Thursday, March 22, 2018

Put This In Your Collection of Golden Deeds. (1924)

From the December 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

You will of course have the Boudel Massacre, the Amritsar Horror, the Congo Rubber Atrocities, etc., duly docketed. The following extract from Mark Twain’s recently published Autobiography, quoted in the "Daily News,” October 25th, is a useful addition to Capitalism’s Book of Golden Deeds.

Mark Twain was roused to a white heat of anger by the killing of six hundred Moros by American soldiers in the Philippine Islands in 1906.
   "With six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright and we had thirty-two wounded.  . . . The enemy numbered six hundred—including women and children—and we abolished them utterly leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother.
   "This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.”
President Roosevelt sent a formal message of congratulation to the commanding officer. "His whole utterance is merely a convention,” comments Mark Twain. "Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half from a safe position on the heights above was no brilliant feat of arms, and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers had shot them down with Bibles and Golden Rules instead of bullets.”—From Mark Twain Autobiography extract in "Daily News,” 25/10/24.

A World of Waste, War and Want (1997)

From the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard
We continue our series of articles describing why capitalism is a reactionary, decadent social system ripe for its abolition and replacement by a genuine socialist society.
In order to end the contradiction at the heart of capitalism between socially interconnected production carried out by the majority (the working class who produce but don’t possess) and private ownership of the means of living by a tiny minority (the capitalists who possess but don’t produce), socialists argue that the working class must become conscious of their real class interests. This means they must become conscious of the need for socialism, a new system of society based on common rather than class ownership, democratic control rather than minority power and leadership, and production for use rather than for sale and profit. If capitalism with its manifold inadequacies and contradictions is to be ended, the working class must organise itself for the capture of political power from the dominant capitalist class, and then must transform the economic structure of society by abolishing the capitalists' ownership and control of the means of living

In putting forward such an analysis of society and reasons for fundamental social change, socialists are not advancing a disembodied theory which reality does not match. This is because the material conditions for socialism already exist, having been created by capitalism itself. Firstly, there is a highly developed productive potential in the world, so much so that capitalist agencies like the United Nations and its Food and Agricultural Organisation declare that given the level of productive development brought about by the working class under capitalism, there is no reason why anyone on this planet should not live a full and satisfying life free from hunger, poverty or preventable disease.

Secondly, a class exists which has a clear material interest in bringing about a new social arrangement based on common ownership and production for use, where human activity is geared solely towards meeting people’s needs and desires. This class—the working class— exists the world over, is the largest class in society, and performs all necessary social functions, making, administering and distributing all the goods and services that exist in capitalism, not directly for themselves but for the enrichment of the capitalists.

Because of these two factors socialists maintain that capitalism has created the conditions for its own abolition. In a political sense it is now an unprogressive, decadent social system, wracked by its own contradictions and ripe for replacement by a more advanced social order. Today it is no longer natural scarcity or humankind’s inability to master nature which causes death, poverty, stress and insecurity, let alone the other evils of modem life—it is the way in which society is organised.

Production for profit, the very thing which spurred on capitalism to conquer the world and develop technology to the level it is now at, is precisely the factor which prevents that technology and productive potential from being used to satisfy the needs of the majority in society. Illustrations of this abound, and this journal for one is always full of them. Hundreds of thousands of building workers on the dole while there is a major housing problem and homeless roaming the streets; famine and starvation amid overproduction of foodstuffs across large sectors of the globe; millions dying from preventable diseases while the most advanced medical technology that has ever existed could cure them—these are all the inevitable products of a system based on the competitive accumulation of profit for the capitalists rather than for the wider satisfaction of social need. And none of it is either inevitable or natural.

Contradictory system 
It is clear that the system of ownership land distribution that exists in capitalism is entirely inappropriate and outdated given the level of the productive forces in society. For this reason alone capitalism can be termed ‘decadent’, and it probably has been a decadent social system acting as a real barrier to human progress since the beginning of this century—and most certainly by the time of the First World War in 1914. At this time a highly developed global productive system had been developed on the basis of the world market and an international division of labour The factor preventing the establishment of socialism from this point on was political rather than technical, specifically the lack of socialist consciousness among the world's working class.

That the working class has not succeeded in overthrowing capitalism has been the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century. However, human organisation has not frozen at this point and the development of capitalism did not grind to a halt at the moment it created the potential for its own demise. Indeed, it was at the advent of capitalism as a truly world system that the contradictions of capitalism started to become most pronounced and its obsolescence most apparent. For instance, it has been in the period since capitalism has become in a political sense decadent that economic crises and slumps—which have always been endemic to the system of production for profit—have become truly world events plunging the working class into greater misery while production of useful articles is curtailed, not because too much has been produced for need, but too much for the market at an adequate rate of profit.

In the progressive, ascendant capitalism of the nineteenth century, crises and slumps tended to be more localised. The crises of 1848, 1873 and 1895—the most severe and significant in that they extended well beyond one region or country—were not sufficient to halt the overall growth of the productive forces being built up under the reign of the market economy. Though these crises seemed severe at the time and had devastating enough consequences for the working class, it was only in the decadent capitalism of the twentieth century that an event such as the October 1929 Wall Street Crash could have occurred with the subsequent massive world slump and banking crisis of the early 1930‘s. On that occasion total world production fell catastrophically, registering significant declines in all the major industrialised countries, while world trade fell by a colossal two thirds from its 1929 level.

As capitalism has become more interconnected on a world basis, economic crises have had the opportunity to spread and deepen more than previously, shaking virtually the whole system itself rather than just a minority of its component parts. The sectors of the globe not under the hold of the market have diminished rapidly this century, providing less opportunity than in capitalism’s heyday for the system to plunder at little cost vast resources from undeveloped areas. This phenomenon played an important part in kick-starting the rapid (and still unprecedented) period of capitalist development in the fifty or sixty years after 1850, but its influence has waned considerably and nearly all capitalist growth is now “internal” to the system itself—in other words, dependent purely on the exploitation of wage labour rather than annexation and imperialist plunder.

Since capitalism became a world system the only sustained period when real overall production increased at anything like the rate of the last half of the nineteenth century was in the wake of the massive post-WWII reconstruction. Since then capitalism has entered another phase of periodic world crises—1968, 1974-5, 1980-2, and 1990-3, with only a comparative handful of developing countries on the Pacific Rim being in any way able to buck the effects. These countries have had the advantage of cheap labour and have been unencumbered by welfare payments and other sources of high state expenditure, all of which the more advanced states have sought to cut back on to bolster sagging profit rates.

During this time of renewed global economic crisis, world inequality, poverty and indebtedness have grown at an unprecedented rate. Just 358 people in the world now own as much wealth as half of the rest of the global population put together—2,800,000,000. Meanwhile the majority in society exist on inadequate diets with insufficient medical care, with hundreds of millions living in appalling conditions of absolute poverty. Large tracts of the planet—over 100 countries—see their real incomes falling year on year, with little sign of improvement. Never before has the gap between the wealth of the richest and the poorest on this planet been so huge, or the consequences of it so disabling and destructive.

Law of the jungle
Decadent capitalism is the system that has brought about devastating world economic crises and it is also the system that has brought with it another new phenomenon—the world war. In decadent capitalism the world is entirely divided up between competing capitals and nation states. Since the imperialist scramble of the late nineteenth century there has simply been nowhere else left to conquer. Wars were barbarous enough in capitalism's ascendancy with several million killed in conflicts ranging from Crimea, to China, to the civil war in the United States. But given the increased tensions and competition that have appeared as the capitalist class has vied for control of an already carved-up planet, the twentieth century has seen the very existence of the human race put in jeopardy. This century has become the era of truly world wars and twice already the world has been plunged into orgies of destruction and barbarity the scale of which has never before been experienced. The 1914- 18 conflict left at least ten million dead, the 1939-45 war at least 40 million. 

According to the politicians whose job it is to deceive us, the period since 1945 has been one of unprecedented peace. This view, in actuality, could not be further from the truth. Since WWII the wars between the various capitalist states and blocs haven’t stopped and since 1945 there have been over 150 major armed conflicts. Indeed, since 1945 there has not been a single day’s peace on this planet. Today, at least 25 wars are raging across the globe.

On an average yearly basis the number of deaths from war in this period has been more than double that of the nineteenth century and seven times greater than in the eighteenth century. This has reflected the greater populations involved in wars and the more destructive nature of the weaponry involved, although significant medical advances have meant that many lives have been saved during wars that would have certainly been lost in earlier conflicts.

The nature of warfare has changed in many ways in decadent capitalism. In particular, civilian casualties have increased dramatically. As an illustration, over 2 million children have been killed in wars in the last decade alone, actually more than the number of soldiers killed. However, the key point is this—whereas periods of decadence in earlier systems of society led to the devastation of entire countries or even empires, world capitalism threatens the whole planet with annihilation, increasingly tailoring its production towards destruction and the development of ever more hideous weapons of war. It is horrendous enough that the policeman of the world, the United States, should be stocked up with nuclear warheads and other mass instruments of death. That the up-and-coming gangster states from the Middle East, the Far East, Africa and Latin America are developing such capabilities is a truly chilling thought And even more chilling still is that it is now only a matter of time before a terrorist organisation gets its hands on them. Terrorists in Japan have already been prepared to use chemical weapons. Who will be first with a nuclear device?

Nuclear capability for the land of Walt Disney is terrifying indeed, for the gangster states and terrorist groups it may be of literally earth-shattering import. In the light of such prospects socialists say what the ruling class increasingly think but are usually afraid to admit to the mass of the population—a society with such awesome weapons of destruction in the hands of Iraq, Iran, North Korea or even one day the IRA or the US militia men is not a society that offers humankind a serious future.
Dave Perrin

The Madness of King George (and the rest!) (1997)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
The Last Word column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The news reports that the premier of Ecuador is off his rocker have been amongst the sunnier moments in a generally frosty political climate. The months before an election are always depressing and never more so than when you are in what is effectively a one-party state where all the policy “choices” on offer are not even disguised to appear other than identical. Waiting for the election is rather like waiting for the millennium. You know it will come and you know what the outcome will be and you know that a week later it will feel much the same as a week before.

The alleged insanity of the Ecuadorian premier who, by all accounts, referred to himself as El Loco (The Lunatic) and told those who voted for him that he could not remember what his policies were, was merely following a long tradition of rulers who were manifestly off their heads. George III was accused of being mad for taking too much interest in science and scratching himself too much because he had a skin disease. In fact, it was the psychiatrists treating him who were the real nutters, and in the end they killed him. The latest Royal to be so accused is our very own Queen of hearts. A Tory minister suggested that she was “a loose cannon” for speaking out against land mines which blow off children’s legs. No doubt, the same minister would stand to attention and salute if a bemedalled general, whose expertise was blowing up children entered his presence. When Reagan was President his wife employed a Rasputin-like astrologer to advise on the future. Millions of people voted for Reagan, not realising that the fate of the nuclear button rested upon the whims of a White House Mystic Meg. Thatcher, before they took her away, began to look as if she had been off her medication for far too long. At least the premier of Ecuador admits he’s barmy.

I once met a deck-chair attendant who insisted that he was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Albania. He was either a nutcase or an underemployed monarch. The sad point was that it didn’t matter. As a nutcase he made a perfectly good deckchair attendant. (The very idea of charging people for sitting on a chair by the sea is itself a plea of insanity.) As a king he appeared much better off getting some fresh air by the sea than sitting on a throne in a state of permanent ceremonial redundancy. The idea of Prince Charles organising the deck-chairs on Brighton beach has a definite appeal to it. How much more sane it would be than imagining himself to own Cornwall and be in charge of Wales.

The more you look at people who think they are ruling us, the more obvious it is that they would be better off doing something else. John Major would make an ideal lollipop man. There is much greater dignity in crossing children over the road safely than closing down their schools. Tony Blair should present an easy-listening music show on RadioTwo. You could fall asleep listening to him spinning discs by Bing Crosby and The Northern Light Orchestra playing instrumental versions of Tom Jones songs. Michael Howard could do something useful, like shovelling raw sewage.

At the Member’s entrance of the House of Commons one sees groups of people gathered around to wait for the leaders’ limousines to shoot past. Few of them are tourists. They are workers who believe that the sight of a famous politician will be something to tell their grandchildren about. Some of them travel in on coaches from Essex and other distant territories so that they can take photos of Big Ben and say that they caught a glimpse of whatsisname who was once on the news because he said something about something or other. I once saw Norman Lamont walk straight through such a group and nobody even noticed him. He had been forgotten; not even accorded the fame of the Ecuadorian premier who at least will be the best known inmate in the asylum.

Desmoulins once said that the great only appear great because the poor are on their knees. James Connolly is usually credited with the quote, but the truth is that he heard it and repeated it as if it were his own. The origins of the remark are unimportant. The fact is that there isn’t actually anything great about “the Great and the Good”. They have simply done a bloody good propaganda job convincing everyone else that the majority is good for nothing better than to be governed. No doubt the premier of Ecuador seemed like a thoroughly reasonable chap until it gradually dawned on people that he was round the bend. History is littered with examples of Great Men who were discovered to have been pathetic little parasites, hanging on to power by gripping tight to the greatness of the multitude they despised. Which pretty well sums up the next election. Those who run society from top to bottom, by hand and by brain, will be called upon to choose which of a gang of Nobodys is best to rule over us. The truth, of course, is that we are the best people to rule over ourselves.
Steve Coleman

The Strange Death of European Social Democracy (1997)

Pamphlet Review from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Political Economy of Social Democracy: The Swedish Collapse, The Danish Mystery, The British Mirage and the German Dilemma by Stuart Wilks-Heeg (South Bank European Papers)

Capitalism is a global system, and has become more so than ever over the last twenty years. This fairly straightforward axiom is just one important factor lying behind the failure of Social Democratic reformism not only to deliver on its pseudo-socialist promises, but also its failure to even manage capitalism successfully on its own terms.

The Social Democratic failure is often couched in terms of a collapse of electoral support, but Stuart Wilks-Heeg argues in this pamphlet that "the primary challenge facing Social Democrats is one of political economy, not one of electoral decline." In fact, one of the points made most clearly in this pamphlet is that electoral support for the Social Democratic parties has not collapsed but, rather, has begun to fluctuate, often quite wildly, after a thirty-year post-war period of fairly steady ascendancy. Possible reasons for this are put forward in the pamphlet.

The one that Wilks-Heeg spends most space analysing is the collapse of Fordism, both as a method for the mass-production of consumer goods and as an ideological system that included Keynesian economics as one of its components and relied for its smooth operation on what Wilks-Heeg calls a ‘‘class compromise”, this consisting basically of a trade-off between higher wages and higher productivity. This, he says, was the basis for Social Democratic political economy.

Wilks-Heeg seems to be under some misapprehensions surrounding this point. He states, for example, that this class compromise succeeded in “combining productivity growth, full employment, labour peace, welfare state expansion, steady wage growth and greater social equality”. Much of this is no doubt true—except, crucially, “greater social equality”. A rise in wages does not mean an erosion of inequality, particularly when profits rise at a similar or higher rate, a factor represented here by "productivity growth". While workers certainly did become "better off”, inequalities, including those of power, remained more-or-less the same, the capitalists remaining in charge, workers remaining wage-slaves.

The "success" of Western Social Democracy was largely illusory and certainly very limited as, even in its own terms, it was based on a "class compromise" that was in its turn largely a product of Western capitalism's ability to keep ahead in global capitalist competition and of the absence of severe economic crisis. When the economies of other nations and blocs, particularly in the Middle and the Far East, began to technologically "catch up", and when global profit rates fell Western economic stability evaporated along with its hegemony and took the Social Democratic mirage with it.

The shift in international economic/power relations made a qualitative change in Western methods of production necessary, as Wilks-Heeg states:
  "Today, in an era of globalisation, rapid technological change and dramatically enhanced competition, capital has sought greater flexibility and deregulation . . . Inevitably, these changes have disrupted the terms of the class compromise. In order to survive, capital has had to break from traditional relationships with labour and pressured governments to facilitate flexibility and de-regulation."
In other words, class struggle in the West has gone from a relatively muted affair into a state of open warfare, with the ruling class very much on the attack. In the face of this attack the Social Democrat reformists have simply capitulated, being openly and fully on the side of capital and Union leaders have by-and-large gone with them, apparently regarding themselves (in a time dishonoured neo-Stalinist manner) as simply the industrial wing of the Social Democratic parties, trying to keep the workers in line to facilitate electoral victories for their political masters.

This pamphlet contains much that we would not agree with but, on the whole, Wilks-Heeg presents a very pertinent and interesting analysis of the present state of reformist politics. Sadly, he continues to try and think of ways to rejuvenate reformism, failing to draw the obvious conclusion that social reform is by-and-large a failure and social revolution is both necessary and desirable.
Jonathan Clay

Letter: 'Opportunity . . . for rich pickings' (1997)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Adam Buick states Militant Labour's position has been for civil war to achieve socialism. This has never been the case.

We have always stated socialism will be carried out through democratic means and that it would be those who do not accept the democratic wishes of the majority of the people who would try to overthrow a socialist government.

If Adam Buick had ever taken the trouble to read our material he would know this. When Harold Wilson was Labour Prime Minister, certain leading figures in the armed forces and the business community discussed a possible military coup if Wilson carried out socialism.

Militant Labour has always argued for an extension of democracy. whereby MPs are accountable at all times through the right of recall, and only receive the average wage of a worker, ensuring they live in the same conditions and represent the interests of the people whom they represent.

The present system allows MPs to ignore the wishes of the electorate and vote themselves massive pay rises.

Many of them also have second or third jobs, and are open to corruption. You have to question in whose interest they act.

We have also always called for proper democratic control of the police and the judiciary so they serve the vast majority of people in this country, instead of the top wealthy 10 percent.
Brian Blake, 
Hillingdon, West London

We don’t know which is more absurd. That Harold Wilson really could have “carried out socialism”, or that certain “leading figures" in the armed forces and business community really did discuss a military coup to overthrow him.

Wilson wouldn't even have dreamed of carrying out socialism (he didn’t even know what it was—he once confessed that he couldn't even get beyond page one of Marx's Capital). But even if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to, since no government can introduce socialism for people any more than a vanguard party can.

As a system of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit demanding popular consent and participation, socialism can only be established when a majority want and understand it and show this by, among other things, voting for it. The fact that people had voted for a Labour government showed that what they wanted was Labour administration of capitalism not socialism.

Wilson was a capitalist politician elected to run British capitalism. Which he did in the only way possible: as a profit-making system in the interests of those who live off profits. To this end, he froze wages, denounced strikes and planned to bring in anti-union laws. All this earned him the gratitude, not the opposition. of the business community. Many of them took jobs on the quangos he set up while others accepted the knighthoods and peerages he was notorious for handing out to them.

Towards the end there was some discontent over his inability to hamstring the unions in the way Thatcher was later to do. but no "military coup” was discussed. The most that might have happened was some idle talk of this amongst disgruntled junior members of the intelligence service, at least if what one of them, Peter Wright, wrote in his book Spycatcher is to be believed.

You seem to be confusing this with the book and TV play A Very British Coup by Labour MP Chris Mullins. But this was a work of fiction and. in any event, more realistically than in your scenario, has the coup fail because people back the elected government and its prime minister.

But this is not the only place where you have mistaken fiction for reality. It's the same with your claim that Militant does not envisage a civil war to achieve its aim. Militant is a Trotskyist organisation, i.e. a sect within the Leninist tradition. and Trotskyists have always argued that it is not possible for them to capture power peacefully and democratically through the ballot box.

If you doubt this, read Trotsky's Terrorism and Communism and Lenin's State and Revolution and his The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky—we are sure Militant's book service will gladly supply them for you—in which the doctrine that the vanguard party can only come to power by means of a violent insurrection is set out in quite unambiguous terms.

This does not rule out Trotskyists contesting elections but only as a tactic to win influence and build up support for the vanguard party. Militant's current electoralist “turn", and accompanying change of name to a party, is to be seen in this light. It is merely a manoeuvre to better position itself viz its rivals, the SLP and the SWP, to take advantage of working-class discontent under a future Blair government.

This is made abundantly clear in an internal document published last November entitled "The Name Debate (4)". Here Militant's Executive Committee states that "the issue of the name of our organisation is a tactical or presentational issue, not a matter of principle" (p. 4) while a member of the National Centre writes that "politics is the art of timing and there is a serious danger that if we don't come to a decision, we will miss the opportunity of rich pickings in the next period" (p. 44). How cynical can you get?

These Foolish Things: Love Me, Do (1997)

The Scavenger column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Love me, do
For Valentine’s Day. the brewing combine, Bass, launched a new alcopop especially for young lovers. It is called Smooch. It has the flavour of passion fruit and an alcohol content of 4.5 percent. In January the Health Education Authority attacked the targeting of boys and girls with specially designed alcoholic drinks and the big brewers made appropriately responsible noises. But Bass is proposing to spend £5 million promoting stiles of alcopops in 1996-7

Dear Editor (1)
“ . . . I am to have a rent increase of £7.50. pushing my rent from £37 a week to £44.50 for a two-bed flat. I pay out £88 a week on basic bills That’s now, and after my increase? Well, so what? I will just get into debt. I eat by not paying a bill, and no chance in hell of paying it off—all this out of a take- home pay of £95 for 35 hours’ work a week, including weekends. I pay into a credit union in order to finance my TV licence. Being trapped on the dole isn’t so bad as being trapped in low-paid labour . . . “ Evening Mail, 19 December.

Recycling poverty in Britain
According to figures from the University of Essex, almost half those defined as poor in a given year are above the poverty line 12 months later—but at least a third slip down the income ladder again the following year. "The picture which emerges is a churning of incomes rather than a one-way ticket out of poverty," (Professor Jenkins) said. Drawing on a panel of 8,000 households, the research shows that the bulk of the "persistent” poor are pensioners and unemployed parents. including lone parents. Families moving in and out of poverty tend to be victims of redundancy, divorce or the death of a breadwinning partner. The arrival of a baby also pushed some households below the breadline, the researchers found. Guardian, 24 October.

Dear Editor (2)
"I am 53 years old. and have been working since leaving school at 15. I am to be made redundant in April, after 1 have been paying into my work's pension scheme for the last 30 years. Calling into the Selly Oak Job Centre. I was told that because I will be drawing over £50 a week from my work’s pension, I am not entitled to any state money. So I have paid into the system for 38 years and got nowt. I will not be classed as unemployed . . . " Evening Mail, 9 January).

The richest nation
The US leads the industrial world in child poverty, according to a Christian humanitarian coalition. Around 22 percent of Americans under 18 years old live in poverty. One child in four under 13 is hungry or at the risk of hunger, according to a survey by the Bread For The World Institute issued in Luxembourg. Canada and Australia tie for second in the child hunger league table, ahead of Ireland and Israel and then Britain, where one in ten children under 18 live in poverty. A separate UN report last week counted 1.3 billion people worldwide who survive on less that $1 a day. An estimated 60 percent of the globe lives on less than $2 a day, according to the UN Development Programme. Guardian, 24 October.
The Scavenger

Getting Tougher (1997)

The Greasy Pole column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

It was not so long ago when the competition between the Labour Party and the Tories was over which of them was the more moderate. Political extremists were dangerous, damaging, eccentric, beyond the pale. And anyway they were suspected of losing votes. Moderation was the buzz-word. There was something called a bi-partisan foreign policy, under which broad agreement between the two big parties decided how the interests of British capitalism were to be represented abroad. In economic affairs there was Butskellism, a combination of the names Butler and Gaitskill. who were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Shadow Chancellor and who were expected to agree on almost everything about working-class exploitation and making profits

This was all very cosy, even if it could cause frustration among some MPs. There was, for example, the Tory Gerald Nabarro, a loud-mouthed buffoon who sat for a well- heeled constituency in Worcestershire and who once asked out loud whether any sensible parent would want their daughter bringing home a black man. There were those Labour Members who had come to Parliament from a background in the mines or the shipyards and who persisted, in the face of all the evidence, in their belief that their party would one day transform society in the interests of the working class. No serious attention was paid to these people: moderation, bi-partisan policies were regarded as the best way to protect the interests of British capitalism.

Well things are a bit different now because the competition today is for the title of the tougher party and in this the Labour Party is doing its best to make the running. Gordon Brown, who recently dispelled rumours that he is moderate enough to consider getting married, promises that when he is Chancellor he will be tough on government spending. There will, he says, be no blank cheques, which means no uncontrolled expenditure on things which most people probably think highly desirable if not vital; things like health care, education, housing. Jack Straw promises that when he is Home Secretary he will be tough on people who wash car windscreens without being asked, noisy neighbours, kids who are on the streets when they should be in bed. David Blunkett will show he has taken over Education by being tough on homework. Tony Blair will be tough on just about everything and everyone, especially members of his party who disagree with him, because he is the Leader and he wants to be Prime Minister.

The Labour Party’s zeal to become the next government is causing its leaders to take stances which many of their supporters must find surprising, or amusing, or outrageous. In fact the leaders are only revealing the true nature and purpose of the party, a capitalist political organisation whose object is to be in power. In the past this has often been obscured by Labour leaders' pretence that their policies will transform capitalism to the benefit of the majority. New Labour has gone some way to disposing of that fallacy. When, for example, Gordon Brown talks about not signing blank cheques he is stating a fact, even if the people who, according to him, have benefited from "blank cheques"; sick people. unemployed workers, the homeless, single parents on benefit will be considerably puzzled to hear about this generosity which they are supposed to have received.

In a recent conference on homeless young people (organised by the National Children's Homes, which wants to abolish homelessness among people aged 16 to 21 within five years. No-one should hold their breath about this) Blair claimed that in spite of its get-tough policies the Labour Party still cares: "I believe you can be in favour of zero tolerance of crime and zero tolerance of homeless" was how he put it. This subtle link of crime and being without a home illustrates how Blair and his party are trying to face both ways at once on the issue. If crime is encouraged by social and personal handicaps, why is the Labour Party so keen to punish the criminals? What happened to the principle Labour once lay claim to to deal with the causes of disruptive behaviour rather than with the people who disrupt? (In fact, there is evidence that homeless people are more likely to be the victims of crime than its perpetrators. They are more vulnerable than the average; that is one reason Kings Cross is so ugly a place.)

At that conference Blair defended his New Labour policies:
   "It is only by broadening our appeal that we stand a chance of winning an election: and frankly it is only by winning an election that we will be able to do anything for the poor, the unemployed and the homeless."
The Blair strategy, of making the Labour Party so much like the Conservatives that they will benefit from the kind of voter intentions which have kept the Tories in power since 1979, may have one effect the Labour leader has not bargained for. If, the voters may ask, there is nothing to choose between these two parties what is the point of making a choice?

This attitude can already be found by anyone who gets involved in a discussion about politics with people who would normally vote for one of the capitalist parties. It is very difficult to find someone who supports the Labour Party with any passion or conviction. It is very difficult to find anyone who intends to vote Labour but believes a Labour government will be noticeably different from the present one. Cynicism rules, but is this OK?

No. Because cynicism can breed apathy. as people who are pre-occupied with the struggle to get a living ask questions about the effectiveness, not only of politicians. but of the whole process of political debate and choice. It is healthy to doubt the politicians, to use our experience to expose their opportunism, the flaws in their arguments, their inability to affect the problems they solved so easily in their manifestos. But to despair of political issues, to give up working to understand why capitalism works as it does and what we have to do to change society, is to surrender our political power.

The case for a new society docs not deal in moderate compromises with opponents. It is the clear assertion of the fact that those who run the world now can do it in their own interest instead of that of a parasite minority. It is not power to the Tories or to New Labour but to the people.

50 Years Ago: The Changing Temper of the Workers (1997)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Right from the commencement of the Labour Government the workers have shown a determination to resist the attack upon wages and conditions that is very heartening in these dull times. We are particularly impressed with the steadfastness with which they have pursued a strike policy, striking again and again, in spite of the privations their actions have brought upon their families and their fellows, and with a total disregard of the solemn warnings about the imminent collapse of this rotten capitalist system.

One thing further may be said. The workers are receiving a salutary lesson in the futility of Labour politics which should go far to weaken their faith in programmes to reform Capitalism and in the parties that support these programmes. Maybe the time is not far distant when the workers will realise that it is the Capitalist basis of society from which alone spring the evils that afflict them. From that point it will be a short step to the knowledge that their only hope of salvation lies in the establishment of Socialism.
(From an article by ‘Gilmac’, Socialist Standard,  March, 1947)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How Socialists View Things (1997)

From the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party has no intention of forming a government and trying to solve the problems and conflicts of modern capitalism. It was certainly under no such illusion as was held by the Russian Communist Party—that a Bolshevik dictatorship could control capitalism in the interests of the working class. Instead, the Socialist Party offers to represent the views of those voters who are opposed to the continuance of the capitalist social structure itself, whether capital is controlled by the state or by individuals.

The employment problem exemplifies the conflict between the needs of individuals in society and the market forces exerted by capital. “Job creation” is something that capital tries to do all the time, since it is only through employing men and women who add value that capital can make a profit. But, of course, the booms and slumps of capitalism dictate that there are periods when a percentage of working people are of no use to capital. Whether such workers are left to starve or sustained by some sort of dole depends upon historical and geographical conditions. In Britain and many other western industrial nations government have recognised a vested interest in maintaining workers at a subsistence level until they are needed in the next upsurge in the economy. In spite of this there is, however, in every slump an attack on the living standards of the unemployed in order to reduce the costs of benefit to national capital.

A minimum wage is a concession that a strong working class can extract from its national capitalist class. It is exactly in times of recession, however, that the working class is weak. The threat to withdraw their labour in a strike by those who are employed presents very little problem for employers since there are so many unemployed ready to take their places. A minimum wage is therefore impossible to enforce during a slump, just the time when it is wanted.

Political parties which pretend that government has the power to seriously ameliorate the problems of capitalist society are deceiving the electorate: and so it is no wonder that voters in the West are deeply disenchanted with politicians and even the democratic process itself— a dangerous state of affairs. Even the limited democracy we have achieved, however, is seeping away because capital, as the social relationship it really is, is antithetical to genuine democracy.

What socialists want is a social context in which questions such as education, transport and housing are under the control of real democracy, not the economy and the insatiable drive for profit. We consider that capitalism urgently needs superseding by an organisation of society in which people will work, but not be employed; in which goods are produced because they are needed, not because of the expectation of profit; in which education is a process which individuals, children and adults, choose for themselves, not one which is compulsorily imposed upon them, primarily in the interests of employers.

Each of the problems people experience under the profit system arise not from the nature of existence or even the practicalities of producing and distributing resources, but from the poverty and ruthless competition which are inescapable features of the capitalist political economy throughout the world. To solve them what is required is not a change of government or of government policy, but a change of social system.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Brief Sketch of the Materialist Conception of History - Part 7 (1925)

From the January 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 7
It will be noted that in this sketch we have taken a few examples from past history to show how our theory of historical development fits the facts. But it equally applies to the history of our own times. For, manifold though the changes are that economic development has brought into being, the foundation of human society is still an economic one; only man’s way of dealing with the fact has changed. The production and distribution of wealth is still of primary importance to human society Hence the changes that have occurred in recent years in the means of wealth production and distribution can be said to be the underlying cause of many modern historical events. The late European War is one outstanding example. Unlike the small, self-supporting nations of feudal times, the leading nations of to-day are more or less politically and economically interwoven with each other. Particularly all countries are more economically interdependent than, say, a hundred years ago. Thus a general economic development in one country will make its effects felt nearly the world over. So vast had been the economic development of Germany from the time of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, up to a few years prior to 1914, that the German ruling class becoming a standing menace to the interests of the ruling class of this and other countries. The war was the direct outcome. Of course, the usual “lofty ideals" were paraded by the rival groups of capitalists as one means of urging the workers on to the slaughter. But whilst Great Britain entered the war on the plea of “ the defence of small nations,” the real reason for her entry was the desire to crush a serious commercial rival, and thus retain for herself a large control of the world’s markets. And similar motives actuated all the countries who participated in that “holiest of holy wars.” That the underlying cause of the war was an economic one, and not the so-called racial differences as was said during the war is now more or less openly admitted by all. 

In conclusion. 
Some years ago Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue, in explaining the “Historical Method of Marx,” well said, that in formulating that method Marx had placed at our disposal a “tool,” “an instrument of research.” The need for the use of that tool still awaits recognition by the great bulk of the working class, for it is in the hands of the workers that it will prove most useful for the progress of human society. In other words, besides being an instrument of historical research it is an instrument of their emancipation from wage slavery. Besides providing them with the understanding of the rise of mankind from their low beginnings in savagery up to our own civilisation, the rise of class society, slavery and the State, our view of historical development provides an understanding of the basis and movement of modern society. The conditions engendered in capitalist society already indicate the form of the society of the future. Social ownership and control of the resources of wealth production and distribution is pointed to as the next stage in social evolution. Let the workers then grasp a knowledge of the materialist conception of history. They will then use that knowledge in harmony with that economic development that has, in the main, made possible their freedom from capitalist domination. They will change the form of society in harmony with their requirements by establishing Socialism. With that accomplished the economic forces of society “which have hitherto ruled man ” will become more and more consciously under the control of mankind. “Only from that time,” says Engels, “will man himself more and more consciously make his own history—only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”
Robert Reynolds

A Brief Sketch of the Materialist Conception of History - Part 6 (1924)

From the December 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 6
Since the whole history of the State shows that the ruling class of any given period use the State machinery as a means of safeguarding their material interests, to the detriment of the subject class, the struggle of the classes necessarily takes the form of a political struggle—a struggle for the control of the means of life through the control of the State. Only by this means is a ruling class to be dislodged from power, and a new form of society established. Revolution, then, in a society comprising different classes, is an essential part of the process of social change; it is inevitably implied in the evolution of the tools of wealth production and distribution, and the need for revolution arises when a certain stage in economic development is reached. The revolution has to be carried out by the rising subject class in order that old and obsolete social institutions which do not conform to the requirements of that class may be destroyed.

It will be gathered from what we have said that the class struggle has a materialistic basis. But this is often obscured in great historical events by the “idealism" displayed in the struggles. The abstract ideas of justice, freedom, humanity, etc., have at all times been invoked as weapons in the struggles. So much so, in fact, that many who have looked back upon past history have regarded the “idealism" as though it were independent of material causes. There could be no greater mistake. To take the French Revolution of 1789 as an example. That revolution was in reality the result of a struggle between the ruling feudal nobility and clergy and the then rising capitalist class. In that struggle for power the rising capitalist class, who saw in the domination of the nobility the means of hindering their advancement, found it necessary to seek the support of the peasants and propertyless workers of France. All sorts of promises were made to obtain that support. Since the peasants and workers were likewise groaning under the tyranny of feudal rule, the promises made, together with the great rallying cry of the bourgeoisie for “ Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity," met with response from the “lower orders.” But the slogan of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” turned out to be no more than a reflection of the desired political and social tights of the bourgeoisie. As far as the peasants and proletarians were concerned, they had merely assisted in substituting one set of rulers for another.

So we could continue, in speaking of other revolutions, to point out that, although disguised by religious or secular idealism, the struggles have been between classes for social supremacy. Whilst the class struggles of the past have resulted in the overthrow of one class by another, and thus class society has been perpetuated, the modern class struggle must of necessity end in the abolition of classes. Social development has so simplified the class divisions in modern society that now only two classes face each other in society, with only one class needing emancipation—the working class. With the triumph of the working class, the slave class of to-day, society will witness the winding up of class society and human slavery.

Let us now sum up our sketch of that theory of history formulated by Marx, Engels, and Morgan. We have seen that the materialist conception of history regards the changes that have taken place in the forms of Society as being mainly caused by the changes in the means of wealth production and distribution. Or as Morgan would say, the upward march of mankind is largely to be explained by “their successive arts of subsistence."

We have also seen that these economic changes, though brought into existence by man himself acting upon his natural surroundings, so alter the conditions of human existence, that mankind are more or less compelled to shape their mode of living accordingly. Further, we have pointed out that our view of historical development is not so one-sided as to exclude from human history every other factor than the economic one. Man's ideas and ideals, his geographical and climatic conditions, are all embraced by our conception of history, and placed in their true position. The influence of ideas in historical development has engaged most of our attention in this sketch, for the reason that, it is upon that side of our theory that most criticism has been levelled. Since the influence of geography and climate has only been implied by us here and there, it may prove useful if we have a few words to say about these before concluding; if only to show that Marx was not unaware of their influence on human society. Whilst we assert that the economic development is the motive force behind social change we are, at the same time fully aware that geographical and climatic conditions form part of the background, so to speak through which many of man’s technical inventions have taken form. Thus the needs for making fire, clothes and shelter must have arisen when our primitive ancestors emerged from the tropical or sub-tropical forests on to the open plains, where they were more at the mercy of climatic conditions. Hence the invention of the crude technical appliances of that time to overcome the climatic conditions. But even when we reach more modern times, when man had enormously increased his hold upon natural forces, we observe the influence of geography and climate. In dealing with the question of the physical conditions more or less essential to the capitalist form of society in its early stages, Marx, in the following lengthy but luminous passage, says :—
     Capitalist production once assumed, then, all other circumstances remaining the same, and given the length of the working day, the quantity of surplus-labour will vary with the physical conditions of labour, especially with the fertility of the soil. But it by no means follows from this that the most fruitful soil is the most fitted for the growth of the capitalist mode of production. This mode is based on the dominion of man over Nature. Where Nature is too lavish, she “keeps him in hand, like a child in leading-strings.” She does not impose upon him any necessity to develop himself. It is not the Tropics with their luxuriant vegetation, but the temperate zone, that is the mother country of capital. It is not the mere fertility of the soil, but the differentiation of the soil, the variety of its natural products, the changes of the seasons, which form the physical basis for the social division of labour, and which by changes in the natural surroundings, spur man on to the multiplication of his wants, his capabilities, his means and modes of labour. (“Capital,” Vol. 1, page 522.)
However, as previously indicated, the influence of geography and climate, important as they are in the study of the make up of human society, recedes in importance as economic development advances.
Robert Reynolds
(To be continued.)

Sunday, March 18, 2018

In Search of Populism (2018)

From the March 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
So-called populist movements are on the rise, from the US to Turkey. But this prompts the question: is ‘populist’ just a label people attach to views they dislike, or does it reflect a consistent political position?
Some definitions of populism may make it sound reasonably attractive, such as, ‘A political doctrine or philosophy that proposes that the rights and powers of ordinary people are exploited by a privileged elite, and supports their struggle to overcome this’ (Wiktionary). But the term is subject to various interpretations, and it can be very hard to pin down what if anything unites those termed populists.
One account of populism is by Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser in 'Populism: a Very Short Introduction', where they describe it as ‘thin-centered’, meaning that it is not by itself a complete political position. Rather, it has to be combined with other ideas, which may include nationalism or agrarianism, and even racism. Populists, then, can support a range of different policies and proposals.
Another useful contribution is Jan-Werner Müller’s book 'What Is Populism?'. His main argument is that criticising and opposing elites is part of populism, but that there are other essential aspects too. Specifically, populists are anti-pluralist in that they believe that only they represent the people, with their opponents being ‘enemies of the people’. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán said earlier this year that ‘2018 will be the year of the restoration of the will of the people in Europe’, and of course only he and his party know what that will amounts to.
Moreover, 'the people’ here does not mean the whole population or even the non-elite majority of the population. Rather, only some people really count as ‘the people’ (sometimes qualified as ‘the common people’ or ‘the pure people’). Thus Nigel Farage claimed that the Brexit vote represented a ‘victory for real people’, so excluding from this category those who voted to remain in the EU. Müller gives a 2016 quote from Donald Trump that is bizarre even by his standards: ‘the only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything.’ Moreover, many – though not all – populist movements see the pure people (of whatever nationality) as being white and indigenous, with immigrants excluded. And an ‘underclass’ of unemployed or benefits recipients may be regarded as not part of the real people either.
Other typical characteristics of populist parties that Müller identifies include: belief in conspiracy theories, with the elite conspiring in various ways against the people and their true representatives; being internally monolithic, with the general membership subordinate to a single leader; seeing enemies everywhere and still acting like victims even when in office. Not all such parties will adopt all of these, however.
The main text of his book was written before Trump’s election as US President, but he is still able to say quite a bit about how populists behave when in charge of government, on the basis of developments in Hungary, Poland and Turkey. One point is that they tend to ‘occupy’ the state, which might mean appointing their supporters to supposedly non-partisan civil service positions, making the court system far more responsive to government policies, and capturing institutions that oversee the media. This is usually done quite openly and brazenly, rather than in the more subtle way that traditional parties might operate. In Hungary Orbán argued that anyone who criticised the government was in effect criticising the Hungarian people, who had elected it. In Venezuela Hugo Chávez more or less set up his own ruling elite, in the name of the ‘Bolivarian revolution’.
Another important issue, one not really dealt with by Müller, is just who are the elites that populists attack. It is primarily the political establishment, career politicians who are often viewed as corrupt and far removed from the concerns of hardworking people. But it rarely extends to the capitalist class and the millionaire and billionaire members of the one percent. Some American workers have described Trump as ‘one of us’, because he is not part of the political elite, but this of course overlooks the fact that he is a capitalist and does not share the interests of US workers.
This issue of the status and make-up of the elite is discussed more fully by Mudde and Rovira. They note that there are a number of other examples of populist leaders who have been capitalists, such as Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Ross Perot in the US in the 1990s. But they present themselves as political outsiders, as honest individuals who have made their fortune despite the corrupt politicians and so are part of ‘the people’, not part of the despised elite. Some populists in the US distinguish between Main Street and Wall Street, but without making a real distinction between workers and capitalists.
As noted, the ‘thin-centered’ nature of populism means that it can form part of a range of views. It is mostly coupled with various right-wing positions, as with UKIP and the Tea Party in the US. In France the Front National has succeeded in bringing issues such as immigration and ‘law and order’ onto the political agenda; it is extremely centralised, and so differs from the Tea Party, which was more of a social movement. On the left, Occupy Wall Street was also a social movement, but it has never really gone beyond this. Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece are other examples of left-wing anti-austerity populist parties.
The Wiktionary definition quoted earlier illustrates the point that populism tends to have a far more positive image in the US than in Europe. This is largely due to the history of the People’s Party, also known as the Populists, who had quite an impact in the 1890s; their candidate gained over a million votes in the 1892 presidential election. Their politics involved supporting farmers, in particular against the banks and railway companies who charged high rates for loans and transport, and advocated government control of railways and the telephone system. The party faded after it merged with the Democrats in 1896, but some of its policies were adopted by the major parties. Müller, however, claims that the People’s Party was in fact not populist, apparently because they did not really claim to stand for ‘the people’.
Given the range of positions taken up by populists, and the fact that populism is  an attitude as much as a real political stance, it can clearly be difficult to provide a simple discussion of populists’ views. It might be said that, while much else they say is objectionable, they at least offer some critique of a society divided into an elite (however defined) and the rest of the population, and that workers who are contented with their lot do not support populist parties and movements. They must in some sense be angry and resentful, even if they choose the wrong targets as the focus of their anger. But crucially, supporters of populism have no conception of the nature of capitalism and of their own status as exploited workers. Vague appeals to some variation of ‘the people’ are no substitute for genuine class consciousness, for seeing those forced to sell their labour power as a class with a shared interest in getting rid of the wages and profit system.
Left-wing variants of populism are little different: in power, Syriza in Greece was unable to do much to challenge the socioeconomic system they encountered. The Occupy movement in the US has been described as ‘a genuine grassroots movement for economic justice’ (David Graeber: 'The Democracy Project'), but in practice it had few clear demands and never formulated a real picture of a future society that went beyond capitalism. Doing so needs much more than simply objecting to inequalities of power and wealth: it needs a realisation of the class basis of capitalism and of what a class-free society can be like.
Paul Bennett

A Brief Sketch of the Materialist Conception of History - Part 5 (1924)

From the November 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 5
Though slavery, as we have pointed out, was a necessary step in the development of human society, it by no means follows that it is necessary to society for all time. Slavery, or any other feature of society which may be necessary under certain historical conditions, may, and often does, become unnecessary when those conditions have passed away. This, to some extent, will explain the changes in the forms of slavery that have appeared throughout the history of class society. The chattel slavery of ancient Greece and Rome, when it no longer conformed to the requirements of society as determined in the main by economic development, was superseded by the serfdom of the middle ages, and this in turn was superseded by the wage slavery of present-day society.

So sure as slavery has its origin in the limited powers of wealth production of earlier times, and served to free a section of society to devote their time to the common business of society, which includes “the organisation of labour, the business of government, the administration of justice, art, science, etc.," it can be said to be necessary for human development. But when the means and methods of wealth production reach the stage of development of to-day, class society, with its slavery, ceases to be necessary to social advancement. In fact, it becomes a hindrance to social development. But this brings us to the question of what is useful or necessary in class society. No ruling class gives up its power of domination over the rest of society by virtue of the effects of their domination upon society, nor even for the purpose of social development. The question of whether a particular ruling class, or any of those social institutions which serve its purpose, is useful or necessary, has to be viewed relatively. What a ruling class may consider as useful or necessary may be, and generally is in the ultimate, considered by the rest of society as being useless and unnecessary. This is because the different material interests of the classes inevitably give rise to different ideas of social institutions. A ruling class will cling on to its power like grim death, and will either believe, or pretend to believe, that all that is associated with its domination is for the good of humanity as a whole. On the other hand, the rest of society must sooner or later feel the effects of domination, which involves their exploitation, and thus regard things from a different standpoint. The whole question becomes one of a contest for supremacy, which culminates in a social revolution. The statement of Marx that force is the midwife of the old society which is pregnant with the new can be regarded as a historical axiom which tells us much more than at first meets the eye. It implies that, though political force is employed in the formation of a new form of society, it can only be used for that purpose when any given form of society has reached a certain stage of economic development, when it “becomes pregnant with the new.” And this is a fact which has been impressed upon the minds of many who have taken part in movements for the establishment of a new form of society before the conditions were ripe. Further, this statement of Marx regarding class society implies that revolution is a necessary part of the whole process of evolution, and is a standing challenge to those who deny the necessity of revolution as a means of changing the form of society. A society does not change from one form to another automatically, nor do we discover any evidence of an existing ruling class forming a new form of society. As the economic development proceeds apace, ever bringing in its train fresh conditions, the more does any ruling class mould, or endeavour to mould, its domination in harmony with those conditions. The form of society is kept intact, even though concessions are made to the rest of society. The economic changes, with the changes in laws that are made from time to time by a ruling class, come within the process of evolution. But the revolution, the change in the entire form of society, must necessarily be carried out through a conflict between the classes—the dominant class using its power to retain its hold upon society, and the class seeking power endeavouring to get it by getting control of the State machinery held by the ruling class. The control of the State leads to the control of society. For it must be understood that the State, although signifying to the popular mind the whole of the people, is in reality an organ of class rule.

In the early stages of class society it became necessary to have an institution to deal with the conflicts arising from the exploitation of one class by another. As wealth accumulated on the one side and misery and wretchedness on the other, the more was society disturbed by internal conflicts. Not only this, but the wealth of individuals in that society became the cause of a systematic plundering by outside sources. Consequently, there arose the necessity for the formation of an institution which would not only protect the privately owned wealth, but would also endow that wealth “with the universal sanction of society.” “And this institution was found,” says Engels. “The State arose.” Arising from the necessity of conserving the wealth of individuals forming a class by themselves, and the desire of these to keep in check the rest of society, the State, differing in form from that of earlier times, has retained its essential character throughout, that is, a means of domination.

As Engels points out:—
   “The antique state was, therefore, the state of the slave-owners for the purpose of holding the slaves in check. The feudal state was the organ of the nobility for the suppression, of the serfs and dependent farmers. The modern representative state is the tool of the capitalist exploiters of wage labour.”—(“Origin of the Family,” page 209).
Now, as most people are aware, the State not only consists of the machinery for making laws, it also consists of the means of enforcing the observance of those laws. Obviously, there would be little use of making laws in a society where class divisions prompt people to act in defiance of them, unless some means existed to enforce action in line with the laws. The means existing for this purpose, although covered by a “code of legality,” are the armed forces.
Robert Reynolds
(To be continued.)

Link to Part 6.

A Brief Sketch of the Materialist Conception of History - Part 4 (1924)

From the October 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Link to Part 3.

Part 4
Before proceeding to touch upon the question of class struggles as a feature of historical development, we must point out to new students of our theory of history the necessity of them holding in mind a few important points hitherto not mentioned in this sketch. It is the nature of the Socialist philosophy, based upon the firm ground of positive science, to be thoroughly comprehensive. Hence the historical aspect of that philosophy, which we are here considering, embraces the findings of science as generally applied to man. Thus all ideas concerning the duration of man’s existence upon the earth which are derived from Biblical teachings, must be put on one side as being contrary to facts.

Generally speaking, until the early part of the 19th century the idea that man was created some 6,000 years ago by a supernatural power held undisputed sway over the minds of the great bulk of the people. So certain was the idea of creation held to be true that one eminent divine, Dr. Lightfoot, at one time Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, went so far as to fix the “precise date” of man’s creation. According to him man was created on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C. at 9 o’clock in the morning. A similar utterance nowadays might impel rude people to call him Dr. Lighthead. As the historian, Buckle, satirically remarked when another eminent divine fixed the “date” of Noah’s entry into the Ark, “theologians have always been remarkable for the exactness of their knowledge on subjects respecting which nothing is known.” Nowadays, of course, these ideas are no longer considered as serious contributions to the study of man and his history. The principle of evolution has largely superseded the dogmas of theology, and it is more and more becoming acknowledged, even by theologians themselves, that man is a product of a process of evolution from lower forms of life—“a process of evolution going on through millions of years.” Hence the life history of the human race cannot be confined within the narrow limits of the more or less orthodox historians, who would lead us to believe that the history of Britain began with the invasion of the Romans, or that the history of America began with the arrival of the Puritan fathers from England.

The same method of enquiry which is employed in natural history, as far as origins are concerned, must be employed in human history, as it has been during the last hundred years with great success. The labours of many investigators into human origins have brought to light a mass of evidence showing that, not for 6,000 years, but for more than 100,000 years have human beings inhabited the earth. The view expressed by Lewis Henry Morgan that the existence of mankind extends backwards immeasurably and loses itself in a vast and profound antiquity, is shared by practically all the scientists who have investigated the history of mankind. Though opinions vary among geologists, those who study the general structure of the earth, and among anthropologists, those who study the physical and certain aspects of the social history of man, concerning the extent of human existence, it is generally agreed that any estimate which falls short of 100,000 years may be ignored.

History as commonly understood merely refers to the period of human existence during which we have written records of . human activities, but the term "pre-historic” has now become quite common, and is generally applied to that vast period of man’s existence about which the ordinary written records tell us nothing.

The evidence of man’s antiquity is not merely confined to the discoveries of human skulls, but is also to be gathered from the relics and tools unearthed from ancient river-beds, limestone caverns, lake bottoms, rude sepulchres and stone structures in many parts of the world.

As Paul Lafargue points out in his “Evolution of Property” the fact of man being a tool-making animal, "the discovery of a stone implement in a cavern or geological stratum is proof as positive of the presence of a human being as the human skeleton itself."

Throughout the immense period of time that men have roamed “our planet," they have pushed forward in their conquest of the forces of nature unaided by any power other than that of their own mental and physical abilities. No supernatural power has guided the footsteps of mankind in their long and painful journey from savagery to civilisation. Thus must working-class students look to the doings and surroundings of man alone in order to understand the movements of history.

And now about the struggle of classes. The Socialist is often reproached for declaring the existence of the class struggle as though he created the struggle. As well might our opponents reproach Copernicus for the earth’s motion round the sun, or Sir Isaac Newton for the law of gravitation. The Socialist does not create the struggle, he but points to its existence and to the lessons to be learned therefrom. The class struggle arises from the private or class-ownership of the means .of living, the land and the other resources of wealth production and distribution. Private property in the means of life necessarily implies a social system composed of masters and slaves, the former living on the proceeds of the exploitation of the latter.

Now how did these different social classes come into existence? It was an idea of some of the 18th-century philosophers that human society was held together by some sort of contract which was originally entered into between those who governed and those who were governed, but this idea is not a correct one, as the existence of an armed force in all class societies throughout history bears ample testimony.

Nor does the so-called “physiological differences,” as suggested by certain biologists, account for class distinctions. Class distinctions between men are to be found, not by making physiological comparisons between human beings, but in the way in which they get their living. “A beggar,” says Untermann “has the same physiological organisation as a king.” Class differences are not biological, they are fundamentally economic in character. If natural differences accounted for class distinctions, class societies would meet us in every phase of human history, and such is not the case.

Morgan points out that, assuming 100,000 years to be the extent of man’s existence upon the earth, something like 95 thousand years of this period must have been spent by mankind under savagery and barbarism. Now since classes did not arise until the higher stage of barbarism, it will be gathered that classless society existed for by far the greater portion of the period of human existence. As Marx observes on the questions of classes in modern society :
   One thing, however, is clear, nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economical revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.—(Capital, pp. 147-148.)
Now the use of private property in the means of life did not take place as a result of a process of reasoning on the part of human beings, that is to say, men did not debate the question as to whether they would establish the institution of private property. In fact, much historical evidence exists to show that strenuous efforts were made by early man to prevent the break up of their communal institutions. Private property worked its way into the conditions of human existence by way of necessity, and had to be adopted by mankind as a means of their social advancement. The rise of classes, with their conflicting interests and struggles, is to be traced to the economic development we have mentioned, namely, the development of the tools of wealth production, aided by certain discoveries.

Whilst the productive powers of primitive society yielded no more wealth than was required for mere existence, all members of that society who were able would be compelled to devote the whole of their time in producing the wherewithal to live. "No idlers can be maintained at the cost of society.” But when the.productive powers of society increased to the extent that a surplus above that which is necessary for maintenance is produced, a change in social relations is made possible. The path is opened for the formation of distinct social classes. We cannot here enter into the question of the many conditions contributing to the rise of class society, as our main theme concerns the main factor of historical development. Only a few historical examples can be given by way of showing the truth of our theory of history, and in giving these examples it must be understood that they are taken from the Eastern part of the world, called the Old World, where, with certain natural advantages, the course of economic development first facilitated the rise of private property. The domestication of animals, unquestionably one of the great discoveries of the world, appears to have been one of the main contributions to the growth of private property in the means of life.

As the number of domesticated animals grew the more did it become necessary to find grounds for them to graze upon. Consequently, from taming and rearing animals, men were sooner or later compelled to turn their attention to agricultural pursuits, and to give up their habits of roaming from place to place and settle down to a more or less fixed habitation. Further, the division of labour in tribal society, hitherto confined to the sexes, the men engaged in war, hunting, fishing and the production of the raw materials for these occupations, whilst the women were in charge of the household, and cooked, sewed and weaved, was now extended to men themselves. Different professions or trades arose within the tribal organisation, and consequent upon the increase of wealth production which followed, the more did wealth fall into the possession of certain families within the tribe, which in turn created the desire for more wealth. But this could only be obtained by the employment of more labour power, and to get this was not possible within the tribe itself. The equality which prevailed under the conditions of life of tribal communism did not allow of men being pressed into the service of others. The required labour power had to be introduced from outside the tribal organisation. The solution to the problem of finding this labour power was found in war. It must be noted that tribal man did not extend the same feeling of comradeship to the members of other tribes as he did to those of his own tribe. For other tribes were regarded as enemies, and theoretically as well as practically every tribe was at war with other tribes, as in our own times people of other nations are regarded with suspicion, as though they are destined to endanger our existence.

Hitherto wars had been carried on between neighbouring tribes largely on account of the scarcity of food. In fact, so precarious were the conditions of human existence that cannibalism was often resorted to as a means of averting starvation.

A tribe which possessed a good hunting territory was at all times subject to attack from those tribes in a less fortunate position. But the all-round progress made in cattle raising and agriculture, which was later facilitated by the production of iron, altered all this. Wars between tribes were now undertaken with other objects in view. The captured enemies, instead of being killed and eaten as formerly, were now pressed into the service of their conquerors by being set to work in the interests of the latter; in other words, they were enslaved. Says Engels in his work, “The Origin of the Family” :—
  Under the given historical conditions, the first great division of social labour, by increasing the productivity of labour, adding to the wealth, and enlarging the field of productivity, necessarily carried slavery in its wake. Out of the first great division of social labour arose the first great division of society into two classes: masters and servants, exploiters and exploited.
From this time onwards down to the present day the evolution of society has produced different ruling and subject classes, slavery, though different in degree from that of earlier times, still exists as a feature of human society. For, slavery it must be understood, does not merely mean an intensified form of work, which is the popular notion, slavery is political and economic subjection—political in the sense that an armed force. exists to conserve the monopoly of the wealth produced by and stolen from the slave class, and economic in that the slave class is divorced from the means of life. The question of whether the work of the slaves is laborious or otherwise is irrelevant to the real meaning of slavery. As common experience shows, the vast resources of wealth production in modern society are privately owned, the owners of these taking no part in wealth production, yet enjoying the wealth produced by those who have to seek their permission in order to live, which is the very essence of slavery.

However, what is important for the working-class student of history to note is that, class society with its consequent enslavement of the wealth producers is the result of economic development, and further that it was when first established, a step forward in the advancement of human society.

"We must not forget,” says Engels, in his work, "Anti-Duhring,” "that our entire economic, political and intellectual development has its foundations in a state of society in which slavery was regarded universally as necessary. In this sense we may say that without the ancient slavery there would have been no modern Socialism.”

What is also of importance is that the use of force was required to establish class society, as the use of force has been necessary to its existence ever since. "Force,” says Marx, "is the midwife of the old society pregnant with the new.”
Robert Reynolds
(To be continued.)

A Brief Sketch of the Materialist Conception of History - Part 3 (1924)

From the September 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Part 3
(Continued from June S.S.)

The somewhat lengthy quotation from Marx’s "Capital” together with one taken from "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” which were given in the previous article, show how utterly false is the view that Marx took no account of ideas as a factor in social change. Whilst we have no desire to multiply examples, we think it necessary to give one more quotation upon this point.

In the form of an appendix to Engels' work on Feuerbach, there are several extracts taken from the writings of Marx concerning the materialistic philosophy of Feuerbach and others. In one of these extracts Marx says:—
   "The materialistic doctrine that men are the products of conditions and education—different men, therefore, the products of other conditions and changed education—forgets that circumstances may be altered by men and that the educator has himself to be educated.”
So we could continue to pile up the evidence from the writings of both Marx and Engels to prove how they realised and asserted the importance of man’s ideas as an active participant in historical development.

Any theory of history which excluded man’s ideas from the part they play in social development would scarcely deserve serious consideration. For, in grappling with the forces of nature to sustain himself "man makes his own history” inasmuch as the, will to live spurs him on to devise ways and means of subduing his natural surroundings to meet his needs and desires.

As we have already indicated, the way in which man moulds his environment in harmony with his requirements is by the making and using of tools, and this fact alone implies that man applies his intelligence to his surroundings.

The historical development of human society is not to be understood as though it were an automatic process in which human action plays no part, for historical development can only take place through human actions, and only from this point of view is our theory of history to be understood.

Our view of historical development, instead of implying fatalism, implies a scientific determinism which sees the principle of causation, as it applies throughout nature, applying to human thought and conduct — which in turn is by no means passive in historical happenings.

Not only avowed opponents have interpreted the materialist conception of history as though it regarded men like so many "marionettes, whose threads are held and moved no longer by Providence but by’ economic categories,” but also many who have styled themselves "Marxists” have done likewise. The writer has heard it said by certain "Marxists” who, under the impression that they are interpreting the materialist conception aright, that economic development alone would suffice to effect the change in the form of society from the Capitalist to the Socialist form. That whether we desired it or not Socialism would emerge through economic development quite independently of our action.

Like the celebrated gentleman who exchanged the errors of the Church of Rome for those of the Church of England, such people are, instead of worshipping God, worshipping "economic development” without understanding its meaning.

Obviously, whether we view history from the point of view of economic development alone, or from the standpoint of the actual change in .the form of society, we must logically view it as a process wherein the human mind has, in a certain sense, a positive influence. And here a word about mind. "Man,” says Dietzgen, "does not think originally because he wants to, but because he must,” but though Dietzgen is here speaking of ideas that are formed instinctively, involuntarily, nevertheless it is equally true of ideas that are formed consciously. For, in order to live, man must apply his mind in various directions as the problems of his surroundings confront him.

When we speak of mind we have not the same idea in view as that of the theologians and mystics of all shades of thought, who would have us believe that mind is "a thing in itself ” which can exist apart from the body. Mind apart from body nobody ever saw or is ever likely to see. “Mind” is a term used to denote the working process of the brain—the sum-total of ideas as they are generated and combined in the brain—through the medium of our sense organs—the organs of touch, taste, hearing, smell and sight. Mind, therefore, is not a thing in the sense that it can be grasped by the hand or be seen by the aid of a microscope, but is, as indicated above, an expression or manifestation of generalised ideas which arise from the impressions made upon the brain by “ the realities of the outer world.” 

The materialist view of mind is a determinist view, which sees, in line with the findings of modern psychology, “that all mental phenomena are causally dependent upon physical phenomena.” Ideas do not descend upon us from heaven, or arise in our heads independently of material causes, but are the result of past and present material conditions. Thus it will be gathered that the “mind” is a reflector, and since the things reflected are those of man’s environment, the nature or character of .the environment determines our ideas.

As the environment undergoes change, through the development of tools, fresh conditions are created which form the material for fresh ideas, and with the increasing complexity of the environment newer wants and desires emerge as a consequence. Thus it is that man is more or less compelled to turn his mind in the direction of inventing and improving the tools of production. It is then the changes in the environment wrought by the changes in the methods employed to procure the means of living which form the driving force behind the changes in ideas. The truth of the dependence of the changes in ideas upon external forces may be seen in the fact of the tendency of ideas to remain stationary as in the case of a slowly developing environment, and in the case of tradition. The view has been put in another way as follows: - 
  Progress must not be looked upon as something immanent in man. What is immanent in man is rather a tremendous mental laziness which confronts all novelty with hostility. In order to conquer this inherent laziness, something from without must enter into him which shall draw him forcibly out of his customary existence, and this something is nothing supernatural but quite palpable—it is nothing else but a forced or voluntary change of environment.”—(Muller-Lyer, History of Social Development.)
And a very superficial examination of society will show that changing economic forces so change the environment that they are the greatest factor in changing ideas.

So far we have emphasised the fact of human action along economic lines for the reason that economic needs are primary. Obviously, we must first satisfy these before we are able to turn our thought in other directions, the claims of the “lofty idealists” notwithstanding. And this applies not only to our individual existence, but also to the existence of human society as a whole. But though this is so, no Marxist would assert that the entire activities of mankind are to be explained on purely economic grounds.

“Nobody,” says Kautsky, “would declare the sexual passion to be an economic motive,” even though “the alteration in the annual number of marriages is called forth by changes in the economic situation.” All that Marx and Engels claimed for historical materialism was that the economic development is the dominant factor of historical development. “More than this,” says Engels, neither Marx nor I ever asserted.”

Engels has pointed out that Marx and he were partly responsible for some of their supporters laying more stress on the economic side than it deserved. But he explains that it was essential for Marx and himself to emphasise the economic factor in order to meet the attacks of their opponents who had disputed their view of history, and further, that they did not have the time, place or opportunity to let the other factors get their full recognition. The evidence for this explanation by Engels is to be found in the introduction to his work on “Feuerbach. The roots of the Socialist Philosophy.

So far we have omitted, for the purpose of simplification, one very important fact which our view of history reveals quite clearly from the facts of history itself, namely, that with the exception of that early stage of human society when a crude form of communism prevailed, the history of society is largely made up of a series of class struggles, based upon conflicting economic interests. Thus the upward, march of mankind from savagery to civilisation has not alone been composed of a struggle between man and external nature, but has also been composed of struggles between man and man carried on along lines of class interests. This aspect of the subject will be dealt with in the continuation of this sketch.
Robert Reynolds
(To be continued.)