wages system at all. It is always loaded overwhelmingly in the capitalists’ favour. Although they often do increase their profit by fighting off wage demands, this is not the main method of making profit. Capital finds it profitable to employ labour even when wages are not depressed. And this is generally the case in Britain today. Wages are inadequate, of course, but they are relatively about the highest that they have ever been.

How, then, does the capitalist make profits? Purely by using the wages system. Actually, the wages swindle is very simple, but very effective. And, what is more, it is perfectly legal. If you can get hold of enough capital, you can start operating it tomorrow-if you can get hold of enough capital.

This is the way it works: the capitalist simply hires a man’s abilities for the day, or the week, or the month; and then he gets as much work out of him as he possibly can during that time. Now, ever since the dawn of civilization it has been possible for a man to produce more than he needed for his own keep. That is what made slavery a possibility in the first place. And, since factory organisation, and then mechanisation, and now even automation, the possibilities have risen. But the capitalist does not pay for the actual value that the man adds to the raw materials by working on them. All that he pays for is the man’s keep. Loosely speaking the worker may have produced enough by Monday or Tuesday, to pay for his keep; but the capitalist keeps him turning out wealth until Friday, simply because he has bought the worker’s labour power for that period.

If the workers complain that this system is not fair at all, it is easy to point out to them that this is a buying and selling arrangement. They have something to sell: their ability to work. And the capitalist is prepared to buy it. Profit is simply the difference between a man’s wages and the value of what he actually produces. All this vague trade union talk about the workers having a right to a share in the profits simply shows a total lack of understanding of what profits are and what wages are. The workers have no right to a share in the profits at all, in the capitalist system.

How Much Are you Worth?
There is no direct connection at all, then, between the amount that a man produces and the size of his wage packet. Neither is there any real connection between his wages and how hard he works. This is often difficult to see because of the piece-work systems, bonus schemes, and high overtime rates, all of which make it look as though the harder you work, the more money you make. If there really was such a connection, it would mean that that Dr. Beeching, with his salary of £25,000 from British Railways, was working about thirty times as hard every day as the average worker – quite impossible.

By the time that most of us get home after a day’s work, we are pretty well exhausted. It takes a real effort to get washed and changed to go out to a cinema or the pub. And now that television has brought the cinema to us, millions of us are content to sit in an armchair for three hours and then go to bed. We have put out, during the day, all the physical, emotional and mental energy we are capable of, without running ourselves down into illness. Even this happens fairly often with many people.

So we have done our fair day’s work; and we have got our fair day’s pay. And there is a direct connection between them. This commodity that we have to sell-our ability to work is used up at the end of the day. We have sold it. And it costs money to renew it-money to keep up a certain standard of food, clothing, shelter and recreation to make us able to face another day, or another Monday morning. What is more, we were reared with a certain amount of care in the first place, educated at a certain cost, and probably trained, too.

All of this makes up the true cost of production of our commodity-the ability to do a certain type of work. This is what our wages pay for-the cost of producing our labour power. This is all that is ever meant by “a fair day’s pay” – enough for us to keep on producing the ability to work for the capitalist class, throughout our lives, until our commodity loses most of its worth through old age. It has also paid for the cost of producing children to provide another army of wage-slaves to take out places when we are gone.

The wages system has proved so successful that it has spread to all the major countries of the world, and is still spreading. And, in between the wars and slumps that it causes, it works like a charm. The surplus that the workers produce is largely used to buy more machinery and plant and materials to extract more surplus from their efforts, and to bring more peasants and primitives in “undeveloped areas” into the system. The new machines produced by workers in one industry serve to step up the amount of profit made out of workers in another. The buildings and plant set up by one generation are there to extract surplus value from the next.

All the time, and all over the world, the workers are building up more and more wealth none of which belongs to them. By their very work they deprive themselves more and more of the wealth which is in the world, and so set the capitalist class higher and higher above them, with greater and greater powers of oppression.

And most workers accept this system of legalised robbery. (It is only legal because capitalists made the laws.) They accept it every time they press for their “right to work”. They accept it when they talk of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”, and when they think that “co-operation between both sides of industry” is a good thing, they are showing their approval of being robbed.

Of course, they are being brainwashed into accepting it. They don’t realise that they can abolish the wages system. They are usually so relieved and glad to get their pay packet or their cheque, when it finally comes, that they forget they are holding in their hands the proof that they have been taken for suckers once again in the biggest swindle of all time.
S. Stafford