Sunday, December 3, 2023

Parliament or Soviet. A Reply to the ‘Proletarian’ (U.S.A.) (1930)

From the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our August number we pointed out that a certain John Keracher, of the American Proletarian, contributed an article to their July number which contained a covert attack on our principles and policy. That although our Declaration of Principles was quoted, our name had not been mentioned.

The October number of the “Proletarian” contains a reply to our criticism. Although Keracher had not thought it worth while mentioning our name in the previous article he now finds the matter so important that he devotes nearly twelve columns (nearly half of the paper) to us. And further, the matter was of such urgency that copies of the “Proletarian” were sent to the branches of our Party!

Throughout these twelve columns Keracher quotes portions of paragraphs of Marx and Engels in the effort to wring out of them an interpretation they will not bear. We pointed out in our criticism that quotations in the previous article had been made without the source being indicated. Keracher now tries to take refuge in the statement that we ought to know the source! The “Proletarian” is supposed to be a paper written for working men, and therefore, if working men are to test the truth of the evidence brought forward they must be able to go to the source for that purpose. But as the “Proletarian”, like other Communist organs, depends upon the ignorance of the workers, its writers are not over-anxious to give the workers the opportunity to see the frailty of the case put forward. As we cannot spare twelve columns to deal with Keracher, we will only take his leading points, and demonstrate his slipperiness, without following up all his by-paths.

At the end of our criticism of the “Proletarian” article we asked how they proposed getting rid of the armed force, at present controlled by the capitalists through Parliament, which stood in the way of any attempt to alter the foundations of society. This is the reply:
“Getting control of Parliament does not mean that the workers have gained control of the public power of coercion, the state. At such a critical moment the capitalist class (not so stupid as the S.P. of G.B.) will send its ‘armed forces’ to disperse Parliamentary representatives. The real State will show itself.”
For sheer stupidity the above takes the palm. How can the “capitalist class send its armed forces”? Are the capitalists sitting in a room somewhere, issuing orders?

The issuing of orders, the appointment and control of officials, and everything else connected with the operation of the armed forces, is in the hands of the group in Parliament that for the time constitutes the Government, i.e, has the majority. Time after time we have given abundant evidence of this fact in these columns.

The armed force is a part of the governmental machinery, the whole of which depends for its efficiency upon co-ordination. If the co-ordination breaks down the machinery becomes useless, or anarchy sets in. The co-ordination comes from the centre—Parliament.

After the above quotation comes the following paragraph:
“If ‘the armed forces of the nation’, most of it working men, remains loyal to the ruling class, then the proletariat will have to submit to a military dictatorship of the capitalists. If, on the other hand, the rank and file of the army and navy goes over to the working class, then the political power will have passed from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. It is during this period that the new state form…will make its appearance. The Paris Commune and the Russian Soviet arose spontaneously out of the revolution itself.”
A couple of “ifs”  are very weak material to base a course of action upon. Secondly, as the capitalists are alleged to be able to send their armed forces where they like, irrespective of the intentions of Parliament, surely the only inference to be drawn is that there is already a military dictatorship here and now. Thirdly, how is “the new State form” going to make its appearance; pop up suddenly like a mushroom over night? Fourthly, the Russian Soviet did not arise in 1917, but many years before. Fifthly, according to Trotsky, “It is true that the English Trades Unions may become a powerful lever for the revolution; they may even, in circumstances and for a certain time, be a substitute for the Workers’ Soviets.” (The Lessons of October, 1917, p.75.) Sixthly, the Paris Commune was able to arise because the armed force of the French Government was “resting” in German prison camps.

In the cases of both the Communards and the Bolsheviks they were able to seize power because, owing to an unusually favourable set of circumstances, the armed force that would have stood in the way would have stood in the way had already been got rid of, or rendered innocuous by those who previously controlled State power. Are we asked to depend upon such a situation in the future instead of using the weapons we have at hand? Could stupidity go further?

Now let us gave an example of Keracher’s slippery method of arguing. He says:

“ ‘The Communards proposed decentralisation,’ writes Gilmac approvingly.”  There is nothing approving or disapproving in a statement of fact. But Keracher, unable to meet the point, takes refuge, like other wrigglers, in trying to foist upon his opponents views which they do not hold.

Mr. Keracher wants to have it both ways. To him the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviet Government are both “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour.”

Let us give quotations from authorities upon each form.

Engels, in his introduction to the Paris Commune, points out that the Blanquists in the Commune acted in a way exactly the opposite of their former attitude:
“The Blanquists fared no better. Brought up in the School of Conspiracy, held together by the rigid discipline essential to it, they started from the conception that a comparatively small number of resolute, well-organised men would be able not only to grasp the helm of State at a favourable moment, but also through the display of great energy and reckless daring, to hold it as long as required; that is, until they had succeeded in carrying the masses of the people into the revolutionary current, and ranging them around the small leading band. To accomplish this, what was necessary, above all else, was the most stringent dictatorial centralisation of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government. And what did the Commune do—which in the majority consisted of these Blanquists? In all its proclamations to the French people in the Provinces, it called upon them for a free federation of all French communes with Paris, for a National Organisation, which for the first time was to be the real creation of the nation. The Army, the political police, the Bureaucracy, all those agencies of oppression in a centralised government, which Napoleon had created in 1789, and which since then every new government had gladly used and kept up as ready weapons against its enemies, were to be abolished everywhere as they had been abolished in Paris.”
(The Paris Commune ,p.10, N.Y.L.N.Co)
The following quotations from Lenin and Zinovieff show the rigid centralisation of the Bolshevik Government, and the way a portion of the Russian Communist Party kept power to themselves:
“It proves that unqualified centralisation and the strictest discipline of the proletariat are among the principal conditions for the victory over the bourgeoisie.” (Left Wing Communism, N. Lenin, p.110.)

“If Bolshevism could successfully, and under the greatest difficulties, achieve in 1917-1920 the strictest centralisation and iron discipline, it was due simply to a series of historical peculiarities of Russia.” (Left Wing Communism, p.11)

“Our central Committee has decided to deprive certain categories of party members the right to vote at the Congress of the Party. Certainly it is unheard of to limit the right of voting within the party, but the entire party has approved this measure, which is to ensure the homogenous unity of the Communists.
So that, in fact, we have 500,000 members who manage the entire State machine from top to bottom.” (Report by Zinovieff to First Congress of 3rd International, March, 1919. The Socialist, 29th April, 1920.)

“One of our misfortunes was that we had to take over the old State apparatus.” (The New Economic Policy, by Lenin. The Communist, 16th Dec., 1922.)
Now, Mr. Keracher, which is “the political form at last discovered,” the Commune or the Soviet government? Attempted witticisms are no answer to facts.

Keracher quotes a statement from Engels’ Origin of the Family. But he only quotes a few lines from a paragraph, but in connection with a different matter. The part he quotes first and attempts to make considerable use of is as follows:
“Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be anything else in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.”
Keracher, at the end of his article, asks us what Engels meant by this. We will tell him in Engels’ own words. First from another, and later writing of Engels, and then from the paragraph from which the above is torn, as well as from what is probably the most read of all Engels’ writings, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.

In 1895, the year of his death, and twenty-three years after the Paris Commune, Engels wrote an introduction to a reprint of Marx’s Class Struggles in France. In his introduction Engels says:
“When Bismarck now found it necessary to introduce universal suffrage as the only means of interesting the masses of the people in his designs, our workers were not slow to make a serious use of the new opportunity, and they sent August Bebel to the first constituent Reichstag. From that day to this they have utilised the suffrage in a manner which has rewarded them a thousandfold, and been an example to the workers of all other lands. To quote the words concerning the suffrage in the French Marxist programme, ‘ils l’ont transformé, de moyen duperie qu’il a été jusqu’ici , en instrument d’émancipation—they have changed it from a means of deceit, such as it has been hitherto, into a means of emancipation… even if it did no more than allow us to gauge our own strength and that of our opponents, thus preserving us alike from undue faintheartedness and from overweening rashness—if that were all universal suffrage had done for us, it would have been amply worth while.

But it has done more than this. Electoral agitation supplied us with a method of unsurpassed value for getting into contact with those strata of the populace which still held aloof from us, and for compelling the other parties to defend themselves publicly against the attacks we delivered upon their opinions and their actions. Moreover, in the Reichstag it provided our representatives with a platform from which to their opponents in Parliament and to the masses outside they could speak alike with far more authority and with greater freedom than had been possible in the Press and in public meetings. Of what use to the Government and to the bourgeoisie was their Socialist Law when electoral agitation and the speeches of Socialist deputies in the Reichstag were continually rendering its restrictions in the nugatory?

With the successful employment of universal suffrage an entirely new proletarian tactic had come into being, and this tactic speedily underwent further development.  It was found that the governmental institutions in which the dominion of the bourgeoisie had secured organic expression provided a leverage whereby the proletariat could work for the overthrow of these very institutions. The workers participated in the elections to the diets; they voted in the municipal elections; they took their places in the arbitration courts; in their conflict with the bourgeoisie they disputed the possession of every post. The result of all this was that the bourgeoisie and the government grew far more afraid of the constitutional than the unconstitutional activities of the working class party, and came to dread the results of an election far more than they dreaded the results of a rebellion.

The day of surprise attacks has passed, the day when small but resolute minorities could achieve revolutions by leading the masses to the onslaught. Where the question is one of a complete transformation in the social organism, the masses must wittingly participate, must fully understand what they are about. We have learned this from the history of the past 50 years. But if we are to enlighten the masses concerning the issue, prolonged and arduous toil will be requisite. This is the task on which we are now engaged, and with so much success that our adversaries are becoming desperately alarmed.

The irony of history turns everything topsy-turvy. We, the ‘revolutionists’, thrive better by the use of constitutional means than by unconstitutional and revolutionary methods. The parties of law and order, as they term themselves, are being destroyed by the constitutional implements which they themselves have fashioned.”
The paragraph in the Origin of the Family, from which Keracher quotes, is a long one, and starts on page 209 of Kerr’s edition. In the early part of it the following sentences occur:
“The highest form of the State, the democratic republic, knows officially nothing of property distinctions. It is the State, which under modern conditions of society, becomes more and more an unavoidable necessity. The last decisive struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie can only be fought out under this State form.”  (Italics ours.)
The paragraph then ends as follows:
“The possessing class rules directly through universal suffrage. For as long as the oppressed class—in this case the proletariat—is not ripe for its emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing form of society as the only one possible, and form the tail, the extreme left wing, of the capitalist class. But the more the proletariat matures towards its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be that in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” (Italics ours.)
On the day when the thermometer reaches its boiling point the workers will have elected a majority of delegates to Parliament. That is Engels’ answer to the question. For further evidence let us turn to Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, pp.74-77. (Sonneschien, 1892).
“Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced to accomplish this revolution. Whilst it forces on more and more the transformation of the vast means of production, already socialised, into State property, it shows itself the way to accomplishing this revolution. The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production into State property.

But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes also the State as State. Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the State. That is, of an organisation of the particular class which was pro tempore the exploiting class, an organisation for the purpose of preventing any interference from without with the existing conditions of production and, therefore especially for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited class in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour). The State was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only in so far as it was the State of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole; in the middle ages, the feudal lords; in our own time, the bourgeoisie.

When at last it becomes the real representative of the whole of society, it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection; as soon as the class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon our present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from these, are removed, nothing more remains to be repressed, and a special repressive force, a State, is no longer necessary. The first act by virtue of which the State really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society—the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society—this is at the same time, its last independent act as a State. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then it dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’. It dies out. ” (pp.74-77.)

“ III. Proletarian Revolution. – Solution of the contradictions. The proletariat seizes the public power, and by the means of this transforms the socialised means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property. By this act the proletariat frees the means of production from the character of capital they have thus borne, and gives their socialised character complete freedom to work itself out. Socialised production on a pre-determined plan becomes henceforth possible. The development of production makes the existence of different classes of society thenceforth an anachronism. In proportion as anarchy in social production vanishes, the political authority of the State dies out. Man, at last the master of his own form of social organisation, becomes at the same time the lord over nature, his own master—free. (p.86.)
Note the commencement of the last paragraph: “The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialised means of production…into public property,” and take along with it the following, from the end of Engels’ 1891 introduction to The Paris Commune (New York Lab. News. Co.):
“But in reality the State is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and that no less so in the democratic republic than the monarchy. At the very best it is an inheritance of evil, bound to be transmitted to the proletariat when it has become victorious in its struggle for class supremacy, and the worst features of which it will have to lop off at once, as the Commune did, until a new race, grown up under new, free social conditions, will be in a position to shake off from itself the State rubbish in its entirety.”
The above quotations prove the correctness, according to Engels, of paragraph 6 of our Declaration of Principles, to which Mr. Keracher takes exception, and also the correctness of the summary of the Marxian view, given in our August number, to which Mr. Keracher also takes exception, i.e., that you cannot carry on socialism with capitalist governmental machinery; that you must transform the government of one class by another into the administration of social affairs; that between capitalist society and Socialist society lies a period of transformation during which one after another of the political forms of to-day will disappear, but the worst features must be lopped off immediately the working class obtains supremacy in the State.

In the last column Mr. Keracher, speaking of ourselves, says:
“They have not yet discovered how the workers of Paris and Russia got "rid of the armed forces controlled by the capitalists." ”
The answer is that neither Communists nor Bolsheviks got rid of the armed forces of the capitalists. In each case the capitalists, owing to the exigencies of war, did it.

Marx’s view of universal suffrage was clearly given in his article on the Chartists, in which he said:
“But universal suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of itself as a class, and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants,  but landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of universal suffrage in England, would, therefore, be a far more Socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent.

Its inevitable result here, is the political supremacy of the working class.”  (‘N.Y. Tribune,’ 25th Aug. 1852; quoted by ‘Labour Monthly,’ Dec., 1929.)
Keracher, like the rest of the pro-Bolsheviks, tries to foist upon Marx and Engels their own views of “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” As was pointed out in the May number of the “S.S.,” in all the voluminous writings of Marx and Engels they only use the expression three times. Marx twice; once in a private letter criticising the “free people’s state” (The Gotha Program), and once in the Class Struggle in France, where, dealing with the large peasantry and small working class in France, he said that if the workers got power there would be a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Engels used it only once, at the end of the Paris Commune, were he advised opponents to look at the Paris Commune, that was the dictatorship of the proletariat. And these three references (one of which was not intended for public consumption) are the basis  of all the post-war talk of “Dictatorship”!

We have no further space to spare for Mr. Keracher’s other twists and turns. The above, however, will give a fair idea of the shifts he is compelled to resort to. In the whole of twelve columns he failed to show how the working class could obtain control of the armed forces, by ignoring parliament, and what force, and how, the Proletarian Party would meet the political power of the capitalists. We are evidently supposed to guess this!

Light on Soviet Russia. (1930)

Book Review from the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Economic Trends in Soviet Russia.” By A. Yugoff. (George Allen & Unwin.)

The above volume is intended as a broad general outline of affairs in Russia. It affords considerable support to the position maintained by the Socialist Party since the Bolshevik upheaval.

“Soviet Russia,” says the author, in his introduction 
“is a land of economic contrasts and oppositions. In the towns there are huge factories and workshops; in the countryside, a natural economy is still almost exclusively dominant. Huge trusts and syndicates, embracing whole branches of industry and commerce, confront independent home workers and itinerant traders. Theoretically, and as a matter of principle, all the economic life of the country is under State control; whilst in practice currency crises, crises of production, gluts, crises of demand, press hard on one another’s heels, and are renewed ever and again by the spontaneous play of economic forces and by the lack of due proportion between the various branches of economic life.

Furthermore, in latter-day Russia we can see a peculiarly vivid picture of the results of artificially cultivated Socialist economic forms in a country where neither the economic nor the social conditions are ripe for anything of the kind; we can note what a caricature of true Socialism such an enforced ‘Socialism’ must be.

Two conflicting tendencies arc at work in Soviet Russia to-day. One of them has originated out of the new economic and social situation created by the revolution, the overthrow of Tsarism, and the freshly-created possibilities for a rapid unfolding of productive forces alike in industry and agriculture. The other, which Communist policy has artificially introduced into the realm of economic reality acts as a brake upon economic progress, rivets Utopian fetters upon these same productive forces, and gives rise to a pendulum swing from ‘right’ to ‘left,’ and then back to ‘right’ again.”
Yugoff holds that not only is Russia unripe for Socialism, but that the elaborate bureaucratic structure of nationalisation which the Communist rulers have built up, is a barrier to the capitalist development, which is an essential preliminary to the establishment of Socialism. Nationalisation, he points out, is not Socialism; it has been adopted by the most reactionary governments on occasions when it has suited their interests, and does not in itself necessarily constitute economic progress. In this, Yugoff merely repeats what Engels says in his little work, “Socialism ; Utopian and Scientific” (see footnote and text on pp. 83-4-5)); but he shows also the practical bearing of this fact on the Russian situation.

Nationalisation was adopted by the Bolsheviks as a result of the chaos ensuing from the economic collapse in 1916-17, their seizure of power and the civil war. It was an emergency measure and was carried a good deal further than Lenin had suggested as being desirable in his writings just prior to the events of October-November, 1917. (See “Preparing for Revolt.”) Having adopted it as an immediate policy, however, the Bolsheviks proceeded to make the most extravagant claims for it. The collapse of the currency was hailed as the prelude to the final disappearance of money ; the system of compulsory rationing became the first step towards a planned economy. Small wonder then that the partial reversion to normal capitalism, represented by the N.E,P., should have been regretted by a considerable section of the ruling party as a retreat. Yugoff, however, maintains that the logical implications of the N.E.P. have never been carried out, and the reason is not far to seek.
“During the process of nationalisation thousands upon thousands of private property owners were replaced by new hosts of ‘red’ bureaucrats, trust managers and commissaries, who gobbled up all the savings which might otherwise have been made by the expropriation of the expropriators” (p. 99).
The Bolsheviks nationalised thousands of small enterprises whose owners were also their managers; but the new rulers lacked the technical resources necessary to the reconstruction of these enterprises upon a larger and more economical scale. Hence the surplus value extracted from the workers’ labour did not even provide fresh capital for the expansion of industry. It was swallowed up in “administrative expenses.” The motive of private gain remained the only one capable of acting as a stimulus to the accumulation of capital.

The Bolsheviks, in introducing the New Economic Policy, of course, recognised this fact; but having entrenched themselves in the realm of State industry, their parasitic, bureaucratic supporters are loath to surrender to outsiders the privileges which they enjoy. So far from having been smashed, the State in Russia has expanded into an excrescence which stands in the way of further economic development.

Hence the struggle between those who claim to be intent upon “building up Socialism” and the new class of private capitalists who are arising partly in spite of the Bolsheviks’ efforts, but partly also as a result of them.

In order to provide the capital for the expansion of State industry, the old Tsarist expedient of taxing the peasantry is adopted; but carried beyond a certain point, this defeats its own object by checking agricultural accumulation and the growth of food supplies and raw materials. The experiment of State farms, as Yugoff shows, involves inroads upon peasant cultivation which reduce numbers of peasants to beggary and increase the drift to the towns. The increase in the unemployed is greater than the industries of the State can absorb, and the way is thus opened up for private exploiters to embark upon industrial enterprise. Thus, sooner or later, Yugoff argues, the heavy hand of the State upon trade and industry will be relaxed. In the interests of an expanding capitalism, the State monopoly of foreign commerce will be broken down ; but in so far as these measures involve the abolition of the economic basis of the dictatorship, a serious political change is the essential preliminary. Yugoff puts the question : What form is this likely to take?

He sees three possible alternatives. 
“A democratic State authority might be set up; or part of the Communist Party might be transformed into a party of the possessing classes (Thermidor); or, finally, there might be a Bonapartist, or reactionary coup-d’etat. No one can foresee which course development will take. This much, however, is certain, that the party which now rules in the U.S.S.R. is no longer a party of the working class; is not a party which can carry out a policy of socialisation; is not even a party competent to promote in any consistent or enduring fashion the interests of the working class” (pp. 335-6).
Not that Yugoff blames the Communists for their failure to work a miracle. Indeed, his work is, in its way, a masterpiece of scientific method. He sees in the “dictators” the creatures rather than the creators of the present transitional period in Russia from feudalism to capitalism. Even the very illusions, which he credits them with sharing with their followers in the early days of the Revolution, have in Yugoff’s eyes an historical function. Intoxicated with the idea of an impending world Socialist revolution, the workers of Russia accomplished a task which the Russian capitalists were incapable of doing for themselves. They swept the last vestiges of feudalism from Russian society. They assisted the peasants to lay hands upon the land and free themselves “from the burden of high rents, land taxes, and interest on mortgages,” which Yugoff describes as the main historical task of the revolution.

No sooner, however, had the peasants overthrown the old ruling class in the country than a new one began to appear in the towns. This new class grows at the expense both of the peasants and the urban working-class, converting by degrees the former into the latter. Thus, in spite of certain differences, economic history in Russia repeats that of Western Europe.

The temptation to quote Yugoff’s three final chapters at some length is great, but the following brief extract must suffice:
“Behind the Socialist facade the features of a society which, though new, though born out of the revolution, is fundamentally capitalist, are disclosing themselves more plainly day by day; we must do our utmost to dispel the illusion that this revolution is a Socialist one, so that the working class (hitherto deceived) may be enabled to hold at least the second line of its revolutionary position, and may escape being crushed politically and morally as soon as the nature of the masquerade becomes plain to all the world.” (pp. 320-1).
For Yugoff sees quite plainly that the adversaries of Socialism can make good use of the Communist Party’s failure.
“They declare that the failure of nationalisation in Russia is tantamount to the failure of Socialism. . . . They consider that the Russian experiment provides them with a powerful weapon of defence against the struggle of the working class for Socialism” (p. 95).
To thoroughly appreciate Yugoff’s book, however, it is necessary to compare it with others that profess to cover similar ground. Mr. Maurice Dobb’s volume, “Russian Economic Development,” for instance, while more fully detailed, is vitiated by economic inaccuracies, chief of which is the fallacy that Russian development is Socialist. Mr. Farbman’s writings, while illuminating in many particulars, make no attempt to offer an explanation for the effects which he describes. They cannot therefore be classed as scientific. Anatole Baikaloff’s little book, “In the Land of Communist Dictatorship,” remains equally superficial, in spite of the author’s industrious accumulation of data exploding the stories of the Workers’ Paradise.

Yugoff’s book will be far from welcome to so-called reformers, Communist and Labour Party alike, to whom nationalisation is the panacea for working class ills. Miss Ellen Wilkinson, for instance, in the July “Plebs,” finds it somewhat “disturbing.” More important, however, than this, it spikes the guns of reactionaries, Tory and Liberal, who, ever since the introduction of the New Economic Policy, have sedulously paraded the legend that Socialism has failed in Russia. By laying bare the economic forces actually at work the author has stripped the Russian Revolution of its romance and enabled us the better to understand its reality.

Both publishers and translators (Eden and Cedar Paul) are to be congratulated on the results of their efforts,
Eric Boden

A Socialist Searchlight. (1930)

From the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

An “intellectual” on Marx.
“To avoid any confusion in the reader’s mind it must be explained that at the time when this Manifesto was given to the world, what we know to-day as Socialism, was generally referred to as Communism. Karl Marx was therefore attempting to forecast the evolution of Socialism towards world power. That being so, and considering his confident prediction of class conflict, how can anyone honestly uphold Marxism while in the next breath accepting the theory of Parliamentary evolution as opposed not only to revolution but also to direct action in any form.

It is true that the ballot-box and the doctrines of Marx do not mix very well together.” (H. H. Tiltman, in his Life of Ramsay MacDonald, p. 31.)
Such a mass of confusion in one paragraph shows the shallowness and stupidity of Marx’s “critics.” Class conflicts didn’t happen, but Marx predicted them ! This from a writer who spends many pages dealing with the miners’ lock-out and the General Strike ! Mr. Tiltman, full of regard for the sanity of MacDonald, scorns Karl Marx. He does it by erecting a bogey. Any reader of the Communist Manifesto can read Marx’s own statement, that the first step in the emancipation of the working-class is the conquest of political power—the winning of the battle of democracy. MacDonald’s biographer does not tell us where Marx opposed the use of “the ballot box”—because he can’t.

The insinuation that Marx was the apostle of “direct action” clearly shows how little Ramsay’s admirer knows of Marx’s conflict with Bakunin and the other believers in direct action. Mr. Tiltman evidently conceives of revolution as a drama of knives, noise, fireworks and barricades. The use of Parliament by revolutionaries is unknown to these men who “make their own history.”

* * *

How Great Men don't make revolutions.
“The course of revolution, like the course of true love, never did run smooth. All revolutions have some features in common. They are born, not made. They never run to programme, and they can he led down a side street hy a great man. It is never possible to have the mass so drilled or imbued by common ideals that a combined push for an agreed goal can be made.”
This picturesque view of history, more like a six-reel film than actuality, appears in “Forward,” the I.L.P. paper (July 19th). It is the brain wave of John P. Hay, M.A., of the I.L.P., and Workers’ Educational Association. Picture the revolution being led down the alley by the great man ! These people think every attempted uprising is a revolution. They never explain why leaders are able to shepherd their ignorant flock ; nor do they explain why this great man fades out and another supplants him. Our “great man” philosopher wrote the above while reviewing the situation in China. He tells us that “the revolution happened too soon,” and refers to “the frequent splits and divisions among the revolutionaries” there. The great men who make history, according to the hero-worshippers, surely ought not to let little things like starting in advance of the conditions, or meeting with other great men, stand in their way.

Mr. Hay, who always likes to sneer at the Marxist, supplies the knock-out to his own theories in the same article.

“The Manchu dynasty fell, not on account of a powerful push from the rear, but simply because it could stand no longer. The use of telephone, telegraph, and railway, foreign pressure from the international money lenders, were factors which induced an increase in the number of Chinese with an outlook on the fate of their country. The return of foreign educated Chinese with ideas of the run of history and economics in the West, gave a powerful impulse to the searchings of heart among the thoughtful.”
That’s what comes of being an opponent of the materialist conception of history. No powerful push by a great man lurking in the rear, but all the factors of modern development are brought in to explain the rise of revolt.

He next tells us that “the lump of national go-as-you-please was too big to be leavened for the economic change.” The “great men” could not lop off the “lump,” to use the scientific language of our Master of Arts. Sun Yat Sen, he tells us, had to teach economics in order to win support for his policy. Economics comes in, you see, even with the gift of being able to lead revolutions down side streets. Borodin, the Russian Communist, Mr. Hay tells us, could not work a Russian pattern into the Chinese material, conditions again defeating leaders making plans for coups and triumphs.

Mr. Hay, M.A., presents just as sad a picture trying to upset Marx’s Materialism as he does when trying to upset Marx’s Economics.

* * *

The German Fascists.

It is interesting to notice how the German Fascists, led by Hitler, outmanoeuvred the reformist parties, the Labour Party and the Communists, by promising reforms of capitalism more drastic than either of them had thought of.

According to the News Chronicle and Star (17th October), Hitler’s programme, now embodied in Bills before Parliament, includes the following reforms : Limitation of interest rate to 5 per cent., of which 1 per cent. is to be taken in taxes ; incomes of company directors to be drastically reduced ; and all banks be taken over by the State without compensation to the shareholders.

Hitler’s attempt to outbid the reformists was so successful that some of his most spectacular successes were in working class constituencies, where formerly the Labour Party or the Communists had been strong. So much for the Labour-Communist theory about leading the workers to Socialism by dangling reforms like carrots in front of their noses. They overlook two things of importance, first, that the workers occasionally want to bite the carrot, and, second, that rival reformists can always step in with sweeter-looking carrots.
Adolph Kohn

Answers to Correspondents. (1930)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

W. Jennings (Harringay).

If you or the anonymous member of the Manchester Reform Club will give some evidence (as distinct from a mere unsupported assertion), that the workers “are immeasurably more comfortable than in the most prosperous pre-war times,” we shall be prepared to consider it.

* * *

Taxes and the smallholder.

A correspondent asks if smallholders would be better off if taxes were lowered by the abolition of unemployment pay. Small scale producers in general are at a disadvantage because small-scale production is uneconomic, because they pay heavily for transport, and because they are in competition with big and powerful rivals. If the total amount of taxes were reduced it does not follow that those who control the Government would pass on the benefit to smallholders; and if they did it does not follow that the smallholder would actually benefit. The conditions might very well permit the land owners to put up the rent. Moreover, a lowering or abolition of unemployment pay might well increase the number of those trying to make a living as smallholders and thus make competition among them still keener. In U.S.A. where there is no unemployment pay, millions of small farmers have been squeezed out of business since the war.

* * *

The pay of civil servants.

A correspondent writes to criticise our statement in the September issue that the pay of the various grades of civil servants is no better than the pay of outside workers. To support his point he compares the pay of a policeman with that of a watchman, and the pay of an L.C.C. school teacher with that of a private governess. Our correspondent makes the error of not comparing like with like, and the comparisons therefore have no point. If he imagines that his comparisons are sound will he tell us of any police force recruited from watchmen, and any education authority which appoints unqualified governesses as its teachers?

We did not say that civil servants are paid less than outside workers (although incidentally the higher grades are paid less in many cases than comparable grades outside).

Our correspondent objects to our comparison between the Post Office staff and the London Underground Railway staff, on the ground that the latter “prides itself on the high wages it pays.” The objection is pointless. In the first place the Post Office also prides itself on its high wages, and in the second place every firm of any size and standing makes the same claim.

We would emphasise that although our correspondent challenges our statement he is unable to give a single instance which will support his assertion that civil servants are “an aristocracy among the working class.” The illustrations which he uses break down because he gives untenable comparisons. (In passing it may be mentioned that neither Teachers nor Policemen are civil servants in the proper meaning of the term.)

We do not deny that the ruling class would, if they thought necessary, protect their interests by paying their state servants generously. The facts, however, bear out our view that in practice the ruling class have not in general found that policy necessary. We would in conclusion return to the main point, which is that nationalisation or state capitalism does not solve any problem for the working class.
Editorial Committee.

SPGB Meetings. (1930)

Party News from the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Knowledge. (1930)

From the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our circulation. (1930)

Party News from the December 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The efforts of our readers in response to the appeal in the November issue have brought a considerable increase in the number of our postal subscribers, and in the requests for information about the Party. Do not relax your efforts.

Life and Times: Nice twist, keep them happy – and screw them at the same time (2023)

The Life and Times column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

As summer drew to a close, an open-air concert was held in the large park in South Wales close to where I live. The star of the show was the singer and social media personality, Sam Ryder, who last year represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. Sam is popular and the tickets, some of them costing £70, went like hot cakes. The trouble was that the crowd didn’t get quite what they expected.

Squashed like sardines
First of all it poured down, so torrential rain and umbrellas made it difficult for fans to get a proper view of what was happening on stage. And then, even in the sheltered VIP area, people, so the local paper reported, were ‘squashed in like sardines’, with one fan quoted as saying: ‘This half-baked shelter resembled an emergency station rather than anything remotely resembling a VIP marquee’. It was an extra £50 if fans wanted a ‘sunbed’ there, from which, in the words of one of them, ‘you got insane views of the stage – you could barely see it’. And the price of refreshments shocked some – £10 for a can of flavoured vodka, £12 for a bag of chips and £40 for a bottle of wine (you couldn’t buy a glass). The only concession – don’t laugh now – was that entry was free for children under two.

A substitute for life?
So it was essentially a money-making enterprise, or, as one soaked-through, disgruntled fan put it, ‘profiteering plain and simple’. But why did people go? And why do people keep going to these events put on by the ‘entertainment industry’, which so often result in disappointment and dissatisfaction? One commentator has said that it’s an integral part of a system that sells ‘weekend thrills’ to people who have to spend most of their working hours engaged in activity (ie, employment) that they find neither fulfilling nor meaningful. On that reckoning, it’s an attempt to substitute for the lack of interest, meaning and satisfaction workers derive from the job they’re obliged to do to survive where they’re regarded as a resource in the money-making machine rather than appreciated as a social asset.

And, if this is the case for music gigs, the same could be said about the various sports events, again mainly organised at weekends, where baying crowds shout their lungs out and seem almost to lose their heads when the team they support plays well, scores a goal or a try or wins a match. An extreme example of this was the wild celebrations that took place in Naples at the end of the last football season after its team won the Italian league title, which led to over 200 people ending up in casualty units, more than 20 of them with critical injuries.

Is this all a foil for the normal docility, the unquestioning acceptance associated with the subservient lives most people lead, tied as they are to the absolute necessity of spending most of their waking hours in a job despite the fact that the income it gives them will very likely be peanuts compared to the pay received by those they worship on the stage or sports field?

A substitute for God?
Or another explanation may be one that a former work colleague of mine used to proffer, which was that going to the stadium on Saturdays to support your local football team is a substitute for something that had now gone out of fashion – going to church. The argument went that it offered people the same kind of oblivion past generations found in worshipping a god or a divinity, with the star footballer or the pop musician a replacement for this. This also stood in as a replacement for lack of opportunity to express their own talents freely in their daily lives and offered some kind of exhilaration that was not available in the existence they were tied to. My colleague usually added the less negative point that this weekend activity also served the purpose of bringing people together in a common pursuit and even giving them some kind of spiritual focus. Not of course that there seems to have been very much that was spiritual in the debacle of that concert in my local park or in the rivalry between opposing fans often played out both in and around football grounds.

Do we need celebrity?
Of course, there’s no reason why people shouldn’t take pleasure in and appreciate the artistry involved in producing music (of whatever kind) or the skills exhibited by talented sports people. And it is possible to do this – and many do – without the displays of worshipful admiration for their heroes shown by pop concert goers or the near fanatical passion of fans at sports events. Only a pity that, under the system we live in, many others are unable to see beyond attachment to heroes, to fanatical fandom, to worship of celebrity.

In a different kind of society, the kind that we advocate and campaign for, it goes without saying people will have the freedom of choice and the ability to use their talents to the full without being prey to the whims or the dictates of a boss, a production target to be reached, or the next twist and turn of the market. In that society there will no doubt be respect, even admiration, for the special talents and abilities of others. But celebrity there won’t be any need for, since people will be their own celebrities.
Howard Moss

Pathfinders: The tangled web (2023)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

The global market system is good at making Gordian knots out of simple problems. Take the replacement of fossil fuels by renewables, which ought to be a no-brainer. The International Energy Authority thinks oil demand will peak by 2030 ( Demand is expected to halve by 2050, though governments would have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions three times faster than they are doing in order to achieve climate targets ( 90 percent of coal and 60 percent of oil and gas needs to stay in the ground for an evens chance of sticking to Paris Agreement limits ( As if to underline the urgency, 2023 is reckoned to be the hottest year on record, just like almost every year for the past decade (

But check the business news and you soon discover that the oil supermajors are paying no attention to such namby-pamby nonsense. This is capitalism, not Kumbaya. Instead, they’re looking at the numbers. They project huge new markets among the growing affluent classes of developing countries, and that means cheap fossil energy. And that means staying one step ahead of the competition. Since drilling for new oil is in general a money sink, the cash-rich supermajors are busily engaged in ‘inorganic growth’, ie, buying up other oil companies using the mega-profits they’ve gleaned from sky-high oil prices thanks to lucrative wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Mike Wirth, CEO of supermajor Chevron, puts it bluntly: ‘You can build scenarios, but we live in the real world and have to allocate capital to meet real-world demands’ (ie, make real-world profits). Chevron have just bought Hess, the biggest player in the Permian oil basin spanning Texas and New Mexico, for $53bn, while ExxonMobil has bought Pioneer Natural Resources, one developer of the giant new Guyana oil field, for $60bn. As the Financial Times puts it, this is a game of ‘last man standing’, and nothing else matters, not the fury of climate groups, nor of the EU, nor even of US President Joe Biden himself, who lashed out recently that ‘Exxon have made more money than God’. The supermajors don’t listen to God, or to any other imaginary or state authority, they listen to their shareholders, and their shareholders want what shareholders always want, a return on their investment. Now, other oil majors will be forced to step up the pace to compete as oil demand climbs inexorably. UK-based Shell and BP may even have to merge, just to stay in the game (

Oil companies are also massively expanding their trading arms to profit from volatile market spikes due to geopolitical tensions that are increasingly becoming the norm. Translated, this means there are big bucks to be made as the world becomes steadily more dangerous. The Ukraine conflict has disrupted everything. Global energy has been weaponised.

Russia, banned from selling to Europe, is selling to Turkey, but Turkey is threatening an invasion of north-eastern Syria, partly to crush the Kurds but possibly also to plunder Syria’s north-eastern gas fields now that Assad can’t count on Russian support. Russia’s biggest customer is China, whose sole domestic oil supply is in the Uighur province of Xinjiang, where through no coincidence the locals have been brutally oppressed and herded into concentration camps. China has expansion in mind, and this year enraged its neighbours with a new map redrawing national boundaries to ‘claim’ Indian, Filipino and Russian territory as Chinese, prompting one Indian lawmaker to threaten ‘surgical strikes’ ( US-backed chip-makers like TSMC are meanwhile scrambling to get out of Taiwan before China invades it, for fear that a Chinese takeover of their world-beating chip industry will scupper western capitalism. China is also funnelling populations and investment into the undeveloped mineral-rich Russian Far East, and could decide to grab (back) the disputed formerly Chinese region of Outer Manchuria, including Russia’s vital land corridor for transporting weapons to Ukraine from its biggest arms supplier, North Korea. Keen to avoid reliance on Russian energy, China has been striking deals all over the Gulf states, including Iran ( This in turn may explain why the US is backing Israel in the current Gaza conflict, to keep its foothold in a region increasingly falling under Russian and Chinese influence.

Back in the UK, the cultural guerrillas of Just Stop Oil continue to get big headlines by, among other things, attacking famous paintings in galleries, but they seem less interested in big pictures. Where is their answer to the real-world realities of people like Mike Wirth, or the geopolitical manoeuvrings of superpowers? The Green lobby in general wants to hand-wave a renewable world into being with emotive talk of climate ‘justice’, but without considering how capitalist profits dictate what’s going to happen and what isn’t. For example, the UK Tories have just defied their own NIMBY supporters by (slightly) rowing back their regulations obstructing new on-shore wind turbines, but investors are finding better profits abroad so no turbines are being built ( And the grid infrastructure isn’t there anyway. ‘In Britain, Italy and Spain more than 150-gigawatts’-worth of wind and solar power, equivalent to 83% of the three countries’ total existing renewables capacity, cannot come online because their grids cannot handle it’ (

Today’s world is a web of clear and opaque connections. Pull on one strand, and a whole lot of others come up, all impossible to disentangle and address separately. What binds it all together is the capitalist system, built on private ownership and private control of resources, in which production is driven by the grow-or-die imperative to be ‘last man standing’ with no regard for any physical, natural, ethical or even market limitations. Instead of delivering steady benefits to humanity, capitalism convulses through destructive cycles of hyperactivity and collapse, and is quite unable to change this behaviour, or indulge the luxury of being humane, ‘just’, peaceful or environmentally sustainable. Reformers need to stop wasting their time with non-solutions. We have to end it.
Paddy Shannon

Material World: Think global, act global (2023)

The Material World column from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is an interesting report in The Conversation of a recent paper by a group of academics on optimal land use for agriculture and carbon capture (see ‘Benefits and trade-offs of optimizing global land use for food, water, and carbon’ in the journal PNAS. They ‘targeted three key ecosystem service (ES) indicators: total carbon (C) storage (indicative of climate regulation and climate-change mitigation), crop production (indicative of food supply), and available runoff (indicative of freshwater supply)’ and produced models to balance these three objectives.

This is interesting to us, because it is an example of how we can look globally at land use, looking at competing objectives (and trying to balance them) and not using money as an indicator: in short, the things necessary to engage in a planned co-operative economy. We don’t need to endorse the specific results of this group of academics to see the possibility of this level of global land use planning. But, as they state: ‘Results show a potential to increase all three indicators (+83% in crop production, +8% in available runoff, and +3% in carbon storage globally)’.

However in the article, Deepa Senapathi points up what this could mean:
‘It’s also tough to see the suggested land use as feasible or pragmatic when geopolitical and socioeconomic factors tend to drive decisions on what to do with land. For example, the optimisation suggests more cropland in most of Great Britain, with parts of Scotland and southern and eastern England left to nature. But this would require significant policy and socio-culture change in a country where 52% of land is already enclosed farmland and only 11% is woodland.

‘Only a very brave politician would suggest abandoning British farms, or taking iconic woodlands or moorland grazed by sheep and turning them into wheat fields.’
She also notes that there are other factors: flood plains, biodiversity and insect life that would need to be taken into consideration. This is true enough. Impressive though the optimisation algorithms are on a global scale, the kind of changes that this paper suggests would be necessary would require detailed local planning and co-operation to achieve. We would not believe for one instant that a small group of academics in Germany could produce wholesale a plan to tell the world how to use its land. Indeed, in our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative we note:
‘In socialism a world specialist body like the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organisation] could be concerned with co-ordination, assistance and advice. It would be in a position to provide this service against a detailed world picture of all the problems associated with the need to increase world food production in ways which would be safe within the natural systems of the environment. This is not to suggest that such world bodies would be entirely centralized and operating from a single world location. They could operate regionally and locally and their members could be involved in any scale of activity where the necessity might arise.’
Freed from the imperatives of geopolitical confrontation between property owners and the incessant drive to make monetary profit, information from such studies as this PNAS paper could be part of a worldwide debate to democratically agree a common course of action, as well as guidance for local debate on implementation. Indeed, to even make their model work, the German academics had to assume an absence of trade barriers for food and water.

Even land non-use is important, as they note that their ‘results further strengthen previous work that highlighted the importance of conserving tropical and boreal forested regions for their unique climate regulation services […] and emphasize that crop and fodder production should be focused on temperate and subtropical regions.’ The logic of capitalism would see this as a waste, as it demands that everything be put to instrumental use in making profit, deliberately choosing not to exploit a resource is outside the capacity of the market system, no matter how vital it is to human survival.

Still, it is useful to note that the paper tells us that we have scope to increase food production, as well as a useful element in fighting climate change by securing more carbon in plants and soil.

It also shows us how computer algorithms and models can be applied to solving the world’s problems, but, again, not in isolation or as a technocratic fix, but as part of an ongoing discussion and democratic decision. That’s why it is important that the paper’s authors have made some of their data and models available ( as a part of open science.

At each stage in the debate, to implement this sort of co-ordination would require openness and accountability.
Pik Smeet

Human rights and human wrongs (2023)

From the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard
As the government considers whether to press on with yet another scheme that rides roughshod over human rights law, we must remind ourselves that rights are not really all they’re cracked up to be.
With the UK Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the government’s plan to deport refugees to Rwanda is unlawful, the attention of the political bubble in Westminster has turned once again to the Tory Party’s favourite bugbear, the Human Rights Act. Once again, the talking heads of British ideological conservatism have been trotted out to denounce the perceived pernicious influence of foreign judges, and call for the repeal of this allegedly unfair and un-British piece of legislation. The debate over the future of the much-maligned Act, which incorporates the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into British law, has been brought to a boil in recent times by numerous pieces of government legislation which call into question its hallowed principles.

High-profile and divisive environmental protests by groups such as Just Stop Oil, and Britain’s largest wave of strikes since the late 1980s, have both resulted in repressive legislation, in the form of a Public Order Act and a Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, both given Royal Assent in July this year. Before this, questions of human rights were raised by the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act 2021 and the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act 2021, both designed to grant immunity to certain agents of the state for infringements of the ordinary law.

Over in the liberal quadrant of the political spectrum, left-wing voices have reacted to such legislation with horror and dismay. For instance, in a recent interview on its website with Oliver Eagleton, Momentum, the ex-fan club of the ex-Labour leader, referred to this slew of new legislation as the ‘British State’s Authoritarian Turn’. Similarly, in response to the Supreme Court’s Rwanda judgment, Akiko Hart, the Interim Director of civil liberties pressure group, Liberty, accused the government of ‘dismantling the protections that keep us safe and allow us to challenge injustice’ so that ‘only they can win.’ On its website, Liberty hails the Human Rights Act as meaning that ‘you can defend your rights in UK courts’ and compel public bodies to ‘treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.’ So the debate goes on.

In the mainstream perception of modern politics, socialists are expected by rote to join the chorus of voices crying out to protect our rights. There is certainly high pedigree in this expectation. After all, high-profile Labour Party figures have been supporting civil liberties as long as the party has existed; Clement Attlee and Harold Laski were founding members of Liberty in 1932, in response to police violence against hunger marchers. But this common conception of socialists as civil liberties crusaders is, ironically, further proof of these so-called socialists’ lack of any real red credentials.

This is not to say that socialists are opposed to the notion that people should be able to protest without being beaten up or arrested, or that individuals should not be dealt with unfairly. Rather, the socialist accepts that to expect such things from the capitalist state is a fairy tale. Human rights law is a noble thing, but under a capitalist economy, nobility is a bourgeois virtue. In reality, human rights rest upon a fundamental – wilful, gleeful – ignorance about the basis of capitalist society.

Bourgeois law, the law of the capitalist state, rests on a fundamental incompatibility between words and deeds, as recognised by all socialists; that the law treats us as free and equal individuals, but the economy treats us as slaves. This contradiction was at the heart of Marx’s thesis in On the Jewish Question. As Marx argued there, the political state is ‘the species life of man in opposition to his material life.’ The political realm is based upon citizenship, egalitarianism, and rights; civil society is based upon egoism, cut-throat dealings, and cold-hearted, calculated egoism. Thus we live in a world where voters starve, and citizens sleep in bus stations. We all have the right (at least on paper) to vote and protest our government, but none of us has the right to eat.

The self-proclaimed socialists of today’s capitalist left, in the Labour Party and outside it, would do well to remember the words of Evgeni Pashukanis, the Soviet judge and jurist whose seminal General Theory of Law and Marxism turns 100 next year:
‘The constitutional state (Rechtstaat) is a mirage, but one which suits the bourgeoisie very well, for it replaces withered religious ideology and conceals the fact of the bourgeoisie’s hegemony from the eyes of the masses’.
Pashukanis points to the ‘ties of mutual dependence’ between, for instance, peasants and landowners, or wage workers and capitalists. To Pashukanis (as to all Marxian socialists), it is these relationships of dependency which form the real basis of the state and its law. These ties are material ties, concerning our relationship to the sources of life, and affecting our ability to provide for ourselves as individuals. The law – law of property, law of contract, criminal law etc – are the state’s ideological reflection of these material ties. These material dependencies are the core from which the bourgeois state grows, and from which its law emanates. But to the legal theory of the state ‘it is as if they did not exist.’ To put the point in a more literary fashion, one need only note the wise words of Anatole France:
‘The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread’.
Sam Moyn, an American liberal professor, notes in his 2018 critique of human rights law, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, that until the late twentieth century ‘people were overwhelmingly more likely to utter the word socialism than the phrase human rights in every language’. The growth of mainstream human rights politics has coincided with the death of a politics which, though flawed, sought if nothing else to articulate a vision of human freedom which reached beyond the confines of the bourgeois state and its limited rights; one based not upon legalistic idealism and the daydreams of bourgeois academics, but upon a recognition of the realities of a class-divided society.

In reality, we are not free, and no amount of human rights can change that. The Human Rights Act may sometimes allow you to enforce your rights in a British court, to a limited extent. But it does not guarantee fair treatment or dignity. The bills of rights and international treaties of the world cannot ever hope to accomplish such a colossal task when control of the resources and productive machinery of the world, on which we all depend for our day-to-day existence, is centralised in the hands of a tiny minority of individuals and regulated by the anarchy of a global market whose arbitrary spasms can bring down elected governments and throw millions into destitution overnight.

In reality, human freedom cannot be contained in the narrow and self-defeating limitations of human rights. Human rights – severely limited in scope, and enforced by capitalist states through gritted teeth or not at all – are merely a slapstick imitation of the idea that humans should live with dignity, respect, and community.

Socialists believe not in the ‘human right’ of the egoistic individual, but in the human freedom of the entire species. We gain our freedom by abolishing our rights; by abolishing the degrading class-divided economic structure and its authoritarian states which generate rights like a fire generates smoke. So if you wake up every morning to face the daily grind of wage labour, poverty, or the jackboot and the billy club; if you are struggling to be free in a world which has turned its back on you, stand up not for human rights, but for socialism. Forget the insipid and mealy-mouthed lawyer’s justice, and stand for a world where the means of life – the productive machinery of society and the goods it produces – belong not to one class, but to everybody as a community.
‘You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody’ (Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
Uther Naysmith

Letters: Gaza and Ukraine (2023)

Letters to the Editors from the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard
Letters on the two ongoing wars

Lindsey German, the leader and spokesperson for the Stop the War Coalition, was a member for 37 years of a Trotskyist sect, the misnamed Socialist Workers Party, which believed in dishonestly forming ‘coalitions’ (like the Stop the War Coalition) through which to lead the working class into socialism, rather than engaging honestly and explicitly to win people over.

She was on the pompously titled ‘Central Committee’ of that arrogant and dishonest organisation and only left in 2010 due to factional disputes which she lost, and not because of any change of heart.

She continues to uphold the Russian Revolution as socialist even though it was in fact a minority-led coup to establish modern state capitalism throughout the Russian Empire and a brutal dictatorship by… another ‘Central Committee’. She founded and still leads the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ which has resurfaced on the outbreak of various wars yet kept its misleading title of ‘stop THE war’ as if it was a spontaneous response to this specific war. It’s actually an ‘astroturfing’ body and is run by German as a means of recruiting people to her specific, confused and twisted notion of socialism rooted bizarrely in an obsession with one Russian man who died 83 years ago and who did more to harm the working class and the prospects of genuine socialism than almost anyone in history, Leon Trotsky.

With her decades as a leading member of the SWP and her ongoing commitment to using wars, distress and death as a manipulative means to recruit people into her latter-day, nonsensical, Bolshevism, she is hardly a sincere or straight-acting figure in the current terrifying and cataclysmic crisis in the Middle East. Please bear this in mind as she is now doing the rounds of various big media outlets on behalf of the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and speaking as if she is an expert on Middle Eastern politics. She’s not, nor is she a pacifist, nor is she a genuine socialist. For her, and her Trotskyist colleagues, the war is a chance for them to recruit people to their very odd brand of ‘socialism’. This is a deeply unpleasant lack of sincerity or honesty. It is unfortunate that none of those who have been interviewing her are aware of any of this. She will certainly not reveal her manipulative motives.
Clifford Slapper


This is a letter I sent to my local newspaper, which they refused to publish. It is in response to an article they published celebrating Ukrainian Independence Day.

Re: ‘Frome honours Ukrainian Independence Day’, and in particular this quote from Iryna Ladyzhenska (Frome Town Council’s social facilitator for Ukrainian refugees): ‘Now Ukraine is fighting for its freedom and values, such as human rights, democracy, and rule of law. It is an existential war.’

Firstly, I am totally against the Russian invasion and bombing of Ukraine. However, Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, and has a well-documented neo-Nazi problem. Sadly, world history has been unfortunate to the Ukrainian people, in that Ukraine is a flag in a tug-of-war contest between East and West.

Most importantly, we must answer the question: what is a country? The answer: countries only exist in class-divided societies, where there is a master class and a servant class. The apparatus of the state exists for the benefit of the former. In the modern world, these two respective classes are the capitalist class and the working class.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine, two cities negotiated to allow the Russian army to take over without armed resistance – Kherson (on the Black Sea coast), and Kupyansk (near Kharkov and the border with Russia). This saved these places from destruction, and their populations from being killed in any crossfire, and was obviously the sensible thing for the local authorities to have done. But it wasn’t to last; last year the Ukrainian military recaptured Kupyansk, and later the Russian army withdrew from Kherson. They were ‘liberated’, but were now in the front line, and both have since been bombarded with large parts of them reduced to ruins.

In a world socialist society, wars will no longer exist, because countries will no longer exist, because social classes will no longer exist. The Earth’s natural and industrial resources will be owned and democratically controlled by the whole of society for the sole purpose of meeting people’s needs (that’s what socialism truly means).
Matthew Shearn

What drives the capitalist economy (2023)

From the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

One thing that cannot change whilst capitalism lasts is the fact that workers, being forced to sell their working abilities to a capitalist by virtue of being alienated from the means of wealth production, will only be employed by the capitalist on condition that the value of what they are paid falls significantly below the value of their labour input – what they contribute in terms of their labour to the product in question. This surplus value is the source of the capitalist´s unearned income and is realised when that product is sold on the market.

This system cannot possibly allow that the workers should be entitled to the full fruits of their labour. A business, after all, is not a charity; it needs to secure what in economic parlance is called a financial return. The systemic need for a tiny minority to extract an economic surplus from the great majority makes it structurally impossible for all but this minority to live off an unearned income from what they invest.

By ‘need’ is not meant the desire on the part of those comprising this tiny minority to surround themselves with the trappings of ostentatious luxury. Self-enrichment is, in any case, more a want or a whim than a need. In this regard, Victor Hugo´s famous observation that ‘The paradise of the rich is made out of the hell of the poor’ could very easily be misconstrued. It is not out of some particularly malevolent, or sociopathic, disregard on the part of the rich for the plight of the poor (though, doubtless, one or two individuals might well live up to this caricature) that we have a problem of working-class economic distress.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking lends itself to an all too facile – not to say, downright misleading – approach to resolving that problem. According to it, this problem essentially boils down to the moral shortcomings or defects of particular individuals or groups. Thus, it is because of greedy bankers or heartless or uncaring corporations that we have homeless itinerants, grossly polluted waterways and third-world-type sweatshops in which impoverished machinists toil for a pittance in a gruelling twelve hour working day. If only they were more caring, more concerned, these kinds of issues would recede, if not disappear altogether. It is not difficult to see how such thinking can play directly into the hands of those fervent exponents of modern ‘philanthro-capitalism’ and its curious belief that the way forward is to harness old-fashioned patronising capitalist philanthropy with the skills and corporate insights of capitalist entrepreneurship.

The point is that whatever may personally motivate the individual capitalist this is really incidental or secondary to what actually drives the system they conspicuously benefit from. The spectacular personal fortunes of the minority are more the by-product of, than the objective behind, the systemic extraction of economic surpluses from the majority. The primary purpose of this extractive – or more precisely, exploitative – process is, rather, the capitalisation of those very economic surpluses that such a process gives rise to. Transforming them into capital ensures a future flow of such surpluses. It is a cyclical process that repeats itself over and over again and it is essentially what has delivered the grotesquely unequal world we live in today.

In capitalism, market competition between enterprises forces each enterprise to seek out ways in which it can enlarge its share of the market at the expense of its rivals. This is not a matter of choice. Just as the worker is economically compelled to seek paid work in order to live in a society in which almost everything comes with a price tag, so capitalists are economically compelled to become competitive (regardless of what her particular moral outlook on life may be). Failing to keep up with the competition means sooner or later, being squeezed out of the market by one´s more ruthless and single-minded competitors. In other words, being bankrupted, or maybe asset-stripped and gobbled up, by the latter.

To keep up with the competition you need to hold down your operating costs (and, in particular, your wages bill) as far as practically possible and, at the same, time boost your revenue – the money you receive when you sell your commodity on the market. Boosting your revenue typically involves trying to undercut your competitors pricewise. In theory, this should bring in more customers for you and at their expense. However, being able to reduce your prices (and keep financially afloat) requires investing in more productive technology, among other things.

That is where the need to have an economic surplus at your disposal is all-important. It is the very lifeblood of the system itself in much the same way that a vampire depends on the blood of its victims for its own sustenance. It allows you to finance the replacement of outdated and possibly worn-out equipment with new state-of-the-art machinery. Increased productivity means being able to reduce your unit costs – and hence your prices – below what your competitors can afford. The desired effect is to push them out of the market altogether, allowing you to capture their share of that market.

It is a ruthless game in which no prisoners are taken, and no holds are barred. If you don’t do to your opponents what this dog-eat-dog system bids you to do then you can be certain they will try to do it to you. It’s a case of ‘natural selection’ transferred to the economic domain.

In summary, then, businesses survive in the particular niche they occupy only by constantly striving to expand. Driving this whole process is the accumulation of capital out of surplus value.
Robin Cox