Conservative Propaganda: Marx, Marxism and Genocide
The Russian Dictatorship
November 2017 saw the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik’s seizure of power in Petrograd. So began the tragic series of events which led to the introduction of a dictatorship over the working class by the Communist Party under Lenin and Trotsky and then the violent and ruthless dictatorship by Stalin throughout the whole of Russian society, with the imprisonment of political prisoners in gulags, the liquidation of kulaks, show trials of old Bolsheviks, war and genocide. And the Russian dictatorship went on for seventy-four years, undermining and distorting the ideas of Marx and exporting a political ideology to the world that confused the working class by in clearly understanding socialism as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Defenders of capitalism, in Europe and the US, pounced upon the rise and fall of the USSR as a propaganda coup and as a case for claiming the profit system, free trade and free markets as the only practical alternative to the failure of state capitalism. Workers were told that we had come to the “end of history” and free market capitalism was to last forever. Marx’s ideas of socialism were misleadingly identified with the totalitarian regime of the former Soviet Union and existing dictatorships today in countries such as China, North Korea and Cuba.
A typical example of this type of pro-capitalist politician, who uses the former USSR as a stick with which to beat Marx and socialists by, is the MEP, Daniel Hannan. In a recent article “100 Years and 100 million deaths later, Communism still has its converts, he wrote:
“In the crude mathematics of murder, communism must be reckoned the most lethal ideology ever devised. The Atlantic slave trade killed perhaps 10 million people, the Nazis 17 million – but the Communists killed 100 million, some shot into pits, some arrested at night, some starved as deliberate state policy” (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 29th October 2017).
Hannan then went on to link Marx with all the dictators of the 20th century claiming to be “Marxists”. He said that Marxist ideas could only be enforced in practice by police states which went on to kill, as Hannan claimed without reference or source, some “100 million people”. And in a final attack on Marx he stated that Marx became the thing Marx most despised - “the founder of a false religion”.
The crudity of Hannan’s propaganda against Marx and socialism is obvious in the last paragraph of his article where he attempts to link “Marx the prophet of genocide” to Jeremy Corbyn and his uncritical followers in Momentum. Truly, Conservatism is the lowest form of thought and the highest form of ignorance. Corbyn is not a student of Marx but a political leader who is well entrenched in the Labour Party traditions of nationalisation, state regulation of the economy, Keynesianism and other similar reforms. A socialist he is not.
There is nothing socialist in these policies although socialists point out that these reformist policies have not worked in the past and they will not work again in the future, even if implemented by a Corbyn-led government. The profit system can never be run in the interest of all the working class while capitalism’s laws, particularly the trade cycle, dash well-meaning reforms, making them either impossible to enact or having consequences not known to those proposing them in the first place. No government, for example, can anticipate an economic crisis and no government can prevent high periods of unemployment.
Marx and the “Marxists”
Marx cannot be linked to those who claim to be “Marxists” for a number of reasons. Marxism is an interrelated unity of three theories which stand or fall together; a theory of history, more popularly known as the materialist conception of history, a theory of value and a political concept of the class struggle. If these three theories are applied to the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba and North Korea these countries cannot be considered socialist or Marxist.
To begin with, the conditions were not right for Russia to establish socialism/communism in 1917. All Lenin and the Bolsheviks could do under the circumstances was to initiate a crude form of state capitalism which was forced to compete on the world market. In 1920, Lenin introduced anti-working class management techniques such as Taylorism under Trotsky’s “militarisation of labour”. And then there was the imposition of martial law in St Petersburg, Moscow and other cities in 1919 and 1920 to crush working-class strike action (The life and Death of Trade Unionism in Russia, 1917 – 1928, J. Sorenson, 2010).
The former USSR, like China and Cuba and North Korea today, had to retain, labour markets, employment, the rationing of the wages system and the class exploitation of the working class. Workers in the Soviet Union produced, what Marx called “surplus value”, a period of time in which workers worked for free for their employers. Surplus value is the origin of profit and the unearned income going to the industrialist, the landlord and the financier. And it was a principal theory of Marx that the establishment of socialism must be “the self-concious, independent movement of the immense majority” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO) not the political actions undertaken by conspiratorial and intellectual elites.
Marx was not the founder of a false religion. He would have said – pointing to Lenin’s state capitalism, secret police and attacks on the working class - that if this was “Marxism” then he was no Marxist.
Hannan and the British Empire
Hannan can write his dogmatic diatribes against Marx and socialism safely from the pages of the TELEGRAPH and DAILY MAIL. These two newspapers, although not alone in their anti-socialism, will publish any old rubbish to defend the interest of their employers and their class. Of course, Hannan conveniently leaves out of his account of genocide, the deaths of millions of people caused by the policies of the British Empire. Hannan supports the British Empire as a benign force for good and enthusiastically looks forward to Britain leaving the EU as an opportunity for forging a new post- Imperial power base on the global stage with the developed nations of the commonwealth – namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and possibly, South Africa.
As the journalist George Monbiot commented about conservatives such as Hannan:
What I find remarkable is not that they write such things, but that these distortions go almost unchallenged. The myths of empire are so well-established that we appear to blot out countervailing stories…, British imperialism emerges as no better and in some cases even worse than the imperialism practised by other nations. Yet the myth of the civilising mission remains untroubled by the evidence (“Deny British Empire’s Crimes? No we ignore them”, GUARDIAN 23rd April 2012).
And recently the INDEPENDENT usefully published an article by Samuel Osbourne (Tuesday 19th January 2016) giving five of the worst events in the British Empire.
First, the establishment of concentration camps during the Second Boer War (1899 -1902) where the British rounded up around a sixth of the Boer population – mainly women and children – and detained them in camps which were overcrowded and prone to outbreaks of disease, with little food for the detainees. Of the 107,000 people interned in the camp, 27, 927 Boers died, along with an unknown number of black Africans.
Second, the Amritsar massacre which took place on 13th April 1919, where a peaceful demonstration against British Colonial rule were blocked inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by Gurkha soldiers. Somewhere between 379 and 1,000 protesters were killed.
Third, Cyril Radcliffe, under Lord Mountbatten, drawing-up the border between India and the newly created state of Pakistan over the course of a single lunch. His imposed Partition uprooted over 10 million people, Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were forced to flee for their lives as the situation descended into violence with the consequence of over one million being killed in inter-communal massacres.
Fourth, the thousands of Kenyans mistreated, raped and tortured by the British during the Mau Mau uprisings (1951 – 60). Estimates of the deaths vary widely: historian David Anderson estimates there were 20,000 deaths, whereas Caroline Elkins believes up to 100,000 died.
Fifth, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while it was under the control of the British Empire, as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain as famine raged in India.
In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal. Talking about the Bengal famine in 1943, Churchill said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”
Samuel Osborne could have also added to his list the genocidal treatment of native peoples in North America and Australia, apartheid in what was once Rhodesia and South Africa, the legacy of divide and rule in Burma. the Irish Potato Famine (“THE IRISH FAMINE”, Colm Tóibín and Diarmaid Ferriter, 2002) and the British retribution towards Indians after the India Mutiny of 1857 (AMARESH MISRA: WAR OF CIVILISATION: INDIA AD 1857).
In his recent book, INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: WHAT THE BRITISH DID TO INDIA (2017), Shashi Tharoor highlights the deliberate de-industrialisation of India and the destruction of the cotton industry by the British whose only interest in introducing communication and transport systems like the railways was the interest of British capitalism not for the benefit of the indigenous population. And then there is Jon Wilson’s INDIA CONQUERED: BRITAIN'S RAJ AND THE CHAOS OF EMPIRE (2016). Wilson gives a scholarly account of how the British view of themselves as conquerors generated a racist delusion of “victor’s sovereignty”, an argument still fuelled by the current wave of empire nostalgia of whom Hannan is a principal advocate. When Hannan states that the British Empire was “benign” the reply should be “for whom>”?.
And lest we do not forget, there is Balfour’s 1917 Declaration in favour of a Jewish "national home" in what was known as Palestine whose legacy of hate, conflict and violence still continues to blight this region of the Middle East to this day. According to the historian Elizabeth Monroe: "measured by British interests alone, [the declaration was] one of the greatest mistakes in [its] imperial history” (BRITAIN'SMOMENT IN THE MIDDLE EAST, 1914 – 1971, 1981)
And here, then, in this nostalgia for Empire is Hannan’s Achilles heel. His remaining silent on the iniquities of the British Empire, most of which existed when there were Tory governments in power from the 19th century up to the Second World War , not only renders him hypocritical and insincere apologist for the plunder carried out by the British Empire but one of the last people who should throw stones at Marx’s and the case to establish socialism. His ignorance of Marx’s ideas and what socialism means is breath-taking in its stupidity and ignorance. For Marx’s ideas were ideas of freedom for the working-class majority from the exploitive, violent and anti-social forces of capitalism.
Capitalism and Genocide
The Twentieth Century was a century of genocide. This was the century of Passchendaele, Dresden, Nanking, Nagasaki and Rwanda; of the Final Solution, the Gulag, de-kulakisation, the Great Leap Forward, Year Zero and ethnic cleansing - names that stand for killings in the six and seven figures and for suffering beyond comprehension (Jonathan Glover: HUMANITY: A MORAL HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY). However, it was a century of capitalism - socialism. The socialism understood by Marx and the Socialist Party of Great Britain never existed. There was no country in the world where there was the abolition of buying and selling and the abolition of the wages system. All countries were capitalist and all engaged in the planning of war and the enactment of war against other countries over natural resources such as oil, trade routes and spheres of strategic importance. Nowhere in the world has ever yet established a society based on “the common ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth”, democratically controlled “by and in the interest of the whole community”.
How many people were actually killed during the Twentieth Century – a century of world capitalism - has never been rigorously estimated. Nevertheless, those killed in wars and conflict, those killed by preventable poverty and ill-heath, those who perished in famines, and those killed during employment through hazardous and dangerous work must be in the billions. Whatever the number, it is constantly rising, year after horrific year.
Hannan completely ignores the principled position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain who opposed the Bolshevik coup-d’etat, the actions of Lenin and Trotsky and the dictatorship of Stalin and his successors, right up to the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The SPGB are the true heirs of Marx’s revolutionary socialist ideas, not the straw “Marxists”, Hannan attacks in his article. Socialists agree with Marx that Socialism has to be established by a socialist majority, not by leaders. Socialism has to be “An association in which the free development of each is the free development of all” in which there is “From each according to ability to each according to need”. Such a world-wide system still awaits to be established.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.