Friday, March 29, 2024

The foreword to Karl Kautsky's 'From Handicraft to Capitalism' (1906)

Blogger's Note:
Reproduced below is the foreword to the SPGB's 1906 pamphlet, 'From Handicraft to Capitalism' by Karl Kautsky. This was the SPGB's second pamphlet, and it followed on from their June 1905 pamphlet,  Manifesto of The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Kautsky's text was translated from the German by SPGB founder member H. J. Neumann and was approved by the Karl Kautsky himself. The full text of the pamphlet is available at the following link.


By the courtesy of our Comrade Karl Kautsky—to whom we are indebted, not only for his readily accorded permission to reproduce in English, but also for his personal correction of the proofs of our translation— we are able to publish as our second contribution to the Socialist library which we are anxious to build up, the first section of Kautsky’s famous book, Das Erfurter Programme, a section which has already appeared through the columns of the Party Organ, The Socialist Standard.

From so eminent a member of the International Socialist movement, this examination of the existing (capitalist) mode of production will doubtless have an exceedingly high value to those who have made some ordered study of the underlying causes of the many social problems which press upon the attention of the student to-day, the more so because Kautsky’s name will be familiar to them as one whose intimate knowledge of the subject dealt with is probably unsurpassed by any living writer.

But however desirable or necessary it may be to bring this work under the notice of such, the real object which we have in view in reproducing it is to help the working class of this country, or that portion of the working class we can reach, to an understanding of the origin, the growth, the structure, the trend and the ultimate end of the system of Society in which they find themselves to-day, and to an appreciation of the reasons why that Society has, even in its most favourable aspect, so much of insecurity, hardship and unhappiness for them.

At a time when the increasing pressure of economic circumstance is forcing the working class to cast about for some means of escape from the miseries they are either experiencing or fear to experience ; at a time when they are clutching desperately at every straw within reach in an endeavour to avert the doom that daily threatens to engulf them, it is more than ever incumbent upon those who have been enabled to set their feet upon the rock of truth to do all that men may to assist their fellows on to as firm a foundation, so that without the waste of energy, the disappointment and the despair which their present aimless or ill-directed efforts have engendered, they may (effectually point their energies toward the eradication of the real causes of their condition, to the end that their physical and mental wants may find a satisfaction at present almost entirely denied them, and so that they may attain to that measure of security and comfort and joy in living to which, as the indisputable producers of all the wealth of the world, they may justly lay claim.

As it is, their lack of knowledge has made of them easy prey to political charlatans dishonestly concerned with personal aggrandisement, or economic quacks honestly anxious to administer their paltry pill for the cure of the social earthquake. Under such leadership it is not surprising that the working class are largely engaged to-day in ploughing the sands of impotence or beating the air of despair.

It is our purpose, as members of the working class, to combat the evil effects of the work of these black-hearted or muddle-headed mis-leaders by assisting our fellows, through our Press and from our platforms, to strike off the shackles of ignorance so that they may seriously consider with us the problem of their poverty; to induce them to give ear while we show cause why the solution of that problem can only lie in the common, collective ownership by the whole of the wealth producers, of the land and the machinery they operate in the process of producing and distributing wealth, seeing that it is clearly demonstrable that the cause of the trouble lies in the present private ownership of that land and machinery by the capitalist class. We approach them as a Socialist Party concerned, therefore, with both their industrial and their political organisation, but emphasising the fact that the great barrier between the workers even consciously organised as such, and the machinery of production which they operate but do not own, is a political barrier, behind which a small capitalist class exist securely and luxuriously because they are able, while they can maintain that barrier, to control the various national fighting forces against the possible revolt of the workers. At present, in their class-unconscious condition, any revolt, because it is always attempted sectionally, can of course, be easily dealt with, generally without the intervention of armed force; but even with an educated and well organised working class taking action upon class lines, control of the armed forces by the capitalist class directed against working-class efforts, would still effectually prevent the triumph of those efforts. Therefore we point out that having acquired the information which will enable them to understand their present position, and having organised their forces upon a class basis, the working class must proceed directly to the overthrow of the political barrier and the capture of political power, in order that they may pursue their avocation as wealth producers at leisure and in peace freed from the domination of an exploiting capitalist class and assured of the full results of their labours.

Our work therefore consists in educating the working class to the best of our ability. In this work it impresses us as of the highest importance that we should keep the class position of the workers as against the capitalists, clear, not only in our preachings but in our actions. Precepts which do not square with examples are potent causes of working-class confusion as we in England have very good cause to know. It was because of the confusion wrought by the conflict of the actions with the professions of parties claiming to be Socialist that we determined to form an organisation which should express the class antagonism clearly and consistently. Hence The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Recognising then the paramount importance of educating the workers, we seize with avidity upon a book such as this of Kautsky’s because of its masterly presentation of the rise of capitalism and the course of its ruthless and crushing advance. The section of the work reproduced here deals with that phase of capitalist development which had as its principal and certainly its most striking feature, the gradual extinction of the handicraft system in production and the elimination of the small capitalist. Its perusal will enable the worker to understand something of the mighty growth which has reduced him to-day to a merchandise offered for sale on the market. It will help him to see how the gulf between his class and the class of his employer has widened until to-day it is passable only to that remnant of small capitalists still in course of being picked clean of all they possess, thereafter to be flung across the chasm into the outer darkness of the propertyless. It will enable him perhaps to understand why it is that man born of the proletariat remains, with barely an exception, in their ranks for the term of his natural life, and even then must sleep his I long sleep in the company of his class in the cheap places of burial. And so, because he will then have understood how the present methods of production broadly determine his relationship to the remainder of Society and circumscribe his own mental and physical development, may come to him a dawning appreciation of that basal fact in the growth of human Society, which the genius of Karl Marx established—the fact that all the manifestations of human activity expressed in social institutions, in literature, art and the sciences, are in the final analysis but the superstructure of which the prevailing method of production and distribution is the base. It is knowledge of this fact which enables the scientific sociological student to steer a straight course clear of the pitfalls that beset the devious ways of the ill-instructed reformer and enables him to weave out of the tangled skein of the present the fabric of the Society of the future.

It is our present intention to reproduce the remaining sections of the book in pamphlet form as early as possible, and finally to issue the whole of the work in book form.

The Executive Committee of The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Socialist Sonnet No. 141: By Royal (Dis)Appointment (2024)

 From the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

By Royal (Dis)Appointment
The palace has issued a press release:

There is nothing to concern the nation,

Indeed the general public oblation

Has no need to hesitate, wane or cease.

Hand shaking will continue, walkabouts

Likewise, behind firmly fixed barriers

Of course. Because, no matter what occurs,

Our subjects must not begin to have doubts.

Any uncertainty about the state

Has to be ameliorated,

If fallibility’s demonstrated,

People might want to control their own fate.

Should there be any dissatisfaction,

A royal headline’s a great distraction.

 D. A

Sting in the Tail: Another Dud Czech (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Dud Czech

It Is difficult to run capitalism, whether the free-enterprise or the state model. The latest politician to learn this harsh truth is Tomáš Ježek, privatisation minister in the Czechoslavakian government.

Part of Mr Ježek's scheme was the issuing of books of vouchers that can be exchanged for shares in the privatised companies. This scheme is the subject of the usual speculation and sharp practices that can be expected in a market system. According to The Guardian (21 January 1992):
The Czech privatisation minister Tomáš Ježek has threatened to take away the license of any firm shown to be speculating. . . . But the public has been shocked by reports of agents tempting little old ladies with food hampers if they sign over their vouchers.
This Tomáš Ježek is the same out and out defender of capitalism with its wonderful "speculation" who wrote to the Socialist Standard in June 1991 accusing us of "calculated drivel" and "utter self-deception".

Mr Ježek has yet to learn the bitter lesson of capitalism. It is not politicians who control the market system — it is the market system that controls the politicians.

Labour of Sisyphus

The futility of dealing with effects rather than causes has been proved once again by the re-launch of the Anti-Nazi League.

The League was first formed in 1977 to combat the rising National Front. Street battles duly took place and the League was wound up in 1980 when the NF went into decline for reasons which, incidentally, had little to do with the League.

What has brought the League back again is the growth of another bunch of would-be Nazis, the British National Party, and punch-ups between the two are likely.

So the League which thought it could "drive the Nazis off the streets” has it all to do again! That's the fate of all those who think they can deal with capitalism's evils in isolation.

Of Bikes & Bangs
I am fed up with politicians who say "you can't disinvent nuclear weapons". You can't disinvent penny-farthing bicycles either, but I haven't seen many just lately.
(Letter in The Guardian 1 February1992) 
Obviously the penny-farthing didn’t have to be disinvented for it to disappear: it was simply replaced by more effective means of transport as society's technical knowledge advanced.

The same thing happened to the cannonball when high explosives and then nuclear weapons came along, and the latter is still the most devastating means of waging war that society knows.

That letter writer probably wants to see nuclear weapons banned, but this is impossible when the profit-driven capitalist system churns out the conflicts which make weapons, nuclear or otherwise, so necessary and therefore so inevitable.

The Front-Man

The demise of Gorbachev had politicians, journalists, etc., rushing to endorse the Great Man theory of history.

According to this theory, significant changes in science, art or political direction are down to an outstanding individual, and John Major expressed It very well:
It is given to very few people to change the course of history, but that is what Gorbachev has done.
(The Guardian 27 December 1991) 
This shallow thinking ignores the social forces which shape history and which brought down the "communist" dictatorship. Look at how America's economic might bled-white the USSR economy through the arms race and how this in turn produced massive discontent among workers in the USSR with their living standards.

The reform of the USSR economy and political system had to be attempted sometime, and if Gorbachev hadn't started it then another front man would have. To paraphrase Henry Ford, the Great Man theory of history is bunk.

Tough at the Top

The plight of Lloyds’ "names"who find themselves a little strapped for cash has moved the nation to tears and the journalists and TV commentators to indignation and pleas that "something must be done".

At the risk of appearing a little unfeeling about the plight of our "betters" we would just like to point out what kind of wealth you need to become one of these "names".
To be a name you have to show that you have £250,000 in readily realisable assets, a total over and above the value of your first home.
(The Independent 20 February 1992)
An interesting side issue to the "names" affair is that 40 Tory MPs, Including some cabinet ministers, have suffered in this insurance crisis. We suppose that they will all be very philosophic about it — after all they never tire of telling us how we all live in a classless society now.

And of course in this classless society we all have £250,000 in readily realisable assets, don't we?

Easing the Pain

In 1990 the Marquess of Cholmondeley was left £118 million in his father's will — we assume that his dad reckoned that even in Mr Major's classless society the money might come in handy.

Unfortunately the Marquess has three sisters and dear old dad didn't leave 'em a bean. Anxious to see that his sisters don't starve the Marquess has decided to sell a Holbein painting that was part of the estate. This painting is estimated to fetch about £15 to £20 million — so even divided three ways this should ensure that the three sisters will be able to afford the occasional knees-up.

Heartwarming stories like these from the national press are the sort of thing that must cheer those other citizens of the classless society who are huddled In the doorways of shops, shivering in cardboard boxes and wondering where tomorrow's breakfast is coming from.

Let’s talk politics (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Once every four or five years the great thinkers of our time are given ample opportunity to explain to us where their ideas went wrong. For surely the ideas of such great intellects as John Major, Neil Kinnock, Paddy Ashdown et al must have gone badly wrong, or we wouldn't be living in a society where there are more homeless yet more empty houses and more unemployed builders than ever before; more starving people, yet more food destroyed or prevented from being grown than ever before; more understanding of the needs of our planet, yet greater destruction of its resources than ever before. The list is endless, but we shouldn't really expect any apologies from the self-appointed gurus, because according to their doctrine—the doctrine of capitalism—it has always been like this and always will be.
Socialists would be forced to agree with this depressing outlook if we still lived in a society that could only provide comforts and necessities for a certain proportion of the population. However, the technological advances in production which could only have been achieved under a competitive system such as capitalism have left that system as an obstruction preventing the majority from enjoying the fruits of those advances. Capitalism has outlived its historical usefulness and needs to be replaced by a more efficient system, socialism, if the potential it has created is to be realised.

This is very different, though, from what we are going to hear emanating from the party platforms which are projected into our living rooms. We will be asked to believe that the problems facing society today are the fault of certain individuals, parties, policies, workers, or anything other than the system itself. Their arguments will be backed up by millions of pounds-worth of advertising and airplay to help convince us. They will talk about such impersonal phenomena as “the market”, "the stock exchange”, “inflation”, “the unemployment problem”, and “the economy”, and put forward sophisticated formulae for the eradication of the many facets of poverty most of us encounter in our daily lives.

Limiting the debate
In putting forward these formulae, the professional conmen and women of these political parties seek to obscure the definition of politics behind a screen of rhetoric designed to confuse or bemuse the voter. They aim either to make the political arena seem so complicated that the ordinary person could not possibly hope to understand it, or else to alienate the working class from political thought and action by making it seem irrelevant to the problems of daily life. By confining and designing political debate within the limits of the existing system, these representatives of the ruling class leave workers little option but to become baffled or bemused by the “pass the parcel" policies of the left and the right.

Socialists, in complete contrast to all the apologists for capitalism, refuse to confine the political agenda within the straightjacket of the present system, but seek instead to replace that system altogether. Socialists therefore enter the political field with one simple aim—to end capitalism and replace it with the superior system of socialism.

Socialists claim that in order to change society people must first understand the fundamental principles of the system they wish to change. Otherwise they risk making purely cosmetic changes, leaving the system intact. The present system we live under is called "capitalism”. One of the principal characteristics of capitalism, socialists contend, is the separation of society into two main classes. Firstly, there is the ruling class who own the means of production and the vast majority of the material wealth of the planet, even though they make up only a small minority of the population. Secondly, there is the working class, who constitute the vast majority of the population, but who are forced by economic necessity to sell their physical and mental energies to the ruling class in return for a wage or salary. Therefore, socialists argue, any progress from capitalism to socialism must involve the dismantling of this class system.

Socialists contend that capitalism is by its nature a political system. It affects everybody all of the time. It is not confined within national borders or dependent upon the existence of particular electoral systems. However, capitalism has not always existed. The political systems of feudalism and slave-based societies preceded it and flourished for many hundreds of years. Since capitalism has not always been with us, there is no reason to believe that it will always exist in the future. It is merely a passing phase of human development and as such is no more "natural" or “eternal” than any of its predecessors.

Just as all of us are affected constantly by the political system of capitalism, so each of us is forced to act politically innumerable times each day. Contrary to what our leaders would have us believe, political action is not confined to the election booth or to a small elite group. Every time we go to the newsagents to buy a newspaper, we are performing a political act, no matter which paper we buy. Each time we buy an item of fruit we are acting in a political way, no matter from which country that fruit originates. The procuring of any commodity, be it food, shelter, labour power, in exchange for a sum of money, is a political act, since the very existence of money depends on political acquiescence to a system that supports its use.

Money is political
But these self-proclaimed prophets of what amounts to utopian capitalism never tell us about the political nature of money. Instead, they offer a society where employers and workers, rich and poor, takers and givers, can live in harmony. This wonderful state of affairs is to be reached through a redistribution of money amongst the aforementioned groups without changing the nature of those groups or abandoning the need for money. How is it possible to have workers, who give, and employers, who take, in a society of equals? Even the political illusionists cannot come up with the mysterious formula for this magic trick. Instead, they tell us that money is a natural part of “society", that the one cannot exist without the other, and therefore conclude that money is essential

From within capitalism this may appear to be true. However, if you look at the Earth from the ground it appears to be flat. Looks can be deceptive. Money, like capitalism, has not always existed, but is a human social invention. For thousands of years societies flourished without the use of money. Even until quite recently, prior to the development of capitalism as a world-wide system, most populations lived their whole lives where money played little or no part in the social relationships. This is hard for us to comprehend now, living as we do under the world-wide grip of capitalism, but even a quick glance at social history shows it to be true.

With the advent of property, and the greater variety of production, a universal means of valuation was required to regulate exchange. Money performed this function. However it did so in societies that were far from able to provide for peoples needs. As well as defining value, in the form of price, money also acted as a means of rationing. Today money retains these two functions, of valuation, converted by the pressures of supply and demand into a price, and of rationing, where we are limited in our access to the commodities produced by society, by the amount of money we possess. So, if there are two glasses in front of me, one filled with beer, the other empty, and I have no money, under the present system I will not be able to drink from either. The second glass denies me access to beer for the physical reason that it doesn't contain any, the first for a purely political reason: I have no money. In socialism this barrier would not exist.

Socialists believe that, in common with capitalism, money has outlived its usefulness, since technology has now produced the means of providing all humanity with all their material needs. If money lost its value altogether, the value of all socially manufactured products could only be measured in terms of their usefulness. The collecting of worthless paper currency would be merely a pastime of museum curators or sentimental ex-capitalists. With production geared to satisfying human needs, and with the means of providing for such needs being available, as they already are, the idea of anything being bought or sold would become ridiculous. Distribution would be based on need rather than ability to pay.

So, as the election approaches, workers have the choice of being taken in by the hollow' promises and impossible dreams of these small-screen egomaniacs, or else of keeping them on video-tape for later viewing as an historical comedy once the insane Comedy of Terrors known as capitalism has been replaced by the sane and humane alternative of socialism. The workers of this country—of the world—have the choice, but they may not have that choice for too much longer.

Capitalism may provide a bleaker alternative in the form of a nuclear holocaust or some "natural" environmental disaster. Either way the days of capitalism’s reign are numbered, and it is only the human race as a whole who can decide who shall be the beneficiaries of its demise. The fate of young and old, male and female, the yet unborn of all races, hangs upon that decision.
J. C.

Faith, hope and superstition (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

It can’t be much fun being God these days. The trouble with being a figment of someone's imagination, is that you have to take on all the oddities and personality problems that they dream up for you. You get no say in the matter, even if you are omnipotent.

When humans first made the gods in their own image it was different. There were deities for every occasion and the task of running the universe was shared out. When disease or famine came and threatened the whole community, the merciful god could point an accusing finger at the god responsible for sickness, or for the harvest, and everyone was satisfied, if not entirely happy, with the situation. Times have changed, however, and gods who find themselves surplus to requirement face redundancy just like the rest of us. Today it’s a one-man job (and God is male, of course) and he has to accept the fact that he himself sent the AIDS virus, floods, famine, earthquakes and so on—for the benefit of humanity. Still, to help out and clear up any confusion, he has dozens of different sects of believers and worshippers to spread “the truth"—dozens of different truths in fact, each one being the real truth.

The further back into the history of god-worshippers you look, the better the logic seems to have been in their approach.The early believers decided that if suitably bribed, the gods could be useful in all sorts of ways. Today, when acts of God don’t work out in everyone's best interest, all kinds of excuses are made for him. He gets away with murder. Presumably because of this reverse progress in humanity’s long quest for God. many of the ancient ideas have survived through to today’s rituals. Saturnalia, for example, in honour of Saturn, a Roman agricultural god, was celebrated on 17 December. This was followed by several days of feasting and jollification with candles being lit, slaves allowed certain liberties, and a good time being had by all.

Ancient beliefs
Anthesteria (or caster as it is now known) was originally a Greek 3-day festival held when the first signs of new life in nature appeared. Lots of wine was consumed. and on the third day pots of vegetables were boiled for the spirits of the dead who were believed to be roaming at large. The day ended with the spirits being chased out and sent back to their spiritual home. On the third day they “rose again", you might say.

As far back as we know in the history of religion, grain or fruit had been offered to the gods to make sure they understood exactly what was required of them. Modern Christians do the same in their harvest festival. Many of the born-again variety, especially in America, have a similar approach except that it is considered preferable for the offering to be made in hard cash.

The very idea of being born again, which is only a modern recruiting version of the more conventional Christian baptizing, has a history which goes back, at the very least, as far as ancient Greece. Anyone who had been mistakenly supposed to be dead and had turned up, perhaps after a battle, and after the ritual handing them over to the god of the underworld had been performed, had to go through a play-acting form of re-birth before being re-accepted into society in order to convince the gods of their revived mortal status. In an equivalent ancient Indian ritual, performed for the same reason, the person being born again had to spend a night crouched in a tub of fat and water. Over this, the rituals normally performed for pregnant women were carried out. John the Baptist, who went in for ducking people in the river in order to cleanse them of their sins and give them new life, was only reviving an already old custom.

Another early idea was that of making human sacrifices, often with the victim being given the name of the deity to whom they were to be sent. The eagerly awaiting audience would swallow the flesh and drink the blood of the victim in an attempt to be at one with the god. Catholics today do the same or. at least, they claim to.

Childish absurdities
Every advance in humanity’s knowledge of their surroundings leads to a change in the ideas of "God”. This change, however, is obviously not one of greater understanding, but less. As "God" becomes more distant and obscure, the efforts to reach him are ever more bizarre. The “development” of religious ideas is backwards. They made more sense in the day when everyone knew that the Earth was the centre of the universe, was supported on pillars, and was flat. These were the kind of ideas held by the writers of the books of "God’s holy word”, and the absurdities contained in these are clear today to anyone who can read and is capable of doing so without a totally closed mind.

Believers however, whose hope of doing well in life (this one and the next), rest on the acceptance of these as "gospel", or. at least, on an ability to find a self-deluding interpretation of the nonsense, are put in an ever-increasingly ridiculous position. With faith, however, they rise to the challenge. For example: What is sin?. Answer (from a leaflet handed to the present writer by a Hyde Park evangelist, in response to the observation that the small baby she was carrying was not a sinner): "All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever”.

What is God? The nearest we ever get to an answer is that he is the creator of all things. This task took six days followed by one of rest—what did God do on the 8th day?, the 9th and 10th and so on until today? In what sense did he exist in a state of complete nothingness? How long was he in this state? When did he start the project? We do have an exact answer for the last question thanks to a certain Bishop Usher and a Dr Lightfoot. Usher computed the date to 4004 BC and Lightfoot, not to be outdone, worked it out to 23rd October, at 9 o’clock in the morning. What day of the week did God start on? Not a matter of great importance unless you happen to be a Seventh-Day Adventist and you, therefore, know that it was a Sunday, which makes the sabbath fall on Saturday and the rest of the Christian world one day out.

Some believers, who think that the idea of God creating the universe in just six days, and out of nothing, might sound a little far-fetched, concede that there may have been an error in translation and that a “day”, in fact, could mean a period of perhaps 1000 years. This, no doubt, would have made the task much easier, but presumably we cannot apply this multiplication of time (by 365,000) to the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. This trip, which ought not to have taken more than a few days (24-hour days, that is), took— with God's guidance—40 years. Even more miraculously, the clothes and the shoes they were wearing never wore out—‘And I have led you 40 years in the wilderness your clothes are not waxen old upon you. and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy feet". The robes and the sandals worn by a 10-year-old at the outset must still have been in good condition and supposedly still a reasonable fit, when the wearer at the age of 50 finished the trip.

Why bother with such absurdities, you may ask? Why not treat them with the same amusement that you would treat a 6-year-old who believes in fairies and Father Christmas? The answer is that if civilisation is to reach the stage where poverty is not tolerated, where the best that can be produced is produced—to satisfy human need, not the profit motive, and where all humans have equal access to the best possible standard of living and human dignity, the childish and primitive ideas that we are all inherently sinners, and therefore incapable of acting humanely, and that an invisible tyrant in the sky has a paradise where “only a few will be chosen”, must pass into obsolescence first. Such ideas have no place in the 20th century.
Nick White

Socialists against racism (1992)

From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Traditionally, racism has been seen as an ideology, a system of beliefs, which held that white people were superior to black people. It was an ideology of crude racial superiority and, as such, was used to justify the conquest, enslavement and pillaging by European nations of most of what is now called the Third World. This type of crude bigotry is still promoted by members of fascist groups throughout Europe and the USA.

The so-called new racism, on the other hand, is essentially a theory of “human nature" and “human instinct" the most important of which is supposed to be the desire for the company of the same kind. The idea that there exists such a human instinct is now widespread among right-wing politicians. For example, in The Meaning of Conservatism (Penguin 1980) Roger Scruton claims that:
Illiberal sentiments . . . are sentiments which seen to arise inevitably from social consciousness: they involve natural prejudice, and a desire for the company of ones own kind.
What bonds people together, what makes up “one's own kind" according to new racism, is “a shared way of life” which includes not just language and customs but also beliefs and feeling, in short a “culture”; and, the new racists continue, while there are many groupings, the most important way in which people who share a way of life come together is in a "nation" in which they identify themselves as who and what they are.

As with the old racism, science is called in in support of such an "instinct" to "prove" that it is “natural" for people to be hostile to "outsiders”. The idea of an innate and natural hostility towards those who are perceived to be different is something which runs through the new racism. But that biological differences determine other, cultural characteristics has been discredited by scientists for years. What are called "racial differences" is something which is socially defined. For example, groups which are classed as "outsiders" in one period or in one country may be defined as insiders in another.

According to the Daily Telegraph (23 September 1991), the former French President Giscard D’Estaing takes a tough line on immigration. He suggested a referendum to make citizenship a "right of blood” rather than a "right of ground"—in other words, he wants nationality to be determined by "race" and ancestry rather than by place of birth. In his article he wrote of an invasion by "unwanted aliens", an opinion he shares with, indeed derived from, his rightwing rival Jean Marie Le Pen and his National Front.

In the 1990s' economic recession many racist workers are blaming problems on immigrants who happen to mainly come from the so-called Third World. Their racism arises from fear that someone else is competing with them on the labour market and for housing, education and other social services.

The nationalistic and fascist ideas of the 1930s of Mussolini and Hitler such as xenophobia, nationalism and contempt for democracy are now at work again in Western society. Organisations like the National Front, the BNP. German and French neo-nazis and other European fascists have been churning out propaganda. aimed particularly at young people, to foster antagonism between black and white. In recent years minority ethnic groups have suffered an increasing number of racially-inspired attacks. Temples, mosques, synagogues and cemeteries have been vandalised and daubed with fascist slogans and emblems; people have been attacked in the streets and abused with racist insults. This alarming trend is only the tip of the iceberg of popular and institutionalised racism.

The problem of racial tensions is usually approached by the main political parties from the assumption that plans should be devised to enable "different races” to exist co-operatively. Although on the face of it this is an anti-racist attitude, it is in fact quite the reverse. There is of course only one race—the human race, and no-one comes from any pure "racial” stock. The peoples of the world enjoy many diverse cultures, but there is no necessary link between race and culture.

Todays so-called “British stock” in fact traces its ancestry to a great variety of groups who settled on this island including the Celts, Romans. Jutes. Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Each of these groups was, similarly, the result of a mixture of people of different geographical and cultural origins. So, many of the philanthropic reformers who today advocate measures like “positive discrimination" as ways of improving the relations between the "different races" are in fact proceeding from the same fallacious racial assumptions as their fascist opponents.

The profit system doesn't operate on any moral code, and we can not say that as capitalism continues it will progress to smoother and more harmonious ways of working. Governments will tend to discourage or promote racism to suit the requirements of the profitability of industry. During the last World War much of industry and many services were destroyed. After the War there was much reconstruction work to be done and. with about 30 million workers killed in Europe, there was an acute shortage of labour. The capitalists needed an enlarged workforce quickly, and they were not fussy about where the “hands” came from. In the Economic Review of 1947 the government set out its policy:
Foreign labour can make a useful contribution to our needs. Foreign labour is the only substantial additional source of manpower which is open to us, especially for the undermanned industries. The undermanned industries have to be filled by the immigrant labour force mainly from the Colonies of West Indies, India and Africa.
Now Britain, along with other industrialised countries, is in economic crisis—and "swamping our culture", scaremongery and measures like the Nationality Act and the 1991 Asylum Bill have come back on to the agenda.

From the Jewish fundamentalists, who proclaim they are the “chosen people”, to the neo-nazis who believe that that honour is theirs, all racism feeds and flourishes upon ignorance. But the fact is that today the most significant division between people is that by which a small minority (from all cultural origins) own and control the means of life, while the overwhelming majority of us (from all cultural origins) create wealth and run society primarily to produce profits for the rich.
Michael Ghebre

Letter: Socialists and partial struggles (1992)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists and partial struggles

Dear Editors.

I would like to enquire as to your party's attitude to struggle and participation in broad campaigning movements.

I think I understand your view that the only effective and proper way to remedy the ills giving rise to such movements is the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by socialism. The argument being that such movements merely respond to the effects of capitalism, expressed in various forms of injustice and oppression, and ignore the basic underlying cause, the class exploitation inherent in capitalism.

Given this, I wonder what is expected of members of the Socialist Party. Do they participate in such movements as Anti-Apartheid and CND but argue from within that fighting for their limited objectives at best diverts from the important task of winning workers for socialism and at worst sustains capitalism by generating illusions about improving it? Or should they stand well apart from such reformist diversions and rely solely on the platforms offered by Socialist Party meetings and publications like the Socialist Standard?

I can see how the latter option has the advantage of principle and avoids possible confusion about the role of party members should they be active in broad movements. But it could be argued that by adopting this purist approach, the Socialist Party is unnecessarily isolated from important arenas of struggle and depriving itself of access to those who, through their own experience of struggle against the effects of capitalism, should prove more susceptible to the case for replacing it completely with socialism.

If you do not expect Socialist Party members to participate or support these broad movements, does the same apply to the relevant trade unions at their place of work? Although trade unions are wholly limited and defensive, they do have a definite class basis in the sense they seek to organise workers selling their labour power to a common employer or group of employers. If party members are expected to join trade unions, how do you summarise their role within them and how does this differ, if at all, from playing an active part in the broad movements mentioned above?

By joining a trade union, one is implicitly endorsing the struggle to defend wages rather than seeking the abolition of the wages system itself. How docs the Socialist Party resolve this contradiction? I find it difficult to imagine how a party advancing the interests of the working class can stand aside from such key mass working class organisations and yet I do not see how any alternative position could be consistent with your approach to other broad movements.
Andrew Northall

The Socialist Party exists to encourage the working class to establish socialism by democratic political action. We are a political party which advocates socialism and nothing else. Members join on this basis and we are in effect a body dedicated exclusively to spreading socialist ideas by all available means—meetings, pamphlets, leaflets, phone-ins. personal conversations.

As a political party our field of operation is the political arena. Here we oppose all other political parties since they all seek to reform or manage capitalism in one way or another while the only form of political action we support is political action for socialism. This is why we also do not support or join what you call “broad campaigning movements” which, without aiming at winning political power themselves, aim to bring pressure on governments to adopt certain policies or enact certain reforms. In this sense they too are reformist, and the argument we put against them is the one you outline in the second paragraph of your letter.

This does not mean, however, that we "stand well apart" from such organisations in the physical sense and rely solely on our own meetings and publications. We attend their meetings and demonstrations to make contact and discuss with those involved in them, with a view to pointing out that only in a socialist society will the problems they are rightly concerned about be able to be solved. Indeed, many of our own members first came into contact with socialist ideas in this way.

Trade unions, on the other hand, are not political organisations but organisations formed by groups of workers to negotiate their wages and conditions with employers. Workers in employment have to bargain over the sale of their productive skills and it is clearly better that they do this collectively rather than individually (“unity is strength"). Members of the Socialist Party do participate in trade unions (and similar bodies such as tenants associations, student unions, parents associations, claimants unions), but as individual workers directly affected not as party members carrying out some "Party line". We do not practise "entryism" like the Trotskyists who infiltrate organisations with the aim of taking them over. On the contrary in fact; our members always insist that such organisations should be run on a fully democratic basis and on the need to avoid being manipulated by politicians and politically-motivated groups. We are, for instance, opposed to unions being affiliated to the Labour Party.

Between the Lines: Queen of the Scroungers (1992)

The Between the Lines Column from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Queen of the Scroungers

The BBC's shock revelation that the Queen is a human being with an almost real voice, after decades of giving the appearance of a mindless stuffed dummy impersonating a parasitical insect, was compulsive viewing. Elizabeth R (BBC1, 6 February, 8pm) followed this unelected Head of State for a year in her useless life. It was quite evident that forty years in the job had turned the woman quite barmy, unable to perceive social reality except as a prepared theatrical performance. Her idiotic advisers, recruited from the dregs of aristocratic idleness, always stand up in her presence and call her mam. She is never criticised and is consciously treated with sycophantic worship by her oafish followers.

In one scene she was shown with Kenneth Baker and Neil Kinnock who competed to each give the greater impression that they were indistinguishable from her corgis. The only passion shown by this pointless being in the whole recorded year was once when she was watching her horse come fourth in a race and once when she was entertaining the Reagans on her Royal yacht in Florida. The horse was not interviewed and had no chance to explain why it came fourth, but Reagan was given every opportunity to show that he had a lower IQ than the horse and a remarkably similar enjoyment of luxurious living to any Royal low-life.

In the exchange between Liz and Ron (in which we assume that she thought that he was Margaret Thatcher and he thought she was Oliver North) the Queen declared that, in her opinion, all of the "democracies" (i.e. nations like Britain where governments are elected but Heads of State aren't) are going broke. This was a perceptive remark. We assume that R Liz has been quietly studying Marxian crisis-theory between periods of scholarly examination of The Sporting Life. She then went on to say that countries are going broke because they spend too much on welfare and there are too many people who have grown used to grabbing all they can get. This from the biggest state scrounger in Britain!

So, do socialists plan to abolish the Queen? Why bother when we have a much more ambitious abolition in mind: the removal of the entire capitalist class as a group of legalised scroungers who live off the backs of the wealth-producing majority.

Powerful Sisters

If parasites like the Queen give women a bad name, the superb Channel Four documentary about the Amazon Sisters (3 February, 11 pm) showed the strength of those Brazilian women whose lives are being ruined by the coming of industrial capitalism to the rainforests where they have lived for generations.

These women were not out to ask humbly for this or that reform. They would demean themselves before no monarchical goddess who must be called mam. They were opposed to the coming of wage slavery. They spoke and sang with refreshing directness and passion about their hatred of what the profit system is doing to ruin their lives and the ecology of the area they inhabit — an area which is larger in size than Europe. These women, without formal education or political theories, were able to articulate the antagonism between the power of property and profit and the strength which comes from seeking to retain your humanity without having to sell it on the market.

The Amazonian women will lose their struggle against forces backed by billions of dollars. But their struggle will be won as soon as their fellow workers, in other lands and situations, all realise that it is as wage slaves that we are denied the freedom to control our lives and have access to the goods of the Earth. Watching these women was as refreshingly vital as watching the Queen was tediously depressing.

A Führer for France?

BBC's Assignment (4 February, 7.45pm) was a profile of the French racist leader of the fast-growing Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen. The man himself is a wild personality, not unlike a Breton Ian Paisley. He is playing on the fears within France that the recession is getting worse (unemployment is at 10 percent) and Arab immigrants are to be blamed for taking away French jobs.

Le Pen is undoubtedly on the rise, as are racist parties in Germany and Eastern Europe. Indeed, it is quite possible that Le Pen could become the next French President; the Front's results in this month's provincial elections will indicate how likely that is. In response to Le Pen the other leading politicians, eager for state power, are trying to outdo him in racist rhetoric. Chirac and Giscard are making speeches which could quite well have been spewed out by Enoch Powell in Britain in the 1960s, and Mitterand's bogus Socialist Party is passing laws to prevent immigrants from having rights in France.

Fifty years ago France was occupied by the Nazis. The first time it was tragedy and Le Pen is rehearsing the farce. Meanwhile, we are quite sure that, if elected, a state banquet for Führer Le Pen will be hosted by Elizabeth R. After all, the first thing that her uncle, Edward VIII, did when he abdicated was to fly to Berlin and pay his respects to his political mentor, Adolf Hitler.
Steve Coleman

Obituary: Paul Maxwell (1992)

Obituary from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Paul Maxwell
One of the last surviving members of the old Eccles branch, Paul Maxwell, died in February. The Eccles branch was founded in 1932, continuing with the Manchester branch the presence which the Party has had in the Greater Manchester area since the earliest days. The branch, as was fitting in an area which was the birthplace of the industrial working class in Britain and indeed the world, was composed largely of trade union activists, of which Comrade Maxwell was one as well as being a part-time conjurer. He joined the branch in 1934 and for years was a literature seller at the outdoor meetings held at Eccles Cross. When, as outdoor speaking opportunities everywhere died out (Eccles Cross became a traffic island), the branch had to wind up in 1962 Com Maxwell transferred to Central Branch, and it was not until 1986 a new Eccles branch was formed.

SPGB Meetings (1992)

Party News from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blogger's Note:
I'm not sure if David Hines was a member of the SPGB but he was definitely a sympathiser. His play "Bondage" was adapted into the film the 'Whore', which starred Helen Mirren and was directed by Ken Russell.

Socialists and the Election (1992)

Party News from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is standing one candidate in the General Election, in the Holborn and St. Pancras constituency in London. Our candidate is Richard Headicar. If you want to help with leafletting, selling the Socialist Standard, canvassing or in any other way contact: Michael Ghebre, 169 Royal College, St. London NW1 0SG (tel: 071-482 XXXX).

The amount now standing in the Election Fund is £1524. So we still need another £476 to reach the target of £2000 we have set to be able to mount a credible campaign. Any further contributions will be gratefully received and should be sent to: Election Fund, the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN.

Blogger's Note:
There is a report of the Party's election campaign in Holborn and St Pancras in the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard.