Thursday, August 10, 2023

Obituary: Gavin Sinclair (2007)

Obituary from the August 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Manchester Branch regret to have to announce the death of comrade Gavin Sinclair at the early age of 35. He joined the party in 1990 when he was a student in London training in psychology and the physiology of the brain. He worked for the NHS as an IT officer. An illness prevented him from being as active as he had originally been but he did maintain a blogsite in which he commented both on current events from a socialist perspective and on general NHS matters, which is still on the internet at as a fitting memorial to him.

50 Years Ago: Mr Hutchinson investigates (2007)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Britain great? And why are so many workers considering emigration as something of a solution to their problems?

Firstly, British capitalism, although still a world power, is second rate in comparison with the giants of the United States and the Soviet Union, which is nothing, as far as workers are concerned, to get hot under the collar about. The once mighty British Empire bestowed no benefit on British workers; likewise American and Russian “greatness” on their workers.

As for the increasing flow of emigrants to the New World and Australasia, again the reasons are hardly secret—the chance of higher wages, a supposed solution to housing difficulties, etc.—all very much facets of working-class life.

However, Mr. Harold Hutchinson of the Daily Herald (4/5/6 March), in a series of three articles, goes in for some soul searching on these very questions. Not surprisingly, being a reformist, Socialism is not mentioned, let alone defined; Mr. Hutchinson’s horizon does not go beyond capitalism—although he no doubt prefers a “modified” capitalism—with all of its inseparable paraphernalia, i.e., buying and selling, rent, interest and profit, export drives, together with the necessary trade routes, spheres of influence and strategic points. Presumably, this is considered perfectly natural, his task being the futile attempt to knock off some of the rough edges.

(From article by F. Simkins, Socialist Standard, August 1957)

Sting in the Tail: Virgin Gives Up Sex (1990)

The Sting in the Tail column from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Virgin Gives Up Sex

Saw on Teletext that the Communist Party (CPGB) is to consider winding-up and will discuss a paper which argues that "Marxism is no longer a credible philosophy".

This is rich because these "communists" never accepted Marxism anyway, embracing instead the anti-Marxist theories of Lenin.

For the CPGB to now consider ditching something it rejected nearly 70 years ago is entirely consistent with its history of theoretical ignorance and confusion.

Nature or Nurture

At a recent Socialist Party outdoor meeting in Glasgow a young man in the audience insisted that it is human nature for people to be competitive.

If this is true then why all those takeover bids aimed at getting rid of competition? For example, in Edinburgh the chairman of Hearts FC tried to remove rivals Hibernian in this way.

The USA has its anti-trust laws and Britain has has Mergers and Monopolies Commission. Don't they know about human nature?

And if people were naturally competitive then organisations like the National Front would be unable to play on fears that immigrants are competing for "British jobs".

People are certainly competitive sometimes but that is entirely due to social conditioning and not so-called "human nature".

Impossible Dream

British Steel's plan to close Ravenscraig strip-mill in Scotland has produced the inevitable demand from the steel workers that their jobs be saved.

But since they accept that the means of life be privately instead of socially owned then what do they expect? A capitalism in which nobody loses his or her job and where the owners allow their enterprises to be run for the benefit of the workers?

Workers all over the world share the illusion that security can go hand in hand with private (or state) ownership. Until they get rid of that notion then capitalism remains secure.

God and Mammon (1)

Dr. Johnson may have been correct when he said in 1775 "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel", but to judge by the events of 1990 it would seem that Religion is a fairly popular refuge for scoundrels too.

Imelda Marcos, widow of the late unlamented dictator of the Philippines, President Marcos, was recently acquitted by a jury in New York on fraud charges.
Mr. Francisco Tatad, who was a spokesman for her husband says she is, "a woman transformed by suffering, in quality and substance. God in his infinite mercy has blessed her."
(The Economist 7 July)
Considering she was charged with stealing $200M from the Philippines and using the money to buy jewellery, paintings and Manhattan skyscrapers, God has certainly blessed her.

God and Mammon (2)

In the same issue of The Economist we find more evidence of the religious refuge for scoundrels in the story about the disaster in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1,400 people died during the Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Answering critics about his organisation of the Haj, which resulted in these people being crushed in a tunnel (according to some eye-witnesses caused by a panic setting in after the failure of the air-conditioning), King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was extremely philosophical about the disaster.
"It was God's will, which is above everything. It was fate. Had they not died there, they would have died elsewhere, and at the same predestined moment."
Blessing the dictator's widow who has just ripped-off $200M and condemning 1,400 devout believers to death in an underground tunnel truly the ways of the Lord are mysterious.

"Fair" Competition

One of the myths about privatisation is that it leads to more competition. One of the examples of this is British Airways.

The reality is somewhat different from the myth. For a start BA took over their chief domestic rival British Caledonian and now they are complaining about the government decision to allow American Airlines landing rights at Manchester with an onward connection to Frankfurt.
BA could, of course, be accused of trying to prevent more competition but chief executive Sir Colin Marshall insists that all they want is fair play. Otherwise there is a danger that the huge American carriers with their big protected domestic market behind them could, in time, swamp the smaller European airlines.
(Glasgow Herald 11 July) 
The appeal for fair play in the market place is a pathetic falsehood when you realise that BA have already entered into agreements (currently being investigated by the European Commission) to protect themselves from competition in Europe.
BA is also put out by the official response to its proposed tie up with Sabena and KLM to form hub-and-spoke operations based on Brussels which it says would be to the advantage of consumers in the UK regions. The hub-and-spoke idea came from the USA where short-haul routes feed into a central hub which handle the onward long-distance flights.
The BA claim that such an arrangement would be of benefit to UK consumers would appear to be very altruistic until you realise what the hub-and-spoke arrangement has led to in the US.
The BA plan would mean more continental destinations being available for regional airports, but the American experience does suggest it could reduce competition. De-regularisation in the US has not, in fact, stimulated as much competition as its proponents thought because individual airlines have come to dominate traffic at their hub.

The Life of Brian

The Scorpion's Nest
1st August

TV Presenter, 
ex Labour MP 
now rabid Tory

Dear Mr. Walden,

We read in The Sun (3 July) your confession that you "never believed in Socialism". That was very honest of you but we wonder if you were ever as honest with the Labour Party dupes who chose you as their candidate.

Anyway, we were hardly surprised by your admission, or your claim that most Labour MPs you had known didn't believe in socialism either. The truth is that none of you know anything about socialism and think it merely means Labour administration of capitalism.

There is a long line of self-seeking, job hunters, from Ramsay MacDonald down to the Gang of Four, who used the Labour Party for their own sordid ends and ditched it when it no longer had anything to offer them.

Your place of honour among them is assured.

Caught In The Act: Check out (1990)

The Caught In The Act Column from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Check out
How much would you pay for a bottle of wine? If you can only run to plonk from Tesco or Sainsbury you are unlikely to have been an enthusiastic participant in the recent auction of the contents of West Green House, the Hampshire home of Lord McAlpine, when bottles of something called Chateau de la Tour were going for around £500

You see Lord McAlpine, who is the kind of jolly, informal fellow who likes to be known to one and all as 'Alastair', is a bon viveur and. as any shopper knows, that means he would look on supermarket plonk as only a little less intolerable than strychnine. Selling up his home does not mean that the noble lord is on the slippery slope which ends in Cardboard City; it's just that he had a fancy to move to another sumptuous place with another collection of antiques, art treasures and all the little bits and pieces which make life bearable for a bon viveur.

He was also, until recently, the treasurer of the Conservative Party, a job which did not entail his growing pigeon-chested over fusty ledgers since it mainly consisted of extracting generous donations to party funds from other exceedingly rich people. His background (Stowe public school, where he managed three ’O' levels) and his present circumstances (inheritor of massive wealth and a powerful position in the McAlpine building firm founded by his great grandfather) made him ideally suited for the job. It is said that in the 1987 election he screwed some £23 million out of his fellow tycoons.

Election realities
As part of his fund-raising during that election McAlpine sent a copy of the Labour Party manifesto to 200 selected top business people. The implication was clear; a Labour government would cost them a lot of money. The fact that this is nonsense — as only a cursory knowledge of recent history reveals - shows how little capitalism is understood even by the capitalists whose privileges are nurtured by the system. But to return to those Labour manifestos: when the parties of capitalism go into an election they do so on the assurance that they stand for the interests of all the people. Vote for us. runs their argument, allow us to implement our programme, and everyone will benefit. McAlpine's ruse, highly successful as it was, reveals the truth that elections are fought over which section of the minority ruling class should be that much richer and more secure, over which investments should receive more protection, over which proposals for working class exploitation promise to be more intense and profitable

McAlpine once informed the House of Lords that he was " . . . the builder of the National Theatre". This kind of assertion is often made by capitalists, we hear of them designing buildings, laying out gardens, building houses and so on when in fact they are not to be seen doing any such thing. McAlpine may have dropped in on tho site of the National Theatre — it was a prestigious enough project to warrant his interest in its progress — but he didn't actually sketch it out on a drawing board, or mix the cement or slap down tho bricks or hang the doors This work was carried out by members of the class who need to work for their living and who got a wage which does not allow them to drink Chateau de la Tour. They build places like the National Theatre and West Green House and they live in mortgaged semis or flats or rented bedsits. And at elections they are so impressed by the specious arguments of people like McAlpine that they surge out to vote to keep his class in power and privilege and their own class in exploitation and poverty. Our class has to eat supermarket food, wear supermarket clothes, live in supermarket houses. But this does not mean we have to have supermarket ideas.

Political packaging
The question is — is there some connection between supermarkets and tired, discredited political non-theories? We only ask because there is. apparently, no truth in the rumour that David Sainsbury is about to apply to join the Labour Party This member of a famous, exceedingly rich family whose fortune is channelled through those clattering check-outs where tho operators have little time or motivation to make any human contact with the patiently-shuffling customers and their laden trolleys, was a valued contributor to the late, unlamented Social Democratic Party. Did he, we wonder, receive one of those manifestos from Lord McAlpine? With the collapse of tho SDP there was a hopeful casting of bait among the partyless members by Liberal and Labour and Sainsbury would be a very juicy catch for them. But he has stated that ho remains loyal to the mould breakers even though they hardly exist any more

As a supermarket chief Sainsbury is probably well versed in the theories about the sales appeal of attractive packaging. So was the SDP, whose favourable attention from the media went some way to disguise the fact that they had little more to offer than bits and pieces of the failed policies of the other parties which they were so ambitious to replace. The same can be said about their leaders, who were supposed to have discovered the cleansing relevance of something called moderation. Jenkins. Owen. Williams and Rodgers had all held office in a Labour government and it took a lot of opaque packaging to obscure their association with the impotence of that government to make capitalism work as they had promised

Well this is all history and some history it was: the risible Alliance and then the chaos of the attempted merger with the Liberals and Owen's refusal to accept a vote which went against his wishes. Now he is no longer leading a party, which leaves just Rosie Barnes and John Cartwright, neither of them sure about who is leading whom. And all of this disreputable manoeuvring has been within the party who said it would not play the old game of party politics. So the mould remains unbroken. The SDP deserves, and will probably get. no more than a footnote in British political history

Will Sainsbury stay with them? Whatever he decides, it need not concern the check-out operators nor the queues in his shops Whichever government has held power Sainsbury has continued to prosper; capitalism has gone on its way undisturbed. The company's slogan is that in their shops Good Food Costs Less. What price consistent, viable political principles?

Political pollution
When supermarkets came on the scene thy were recommended to us as part of something called the Retailing Revolution. What that meant was the abolition of the system where customers stood at shop counters while assistants weighed up sugar, biscuits, butter and the like — and knew something about the stuff. This was replaced by the system in which the customer took the stuff off the shelves, which meant that it had to be pre-packed and that brought in another thing called the Packaging Revolution. People who tear their nails trying to get at a packet of biscuits or cheese or whatever may be consoled to know that they are participating in a revolution. Except that the whole episode was a grievous misuse of the word

We mention this because, as the Eastern European dictatorships crumble away, the abuse of political terminology is reaching the scale of a feverish epidemic. In the Weekend Guardian of 16 June, for example, an article on the devastation wrought on the environment by industry in countries like Poland and East Germany was described as "Marxist-Leninist pollution". Leaving aside the fallacious linking of Marx's name with Lenin's — all too common — it is a fact that Marx did not condone the ghastly effects of capitalist industrial development, indeed he devoted a lot of effort to exposing it and to pointing out how it could and must be permanently eradicated.

In its frantic scramble to industrialise, to concentrate human labour power and to expand, developing capitalism has not been concerned about human interests. That is the story behind the slums and their diseased misery, the wrecking of the environment and the pollution of the air, earth and sea. It is the story behind the rush to industrialise in the Eastern bloc countries and the devastation it has brought. Politicians in the West pretend that it is socialism which is responsible for this and which has failed in Eastern Europe. To be charitable, we may assume they say this because they don't understand capitalism and even less socialism. Being rich doesn't save Lord McAlpine and David Sainsbury from being deluded, the working class doesn't have the same excuse, though

Can we save the planet? (1990)

From the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

We live to-day within a social system which is sick to its core. Throughout the world, production is taking place not simply to satisfy human needs, but to satisfy the voracious appetite of profit. Within this system of world capitalism, the consumption of wealth is in fact merely a means to an end—the further rapid accumulation of capital for those who invest in this production, those who own and control the world's resources.

The past hundred years have seen the most rapid and uncontrolled industrial expansion. with a virtual explosion of productive methods. The driving force behind this was never simply industrialisation for its own sake. The reason for this unplanned and damaging use of natural resources lay in the market system, with its need for a constant flow of profit. The rapid and short-term accumulation of capital proceeds regardless of the cost in terms of upsetting any natural ecological balance, just as it also ignores the needs of the majority of humanity. Each profit-making unit seeks to maximise its own short-term economic gain, without concern for the common interest or longer-term ecological considerations.

We may all inhabit the same planet, but the environment of which we are a part is social as well as natural, and our daily experience of this environment depends on our social class. The working-class majority experience a poverty which is absurd when contrasted with what is technologically possible. Whether in the concrete jungle or in rural squalor we exist in a dirty, dangerous and shoddy environment. Our housing which we have a constant struggle to obtain and hang on to, is often damaged or damp and almost always cheaply built. The small minority who own and control the world's productive resources, on the other hand, are able to enjoy the open spaces and relatively fresh air of private country estates, and the comforts of secure housing, good food and reliable transport.

For millions across the world, "the environment” means lack of clean water, avoidable but fatal diseases and ultimately starvation. In this way 40,000 children under the age of 5 are dying every single day, whilst the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that if properly cultivated the world could feed the total population several times over. The reason for such obscene contradictions is the continued organisation of society on the basis of the market mechanism which is blind to need, unless backed up with cash. Throughout the world the vast majority are able to survive only by selling their working abilities to the minority who own and control the farms, factories, transport and other resources. Wealth is being produced not directly to satisfy need, but to be sold in order to realise a profit for the minority.

Reform or revolution?
Faced with the existence of this system, those who are concerned with its terrible effects have two options. They can struggle in an effort to reform and regulate it. or they can aim to replace it with a different social system altogether. This debate, between reform and revolution, took place in earnest at the turn of the century within the labour movement as a whole. The emergence of the “Green" movement in recent years raises just the same issue. Those involved in both the Green Party and the ecological pressure groups are trying to avert ecological crisis through legislation and other means within the framework of capitalism. But within this social structure, any concessions to such concerns will be "too little, too late" and will only take place if and when it appears to fit in with the dictates of profit.

There are several reasons why neither a Green government nor pressure-group activity nor legislative measures will succeed in their aims, however urgent a priority the saving of the plant may be seen to be. The claim that this urgency demands that we must set aside the struggle for social transformation and apply ourselves to preventing such ecological crisis is based on quite false logic. In fact, it is only through the replacement of capitalism by socialism that such measures can ever begin to be realised themselves.

First, governments are not in control. They are controlled in their actions by the in-built laws of the market system. Social action is moulded and limited by the underlying economic system of the world, because the way in which we organise the production of wealth shapes the priorities of society in general. Laws against "excessive" pollution are needed only in a system of society which has an inherent tendency to pollute. Productive units have the constant temptation to avoid such regulation in order to improve their competitive efficiency. At the time of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. Captain Nic Rutherford of the International Federation of Ships' Masters Associations, was quoted as saying:
The big problem is that one owner is not going to make expensive alterations that would put him at a disadvantage compared with his competitors until he absolutely has to (Independent. 10 March 1987).
In fact, far from solving these problems, attempts at solving them within capitalism will often make things even worse. For example, attempts at legal and state enforcement of ecologically-sound policies would have an inevitable side-effeect of increasing state power over people's lives, creating an oppressive machine which could also be used in other spheres.

Second, legal reform by its very nature operates on a national level, which is meaningless in terms of pollution and environmental damage: rivers and winds never respect the artificial national boundaries that capitalism has set up.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the first step to controlling the environment is owning it. The Greens put the cart before the horse—the majority in society do not yet have control over the world's resources. to use or abuse. How can the ecological balance of the world be maintained without first bringing human society under the control of humanity? How can we plan or control the processes of production if we do not collectively possess the resources involved?

Those who do possess the world's productive resources are quite clear about their intention to continue using that possession in the interests of generating profit. through maximising sales of commodities. J.M.Roche, who was Chairman of General Motors at the time, was quoted in April 1970 as saying that "planned obsolescence in my opinion is another word for progress'. (In The Name Of Profit, Doubleday. 1972). And in Capitalism And Freedom Milton Friedman, that guru of the market mythology, was even clearer:
There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits if businessmen do have a social responsibility other than making maximum profits for stockholders. how are they to know what it is?” (1962. p.133).
We could attempt to advise these owners what they should do with their wealth, how they really "ought" to place the health of the planet or the welfare of humanity before maximising their profits. But this would be to plead from a position of weakness, and really would not stand a chance of success. The only answer is to repossess the Earth itself

Profit and Pollution
There are many examples of how unrealistic it is to expect the social order of capitalism to put ecology before profit. There was the recent fiasco in relation to the greenhouse effect. The report in May of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended immediate reductions of over 60 percent in carbon dioxide emissions in order to stabilize the problem as it stands. In response, Thatcher said Britain was prepared to set itself the “very demanding target" of maintaining (not reducing) present UK emission levels through to the year 2005 "provided others are ready to take their full share". And yet those pushing for Green reforms say that ending capitalism must be put off indefinitely. whilst they pursue these "short-term” obtainable measures' Gerald Leach of the government's Advisory Committee on Renewable Energy stated at the time that the technology does exist to cut UK carbon dioxide emissions, but that it would cost £8 billion to implement. He suggested that domestic consumers should bear the burden by replacing old or inefficient household appliances which contribute to these emissions. It is industry, however, which in its pursuit of profit plays the major role in causing such problems and is least likely to reverse the damaging trends involved.

An even less likely reform is currently being campaigned for by Friends of the Earth. They believe that the Green Party's anti-pollution taxes on coal, oil and gas would hurt the poor most, and are therefore urging a £16 billion fifteen-year programme to insulate and heat all low-income homes. It is sometimes thought that a non-party political group like Friends of the Earth might have a more positive influence on such problems. In fact, however they are hopelessly caught up in this dangerous and time-wasting myth that capitalism can be usefully reformed. The futility of such campaigns was evident in a revealing article by Neil Verlander of Friends of the Earth in the June 1990 issue of Voyager, the magazine of British Midland Airways. In a column presented as an introduction to the work of his group, he states:
Price is still the most important factor to most people, and many green products are more expensive than damaging rivals. Less environmentally damaging modes of production often incur bigger overheads, and greener products therefore tend to be more expensive.
Having acknowledged this stumbling-block to their efforts at reform, he goes on to show an acceptance that the division between rich and poor is here to stay, and even urges the impoverished majority to cut back on the little we consume:
It is essential that the environment is not the exclusive preserve of the middle class. People on lower incomes should be able to buy less damaging goods, and the best way of doing this is to make prices more realistic.
Green consumerism is still consumerism. and we must all, in the West, learn to consume less, as well as better.
The weakness in the position taken up by such pressure groups was well explained by Raymond Williams in his booklet Socialism and Ecology:
Having no political position is a form of political position . . .  Characteristically, this non-political approach calls upon generalised public opinion or upon the world . But in the latter case, they are calling upon the leaders of the precise social orders which have created the devastation to reverse their own processes. They are calling upon them to go against the precise interests, the precise social relationships, which have produced their leadership. Moreover, at a certain point, although the actual pronouncements are honest and important, the political position can be worse than merely mistaken, because it creates and supports the notion that the leaders can solve these problems.
Only when we all own and control the Earth's resources in common can we ever hope to sustain the planet s ecosystem in balance. Only by ending rather than regulating commerce as the mechanism of production can needs be satisfied harmoniously. This is the logical conclusion and for this vast social transformation to become a practicality, majority understanding and support for this needs to be built. A decision must therefore be made by any one who cares about their own future and that of the rest of the world: do we continue on the futile roundabout of reform, with its history of desperate failure, or do we instead advocate the practical solution of production for use. not profit?
Clifford Slapper

Blogger's Note:
In the same issue of this Socialist Standard, there is an advert for a new SPGB pamphlet, Ecology and Socialism, which can accessed here.

New Socialist Party pamphlets (1990)

Party News from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

How We Live and How We Might Live

On the occasion of the cententary of the publication of the utopian romance News from Nowhere by the revolutionary socialist William Morris, the Socialist Party is shortly to republish Morris's pamphlet How We Live and How We Might Live together with a full-length introduction assessing his contribution to the socialist movement.

To order a copy in advance send cheque or postal order for £1 to: Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

This new 32-page pamphlet giving the socialist view on environmental issues has just been published. To obtain a copy (post paid) send cheque or postal order for 75p to: Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Russia's crisis congress (1990)

From the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The party is not quite over yet – but nearly. Everybody knows that the party has been a disaster. There was not enough food. The waiters got drunk on bad vodka. The speeches were foolish, uninspiring and full of lies. The books on the shelves, left there purposely so that guests could delude themselves with stories of the raving success of the party, were written by committees which were briefed to make hell look like a sunshine holiday. It was a useless, horrible, miserable party and now they are leaving in droves, despite threatening looks from fat guys in uniforms who stroke their Lenin badges.

It is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which is marching steadily into its own shallow grave. Its past has been exposed as tyranny in the name of workers’ dictatorship. Its present is surrounded by a ruined state-capitalist economy and a disillusioned workforce. Its future is a fantasy in the minds of fat-cat bureaucrats who cannot conceive of the idea that they are no longer to be an unelected ruling class. In reality, the future of the Communist Party in the Russian Empire is about as optimistic as were the futures of genuine socialists and communists in the days of Stalin.

Death cries of Leninism
The 28th Congress of the CPSU last month was the most important since 1917. By comparison, the 20th Congress, when Khrushchev denounced Stalin after Stalin was dead and the damage had been done, can be seen as a bit of political posturing by politicians who wanted to distance themselves from the fascistic history of Stalinism. The second most important Congress since 1917 was the 27th in 1986; it was there that the newly-appointed boss of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, declared the need to reform the economy. There is a great deal of talk, mainly by naive leftists and media pundits, about the immensity of Gorbachev’s role in bringing about change.

Capitalist observers of history always need the Great Men: Stalin – Bad; Gorbachev – Good – and that’s that. The fact of the matter is that Gorbachev is a Leninist hack, a careerist political climber who worked his way up the party dictatorship without ever denouncing its undemocratic rule or false claim to be a workers’ state. Gorbachev is a Leninist, even though he is now having to play down such unpopular imagery .The difference between the 27th and 28th Congresses can be sensed from Gorbachev’s closing speech at the former:
“What can be said today is that our Congress was held in an atmosphere of Party-principledness and unity, exactingness and Bolshevik-style truth . . . It is precisely in this way, in Lenin’s spirit, that we have acted at our Congress. It is precisely in this way that we are going to act in the future as well.” (Tass, 6 March, 1986)
Since then the party has fallen to pieces. Monolithism, which was forced on the party by Lenin’s tyrannical resolution banning internal party opposition at the 10th Congress in 1921, has been abandoned. The article (number Six) of the national constitution banning the existence of other political parties was repealed in February. This did not happen because Gorbachev and his cronies fancied the idea of a little political pluralism. On the contrary, Gorbachev was persistent in declaring that Article Six could not be abandoned in the foreseeable future; in short, one-party dictatorship must prevail. The change came because millions of the party’s subjects no longer believe in “Bolshevik-style truth”. They see it as consisting of an Orwellian vocabulary where a state-capitalist prison is defined as a socialist paradise.

Gorbachev may have been certain that “we are going to act in the future” in the spirit of Lenin, just as Hitler thought that he would rule for a thousand years and Thatcher probably does too, but the utter bankruptcy of Leninism as a method of ruling over people has reached a point of crisis. By 1990 it became clear to those who would see that offering the workers a touch of democracy from above (glasnost) or attempting piecemeal reforms of the economy (perestroika) would not keep them obedient. The clamour for change was too loud to be ignored.

There were two options which were available if the 28th Congress was to be avoided. The military could try to stage a coup. There are quite a few Russian generals and KGB chiefs who think with admiration of the way that the Deng gang saved their skins in Tiananmen Square. That talk of a military coup is widespread in the upper ranks of the army is no secret. An attempted coup could still happen – certainly local attempts to use military force to hold on to state power by the party rulers could be envisaged – but it is uncertain whether the conscript soldiers would carry out such orders on a broad enough scale to make it effective. Remember that in Rumania, the only state capitalist dictatorship where the party men have so far attempted to resist the will of the majority, most of the soldiers, being workers themselves, went to the side of the majority. In the so-called Soviet army the workers in uniform have formed a union called Shield and the first article of its constitution is that its members refuse to fire on workers of their own country.

The other way in which Gorbachev could have tried to hold back the demise of his party would have been to cancel the 28th Congress. It is reported that he was advised to do this, but as soon as reports were circulated it became clear that the congress would take place whether it was cancelled formally or not. Communist Party branches from throughout the Empire (no, not the USSR – what is Socialist or Soviet about a one-party tyranny?) were determined to voice their anger at the condition they found themselves in.

Splits and factions
What was it, then, that delegates came to say at the 28th Congress? There were four main factions. Firstly, there were the so-called radicals. The term “radical” has a nice sound about it. It makes these people seem like fresh-thinking progressives. This is far from being the case. The “radicals” are those who have seen that state capitalism cannot be reformed and want to see a non-statist market economy set up in the Russian Empire as soon as possible. They are intoxicated by illusory information about the success of Britain and the USA. Just as media simplifiers have pushed the myth that Gorbachev invented the changes in eastern Europe, so they repeat the idea that Boris Yeltsin is the chief “radical”. To be sure, Yeltsin is the most popular politician amongst Russian workers who want quick change, but his radicalism is based upon populist posturing which appeals to Russian national chauvinism, and wholly ignorant economic promises about the benefits for workers within a free market. Amongst the other “radicals” there is much debate about how to run a market economy without the state. Their main concern is to become the beneficiaries of the capital that is now state-owned. The “radicals” are a private capitalist class in waiting. Indeed, some of them are already investing their roubles in the non-state co-operatives (private businesses, in fact) which have a major growth area in the economy. The “radicals” have formed a faction called Democratic Platform: although it only had less that 10 percent of the delegates at the 28th Congress, its grass roots support within the Communist Party is nearer to 50 percent.

Opposed to Democratic Platform are the conservatives. These are the party men whose whole lives have been spent on rising within the ruling class by means of spewing out its hollow Leninist clich├ęs to order. Their main symbol is Yegor Ligachev, the last remaining Politburo Brezhnevite, until the Congress, when he was removed. Most of Brezhnev’s men have either died or been purged. The conservatives maintain that the seventy-year tragedy of Leninism has been a great success story. They are the ravers at the party, dancing away into the early hours as if it does not really matter that the peanuts have all gone and there is a lynch-mob at the front door. One should not feel sorry for these old swines. They have built careers on the harsh exploitation of workers who were forbidden by law to fight back. They dared to tell the wage slaves of the Russian Empire that a “Socialist Republic” had been achieved in 1917. While the mass of the population were miseducated by the propaganda of Leninism, the members of the Leninist vanguard were living in the country dachas, driving the limousines and shopping in special stores which stock luxury goods. Is it any wonder that they are now hated? They are fighting for their survival as a class. They deserve what is coming to them.

A third faction at the Congress were the nationalists. The break-up of the Russian Empire is very likely. The nationalist delegates want to be part of the new ruling class within the new states. Fourthly, there are the Gorbachev crowd. They want to hold on to party control over capitalism, but they know that they must make certain democratic concessions and introduce major economic reforms in order to do so. In order to please the “radicals” they are abandoning support for state capitalism and declaring full support for a market economy of the German or British type. This has kept some “radicals” within the party, but the more that centralised party planning fails the quicker the rush to leave will be. They do not want to take the blame. At the same time, the Gorbachev leadership must convince the conservatives that their power will not end with the demise of state capitalism. Frankly, unless there is a military coup, the conservatives have little choice but to sit tight and hope that Gorbachev is right. To the nationalists, Gorbachev is offering state funding and the chance to be part of a successful economy. To most nationalists the offer is not of the sort that leads to ecstasy.

Change beyond the Change
At the 28th Congress the Communist Party split. Having split it will now face competition from other parties – notably the party to be formed in the autumn by Lysenko and the “radicals” – and it is highly likely that millions of workers will respond, if only negatively, by voting for anything but the Communist Party. In some cases, this “anything” is not a very savoury entity. In the non-Russian republics the non-Leninist outfits will be nationalistic and will drift quickly into extreme right-wing economic thinking. In Russia, which is where the battle is really going to be fought out, the prospect of widespread support for chauvinistic, religious, racist and ultra-Thatcherite policies is high on the agenda. There is a degree of free-market utopianism which has affected Russian “intellectuals” which is similar to the kind of myopic instant love felt by many Western “intellectuals” towards the Stalinist utopia.

There are too many politicians playing with the dreams of the workers of the Russian Empire. One thing is for certain: these workers are going to be hurt terribly. After years of putting up with the illusion of socialism, they will now be forced to endure mass unemployment, price inflation and wage cuts to pay for Western loans. All of this in the name of capitalist freedom. Marxism is a dirty word amongst these workers. They were taught that Lenin and Stalin and Brezhnev were all good Marxists and they are sick of the product. The present writer wrote an article for a Russian newspaper called ‘Socialism Without Bolshevism’, but was advised by the editor to cut out the positive reference to socialism as it would stick in the throats of the paper’s sixty-million plus readers.

William Morris wrote of “the change beyond the change”. He was writing about people in late feudal society looking at the dawn of capitalism and how they must look not only to the change which was before them, but to the change after that. We socialists must do the same thing now. As we look at eastern Europe we have mixed feelings: the end of Leninism and the democratic struggle by which this has happened is a source of inspiration, but the changes which are happening . . .

We are Marxists who see change not as a single event with a beginning and an end. The victory of Bolshevism in Russia marked the defeat of autocratic Tsarism, which was a mighty advance, but it also marked the emergence of the myth of a socialist state, which was arguably the greatest obstacle that has since stood in the way of the revolutionary socialist movement. Now that Bolshevism is dying – almost dead, we would be foolish to waste time mourning the victory of the free-market antithesis. Our eyes are upon the struggle of the morrow, not for the victory of this faction of that party, or of this nationality or that reform, but for the realisation on the part of our fellow workers that however you organise this rotten system it will still be rotten. It is rotten under Gorbachev; it is the same under Bush, Kohl or Mitterand. And its rottenness will give rise to men and women who will not be content with less rotten: they will go for the change beyond the change.
Steve Coleman

Lenin and State Capitalism (1990)

From the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the article reprinted last month from the Socialist Standard of July 1920, the author was quoting from a contemporary translation of a speech Lenin delivered on 29 April 1918. In 1983 Progress Publishers of Moscow published another translation in Lenin on State Capitalism During the Transition to Socialism. This modern translation reveals that Lenin never used the term "State Socialism” which the 1920 translation attributed to him.

So whereas this latter has him saying "only madmen whose heads are full of formulas and doctrines can deny that State Socialism is our salvation", what he actually said was "everyone who is not out of his senses and has not stuffed his head with fragments of book-learning would have to say that state capitalism would be our salvation”.

Clearly, the Bolshevik sympathisers who did the 1920 translation were embarrassed by Lenin's admission that what the Bolsheviks were constructing in Russia was not socialism but state capitalism. So they falsified the translation in order to try to disguise this fact from workers in the West.

Right of assembly? (1990)

A Short Story from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

My old schools, like most of their kind, indulged in daily, compulsory religious indoctrination. This went by the harmless sounding name of assembly.

All children know that adults are capable of mistaken ideas and most children learn at an early age how adults use “little white lies" to manipulate and deceive, but the experience of assembly soon revealed to me their capacity for downright malicious brain-washing.

Through junior school and the early years of “comprehensive" silent, questioning submission seemed the only possible course.

Let us pray—What's in a few meaningless words?

Let us sing—What's in a song? 

Let us believe—I can lie with the best of them.

Adolescence made me restless. The pedagogues had been exposed: their lies wouldn't wash anymore.

The fourth year meant elevation to the Upper school. Assembly remained the same except in one respect. Protest was introduced in the form of a tall sixth form student with a huge mop of fair hair that made him stand out in any crowd.

Let us pray—We all bowed—The mop straightened his back and stared straight ahead.

Let us sing—We all hid behind our hymn books—The mop' stared straight ahead.

Let us believe—We are pretended— The mop seemed to say "just you try and make me".

Inevitably, I soon adopted this blatant, but silent protest: perhaps because it seemed to best fit in with my sentiments: perhaps because its honesty appealed to me: perhaps because the mop was my brother.
By the fifth fom this protest had become a matter of daily routine. Besides I enjoyed the disapproval on the teachers' faces. However in that year a pupil we called Spud developed a protest that put my own to shame.

His protest was simple, but brilliant. The idea was to take raucous sarcasm to the limit that the teachers would accept.

Let us pray—Spud shouted out those meaningless words.

Let us sing—Spud sang out of tune for all to hear.

Let us believe—Spud seemed to say "I can be just as ridiculous as you".

Spud's subtle protest was effective. By provoking laughter (in pupils and teachers alike) he demonstrated the absurdity of school assemblies to many more people than silent defiance ever could.

SPGB Meetings (1990)

Party News from the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard