How to End War: Protest or Establish Socialism
A peaceful uprising backed by the West in Syria in 2011 against President Bashar al-Assad, turned rapidly into a full-scale civil war. The conflict has left more than 400,000 people dead, devastated cities and drawn in other countries like Russia, Iran, Israel, France, the US and the UK to either protect or further their own interests in the region. The civil war has been particularly violent with the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, whole-sale destruction of cities and relentless violence towards civilians.
In April 2018 the US and its allies used missiles and rockets against Assad’s chemical facilities under the pretext of “moral outrage” for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian air force against civilians in Douma. The attacks were largely symbolic because there was no “regime change” nor did they force Assad to the negotiation table with the various anti-Assad groups many backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States. In fact, the attacks have only strengthened ties between Russia, Iran and Syria.
What of the opposition to the Syrian civil war in the UK? There was an immediate and predictable response from the Stop the War movement: a demonstration at Downing Street, 14 more elsewhere in the country and advice on their web site urging supporters to write to MPs to stop the missile attacks taking place. This is a futile and impotent political gesture which would not only be ignored by the government but showed no socialist understanding of the capitalist cause of war.
The Stop the War movement, although it condemns Russia and Iraq, weights its criticism of the conflict in Syria against the US and the UK for invading Iraq in 2003. This might be true but they demonstrate against the US and the UK but never against Russia and Syria. In short, they take sides. The demonstrations were under the banner ‘Trump and May: No More Bombs on Syria’. The names of Assad and Putin were conspicuous by their absence.
The Stop the War Coalition sees the US as the villain of the piece and portrays its ambitions of global plunder and world domination as though the US has a monopoly over war, conflict and destruction. Putin’s annexation of the Crimea did not bother the leadership of Stop the War Coalition but US imperialism and Trump’s decision to order military strikes against Syria has led to call for demonstrations and political action.
The Stop the War conveniently forgets that the capitalist class of all the nation states in the world need to be able to enforce and defend its interests in the world.
This means that capitalist governments must keep exclusive control and use of the forces of the state to pursue its interests alone. The political machinery of government remains in the hands of a tiny minority so that it can be exercised to enforce class exploitation at home and to plunder land, populations and resources of their rivals abroad. The US does not have a monopoly in geo-political war and violence. Here is Stop the War’s message to the working class:
Please ask your MP to support the campaign against Trump and May's plans for escalation of the war in Syria. Military interventions from external powers have failed to bring an end to the war. The only solution in Syria is a ceasefire on all sides and a political settlement.
While countries are pursuing their interests in the region “a ceasefire on all sides and a political settlement” is remote. And MPs will support the airstrikes if they believe it is in the interest of the UK not what their constituents might or might not think.
Unlike the Stop the War Coalition, socialists point out to the working class that wars and conflicts are a direct result of global capitalism. A political settlement in Syria would only be a settlement in capitalist terms. A political settlement would not benefit the working class in the region. The only solution to end all wars is the one consistently put by the Socialist Party of Great Britain - to end the cause of war first requires the working class to abolish capitalism.
The Stop the War Coalition does not exist for this purpose and are as politically ineffectual as CND before them. For decades CND organised protests for the abolition of nuclear weapons and were not successful. All the leading capitalist countries still have nuclear weapons and North Korea has just joined the club.
The Stop the War does not explain why wars occur in capitalism. They do not criticise the existence of nation states (except the present territorial contours of Israel’s borders). There is no socialist critique of war and there is no socialist conclusion that to end war a world-wide socialist majority first has to end capitalism.
Socialists do not take sides in disputes between nation states and their respective capitalist class. We oppose world capitalism and we struggle to replace the exploitive profit system with world socialism by persuading men and women of the working class to join us. Demonstrations and writing letters to MPs will not end war.
While capitalism exists and rival nation states compete over resources like oil, water and gas, spheres of strategic influence and pipelines and trade routes there will be death, destruction and misery afflicting one generation of workers after the other.
‘The Laws of War are Enveloped in Hypocrisy’
The “moral outrage” of the US, France and the UK against the alleged use of chlorine gas by the Assad regime against civilians fails to mask the double standards displayed by the allies. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, says the deaths of civilians in Syria cannot be tolerated. Donald Trump, the US President states that military action must be taken against mass murderers of men, women and children, and nations should be judged by the friends or global company they keep.
Yet both the UK and the US are supporters of Saudi Arabia who is currently committing genocide in Yemen. Nothing is said by Trump or May about the Israeli army shooting unarmed civilians; a country that used white phosphorus in its assaults on Gaza.
There is some degree of reality about war outside socialist circles; and that is acknowledgement of the hypocrisy of those taking part. If there is hypocrisy and double standards from the governments of the US and UK, at least there is realism from some journalists.
First there is Robert Fisk who wrote in the INDEPENDENT: ... in our desire to concentrate minds on Syria, we’re not mentioning the Iran gassings...[F]or the precursors for the Iraqi gas came largely from the United States – one from New Jersey – ...Yet not a soul today is mentioning this terrible war (Iran versus Iraq), which was fought with our total acquiescence. It’s almost an “exclusive” to mention the conflict at all, so religiously have we forgotten it. As Theresa May gears up for war in Syria, we should remember what hypocrites we are about chemical warfare in the Middle East.
(INDEPENDENT, 12th April 2018)
Socialists do not forget capitalism’s wars. The protracted war between Iran and Iraq resulted in at least half a million casualties and several billion dollars’ worth of damages, but no real gains by either side. Started by Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein in September 1980, the war was marked by indiscriminate ballistic-missile attacks, extensive use of chemical weapons and attacks on third-country oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. The war lasted eight years until 1988 when the UN brokered a cease fire. The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was supported by the US.
And, second there is Simon Jenkins, no socialist, who wrote in the GUARDIAN:
“The 1997 world chemical weapons convention was an advance in defining “acceptable” forms of killing in war. Its defect was that small, poor countries had larger stockpiles. Nor could they see much distinction between their chlorine and sarin and NATO’s horrific cluster bombs and white phosphorous. Photographs of choking children make graphic television, but at least they might survive. We never see the body parts of those blasted to pieces by high-explosive missiles”.
And he went on to say:
“Inhumanity lies in the killing of any civilians in war. There is something peculiarly abhorrent in the targeting of civilian areas of suburban Damascus. But for all its denials the west does it too. Last summer, the monitor Airwars estimated that more than 8,000 civilians died in the fall of Mosul, mostly from inevitably indiscriminate Iraqi, American and British missiles. Even the Pentagon accepts that it has killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria. As the British commander Maj Gen Rupert Jones says, civilian deaths are “the price you pay” for fighting in cities. Assad would agree”.
And he concluded:
“The laws of war are enveloped in hypocrisy, largely because they are written by the winners. The US has still not signed the convention against delayed-action cluster bombs, one of the most immoral weapons ever devised. They went out of production only last year. Such weapons are still being used by the West’s Saudi allies in Yemen. This whole argument is not over morality, merely degrees of obscenity”.
(Only Assad’s Victory will End Syria’s Civil War. The West Can Do Nothing. GUARDIAN 10th April 2018)
War is indeed an obscenity. In war there are no 'Queensberry Rules' – for example, in World War One use of nerve agents and poison gas; in World War Two the actual use of atom bombs against civilian targets; Churchill considered using anthrax against German cities; the dam-busters - bombed a major dam causing massive flooding and loss of civilian life; Britain used incendiary bombs against civilian cities like Dresden which killed 25,000 people. But in Syria as in Iraq, the US long since stopped counting corpses: as Bob Dylan wrote in a 1963 protest song. “You don’t count the dead when god’s on your side”.
It is somewhat ironic that we are fast approaching the end of the centenary of the First World War which was supposed to be the “war that will end war”. Wars are inextricably bound up with capitalism and the competitive interests of nation states. It is no good looking at the United Nations. The UN is disunited around conflicting interests of its members. The UN can no more stop wars occurring than it can stop the tides. With respect to war, the United Nations has been a complete failure. This was predictable: as the SPGB pointed out, the League of Nations had also tried but failed to put a stop to wars.
And what of nuclear weapons? Apart from their explosive destructive power, are they not the ultimate chemical weapon that would kill vast number of people through radiation sickness and poison both land and sea for generations?
None of the countries with nuclear weapons want to sign the UN draft treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
In fact, Trump’s administration wants to strengthen and modernize the U.S. nuclear capabilities.
And note during the Iraq war, the US forces used DU - Depleted Uranium -i.e. radioactive materials which led to huge health problems, as the dust of the desert became radioactive. Oh, and the Vietnam War is largely remembered for the US forces' use of napalm and Agent Orange (dioxin) i.e. chemical warfare. There, too, the long-term after-effects have been horrific, as generations of Vietnamese children continue to be born with birth defects caused by dioxin.
When Trump expressed his shock, horror is either incredibly ignorant/naive or the ultimate in hypocrisy - both utterly contemptible. Whatever the 'rules' laid down in treaties or by the UN to end wars, the charters for these are always circumvented by states, whenever their 'national interest' calls for war. The US, France and the UK argued that they had to act against Syria because Russia had repeatedly exercised its right to veto thereby preventing them to act against Syria in the name of the UN. Russia has exercised its veto over Syria 14 times. This compares with the 42 times that the US has exercised its veto to protect Israel’s interests in the area.
So long as states compete over markets, raw materials and trade routes, capitalism will continue to be a danger to humanity! And as with this latest incident, military force can even be triggered cynically by self-serving politicians simply to divert media and public attention away from their domestic trials and tribulations or just to enhance their prestige and popularity.
Now, just as in the 1950s, these words by Leonid Andreyev, a Russian science fiction writer, still seem true, a sad commentary on capitalism as a system:
The crazy world, submissively bearing the burden of endless existence, now reddened with bloods, now bathed in tears, was marking its course through space with the groans of the sick, the hungry and the injured.
At time of war and conflict socialists reassert the 1914 Manifesto published at the outbreak of the First World War by the Socialist Party of Great Britain:
Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
Socialists are often confronted by this objection to socialism. Often an instant reaction to the Socialists’ argument for a cooperative peaceful society, based on common ownership and even democratic control, is met with instant and scornful rejection: “But what about human nature? You can’t change human nature!”
This argument is given academic cover by the likes of Stephen Pinker and others in academia: they will argue that people are, by nature, lazy, greedy, selfish, competitive, aggressive, warlike, religious and looking for leadership. And they claim that human nature cannot be changed.
Yet this is a bogus argument. To start with, it is based on the assumption that we can make claims about an “unchanging” human nature from the human behaviour we can observe. Human behaviours vary enormously and often quite fast: as people react to different circumstances, they change and adapt to these, and so their behaviour changes. If there is one thing we can say for sure about ‘human nature’ it is this: humans are immensely adaptable, able to live under very different conditions, and in many different social systems.
A second point which must be made is that humankind is a social species, whose whole life is predicated on the assumption of social cooperation. Even in our society, capitalism, which places such a premium on competition, it is always assumed that people will work together cooperatively. This happens as a matter of course in the family or household. It happens as motorists observe the rules of the road, stopping at traffic lights, keeping to the correct side of the road, waiting at junctions and roundabouts. And it also underlies the division of labour in the workplace – farms, factories, mines, offices, shops, schools, hospitals, the Stock Exchanges, etc. All of these would be unable to work without social cooperation.
So, if greed and selfishness were the governing principles of how all people operate, due to their ‘human nature’, it is hard to see how capitalism could work.
In capitalism competitive behaviour is actually encouraged: the idea of the individual entrepreneur making a fortune, or the development of a vast chain of stores from one small shop, is based on capitalist anti-social principles of ruthless competition. .
Whatever that unchanging ‘human nature’ may be, human behaviours do change according to circumstances, and often quite fast. For instance, in Victorian England it was normal and approved of for fathers to beat their young children quite harshly. The founder of the Salvation Army, Booth, regularly did this, as a matter of parental duty. Today such behaviour would likely mean the children being taken into care.
In the instances of greed, selfishness, and aggressively violent behaviour today, these are treated as criminal and out of the ordinary, and seen as so abnormal as to get reported in the mass media. This is seen as “inhuman” – not consistent with what we normally expect from ‘human nature’. Among the functions of family and school is to teach and train the young in the norms of social behaviour.
So, if a homeless criminal steals from the victims of a terrorist attack - that’s headlines, and means jail. But if a bank like RBS steals from small businesses, or capitalist directors and CEOs - like Sir Philip Green of BHS, the directors of the outsourcing giant Carillion, or long ago Robert Maxwell with the Mirror Group’s pension funds, all of whom made vast fortunes and walked away from these businesses, leaving workers without jobs and with their pensions looted: then there is little done. That’s business for you!
Capitalism offers numerous opportunities and lots of encouragement to individualistic behaviour. Success in business may depend on aggressive go-getting to get ahead in the rat-race.
But this sort of behaviour really goes against the grain for most people. Many reject this and work as teachers and nurses or as volunteers in NGOs and charities. So we cannot take at its face value any claims about so-called ‘human nature’, especially those who portray it as nasty, selfish, greedy and acquisitive – and unchanging.
The claims that humans are by nature aggressive and that this is the reason for wars is also a fallacy. Even if an individual gets angry, it seldom results in anything worse than a fist-fight. Most people do not go around with guns (the exception is the United States, and even there the vast majority of gun-owners are, it is said, responsible).
Wars are planned for, and paid for out of state taxes. The modern machinery of warfare is highly industrialised and technical – the latest in missile and drone technology, linked to satellites, mass-produced and remotely controlled from a computer console on the other side of the planet: this has absolutely nothing to do with feelings of anger or aggression.
Wars happen as a result of competing national interests – due to competition for mineral resources, control of markets and trade routes, oil and gas pipelines, etc. The seemingly endless conflicts in the Middle East, the war in mineral-rich Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Chinese development of bases on mini-atolls in the South China Seas, a key trade route for shipping - all these can be seen to have started not from some warped psychological aggressiveness or greed, but from a geopolitical calculation about competing commercial and capitalist interests.
In place of this dystopian nightmare, which now means growing numbers, some 60 million men, women and children, are now helpless and hopeless refugees, dependent on the “kindness of strangers” and ancient cities and villages have been shattered, what can capitalism offer us? Only more of the same – but worse!
Instead, what can socialism offer? A social system which is not based on competition and war, not rooted in exploitation, not divided between the haves and the have-nots, and the endless war of class against class, of Capital against Wage Labour. A society which is truly social, not anti-social. One which values cooperation, not ruthless competition. One where the false ideologies of racism, nationalism and religion are rejected as socially divisive.
“But that is simply Utopian!” Of course, it would be, so long as we have the capitalist system, with its competitive drive and its competing interests. But there is no reason to suppose capitalism is here forever. Just as chattel slavery gave way to feudalism and that was forced to give way to capitalism, socialists are confident that the day will come when capitalism too will be rejected so as to allow for a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interests of the whole community. Only this is lacking: working-class support and understanding of what needs to be done and acting politically to achieve this. We are sure that one day this will be possible.
About The Toxic Brexit Debate
This party has said little on the subject of the divisive Brexit campaign. Yet, now, almost a year after the UK government formally commenced its negotiations with the EU, it is still unclear just what sort of a deal the government is trying to achieve. True, May and her colleagues did quickly declare they wanted out of the customs union, the single market and a host of other EU collaborative organisations and agreements. But since then the signals coming out of the government have been varied and confusing. If anything, the fog has got thicker as time passes.
In the referendum campaign in 2016, the electorate was exposed to racist and xenophobic rhetoric by UKIP and other Brexiteers, along with incredible statistics and fairy tales about the brave new world we could look forward to, once free of the ‘shackles’ of the EU.
Their opponents painted an opposite picture – of a nightmare of businesses collapsing, of bankers and City institutions moving from London to the pleasures of Paris and other continental centres, huge dislocation of trade, queues of lorries and cars at Dover.
Discussions on the subject have become so embittered and nasty that the elite are pointedly advised by the TATLER, in its ‘guide to dinner parties’: “Do not try to direct the conversation, except to avoid one topic – Brexit” (THE WEEK, 24 February 2018). Tory and Labour MPs struggle to find any agreement within their ranks: many would prefer the whole thing to just go away, yet cannot say this as they fear the wrath of their voters. The cry goes up that Brexit (on any terms) is “the will of the people”, even though the referendum result was about 50-50, with nearly a third of the electorate not voting.
None of this should be of interest to socialists, except for the nasty racist and xenophobic rhetoric which became so outspoken during and after that referendum campaign. The extremist fringes felt legitimated, and more frequent racist and neo-Nazi attacks on Muslims and others, including the murder of a woman MP, have followed that referendum.
It is hardly surprising that the British government is running into so many difficulties in trying to implement the “will of the people”. British businesses have been operating within the EU – and previously the EEC or the Common Market – for some 40 years. A number of EU institutions and agreements are involved, covering many aspects of life. There are the EU standards for consumer goods and foodstuffs. There is EURATOM – an agency which ensures nuclear materials and devices used in the NHS are up to scratch. There are EU space and robotics programmes. Young people can have the advantages of foreign travel and study under the Erasmus programme. There are EU rules banning the use of GM foods and certain US agrochemicals. There are extended supply chains for industry, criss-crossing Europe and the Channel. And so on and on. Plus, there is the sheer impossibility of trying to square the circle in Ireland: how to get out of the EU customs union and single market without having a tariff border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – without border controls, smuggling would make a mockery of the whole deal, but with a ‘hard border’ there would be a risk of a return to terrorism.
It is worth stepping back a bit to consider why the EU single market and customs union idea came about, apart from the obvious idea that common trade would serve to unify and pacify the deeply divided continent, after the second disastrous world war. In hopes of trying to ensure peace in the future, it started off as an Iron and Steel collaboration. Since then it has developed to cover issues like a free press, free elections, and other features of ‘civilised’ modern governance.
But its post-war origins lay in the need for a mass market, to compete against the US with its advanced large-scale mass production flooding the world’s markets. In the SPGB’s pamphlet, The Socialist Party and War (1950), this point was argued clearly:
In order to make the profits which are the purpose for which industry is carried on under Capitalism the products have to be marketed in competition with the products of rivals. The key to profitable marketing is cheapness, and cheapness is sought, among other ways, by constantly trying to extract more work from the workers, by obtaining raw materials from the cheapest sources of supply, and by obtaining all the advantages of mass production. In many fields of production, the economies of mass production can only be achieved where there is a big home market available, which gives an initial advantage to such a country as the United States. ... Mass production industries ... develop productive capacity far beyond the needs of the home market and more and more depend for continuous sales on the ability to hold foreign markets as well. This leads to encroachments on the home markets of foreign rivals, which causes the governments of the countries concerned to retaliate with tariffs, quotas, subsidies and other methods of excluding foreign goods. It is in recognition of the need for larger markets to sustain mass production industries that efforts have been made since the second world war to integrate Western Europe, with or without Britain and the British Commonwealth, so that the single European and Colonial market shall be able to stand up to the competition of the USA on the one side and the developing industrial and trading power of Russia and her satellites.
In the last resort the capitalist trade struggle leads to wars, the object of which is to acquire or defend markets and territories rich in mineral and other resources and in exploitable populations in exploitable populations.
Now, well over half a century later, with Russia’s ‘satellites’ in Eastern Europe now mostly members of the EU, and with the growth of international trade from China with its much cheaper army of wage-slaves, the emphasis now would be on the competition from Asia’s mass-production industries (Russian exports are mostly oil and gas). Otherwise the point stands.
The EU has exploited its external tariffs so as to access cheap raw materials, fish and foodstuffs from Africa, and the continued poverty of these ‘Third World’ former colonies has helped enrich European manufacturers. In this respect the EU does not stand for ‘free trade’ – its policies are protectionist. Whilst we appreciate the EU’s internationalism and the ‘freedom of movement’ the EU enables, we also note that for the EU the ‘freedom of movement of labour’ is a principle to guarantee the availability of a supply of cheap labour – something much appreciated by UK farmers especially, with their need for cheap migrant labour to help out in harvest times, often working for wages well below the official minimum wage.
As a result, many trade unionists have experienced the damaging effects of this dilution of the labour force, and many voted for Brexit as a result.
Socialists do not support either side of this phony battle. Neither side is arguing its case in terms of the class interests of workers. We argue that workers’ class interests are focussed on ending the capitalist ‘production for profit’ system. So whether Britain stays in the EU or leaves it, unless we get rid of the whole wages system, workers will remain exploited, regardless of the outcome of these complex negotiations.
The Brexit issue, in short, is simply a diversion, irrelevant to the interests of the working class. Let the elite at their posh dinner-parties or the racist thugs or the internationalists and pacifists get all seamed up about it – socialists urge workers not to waste their time on such a divisive issue but to focus on working to end all class exploitation.
The End of the First World War: There is Nothing to Celebrate
November 11th 2018 is the centenary marking the end of the First World War. The British State plans to hold country-wide celebrations but how can such carnage be celebrated given the extent of the death and destruction throughout five years of conflict. There were 40 million deaths and it cost the capitalist class $32 billion or about 52% of gross national product at the time.
By signing The Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles, Germany were made to accept the blame for the First World War and would have to pay reparations for the damage caused, estimated to total about $35 billion in current money. It was only in 2010 that Germany finally paid off its war debt, with a final payment of 95 million. The Treaty of Versailles, in part, sowed the seeds for the even more destructive Second World War, some 21 year later.
. As the monarchy, the Prime Minister, Government Ministers, the loyal Opposition, the media and Church dignitaries celebrate the slaughter little will be said about the way in which socialists were treated during the war when they refused to be conscripted. The First World War not only led to the death of millions of workers in the battlefields across the globe but it also severely disrupted socialist activity.
In 11 years socialists and the working class were dealt three blows; the formation of the Labour Party in 1906, the First World War in 1914 and the Bolshevik coup d’état in 1917. Politically by far the worst blow was the Bolshevik coup-d’état, but the loss of working class life in fighting for the economic interests of another class was barbaric and pitiful. There is nothing to celebrate.
Writing in the SOCIALIST STANDARD (September 1954), Gilbert MacClatchie recollected:
The 1914-18 war had a disastrous effect upon the Party. On many Sunday mornings before the war broke out the Executive Committee had been meeting to read through and amend a pamphlet that had been drafted for publication. This had to be abandoned and the pamphlet was not considered again until a few years after the war ended. Another project that had to be abandoned was the appointment of a paid Secretary-Organiser. Money had been subscribed for this purpose, the member selected, the Executive Committee were discussing the date when he should start and the work he should start upon when the war put an end to the idea.
And MacClatchie went on to write:
The war dealt its worst blow to the membership. The Military Service Act, which came into operation in March, 1916, applied immediately to a large body of active young members and, eventually, to nearly all the men in the Party. The Appeal Tribunals that were set up were quite useless, as far as members were concerned, and were treated by them largely as a means to put the Party's case where possible; generally, however, the objections of members only got a few minutes hearing. In order to escape the clutches of the authorities many members "disappeared" and some we never saw again; others went to prison.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain had already taken a sound and principled stand at the outbreak of the First World War based on the interests of the working class. Workers own no natural resources or means of production and distribution. Workers, as Marx remarked in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, have no country to fight and die for. War, caused by capitalism, is of no concern for workers whose only political objective is the establishment of socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
War was declared by Britain against Germany and its allies on August 4th, 1914. On August 25th, 1914 the Executive Committee of the SPGB published the following Manifesto:
Whereas The capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the question of the control of trade routes and the world’s markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political ignorance and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their master’s quarrel.
Whereas further, the pseudo-Socialists and labour “leaders” of this country, in common with their fellows on the Continent, have again betrayed the working class position, either through their ignorance of it, their cowardice or worse, and are assisting the master class in utilising this thieves’ quarrel to confuse the minds of the workers and turn their attention from the Class Struggle. .
THE SOCIALIST PARTY of Great Britain seizes the opportunity to re-affirming the Socialist position which is as follows:
That Society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, whose labour alone wealth is produced. That in Society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a CLASS WAR, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
That the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exist only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers.
These armed forces, therefore, will only be set in motion to further the interests of the class who control them – the master class – and as the workers’ interests are not bound up in the struggle for markets wherein their masters may dispose of the wealth they have stolen from them (the workers), but in the struggle to end the system under which they are robbed, they are not concerned with the present European struggle, which is already known as the "BUSINESS" war, for it is their masters’ interests which are involved and not their own.
THE SOCIALIST PARTY of Great Britain, pledges itself to keep the issue clear by expounding the CLASS STRUGGLE, and whilst placing on record its abhorrence of the latest manifestation of the callous, sordid, and mercenary nature of the international capitalist class, and declaring no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers of this and other lands who are being used as food for cannon abroad while suffering and starvation are the lot of their fellows at home.
Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.
THE WORLD FOR THE WORKERS
And for the duration of the war, under difficult circumstances, the Socialist Party of Great Britain kept going as best it could while prosecuting the class struggle and denouncing the war as being caused by capitalism to which the working class had no interest in supporting.
The position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in its opposition to the First World War should be contrasted with the resolutions of the Second International in condemning colonialism (1907 Stuttgart Congress) and calling for workers to oppose war (1910 Copenhagen Congress) but whose leading members then went on to support the war. In Britain, similar events took place when the anti-working class Labour Party called for “an industrial truce” for the duration of the war and supported an all-party recruitment campaign. Labour Party officials also joined Lloyd George’s war government. The Labour Party has supported subsequent wars, including the Second World War, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Labour Party was never “the Party of peace”
Despite the principled stand taken by the Socialist Party of Great Britain at the beginning of the First World War, the SPGB Britain faced innumerable obstacles; not only hostility from pro-war workers at outdoor meetings but also from the capitalist state itself. In the SOCIALIST STANDARD of January 1915 it was announced that indoor and outdoor meetings had to be stopped due to “Martial Law”, although the SOCIALIST STANDARD continued to be published right up to the end of the war. Conscription was introduced on 2nd March 1916 forcing many members to go on the run from the authorities and in October of that year the War Office informed the SPGB that the SOCIALIST STANDARD was prohibited from being sent outside the United Kingdom on the grounds that some of its content "might be used by the enemy powers for their propaganda."
And in 1917 the Head Office was raided by Special Branch after they had intercepted an article by one of the SPGB’s members, Adolph Kohn, but there was nothing incriminating to interest the police; all SPGB records had been dispersed for prudence while the Party’s minute book was held for safe-keeping by Hilda Kohn who was the General Secretary of the Party at the time.
According to Robert Barltrop, it took the Socialist Party of Great Britain a long time to re- build the SPGB from its position in August 1914 where “much of the building of the ten years after 1904 had been shattered...” (THE MONUMENT: THE STORY OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN, 1975, pp 58-59).
The SPGB also looked back with contempt at those who had taken the anti-socialist position of supporting the war; men like Georgi Plekhanov, Jack London and Kier Hardie of the ILP. Social Democracy and the Second International betrayed both socialism and let down the working class. The actions of those who supported war credits or persuaded workers to fight for their respective governments would never be forgotten or forgiven.
The end of the war, quite rightly, was not celebrated in the SOCIALIST STANDARD at the time. And the Socialist Party of Great Britain has continued to oppose all wars on the ground of working class interests and the fact that under capitalism all wars are caused by the profit system. The only war to end war is to for a socialist majority to consciously and politically abolish its capitalist cause.
Seven years ago, Stephen Pinker, Professor of evolutionary psychology at Harvard University, wrote a highly contentious book, THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE (2011), which attempted to show that the 18th century Enlightenment promise of progress is alive and well in the 21st century. Pinker also tried, as a side-line, to denigrate the ideas of Marx. Pinker wrote:
Hitler read Marx in 1913, and although he detested Marxist socialism, his national socialism substituted races for classes in its ideology of a dialectical struggle towards utopias...” (p.412-3).
Marx was therefore condemned to stand outside the Enlightenment tradition in the political darkness with Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and any other genocidal maniac over the last few centuries. What Pinker did not realise, (and it is doubtful if he really cared), was that Marx did not invent classes or the class struggle. What Marx did in fact do was to explain why the class struggle took place in capitalism through the application of his theory of history and theory of surplus value.
This is what Marx wrote:
.. And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.
By “bourgeois historians” Marx meant laissez-faire liberals such as Guizot, Mignet, Comte, Dunoyer, and other early nineteenth-century French writers in the enlightenment tradition. In another letter written to Frederick Engels Karl (July 27, 1854), Marx referred to the historian Augustin Thierry, one of the editors of Le Censeur européen, as "the father of the ‘class struggle’ in French historiography". In this letter Marx mentions Thierry’s important work, ESSAY ON THE HISTORY OF THE FORMATION AND PROGRESS OF THE THIRD ESTATE (1853) in which he refuses to extend the class struggle to cover the antagonistic class relations between workers and capitalists. For Thierry there could only be class harmony in free markets an absurd idea which finds a life in the writing of today’s market anarchists.
These historians, who had described in length the class struggle between the Feudal order and the capitalist class long before Marx came on the scene, were working within the political idealism favoured by Pinker. Pinker’s comments on Marx, then, are not examples of detached scholarship, but instead, just crude and petty propaganda. And for producing ruling class ideas, Pinker draws a not inconsiderable salary as a Professor at one of the more prestigious universities in the US. Socialists pity his students.
In one respect, Marx did “influence” Hitler, though not in the way Pinker would want us to believe. Marx’s principal works – The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and DAS KAPITAL – were first banned by the Nazi State and then were burnt at the Opernplatzn Berlin on May 10th 1933 by students from the Wilhelm Humboldt University, all of them members of right-wing student organizations, watched by some 70,000 people. Ironically, it was Marx’s friend the poet, Heinrich Heine, who wrote some one hundred and ten years earlier:
Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.
Almansor: A Tragedy (1823), as translated in TRUE RELIGION (2003) by Graham Ward, (p. 142).
Pinker’s book was rightly criticised for its poor scholarship, its reactionary ideology and its uncritical acceptance of the “benign” nature of US capitalism as a force for good. Another criticism was Pinker’s annoying habit of citing authors in copious footnotes which, when interrogated, gave a very dubious and questionable justification for his own assumptions and arguments. In other words, he used unconvincing sources for his assertions while totally ignoring contrary historical evidence and counter-arguments which would have undermined his own controversial thesis.
(see E.S Herman and D. Peterson, Steven Pinker’s Apologetics for Western-Imperial Violence). http://coldtype.net/Assets.12/PDFs/0812.PinkerCrit.pdf
In an attempt to silence his critics, Professor Pinker has now returned to the theme of capitalism’s global historical progress in his latest book ENLIGHTENMENT NOW: THE CASE FOR REASON, SCIENCE, HUMANISM AND PROGRESS (2018). As a consequence of the Enlightenment ideal, established first in France but transposed to the United States with the publication of the Declaration of Independence (pp 12and 143), Pinker believes social life is slowly becoming better and better for the world’s population as a mixture of science, reason and free trade rids the world of poverty, war and environmental degradation. Pinker’s glass is not half full but brimming over in a flood of optimism. No mention is made by Pinker, though, of the fact that many of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were slave owners including the leading Enlightenment thinker, Thomas Jefferson. Selective use of “evidence” to support his Pollyanna world-view of sweetness and light is Pinker’s trade-mark.
The Enlightenment, for Pinker is a movement in human history that began with the French Encyclopédistes – a group of mathematicians, scientists and philosophers, - led by d’Alembert and Diderot. The Enclopedia provided a theoretical attack against ecclesiastical and state institutions undermining Royal authority and its moral and religious justification such as the Divine Right of Kings and the theology and power of the Church.
The German Philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, for example, argued:
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage (immaturity). Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.
And Kant went on to believe, like William Cobden and Bright in England, that free trade and free markets would end war and conflict which he thought was caused by the actions of Tyrants and Monarchs. He said:
The spirit of trade cannot coexist with war, and sooner or later this spirit dominates every people. For among all those powers (or means) that belong to a nation, financial power may be the most reliable in forcing nations to pursue the noble cause of peace (though not from moral motives); and wherever in the world war threatens to break out, they will try to head it off through mediation, just as if they were permanently leagued for this purpose.
. (PERPETUAL PEACE, 1785). https://slought.org/media/files/perpetual_peace.pdf
The Enlightenment, then, was a theoretical and ideological battering ram used by the revolutionary capitalist class and its intellectual out-riders against Feudalism and religion. And this is the tradition which informs the writings of Professor Pinker. For Pinker – a Dr Pangloss for the 21st century - we now live in the best of all possible worlds. And it can only get better.
However there is a serious political question which needs to be asked and that is:“Whose Enlightenment?”
In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848) Marx summarised the role of the Enlightenment in the capitalist revolutions of the eighteenth century. He wrote:
Christian ideas succumbed in the 18th century to rationalist ideas, feudal society fought its death battle with the then revolutionary bourgeoisie”.
Capitalism needed to free the power of independent rational thought to further the political interests of the capitalist class. Indeed, Marx and Engels recognised that in its formative years capitalism was a force for progress.
It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life ... (and) created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations.”
However, reason is not the sole possession of a single class, and once it became apparent that a subject working class had the power to transform society in line with workers’ own class interests, the question inevitably arose of the further revolutionary transformation of society. Capitalist property relations increasingly became a “fetter” on the forces of production and the ideas and beliefs justifying the profit system became increasingly reactionary and dark.
As Marx and Engels went on to write: “The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself”
“But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons – the modern class – the proletarians”.
Fact-based evidence and critical reason: science and technology could be embraced and used politically by the working class for its own emancipation from capitalism.
And they could also be used to resolve the economic and political problems the profit system caused to workers’ lives following the establishment of socialism. The forces of production, including co-operative and social labour, could be used to create a social system where production and distribution took place just to meet human needs. There would be no need for markets; free or otherwise. No wonder Pinker has such a political aversion to Marx and Socialism.
Here is another of Pinker’s ignorant takes on Marx:
“Marx adapted the idea (Hegel’s dialectic) to economic systems and prophesied that a progression of violent class conflicts would climax in a communist utopia” (p.165)
Pinker clearly forgets that three violent bourgeois revolutions had already taken place before Marx opened any book by Hegel; the English Civil War in the 17th century and the American War of Independence and the French Revolution in the 18th century. Two kings lost their heads and another lost his colonies. Marx did not have to “prophesise” anything: it is just a historical fact.
Nor did Marx conceive of Communism being established through “violent class conflict”. Marx considered that in countries like Britain, the US and Netherlands, violent revolution would not be necessary. Only four years after the New York Tribune (25 August 1852).
"The carrying of universal suffrage in England would . . . be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent. Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class”.
And Marx’s fellow revolutionary, Frederick Engels later wrote:
“The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat,”
(Introduction of 1895 to Marx’s The Class Struggle in France, SW1, Moscow, 1973, p. 195).
Marx was clearly a child of the Enlightenment, although Marx went on to critically reject the ideas of key Enlightenment thinkers like Kant and it is with the working class movement throughout the nineteenth century that real historical progress is to be found and explained by Marx’s interrelated theory of value, theory of history and political concept of the class struggle as the motor force of history. This analysis and critique of capitalism informed in 1904 the SPGB’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES. And it was the SPGB’s development of Marx’s ideas which led the Party to state, as a matter of principle, that socialism would be established by a socialist majority using the revolutionary vote, delegates and parliamentary action.
The establishment of socialism/communism (both words mean the same thing) would not be through street violence and barricades but through the capture of the machinery of government, including control of the armed forces by a socialist majority. The capture of the machinery of government would ensure the peaceful and ordered transformation of capitalism to the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. – or, in the words of the SPGB’s sixth principle so it:
“may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic”.
The Dark Side of the Enlightenment
There is another problem with Pinker’s Enlightenment narrative and that is the huge chasm between the idealism he defends in his book and the reality of capitalism’s history as it has passed from one economic crisis to another and from one war to another over the last two to three hundred years. There is complete silence by Pinker on the Enlightenment’s dark side; something highlighted by one of his most trenchant critics, John Gray; someone who is neither a Marxist nor a socialist.
Pinker’s heroes are the 17th century philosopher, John Locke and the Eighteenth century philosophers Voltaire, Emmanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham, but Gray reminds us that:
“John Locke denied America’s indigenous peoples any legal claim to the country’s “wild woods and uncultivated wastes” Voltaire promoted the “pre-Adamite” theory of human development according to which Jews were remnants of an earlier and inferior humanoid species; Kant maintained that Africans were innately inclined to the practice of slavery; the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham developed the project of an ideal penitentiary, the Panopticon, where inmates would be kept in solitary confinement under constant surveillance.
As we have noted, Pinker, like other defenders of capitalism, has tried in vain to show that Marx influenced Hitler. However, it is the dark side of the Enlightenment that unleashed eugenics, first in Britain then in to the US. It was Hitler’s Germany that sent “scientists” to the US to study eugenic programmes. In fact, the Social Darwinism first put forward as a “scientific” discipline by the statistician and polymath, John Galton, at the end of the 19th century, was a precursor to socio-biology and the modern ‘evolutionary psychology’ of Stephen Pinker.
From the turn of the Twentieth century, German eugenicists formed academic and personal relationships with US eugenists, in particular with Charles Davenport, the pioneering founder of the Eugenics Record Office on Long Island, New York, which was backed by large donations from the Harriman railway fortune. A number of other charitable American bodies funded German race biology with hundreds of thousands of dollars, even after the depression of the 1930s had taken hold. German eugenicists closely followed US eugenic procedures for biological tribunals, forced sterilisation, detention for the socially inadequate and conferences on euthanasia attended by scientists in the Enlightenment tradition (see Stephan Kuhl, THE NAZI CONNECTION: EUGENICS, AMERICAN RACISM, AND GERMAN NATIONAL SOCIALISM (1994) and, more recently, HITLER'SAMERICAM MODEL (2018) by James Q. Whitman).
Scientists, using eugenist ideas, also tried to prove the intellectual inferiority of Afro-Americans an idea discredited long ago but still being pursued today in such books as THE BELL CURVE (1994) by the psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein and the political scientist Charles Murray, the bible of the white supremacists. Science is not neutral and scientists are not detached men and women independently pursuing the truth to the exclusion of what is going on in the rest of society. Scientists work within and are conditioned by capitalism, capitalist relations and ruling class ideas, some of which they manufacture as professors in universities.
It was Theodor Adorno, one of Pinker’s bête noirs, who remarked that the Enlightenment led to Auschwitz, and the gas chambers (see DIALECTICS OF ENLIGHTENMENT (1944) and NEGATIVE DIALECTICS (1973)). Maybe a slight exaggeration, but since the advent of the Enlightenment in the 18th century, generations of men, women and children have endured three centuries of war, class exploitation and genocide on an industrial scale. And for what? Only to provide unearned income for a capitalist class to live a life of privilege and luxury: only to prevent all of society using the means of production and distribution to meet human needs: and only to enslave billions of people in the exploitive wages system. Is this really progress?
Pinker’s Crude Propaganda
Socialists demand Enlightenment Now! But only in respect to an enlightened working class comprehending the social system in which workers find themselves imprisoned within. Workers have to first understand and reject capitalism in order to consciously, politically and democratically organise for the abolition of the profit system and its replacement with socialism in which production would take place directly to meet human needs. Now that would be Enlightenment.
Pinker’s book is nothing more than a propaganda rallying cry for a liberal world view that is now in retreat from the sustained pressure from the rise of protectionism, fascism, nationalist popularlism and racist xenophobia in the US and Europe. Not that he is short of sycophantic praise whether it is from the utilitarian philosopher, Peter Singer or media pundits like Andrew Marr.
However, Enlightenment Now is a narrative with no intellectual substance. What Pinker and his liberal cheerleaders like the INDEPENDENT: “Better Angels is a great liberal landmark” and the GUARDIAN: “Brilliant, mind-altering...Everyone should read this astonishing book” cannot or refuse to understand is why the power, prestige and politics of liberalism have collapsed so quickly since its high tide of 1989 with the publication of Fukuyama’s “THE END OF HISTORY”.
What Pinker’s politics – and it is politics with a capital “P” - cannot grasp, is that the economic crisis of 2008 and the subsequent economic and political repercussions it caused throughout the world has resulted in abject failure of the Enlightenment project set out in his book. 2008 saw not only an economic crash but the crash of the liberal utopia with its fanciful dream of a crisis-free “New Order” in which globalisation, free trade and free markets would not only last forever but would benefit everyone.
The economic crisis was one of many crises since the advent of capitalism and it certainly will not be the last. The economic laws acting on the profit system periodically pricks the bubble of the pretensions of academics and politicians who believe you can have capitalism without the effects of capitalism. There are just too many losers.
And no appeal to science, reason, humanism and free market capitalism will persuade the losers that Pinker’s liberalism has anything to offer them, either politically or economically: only socialism can do that.
Marx at 200
Speaker R. Lloyd
Sunday Oct 14th 2018
2pm to 5pm
Marchmont Community Centre, 62 Marchmont Street, LondonWC1N 1AB
Free admission. Questions and Discussion. Light Refreshments
Racism and the Windrush Scandal
As socialists, the SPGB has been uniquely consistent in its clear opposition to all forms of racism. Throughout the turbulent 20th century, this party alone has maintained its hostility to all ideologies used to divide the working class. Our appeal is to the working class “as a whole – without distinction of race or sex”. Only when the workers come to recognise that their interests as a class are diametrically opposed to those of the international capitalist class will they be able to organise themselves effectively to overthrow this global class system resting on exploitation.
There are very practical reasons for all socialists to be opposed to racism. Like religion and nationalism, it is divisive. It can be used to justify wars and pogroms, can lead to official discrimination, apartheid, and even genocide, as under the Nazis or ‘ethnic cleansing’ as in Yugoslavia. The wrongs and injustices of past generations continue to plague the modern world, and racist ideologies and prejudices persist.
The Windrush Scandal
Immigration and racism in Britain had a long history. Post-war British governments from the late 1940s had a problem - a labour shortage. That was a period when an unqualified worker could just walk into a job, with no experience, references or CV, while a qualified skilled worker could practically name their terms.
If nothing suitable was on offer, British workers were also being encouraged to emigrate to Australia, Canada or South Africa. The new NHS was desperately short of nurses. London Transport could not recruit English workers to work for low wages on unpopular night-time shifts. Many factories and coal mines found it was hard to recruit from the local workforce.
So civil servants were sent to the West Indies to recruit workers to come to the “mother country”. They selected from the brightest and the best, who duly arrived on chartered ships like the Empire Windrush, some with letters of invitation from Winston Churchill, and the Health Minister, Enoch Powell, and expecting to be warmly welcomed. Instead they were treated with hostility and contempt, discriminated against in jobs, in housing and even in pubs, cafes and restaurants.
By the mid-1950s, white racism was on the rise. In summer 1957, the Notting Hill race riots made headlines when gangs of white racists went into North Paddington to violently attack West Indians who rented cheap rooms in that rundown slum area. (It has since been demolished and the shell of the burnt-out Grenfell Tower stands in a Kensington council estate built in that area.) There were race riots in Nottingham and other places too. The next year, the fascist Union Movement’s leader, Oswald Mosley, stood for election in the Notting Hill area, unsuccessfully.
In 1962, the Tory government brought in the first Immigration Act - an attempt to limit the number of immigrants from the ‘new Commonwealth’. That distinction between the white ‘old Commonwealth’ and the non-white ‘new Commonwealth’ immigrants was obviously racist. There were no restrictions on the numbers of Australians or Canadians choosing to come to Britain, but evidently the government, like the racists, saw black and brown immigrants, with their calypso music and curry eating, as a threat to “the entire British way of life”.
In the 1960s there was a racial division of labour: a factory shop floor supervisor – white; a sweeper-up – black; a London bus-driver - white; a lower-paid conductor – black. Always the elite, higher-paid jobs were reserved for the whites, the worst and lowest paid jobs for the ‘coloureds’: a system which, for a long time, the British trade unions and the Labour Party supported.
The divisive politics of racism became even more overt. In the 1964 Smethwick by-election, the Tory candidate won a safe Labour seat by openly “playing the race card”. In 1968 Enoch Powell made his infamous “rivers of blood” speech in nearby Birmingham, hyping up the rhetoric of paranoid racism. Though Powell was sacked from his front bench job, he clearly had support among many workers, with a march of about 1000 dockworkers and a strike by 500 Billingsgate porters expressing support for his views. Trade unions and the Labour Party feared to confront this attitude and avoided the issue of racism. But some on the Left took up the anti-racism cause, especially in groups like the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Anti-Nazi League, which mainly focussed on apartheid South Africa or confronting the ‘fascist
’ National Front. In the early 1970s new laws came in, newly defining the status of immigrants, but not apparently requiring them to register or apply for UK citizenship. Those that needed a passport continued to use passports they had arrived on – Jamaican, Pakistani, Indian, Nigerian etc. Some got themselves British passports. A Race Relations Act was brought in to try to stop the blatant discrimination, common among estate agents and landlords, employers, etc. The outraged racists with full backing from the gutter press sneered at the notion of being “politically correct” and jeered at the “PC-brigade” and the “race relations industry”, much as today’s Brexiteers sneer at the ‘Remoaners
’. Over the decades a series of extreme racist and right wing, even neo-Nazi, parties and groups came into being, including the National Front demanding “the compulsory repatriation of all non racially compatible immigrants and their dependents and descendants”. Members of that party often denied that they personally were racist or prejudiced but they were also among the first to question and deny the Nazi genocidal Holocaust. Coincidentally there were numerous cases of arson and murder, usually attacking Pakistani shopkeepers and their families.
Perish the thought that any nice British government would be racist or pass racist laws! But how else can one explain the never-ending series of Immigration Acts passed by a series of governments? From 1962, that first step on the road was followed by 14 or more other Acts, 3-4 in each decade, culminating in May’s 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts.
These draconian laws now force landlords to bar supposed ‘illegals’ from renting, stop people having bank accounts or driving licenses, and also makes the NHS charge patients. As employers can be fined heavily for having these people on the pay-roll, the victims soon become jobless and are also barred from any state benefits. Teenagers are unable to take their exams. Students cannot continue at university. Pensioners cannot get lifesaving NHS treatment. Families cannot unite, even for weddings and funerals. And legal aid is not available to help victims challenge the arbitrary Home Office rulings.
In this nightmare of a Kafka twilight existence - sans job, sans home, sans passport, sans health care, sans law - the victim can expect the Border Agency ‘enforcers’ to arrive with police support, under the policy of “detain and deport”. He or she may be held for weeks at the infamous, secretive Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, then taken to Heathrow and even “deported in error”.
The Legacy of Slavery and Empire
A Labour MP, David Lammy argued that, to understand this institutional racism, you had to recognize how the British Empire had been founded on slavery: how for centuries generations of Africans were seized, transported and sold into slavery for the plantations of the West Indies and north and south America, and how this slavery system had enriched the British economy – cheap cotton gave the kick-start to the Industrial Revolution. True but he did not explain that this persistent problem is exacerbated by the divisive nature of capitalism.
As generations of white British soldiers, policemen and administrators continued to keep the ‘natives’ in their place, the legacy of this evil empire taught generations of children that to be born white was to be superior, while to be ‘coloured’ was the mark of an uncivilised, inferior being. It was this tradition which found its voice in Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” rhetoric, in Mosley’s fascist Union Movement, the National Front, and the Brexiteers, UKIP, the English Defence League etc.
Playing on this divisive issue was common ground for all the parties. For decades Tory governments refused to oppose South African apartheid. Labour’s Gordon Brown spoke of “British jobs for British workers”, blatantly exploiting this racist culture. The Labour Party never dared to challenge and oppose the rhetoric of THE SUN and the Rothermere press: they still fear foul-mouthed attacks from the influential racist and xenophobic propaganda of the infamous, powerful, mass media.
Socialists and Racism
Long ago, the SPGB published several important pamphlets on this question. In 1942 the wartime issue of QUESTIONS OF THE DAY had a chapter on Socialism and Racial Theories. In 1947 a new pamphlet THE RACIAL PROBLEM covered the question of defining ‘race’, mistaken and misleading race theories (past and present), with chapters on anti-Semitism and Zionism, on race-prejudice in the US, Africa and the West Indies, and on the dangers of race-prejudice. A later pamphlet on THE PROBLEMOF RACISM (1966) added more with a chapter on The Colour Question in Britain.
Socialists like scientists argue there is no such thing as a pure ‘race’. It is well known that modern humans are descended from all sorts as, from prehistoric times, humankind has travelled and migrated extensively, and no modern scientist could explain any racial divisions just by skin colour or other physical features. Even Jews who all claim descent from Abraham have a variety of physical types. Nor can ‘race’ be established by language or culture, for much the same reasons. “All forms of race prejudice are based on ignorance, without the slightest scientific justification.”(Preface THE PROBLEMOF RACISM, SPGB, 1966).
These pamphlets also explained how it is that capitalism fosters race-prejudice – i.e. racism.
Capitalism is a competitive system which sets people against each other in the struggle for a living..... There is no telling what capitalism is doing to people both physically and mentally. Under capitalism people are always insecure and their hopes continually frustrated. In these conditions demagogues find little difficulty in attracting following by blaming the insecurities and frustrations of capitalism on some conspicuous minority.
(THE PROBLEMOF RACISM, 1966, p48)
In the Preface to the 1947 pamphlet, the Party argued:
The Socialist Party of Great Britain recognises only one fundamental social division in the modern world – the division that exists between the capitalist class on the one hand, and the working-class on the other. All other divisions, whether they be based on religion, nationality, language or ‘race’ are incidental to this main division....The interests of all members of the working-class, whatever the race to which they belong, are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the members of the capitalist class irrespective of the race to which the members of the latter class belong. The class division cuts directly across all others. We say, further, that it is essential to remember that the race problem is but one of many social problems that spring directly from the contradictions of capitalist society itself... Only as the workers of the world understand their position under capitalism; only to the extent that they absorb socialist knowledge, will they cease to be a prey to the hatreds and prejudices arising from fantastic notions of ‘race’ .
In the final chapter of that pamphlet, the Socialist case is put clearly and emphatically:
The root cause of modern race-prejudice is the capitalist system of Society, a system of competition and struggle... For the working-class ... it is a society of poverty and insecurity... a lifetime of constant heart breaking effort to earn a living... From the cradle to the grave they are subjected to a mass of propaganda which deadens their minds, works on their prejudices, and endeavours by every means possible to turn their thoughts away from the real cause of their troubles. They are the tools of political leaders and demagogues who make them promises they do not keep. Disappointed, they exchange one set of political leaders for another... They become disillusioned, bitter, and cynical, fair game for dictators and ‘strong men’, who promise to lead them to a ‘promised land’... All the time they are experiencing unemployment, poverty, insecurity, competition for jobs, struggles to ‘rise up the ladder’... For the working-class, Capitalism is a society of mental, social, and economic frustration: as such it breeds race-prejudice as a swamp breeds pestilence.
Today, in the age of Brexit and Trump, with a modern breed of dictators – e.g. China’s Xi, Turkey’s Erdogan, Russia’s Putin, Kim the Third in North Korea, Duterte in the Philippines, etc , we see the dangerous and murderous politics of xenophobia and racism take centre stage, aided and abetted by the mass media and opportunistic politicians. These are the new set of monsters from the swamp.
Only socialists argue that it is due to the competitive struggles of capitalism that otherwise sane and sensible men and women are mistakenly led to see in immigrants and other minorities the cause of the many economic problems and social evils inflicted on them by the global capitalist system.
So long as this crazy system persists, so long as the working class worldwide fails to understand its position and organise itself to end this system of exploitation; so long will we still have the politics of division, including the many injustices of racial scapegoating.
200 years after Marx’s birth, we echo his slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” And as in 1904, the SPGB holds as a matter of principle that this unity must be “without distinction of race or sex”.
EMERGENCE OF ‘FREE’ LABOUR
In Feudalism there was little or no free movement of labour as there is under capitalism today, although even in capitalism national boundaries restrict labour from entering into the country. Peasants were tied to the land and even the guild system in towns limited the mobility of labour. With the emergence of capitalism, restrictions on the mobility of labour were removed as tens of thousands of peasants were evicted from the land for sheep and large scale farming. Workers were free to move to the employer who paid the highest wage. At the same time as the worker ‘enjoyed’ this freedom, the worker was also free from property, from access to the ‘open fields’ and ‘commons’. As Marx wrote:
“Free labourers, in the double sense that neither they themselves form part and parcel of the means of production, as in the case of slaves, bondsmen, etc., nor do the means of production belong to them, as in the case of peasant-proprietors; they are, therefore, free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own” (CAPITAL vol. 1, Ch. XXVI, p. 714)
As Marx went on to say, nature does not create owners of the means of production and workers without any means of production: that is purely a social relationship. And to end this perverse social relationship requires a socialist majority taking conscious, democratic and political action to establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
The Trade war Between China and the United States?
The media is full of comments from economists about the impending “trade war” between the US and China. President Donald Trump has been incensed about the flood of Chinese imports and the reluctance of the Chinese to devalue their currency thereby exposing their markets to greater imports from abroad.
Trump passed an Executive Order in March 2018 in the belief that China deliberately undervalues its currency by as much as 40 per cent so that Chinese goods remain cheap to foreign buyers. President Trump threatened to impose tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese goods to combat the rising threat from a nation that the White House has called “an economic enemy.” In addition to the tariffs, the Treasury Department said it would restrict Chinese investment in American technology firms — a practice that officials said China uses to nurture its own “national champions” in cutting-edge industries like artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.
The aim of the legislation was to impose additional duties on Chinese goods until China allows the Yuan to revalue to make its exports more expensive and change its predatory behaviour in forcing American companies to transfer valuable technology and trade secrets, and “systematic” data theft by China through hacking of American computer systems.
In 2017 the US trade figure was $375,227.5 which was 8.1% more in goods than in 2016 despite the fact that US exports to China increased by 12.8% whereas Chinese imports to the US only increased by 9.3%.
Currently the Chinese and US governments have come to a provisional accommodation, however, this does not rule out a “trade war” in the future now that Trump has armed the US with retaliatory legislation.
However, the US companies making profits importing Chinese goods, and their customers who buy them, are not incensed and are not asking their politicians and government to do anything. They “buy Chinese” because the goods are cheap, and they want to go on buying them. The people who want it stopped and who happen to have got the support of the President are those US manufacturers who are being driven out of business because they cannot produce as cheaply as their Chinese rivals and claimed a perceived unfair manipulation of the currency. It is a development seen many times before in the history of world capitalism but with different countries taking the leading role.
At first it was Britain: “the workshop of the world” which flooded other countries with cheap commodities. Among the later leaders have been the US and Germany. Then it was Japan. Now it is China. In due course it will be Chinese manufacturers’ complaining about cheap imports from India or Brazil. But it will be the Chinese manufacturers who will complain, not the Chinese import companies and their customers.
The important aspect of this to take note of is that it is one example of the sectional conflicts of interest inside the capitalist class in each country –those who favour “free trade” as against those who favour protective tariffs; the borrowers who want interest rates to fall and the lenders who want them to rise; the export industries pressing for a lower foreign exchange rate for the currency and the import industries pressing for a higher rate; and the capitalists who want inflation with its higher prices. And it is those wanting deflation with its lower prices and those who prefer the gold standard and a stable price level.
Illusions about Free Trade
The row with China raises the issue of Free Trade. In the mid-nineteenth century two Liberal politicians, Cobden and Bright evolved a comprehensive theory. Each country should, they said, cease all forms of discrimination against foreign goods and always buy in the cheapest market. Prices would fall, production would increase and all would benefit through universal; peace and prosperity.
The theory suited British manufacturers at the time because the cheapness of their manufacturing would give them access to the markets of all countries operating a free trade policy. The Tory, Benjamin Disraeli, understood the world better than did the Cobdenites when he said that: “the continent will not suffer England to be the workshop of the World”. Not only was he right about that, but within thirty years, when British goods no longer had the advantage of cheapness, the manufacturers were campaigning for protection against foreign imports.
The error of the Cobdenites was in their belief that the nations are simply geographical associations of manufacturers, traders and workers happily co-operating together and ready to join with those in other nations to the advantage of all people; this is not a recognisable picture of the one hundred and ninety five nations in the world.
Capitalism is not like that. In all the nations there is exploitation of one class by another, production carried on for sale and profit, and armed forces both to protect the property of the owners and to maintain their interests against the other nations. The nations were born in conflict and live in conflict.
The nations came into existence, with greater or less violence, out of the break-up of the old empires such as the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and later, out of the dismantling of the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. How violently these transactions were can be seen in our own times because nation forming is still going on; the creation of Israel and its wars with neighbouring States; the break-up of Bangladesh from Pakistan and of Pakistan from India, which now faces separatist movements of the Kashmiris, the Sikhs in the Punjab and the Ghurkhas in West Bengal.
In addition, the Corsican independence struggle against France and the Basques and Catalans in Spain; the Tamils in Sri Lanka; and the movements by the Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran to form a Kurdish nation. In other parts of the world there are similar movements. In the late 1960s the Nigerian government in a bloody civil war beat off an attempt by oil-rich Biafra to form an independent State. Over recent years there has been the break-up of what had been the federated states of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into smaller countries.
There is a common pattern in all past and present successful and unsuccessful attempts to form new nations. Local groups of politicians and businesses men who think they can do better for themselves on their own form so-called national independence movements, using as their power-base local populations having the same language, or religion, or tribal loyalties or the same facts or legends of history (some Israelis invoke events of some 2,000 years ago, (as set out in that reliable historical source, the word of God, the Bible’s Old Testament, with all its fictional folk memories and mythology).).
Constant Battle for Resources and Trade Routes
Marx and Engels sketched out the nation-forming process in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO in 1848. In opposition to the idealised vision of Cobden and Bright, they wrote:
“The bourgeoisie finds itself in a constant battle…at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreign nations” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).
The principal forms taken by the constant battle are attempts to grab or hold onto important sources of raw materials, minerals and fuels needed for industry, and the need to protect the sea, air routes and pipelines along which they are transported. An interesting example comes from Alsace and Lorraine. Acquired by France in the 17th and 18th centuries, this area was taken in war by Germany in 1870, re-occupied by France in 1918, retaken by Germany in 1939 and returned again to France after World War II. The lure was the rich iron ore deposits, made even more valuable due to the 19th century discovery of the Bessemer process for steel production.
Then there is the so-called trade war between the nations. It has been widely misunderstood and has produced a crop of fallacious theories from economists and others to explain how it works. It can happen, though instances are few, that a group of capitalists induce the government to turn trade war into real war, as when, early in the 19th century, Britain made war on China to force the Chinese government to allow the import of opium into China.
The extent to which a nation depends on foreign trade reflects the extent to which it has all the resources it needs within its borders. The US exported $23 trillion in goods and services in 2017. That generated 12 percent of US total economic output as measured by GDP. However only 1 per cent of US businesses export, falling behind China and the EU.
For Britain the figure is higher and some other countries like Germany very much more. In general, foreign trade ranks in importance far below the strategic interests of the nations. Despite the current “trade war” between the US and China no one has suggested that it might lead to a real war.
As Professor Edwin Cannan pointed out during the 1914 war:
“Where there are not supposed to be divergent strategic interests, no amount of divergent or supposedly divergent commercial interests produce either war or preparations for war” (An Economists Protest page 26).
Several writers, including J. A. Hobson, Major Douglas, founder of the Social Credit Movement, and the economist J. M. Keynes took a different view, giving the pressure to find export markets an importance out of all proportion with the facts. Keynes in particular (in the last chapter of his GENERAL THEORY), holding that the pressure to export is a principle cause of war. All three based their theories on a supposed, but in fact non-existent, overall “deficiency of purchasing power” in every nation.
Fallacies about why Countries Export
The governments in all countries face an acute political problem in the discontent that arises if large numbers of workers are unemployed. They and their advisors are therefore concerned to find out what it is that causes periodic crises, and the depressions which follow the crises, that are an inevitable feature of the whole modern world.
One of the flimsiest of the anti-Marxist theories selects as the cause of crises the restricted purchasing power of the working class because the ability of the workers to buy consumer goods is limited to their wages. The theory held that the industries producing consumer goods soon find themselves in financial difficulties as they compete with each other for a limited market, so a crisis occurs. This theory was known to Karl Marx who ridiculed it. He pointed out that in a boom which is a forerunner to every crisis, the wages of the whole working class not only rise because wage-rates rise as more workers are in work but the working class “get a larger share of the annual product intended for consumption”. So, prior to the crisis, the sales of the consumer goods industries do not go down but go up. As Marx said: “such a period should rather remove a crisis”.
Hobson, Douglas and Keynes put forward a more substantial version of the deficiency theory. They argued that the combined purchasing power of the capitalists and the workers together is insufficient to buy all the commodities on sale on the market. They offered different reasons for this deficiency. Hobson said it was due to the existence of monopolies. Douglas said it was because the government did not put enough currency (notes and coins) into circulation. Keynes said it was because the government borrowed and spent too little to create full employment.
There is no need to go into the details of their theories because history has disproved them all. Crises and depressions with mass unemployment occurred before monopolies were formed and after they had been suppressed. The amount of currency in circulation in 2017 was £3,663 million with something like 32.2 million people employed which is more than 18 times what it was in the 1950’s when there was a continuing labour shortage. There has been a similar big increase of government borrowing and spending during the last decade compared with the 1950s.
Louis Boudin, who had written usefully about Marxian economics in his book THE THEORETICAL SYSTEM OF KARLMARX, went quite off the rail about the supposed deficiency of purchasing power and consequent compulsive pressure to find markets for exports. He argued that industrially developed countries cannot export to each other at all. Their only outlet, he said, is in primitive economies not yet in the sphere of capitalism. So as those economies become industrially developed all exports would dry up. Rosa Luxemburg put forward a similar theory in her book THE ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL. Boudin and Luxemburg expressed these views some seventy years ago but the volume of world trade now is enormously greater than it was then, most of it between the industrially developed nations. If it were true that capitalists have to export because of a deficiency of purchasing power at home and therefore British capitalism had to export in 2016 $404 billions who is it who bought $625 billions of imports?
The Marxian Position
Marx dealt with and disposed of the whole deficiency theory. There is not and cannot be an overall deficiency of purchasing power to buy back all the commodities on sale in the market. However, possessing purchasing power is not the same thing as using it at once to buy commodities in the market.
Marx made this point in his reply to the French economist J. B. Say in the first volume of CAPITAL (Chapter on Money, or the Circulation of Commodities). Say held that a serious depression is impossible because, in his phrase, “every seller brings to market a buyer”, by which he meant that every capitalist who has sold commodities then has the money with which to go out at once and buy other commodities. To which Marx replied by pointing out that being able to buy at once does not mean a capitalist has to buy at once: “No-one is forthwith bound to purchase, because he has just sold”. Marx went on to say:
“if the interval in time…between the sale and the purchase becomes too pronounced, the intimate connexion between them, their oneness, asserts itself by producing - a crisis
”. If the buyers of a certain line of commodities suddenly cease to buy them, the industry producing the commodities is in financial trouble. This happens because in every boom some industries over-produce for their particular market. Prices drop, profit margins disappear and production is curtailed or halted.
Because of the growing unemployment, the total wage of the working class falls and with it the sale of consumer goods too. Capitalists produce to make a profit. They are not interested in production for its own sake. It is how the capitalists behave that cause crises, not the limited purchasing power of the working class.
What about Imports?
It has to be emphasised that the “trade war” is not just about exports but about
both imports and exports. The pressure behind both is the same, the search for profits by the import and export capitalists. The competition is the same. Export capitalists compete with each other for overseas markets and with foreign manufacturers. Import capitalists compete with each other and with foreign manufacturers for access to the home market. Each sector seeks to get the backing of government by seeking subsidies, tariffs or restrictive taxes in their own particular interest. Sometimes governments put obstacles in the way of the export industries in order to help home producers.
At the beginning of the 20th century the British government levied a heavy tax on every ton of coal exported. The coal owners objected but it was welcomed by the British factory owners because it meant lower coal prices in the home market. The Argentine government levies a tax on the export of meat and the Indian government fixes a minimum price for the export of tea. Only the high priced tea can be exported, with the effect of keeping prices low and promoting sales in the home market. Developing nations producing raw materials to be manufactured abroad eventually decide to restrict exports in order to promote the development of manufacturer at home. It all depends on which section of the capitalist class succeeds in getting government support for its particular benefit.
Whatever countries exist in the world, whatever section of the capitalists wield effective political power, the position of the working class is clear enough. The interests of the working class lie in the abolition of capitalism and its classes by replaced the profit system with Socialism, a higher social system altogether, which will have no need for countries, trade wars or real wars, poverty and will bring to an end to its related problems and insecurity. Instead of the constant search for profit through the exploitation of workers, production of useful things will be carried out because they are needed. Gone will be the days of taxes, tariffs, and all the other hallmarks of private property society.
We have learnt about the death of Michael Sansum at the age of 92. He had been a socialist throughout his adult life. He joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the 1940s and he was for several years on the Propaganda Committee of the SPGB. In June 1991 he joined with North West London and Camden Branches in reconstituting the SPGB around its 1904 Object and Declaration of Principles. He propagated the case for socialism, as and when he could, and would sell socialist literature at outdoor events such as Tolpuddle, Burford, and at Trade Union Meetings in London. He will be missed by his comrades.
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.