Tuesday, January 23, 2024

TV Review: Something Else — Frank Finds Out

TV Review from the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

One genuinely enjoyable piece of British TV — entertaining without pandering to racial prejudice or mocking traditional working class stereotypes and of particular interest for its insight into the capitalist system — was screened on October 8. The programme Frank Finds Out was part of the Something Else series, made by young people: it related the adventures of a young unemployed person, confused as to the reason for his plight, setting off to London on his bike, no less.

Frank's object is not to find work but to discover who is responsible for his life being run against his own interests — “The Guilty Ones" as he calls them. His investigation of the various institutions working to perpetuate the current system was often hilarious and sometimes very pointed. On the Prime Minister he comments: 
She won't listen to your point of view if you've only got a couple of quid; try donating £30,000 to the Party, that should get you invited in for a cup of tea and a chat. 
The Royal baby (“Who's a lucky boy then?") is shown to want for nothing while workers" children live in varying degrees of poverty.

On capitalist production and the minority ownership of land, the film was trenchant in its satire. For example there was Mr. Capitaling. derived from the advertisement character Mister Kipling, making "exceedingly large turnovers" and using his inherited capital to make a surplus from the bakers and then reinvest his profit. His workers buy back a proportion of what they have produced but are compelled to return to the ovens next week, to repeat the whole process over again. And when the warehouses are full? “Simple", says Mr. Capitaling. "I close down the works" —- and here we see the now sad-faced bakers trudging dutifully to the Job Centre.

Another character, the "Villain", the embodiment of the "criminal element" in the working class, tells us that he is regarded as a "Wrongdoer" by most of society. He proceeds to show, however, that the real crime is that the land-owning class claim divine right of possession, whereas in fact they obtained their land not through currently accepted means — "Did Henry VIII go to his nearest estate agent and negotiate for St. James Park?" — but as part of an historical process of appropriation.

The "Villain" asks whether god gave these people the land or whether they just took it and concludes with the following indictment:
As Winston Churchill almost said. "Never before in the field of human con tricks, has so much been stolen from so many by so few".
Of course the presentation of the Queen, the Prime Minister, the High Court Judges, civil servants and multinational corporations as the enemy of "the Guilty" suggests that the removal of these institutions, even if possible under capitalism. would end problems like unemployment. This is false optimism: only the establishment of a society of free access to goods and services will do that.

Question Marx (1983)

'What did you put for question 7?'
From the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The quotes below have been taken from some of the celebrated texts of the socialist movement and arranged in the form of a short multiple-choice quiz. Pit your wits against the forces of reaction and reformism, and discover in the process that not everything which labels itself (or is labelled) “Marxism”, actually is! Answers (with explanations) are found on a later page.

The first five questions all have to do with criticisms of the following passage:
The (...) workers' party, in order to pave the way to the solution of the social question, demands the establishment of producers’ co-operative societies with state aid under the democratic control of the toiling people. The producers' cooperative societies are to be called into being for industry and agriculture on such a scale that the socialist organisation of the total labour will arise from them.
1. To the ideas of which political figure does the following refer?

"In place of the existing class struggle appears a newspaper scribbler's phrase: ‘the social question , to the 'solution' of which one ‘paves the way’. Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the ‘socialist organisation of the total labour’ ‘arises’ from the ‘state aid’ that the state gives to the producers’ co-operative societies and which the state, not the worker, 'calls into being'."
a) Mao Zedong
b) Joseph Stalin
c) Edouard Bernstein
d) Ferdinand Lassalle

2. To which country does this quotation make reference?

“From the remnants of a sense of shame, ‘state aid’ has been put - under the democratic control of the ‘toiling people’ [However,] the majority of the ‘toiling people* in consists of peasants, and not of proletarians."
a) Germany in 1875
b) France in 1848
c) Russia in 1917
d) China in 1950

3. The working class in which country is being indicated in the following passage?

“. . . ‘democratic’. . . means ‘by the rule of the people', but what does ‘under the control of the toiling people organised so as to rule themselves' mean? And particularly in the case of toiling people which, in making such demands on the slate, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling!”
a) Russian workers before 1917
b) Russian workers after 1917
c) German workers in the third quarter of the 19th century
d) Spanish workers during the 1854 Revolution

4. What type of organisation is being indirectly criticised by the author?

“The chief offence does not lie in having inscribed this specific nostrum in the programme. but in taking, in general, a retrograde step from the standpoint of a class movement to that of a sectarian movement.”
a) Owenite communities (c. 1840)
b) National workshops (c. 1848)
c) An organisation of revolutionaries (c. 1902)
d) Workers’ soviets (c. 1917)

5. Who was the head of state in the regime referred to below?

“. . . a state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture, already influenced by the bourgeoisie and bureaucratically carpentered . . . ”
a) Tsar Nicholas II
b) Kaiser Wilhelm I
d) Nikita Krushchev

6. “The indirect dependence of man on man, which is now the basic feature of conditions which are most fully developed economically, cannot be understood and explained from their own nature, but only as a somewhat transformed heritage of an earlier direct subjugation and expropriation."

Who made the above statement?
c) V. I. Lenin

7. “Recently, however, since         adopted state ownership, a certain spurious socialism has made its appearance - here and there even degenerating into a kind of flunkeyism - which declares that all taking over by the State, even the Bismarckian kind, is in itself socialistic."

To which political regime was the writer of these lines addressing himself?
a) Bismarck’s Prussia
b) Mussolini's Italy
c) The Bolshevik state
d) The Popular Front in France

8. “The publicistic (ie, public] right of an economic commune in its instruments of labour is an exclusive right of property at least as against every other economic commune and also as against society and the State. But this right is not to entitle the commune ‘to cut itself off from the outside world, for among the various communes there is freedom of movement and compulsory acceptance of new members on the basis of fixed laws and administrative regulations . . .”’

Which sort of economic organisation do you think most closely fits this description?
a) A commonly owned and democratically controlled world-wide system of wealth production and distribution
b) A system based on New Lanark-style factory communities (as in 19th- century Britain)
c) A collective farm in a proletarian state (for example Russia)
d) An advanced co-operative or people's commune during a protracted period of socialist transition (China)

9. The “equality in principle of economic rights does not exclude the voluntary addition to what justice requires, of an expression of special recognition and honor . . . Society honors itself, in distinguishing the higher types of work by a moderate additional allocation for consumption."

To whose ideas does this statement allude?
a) Deng Xiaoping
b) V. I. Lenin
c) Eugen Dühring

10. “On the world market gold and silver remain world money, a general means of purchase and payment, the absolute social embodiment of wealth. And this property of the precious metals gives the individual members of the economic communes a new motive to the accumulation of a hoard, to getting rich, to usury; the motive to act freely and independently of the commune outside its borders, and to realise on the world market the private wealth which they have accumulated."

What kind of society, in your opinion, is being discussed here?
a) A society of free access to the means of life
b) A system under the thumb of bankers and financiers
c) One variety or another or state capitalism
d) A traditional capitalist economic system

11. “Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour."

How would you describe the type of social organism implied in the above passage?
a) One in which the state regulates production, pays wages to workers and turns a profit on investment
b) A society reorganised as a proletarian state, in which capital is accumulated for the benefit of the workers
c) One in which the bourgeoisie has been forcibly subdued by the proletariat and which is evolving into a communist society
d) A communist society, not as it has developed on its own basis, but as it is just issuing out of capitalist society

Answers and explanation on page 16

Answer key and explanatory notes. Since a score doesn't really prove that you understand a subject, the purpose of this quiz is not to have you tally up points but only to induce you to think a little. And since the quotations were all taken from either Marx's critique of the Gotha Programme or from the second and third sections of Engels' Anti-Dühring, it would be automatically impossible for any of the choices referring to persons living or events taking place after 1878 to be correct. Apart from this little technical (and historical) detail, however, many of the ideas which were articulated by Lenin and his followers and which have long been considered as forming part of the heritage of Marxism turn out to be the same ideas for which Marx and Engels reserved their harshest criticisms!

The answers are as follows:
1-d. (Although if you answered a, b or c, we can’t blame you.)

2-a. Russia and China were manifestly not ready for socialism at the time of their respective revolutions. However, you will note that neither the goal of merely establishing a bourgeois republic nor of overthrowing it and setting up a proletarian state in its place (both of which were successively advocated by Lenin) differs essentially from the formula put forward in the Gotha Programme, since “producers’ co-operative societies" is just a fancy term for factories, farms and other forms of socialised labour.

3-c. In German, “democratic” is volks-herrschaftlich. Marx was critical of the suggestion (here) that trade-unions are capable of ruling a capitalist state. “Rule" in economic terms means “administration of wealth"; it is the owners of the means of production who rule. Faced with such a large rival constituency as the (reformed) peasantry of Russia, the workers of Russia were in a poor position in 1917 to claim ownership of the means of production on behalf of society as a whole. Given that not even Lenin supported common ownership of the means of production for the Russian working class during his lifetime, and given also that he dismissed workers in general as being incapable of class-consciousness “by their own unaided efforts", both a and b are logically as well as historically impossible. (Spain, on the other hand, is a somewhat problematical case, with which we need not concern ourselves here.)

4-b. This refers, of course, to the 1848 Revolution in France and to Philippe Buchc in particular, a religiously oriented democrat who advocated the slogan (which Leninists have borrowed and called “socialist”) to the effect that “he who will not work shall not eat”. Marx, in other words, was raking the architects of the Gotha Programme over the coals for confusing economic with political objectives. “Sectarian" in this context means “parochial”; Marx was claiming that the Socialist Workers' Party —product of the uniting of Lassalle’s General German Workers’ Union and the Marxist Social-Democratic Workers' Party — ran a serious risk of losing its way in a labyrinth of economic projects — of becoming no more than a trade-union lobby. Robert Owen's efforts may have been amateurish, but —especially in his later years — he was certainly no glib-talking lobbyist. On the contrary, in Lenin's proletarian state, workers' soviets must necessarily serve only as a lobby for the “armed proletariat", while the “organisation of revolutionaries” (a euphemism for the Bolshevik Party) could only be promoted to a management position.

5-b. Like the Second French Republic, which could not break free of its Napoleonic, Orleanist and Legitimist inheritance, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic of Nikita Krushchev was (and remains) moulded along fundamentally Tsarist lines, so that in many respects this dictatorship of the secretariat promotes a kind of industrial neo-feudalism — as do its enthusiasts in Czechoslovakia. naturally.

6-d. If “political power springs from the barrel of a gun” (Mao Zedong), as a result of having “smashed” the “bourgeois state” (Lenin), then what have you got but a “somewhat transformed heritage” of state-administered capitalism, whether by force (Dühring) or by compromise (Berlinguer)? A revolution whose immediate effect is other than to abolish the wages system is not a socialist revolution.

7-a. All four regimes demonstrate some tendency toward state capitalism, to one degree or another. Lenin himself identified state ownership and management of the means of production with socialism, proving only that if you run a capitalist system, then you must be a capitalist — either that, or you're some kind of flunkey.

8-d. Herr Dühring’s federation of economic communes bears an uncanny resemblance (on paper) to Chairman Mao’s people's communes. Since, on the other hand, common ownership (communism, or socialism) gives you the moneyless, worldwide community of producers, it would be economically impossible for any one locality to live in isolation. By the same token, remaking capitalism in the image of Owen’s New Lanark experiment would spell ruin for production based on profit. (As for the proletarian state, see below. No. 11.)

9-c. Quoted by Engels, the statement might easily have come right out of one of the platitude-filled speeches of either Deng Xiaoping or Edward Gierek; whereas Lenin’s concession to “reality” (the New Economic Policy, state capitalism) conceals the emergence of a new class of bureaucrat-capitalists, who decidedly believe society should honour itself by honouring them.

10-b. “Free access" means exactly that: no money. You cannot get rich in a socialist society; you are already born that way. If, conversely, “economic commune” is just a glorious nickname for “city" or “town", or even for agrarian state capitalism, then we already have them (choices c and d).

11-d. The first three choices respectively describe aspects or consequences of a proletarian revolution according to Lenin. First of all, wages, prices and profits signify commodity exchange; secondly, a “proletarian state" is a chimera — capital can only be accumulated for the benefit of capitalists; and thirdly, the working class cannot “subdue” the capitalist class without by the very fact abolishing its own status and becoming itself transformed into “society as a whole". Marx and Lenin very obviously disagree on whether a communist society can simply “issue out of capitalist society" or must first “develop on its own basis”. What Lenin describes as a "higher” phase, that is, developed communist society, Marx specifically mentions as pertaining rather to its merely having come into existence. He saw it as a political decision which cannot be put off until some remote future date or made by anyone else except the working class — in contrast to Lenin, who gave this “task” to the Party as part of its "leading role" and spoke of it as requiring decades to carry out.
Ron Elbert
(World Socialist Party of the United States)

* Questions 1, 2, 4 and 5 are quoted from Selected Works. International Publishers, 1969 ed.; question 3. because of the inadequacy and awkwardness of the translation, has been here reworded so as to bring out the sense of the passage, which otherwise degenerates into a meaningless conundrum. Question 11 is taken from the same source.

** Questions 6 to 10 are taken from the 1972 ed. of the International Publisher's version.

Letter: "Can you be serious?" (1983)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

In your October issue you have written that reforms of capitalism have “no useful, permanent effect on workers' lives except that by delaying socialism, they worsen workers’ conditions”. Can you be serious? All the rights won by the working class and the foundations of its economic and political strength have been gained by actions which, since we do not yet have socialism, must come under the definition of "reforms of capitalism".

The transcendence of capitalism must be a dialectical transformation of quantity to quality, in other words, for the revolution in social relationships which we aim for to be possible, the conditions for such a revolution must be generated through progressive piecemeal change in all areas of society, economic, ideological, political — that is. they must be generated through reform. Unless the word “revolution” is aligned with such a conception, it is, obviously, a meaningless abstract. Yet your paper comes close to using the word “revolution” in this way in its attitude towards reformist proposals and any avowed socialists who advocate reform, like Tony Benn.

You may say your mistrust of Labour Party “reformists” is justified in the light of experience but your attitude towards figures like Benn topples over into ignorant dismissal of practical socialist reforms.

Your treatment of the Glasgow Media Group’s third report was an illustration of the poverty of this attitude. Their theme is the formation of consciousness — a central concern of your paper and one fundamental to the class struggle. It surely merited more detailed attention. It was declared to have “some value” but presumably because its compilers asked for reforms instead of calling for the Socialist Party to lead us to revolution, it was given short shrift.

This wholesale refusal to sympathise at least in part with other avowed socialists and to deny them serious critical attention can do no good, and to completely alienate your paper from reformist ideas is not socialist but reactionary, sectarian and damaging to your objectives.
James Daly 

James Daly has misread the passage in the October Socialist Standard (p. 198 — reply to letter from Chris Cooke), which did not say that reforms have no effect except to worsen workers' conditions but that reformism has this effect — in this case, specifically the Right to Work Campaign.

Of course some reforms (although not by far as many as the reformists say) benefit the working class. Workers must constantly struggle against the inroads which capitalism threatens to make into their standards and to improve those standards, for example by class conscious trade union action. Socialists recognise that the freedom to discuss ideas and to form political parties is vital to the working class and to the existence of a socialist party. This cannot be said about the Right to Work Campaign, which can only divert workers’ energies away from the struggle for that ultimate “reform" — the radical solution to all the problems the reformists claim to deal with — of establishing socialism. If the object of that Campaign were to be achieved, the only result would be that more workers would be exploited in employment than is the case at present. Is that supposed to be a change towards socialism?

Workers should realise that, whatever reforms they may accept, they will not remove the basis of capitalism's problems and that the problems, in one form or another, will therefore continue. Anything which delays the establishment of socialism amounts to a worsening of working class conditions, to more intense exploitation. to ever more fearsome weapons of war.

There is no evidence to support the argument that every reform is a quantitative change and that when there have been enough of these they will amass into a qualitative change in society. The history of reformism shows that it confuses workers; it persuades them that they should use their political power to opt for reforming capitalism. in the belief that this society can be reformed out of its basic character. This amounts to an argument for the delay of socialism, when all facts point to the conclusion that socialism is an immediate need. Socialism cannot happen by capitalism being reformed out of existence; it will happen through the act of a politically aware working class who understand that only socialism can set up a world based on production for human need and free access.

Our review of Really Bad News (October Socialist Standard, p. 197) was in fact an example of socialist critical attention; we recognised the merits of the Glasgow Media Group but also its limitations. How else should we deal with such groups? We apply the same style to that prominent member of the capitalist Labour Party, that man who has willingly served as a member of Labour governments which have run capitalism — Tony Benn. We have published much material in these columns, exposing Benn as another supporter of capitalism and there is no point in repeating any of it here, save to say that we don’t simply make assertions on the matter; we back our arguments up with evidence such as Benn's own words. It is people like James Daly, who persist, despite all the evidence, in their faith that Benn is a socialist who are reactionary, sectarian and damaging to the objective of the establishment of socialism.

Letter: Attractive Outsiders (1983)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

I am attracted to the SPGB as an alternative to left wing parties that suggest everyone has the "right to work", that the Soviet Union is potentially less harmful than America, that support the IRA, that want to gain power for ultimately financial reasons, etc. Trendy students wearing lapel badges and make-up (if male) who advocate the slaughter of everyone whose house is larger than their own (while “actively" backing Lord Stansgate for "President") have laughably shallow conviction and false opinions.

I have never dreamed of aligning myself with a political party before now, because I have wanted nothing to do with boosting the egos and wage packets of those who pretend to have a "social conscience”. Because the SPGB works outside the current political arena, I would like to know more. Your principles and object, as stated, have set me thinking, and these arc the questions which spring to mind regarding SPGB policy:
  • Is the SPGB an idealist organisation?
  • Even in an ideal world, how could the Irish problem be resolved?
  • By "entering the field of political action’’ would the SPGB be creating a revolution, fighting an election, or theorising in TV debates?
  • In the SPGB’s socialist world, who would live in the biggest houses?
  • What would happen if someone rejected the socialist work ethic to the extent of refusing to "work to his own capability”?
  • How docs socialism differ from theoretical communism?
  • And anarchist libertarianism?
  • In a society without currency, how could greed and jealousy be eradicated?
Yours in good spirit.
Derek Hammond 
(This letter has been slightly abridged - Editors)

The SPGB is a party made up exclusively of conscious socialists. We have no leaders and any member who does a job for the party (like editing the Socialist Standard) does so as a delegate, under the vigilant control of the membership. So there are no careers to be made in the SPGB - and no careerists.

We are in fact in the political arena but we are hostile to all other parties. We aim at the capture of political power and, when we can afford it in terms of money and member power, we contest elections. The SPGB won’t create a revolution; we are the political instrument which the working class will use. when they understand socialism, to establish the new society. At that point the world's socialist parties will cease to exist, for with the establishment of a classless society political parties will be made redundant. So the SPGB will never "take power".

Socialists are materialists; we reject all religious, idealist theories and instead interpret human affairs by reference to the prevailing mode of wealth production. That is the basis of social ideas and morals, and not the other way around. We don’t regard some ideas as "bad" and others as "good". We don't think capitalism is "immoral", only that it has been an essential phase in historical development, that it has now outlived its usefulness and operates against human interests. It must be abolished, if humanity is to progress.

Socialists don’t set out to solve the "Irish problem" in isolation, nor any other of the conflicts and crises of property society. The roots of the Irish conflict lie, typically, in a ruling class dispute over which group of robbers should have the right to exploit the human labour power and the natural resources of the place. The bigotries which — again typically — were stimulated by each side in this struggle have now virtually taken over to the point at which the original conflict has become obscured. Socialism will have no class division, no class interests, no religious bigotries, no unnatural national barriers; problems like the conflict in Ireland simply won’t happen because they won't be able to.

In socialism all people will have free access to however much wealth they need — or want — to consume. There will be no class or individual ownership of wealth so no one will think in terms of “my" house or "your" car; such words will be meaningless. If someone wants or needs to live in a bigger house there is no reason why this should not happen; people will have all sorts of preferences and socialism will not have artificial barriers of property to prevent them being realised. In such a social system there will also be no concepts like greed and jealousy, which again are based in the restrictions and inequalities of a property society. There will also, of course, be no such concept as generosity, which again springs from a society which denies access to wealth to the majority of people.

Socialism will be an extremely hard working society. Under the incentive of contributing to the common good, all humans will co-operate happily and productively. If there are a few who need or desire to stand outside the general satisfaction at doing useful work they will present socialist society with no problem; the choice will be theirs. They will, simply, be carried by the rest of society and have the same free access to society’s goods as the rest (even capitalism can carry millions of people who do no productive work, like bank clerks, salespeople, soldiers, judges, lawyers . . .)

The socialist movement is a political organisation with the object of capturing power over the state machine to use it to establish another social system. That is very different from the fragmented idea of the anarchist. Socialism and communism are words with the same meaning but we obviously don’t need to tell Derek Hammond that the so-called communist countries are in fact capitalist states and have absolutely nothing to do with socialism.

50 Years Ago: Monetary Policy No Cure
 For Unemployment (1983)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Programme, published by the Independent Labour Party in November 1923. tells us that
general unemployment has nothing to do with tariffs or free trade. It is determined by the monetary policy pursued by a country and not by its tariff policy.
So they looked round to see if they could find some countries pursuing an ILP monetary policy: and sure enough they found several.
That is shown by the fact of unemployment in the world today. There is none to speak of in France and Belgium, very little in Italy, nor has there been ever since the war. Why? Because the Government and central banks of those countries have never restricted credit and thus destroyed the purchasing power of a large part of their population.
America, according to the ILP. was not merely perfect, it was better than perfect; not only no unemployment, but a shortage of labour.
The banks have lent freely, and there is now an actual shortage of labour . . . There is no unemployment and no depression in the United States today.
The ILP was. of course, largely wrong about its facts and wholly wrong about the effects of applying its capitalist credit theories. In due course they had to admit this, and a writer in the New Leader said of the American banking system:
I gather from some enquiries that we in England have gravely overestimated the scientific work of this banking organisation.
(BrailsfordNew Leader 28 February 1928)

(From article "Lands Without Unemployment" — Socialist Standard. January 1933)