Friday, October 20, 2023

Obituaries: Fred Dunstan and Dan Griffiths (1978)

Obituaries from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have learned with regret of the deaths of two elderly members of Haringey Branch.

Fred Dunstan was a Socialist for nearly seventy years, having joined the Party in 1908. He was still a regular attender at the Branch a few years ago, when he was almost ninety.

Dan Griffiths was a member from pre-war days who rejoined the Party a few years ago.

Watching big brother (1978)

TV Review from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

On three consecutive Tuesdays in October (one of them ironically the wedding day of millionairess Onassis to a top Soviet official) Granada TV presented Decision: British Communism, a study of the Communist Party of Great Britain as it prepared for and carried on its 1977 Congress. Permission for the filming of branch and committee meetings was doubtless intended to confirm the Party’s new found enthusiasm for the democratic process; the result did no such thing, however. The programmes showed well the CP’s authoritarian structure. The seven member Political Committee dominates the Party, pushing through its policies against opposition from ‘liberals’ (Eurocommunists) and hardliners. At one branch meeting a ‘liberal’ stated that a recent suggestion to the London District Committee for a greater degree of internal democracy was quashed by two groups — one considering the existing level too great because it had led to division, and another which regarded everything fine as it was. When the ‘liberals’ on the committee pressed the matter, ‘‘all the old talk of CIA infiltration was dragged up”.

At a time when the USSR is busy prosecuting dissidents, sight of the CP’s Executive giving a standing ovation to a representative from the Soviet party confirmed a commitment to pluralism. A major cause of friction between the leadership and the liberals concerns the relationship of the CPSU to the European parties. When the leadership stated that Brezhnev had publicly declared each CP to be sovereign, it was pointed out year before the Czechoslovak invasion.

The last, and most interesting, programme focussed on congress itself, and in particular a dispute over the wording a place on the agenda of a pro-Soviet resolution. The Party’s Arrangements Committee (responsible for vetting resolutions and ensuring that nothing too anti-leadership gets a good hearing) scored a tactical victory in moving the motion to the last day, thus avoiding a display of disunity in the presence of the man from Moscow. McGahey, the wily Congress chairman, denied the right of discussion or opposition from the floor, roused the faithful with a few words on the “great and historic” events of 1917 and moved swiftly to the vote.

The clearest thing to emerge from the series was that the Communist Party has no conception of Socialism at all. Their aim is a state dominated economy (“an alternative to the power of the big monopolies”), not a society in which the state, together with money buying and selling will have ceased to exist. Their idea of the socialist revolution is still the elitist one of a vanguard party dragging the workers to socialism, entering into pacts with other political parties and "classes” (!) along the way.
Brian Philips

Blogger's Note:
Episode 3 of this Granada series is available on YouTube. Sadly, the first two episodes are unavailable at the time of writing. The documentary maker who filmed the series, Roger Graef, died in 2022.

SPGB Meetings (1978)

Party News from the October 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Should the workers fight for reforms? (1939)

From the December 1939 issue of The Western Socialist

A debate on the above subject was held at Local Boston headquarters on Sunday, Nov. 26th., between the Workers’ Socialist Party and the Independent Labor League of America (Lovestoneites).

Chester Bixby of the I.L.L.A., upholding the affirmative, maintained that socialism cannot be achieved by workers steeped in the worst depths of poverty, and therefore reforms are beneficial to the workers. Fighting for reforms gets workers into organizations where they can be spoken to; teaches them the need for political action; and creates the militant working class necessary to achieve socialism. He alleged that by ignoring reforms and merely talking socialism the W. S. P. fails to hasten the revolution.

Comrade Muse, of the Workers Socialist Party, in his main address, showed that agitation on the part of the workers for reforms, arises from the mistaken notion that their problems can be solved within capitalism. Advocating reforms gives support to this false idea. Using as an example the social legislation of the New Deal, he demonstrated that reforms cannot halt the worsening of working class conditions. Inasmuch as reforms are political measures designed to patch up the present system (quoting numerous capitalist sources in confirmation) our object, the overthrow of the system, is not furthered by fighting for them. However, on the economic field. Socialists must band together with other workers for the common object of fighting for better wages and working conditions. He concluded by showing that the only solution to the problems of the workers is the seizure of political power for the sole purpose of establishing socialism.

Mr. Bixby. in his rebuttal, claimed that his organization wanted socialism just as much as the W. S. P. He admitted that reforms are necessary to bolster up capitalism. He maintained, however, that at the same time the workers do benefit from these sops. Citing the Wagner Labor Relations Act as a method of getting workers organized, he claimed that a measure such as this can be used by the workers in obtaining still further reforms. He said that the I.L.L.A. seeks elective office only as a means of allowing successful candidates to challenge capitalism and “get thrown out on their ears”; otherwise the ballot is futile. He praised the W.S.P. for its valuable socialist educational work and regretted that organizations to which he had belonged did not carry on this work. In conclusion he stated that because socialism is not inevitable and requires organization, reforms are necessary to give us that essential toe hold.

Comrade Muse in rebuttal questioned the opposition’s continued support of reforms in spite of their proven futility. Rather than fostering a militant working class, they lead to apathy and disillusionment. He pointed out that one of the first applications of the Wagner Act (the only specific reform mentioned by Mr. Bixby. despite repeated challenges) was the jailing of workers for alleged violation of it. Although workers must accept reforms, fighting for them is wasted energy for they must still choose between capitalism and socialism. He referred to the ballot as the only available weapon in the hands of the workers at the present time. Although these “visionaries” ridiculed the ballot as a scrap of paper, they fail to present any other practical means of achieving power. They involved themselves in contradictions by claiming that the working class, through the franchise, can force the capitalist class to make concessions, yet will be unable, to achieve socialism by the same means, when a determined majority. The fault is not with the ballot but with the fact that the working class, at present insists upon using it in an attempt to reform capitalism.

In the final five minutes allotted to him, Mr. Bixby repeated his assumption that socialism can only be achieved by a working class with a relatively high standard of living; therefore the necessity of fighting for reforms to get this standard.

The Rear View: KISS (2020)

The Rear View Column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘The traditional class war has been waged between wage-earners (who sell their labor) and their employers (owners of capital and the means of production). These classes have been assigned various names (proletariat, bourgeoisie, capitalists, etc.) but these broad class definitions don’t describe all the class conflicts emerging in the modern U.S. economy…. Six years ago I took a stab at defining America’s Nine Classes: The New Class Hierarchy (April 29, 2014), to which I would now add a tenth class, gig economy precariat, …’ (, 27 August). 
We should clarify that workers sell labour power, and capitalists extract surplus value. Smith’s ten ‘classes’ – the Deep State, Oligarchs, New Nobility, Upper Caste, State Nomenklatura, Middle Class, Working Poor, State Dependents, Mobile Creatives and Gig Economy Precariat – add further confusion. All people are either workers or they are capitalists and if they are in the former class they are robbed and they are relatively poor and they have a world to win, if they are in the latter class they are exploiters and they are relatively rich and the world is theirs, literally: ‘Study Shows Richest 0.00025% Owns More Wealth Than Bottom 150 Million Americans’ (Common Dreams, 10 February, 2019) and every 38 seconds a US citizen dies of poverty and poverty-related social conditions. Warren Buffett, whose 82 billion dollar fortune makes him the 6th richest person on Earth, once stated: ‘there’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.’ Winning worldwide.

Pie in the sky

‘…Anna Howard Shaw, an American Methodist pastor and suffragette, became the first clergywoman to preach in Sweden. That was in 1911, at an international women’s suffrage conference, and long before women could be ordained in the Church of Sweden, in 1958’ (, 23 August). Today female priests there outnumber men, but earn less: ‘…around 2,200 kronor (213 euros, $253) less a month than their male counterparts…’ It should not be imagined that the mundane campaign for equal pay is new – it was , for example, commented on in The Socialist Standard of December 1904. And according to a report from 2017, women will have to wait 217 years for wage equality! Yet believers are in conflict over the status quo. Consider, ‘Christian fundamentalist Stacey Shiflett insisted that Trump was sent by God himself to govern the U.S..’ (, October 21, 2019) v. ‘Right now, in America with this movement there is love and truth and justice breathing, the American people are resisting the suffocation and resisting the death. And thank God it is happening’ (, June 19). Neither campaigns for wage equality or to abolish religion will end exploitation. The supreme aim of the workers must be their emancipation from wage-slavery, and the fight against superstition is but one phase of this great fight. But it must never be forgotten that since religion is always used as a weapon by the ruling class against the workers, no socialist in the struggle for working class emancipation can honestly avoid the religious conflict.

Priests, police and politicians

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, quoted above in opposition to the Trump-supporting Christian, is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival. With regard to the killing of George Floyd, he ‘…experienced a range of feelings. Derek Chauvin, that white police officer, the way he posed was something I have seen a hundred times — it was how people pose over dead animals’ (op. cit.). Barber blames the President: ‘Trump is fundamentally against the things that would help all Americans. Trump may have started talking about Latinos and Mexicans being rapists, but he will not even protect the country from COVID-19 which is killing everybody.’ If Trump is removed next month, it will be business as usual: the capitalist system which robs, slaughters and degrades will continue. To be clear, police are workers. They, like the vast majority of society, need to work in order to live. Yes, they have been used to break strikes but some have used the strike weapon themselves. The nature of their work does not exclude them from other members of their class. This is also true of those who form the vast bulk of the military. Should they leave, these workers need to find employment elsewhere, in order to support themselves, one of many problems not experienced by the 1 percent.

The chutzpah of philanthropy

 ‘Li Lu says he walked into a lecture Buffett was giving years ago at Columbia University and “…was instantaneously taken by him. What he basically taught me in that course was that somebody with high moral principles and integrity can make a lot of money off the market by being wise and smart and moral,” Lu says. …Says author Miles: “He’s transformed my life personally, more than anyone else in terms of modeling good behavior and having fun. He’s made me a better person, made me rethink my own philanthropy, in terms of helping those who through no fault of their own were born on the wrong side of the track” (, 29 August). The capitalist class is charitable out of self-interest; it gives nothing outright, but regards its gifts as a business matter, and makes a deal with the poor saying: ‘If I spend this much upon benevolent institutions, I thereby purchase the right not to be troubled any further, and you are bound thereby to stay in your dusky holes and not to irritate my tender nerves by exposing your misery. You shall despair as before, but you shall despair unseen, this I require, this I purchase with my subscription of twenty pounds for the infirmary!’ (Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844). Such chutzpah – the capitalists suck out our very life-blood and then place themselves before the world as mighty benefactors of humanity when they give back to us a mere fraction of the wealth generated by our class.

Pathfinders: Capitalism by gaslight (2020)

The Pathfinders Column from the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the 1944 film Gaslight, a young couple (Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman) move back into the house of her aunt, murdered years before. The wife is an ordinary and intelligent woman, however she is subtly undermined by her husband’s constant references to her forgetfulness, silly anxieties and overactive imagination. He says these things so often, she thinks they must be true. When she starts to hear strange noises in the ceiling, he clucks soothingly, tells her she’s tired and advises her to get better rest. When the lights keep going down on the gas lamps, he expresses heartfelt concern that she’s becoming overwrought, and needs medication. He makes her doubt the evidence of her senses. He makes her think she’s going mad. In fact, he is doing it all on purpose. The plan is to have her committed to a mental institution so he can steal her inheritance from the aunt he murdered. He is foiled in the end, of course, but she is left a traumatised wreck.

The term gaslighting has come to describe a ‘form of psychological manipulation in which a person . . .  covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual… making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them… low self-esteem. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and misinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilise the victim and delegitimise the victim’s beliefs’ (Wikipedia).

The Wikipedia entry describes how sociopaths and narcissists use gaslighting as a tactic in mental abuse, and how victims develop anxiety, depression, self-hatred and ‘a sense of learned helplessness’. Feminists have highlighted this as a feature of some abusive male behaviour within the context of power-relationships and domestic violence, however it does not seem to be especially gendered and it is also a feature of some parent-child relationships.

The psychological damage caused by this behaviour ranges from self-doubt to suicide. The reasons for the behaviour lie in various personality disorders involved in deflecting blame and controlling others.

A recent BBC article shows how entire industries can emulate the behaviour of such a personality disorder in order to deflect criticism (‘How the oil industry made us doubt climate change’, BBC Online, 20 September – A climate academic and former Exxon employee describes how Exxon denied the evidence of their own world-class research: ‘What they did was immoral. They spread doubt about the dangers of climate change when their own researchers were confirming how serious a threat it was.’ In internal emails, Exxon told employees to ‘emphasise the uncertainty’ in the scientific consensus, and ‘urge a balanced scientific approach’. What they meant was deflect, misdirect, contradict, misinform, and gaslight the public.

It wasn’t just Exxon, the whole fossil fuel industry was at it, aiming to ‘reposition global warming as theory (not fact)’, much as creationists have tried to do with evolution. The Mad Men of Marketing identified their target audiences. One was ‘older, lesser educated males from larger households who are not typically information seekers.’ The other was ‘younger, low-income women, who could be targeted with bespoke adverts which would liken those who talked about climate change to a hysterical doom-saying cartoon chicken.’ The aim wasn’t to refute the facts with lies, because lies would be exposed. Instead, they sought to drown the facts in noise, in order to baffle and confuse the public.

In short, they followed the classic ‘tobacco playbook’ and mounted a ‘whitecoat project’, in which they hired or induced supposedly independent scientific consultants to press the argument that the science was uncertain and that the need for action was exaggerated. Bribes weren’t always necessary. Though it would be nice to think scientists generally rely on evidence-based thinking in their political attitudes, right-wing bigots do exist, and are willing to subvert science in pursuit of political agendas. A former vice president of the right-wing Cato Institute, in a belated mea culpa, admitted to gaslighting for the oil industry: ‘For 25 years, climate sceptics like me made it a core matter of ideological identity that if you believe in climate change, then you are by definition a socialist. That is what climate sceptics have done.’

Surprisingly, or maybe not, it turned out that some of these politically motivated scientists – and non-experts in the field in question, were the same people who had spoken out years before on behalf of the tobacco industry and against the anti-smoking lobby. This, it became clear, was a very old and well-rehearsed strategy. As a tobacco firm put it, back in the 1950s, ‘Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.’

Apart from trivial references to some American political shenanigans from the likes of Clinton and latterly Trump, and a nod to other presidents like Putin, the Wikipedia article currently does not expand on the large-scale use of gaslighting by industries like oil and gas, or tobacco, or those of pesticides, sugar, plastics and many others. But there are limits to what any single article can cover. This psychological manipulation is part of the fabric of capitalist ideology itself.

Think about how often you, as an intelligent human being and wage slave in capitalism, have been induced to doubt your own knowledge and judgment, how often you’ve been persuaded that you don’t know enough and should leave important matters to politicians. Think how often you’ve wrestled with the baffling complexities of complicated public debates until you’ve simply given up. Think how bad you’ve felt about your own failings, your own silly anxieties, your own inadequacies at work, at home, in school, in relationships, in your emotions and in your social life. Think how often you’ve felt dismissed, disregarded, put down, ignored, condescended to, lied to and patronised. Think how you’ve been made to think it’s just you, that nobody else has a problem or can even be trusted to understand, that maybe you need help or treatment or drugs or counselling because you just can’t cope. Think about how often you blame yourself, you should have tried harder, you should have believed in yourself more, you shouldn’t have been so weak, you shouldn’t have let yourself or others down.

All of this is what it feels like to be gaslighted. Your problem isn’t that you’re inadequate, it’s that you’re being ruthlessly and expertly manipulated by a rich and powerful regime which aims to stay rich and powerful, even if the world burns, by keeping you in a state of learned helplessness, where you do what you’re told and vote for leaders to think for you.

Socialists want a revolution to abolish capitalism before the world burns, but we also get something out of being socialists right now. Specifically, we get the opposite of gaslighting. We thrive in a community of mutual respect and support, where we each have a voice, where nobody is the boss, and where we can relax in the company of people who understand exactly how we think and feel, because they are workers too. If you’re sick of the gaslit world out there, try some daylight with us.
Paddy Shannon

Anti-imperialism is not anti-capitalism (2020)

    From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
    We continue our series on the origins of the mistaken view that workers in the advanced capitalist countries share in the exploitation of those in the so-called ‘underdeveloped’ countries.

    Link to Part 2 

    In his 1920 Preface to Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism Lenin comments:
    ‘Capitalism has grown into a world system of colonial oppression and of the financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of “advanced” countries’.
     Colonialism is not quite the same thing as imperialism. It entails the annexation of, and direct political control over, other territories by a state which is not necessarily true of imperialism. For Lenin, political independence was indeed achievable ‘within the bounds of world imperialist relationships (A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism, 1916).The classical Marxist diffusionist view held that, with capitalism’s development and the increasing internationalisation of capital, nationalism would decline as a social force. Unfortunately that hasn’t yet happened. However, here we are focussing on what ought to be the attitude of socialists towards nationalism.

    Early twentieth century Marxists, like Rosa Luxemburg, were already arguing that nationalism had become reactionary. Capitalism had outlived its usefulness to progress, having prepared the ground for socialism by raising society’s productive potential to an unparalleled degree. While that potential continues to expand with technological innovation it is increasingly being squandered in all sorts of ways.

    Nationalist struggles
    Lenin’s take on nationalism was different. The rise of monopoly capitalism associated with imperialism entailed the ‘super-exploitation’ by a few oppressor (imperialist) nations of the oppressed (colonised) nations on the capitalist periphery. Nationalist movements in the latter, were – allegedly – qualitatively different from those in nineteenth century Europe in an era of ascendant capitalism. As Jim Blaut summarises:
     ‘The nationalism of colonies and semi-colonies is called into being by the intensification of exploitation and oppression. In an important way, this is a new phenomenon…, it cannot be assimilated to the theory of national movements which emerge during the rise of capitalism and have as their purpose or goal the simple creation of a bourgeois state. The nature of colonialism is such that producing classes suffer along with whatever young or incipient bourgeoisie may exist. Therefore the national liberation movements in colonies and semi-colonies are profoundly different from the national movements of earlier oppressed nations such as those in non-colonial portions of the Tsarist Empire. It is not innately a bourgeois struggle against feudal forces for the creation of a classical bourgeois state. It is a multi-class struggle directed primarily against imperialism’ (The National Question: Decolonising the Theory of Nationalism, 1987).
    Since imperialism and monopoly capitalism were linked, this suggested that ‘national liberation struggles’ could serve as the harbinger of ‘global proletarian revolution’ which would likely erupt first where the impact of imperialist exploitation was harshest – namely, those economically backward countries still transitioning to capitalism. That required workers there to take the lead in this struggle, so it ‘could be turned onto a socialist trajectory or a non-capitalist trajectory which would result in socialism’. National struggle was thus clothed in the rhetorical language of class struggle. Trotsky similarly opined: 
    ‘The sectarian simply ignores the fact that the national struggle, one of the most labyrinthine and complex but at the same time extremely important forms of the class struggle, cannot be suspended by bare references to the future world revolution’ (Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads, 1939).
    For all Trotsky’s labyrinthine attempt to assimilate class struggle to national struggle, he was attempting to square the circle. ‘National struggle’ can only be advanced by watering down, and compromising, the class struggle. It is an attempt to impose from above a fake commonality of interests between classes whose own interests are diametrically opposed.

    Though Lenin himself rhetorically committed himself to the concept of ‘proletarian internationalism’ and the repudiation of ‘national chauvinism’, it is difficult to see how one could ever successfully prosecute any ‘national liberation struggle’ without also fostering national chauvinism as its motivating ethos.

    In any event, subsequent global developments exposed the fundamental flaws in his thinking. Particularly after the Second World War, vast swathes of the ‘developing world’ were granted political independence from their erstwhile colonial masters. Indeed, since then there have been further – successful – attempts at achieving political independence though these have tended to follow a somewhat different trajectory, resulting in the formation, along mainly ethnic lines, of new breakaway states as the product of civil war within existing states – for example, Southern Sudan. These latter developments do not fit well within the Leninist framework and its simplistic division of the world into ‘oppressor countries’ and ‘oppressed countries’.

    In any case, history has emphatically vindicated Luxemburg’s repudiation of Lenin’s argument that socialists should support national liberation struggles to expedite a ‘global proletarian revolution’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Instead, capitalist relations of production along with an accompanying capitalist mind-set has become firmly entrenched in the countries concerned. Hence the unedifying spectacle of erstwhile ‘Marxist’ guerrilla fighters transmogrified into well-heeled business people or corrupt politicians, hobnobbing with multi-nationals in a bid to pimp out the nation’s cheap labour force to overseas investors while cracking down on dissent and spiriting away a sizeable chunk of the nation’s revenue into some private offshore account. If you are going to ride the capitalist tiger don’t be surprised where it takes you.

    World revolution
    Yet ignorant Marx critics still routinely trot out the ridiculous refrain that Marx ‘got it all wrong’ in that the revolutions he hoped for occurred first, not in the advanced countries, but on the capitalist periphery. What these critics overlook is that these were not the revolutions Marx had in mind. Rather, they were capitalist revolutions enabling the transition to capitalism.

    In the German Ideology Marx suggested the coming communist (socialist) revolution would likely be spearheaded by the advanced countries precisely because communism presupposed the advanced development of the productive forces: 
    ‘Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of the productive forces and world intercourse bound up with them’.
    We don’t need to take the idea of instantaneous global revolution too literally. Obviously, there will be some time lags involved in the spatial transformation from global capitalism to global socialism. However, Marx insisted on the absolute necessity of majoritarian socialist consciousness before that could happen. The logic of his diffusionist model suggested that if one part of the world had a socialist majority, other parts would not be far behind.

    For Lenin, the ‘law of uneven development in capitalism’ meant it was impossible to achieve socialism simultaneously across the world. But, this was a reference to the objective preconditions for socialism – not the subjective preconditions – and, if anything, it would support Marx’s contention that a socialist revolution would likely occur first in the advanced countries where the productive forces were most developed. But Lenin’s ‘law’ has long been completely irrelevant to the socialist objective, anyway. Socialism can only be a global alternative to capitalism and it is the productive potential of the world as a whole that crucially matters, not any one part of it.

    Why then his obsessive preoccupation with this ‘law’? A clue can be found in his article On the Slogan for a United States of Europe (1915):
    ‘The victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world—the capitalist world—attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries.’
    This implies not only the uneven development of the productive forces but the uneven growth of socialist consciousness itself. Lenin’s view was that workers in the advanced countries, by benefitting from imperialism, would be much more resistant to socialist thinking compared with their counterparts in the backward countries where national liberation struggle would more readily translate into ‘proletarian revolution’.

    So when he spoke of organising ‘socialist production’ within a single country initially, the logic of his argument about how he saw a global proletarian revolution unfolding suggested he had in mind an economically backward country. However, it is precisely in such a country that material conditions would be least propitious for socialism. Furthermore, insofar as socialism and capitalism can no more coexist than one can mix oil and water, this would imply severing links with global capitalist supply chains exacerbating the hardships experienced there.

    Lenin’s attempt to argue his way out of this impasse was disingenuous. Instead of the ‘victorious proletariat of that country’ literally ‘organising their own socialist production’ what he really had in mind was a process of ‘building socialism’ involving the implementation of state capitalism which he saw as being organically linked to socialism.

    Ironically, far from advocating autarky, Lenin favoured closer integration with global capitalism and imperialist investment in the Soviet economy under his New Economic Policy his government was forced to adopt in 1921:
    ‘Get down to business, all of you! You will have capitalists beside you, including foreign capitalists, concessionaires and leaseholders. They will squeeze profits out of you amounting to hundreds per cent; they will enrich themselves, operating alongside of you. Let them. Meanwhile you will learn from them the business of running the economy’ (The New Economic Policy, 1921).
    This partnership with Western capitalists continued under Stalin, the former providing much of the capital and expertise to finance Soviet industrialisation. Prominent among these was Henry Ford to whom Stalin expressed his gratitude, calling him one of the world’s greatest industrialists and obsequiously adding, ‘May God preserve him’ ( ford-signs-agreement-with-soviet-union).

    Who is ‘imperialist’?
    This was not just a one-way street, however. Just like the ‘Monroe doctrine’ enunciated by the American president James Monroe in the early nineteenth century, opposing further colonisation in the Americas by European powers only in order to hypocritically assert US imperialistic hegemony over the region, so the same can be said of Soviet imperialism.

    The realisation that workers in the West were not going to rise up to support the Soviet regime prompted a strategic shift by that regime towards supporting nationalist struggles in developing countries as a means of undermining its Western rivals. For all its paper commitment to the principle of ‘national self-determination’, this did not stop the Soviet Union exercising its own political (and economic) muscle when it came to those countries falling within its own sphere of influence, installing puppet regimes and threatening or carrying out military intervention in countries like Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968).

    All this prompts the question – what exactly is meant by ‘imperialism’ – and, by extension, ‘anti-imperialism’ – today? Lenin developed his theory of imperialism in opposition to Kautsky’s ‘ultra-imperialism’ which envisaged the major imperialist powers forming a federation which would make military conflict largely redundant or irrational – a pious hope, indeed.

    But Lenin’s own theory was shaped by the then existing reality of colonialism which in the post-war era has largely disappeared. At the same time we have witnessed the rise of giant multinational corporations, some with a larger revenue base than most states. If imperialism is about the conflict between nation-states how does this hold up in an era of ‘neo-liberal’ governance?

    Concerning Lenin’s distinction between ‘imperialist countries’ and ‘oppressed countries’, Michael Roberts and Guglielmo Carchedi, have identified ‘10 countries at the most that fit the bill as imperialist’-– essentially the G7 countries plus one or two small states – by analysing cross-border flows of profit, interest and rent. As Roberts notes, little has changed in the century since Lenin wrote on the subject: ‘it’s still the same countries’ (

    But if being an ‘imperialist country’ means being a net ‘recipient of cross-border income flows’, then it seems improbable you will ever get rid of imperialism while capitalism (and its ‘cross-border income flows’) exists since what we are talking about here is essentially a zero sum game. Eliminating one imperialist power simply creates a vacuum into which another will inevitably step.

    Thus, nationalistic ‘anti-imperialism’ has proved to be not only a fundamental distraction from the class struggle for socialism but also fundamentally futile on its terms.
    Robin Cox

    Enough food for all (2020)

    From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
    ‘Malnutrition is caused by “the lack of access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food” due to poverty’ (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation 2017).
    Within the current political system planning ahead on whatever front, the main goal will be in some way or another connected to the financial aspect. Housing, for instance, is a major problem for millions around the world even though it is designated by a UN resolution as a basic human right. In ‘normal’ non-Covid times the UK, with less than one percent and the US, with less than five percent of the global population, both have significant numbers of people living rough on the streets or in hostels whilst more than enough housing remains empty but unavailable to them. On a global level we can only make estimates of the whole picture but there is no doubt that too many millions of people are without one of the basic necessities of life.

    Even larger numbers of individuals struggle to get enough to eat, especially nutritious food that would help to keep them healthy and, in most cases, that is also linked to their financial situation. Whether the poor in faraway undeveloped places, both urban and rural, or the poor in supposedly more affluent Western countries, the divisions between haves and have-nots are there in plain sight. Another supposedly human right is not available to them.

    Air, water, food and shelter. The four absolute necessities for humankind. Currently a minority has these in plenty but the majority, on a sliding scale, is limited on their access to clean air, enough clean water, sufficient, varied food and shelter suitable to their environment and family needs. Again, all these are limited by a person’s financial situation.

    If we value our own being as an individual in this world then surely we recognise a similar value for each and every other human being? And wherever one lives in this world, urban or rural, all have these similar basic requirements.

    Imagining removing the financial aspect from our lives is the key to discovering just how different all lives could be, how decision-making becomes inclusive and relevant for all, how this could free people up from a boring and hateful treadmill to creative and inclusive new ways of organising and planning. To be able to move ahead in a way which eliminates all the major negative facts and stress which face humanity right now, to confront them with the aim of protecting both people and planet for the long term.

    Cash crops
    There is enough food produced currently to feed the global population but much is lost as waste from homes, from shops and from storage facilities. Much food is kept off the market, in storage, to maintain price levels. It is a criminal act, to know that people are dying for lack of food and to deny them access for lack of money. There is food for all but all are not getting it, so something radical has to change to make that happen.

    Food has long been a commodity, promoted non-stop in the media – but usually as a processed product rather than a fruit, vegetable, cereal crop, animal or fish. It is something bought in a supermarket in a package. In poorer areas of large towns and cities it has become common to see customers’ baskets filled only with these processed foods because it is cheaper to feed the family this way. Also it becomes more difficult to find fresh produce in these areas – most of the locals could not afford it anyway. Those living in large urban areas may not even have access to a market where fresh food can be found. The more up-market towns may have a ‘farmers market’ weekly or seasonally but the prices tend to be out of reach of many. Globally there are very many different local situations, however similar effects and results will be found according to the earning power of the customer.

    The all-consuming hype of mega-corporations and mainstream media, which are paid to push their particular brands of food, is an obstacle that should be easy to overcome when there will be no profit from such advertisements. Associations, foundations, charities and the like will all become redundant when no one is without food or housing.

    A current problem in large areas of the world is that of corporate takeover, removing huge populations from productive land in favour of growing crops for profit rather than crops for food. ‘The Green Revolution ‘of the 1960s and 70s which was heralded as the solution to world hunger is a good example of this. What happened over a period of a few years was that a new modified rice, supposedly more nutritious, was grown over huge areas in India, and other parts of Asia, the seed pressed on local farmers and grown by corporations as monocrops. In Asia – the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, there are thousands of varieties of rice and this vast area is considered as the most biodiverse in the world for vegetables, fruit, root crops and cereals. The new rice, as many other genetically modified crops, required large amounts of nitrogen fertilisers and irrigation. The change over some years was revealed by the huge rise in diabetes, the new white rice having a high glycaemic index, with 60 percent of global diabetes occurring in Asia. Plus increasing numbers of people had reduced access to a varied diet as a result of poverty.

    Now in 2020 we find another move to push yet another rice as a supposed miracle crop:
    ‘Agrochemical transnationals (TNCs) and collaborating institutions such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are using concerns over food security during the pandemic to push for an industrial agricultural system that is already discredited’ ( golden-rice-trojan-horse).
    The message needed to counter this increasing control of global food is that of the enormous diversity of crops, whether grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts or livestock – fish and meat – and the health benefits of food uncontaminated by chemicals of any kind. There is evidence that much of food production over the previous few decades is proving harmful to humans through allergies, obesity and downright slow poisoning. There are numerous court cases internationally pending from farm workers suffering serious illnesses from exposure to herbicides and pesticides; ongoing information related to corporations attempting to increase the spread of genetically modified crops against the will of many farmers and illegally in some countries.

    One example, India, is covered in detail by Colin Todhunter at Countercurrents ( Recently revealed are details of the revolving door between developers, patent-holders and regulators – nothing new there then. With regard to GM brinjal (aubergine) Bangladesh is now being targeted as both India and the Philippines have so far rejected it. Although India has officially accepted only one GM crop, cotton about 20 years ago, there are examples of other trials taking place without official approval.

    Without the profit motive
    Without the profit motive there could be no incentive to force these various changes and communities would be free to choose their own way when looking to the future. Wide-ranging discussions would take place between all stakeholders and experts as to the efficacy of trials and possible implementation. Certainly without the current global political system true democracy could at last raise its head and provide populations with the diversity of multiple food stuffs and do it in ways which don’t pollute our water and our soil, whilst also reducing the harmful gases emitted.

    UN estimates for the next 30 years show a worldwide increase in the percentage of populations living in urban areas. For the UK it is projected to be 90 percent by 2050. No doubt this will be linked to work-related projections for the convenience and most profitable conditions for the capitalist system’s way of working. Now, during the Covid pandemic, there has been an increase in UK urban areas of applications for allotments – up by 300 percent in one area. When moving towards changing to a socialist system there are a number of positives from an increase in local crop cultivation. Gardens, rooftops, walls, underground spaces (there has been one for several years under Clapham High Street) are all being used for food crops. Most of these can benefit the urban environment from increased biodiversity with plenty of scope for improving environments whilst also being productive. There is a short but interesting article on this topic at

    The system we are living in now is unsustainable. The top one percent of EU households have carbon footprints 22 times larger than climate targets allow. Only about 5 percent of EU households live within the required limits. A reduction per person of 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030 is required to reach this target. The EU average per person is 8 tonnes, the top one percent produce 55 tonnes. A global problem being given scant political attention.

    According to James Hansen of Columbia University, regarding climate change, ‘the agonising efforts of scientists to avoid provoking accusations of alarmism have led to an innate optimism bias – sometimes leading to cautious underestimates.’

    Until we can move away from the entrenched format of everything for profit there is little to no chance of changing the direction the planet is headed. Removing the capitalist approach to life is a better scenario for all global inhabitants, human and other. Then choices can and will be made for the benefit of all. What choice of food to be grown will be discussed and decided by people who have the right information. Releasing us from the many constraints of money will enhance lives positively. Our future choice of urban or rural living will be made freely, fulfilling personal goals. Looking ahead to the collective goal of socialism we acknowledge the vast diversity of cultures around the globe and the need to recognise and welcome all variations. After all we are just one small part of a vast, beautiful, ancient tapestry of human life. We don’t know just how all the myriad global communities will organise together but we are well aware that all the skills available will be welcomed far and wide. We need each other to protect our future generations’ well-being and whole environment.
    Janet Surman

    Socialism is not a Dream. It can be Reality. It’s up to You . . . (2020)

    From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Socialism is the great beacon of hope for humanity. The working class, black and white, have put up with endless injustice in capitalism. Socialism will be a huge relief after the long nightmare of capitalist exploitation, inequality, and poverty in the midst of material prosperity. Socialism is not an end, but a beginning, it is the beginning of the real history of humankind, an awakening to a new age of socialist justice. Socialism means the free development of each man and woman, black and white, as the condition of the free development of all men and women.

    The black and white working class cannot walk alone, they are united together as brother and sister. In socialist society all black and white men and women will be able to say they are free at last. The working class need to realise that they create the world’s wealth and that their interests are in common irrespective of race and opposed to the interests of the capitalist class. When the united black and white working class recognise their own immense potential power to transform society, act in conscious unity to solve their problems by abolishing capitalism, then they will be truly in touch with their own emancipation. There is an urgency now to get rid of capitalism and move forwards to a world socialist society through cooperative, revolutionary political action.

    Capitalism fosters inequality, prejudice, unfairness, racism, injustice, unemployment, homelessness, police brutality and the criminalisation of our young people. Racism thrives when capitalism is in a slump and adopts austerity. Racism results from the economic anarchy of capitalism, the prejudice diverts the working class from facing the real cause of modern society’s problems which is the existence of capitalism. Capitalism promotes and aggravates conflicts such as racism. The cure for racism is the abolition of capitalism.

    Socialism is organised on the basis of human co-operation for the common benefit of all humankind where things will be produced solely to meet human needs. Socialism will mean the greatest flowering of imagination, creativity and achievement in history, it will be a world of abundance and freedom. People will relate to each other as equals, as sisters and brothers. Co-operation will be the norm and an established reality, not an impossible dream.

    Socialism will be the end of racism; it will be a world free of social conflict in which human beings live and work in unity without distinction of race.

    US elections: The lesser-evil fallacy (2020)

    From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

    As the American presidential election draws closer, progressives such as Noam Chomsky are making their message to vote Biden very much more vocal, declaring Trump is so demented and deranged that a president already displaying symptoms of senility and dementia is preferable and so working people must ignore Biden’s ignominious past record. Unlike 2016, there is now no debate whatsoever about who the lesser evil is. The claim is not that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party has actually converged into one on many issues (even if not identical) and that they share so many policies that the choice is between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.

    Our principle is to abstain from voting for either evil and offer neither a mandate to rule. Working people are required to register their rejection of capitalist candidates. Both Trump and Biden are staunch champions of the capitalist system and apologists for Wall Street and the Pentagon. November’s election is a contest about who will preside over the ‘executive committee of the ruling class’.

    The lesser-evil argument is rampant these days. Biden is presented as an ally of African-Americans and other minorities. Trump is depicted as the authoritarian autocrat, suppressing liberties and repressing resistance. The working class should not support either of the presidential candidates this year, as neither represents the interests of the working people of the United States. Both would continue the assault on the living standards of working people, to boost corporate profits by cutting social services and take back reforms won through hard struggle over the past years. The working class should reject the ‘Big Business’ candidates and their shared programs of economic austerity and war preparations. There is no such thing as a meaningful choice when it is to pick between cholera and typhoid.

    The lesser-evil fallacy serves only to keep the voter chained to the duopoly political system and its two parties. Voting in this election will only hold back the process of forging an independent workers’ movement. Workers have had the lesser-evil strategy for many decades and bitter experience indicates that it hasn’t worked, and even less chance than ever will it succeed today.

    Biden is not opposed to capitalism but out to save capitalism from Trump. His campaign is not based in the working class or on any working-class struggle but upon an imaginary gentler, kinder capitalism. As a politician Biden adopted blatant anti-working-class policies that should shame and condemn any ‘socialist’ endorsing him. Biden may not be as openly racist as Trump yet he has a history of flirting with segregationists and he has shared with the right wing similar positions on immigration, law and order and foreign policy.

    Not voting in the presidential election is not a matter of principle for socialists. The working class can use the electoral process as part of its struggle for socialism to assume political power and capture the institutional machinery of the state. The Socialist Party holds that there is nothing more dangerous for our fellow-workers than endorsing a class enemy. As genuine socialists we want the working class to become conscious of itself and realise its power to change society. It is the working class versus the capitalist class. Socialism cannot be achieved by electing capitalist candidates but rather by fighting capitalists collectively.

    Socialism seeks to eradicate the basic causes for war, poverty and environmental damage which it knows are the products of capitalism. No matter the outcome of the election, no matter who wins, the continued existence of capitalism is assured, none of the consequences of the profit system will be abolished. The Socialist Party stands for socialism now and not later through any electoral bargaining with our class foe. The purpose of the Socialist Party is to promote socialist consciousness and organisation and that will not be accomplished by entering into alliances with any capitalist politician. Biden is not a lesser evil, despite the pronouncements of liberals such as Chomsky and others. Any person who does not tell this truth isn’t worthy of the name of socialist. There is only one party in the USA that expresses the interests of our American fellow-workers and that is the World Socialist Party of the United States.

    Blogger's Note:
    Chomsky has replied to the criticism of him in this article:
    “ Some truth to it, but wrongly put. I’ve never adopted the curious new concept of “lesser evil voting” and have argued strenuously that even raising the notion, as is done here, is a sellout to the establishment. For the left, politics is activism, daily. Every once in a while an event comes along called an “election.” A genuine leftist asks whether some candidate is so awful that it’s worth taking a few minutes to vote against them, and if it is, does so, and the goes back to work.” (10/01/2020)

    US elections: capitalism or capitalism? (2020)

    From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

    America is at the cusp of deciding the nature of its future, or at least it thinks it is. It has two scarcely distinguishable options, Democrat Joe Biden and incumbent Donald Trump. The Trump presidency has already had an effect on America that will long outlast his second term, should he get one. The wildfires sweeping the West Coast have had fuel thrown upon them by the rapid destruction of what little environmental regulation there was before Trump. Nominal wages have gone up steadily over the last four years, but cost of living has been growing faster, far outstripping the growth in wages. This is to make no mention of the coronavirus crisis – the United States has seen an exceptionally high death rate – almost 200,000 cases as of writing. Liberals often wax lyrical about the death of ‘American culture’. While Trump’s campaign has undoubtedly had a palpable effect on the way political issues are discussed, how it is a death of American culture is unclear. Indeed, the liberals’ biggest failure was to miss the fact that the seeds for the Trump victory were sown by the Democrat presidencies. And this is the mistake they are repeating in 2020.

    Popular populist
    The shock from liberal commentators four years ago has still not worn off. The first term of Donald Trump’s presidency is coming to an end – and liberals are still in such disbelief that he might get a second. There is no attempt to empathise with the many working class Americans who voted for Trump – an immense irony, given editorials in the liberal press such as ‘When A Heart Is Empty’ (New York Times, 10 September). In it, David Brooks, a noted moderate conservative, writes, ‘[Trump’s] is not an intellectual stupidity. I imagine Trump’s I.Q. is fine. It is a moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people. It’s a stupidity that in almost pure clinical form, flows out of his inability to feel, a stupidity of the heart.’ How do we square this with the fact that Donald Trump won in 2016? Liberal commentators will struggle to.

    The truth, contrary to Brooks’ charge of ‘emotional stupidity’ is that Trump has managed to win the hearts and minds of a huge amount of the American working class. How? By going against the establishment. Trump has criticised Hillary Clinton for being a Wall Street shill and a criminal, the Democrats for throwing America into war after war, and the mainstream media for consistently marginalising swathes of views – particularly those favoured by workers. The thing about these claims is that they are all correct. His Twitter, laughable as it may be, is so obviously not ghostwritten. It is unprofessional, direct, unpretentious – one might even say it is, in a rather odd way, down to earth. Trump has not taken himself to be entitled to votes. On the other hand, Joe Biden said to a black voter who was on the fence that, ‘If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.’ Odd, coming from someone who thought desegregation would lead to his children growing up ‘in a racial jungle’, and that ‘poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids’. If these comments had come from Trump, they would be plastered on every headline. In this case, the liberal media tries to pass it all off as a joke (Washington Post, 22 May). It is precisely this difference between the Democrats and Trump that has led to the polarisation seen in American politics – the working class has realised that the Democrats have done nothing for them. The elitism and political careerism of the mainstream Democratic party has become an unmissable stain on their campaign.

    Liberal elite
    Of course, Trump’s greatest success is that he has managed to convince working class Americans that he represents them. Sure, he has pointed out some of their issues, but the policies he has put in place have done nothing to resolve them. Perhaps this just goes to show how out of touch the Democrats are: even lip-service to the American working class is more than they have done. This might be the backbone of the Trump strategy – if you convince enough working people, but also evangelicals, racists, and so on, you can garner enough of the vote to go back to serving your real constituency: the capitalist class. Trump’s policies have been mostly typical rightwing corporate welfare, combined with a sort of protectionism that hasn’t been seen in a while. Trump may be marking the end of the neoliberal world order, replacing it with something that could even more straightforwardly be described as American hegemony.

    This is actually not entirely accurate: Trump has been forming close alliances with some of the world’s most ruthless dictators, notably the Brazilian Jair Bolsanaro, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist in Trump’s cabinet, has become somewhat of a left-wing bogeyman, uniting nationalist and right-wing leaders worldwide, including Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in the UK. Something bigger is at work, and it is keen to captivate ‘the masses’. Populism has become a political slur thrown around by liberals that describes this phenomenon. Socialists understand that there is a political and economic elite, whose interests are opposed to those of the workers. It’s clear why liberals, the elite in question, want to deny that this is the case. The rightwing has managed to capture the same sentiment but their claims about who the elite is differ from ours immensely.

    The Democrats had a left-wing populist candidate – indeed, one who was popular with some Trump supporters: Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders was the most radical mainstream American politician by far, drawing on a tradition that has been left mostly untouched since Eugene V. Debs, one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World. American social democracy could have tried to win the election by tapping into the anti-establishment sentiment that has taken hold of the workers. Of course, the mainstream Democratic Party, as a representative of capital (no different to the Republican Party) would rather have Trump than Sanders. Shenanigans in the election process were conducted accordingly. Even Trump pointed out that the alternative left-wing candidate, Elizabeth Warren, was only in the running to split the Sanders vote.

    There is clear discontent within the American workers: particularly the youth. The majority of millennial Americans are not afraid of the word ‘socialism’; in fact they prefer it to ‘capitalism’. Liberals are keen to point out that they never lived through the Cold War, and that this might explain their lack of hostility to socialism. Or, it might be that thirty-year olds have lived through four recessions. For a great liberal hero, liberals seem remarkably unkeen to listen to Adam Smith: ’No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable’. Yet, the Democrats, based on nonsensical concerns of ‘electability’ keep advancing centrist candidates, who are just grist to Trump’s mill. The Democrats ran the electability experiment with Clinton. It failed. Yet they are trying it again with Biden. The workers feeling so disenfranchised that ‘did not vote’ makes a significantly higher category than either Trump or Clinton votes in 2016. Perhaps if ‘did not vote’ amounted to a vote for no president at all, the country would be better off.

    At any rate, the election draws near. If Trump manages to secure another victory, the consequences for the environment will be disastrous. One would hope that working class Americans will have seen through the ruse, but as long as the mainstream opinions are strictly limited to Democrat and Republican, there is going to be little progress. A socialist might reasonably worry that the age-old choice between socialism and barbarism is being made, and that the people are choosing barbarism.
    MP Shah

    Capitalism: incompatible with democracy (2020)

    From the October 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
    We continue from Part One, our explanation as to why capitalism is not and cannot be democratic
    The ownership of the mass media is merely the start of the problem. Another way of constraining democracy is by limiting what is seen as being suitable for discussion. Liberal Democracy (LD) does not normally limit discussion by outlawing ideas and throwing people who fail to conform into gaol or worse, although this may happen in certain circumstances. Instead it falls more into the category expressed by Marx that the dominant ideas in society are those of the ruling class. The dominant mode of thinking is instilled in people gradually from a young age via institutions such as the family, education system and cemented by the mass media. What this encourages is a limited range of permissible opinions which are, to a large extent, an endorsement of capitalism and its system of market ‘democracy’ so that in general such opinions are held as being natural common sense whilst ideas and opinions that fall outside of this remit are seen as being illegitimate, illogical and irrational and perhaps even dangerous. Try to discuss an alternative which fundamentally challenges the major features of capitalism and you are likely to be ridiculed or considered as a dangerous subversive. In any event getting a serious discussion of them on to the mass agenda is as difficult as running through a brick wall.

    When capitalism is seen to be failing in some way as, for example, in the 2008 financial crisis then the system is often subject to a more critical examination and questions may be raised about its future. However, such an examination will be extremely limited as in the instance of the events of 2008 there had to be scapegoats – certain individuals got out of control; it was due to a minority of greedy people, and the like. The system itself will not be subject to a serious critique. The alternatives put forward will be something like increased economic regulation or perhaps more state intervention in the economy whilst the core features of the system, production for profit, capital accumulation, employment (wage slavery), the market economy, these, if discussed at all, will only be in the margins, not on the main agenda.

    On that main or mass agenda the only alternative to capitalism is a reformed version of that same system. The process of limiting the discussion to a pre-set agenda is undemocratic as it places restrictions on the alternatives open to us in solving ongoing problems. So this is part of the process of constructing reality. We have all come across terms such as ‘we have to live in the real world’ or ‘there is no alternative’. The nonsense being peddled here is that the ‘real world’ equals capitalism to which there is no ‘alternative’. It is almost as if the capital system has always existed and will always exist, as if it is the one and only reality.

    It is continually the case that political language is used to obfuscate the real meanings of concepts. For example take the word ‘free’, we are very often confronted with the terms ‘Free World’, ‘Free Trade’, ‘Free Markets’, ‘Free Enterprise’. These terms most definitely hide more than they reveal. What the word ’free’ means in the face of capitalism has nothing to do with the majority of the people in the so-called ‘Free World’ being free. In fact the opposite is the case. The world-wide capitalist system presents a situation where the mass of people are at the best tied to the dictatorship of capital. The other so-called ‘freedoms’ (trade, markets, enterprise), whilst presented in the rhetoric as a system where small businesses or the self-employed operate via their own hard work to exchange their goods (commodities) via ‘free’ mechanisms, are in reality part of a process which is dominated by a few major corporations and the world market. Capitalism is a world-wide capitalist economic system, a system that leaves millions throughout the world not only far from ‘free’ but in poverty or even starving. This of course includes people living in the major power of this illusionary ‘Free World’, the United States of America. In addition, this is the system that results in wars all around the planet but never mind because capitalism gives you the ‘Freedom’ to die for your country, meaning the part of the world you were born in.

    Profits – capitalism’s main priority
    Real democracy is not possible under capitalism. However, democracy is continually used by countries which operate under the banner of ‘Liberal Democracy’ as a propaganda tool. A country under this heading will enter into trade agreements, providing they are profitable, with totalitarian regimes, who are known to have appalling records in areas such as human rights. Western capitalist countries have therefore entered into such agreements with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and China. They do so with no scruple whatsoever as the opportunity to trade and make profits is of far more importance than concepts such as human rights or democracy.

    In addition, major economic powers operating under this banner have not been slow in acting to remove from power democratically-elected governments when their economic interests are threatened. Iran in the early 1950s and Chile in the early 1970s are major examples, though there are many others. In the latter case, whilst the election of the Popular Front government had nothing to do with establishing socialism, which would require an entirely different set of circumstances, it is nevertheless difficult to recognise as democratic a system that overthrows democratically-elected (in their terms) governments and replaces them with dictatorships. As indicated, there are many other cases of similar actions and this is a subject that deserves more attention.

    It is also the case that an LD such as Britain has a rather dubious internal record in certain areas of human rights. Since the end of the 1970s there have been countless Acts passed on the industrial relations front, all designed to hinder workers taking collective industrial action to defend their terms and conditions of employment; so much so that we reached the point some years ago where it is almost impossible to organise collective action which can be both legal and effective. This applies as much to Labour governments as it does to Conservative ones. In addition, there has been a series of Acts over the same period that make it extremely difficult for protest movements to stay within the law whilst organising meaningful campaigns.

    A democratic society requires a democratic base defines democracy as: ‘A form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system’. It describes the United States of America and Canada as examples of democratic countries. The Cambridge English Dictionary states that democracy is ‘The belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves’. It then states that the early 1990s saw the spread of democracy to Eastern Europe. There are many other similar definitions to these and it is not really surprising that in the current environment they relate to LDs.

    Such definitions limit democracy to political systems of government but remain silent on the most basic and important feature in society, namely, how the means of production and distribution are organised. Concentrating on the political system limits the concept of democracy because it is constructed on the base of present-day society and the political system operates to defend that society’s structure. So, where there is a lack of control for the vast majority at its most fundamental level, no political system can overcome that undemocratic nature and it is not designed to do so (but this does not mean that it cannot be made to contribute to this purpose under the right conditions). This is the main reason why the so-called democracies that operate within capitalism are not democracies.

    The type of definitions of democracy outlined above are just defending capitalism. For example, talks of a ‘free electoral system’ but it is only free in a very limited sense, most people have the right to vote for the political party of their choice, but as we have pointed out it is not free from bias in the realm of acceptable ideas. How can it be when it is constructed on an economic dictatorship at the base of society? Likewise the Cambridge English Dictionary definition speaks of ‘a belief in freedom and equality between people’ but freedom and equality between people is completely absent in terms of the organisation and ownership of wealth production and distribution.

    In fact this is where the inequalities within society stems from and they cannot be healed by the political system, especially one which is designed to perpetuate such fundamental divisions. Both definitions have reference to power being held directly by the people but this is quickly diluted to elected agents or representatives acting on their behalf, the capitalist reality is that those agents or representatives are acting in the interests of capital accumulation and definitely not in the interests of the majority.

    Socialism and the use of the political process
    If socialists regard the political process on offer in LD as undemocratic, then why do we advocate that it is possible to use it in order to replace minority control with common ownership? Should we not logically reject the empty rhetoric of capitalist democracy entirely and favour something similar to a modern system of workers’ councils? Should we not recognise the limitations of the political process and the possibility that, if the socialist movement grows to an extent that it forms a large minority, that the right to use the limited democratic system might be closed off to us?

    In addressing this, two points need to be considered. Firstly, it would be a mistake to dismiss a process that, for now at least, gives us the opportunity to put forward the socialist case as an alternative to the capitalist system. This process offers us an opportunity to put forward that perspective and is therefore an important way of winning more people over to the socialist movement. If it offers this advantage then why not use it? Secondly, just because we advocate using the political process does not mean we rule out using other democratic methods alongside it and which would supplement the political process. In fact we never have ruled it out.

    There is a common misconception amongst many that the World Socialist Movement (WSM) advocates using political means alone to bring about socialism and rules out all other forms of organisation. For example, some years ago Leftcom when reviewing our pamphlet What’s Wrong with using Parliament? suggested that the reason for the pamphlet was to ‘restate their belief that socialism can only come about via parliament’. There is a lot of difference in saying that parliament can be used in bringing about socialism to saying either that it would have to be used or must be used in all circumstances. What we in the WSM insist on is the need to organise on a democratic basis.

    If you wish to achieve a free and democratic society you have to use democratic methods, as the means for achieving something will determine the end result. So we oppose as utopian and dangerous the idea that a well-organised and conscious minority can lead a majority who lack socialist understanding to the freedom of socialism/communism. We of course do not know what precisely will happen in the lead-up to socialism but would think it highly likely that, as socialist consciousness develops in various parts of the world, workers will create several different forms of organisation. One would be a movement to represent them at the political level. This would probably vary depending on the differing circumstances in various parts of the world. But there would be other forms of organisation, perhaps something like workplace and neighbourhood councils. Industrial organisation such as unions would take different forms to those around today, reflecting an increased socialist awareness. Lastly, we might even see people in some places creating their own parliament, a ‘peoples’ parliament’, more advanced and effective than what exists today. Whilst we do not want to engage in too much crystal–ball gazing the point is that socialists accept that, when workers begin to engage with socialist ideas in far greater numbers than we have today, they will form various types of organisations to help achieve their goals. What must also be pointed out is that in such changed circumstances parliament would not be the dung heap that it is at present. For us the key is democratic means, whatever the differing forms of organisation that may develop.

    The path towards a genuine democracy is a path leading away from capitalism whether of the state or so-called private variety and towards a society run by people for people, using the most advanced productive capacity and technology available to directly satisfy human needs whilst giving regard to protecting and nurturing our planet which is the source of life itself. The time to act towards that goal is now. We do not suggest that the road towards this alternative society will be easy but it is necessary and urgent.