Sunday, November 26, 2023

Turning Left – or going round in circles? (2003)

From the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

We in the World Socialist Movement are very much a different breed from all those others who like to use the term “Socialist”. We have a highly original proposition among the political organisations world-wide seeking to bring sensible arrangements to human society, and, when we say we want to “change the world”, we really mean just that. We are not in any way attached to any in the huge array of lefty groups which together can produce a recipe book to remedy all society’s ills the size of which would put Culpeper’s Herbal in the shade. In reality, though, many of these are as suspiciously comparable to each other in content as Tesco and Sainsbury products and as BBC and ITN news bulletins. Moreover, all have a success rate as to make the practitioners of mountebankery honest and respectable professors.

It is unfortunately a fact that among the opinions of the various bourgeois media there too is confusion in the area of social studies and of the true identity of the particular players engaged in their respective activities. This confusion extends to including us in with groups such as Anti-Nazi League, the Anti-Capitalists or Anti-Globalisation movements, etc. The Anti-Globalisation groups may know what they are against, but regrettably they know not why nor what to replace world capitalism with and still call for modifications in existing society, reforms. In addition, they cannot yet distinguish between globalisation and capitalism. Many thus end up either supporting the deadbeats who only want to tinker with the capitalist economy, reformers, and who have all in the past failed miserably even with their limited demands – Benn, Scargill, Gorbachev, Fidel Castro, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao, to name just a few. While others, quite remarkably, take on a Luddite mentality and start smashing up the world.

However the latest publications from some Anti-Globalisation members look encouraging as the analysis of society worked out by Karl Marx is beginning to creep into the discussion within this movement and hopefully will bring some grounding to this confusing diversity of protesters. The conscious recognition in this movement of the international nature of the adversary; the awareness of the necessity of a global action against it; the extensive and intense use of the new means of global communication and the Internet developed by capitalist globalisation but in a spirit of digital counter-culture is itself a very significant development.

Now we have another lefty following the path of Benn etc who must now be regarded as a clown among clowns – Tommy Sheridan. This, not only because in the light of the failures of others he still presses on, but because of the laugh he raised among all political persuasions during the recent election when he raised the possibility that, in his little Scottish republic his government (and I mean “his”) could take over one Motorola plant and compete with Motorola and others world-wide to sell phones or components for phones. What a howler!

The left, despite referring to themselves as “socialists” have no confidence in Socialism, no confidence in the workers to win through. They tell us, your Socialism will come eventually someday – presumably, when we are all dead and gone. By this, they mean the job falls not to them but to others sometime in the future. There is no logic to this whatsoever. For the world is ready now and painfully waiting – how is Socialism to ever come in the future when we are never to explain it to people here now, for it takes a while? What will happen that might cause this future embrace of Socialism, we are not told. The truth for Benn and co is “do what you want after my career, my shot at being the leader, my time in the limelight is over”. The left like to act themselves as though they are Jesus or Moses, and lay down the commandments in stone for ignorant followers to obey. Some of us however, are not so easily taken in.

How sum up the differences between us and the lefty heroes above?

Where these leftwingers call for more wages, we socialists call for no wages; where they call for the right to work, we call for the right not to work; where they call for the Rights of Nations, we say Nations should have no Rights to exist; where they call for Leadership, we call for no Leadership. And though we both agree that money is a problem, they call for a more “fair” distribution of it; we say if it’s a problem let’s live our lives without it; they call for the exchange in the means of life with other exactly or at least comparably valued means of life; we say no to exchange, except for in the free exchange of ideas and the exchange of raw Nature into the means of life.
William Dunn

Obituary: Cyril May (2003)

Obituary from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cyril May, who was the Party's Central Organiser for many years, died last month. He joined Paddington branch in 1940 after listening to Party speakers in Hyde Park where he was later to himself become a regular speaker. Refusing to be conscripted to kill fellow workers in the war then going on, he was sent to work on the land.

He was one of the best Central Organisers that the Party has had, travelling the country to speak at meetings and encourage members to form groups and branches, organising meetings and rallies, arranging for leaflets and socialist literature to be available for demonstrations such as the CND marches of the 1960s, acting as election agent, rushing bundles of Socialist Standards to Euston station for dispatch to provincial branches; you name it, he did it — except for serving on the executive committee since he preferred to concentrate on the Party's front-line activity of putting over the case for socialism.

He was an impressive indoor and outdoor speaker, putting over the case in a persuasive, non-aggressive way, addressing the audience as "Men and Women" (which raised a few eyebrows since the traditional form was "Fellow Workers:! For many years he also acted as secretary of the Paddington branch, but in the 1970s set out to organise another new branch, in Hampstead.

Later, he transferred to North West London branch. Unfortunately, this was one of two branches that came into conflict with the rest of the Party for deliberately and repeatedly refusing to apply a Conference resolution that was later confirmed by a poll of the whole membership. In the end, in 1991. after two further Party polls, most of the members of the two branches were expelled, a majority of members considering that internal Parry democracy was a cardinal socialist principle that overrode ail other considerations including past service to the cause of Socialism. Sadly, the last ten or so years of his political life were spent, as part of a group of individuals who, rather ludicrously, claimed to be us trying to undermine the party for which he had done so much work.

Blogger's Notes:
The May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard has a picture of Cyril May addressing a SPGB meeting. Also of interest is an issue of The Western Socialist dating from 1970 which carries the transcript of an interview with Cyril May that was conducted by Arlene Francis of WOR-AM, a local New York radio station. 

Justice (2003)

From the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Most of us have a sense of “justice”. We can all be outraged if we personally suffer from what we consider to be an injustice. Socialists are often surprised by just how shocked people can be when the inherent injustice of the capitalist system impacts on them as individuals. For many, politics is felt to be remote from their personal lives. It is only when an individual tragedy is suffered that some become politically aware and “active”. An obvious example is when innocent bystanders are injured or killed in a “terrorist outrage” of some kind. The irony is, of course, that such acts are invariably motivated by someone else’s sense of injustice. This might just include the desire for social justice and it is this we will seek to define.

Children are often heard declaring the unfairness of this or that. Amongst siblings any perceived parental preference for one over the other is felt as an intense injustice. In nature this battle for parental attention is a matter of life and death. In humans it is more often a matter of emotional validation for the child. A childhood without the expression of love from the parents is a lonely and terrible place. Any reasonable person would expect a parent to maintain some kind of equality in their response to all of their children. And here is the basis of any concept of justice – social equality. We expect to be treated by others the way we attempt to treat them. The fact that our insecurities and ignorance sometimes make this impossible only increases its importance as a social necessity.

Of course these sentiments have not always been, and in some parts of the world are still not, accepted. For instance it is only in relatively recent times that a female child is considered the equal of a male child. Furthermore, the whole concept of social equality is considered an anathema in hierarchical societies while in Western Europe it is morally acceptable but considered impractical as a political reality.

To an impartial observer, perhaps a tourist from another planet, there is a glaring contradiction between the values expressed by those in power and the social reality. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in capitalism’s legal system. The power of the state is justified by the claim that the law is applied equally to every citizen. Theft in all its forms, with one glaring exception, is condemned and its practitioners pursued. But profit is the ‘raison d’être’ of the whole system and what is this if not lalised theft? The exploitation of labour may be legal but isn’t the taking of wealth from someone without exchanging something of equal value the definition of theft?

A similar hypocrisy exists concerning the crime of murder. The intentional killing of one person by another is illegal and immoral unless committed during a war when the offender is quite likely to receive a medal. Even if we concede the illogicality of the system can it be said that it is applied equally to all? Only the most naïve of us can maintain this when a “good lawyer” can cost a fortune in contrast to one appointed via legal aid.

When the capitalist class began its conquest of political power during the English Revolutions of the 17th century they converted not only the mode of production but also the theory of justice that rationalised its ubiquity. The enclosure of the common land already begun by the old regime was accelerated until wage slavery became the only option for the majority to sustain itself. So like all the subsequent bourgeois revolutions, the capitalist system was created through acts of theft and murder. This new reality was continually defended by theories of justice, which sought only to legitimise the new rulers, and their source of wealth and power – the exploitation of labour for the extraction of profit. Although many were aware of this hypocrisy and sought to redress the injustice of the realities of their lives via trade unions etc., historically there was no alternative to the capitalist mode of production – until much later.

Someone once said that a child has no understanding of justice because it will readily condemn the weather, when it prevents some activity or other, as unfair. It is the same with socialists, that person said, the system is like the weather and we have no power over it – it is the only reality and when socialists complain of its injustice we are like children shaking our fists at the elements. But events are undermining that identification of capitalism with nature as the only reality. Humanity now has the power to feed the world several times over and it is only the law of production for profit that prevents it. Capitalism has evolved the mode of production to a point where it has become an anachronism as an economic and political system. It has indeed created the nails for its own coffin

Theories of “justice” evolve and change in response to the economic realities of human life, and that history might represent the redemption of humanity from its invention of private property is a seductive idea. What the writer knows for sure in his humble role as a socialist propagandist is that capitalism and its defenders are now dealing with a remorseless tide of discontent fuelled, amongst many other things, by the tension between its promises and its reality.

. . . rough justice (2003)

From the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a system based on competition, and the criminal justice system, like all other institutions and activities, is dominated by this drive. Thus, trials of those accused of crimes are battles between the prosecution and defence teams. Being able to afford a good defence lawyer affords a greater chance of being acquitted than if a defendant is poor and has to rely on legal aid. Winning a case rather than obtaining justice for the accused is the goal. This has led to police forces presenting selective evidence in some cases and ignoring facts that could prove an accused person’s innocence. But, like other organisations, they have to produce results and investigating cases which do not result in a conviction does not help their “clear-up” rate when compared with other police forces. Innocent people have been imprisoned because the defendant’s defence team has not had access to all the information in the case.

The recent trial of Trupti Patel, charged with murdering her three children, has highlighted some of the ways the justice system works. It seems that if an infant dies suddenly there is a presumption that one of the parents – usually the mother – must have injured the baby in some way. The presumption of guilt leads to the parents being treated unsympathetically at a time when they are grieving and adds considerably to their distress.

An estimated 90 per cent of sudden infant deaths are from natural causes (Independent on Sunday 29 June) but, because the cases occur irregularly and infrequently, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what the causes are. It is also clear, though, that social factors are involved too. The 1996 Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy showed that there was a link between poverty and cot deaths. Low income, poor – and especially damp – housing were major risk factors. There is also a link between using second hand mattresses and cot deaths. And poor mothers are more likely to use them.

The 1996 Enquiry, and its link with poverty, was poorly publicised. Smoking is implicated in causing cot deaths and mothers are blamed for this behaviour. However, for a single mother or a mother in poor and stressful circumstances, smoking may be the only relief from a dreary existence and may help them to cope with their lives. Poverty, and its elimination would require a political change which the capitalist class is not prepared to contemplate. And to highlight the continuing effects of poverty and the way that it blights workers’ health as well as all other aspects of their lives would underline the failure of reformism to change the world for the better.

Governments hold enquiries when tragedies occur or when there is an outcry from the public over serious miscarriages of justice. Capitalists concede a few reforms, but it is the system which is at fault. Until the working class democratically decide that capitalism is a society which does not operate in the interests of the majority then they will choose socialism.
Carl Pinel

Don’t try to reform capitalism – work for socialism (2003)

From the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Here we aim to bring together the various elements in the case for reformism (implying rejection of revolution) and in the case for revolution (implying rejection of reformism). The taking of a revolutionary position does not necessarily mean opposing all proposed and actual reforms of capitalism, but it does mean not advocating them and opposing reformism as a policy alternative to revolution.

On the left-hand side the case for reformism is presented critically, expressed as a number of more or less related points. In the right-hand column the case for revolution is spelled out.
Stan Parker


Reforms of the present system have the seeming advantage of being based firmly in the realm of the possible, capable of being achieved quicker and easier than the bigger and more fundamental set of changes that will constitute the socialist revolution. The socialist revolution requires a majority of people to understand and want socialism. While the material conditions are ripe for production for use (not profit), common ownership and free access, the dominant ideas are those of capitalism.
Most reforms are single-issue proposals specific to a particular area of society. Large-scale change is not necessarily opposed, lip service may even be paid to it, but it is to be achieved, Fabian-fashion, bit by bit. Revolutionaries object to reformist attempts to tame capitalism because it is like attacking a tiger one claw at a time. Capitalism is a coherent and, with all its faults, a well-integrated system. It will yield only to a campaign of fundamental and comprehensive change.
Reformism, being pragmatic, faces a problem or a situation ready to accept less, often far less, than is really needed to deal with the situation or solve the problem. The medical term for reforms is band-aids; in terms of bread it is crumbs or at best half a loaf. Revolutionaries point out how little of value is achieved by piecemeal reformist efforts. The time and energy spent on collecting crumbs from the capitalists’ table would be better directed to organising capture of the bakery.
Reformers implicitly or explicitly deride revolutionaries for wanting the impossible, for ‘not living in the real world’. They believe that capitalism can be made to operate in the interest of workers. Revolutionaries say that while some reforms can be achieved under capitalism, the capitalist system operates, and can only operate, in the interests of capital. In trying to make the capitalist leopard change its spots reformers are the real ‘impossibilists’.
Reformers present their proposed changes as ‘Yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we’ve got.’ This philosophy is often expressed by the injunction to ‘choose the lesser of two evils’. Revolutionaries don’t accept that there is no alternative to capitalism or that it is ‘the only game in town’. When non-socialists face them with the choice between two evils they choose neither.
Reformers want to use the electoral process as a means of gathering as many votes as possible. Reform manifestos display the small changes advocated as attractively as possible, with little concern for educating the voters. Priority is given to winning elections and electing leaders. Revolutionaries, too, are prepared to use the electoral process, but with a view to challenging capitalist control of political power. The first task is to educate people and make socialists. The success of socialist candidates will measure the extent to which this activity achieves its aim.
The extremes of wealth and poverty in the world today, and their dire consequences such as starvation and preventable disease, are recognised by reformers, who respond by advocating various measures (usually unsuccessful or only partly successful) to redistribute wealth and reduce poverty. For revolutionaries wealth is not to be redistributed but held in common. Poverty, starvation and suchlike are not to be minimised, they are to be abolished.
The success of the appeal to reform capitalism depends to a great extent on dissuading people from the alternative of abolishing it. So socialism is wrongly described as nationalisation or the wages system under state management. Revolutionaries describe socialism as a world society of common ownership, democratic control, production for use, and free access on the basis of self-determined need – no nation states, no classes, no money.
Reformers who have some sympathy with the idea of socialism commonly seek to do a deal with revolutionaries: ‘It is important to get unity of the left. Join us today to achieve – (particular reform) and tomorrow we’ll join the revolution’. For revolutionaries the deal offered by some reformers to get unity of the left is always a poisoned chalice. Reforms are to be pursued today, tomorrow the revolution – and tomorrow never comes.
Reformers believe that leaders are necessary to inspire and organise followers to work for the particular change(s) advocated. Active support for leaders in the form of volunteering is usually welcome, but minimal support at the ballot box is acceptable. Socialism requires that there be neither leaders nor followers. It does, however, require organisation and sometimes people will be elected or appointed as delegates or representatives of others in the process of making decisions at various levels of responsibility.
Some reformers believe that free market capitalism is better than state capitalism. Assuming (wrongly) that the only choice is between two forms of the profit system, then there is something to be said for the ‘free’ market, which is never completely free but always subject to some control to protect the system. Revolutionaries do not enter into the debate about whether free market capitalism is better or worse than state capitalism. They oppose the profit system in all its forms and work only for its replacement by socialism.
Other reformers believe that state capitalism, which they may call socialism or communism, is better than free market capitalism. This view suffered a severe setback with the collapse of the Soviet and allied regimes in the late 1980s, but there is still some support around the world for more state control of markets. As just said, revolutionaries have no stake in how capitalism is run. Socialists are opposed to capitalism however it is organised. The alternative is not ‘free market’ capitalism or state capitalism, but capitalism or socialism.
Time and energy spent on reforms is said by some reformers to be a necessary part of the class struggle. It is claimed that this is all we can do: fight for the best deal we can get from capitalism. Class struggle is an inherent and inevitable feature of capitalism. The historical task of workers is not to accept their subordinate class position – it is to replace class society with classless society.

Greasy Pole: The Disappearing Leader (2003)

The Greasy Pole column from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever has happened to Tony Blair? This question does not refer to his recent visit to hospital, apparently to have treatment for an irregular heart beat, thus setting off a storm of speculation about whether this was another of those conditions which conveniently enable faltering politicians to slip out of office accompanied by waves of sympathy instead of squirts of venom. Of course we might have been referring to that incident, if only because of the light it threw on medical services. Blair has a problem with his heart and on the same day he is in hospital getting it fixed. No waiting about in Accident and Emergency to be seen by an exhausted junior doctor. Thousands of other people – the kind, who vote for Blair and his reforms of what are called public services, including the NHS – would be lucky to get treatment for the same condition in a matter of months. (A letter from someone who had suffered from the same problem three years ago, published in the Guardian on 21 October, recalled waiting ten weeks between diagnosis and treatment). No, the Tony Blair we are asking about is that youthful ex-barrister with the engaging smile, the elegant high flying wife and the adorable children. The kind of man you would be glad to have your daughter bring home to Sunday tea because he was so open and trustworthy. What happened to him?

Well he got to be Prime Minister, that’s what happened to him, which made it a bit difficult for him to keep up all that stuff about being honest and trustworthy. From the beginning, events began to jolt his image out of shape. There was the matter of the million pound donation from Bernie Ecclestone, in return for being allowed to advertise fags on racing cars. Then there was the matter of Peter Mandelson and the generous loan from a fellow minister – and then, after Honest Tony had let Mandelson back into the fold, having to kick him out again over the Hinduja passport scandal. One such incident followed another and still the people who have to wait for treatment under the NHS carried on believing in him, voting for his party. But things began to change when Honest Tony used his image too often, to persuade the people, in face of all the evidence, that there were massively destructive weapons in Iraq. Perhaps he assumed that his reputation would justify starting a war in which thousands of people would be killed and an unhappy country would be made chaotically unhappy.

Reverse gear
As a result the “Trust me, I’m Tony” routine doesn’t work any more. For example in his evidence to the Hutton enquiry Blair tried what he may have thought was a clinching denial of misleading the Commons over the weapons in Iraq. He made it sound quite simple; if he had deceived the Commons, he said, it would have been a resigning matter. But he didn’t resign – so therefore, by implication, he did not deceive the Commons. That kind of argument may have convinced those who were eager to be impressed but in fact it was no more than a circular fallacy which can be used to justify almost any action. Many a criminal (the kind who operates outside Parliament) must have admired the technique and promised themselves to use it, the next time they are helping the police with their enquiries.

There have recently been signs that, faced with an unpleasant reality and fighting to stay above the wave of disillusionment, Blair has resorted to the established technique of denying that it is all happening. Like Hitler in the Berlin bunker in the Spring of 1945, refusing to believe that the Reich was at an end. Like Margaret Thatcher when her leadership was on the point of collapse, with the men in grey suits getting ready to pay her a call, persisting with policies which she was advised were catastrophic vote losers and blanketing off the facts with declarations that she would fight on and win because there was no alternative.

Blair’s version of this technique was encapsulated in his speech at this year’s Labour conference, when he declared that he couldn’t go back on his policies because he doesn’t have a reverse gear. In some ways this was an unwise choice by his speech writers because the best known example of the absence of a reverse gear is a cramped, low slung, fragile, elongated egg shell of a car which is as erratic in its handling as you would expect from a three-wheeler, and is uncomfortable and terrifying for its passengers. Famously, it is the preferred mode of transport for Del Boy of Only Fools and Horses – and Del Boy is a pathetic fantasist whose feeble scams persistently come to grief but who never sees any need to change his attitude. In any case it is not true that Blair has never gone back on his policies. He used a reverse gear over the Bernie Ecclestone money and over Peter Mandelson; he probably wishes he had a reverse gear over the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. And then there are the many examples of his government going into reverse over their fine promises to alleviate poverty, solve the problems in health care, make education better and more accessible, run a more open style of government . . .

Brent East
So the ever-youthful, honest Tony Blair who made it into Number Ten has disappeared and in his place is a man presiding over a government which grows more unpopular by the day. He has imposed polices which have enraged Labour Party supporters, sometimes because they are indistinguishable from those of the Tories. Outside his party there is a sense of cynicism, not just about Blair but about the processes of democracy itself. The Brent East by-election was a staggering blow for Labour, as well as for the Tories but it would have been more significant if there had not been such a low turnout of voters. Behind the rejection of the Labour Party there was apathy with the whole process. That may be Blair’s biggest achievement; it has yet to be seen how enduring and how dangerous it will be.

The speculation about the nature and consequences of Blair’s heart condition was evidence of the unrest about him. Any more results like Brent East and it will be time for nervous Labour MPs, especially those holding onto marginal seats, to send him off into the sunset in his wobbling, reverse-lacking three wheeler. Then it will be time for them to elect a new leader, who will promise much and please many with a fresh approach and new promises to unlock the way to prosperity and security for us all. There will be new slogans and sound bites. That will be before the real experience sets in, when the new leader is exposed as a tawdry fraud. At some stage it might occur to the people who vote for leaders and for the social system in which leadership has so prominent a role, that there is a better way. Among the despair and anger at leaders like Blair it is sometimes apparent that there is some human concern for the welfare of the world’s people. All that is lacking is the knowledge and the confidence that we must do better – and, vitally, that we can do better.

Letter: Anton Pannekoek and the SPGB (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anton Pannekoek and the SPGB

Dear Editors,

I have been reading the Socialist Standard for several years and was surprised to find the following statement in the October 2003 issue of your journal: 
“He [Anton Pannekoek] was optimistic that progress would lead to a great working class movement and political action to create a classless society in which all means of production and resources will be held in common by all people and used solely for needs.”
Despite the fact that Pannekoek was a council communist, there is no mention of any criticisms of his ideas. You will be aware of his statement that: “The so-called political democracy under capitalism was a mock democracy . . . Council organisation is a real democracy, the democracy of labor, making the working people master of their work” (Workers Councils, Part I, Chapter 7).

Anton Pannekoek rejected the use of political parties, and argued that the working class should organise into workers councils for the purpose of capturing power. This is in direct contradiction to the position of Karl Marx and the Socialist Party of Great Britain that the dispossession of the capitalist class can “arise only from the revolutionary action of the productive class – or proletariat – organized in a distinct political party” (Marx, Programme of the French Workers Party, 1879).

Dr Pannekoek argued that the parliamentary action favoured by the SPGB was erroneous, and that through the formation of workers councils and a general political strike, Socialism could be obtained. Through the absence of any criticism of this viewpoint, I can gather that the Socialist Party does not oppose such a viewpoint.

That the SPGB is opposed to council-communism is shown in the following. In Questions of the Day, the SPGB showed 
“how secure is the grip Parliament has upon the armed forces” and how it is “necessary . . . for the workers to obtain control of Parliament before attempting to uproot the existing foundations of society . . . the only way to obtain control is through the legal one of sending delegates to Parliament”. This pamphlet argued against the views held by left-communists and council-communists that “the workers can set up their own machinery of government in opposition to the capitalist state . . . because in practices the capitalist class, controlling the armed forces through the parliamentary majority, will see to it that no hostile armed force comes into being to challenge their supremacy” (Questions Of The Day, SPGB, 1942 edition, pp76-8). 
The view of the SPGB is that if the working class were to set up councils and were to challenge the rule of the employers through these councils, our masters would have no hesitation in sending their armed forces to destroy such a movement.

It is not enough to agree upon the Object, but it is necessary to agree with the method of obtaining this Object. Thus we cannot hold a sympathetic view towards those whom adhere to the Socialist objective, but argue that this object cannot be obtained through political action in Parliament. If this is untrue, then the question is posed as to why Socialists do not unite with left-communists and council-communists.

Whilst I am quite sure you will agree to some extent as to what I have written, I still find it indispensable that we do not view certain opponents of the SPGB favourably, because of their opposition to Leninism in the case of Pannekoek.
R. Cumming, 

Your letter suffers from two glaring logical fallacies. First, because someone endorses something someone else says does not mean that they therefore endorse everything they say. Second, because someone doesn’t mention any disagreement they have with someone’s views does not mean that therefore agree with those views. Nor does it follow that to recognise that there are people outside the SPGB who agree with socialism mean that we should therefore unite with them.

So, no, you can’t gather from the fact that we did not mention (in an introduction to a pamphlet on Darwinism) that we disagree with the author’s advocacy of workers councils as the way to socialism that we therefore advocate this ourselves.

It so happens that an article by Pannekoek published in the same year as the SPGB pamphlet you quote gave us a chance to underline that, although we advocate sending delegates to parliaments as the way for the working class to gain control of political power, we are not a “parliamentary” party in the conventional sense.

As an article that appeared in the May 1942 Socialist Standard summarised Pannekoek’s position at that time (when he wrote the pamphlet on Darwin he held a different view, being a member of the German Social Democratic Party; later he was a member of the Dutch Communist Party until he realised that what was being established in Russia was state capitalism not socialism):
“Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism, states his position in the bluntest of terms. Writing in an American magazine, Modern Socialism, he says: ‘The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class . . . Because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers’. Further on, however, he qualifies this statement: ‘If . . . persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day’. Here Pannekoek himself is not the model of clarity, but he points to a distinction which does exist.”
The article went on to say that it was not parties as such that had failed, but the form all parties (save the SPGB) had taken “as groups of persons seeking power above the worker” and continued:
“Only Socialism can guarantee the conditions of a life worth living for all. Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for Socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity . . . The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it”.
An article on “left communists”, including Pannekoek, is being prepared for the January 2004 on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the death of Lenin.—Editors.

Letter: Socialists and War (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists and War

Dear Editors,

The anti-war stance of the Socialist Party is well-known, also its long-term view of how to remove the causes of war, but what would be its short-term strategy in a situation of international aggression? To put it, bluntly, what should socialists do if their country is invaded.

The vast majority of people in the world think that faced with the threat of invasion there are only two alternatives, to resist by military means or simply give in. There is, however, a third alternative, non-violent resistance, but while billions of pounds are spent annually on military methods, not even one penny is spent on research into the theory and practice of this third way.

Non-violent resistance could not prevent an invasion. It would operate from the beginning of the occupation and would include the following tactics: complete non-collaboration, the setting-up of parallel government (this would have been planned before the invasion, making use of the network of existing local structures such as trade unions, sports clubs, professional and cultural associations, etc), underground newspapers, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins and civil disobedience. All this would be accompanied by constant appeals to individual members of the occupying forces to question why they are there and why it would not be better for all concerned if they went home.

Those of us who were affected by the period of conscription had to think hard about tough questions. What do you “youngsters” think?
Bryan Fair, 
Dorchester, Dorset.

We are not quite sure why you think we’re all youngsters as some of our members are old enough to have known the period of conscription, which didn’t end till 1960. They, too, had to face the same tough questions as you. Those who were Socialist Party members opted not to be trained as killers for British capitalism and so were conscientious objectors (those who, for personal reasons, were unable to take this option resigned from the party). Having said this, members of the armed forces, being overwhelmingly recruited from the wage and salary working class, are also open to socialist ideas, and in fact a few of our younger members are former (volunteer) members of the armed forces.

While we are not absolute pacifists (we would be prepared to countenance counter-violence as a last resort to deal with any pro-capitalist minority that might have recourse to violence to try to prevent the implementation of the democratically-expressed will of a majority for socialism), some of the non-violent tactics you mention might be useful in the other hypothetical event of the last capitalist government trying to abolish political democracy when faced with a growing or majority movement for socialism. But we do have a serious problem with your particular proposal for “non-violent resistance”: it is put forward as an alternative to military action to deal with an invasion of “the country”. But “the country” is just another name for the established ruling class there; the workers have no country and it is not up to socialists to advise the ruling class how to defend itself in the face of an attempt by the ruling class of some other “country” to dislodge or replace them.—Editors.

Letter: BBC independence? (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

In dealing with the ongoing spat between the government and the BBC, Pik Smeet (Socialist Standard, September) is of course, absolutely correct in stating that the elite control the media through structural predispositions than an automatic chain of command.

Nevertheless, government does directly invoke its powers of veto over BBC programmes when it thinks fit: for instance its suppression of programme material on Northern Ireland in the shape of the omission of the speech track on TV coverage of legally elected members of a legitimate party – Sinn Fein – in 1988.

These powers of government control over programme content, originally spelled out in the 1927 BBC Charter, appear also in the latest Charter renewal of 1996. and as before, BBC is not even required to publicise the fact when government so instructs it.

In any case, it would be difficult to envisage an institution, set up and operating under government licence, and being government funded, which could escape some level of complicity, however subliminal, with government, however vacillating and unclear the government line may be. For as Lord Annan pointed out in that section of his 1974 Committee on Broadcasting Report, headed “External Pressures”, which dealt with the compromising dependence of journalists on political sources for information, “the constitutional authority of radio and TV to function at all stems from an organ that political parties control”.

What seems to be overlooked is the glaringly obvious doublethink involved in appeals to government to preserve BBC independence. If government action can affect its alleged independence, then BBC is clearly not independent.
W. Robertson, 

Letter: "Money dominates every facet of our existence . . . " (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Money dominates every facet of our existence . . . "

Dear Editors,

In the Socialist Standard of September last year John Bissett kindly reviewed my free booklet Question Everything in which I speak of the benefits that would accrue from living in a world without money. He pointed out that it required more emphasis on how the free and class conscious decisions of the majority would be attained. He was right, for the narrow pragmatisms, the wastes, inefficiencies and limitations of a capitalism that defeats itself by making people too poor to buy its goods, seems to have become entrenched, making it impossible that we could ever get back to those heady days after the second world war when socialism gave us hope for a better world. Even the higher standards of living that it brought, only increased the number of those who became better off and in turn became seduced by the temptations of the system. Socialism, like capitalism, tends to become a self-defeating process.

The money system that is the source of power and the root cause of all our problems, has ceased to have a purpose or any excuse for being retained now that science and technology enable us to produce anything – and in any quantity – that we want. There is enough food in the world already to feed the entire population, yet millions die of starvation, and manufacturers do not complain that they cannot increase production, only that people do not buy – mainly because they cannot afford to. It is the money system based upon the concept of scarcity that limits growth, because money has to be limited in order to maintain its value – which is why politicians fear inflation!

We spend our lives deciding what to spend, what to deny ourselves, what to save or borrow. Money dominates every facet of our existence, so that it is little wonder that, however poor we are, we imagine that a moneyless system would deprive us of the little we have.

My problem has been that I have been unable to think of any argument against a moneyless society other than that, since only a minority of us actually produce or distribute anything useful, everybody else being employed in manipulating money in one way or another, in sales promotion, in estimating cost and profit, in taxation and investment – and in making and selling arms! – that there would be so much freedom that for those accustomed to having to work to live, once they had tired of perpetual holidays and entertainment they would not know what to do with themselves. Since no healthy person could be idle for long, they would become desperate to make and do things, indeed anything, that would keep their minds and bodies active.

There would be nothing to be gained by theft or dishonesty, no advantage in pushing drugs, no more worries about which firm was reliable or about insuring against loss, so that there would be little need for police or lawyers. There would be little to quarrel or fight over, no advantage in limiting the effect of new ideas by taking out patents. Science and technology would be free to pursue imaginative ideas without having to concern themselves with their commercial significance. With few office workers commuting and public transport free and plentiful, there would be no traffic congestion.

In fact there would be plenty for idle hands and brains to do, in converting all the millions of redundant offices into homes, in bringing the third world up to civilised standards, in conjuring up and carrying out imaginative projects to enhance our lives, and in seeking activities, such as learning, research or woodwork, that they found satisfying.

Above all, no longer would we be treated as units, disposable in our millions in wars to satisfy the egos or ambitions of a few leaders.

But it would require that we learn to adapt, to free ourselves from the pragmatisms, complexities and temptations, the economic and political straightjackets of economic and party political systems, to limit ourselves to simple principles of justice, to policies that are irrefutable and incontrovertible; that we reject opinion, controversy and argument that was not supported by fact or reason, seeing ourselves as both learners and teachers instead of competitors, and recognising the overriding importance of the individual.

Because we all are conditioned by our genes and environments, to criticise or blame others for conforming to the world in which they have been conditioned and so take for granted, or to try to deprive them of that which in consequence they assume to be theirs by right, can only invite indignation, hatred, violence and cruelty – and make them cling ever closer to their possessions and beliefs.

Societies have changed little in 3000 years, but if we allow the limitations and confrontations of money and party politics, the ambitions of our leaders and governments, to play upon our defensive cowardice so that they can develop ever more sophisticated nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, we will surely extinguish ourselves.

We are not free just because we live in a so-called democracy that allows us one vote among 40 million or so every five years, enabling dictatorial leaders and governments to do virtually what they like. If we are to be free and to maximise our influence as individuals in those affairs that affect us without infringing the freedom of others, we need a system in which we can get together with our neighbours to decide what we want in our localities, a system in which those neighbourhood units in turn can commune with each other and so on in an ascending tier of decision-making that eventually develops global consensus.

A free and egalitarian society can evolve only by using reason and logic, by thinking independently of the terms and narrow pragmatisms to which we have been conditioned, and by recognising that people can be changed only if we can convince them that our criticisms are directed at the system, not the person.

To rescue humanity from its primitive pragmatisms, its intellectual stagnation its inherited greed, selfishness and aggression, seems impossible in a society in which even the most obvious and modest proposals for reform become derided, but to sit back and do nothing is to invite species extinction.
Melvin Chapman, 

50 Years Ago: The Margate Labour Party Conference (2003)

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

Natíonalisation was the issue at Margate. It is the issue at all Labour conferences. It’s difficult to see how it can be otherwise; for Nationalisation apart what else is there left to discuss within the Labour Party? Housing! Education! The Health Services! These are not the things which separate the Labour Party from the Tories and oft times the Labour Party from itself. Only Nationalisation can do that.

True the Tories have nationalised in the past and might conceivably do so again if circumstances warranted. But for them Nationalisation measures have been a means to an end. The Labour Party for political purposes have made it an end in itself, although the Margate conference saw a full scale strategical withdrawal from that position.

Mr. Woodburn, M.P., made a clumsy attempt to cover the withdrawal by telling the conference that Natíonalisation was not Socialism. Mr. Woodburn may know that but the history of his party is writ large in the monumental confusion created by it in failing to make any real distinction between them. The speeches and writings of Labour leaders over the years bear damning testimony to this confusion. He also added, Nationalisation is merely a means to an end and not necessarily the best means. Whatever implications one likes to draw from that remark the fact is that the Labour Party in the past has viewed Nationalisation as an end; a social goal, a political ideal. Its 1918 Manifesto, Labour and the New Social Order, proclaimed as its aim the continued extension of nationalisation acts to ever widening spheres of industry. And until recent years the Labour Party never substantially departed from it. Hitherto the Labour Party regarded its policy of Nationalisation as one of principle not expediency.

The militant convictions of the Webbs and old Fabians who contributed considerably to the Nationalisation policy of the Labour Party are lacking among present day Labour leaders. Two terms of Labour administration have dispelled from the minds of the administrators any notion of the talismanic powers of Nationalisation. The Webbs are dead in more senses than one.

[From article by E.W., Socialist Standard, November 1953.]

A Non-starter (2003)

Book Review from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

War No More: Eliminating Conflict in the Nuclear Age by Robert Hinde and Joseph Rotblat: Pluto Press £10.99.

World military expenditure for the year was estimated in 1999 at $850 billion, the kind of figure that just boggles the mind. Hardly anyone will disagree with what this book says about the evils and waste of war and the need to get rid of it. Unfortunately, while the authors’ hearts are in the right place, not much of their thinking is.

Any movement to do away with war must begin by examining the causes of war, so Hinde and Rotblat ask what makes wars happen. It is not human nature, they say: people are not naturally aggressive, and rather than aggressiveness causing war, it is warfare that makes people behave aggressively. Instead, they argue, there is no single cause of war, for wars occur when multiple factors come together. They accept that competition over resources is one possible contributing factor, and they discuss oil and other raw materials. Water, in particular, is likely to be an increasing cause of contention, e.g. in Southern Africa, though there has been no ‘Water War’ as yet.

It is argued that capitalism does not need war, but the emphasis on multiple causes of war is really a cop-out. This is because it downplays the ways that capitalist states need—not war itself exactly—but control over resources and the denial of such control to their rivals, and will be prepared to go to war if other avenues to achieve their aims fail. The part played by capitalist rivalry in causing war is not given sufficient attention. Instead it is suggested that “the maintenance of stability over the whole world is in the interests of businesses everywhere”. This is at best a half-truth, though, as the stability found in the status quo may be very much against the interests of some groups of capitalists.

Hinde and Rotblat then look at how to eliminate war, proposing a number of ideas. For instance, nationalist ideas (i.e. denigrating other countries and cultures) should not be tolerated, while patriotism (pride in one’s own culture) is fine. More interestingly, they advocate “a loyalty to humanity”, but have little beyond pious notions to offer as to how it can be brought about. They conclude by emphasising the need for “an equitable global community, to which we all belong as world citizens”. This might not be a bad way of describing Socialism, but that clearly isn’t what they have in mind. What they want instead is a nicer kind of capitalism, with the worst poverty removed, the role of the United Nations enhanced, and no national military forces, which is just a utopian vision. As a way of eliminating conflict, this is a non-starter.
Paul Bennett

Hiding your politics under a bushel (2003)

Pamphlet Review from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ideas of Karl Marx: A beginner’s guide. By Aindrias O’Cathasaigh. Irish Socialist Network. €2.

This is the text of a talk given by the author to a meeting of an Irish reformist organisation who has published it as a short pamphlet. Naturally, in 16 pages Marx’s views can only be expressed in very succinct form. The parts concerning history and economics are basically OK,.

But it is the part on Marx’s political position that is confused. Marx argued that, to free themselves from capitalist exploitation, workers needed to win control of political power and that to do this they needed to organise into a political party; and that what socialists should be doing is everything they could to encourage the emergence of such a class political party.

In an understandable reaction against vanguardism—not that Marx had a vanguardist conception of the socialist party (he saw it rather as a mass democratic political movement)—O’Cathasaigh and the Irish Socialist Network recoil from the idea of a “party” and even from advocating socialism directly. This they see as socialists trying to impose their views on the working class; they favour going along with the day-to-day struggles of non-socialist-minded workers in the hope that these will somehow spontaneously evolve into a struggle for socialism.

Marx, who never hid his socialist light under a bushel, would have been appalled. Such timidity and drifting with the current will not advance the cause of socialism. It leads straight into the bog of reformism.
Adam Buick

New edition of News from Nowhere (2003)

Book Notice from the November 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Oxford University Press have just republished in their “World Classics” series a new edition of Morris’s News from Nowhere, with an introduction and notes by David Leopold (both of which are accurate and useful). Selling at £6.99, it is the cheapest edition currently available of this socialist classic. The ISBN is 0-19-280177-5.

General Election, 1931. (1931)

From the November 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
[The announcement that the General Election was to be held came too late for us to publish a statement of our views in the October issue. For the information of new readers and for purposes of record we reproduce below the leaflet which we distributed during the election.]
You are baffled and confused. You are asked to vote, but you do not know what to do. You have voted before and have waited in vain for results. You had faith in your leaders, and you believed them when they told you that you were on the eve of better days. You have been deceived, not once but many times. Government after government has come and gone, but they have failed to improve our conditions. Again and again you have been assured that the remedies were being applied, but all to no purpose. Your pressing problems are still unsolved. When you are in work your health and vitality are sapped by overstrain, the happiness of your dependants is marred by poverty. Your peace of mind is fretted away by the fear that you will be the next to lose your job. You had faith in the integrity of Baldwin, the ability of Lloyd George, or the loyalty of MacDonald. But experience has taught you that none of them can give you what you seek. In the days before the War the Liberals failed utterly to keep their promise to abolish want from this land of plenty. You have had years of suffering under Tory governments. But you reaped your most bitter disillusionment when the Labour Government, instead of easing, aggravated your distress. You then realised that the Labour leaders and the Labour Party are no better than their predecessors. Now you are getting mistrustful of parties and politicians. In your disappointment you ask whether there is any road left that is worth travelling.

The Problem Stated.
There is no lack of statesmen, journalists, and business men telling you the cause of your troubles. But their explanations do not ring true. They tell you things that in your own knowledge and observation you recognise to be false. You have lived under Free Trade and you know that it does not mean “peace and plenty.” You or your parents can recall the pitiable poverty of the years before the War. You can assert, therefore, that the workers’ troubles did not begin with the War and the War debt. You have read of the huge armies of unemployed in the tariff countries such as Germany and the United States. You have been told that industrial efficiency and rationalisation are the cure for unemployment and low wages ; but your own experience teaches you that “labour-saving” machinery does not give you ease and prosperity. Again, during recent weeks, you have been asked to believe that “going off the gold standard” will bring you relief. But when you recall the wage-reductions, the trade disputes, and the heavy unemployment of the years between the Armistice and 1925—years when, we are told, we were “off the gold standard”—you will see through that deception. You must go more deeply into the question if you wish to understand what is wrong. There is something rotten at the root of things. It is that the greater number of us have no “stake in the land of our birth.” In this country that we call ours, the fields, the factories and work shops in which we toil, the railways and steamships, even the places of amusement and recreation, are not ours at all. They do not belong to the workers who constructed them and work them. Nor do they belong to society as a whole. They are—stop and consider the importance of this—they are private property under the private control of a small class of people. Because of that our lives are not our own. We produce wealth for others. We produce it in abundance so that the world groans under the burden of what is called overproduction. But all that we get out of industry is a wage just sufficient to provide a working-class family with the cheapest food, cramped quarters, and the least attractive clothes. After paying all the expenses of production, the goods left in the hands of the propertied class are in quantities so vast that they can not all be disposed of at a profit. The workers have not the money to buy more than a modest amount, and the rich, living in luxury, yet spend only part of their enormous incomes. The result is stagnant trade, closed factories, idle shipping, abandoned mines, neglected farms, and everywhere strife and instability. For millions the consequence is semi-starvation and unemployment.

There is only one remedy for this chaotic and avoidable state of affairs. The means by which we all live must belong to society as a whole; to be used and controlled democratically for the common good. Production for use, not for the profit of a propertied class.

The Labour Party is not a Socialist Party.
One popular error must be corrected at this point. Nationalisation, or State-controlled capitalism is not Socialism. The Labour Party is not a Socialist Party. Whether in this country or abroad Labour Governments have always and everywhere failed to justify themselves. In the 1929 General Election the Labour Party roused your hopes with promises of better times. In office they did not redeem their promise. On the contrary they brought ridicule upon themselves and destroyed the enthusiasm of their supporters. Propped up on Liberal votes in the House of Commons, for two years they staggered from one political crisis to another. Reluctant to give up office they prolonged the miserable life of their Ministry by secret bargaining with the Liberal Party. Instead of using Parliament as an arena in which to wage a fight for the workers, they earned by their spineless conduct the contemptuous sneer of Winston Churchill that there was “no fight” in progress, “only a lot of politicians leaning up against each other.”

In the present election the Labour Party have the support of the notorious anti-socialist, Mr. Lloyd George ; again showing that they do not intend any fundamental social change. Mr. Henderson had a private meeting with the Liberal leader on Saturday, October 10th (“Reynolds’s,” October 11th), and the Carnarvon Boroughs Labour Party has decided not to oppose his candidature.

The “Daily Herald” (October 10th) says :—
“Mr. Lloyd George’s manifesto gives a lead to Liberals to vote Labour.”
The Labour Government failed to stop wage reductions in the textile mills, on the railways and farms, and in the co-operative stores. They reduced still further the miserable pittance of their own lower-grade post office and other employees. While they were in control unemployment rose to a record figure. Finally, when there developed one of the periodic crises which are the inevitable outcome of our present social system, they rushed into the economy campaign which the National Government has carried on. Except for the 10 per cent. reduction in unemployment pay, against which a minority of the Labour Cabinet made a belated stand, the whole of the National Government’s economy programme had been agreed to “provisionally” by the Labour Government. In 1929 they promised the workers improved social services; in 1931 they were demanding “sacrifices.”

That ignominious collapse was not merely the failure of individuals. It was the Labour Party and its programme which had been tried and found wanting. They claimed to make capitalism run smoothly and in the interests of the workers; but capitalism can not be made to run smoothly. Socialist policy is the direct opposite. The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Not to patch or prop up capitalism, but to abolish it.

The National Parties—Defenders of Capitalism.
The parties led by Mr. MacDonald stand frankly as defenders of capitalism. They say that they represent the forces of order and stability, and Mr. Snowden has inferred that all those who oppose the National Government are parties of destruction and disorder. That is not true of the Socialist Party. Just as the capitalist parties claim to stand for capitalism, conducted as well as they know how, so the Socialist Party stands for a speedy but ordered change-over to a new system on the basis of common ownership. Mr. MacDonald is asking for a free hand for any measures, including tariffs, that the National Government may decide are necessary. But there are no measures that can solve the problem of the workers except measures to establish Socialism. Do you suppose that the politicians and parties which separately have let you down will serve you better in combination?

The Road to Socialism.
There can be no Socialism until a majority of the electors have been won over. The workers form the great majority of the population. Organised in the Socialist Party they have but to use their votes in order to place themselves in control of the machinery of government and of the armed forces by which society is dominated. The urgent task of to-day is to spread knowledge of Socialist principles so that the workers may fit themselves for the winning of power and for Socialism. There is no other way. The Labour Party has preached the policy of pleading for social reforms as steps towards Socialism. But recent events have shown that that road leads only to failure and despair.

To achieve Socialism, elections must be fought, not on a programme of reforms to catch non-socialist votes, as is the practice of the Labour Party, the I.L.P., and Communists, but on the simple, straightforward issue of Socialism versus Capitalism. Beware, then, of those, like Mr. Maxton, who condemn the Labour Party and its programme of reforms of capitalism, but who for years have told you to put your faith in the Labour Party candidates. They told you to trust MacDonald. Now they advise you to trust Mr. Henderson, one of the men who betrayed the workers’ interests in the Great War. They are asking you to enter on a further period of wasted effort and lost time, leading surely to yet another betrayal.

Dangerous advice is given by the Communists. They contest elections but tell you that Parliament is futile. They preach disorder and advocate, armed revolt, thus playing into the hands of the most reactionary section of the ruling class. For their own ends they exploit the miseries of the unemployed. Yet eight years ago they were compelled to admit the ineffectiveness of their mass demonstrations. The “Workers’ Weekly,” the official organ of the Communist Party, wrote as follows in 1923 :—
“The unemployed have done all they can, and the Government know it. They have tramped through the rain in endless processions. They have gone in mass deputations to the Guardians. They have attended innumerable meetings and have been told to be ‘solid.’ They have marched to London, enduring terrific hardships . . .

All this has led nowhere.“
—”Workers’ Weekly,” February 10th, 1923. (Italics ours.)
Remember that it is only a few years since the Communists, too, were telling you to vote for MacDonald !

What to do with your vote.
If you support one or other of the parties of capitalism, including those parties of reform, the Labour Party, the I.L.P., and the Communists, you will help to prolong your troubles. If you are convinced of the truth of the Socialist case you will not vote for any of these parties. You will realise that the SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN is the only party in this country that works on sound lines for the emancipation of the workers. Consistently since its formation in 1904, the Socialist Party has maintained the straight fight for Socialism, at all times giving our present warning that the parties of reform block the road to Socialism.

Unfortunately there are not yet a sufficient number of the working class who desire Socialism, to make it possible for us to run candidates in this election. We call, therefore, upon all those who want Socialism to express their determination by going to the poll and writing “Socialism” across the voting paper. Among other things this will help to advertise the number of those who have made the final decision to have done with capitalism and its defenders. The use of the vote to support any of the candidates in the present election is a vote for capitalism.

Study Socialism. Become Socialists. Resolve that you will help to make the Socialist Party strong enough to run candidates at the next election.
The Executive Committee,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain,
42 Great Dover Street, London, S.E.1.
October, 1931.

Editorial: Sound and Fury. The Election and the Workers. (1931)

Editorial from the November 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

The general election has come and gone, and nothing fundamental has been changed. The workers were asked to give a mandate for the continuance of the social system that enslaves them, and in their blindness they have done so.

The National Government supporters just prior to the election numbered 327. They return to office with about 560 supporters, of whom 170 are Conservatives; 70 are Liberals; and 13 are members of the MacDonald Labour Group. The opposition consists of 52 Labour and I.L.P. M.P.s and four Lloyd George Liberals. The total is made up by a few Independents and Irish Nationalists. The Labour Party is now reduced in size approximately to the number elected in 1918.

At the last election, in 1929, the Conservatives polled 8,656,173 votes and won 260 seats. This time they have polled 12,000,000 votes. The Labour vote in 1929 was 8,389,512, and they won 289 seats, many of them on minority votes. The Liberals, in 1929 won only 58 seats, although their vote was 5,308,510. This time the Labour vote has fallen to about 6,650,000, while their seats have dropped far more. They are now less numerous than the Liberals, although the Liberal vote on this occasion is less than 2,500,000. The MacDonald Labour M.P.s polled only 338,000. In the 1929 Parliament there were over 200 Labour M.P.s who, although elected as Labour candidates, were also members of the I.L.P. There were no Communists in the last Parliament, nor are there any in the new one. The Mosley candidates all failed.

Since 1929 the electorate has grown from 28,850,000 to 30,159,000. The number of electors who did not vote for any candidate increased considerably. So much for the figures.

What were they fighting for?
Many observers, both at home and abroad, some of whom ought to have known better, accepted the rash claim, made for electioneering purposes, that the election was a clear-cut struggle between Capitalism and Socialism. This is a grotesque misreading of the situation. On the one side the Government parties under MacDonald were asking for “a free hand, nothing ruled out,” although most of their candidates construed “nothing ruled out” as meaning “tariffs ruled in” ; in spite of the fact that by far their most formidable standard bearer in the fight was Mr. Snowden, who is a staunch free-trader.

On the other side were the Labour Party and the group of free-trade Liberals under Mr. Lloyd George. The Labour programme gave prominence to free-trade, to the restoration of the cuts in wages and unemployment pay, and to the nationalisation of the banks. Mr. Lloyd George told his followers that the last of the three chief Labour aims need not be taken seriously, and that Liberals ought to vote for the free-trade Labour candidates. Mr. Snowden, until recently an advocate of bank nationalisation, now opposed it. He also pointed out that the Labour leaders’ enthusiasm for free trade was as suspect as their repudiation of the cuts they had approved when in office. In a letter to the Press (see “Daily Telegraph,” 22nd October) he made the following illuminating and unanswered statement about his late colleagues in the Labour Government :
Mr. Graham put the case for the tariff. He told us a tax of 10 per cent. on imported manufactured and semi-manufactured goods would raise £25,000,000 a year, and a tax on all imports £60,000,000 a year.

We took two votes. The first was whether we should adopt the proposal of a 10 per cent. tax on manufactured and semi-manufactured imports. Fifteen members, including Mr. Graham, voted for that, and five against. Then the question of a duty on all imports was put, including food and raw materials. Mr. Graham and four others voted for that, and fifteen against.

It was only after these votes, when it was seen that we could not get unanimity, that the proposal was dropped, because, as Mr. Henderson put it, if it had been persisted with it would have broken up the Cabinet.”
This discussion in the Labour Cabinet took place towards the end of August, and was reported in the “Daily Herald” at the time. On August 20th the Herald had a bold headline across the front page—”Tariffs in the balance.” The report goes on to say that in the Cabinet :
“There was a tense debate on the proposal for a revenue tariff on imports.”
The day before the “Herald” had said :
“the proposal for a revenue tariff will receive support from ministers who have hitherto been rigid free-traders.”
On August 22nd the “Herald” brought the Trades Union Congress into the picture :
“There is keen division in the T.U.C. on the subject of a tariff for revenue purposes, but the majority would be in favour of such a proposal as an alternative to any cuts in unemployment benefit.”
But, it may be asked, if the Labour Party leaders were prepared, even reluctantly, to support the economies and a revenue tariff, why did they oppose the National Government, most of whose members also wanted those things? The answer is, of course, that the party leaders on both sides were doling what they and their predecessors have always done; they were fighting for office. Faced with the National Coalition, the Labour Party grabbed for the Liberal free-trade vote. Mr. Henderson (a few days later than Mr. MacDonald) journeyed to see the Liberal leader, Mr. Lloyd George, on his sick bed. They had a “cordial” but secret talk. The local Labour Parties withdrew their candidates who were opposing Lloyd George and his son and daughter. He, in his broadcast, and in an interview given to the “Daily Herald,” and the “Manchester Guardian,” and other Liberal papers in their editorials, gave a plain lead to the Liberal voters to vote Labour. During the week before polling day the “Herald” printed column after column of reports of Liberal speakers, Liberal money, and Liberal Party machinery being placed at the disposal of the Labour candidates. All the past bitter condemnation of Lloyd George and his party was forgotten in the twinkling of an eye when the chance of office and the security of seats were at stake. Forgotten was the admission, so frequent in recent years from Labour leaders, that the issue of free-trade versus protection was of no importance to the workers. No longer was Lloyd George the “coiner of purple phrases and breaker of promises,” as the Herald had so happily described him in their special “Lloyd George Number” of December 1st, 1923. No longer was he to be shunned as the man who always wreaks “incredible destruction,” the “shoddy salesman” of politics, the “two-faced” politician who “tricked the miners with Sankey Commissions, Duckham Reports, and so on, until the coal-owners had all ready for their bitter attack on the Federation.” Then “A vote for Lloyd George is a vote for the enemies of the workers and the foes of democracy”; now Lloyd George Liberals and Labourites were all together, fighting the battle of “progress” !

These are the depths to which the reformers have dragged the name Socialism. On the one side MacDonald with his, “I am still a Socialist,” leading the Tory army in their fight for tariffs, and on the other side Henderson and Labour Party, attaching the word socialism to their programme of reforms behind which Lloyd George could muster his free-trade capitalist “enemies of the workers.”

The utter shamelessness of the Labour leaders can be seen from their plea that they were fighting to defend the workers against the high prices which would follow tariffs. In all the years up to 1929 they had proclaimed themselves the party of low prices. Suddenly, when they came into office in that year they discovered that prices were falling heavily, the thing they had promised to bring about. Promptly they swallowed their low-price theory, and told their disappointed followers that falling prices were the cause of all the trouble. The “Daily Herald,” now so strong for cheapness, then carried on for months a campaign for inflation and higher prices. The following is from the “Herald” editorial on July 14th, 1931 :—
“It is urgent—imperatively urgent—that without delay the necessary steps be taken so to regulate currency and credit as first to raise and then stabilise prices…..Inflation—and it is folly to be frightened by a word—is the only possible remedy.”
Three months later, when it was “imperatively urgent” to catch the Liberal free-trade vote, they were back on their old platform of low prices.

The I.L.P. and the Communists.
In this election, for the first time, the I.L.P. ran its own candidates without the endorsement of the Labour Party, the endorsement being withheld because the I.L.P. would not undertake always to vote with the Labour Party. In two of the nineteen constituencies which the I.L.P. fought (Peckham and Shettleston) there was also an official Labour Party candidate, while in Stockport (a double member constituency) where the Labour man has hitherto run in double harness with a Liberal, the Labour Party refused to back the I.L.P. interloper who threatened to spoil the arrangement with the Liberals.

The result is interesting. In 1929 the total Labour vote in these nineteen constituencies was 332,413, and they won thirteen seats. This time the I.L.P. polled 260,344 and gained only three seats. They held Shettleston against the official Labour man, and in Peckham their candidate received many times the vote of his official Labour opponent. In Peckham, the official Labour man and the MacDonald Labour man both forfeited their deposits.

The I.L.P. parliamentary group is now, therefore, reduced to three members, and their chairman is outside the House.

Just before the election, their chairman, Mr. Fenner Brockway, writing in the “New Leader” (2nd October), confessed the uselessness of reforms which have been the I.L.P.’s sole stock-in-trade for nearly forty years :
“The system of capitalism is failing so obviously that the policy of reforms within capitalism must be rejected. We must concentrate on winning power of such nature that we can proceed boldly with the transition to socialism all along the line.”
In spite of which the I.L.P. candidates fought as usual on a programme of reforms. Three years ago Mr. Maxton described the Labour Party programme, “Labour and the Nation,” as a programme of capitalism. The 1931 programme, was, he said, “even more reactionary” (“Evening Standard,” 1st October). Yet the I.L.P. allowed a large number of its members to fight as official Labour Party candidates, and endorsed Mr. J. Beckett, as I.L.P. candidate at Peckham after he had declared his “whole-hearted support” of the Labour election programme (South London Press, 9th October). The I.L.P., although much reduced in size, has not altered in its quality. It is still the same body of vote-catching reformists, maintaining a precarious existence on the backs of the trade unions and the Labour Party.

The Communists ran 25 candidates, the same number as in 1920. In 1929 they obtained their aggregate vote of 50,617. This time, on a somewhat larger electorate, their aggregate vote was 70,844. In the ten constituencies which they fought on both occasions their vote was, in 1929, 39,283, and in 1931 48,612. They did best where they were fighting only one candidate, a Labour Party candidate.

They, too, fought on a reform programme of about twenty “demands” (“Daily Worker,” 14th October). In practise their policy is always determined by the actions of the other reformist parties. They run yapping at the heels of the Labour Party, and where the Labour Party goes they go, too. As the Labour Party, at the eleventh hour decided to be a free-trade party, the Communists had to follow suit. So one of their “demands” was “No taxes or tariffs which raise the price of food and clothing for the workers.” On Sunday, October 11th, a Communist Party demonstration in Hyde Park marched behind a banner with the “revolutionary” slogan, “No Taxes on the People’s Food.”

In this general election for the first time the official communist advice to the voters did not, so far as our knowledge goes, include a recommendation to vote for all or even some of the Labour Party candidates.

The Future.
The election changes nothing except the persons who shall occupy office, and some questions of capitalist trade and finance, of interest to sections of the capitalists in their mutual antagonisms. Capitalism is now sunk in one of its periodic crises of overproduction. In due course it will stagger back to “normal,” before falling again into yet other crises. This process will continue until the workers understand socialism and organise in the Socialist Party to achieve it. The votes for the Tory-Labour-Liberal Party under MacDonald, and for the Labour-Liberal Party under Henderson and Lloyd George, are votes for capitalism and reforms of one kind and another. They are not votes for socialism. This is proved by the alternating fortunes of the parties at succeeding elections. We are not prophets, but one thing seems certain—that the Labour Party will never obtain, and do not really want, an independent majority. They may, perhaps, again reach office, but only with Liberal support in the House and in the constituencies. The Leaders understand this, hence the efforts they made at the Labour Party Conference in October to secure the rejectIon of a resolution which, if it had been passed, would have committed them never to accept office as a minority. What we have long pointed out is now becoming clear for all to see. It is impossible to unite the workers on reform programmes. Each reform antagonises as many workers as it attracts. Reform programmes, as we can see before our eyes, split the workers into half a dozen warring sections. Another illusion has also been dispelled. We were told that after voting Labour workers would then vote for Socialism ; instead of which, as we foretold, they have returned to Conservatism. Only the simple demand for socialism will eventually hold the workers.

Those who have patiently waited, bearing all disappointments, but trusting in the Labour Party until such time as it had an independent majority will do well to ponder the prospect of a “Labour” Party tied permanently to Liberal votes, and limited to a programme approved by Mr. Lloyd George and his capitalist free-trade backers.