Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Has the Labour Party lost its way? (2003)

From the August 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

With trade unions and left wingers now talking about the re-formation of a Labour party, socialists ask why bother? The history of the Labour Party has been one long disaster for the working class. The short answer to the question of whether the Labour Party has lost its way is, no. Because what is currently the direction of its leaders has been part of its thinking throughout its existence. In power, as now, Labour has been a radical liberal party. This has not been a betrayal of its core principles or “values” but reflects its origins.

New Labour’s obsession with neo-liberal economics might seem like something of a new departure but the early Labour Party was tied to liberalism in a similar way. This argument should not be taken too far, as at least the collectivist currents in the early Labour Party made it feel like it was part of a movement to create a better society and many thought they were working towards a vaguely defined socialism. A collection of anecdotes of life in the Labour Party, Generating Socialism (Sutton, 1997; edited by Daniel Weinbren, foreword by Tony Benn, who else?) shows that many Labour members, however mistakenly, thought that socialism could be reached through Labourism. The optimism which could hold with Labour’s “rise” up to the mid-twentieth century, has turned into a marked pessimism associated with the supposed decline of the working class.

Nonetheless, the Labour Party was established not for socialist aims but to achieve political representation for working men. It was related to class struggle in that despite the trade unions’ reluctance to break away from the Liberal Party, industrial militancy and the Taff Vale decision which put their funds in danger meant that a strong feeling developed on the need for independent “Labour” representation in parliament. However, its socialist credentials were weak, as the Social Democratic Federation acknowledged when it withdrew from the Labour Representation Committee (which became the Labour Party in 1906) in 1901. Its social outlook was informed not by class-consciousness but, on its left-wing, by ethical protest at poverty and inequality as “wrong” and, on its right-wing, by an awareness that social dislocation caused by unregulated capitalism effected economic (capitalist) efficiency.

The Labour Party struggled to gain wide electoral support during its first ten years, gaining around fifty MPs by 1914. Its big break came with the first world war, which split the Liberal Party. Labour was active in the national government, supporting the war, but not tainted being tainted with its results. By the early 1920s, the Labour Party had emerged as the “progressive” party in British politics. While attracting such ex-Liberals at this time as Clement Attlee, it refused the affiliation of the Communist Party.

So why has the Labour Party been associated with the name of socialism? Largely because of its history of supporting nationalisation, often misleadingly called “public” or “social” ownership. This was the major problem for socialism in the twentieth-century—the standard dictionary definition being that nationalisation is socialism. The Labour Party’s commitment to nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange dates from 1905 but was adopted most famously in Clause IV of its 1918 constitution. Its acknowledgment that exchange would continue after nationalisation demonstrated that the wages system, and thus capitalism, would continue after nationalisation, albeit state-run. In effect Clause IV was translated as state ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy. Quite what was hoped to be achieved by bringing industry into state instead of private ownership was not very clear apart from as a vague and fuzzy means to “greater equality”.

With central planning nationalisation was supposed to transform capitalism into something that could be controlled by the state. This did not happen of course. On transferring coal, steel, iron, fuel, power and transport to state ownership after 1945, the performance of British industry in the world market still continued to decline and the state sector remained an arena of industrial struggle. The remarkable blind faith of the Labour Party in nationalisation was reduced from the Attlee government onwards. Sadly, this decline in the faith of nationalisation has been represented as the death of socialism.

There are still some in the Labour Party and in the various left-wing organisations who claim that vast swathes of British industry should be re-nationalised. This is why many see “New” Labour as a dramatic break with “Old” Labour. Jim Mortimer (an ex-Labour Party general secretary) describes New Labour, in a recent pamphlet The Formation of the Labour Party – Lessons for Today (2000), as apologists for capitalism and the new Clause IV as “a symbolic change to mark the abandonment of Labour’s traditional advocacy of a widening area of social [state] ownership”. However, as socialists, we would prefer to see declining faith in nationalisation and the Labour Party as a positive development. The results of Labour governments are no longer clothed in the misleading garb of collectivism but show what they essentially are—managers of capitalism. Electoral imperatives, present from early in Labour’s existence, have triumphed over reforming rhetoric.

It is often argued that state welfare and social security provision are examples of Labour’s success in “doing something”, legislating against poverty and providing municipal housing and so on. Such measures have no socialist credentials but, on the contrary, were developed in their post-war form by the Liberal Beveridge. Moreover, regulating legislation has been a feature of all capitalist government since the Factory Acts of the 1840s. The simple case is that systems of social welfare do not change the exploitative character of capitalism or even touch the surface of its symptoms. Poverty has not been reformed away and poor housing, unemployment, job insecurity and related ill-health remain very real concerns for the working class. In fact, New Labour, rather than betraying Labour’s welfare extension tradition, has merely continued previous Labour retrenchment begun in the 1970s.

The democratic record of the Labour Party reads equally dubiously. It has always had a very limited acceptance of party democracy. The block vote, for example, allowed the trades unions to dominate the party conference, initially to the advantage of Liberal moderates but more recently to that of the left-wing, whereupon it was replaced. Also, Blair is not new in being a “strong” leader. Before 1922 the Labour party did not have a formal leader but a series of chairmen. After Ramsay MacDonald assumed chairmanship in 1922, however, the party adopted a leadership that exercised strong control over the party, especially as the Parliamentary Labour Party did not, and still does not, have to obey its conference. As has often been observed, the Labour Party has always had a strong cult of personality, of loyalties and bitter rivalries over who was best to lead a passive working class.

At its formation and in its early years the Labour Party had little connection with the growth of a socialist minority or even with the more militant sections of reformists. There were always some trying to build a “fairer” society but what emerged from years of effort was not a slowly evolving socialism but a Labourism which increasingly judged itself on its electoral success, which depended on its ability not to rock the capitalist boat it was trying to steer.

Those who want another century of reformist advance and retreat can go ahead and form a new Labour Party. Those who, learning from the failures of the past, desire the socialist alternative should join those who have rejected reformism and sought instead to make socialists and work for socialism-and-nothing-but.
Colin Skelly

Letters: " . . .a sad deluded group of romantics" (2003)

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

" . . .a sad deluded group of romantics"

Dear Editors

For a few years I have subscribed to the Socialist Standard and have come to the conclusion that you are either very cynical or a sad deluded group of romantics. It’s all very cosy sitting at your word processor telling us that we should be out there ridding ourselves of the capitalist class and that the world would be a much better place under your brand of politics. (All dictators believe this.)

It is a logical process for those people without resources to vilify people who have wealth. (Just as in Cambodia it became a corrupt thing to have learning.) Hence your tirade against those people who have the imagination and flair to accumulate for themselves some of the Earth’s riches. Capitalism is just a handy label for those who have the get-up-and-go to create wealth. Yes, they are shrewd people – yes, they will exploit others but how else are things to be done?

Get up from your word processors and take a good hard look at the world. You will observe there are varying types in this human planet. The majority is an amorphous mass of Underlings. Their main preoccupation is obtaining food, shelter and pleasure. Their imagination goes no further than these three basic needs. At the top of this heap are the Doers – the leaders – the people with the strength of purpose to get things done. They see this indeterminate mass of Underlings with their three needs so they set out to provide them.

So don’t give us all that nonsense about exploitation. The leaders are doing what is necessary. They don’t sit in offices churning out political daydreams. They get off their backsides and do. They are the Doers. They are necessary for society to function by providing food-halls, living accommodation and pleasure-domes. Do you honestly believe the Underlings would manage to do all this on their own? Listen socialists it’s a real world out there with people hungry for food, shelter and pleasure and capitalism is a means to that end. And so what if the capitalist creams off a bit extra for his efforts! Surely he deserves it!
Phil McCormac, 
by email

You omit one detail: are you a Doer or an Underling? We suspect the latter. In which case there is a book about people like you, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, set in a town called Mugsborough.

Mugs believe that it is capitalists, not workers by hand and by brain, who create wealth and that capitalists are doing us a favour by providing us with jobs. They believe that the world has always been divided into rich and poor, leaders and followers, rulers and ruled and that it always will be. They consider themselves and their fellow workers to be “underlings” incapable of running things ourselves.

Yet who, today, does run things from top to bottom? Who grows the food, who builds the houses, who mines the minerals, who transports them, who processes them, who fashions them into useful things, who does all the paper work for this, orders the supplies, draws up the designs – if not the people you call the “underlings”, we the majority class of wage and salary earners? The shareholding capitalist and the fat-cat company director are completely redundant as far as the actual work of wealth production is concerned – and new wealth can only be created by the application of human labour to materials that originally come from nature, not by speculating on the stock exchange or planning take-over bids. Their social role is purely parasitic: to cream off, as you put it, a part of the wealth created by the rest of us.

But don’t get us wrong. We don’t blame capitalists personally. They are just cogs in the system. If they didn’t exploit us, somebody else would. Either some other capitalist or maybe some state bureaucrat like in Cambodia or the former USSR. We blame the system. It’s based on the exploitation of the majority for profit. That’s why it must go and be replaced by a new and different system, based on common ownership democratic control and production of use, not profit.

What we are proposing is that the people who, today, run production and administration from top to bottom should get together and run things in their own interest, instead of as at present in the interest of a tiny minority. The first step towards this is to stop regarding ourselves as underlings, as eternal followers of those who regard themselves as our betters. Get up off your knees, Phil, don’t be a mug

When did socialism start?

Dear Editors

Your exchange with Ron Smith (no relation) in the February issue was, as usual, well answered by yourselves but does pose the questions: When did socialism start and how and when do individuals accept the indisputable logic of its truth?

I can only relate my own story but it would be interesting to hear from others of their own experiences and enlightenments.

Born on the even of the 39/45 war into a large but poor family, father an uneducated window cleaner (and after serving abroad for five years with an aptitude for hard work and drink) and mother (a cleaner when financial needs demanded and time allowed) allegedly from a middle class family who, amongst all the poverty, educated all her children into the niceties of life including manners, respect and discipline.

Fortunately, as with my siblings, 11-plus took me on a free place to a local public school and until the age of 16, when family need for money demanded that I leave, I had my mind stretched, titillated and forced into action. At that time I had been an ardent believer in christianity for 10 years and was so until National Service in the Far East and other life experiences had convinced me of the futility of religion. Nevertheless attendance at a “posh” school and exposure to Christian beliefs and history did flood my subconscious with all the inherent inequalities, privilege and hypocrisy of private schooling and formal religion.

By the time I was 30 good business fortune had visited and I was happily married with three children living in a superb house in a select locality, driving the latest large saloon (hers) and dashing sports car (mine).

This lifestyle continued for the next 20 years and I do recall feeling on many occasions; why me, what have I done to be so lucky, what about all my ex-friends who are still grafting at their lathes, down the mines and existing day to day? A few pangs of guilt, feelings of general unfairness in life and then – back to the good life…

It all ended in 1990 when my lawyers, personal friends for many years, would not stand their corner in a large business deal in which they had been employed to protect my legal interests. They betrayed and deserted me which resulted during the 1990s in unemployment , life on income support for three years, self-built home repossession and homelessness.

Why me again? – but this time with the boot on the other foot! Why after all these years of being a “true blue” and avid supporter of the system (capitalism) have all my friends (sic) and acquaintances deserted me and left me for dead? It didn’t make sense but I now had the time to reflect and think long and hard about life, people, politics, systems and capitalism and out of this came the realisation that millions of people were being subjected to the harsh realities of capitalism every year in the UK alone. It wasn’t right, not fair, why so much hypocrisy and ruthlessness and why so many lies all the time? Where was the justice in our legal system and, if I was disenfranchised with all my accumulated knowledge of the workings of capitalism, what about all those people who had not enjoyed my good fortune, wealth and privileges?

Up to now Marx, Lenin, Morris, Communists, Socialists etc. were all unacceptable lefties who had no place in the world and whose ideas must be stamped out at all costs. Can you believe such arrogance, stupidity, lack of real consideration for others and shallowness in a supposed intelligent 50-plus-years-old man?

Looking for answers I started to buy the Big Issue and came across your advertisement in the small ads. Duly applied to be a reader and the first few issues were an absolute revelation to me! After years of mental turmoil and survival, all the thoughts I had had about a better world for all were springing out at me from the pages of the Socialist Standard. As the years have gone by and I have continued to enjoy your magazine and continued to research into how life could be! The mists of time have drifted apart and memories of an earlier learning period in my life have surfaced.

It strikes me that the similarity between much of the truth, logic and reason of socialism is akin to many of the teachings of christianity – less the mumbo jumbo of course (this mumbo jumbo is surely man’s add-on for personal greed and self-aggrandisement).

I put it to you – just a thought – could Jesus Christ, an ordinary man or a fictional character, be the first and best socialist? Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself – think about it! Surely to get socialism all we need to do is to live truly by that sentiment!

Finally, the capitalist sun is shining again for me but I am exploiting them now and much of my accumulation is voluntarily passed on to fellow workers in my current business venture – as you say, we all have to make a living under capitalism until socialism happens – just a pity that more of our resources are not directed to “marketing the brand”.

On the campaigning issue for a fairer and better life for all humanity (socialism), I talk and debate with anyone who will listen and lobby anyone – politicians, the corporate world, religious worthies et al – under the guise of Campaign for Morality, Fairness and Truth (with financial self-sufficiency this would be a full time job).

When will socialism happen, when will the majority understand logic and reason, is it a natural progression, are European integration, globalisation, the US current muscle-flexing activities all indicators that the world is becoming one and will this give socialism a better chance of happening in our lifetime or are we all pissing in the wind?

Recently I had a letter in the anarchist magazine Freedom suggesting that more co-operation between them, the SPGB and all other far left tendency organisations (Christians included) is the only way to avoid Armageddon – can I put that to you, too?
Trevor L. Smith, 
Bury, Lancs

We hope our previous correspondent is still there to read your tale of woe. It might teach him something about how the present system works.

Actually, the so-called golden rule – of “do as you would be done” (“Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself”seems a bit extreme and unpractical) – has nothing to do with the mythical (or possibly factual) character called Jesus. It’s a feature of all human codes of behaviour, whether incorporated into some religion or not (and, as you say, all religions are mumbo-jumbo), reflecting the fact that humans are social animals who depend on co-operating with each other to survive. No society in which everybody competes against each other and in which “anything goes” could survive. This is indeed capitalism’s ideal but, fortunately, it can’t achieve it as humans just aren’t like that. Even under capitalism humans’ basic social nature comes through and most of the time most people behave to each other in a decent way.

But this in itself is not socialism. It merely shows that, if anything, it is capitalism not socialism that is “against human nature”. Socialism is not a code of behaviour. It is a system of society, one based on the common ownership and democratic control by the whole community of the means for producing the things we need to live and to enjoy life. It is, as you hint, the next stage in social evolution and for which developments within capitalism – such as the building up of a world-wide productive system capable of turning out plenty for all – have paved the way. In fact, today, everything is in place for the establishment of socialism except one vital ingredient – the desire and political will to establish it.

This is where we in the Socialist Party come in. Our members have got together for the single purpose of helping the emergence of an understanding of and a desire for socialism. When this does emerge – fortunately it does not depend on our own meagre efforts but more on people’s experience of capitalism and its failure and inability to solve the problems they face – it is our opinion that will express itself, among other ways, through the ballot box. Those who want socialism will use their votes to send delegates to elected bodies with a mandate to use political control to end class ownership and usher in the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and to dismantle the apparatus of class rule.

We certainly think that all those who want socialism and are agreed that this is the right way to proceed to get it as quickly and as peacefully as possible should get together in a single organisation, a single socialist political party. But Freedom , the anarchist publication, does not stand for socialism; it seeks to cater for all those who want to abolish the state for whatever reason, including those who are resolute opponents of socialism. And even the minority among them who do stand for socialism (in the same sense as us) don’t think it can be achieved by democratic political action and advocate the suicidal policy of trying to take on head-to-head the fully armed capitalist state.

As to other “far left tendency organisations”, by which we take you to mean the SWP, Militant and the others, our experience is that they don’t stand for socialism but for state capitalism (nationalisation misnamed socialism) and the rule of a vanguard party (preferably themselves).

Besides, both Freedom and them have other priorities in that they consider campaigning for this or that reform – or, more often these days, against this or that measure proposed by the government – more important. If they were prepared to drop campaigning for reforms and to accept campaigning for socialism as the immediate priority then of course we should all get together and have a bigger and better socialist organisation, so helping to speed the demise of capitalism and avoid the miseries it has in store for us if allowed to continue.

News from the Madhouse (2003)

From the August 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard


The United States, as the most powerful country in the world, must be the world’s leading producer of statistics. But for some reason the US has been very coy about producing any estimate of the numbers of Iraqis killed during the American attack. However, others outside officialdom are less reticent, and according to a Times (10 July) report on Iraq, “a group of British and US academics said that the civilian death toll from the war was at least 6000.” But the lack of official American figures does mean that all that suffering can be brushed under the carpet. An American writer in the Times (3 June) said that the Iraqi war was “pretty-close-to-bloodless”. The 2800 people killed in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre are fewer than half the probable figure of Iraqi civilian deaths. No American writer would ever describe the 11 September attack as “pretty-close-to-bloodless”. Of course, the twin towers attacks killed mainly Americans, while in Iraq it was mainly Iraqis who died. Perhaps that makes a difference.

Solitary confinement

But if you call your dead “victims”, instead of “heroes”, you may find people asking what is the point of supporting a system which results in so many dead victims. Describing them as “heroes”, or so the authorities hope, is a good way of getting people to rally behind the flag, and continue the merciless carnage which is part of capitalism. Private Jessica Lynch, for example, an American maintenance soldier, was in a vehicle at the back-end of an American convoy in Iraq, which lost its way and blundered into enemy territory. In an exchange of fire, she was badly injured, and captured by the Iraqis. She was taken to a nearby hospital in Nasiriyah, and her crushed arms and legs were put in plaster. The Americans discovered she was there, and decided the chance of rescuing a young, good-looking blonde was too good to miss. By that time Iraqi resistance was crumbling, but the desire for a propaganda coup was too strong. So special forces in helicopters, guns firing, stormed the hospital, capturing all the doctors and nurses and not really helping the patients, and triumphantly carried off Private Lynch.

According to the Times (21 June), the press was fed reports about her heroic resistance, fighting and killing Iraqis before being wounded several times herself. There are plans to make films about this exciting story. In fact, it seems, her gun jammed so she didn’t fire at all. Unfortunately, Private Lynch “has been unable to remember anything about the events which have propelled her into the public eye”, and, said the Times reporter, she is now “living in solitary confinement in the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington. Outside her door stands a military guard who prevents anyone except her medical helpers and her immediate family from seeing her. Each lunchtime Private Lynch goes to physiotherapy and works out alone.Other patients are banished from the gym for fear that the press will use them as a way to get to her.” A “hero”, kept in solitary confinement! It makes you wonder if they are helping her to remember what she has forgotten, i.e. all about her heroism. As the report said, “She is deliberately and falsely being portrayed as a hero in a war with few genuine heroes because the Americans would like to feel good about a war that has an ambiguous ending, and the entertainment industry needs to please them.”

Fishy story

In legal circles, there is a well-known story about a barrister, appearing for the defendant, who listened to the other side’s allegations, and wondered how on earth he was going to reply to them. At length his solicitor passed him a note: “No case; attack the plaintiff’s attorney.”

Ten Downing Street is acting on exactly the same principle in the aftermath of the Iraqi war. Much of the media—newspapers, radio, television—has been questioning some of the stories the government put out to justify their action in invading Iraq along with the Americans. Not having a convincing reply to many of these questions, Alastair Campbell (the Prime Minister’s main public relations adviser) decided to seize on one allegation broadcast on BBC television, to the effect that he had “sexed up” some of the information the government got from its so-called “intelligence services”, before issuing it as part of the government’s propaganda drive to persuade people of the necessity of war.

Whether this or that claim is one hundred per cent justified is of minor importance besides the government’s efforts to obscure the basic facts of the matter. America attacked and overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime because it needs to import a great deal of oil to keep its productive and distributive industries functioning. Saudi Arabia, with the world’s largest reserves of oil, is already firmly within the American sphere of influence; Iraq, with the world’s second largest reserves, was hostile to the United States, so had to be brought into line. Britain, and a few other countries, supported the United States because it is by a long way the most powerful country in the world. Some European countries have reacted to this enormous American power by stepping up their attempt to build a capitalist European federation which might in the future hope to rival the United States, and share in world leadership. Others, including Britain, think that a better bet is to go with the country which now has the leadership: in the jungle of world capitalism, the British rulers think, perhaps safety and prosperity lie in cosying up to the most ferocious predator.

Each group of capitalists, ruling in a particular country, does whatever it thinks is best for its own interests. Lots of advice is given, but the decision rests with each country’s ruling class. In Britain, there was a lot of feeling against going to war. Tony Blair, in his present role as right-hand man to the British ruling class, and administrator of British capitalism, ignored the widespread anti-war feeling, and did what he thought the British capitalist class would want him to do. So he went along with the American rulers, hoping that it would help to ensure the oil supplies which British industry needs and will need in the foreseeable future.

Whenever anyone makes an open, honest decision, he adds up all the possible reasons for and against, and arrives at a conclusion. When anyone reaches his conclusion first, and then has to make up his reasons afterwards, there are often a lot of problems. Tony Blair couldn’t announce that he was going to send British soldiers to fight in Iraq, which would involve killing and injuring Iraqi soldiers and civilians, as well as deaths and injuries among the British invading force, simply because he thought it was safer in the modern world for the British ruling class to ally with the single world superpower, and at the same time make sure British capitalism didn’t run out of oil. So reasons had to be made up afterwards. Hence the sudden discovery that Saddam Hussein is a nasty man, running a barbarous regime. Quite true, of course, but not enough to excuse a war which was almost impossible to square with capitalism’s own “international law”. The problems were, firstly, that the British government has supported and traded with this barbarous regime in the past, and, secondly, if that was the reason behind the war, Britain would have to attack many countries round the world, which have regimes just as tyrannical and murderous as Saddam’s. If only the “enemy” country would attack first, then the excuse for war would be obvious—resistance to aggression, which was trumpeted as a complete justification throughout the Second World War. But that wouldn’t do in this case, since America and Britain were going to be the ones committing the aggression. And it wouldn’t be very convincing to claim that Iraq, economically feeble after the Gulf War and the years of sanctions since then, was somehow going to get powerful enough to send an invasion fleet down the Persian Gulf and round the Arabian Sea, up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal, then through the Mediterranean and past Gibraltar, and across the Bay of Biscay before finally invading Cornwall.

What could be done? So in comes the killer excuse—Saddam has weapons of mass destruction: nuclear or chemical or biological weapons which could be sent on a rocket across Europe to land on Basingstoke or thereabouts—and which would be ready for action in only forty-five minutes! (Exactly forty-five, apparently—not forty-four or forty-six minutes: or, as W. S. Gilbert put it, “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative”.) All this is jazzed up in two official-sounding dossiers, which seek to prove the imminent danger. In due course awkward facts start to emerge—some of the material was taken from an ancient thesis which a student had submitted for his degree (and put on the internet), borrowed without acknowledgement and improved to make it more exciting; and allegations about Saddam trying to import uranium from the Niger republic in West Africa, which turn out to have been based mainly on forged documents.

When all this comes out in the newspapers and the media generally, no wonder Ten Downing Street try to defend themselves by picking out some uncertain bits of the criticism and demanding apologies. But since the Labour Party convinced millions of voters at the last two elections of the gigantic lie that they could run the capitalist system for the benefit of the working class—the great majority of ordinary people—then perhaps these other terminological inexactitudes seem to be very small beer.
Alwyn Edgar

50 Years Ago: Capital’s Coronation (2003)

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

Since we may not, without dire consequences to the life of the Socialist Standard, record our view on what has been called “the greatest show ever,” we may at least refer readers to what our late and lamented comrade Jacomb wrote on the occasion of the crowning of George Wettin as King George V. (See Socialist Standard for June 1911.)

Those to whom it may seem remarkable that in spite of 10 years of devastating war there should be such a tremendous increase of wealth as illustrated by the present show, should bear in mind that with production and consumption of war material at top scale and speed profits and fortunes for factory owners and shareholders who formed this vast congregation of titled gentlemen and bejewelled ladies, were correspondingly big and easily capable of defraying whatever cost participation in the show involved.

And what have those who produced this vast wealth and fought for king and country in the past great and glorious wars to end war, what improvement in their material position have they to show in these 30 years of peace and 10 years of war?

If in writing on the show in June, 1911, our late comrade Jacomb referred among other thing to
“. . . the bestowing of a meal upon thousands of little children whom hunger makes glad to accept even such a trifle from hands so heavy-laden with wealth that they cannot feel the weight of the charitable grains they scatter, . . .”
here is what a London daily paper reported in connection with the 1953 show:-
“At East Grinstead the children who go to the Coronation party will, after they have had their tea, be stamped on the wrist with indelible ink. This will prevent them from getting more than their share of the refreshments.”
(Article by “R”, Socialist Standard, August 1953)

Debate: SPGB v. International Socialists (1975)

Party News from the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
The debate was held at the Clarendon Press Institute in Oxford, on Thursday 3rd July 1975. The SPGB was represented by J. D’Arcy and the I.S. by P. Gerhardt.
SPGB Opening Speech

The SPGB in opening defined their sole object, a system of society based on common ownership and distribution. They had no secondary object. During the past 70 years a number of organizations had claimed to be Socialist but on examination had different objectives. It was not only necessary that the working class should accept Socialism by definition, but also that they should understand its implications. An understanding of the implications was the test of Socialist understanding.

The SPGB case rested on 3 main points:- 1. Knowledge of the implications of Socialism; 2 Political organization within a revolutionary Party without leaders; 3. The conquest of political power through Parliament or International equivalents. The workers’ understanding of Socialism implied that they rejected the world of wages, prices, profits, employers, money, etc. The SPGB asked workers to re-think the whole purpose of their lives; this was revolutionary. Socialism could not be established by non-Socialists. Socialist workers would then make the SPGB a social force, an agent for revolution with the single purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism, and seeking political power on this mandate. Political power was necessary, and Socialism could not be established without it. The way to political power was through Parliament and the vote.

I.S. (International Socialists) was a self-styled socialist party. It did not stand for Socialism but for State capitalism. Their pamphlet The Struggle for Workers’ Power (p. 8) describes Socialism: “Under Socialism the means of production are Nationalized without compensation and transferred into the hands of the workers”. They also refer to a workers’ State under workers’ control, that relies on the armed power of the workers’ militia. The Workers’ State defends the right to strike, the rights of Trade Unions. Socialist “wages” will be paid. Armaments expenditure will be cut and foreign debts cancelled. The SPGB regard this as State capitalism—borrowed from the early Bolsheviks who carried out the non-Socialist Russian revolution. I.S. believe the Russian revolution was Socialist, in 1920 under Lenin and Trotsky, but counter-revolutionary in 1928 under Stalin.

In fact Lenin led Russia to capitalism in 1918 and Stalin carried on the process. This unsound position of I.S. in relation to the Russian revolution is reflected in their general propaganda. They have been directly involved in every reformist campaign since their inception; recently in the anti-abortion Bill, the Common Market, Repeal of the Industrial Relations Act; support for Clay Cross councillors, rent strikes, squatters’ movements, Claimants’ Union, Shrewsbury pickets, Students’ Grant Campaign, Troops out of Ireland, and numerous other campaigns. In addition, they attach themselves to every industrial dispute uninvited and usually unwelcome. They hold the view that trade unions could be revolutionary organizations under proper leadership.

The SPGB say non-Socialist trade unionists cannot establish Socialism. I.S. reject the parliamentary road to Socialism, and talk of “smashing the State”, but do not say how this is to be done. The only thing which can smash the state is another state. Is the state to be smashed by armed revolt, general strikes, civil disobedience, or subversion? All these methods have been used here and abroad and have failed. They speak of workers’ control and workers’ councils, consisting of industrial workers running social affairs under Socialism. Why should industrial workers or any other section determine social need? Socialism means the democratic control by the whole community not just a section.

If I.S. reject the need for Socialist understanding how can we get Socialism? Advocacy of reforms does not promote Socialist understanding. On the contrary. Militancy and revolution are not the same thing. The economic conditions of capitalism tame the militant, but never the revolutionary. I.S. like the Communist Party, International Marxist Group, and other Left parties, are the small shop-keepers of social reform. The chain stores are run by the Labour and other large Parties. Posing as Intellectuals they have a contempt for the working class.

This can be summed up in a quotation from the Socialist Worker of 7th April 1973 during the election campaign: “The socialist case for voting Labour does not depend on any assumption that it will carry out its pledges. It will not, nor indeed cannot, carry them out, because it is committed to making capitalism work. We know it but millions of workers disagree . . . Power is the test, and we urge all our readers to swallow their distaste and vote Labour—vote Labour without illusions, but vote Labour.”

Considering that the is openly acknowledge that the Labour Party is a capitalist party, urging workers to vote for it was an act of treachery.

I.S. Opening Speech

The I.S. said that the SPGB was not Marxist and therefore was not a revolutionary party. The SPGB regarded political demands as a cul-de-sac. The I.S. worked for immediate partial demands and were also politically active in the trade unions. Marxism must be related to immediate demands. Marx supported this view in 1865 (First International and Communist Manifesto). Day-to-day participation in workers’ struggles helps them to Socialism. The struggle for reforms is clearly class struggle. Marx said the 10-hour bill had changed middle-class political economy to working-class political economy. Lenin claimed that it was not enough to be a revolutionary, workers must grasp every link in the chain. A quotation from the Socialist Standard stated that the SPGB did not support reforms. They lacked confidence in the working class, and showed idealism by assuming that capitalism can carry on reforms independently.

Marx recognised the revolutionary nature of trade unions; he never criticized their conservatism. Engels stated that trade unions and strikes were schools of war. Struggle could be pushed further beyond wages struggle. Marx and Engels over 100 years ago said that organization in trade unions was a sign of the maturity of the working class. How could the SPGB support wage demands and oppose reforms? Rent increases, wage freezes, cuts in public expenditure, were hidden wage reductions.

The SPGB said self-emancipation was the lynch-pin of Socialism. Do the uneducated masses have to wait to be educated by the SPGB? Engels on Feurbach said the workers got revolutionary ideas through revolutionary practice. The same point was made in The German Ideology. It is revolutionary acts which will enable workers to find the road to Socialism, not the SPGB. Marx and Engels dealing with the Paris Commune stated that the workers had taken revolution into their own hands. I.S. stood by Marx, and later Lenin, on the concept of workers seizing state power under workers’ control, which the SPGB denounce. The SPGB version of working-class self-emancipation through Parliament by merely voting for Socialist delegates was a wrong interpretation of Marx. Power did not reside in Parliament, it was merely a rubber stamp which can be snuffed away. Look at Portugal and Chile. The SPGB is a propaganda sect which abstains from the class struggle. Marx supported the Paris Commune, although he recognised it was not Socialist, because he wanted to keep up the morale of the workers. When has the SPGB been concerned with the morale of the workers on wage freezes, etc., Vietnamese revolution and the Portuguese revolution?

The SPGB originated from the SDF, and had carried over the inactivity of that organization in the class struggle. Members of the SPGB should leave it and join a real revolutionary organisation—the I.S. Action is the greatest educator on the face of the earth.

SPGB Second Speech

In reply, the SPGB stated that the issue of the debate was “Which party should the working class support?”, not what Marx and Engels said. I.S. must deal with the case of the SPGB as presented. The SPGB understands and accepts the main theories of Marx, the law of social growth, evolving class struggle, and the analysis of capitalism. Dealing with trade unions, Marx always maintained that if workers were unable to amalgamate to protect their living standards they would be incapable of forming a larger movement. It was Marx who used the famous phrase “the abolition of the wages system”, instead of the trade-union slogan of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”. The entire energy of trade unions was used for higher wages and better working conditions. They bartered with capitalism about the terms under which they would work. It should be remembered that trade unions exist for the benefit of their own members and not for the benefit of the working class as a whole. The wages struggle was never ending, and in over 150 years had not produced a single revolutionary Socialist attitude. They were more entrenched behind the Government. The TUC was nothing other than a political party representing the industrial wing of the Labour Party. Trade Unions are not revolutionary — good or bad leadership made no difference.

The implication that Marx imagined that the workers need not obtain political power was nonsense. In an address to the First International he stated: “To conquer political power is the great duty of the working class”. This was consistent with his historical theory that class struggles are struggles about political power. The class which has political power controls society. If that is so, how do the workers get political power other than through Parliament? Why did the I.S. urge workers to support the Labour Party to political power? Why did they say power is the test, if political power is useless? Parliament is still the centre of the state machine. We are not interested at the moment in the Paris Commune—our case depends on the conditions of today. Does the advocacy by the I.S. of political demands lead to Socialism? There is nothing partial about the abortion and Common Market campaigns as advocated by I.S.. They went the whole hog. The entire literature of I.S. was devoted to these demands. They were too busy putting forward partial demands to the detriment of Socialism. The result was that workers became reform-minded. The SPGB consistently refused to engage in non-Socialist political activity for any reason. The issue was not whether a reform was good or bad, but the misguided efforts to get them. Non-Socialist reformist actions of any kind were detrimental to Socialism. Raising the morale of the worker, to which is referred, meant that you kept up his morale by offering reforms in the same way that the donkey was attracted by the carrot. It could be better if the worker had Socialist ideas with low morale rather than reformist ideas with high morale

I.S. Second Speech

Marx was concerned with the morale of the working class, and this is important. The Paris Commune is important for the lessons it gives to workers today; it still haunts the capitalists of Europe. The SPGB falsified Lenin about the smashing of the State machine. Lenin in fact was interested only in smashing the capitalist State machine. The SPGB also accused Lenin of falsifying Marx. The I.S. would not say here and now how workers could get control of the political machinery; they would have to find their own organs of power However, they should be warned against the futility of seeking their emancipation through Parliament. This was an illusion. There were many ways the worker could take away the property of the capitalist class; for example at the point of production.

SPGB : Conclusion

is nothing useful in trying to resurrect historical events like the Paris Commune unless you can apply them to the conditions of today. The Paris Communards did not smash the state, it was the state which smashed them. The seizure of power in similar circumstances today is impossible—the days of the barricades are over. The I.S. do not want to establish Socialism; they want the system of state capitalism with workers’ militia, nationalization and workers’ control. Workers with Socialist ideas can dispossess the capitalists through control of Parliament, and it is a lack of Socialist knowledge, not the failure of the parliamentary machine, which is responsible for the continuance of capitalism.

So They Say: Rogues All (1975)

The So They Say Column from the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Rogues All

In the great search for the source of inflation, politicians and economists have felt at liberty to express all sorts of fanciful conclusions. How refreshing then that Harold Wilson has applied himself to the task. After careful examination he appears to have identified a hitherto rare specimen — the capitalist who pays too much and it is the antics of this benevolent creature which, he thinks, are at the source of the trouble.
We reject, as we have always rejected, the idea of statutory policies based on criminal sanctions against workers who, misguidedly, perhaps short-sightedly, perhaps acting out of fear, went on strike for higher wages than the nation could afford. The Government might need to take reserve powers. It will take the form of a power directed against a recalcitrant employer, a rogue elephant who sought to wreck the policy of the whole community.
Times 7th July ’75
The roguery being that these unspecified capitalists may be prepared to pay greater wage increases than the £6 a week Government limit.

It is a pity indeed that these fabulous benefactors have to be checked in this way from gaily distributing their wealth on application; they would say no doubt — as several Labour MPs have recently been saying concerning their own pay increases — that any increase would only represent the “rate for the job.” The catch being that however high the rate for the job, the capitalist assesses it against another rate, the rate of his profit.

Official Swindle

The idea that all mankind can co-operate in producing and distributing the means of life is regarded by some as an unreal proposition. We disagree, but point out that it is not the only “staggering proposal” in existence. The British Medical Association’s Junior Hospital Doctors’ Council had an emergency meeting recently in Leeds to discuss the new 40-hour contract which the doctors have been offered by the Department of Health and Social Security. Their chairman, Dr. David Bell, described the contract as “vicious.” Dr. Angus Ford, chairman of their negotiating committee pin-pointed their objections more precisely when saying:
The Department had introduced the staggering concept that the first units of medical time after 40 hours should not count for payment. From 40 to 56 hours we should, they say, work for nothing.
Times 10th July ’75
Now here is an unethical approach to things, surely? Trying to have doctors working for nothing — this really is pulling a fast one. Imagine if this sort of concept was spread even further afield, why — the entire working class would be working some of the time for free, for no-one’s benefit but the employers’. Truly a staggering proposal — but one which makes capitalism tick.

Pay Disparities

Coal miners in the capitalist system which is misleadingly termed “socialism” have recently been in disagreement with one another over the amount of wages each man should receive for his work:
A veteran engineer said that young miners sometimes resented the higher pay given to older men although they did less work. But an older worker said that this was an aspect of socialism and anyway, the senior men were needed for their greater experience.
Times 15th July ’75
The newspaper refers to the moves for equalization of pay as “an informal debate going on among the miners.” The disparities in earnings “vary from the equivalent of £8 to £30 a month.” We point out that these figures relate to the total earnings of miners — not to the amounts of difference between them. Recalling the recent push from members of the NUM for the “£100 per week miner” readers may suspect a misprint but this is not the case. The miners referred to, live in that other “socialist” country, China.
All responsible officials insist that the campaign is still at the stage of discussion and no changes in the wage scales are envisaged for the immediate future. There is no extra pay for overtime, but there is strong moral pressure on young workers to do labour voluntarily in their spare time as well as attend political study classes two or three times a week.
The Labour Party must be casting an envious eye at such an apparently well-oiled process of exploitation.

With Planners Like These . . .

We were treated to the Sunday Times Economics Editor, Mr. Malcolm Crawford, revealing “new moves to allow better economic forecasting” on 20th July. The measures proposed arose from dissatisfaction at the “sharp stops and goes, the blind lurches of policy, of past years,” and are aimed at removing them. Towards this elusive end several MPs have tabled three amendments to the Industry Bill (two of which have been accepted by the Treasury) calling upon the Treasury to reveal more details of its method for forecasting capitalism. It is hoped that this could lead to a better understanding of how to control production, unemployment, government spending, etc.

The proposal is that the Treasury prepare a “macro model” for the future, and the Government together with certain firms will draw up their own “sub-models” to fit within the larger framework. The result of this happy alliance would be that capitalism could at last run smoothly. Not only firms with Government agreements are permitted to join this brotherhood:
This clause also requires the Treasury to provide its model to outside users, on a fee charging basis, so that they can make forecasts based on assumptions of their own, which may be different from the Treasury’s.
It may sound a bit like the horoscope fan who — not approving of his Stars for the Day in the Mail — buys a copy of the Mirror instead, but it isn’t, this is official. We leave for the moment the fact that the needs of capital have not been controlled in the past by models — Macro or Sub — on the contrary, Capital has roared and its would-be-tamers have jumped. Instead we observe more closely the business-like approach of the forecasters. One amendment requests that the Treasury
must also publish a retrospective analysis of its forecasting errors . . . to extract an estimate of the error due to mis-forecasting, after separating out the effects of changes in policy and external factors. It also requires estimated margins of expected error to be published. The trouble here is that figures of this kind which could be understood by more than a few specialists would be meaningless, and perhaps misleading. It is however important to establish the principle that errors are to be expected.
This all sounds somewhat confusing. What use, for instance, are estimates of errors separated from external factors? Come to that on what basis will estimated future error be forecast — even if only to produce figures which are meaningless and misleading. We do however, readily accept the principle that “errors are to be expected.”

. . . Who Needs Problems ?

We move on to the “most radical” of the three proposed amendments. This, Crawford forewarns, “I daresay only about a dozen people understand” (the Treasury itself is opposed) and we are appropriately grateful that he has felt it timely to invite us into this knowledgeable clique:
It means that the Chancellor should adopt a new economic discipline called Optimal Control or Policy Optimisation. Much research has been devoted to this in the US and, apparently in the Soviet Union. The Treasury has someone studying it at present.
The new “economic discipline” is also being intensively researched at Queen Mary and Imperial Colleges. Obviously it is worthy of careful attention, but what actually is it?
The basic premise of Optimal Control is that something is always bound to go wrong. Moreover when it does, we will surely move from that mess into some neighbouring mess: so contingency plans of a highly sophisticated kind should always be at hand to steer us into the least bad mess.
After this eloquently worded proposition has been considered, the working man or woman will soon see that things are always best left to the economic experts.

A minor point of inaccuracy in the report occurs when Crawford comments that more research is required before Optimal Control may be used on any more than a trial basis. We were under the impression that the sort of planning (?) he had outlined above was the only kind possible under capitalism.
Alan D'Arcy

'Their honours' (1975)

From the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the many unpleasant aspects of a society divided into owners and non-owners (i.e. class society) is the consequent existence of governors and governed and rulers and ruled. The majority of people accept private property and therefore agree to the systems of governments, rulers, bosses etc., and this means having some people elevated to the position of “judges”.

The concept of a group of people sitting in judgment on their fellows is anathema to the Socialist who wants a free society. Socialism as a voluntary society with no private wealth to protect will not need to disguise old men with wigs, gowns and legal mystique in order to frighten elements of the population into submission to the interests of a small minority.

One of the strangest points about the idea of judges is that instead of their jobs being regarded as odious, they are looked upon with respect not only by the capitalist class (who need them to preserve their monopoly of wealth and to sort out disputes between various competing sections of their class) but by workers too. Everyone under capitalism is “judged” from birth to death by their “price tag” i.e. the size of their wage or salary, or their ownership of wealth. Partly because judges have such a high price-tag, their lengthy boring) speeches in and out of courts of law are listened to with awe and reverence.

The tragedy is that they have nothing to say of any interest to the working class. They can’t even help administer capitalism very well. Witness the controversy the House of Lords (the highest court in the land) recently caused over the law of rape. However, "I thought she consented” is the capitalist’s apology for exploiting everybody. When a judge freed a double rapist on the grounds that he had strong sexual urges, he gave voice to the “human nature” justification in which capitalism is only expressing the strong acquisitive urges which we’ve all (likewise) got.

When tin gods come out of their natural environment (law courts) and comment on all sorts of things, the fun really starts. For example, what child would suggest a solution to the traffic problem on these lines:
Lord Salmon Lord of appeal in ordinary has hit on a way to fight the menace of juggernaut lorries in his home town of Sandwich, Kent without breaking the law. He says citizens should sail boats constantly on the river Stour, which would force authorities to keep the town’s swing bridge open and effectively jam all road traffic. (Sunday Times, 20th October 1974)
What a way to analyze a social problem springing from profit-motive society.

The real function of judges is to help in the dirty job of keeping the workers in subjection. This is made clear when they attempt to analyze society. For example, Lord Devlin was reported in The Times (26th June 1975) giving an address whose theme was a rejection of criticism “that the English judiciary was torpid, inactive and unwilling to develop the law to fit changing times”. But the same article reported Devlin as saying:
Those who took up the law . . . tended to be of the same type who did not seriously question the status quo and who wanted to serve the law and not be its master. Lawyers were not naturally interested in social reform.
Those people who “serve the law” know full well whom the law serves—the owners of wealth. It is the instrument by which their monopoly is preserved. Devlin is merely saying the law and those who practise it are going to do their best to maintain that system. And he makes it perfectly clear that he wants the boundary between the haves and have nots to remain just where it is:
The first mark of a free and orderly society was that the boundaries between the rulers and the ruled should be guarded and that trespasses from one side to the other should be independently and impartially determined.
Devlin argues that it is not the judge’s job to change the rules of capitalism. Another judge, Lord Lawton recently argued the opposite case. Describing what the judges learnt from seeing poor wretches brought before them he said:
This experience enabled judges to give a lead to public opinion in many matters affecting the lives of ordinary men and women . . . (Law Society Gazette, 18th June 1975)
One wonders how any one who has ever been in the frightening, artificial atmosphere of a law court can seriously suggest as Lawton does:
Judges learned from the cases they tried how people lived and the attitudes they held in every part of England and Wales.
The judge’s message soon became clear. Judges are not there to change society but to preserve it. In some thing of an understatement he says of judges:
They tend to doubt the wisdom of tearing institutions up by their roots and starting afresh.
Clearly proud of a system of society that has produced nothing but wars, poverty, unemployment, shortages, pollution, mass starvation etc. on a scale no previous society could match, he comes out with the oldest of fallacies:
Crime would continue to increase until it was recognised that its prime cause was wickedness . . .
Nothing like a well-fed judge to blame the workers for all the problems around and call them wicked. We can only suggest to this one that he analyze the class basis of society. This would show him that people are the products of the society in which they live and a society based on the common interest of all could not produce the sort of “wickedness” (e.g. thefts of private property) that he talks about.

In Shakespeare’s Much Ado, Conrade when confronted with an officer of the law, says “Away. You are an ass, you are an ass”. We would add, that people should retort “Away!” with the outdated social ideas the spokesmen of the capitalist class foist on them. And next time that puny objection to Socialism is brought up, “Who will do the dirty work in a Socialist society?” you might remember that a good deal of it such as the work of police forces, armies and judges, won’t need doing at all.
Ronnie Warrington

Letters: What capitalism depends on (1975)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Standard welcomes letters for
publication, putting questions about the Socialist case 
or commenting on articles.
What capitalism depends on 

I have been a reader of the Socialist Standard for the past three years and would not hesitate to call myself an SPGB sympathiser. However I sometimes doubt whether Socialism will ever come about. I have no doubts that it is the only logical and democratic society, but it seems that the capitalist class through its control of the means of socialization — the television, the press, in advertising and the educational system, together with its control of the means of production can continue to dominate indefinitely.

It also appears that capitalism can ride crises which it creates and even come through the same as ever without causing the working class to realize its follies and become politically conscious and support the SPGB. As E. Hardy said in the debate with Sir Keith Joseph "There has been a growing recognition that perhaps Marx was right. Then in the years between the wars a blight fell upon the world. Its name was Keynes . . .” Thus it seems that it was quite easy for the capitalist politicians to talk of "interest rates," “the circular flow of income," and "Government investment" in relation to unemployment instead of the crucial theory of surplus value, neatly avoiding the truth.

Obviously Socialism cannot come about overnight as it requires the understanding of how the capitalist system works by the working class. However, is it not true that we are no further along the road to a society based upon common ownership of the means of production than we were in 1904?

Finally, in relation to what I have already written do you endorse the view of the SPGB in The Nature of Politics by J. D. B. Miller when he writes "They are not daunted by smallness and ineffectiveness, arguing that everyone will come round to their view in the end, or that mankind is, in general, too stupid to see what is good for it” ?
Adrian Walker
Liverpool, 8.

On the points raised by the quotation you give, it is true that we are not daunted by reason of our size: we have no need to be with the strength and accuracy of the case supporting us. Although Socialism has by no means been attained, it does not follow that the SPGB is ineffective. Wherever our literature is read, or our position put at meetings of all sorts, many people express — as you have done — a sympathy with our Object and often an agreement with our analysis of capitalism.

The last two points of the quotation are contradictory, yet, if either were correct, the SPGB would need to carry out no more activity. We argue that once workers understand our ideas fully, they will desire and work for Socialism. This is not put forward as a proposition to reach "in the end” but now. This is why we are active now. The quotation’s sneering rejection of workers’ ability to attain the necessary understanding must represent the personal view of its writer. It has never been our view.

You say "capitalism can ride crises which it creates” but remember that in practical terms it rides them only with the active support of the working class. Capitalism cannot carry on without this support, whether in crises or not. Workers are hoodwinked and misled to this end. The point being that the stronger our voice, the more workers will recognize the real alternative to be attained.

It is robbery ?

Why does the Socialist Party of Great Britain claim that man’s activity, society’s activity, centres around Speakers’ Corner, Marble Arch, where the SPGB speaks?

How vast and worldly and adventurous is the activity of socialists outside party activity? Socialists claim that they aim to obtain Socialism democratically (the only way). To act democratically means also that you must act legally in all of your activity in and outside party activity. How is this possible when the economic system, capitalism is NOT democratic? There is no democracy in the economic and industrial jungle of capitalism, and it is extremely difficult to remain legal (democratic) in this field.

Socialists say the capitalist class "rob” the workers by denying them the full fruits of their labour. So what’s to stop us robbing them, the capitalists?
J. W. Spencer 
London W.2.

The opening of your letter is unoriginal; for a reply to that, see page 157 of this issue. Your second question is why Socialists should act legally, either in their political party or as individuals, in an undemocratic society. The answer on the Party account is that capitalism requires the consent of the ruled-over and so provides a sufficient democratic apparatus for Socialists to use. Your concern about democracy should show you that the attempting of illegal means implies conspiracy, i.e. action by a minority. As individuals, most of us would say that there are enough problems for working people without adding to them by going in for crime.

However, your last paragraph shows a serious misconception at the bottom of your argument. The working class sells its labour-power, its only possession, to the owners of the means of production and distribution, who lay claim to the consequent products. The workers are not robbed — indeed, it is impossible to be robbed of what one has never owned; they are exploited. To argue that it is robbery just the same implies (a) that the Socialist case is about “right” and “justice” — it is not; and (b) that the aim of Socialism is to snatch back the product. Of course our aim is that the working class shall obtain the full fruits of its labour, but the target has to be not the product in itself but the ownership of the means of production. That is what the struggle is about.

More about inevitability

Your article on “The Inevitability of Socialism” was interesting, but I feel that you did not deal adequately with a fundamental contradiction at the core of your case.

One of Marx’s central arguments was that philosophical ideas and political principles always occur as a result of historical material forces and social relationships, rather than the other way round.

If as you claim the material conditions for Socialism now exist, then surely, according to Marx, the necessary ideas ought automatically to be present also. If these ideas are not present at the moment (you admit that they are not) then this must mean either (a) Marx was wrong or (b) you are wrong in saying that the conditions for Socialism now exist. No amount of juggling with the arguments will avoid these difficulties.

If, in the current situation, it requires a freely made, conscious and almost unanimous decision of the international working class to achieve Socialism, it must follow that there is a possibility of that decision not being made, which certainly appears to be the position today. To say in these circumstances that “Socialism is inevitable” is surely to rob the word of all meaning.

If I remember correctly, Marx once said something about no social system ever disappearing before its possibilities for expansion and development had reached their limits. Despite the grotesque violence, inequalities and illogicalities, it cannot be denied that capitalism in recent years has generally displayed a certain dynamism in producing increasing quantities of material goods.

Could it be that in certain areas, perhaps in the developing nations of the “third world” capitalism still has some way to go before its potential for expansion is exhausted?
A. R. Ewbank 

Our correspondent alleges that we claim, along with Marx, that the material conditions automatically produce Socialist ideas. We claim no such thing, and the article makes this clear.

Socialist ideas do arise from the economic conditions of capitalism, but not automatically. The prevailing ideas held by most people are the ideas of the ruling class. They are capitalist-minded; they accept the wages system and the buying and selling of wealth as in the natural order of things. Also the property institutions, its legal code, ideas of religion, morality and capitalist politics. These dominant ideas arise from the material conditions of capitalism, and propaganda through the press, TV, pulpit and the educational system will try to keep these impressed on workers’ minds. However, you cannot nourish a starving man on propaganda, or provide him with a house, or solve any of the recurring social problems brought about by the contradictory nature of capitalism. The performance never matches the promise.

Socialist ideas arise out of an examination of these social contradictions and the nature of capitalist society. Socialist knowledge, like all knowledge, has to be gained, and to the extent that workers are interested in learning something new it will be gained. We cannot have Socialism without conscious socialists. The workers of this and other countries have never been in a position to make a decision on whether or not to establish Socialism, for the simple reason that the overwhelming majority know little or nothing about it. Philosophically speaking, workers can reject Socialism in the same way that a drowning man can reject a lifebelt thrown to him. Growing discontent and greater social awareness of the nature of the system will compel men to think and act. Socially, men do not act arbitrarily — they act with cause.

The use of the word “inevitable” in the context of the article means that Socialism simply has to come if society is to develop. It is a social necessity which follows inexorably from certain causes. Its establishment will be a consciously organised social decision.

Our correspondent is mistaken in his interpretation of Marx’s phrase stated in the Materialist Conception of History viz:— “No society ever goes out of existence before all the productive forces for which there is room have been developed.” He claims that capitalist productive potentialities have some way to go, particularly in the Third World. Production under capitalism is based on a world market; goods are produced for sale or exchange. The productive forces exist to serve this world market alone. When the market has absorbed all the products it is capable of absorbing production is curtailed or fettered. The productive forces do not exist simply to produce wealth — they must produce profit. No sale — no profit — no production. Technically speaking there is practically no limit to the development of new means of production. Every advance in science and technology, each new mineral discovery, can add to the social wealth. But there is simply no market room for further development of the productive forces, and this is what matters. The working class is the greatest productive force in history but millions are forcibly debarred from producing through unemployment. The present international crisis of capitalism is based on over-production of commodities of all kinds, motor cars, oil tankers, steel, textiles and food. This is what capitalism is, and why we want to replace it with a sane and sensible method of social production based on social need.

An evolutionary view

It has not been the denial of access to the mass media that has limited the growth of your party, for the appearance of Socialism on the TV screen would have resulted in a massive switch-off, as the tens of thousands of workers who have stood at your platform have been switched off — by capitalism. To safeguard its career capitalism developed an intolerance of any idea which sought to subvert its will, and reduced the working class to a silenced majority. It has been this ideological impregnability of capitalism that the SPGB has been vainly trying to breach.

The fact now being revealed is that capitalism, its zenith behind it, no longer needs its age-long grip on the mind. The ethos which could be defined as the social mind is now being disengaged that it might reach for its next objective. Vandalism, hooliganism, dissident political violence are physical manifestations of this disengaging process which is causing a slackening of social cohesion — a sense of lack of social purpose.

The ideals and standards which have stood sacrosanct for so long are now examined, questioned, debated. More or less concurrent with this enquiry is a groping for an alternative which must identify itself eventually with the Socialist aim.

The SPGB cannot expect to benefit immediately from capitalism’s final phase, for political thinking is evolutionary. Your party does not hold this view, but it follows from a careful reading of your excellent pamphlet Historical Materialism.

Today a majority of workers are in favour of a monarchy; within five years that opinion will be reversed and the institution scrapped. The economic and social circumstances which have hitherto frustrated the Socialist aim are now yielding to the needs of the new social order, which encourages me in the reiteration that, although at the age of 62, I expect to witness the triumph of Socialism.
F. C. West 
London E.2.

Though you write as a sympathiser, your letter expresses views we cannot accept. Your standpoint seems to be that capitalism will amiably unfold — in fact, is now unfolding — to give Socialism. Our “Historical Materialism” pamphlet does not give any warrant for such an automatic process. On the contrary, it emphasizes what Marx insisted: that men make history.

What you call the “ideological impregnability” of capitalism is another way of saying what Marx said also that the dominant ideas of every epoch are those of its ruling class. These ideas are not the same ones throughout the lifetime of a social system, but alter as its needs change. But unless they give way to class-consciousness and the understanding of Socialism, they remain supporters of capitalism. What makes you think that vandals and hooligans accept capitalism any less than the most respectable citizens? Or that there is more hooliganism and violence today than in the past (you’ve been listening to the mass media, haven’t you?)

Nor do we understand what is meant by saying that capitalism is past its zenith. The evolution of society has been one in which classes have struggled against one another for the ownership of the means of living, and this applies today. The capitalist system has been in existence two hundred years or less. At times it appears exuberant, at others in low water; but it remains capitalism nevertheless, and its giving way to Socialism will take place only when the working class pursues its economic interests to their proper conclusion.

If you want to bet that royalty will have been disposed of by 1980, we can find you a taker.

Up on your feet ! 

Although not a member of the Socialist Party, I have consistently read the Socialist Standard for many years now. I must say that I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in it and I regard the freedom of the proletariat as an essential prerogative of Socialism.

However, there is a tendency (because of the present system of society) for the capitalist class to disregard this and to treat the working class as inferior plus a thoroughly repugnant attitude of treating them as if they were not worthy of existing on the same planet as themselves and in point of fact endangering the lives of the exploited class (the proletariat) for their own comfort. I wish to ask how to combat this lack of security of myself and others under the present system and want to know what practical steps can be taken?
R. G. Davies

Look at the world round you. All its wonders, from sliced bread to jet airliners, are made and provided by working men and women while the capitalist class sit on their behinds pretending to be superior.

No member of the working class should accept that pretence, or the idea of being humble. “I’m not an educated person,” say questioners at our meetings sometimes. Nonsense: the workers are the educated, capable class. It is part of the mythology of any social system that the masters and rulers are the wise ones to whom the rest must defer. Note, however, how the tune changes at certain times. If you have lived through a war you will recall that the workers then are buttered-up: their brains and bravery are magnificent and they are promised everything — until the war ends, when they are transformed back into trouble-making layabouts.

For practical steps, turn to the inside cover of this and every copy of the Socialist Standard to see how you can join the Socialist Party. When you become a member, there will be another nail in the coffin of this disgusting system; and we don’t think you will feel inferior to its moguls any longer.

Socialist Art

Concerning your article on “Art and Civilization” in the March issue, I thought you might be interested in hearing the following comments by way of a corollary.

One of the effects of the domination of society by one class (whether openly by it alone or by extensions) is to concentrate subjective expression as an abstractly separated aesthetic in a small number of individuals. Necessarily, of course, they must come from the ruling class. Art as such sets itself apart from the daily experience of society because the ruling class must have an idea point of reference, an orientation, a theoretical statement in which it is emotionally represented as “the good,” the beneficial, the healthy, the desirable, etc — this, as part of its self-identification as authority. Which means that high Art presupposes a system of organized deprivation, oppression and manipulation; Socialist art, on the contrary — or rather, art under Socialism — is based on the direct universality of all persons, and so is pre-eminently a practical art, an art of practice. Under these conditions, what is artistic cannot really be separated from what is “practical,” and indeed, art must automatically be a matter of social practice — a separate pole from the thinking activity as such, but no more a separate compartment of existence. It is therefore to be concluded that, under Socialism, theoretical art would tend to disappear and to be replaced by an “art of praxis”; under conditions of classical communism (as indicated by Marx), daily existence would itself contain all the characteristics which theoretical art today corrals together in a separate and isolated function.
Ronald Elbert

Messages distorted

Your experts say they will answer my letter if I say what it means, and to assist me to do so they ask me three questions. I am very glad to answer so that I can get their reply as I have no doubt many other readers of the S.S. will.

(a) The workers of Britain will take the advice given them by socialists because they will finally have no alternative. Capitalism has broken down, it doesn't work any longer. Money, stocks, shares, investments etc. will no longer have any value, it is rapidly falling now as the first two articles in your own current issue point out. I quote as follows from the second article: “Capitalism . . . has outlived its usefulness” (I do not think it was ever any use but you obviously do). “Production will be owned and controlled by the whole worldwide community”. It was this that made me say the S.P.G.B. expects to go on for ever; but I take the view that there is no need for us to wait, it will be much better to set up a socialist economy and set an example for the world-wide community to follow.

(b) How they may take control. By taking over by the workers in them of all fields, factories, and workshops and taking no notice of the S.P.G.B.

(c) If you don’t like the expression “socialist state” will “socialist economy” suit you better as in my reply to (b)?

In reply to your last paragraph, I agree that it is no great hardship to have to dodge back but note that in the current issue you have managed to avoid this. I am surprised that you take so much notice of the posh magazines but even they do not dodge back, they just put the advertising in and then go on.
Tom Braddock 
East Preston

We are not experts! We simply pen the answers that any Socialist Party member could give.

Capitalism has not broken down now, just as it did not collapse in the ’thirties. Economic crises are a normal part of its existence. The view that capitalism has outlived its usefulness has not suddenly been reached because of the current crisis.

Socialism would not be a practical proposition without the ability to produce in abundance. Through capitalism, with its insatiable quest for profit, the means for production have been developed to the point where abundance is possible. It is in this historical sense that capitalism has been useful.

Socialism is not about workers controlling factories etc. but about human beings having social ownership and democratic control of their total environment. Such a social system cannot be established without the full understanding and active co-operation of the vast majority of the working class. They will come to this understanding because Socialism is the only solution to all of the problems posed by capitalism. Socialism is by definition a worldwide concept and it is nonsense to speak of “setting it up” in this or any other country. Incidentally if you think otherwise what are you waiting for?

We in the SPGB are not keeping anyone waiting but are enthusiastically working to achieve our objective —Socialism!

A letter that says it all

I have been a staunch Socialist for all of my mature years and I hope that the enclosed donation will help to further the aims of the Party and speed up the coming of the day when true Socialism will be embraced by all.

I was born in North Shields, Northumberland, in the year 1878, came to Canada in 1910 and have been here ever since. I will celebrate my 97th birthday on July 31st, am in possession of all my faculties and expect to be around for a few years yet but not, I’m afraid, long enough to see Socialism become a universal way of life.

Hoping that the efforts of those who actively participate in the task of teaching true Socialism will be crowned with success in the not too distant future.
A. W. Love

In brief

G. Cowan (London W.9) and D. Edwards (Wakefield): See article “What are You Doing About It” in this issue.

R. Smith (Dundee): Your letter only goes again over the ground of the previous ones, and we leave readers to consider them and our replies. However, we would add that we cannot possibly give an undertaking to publish letters in full. If we did not edit many of them, only one or two could be published in each issue. It is open to any correspondent to stipulate “In full or not at all”.

J. W. Pitt (Worthing) and E. Wheeler (Rayleigh): Many thanks for your letters of appreciation.

Winifred Mawson (Horsham): A full reply to your question will appear in the next issue. Also P. Sliwinski (Newcastle), I. Hunt (London W.l.) and J. J. Sternbach (U.S.A.)