Writing in THE OBSERVER, Will Hutton looked at the rise and fall of Philip Green, the billionaire businessman, and asked whether we should critically “look closely at British Capitalism” to learn any lessons (Damn Philip Green. Damn also the rotten culture that allowed him to flourish, 28.10.2018).
The lessons Mr Hutton wanted us to learn was to agree to reform capitalism so that employers provided “great places to work”, where they were considerate to their employers and where they “recognise their responsibility to the society of which they are part”. Socialists disagree.
Sir Philip Green received his knighthood in 2006 from Tony Blair’s Labour government; something about Labour at the time being “at ease with the filthy rich”. And "filthy rich” Green certainly is, with a fortune estimated at around £2 billion (TIMES RICH LIST 2018). He also gave a lot of his money to David Cameron’s Tory Party while using exotic and creative tax management techniques to pay as little tax in Britain as possible. His wife, Tina, sits on most of his families’ off-shore wealth in Monaco.
Philip Green is also known to be a ruthless businessman, described by Robert Preston in his book “WHO RUNS BRITAIN” as “The King of Jackpot Capitalism”. And for investors Green certainly has hit the jackpot for them. Richard Caring, the restaurateur and clothing tycoon, received £93 million in payouts in the early days of Green’s ownership of BHS (GUARDIAN 29th April 2016).
So why has Sir Philip Green passed from being an “acceptable” capitalist feted by politicians from Blair to Cameron to becoming an “unacceptable” capitalist attacked in the media and Parliament? Why the pariah status?
A lot had to do with BHS going into administration in 2016, the fate of its 174 stores, problems with its pension fund and the 11,000 employees who lost their jobs. More recently, it is because of the way in which Green treats his employees. According to THE OBSERVER (28. 10. 2018) Green verbally bullies and racially abuses some workers in his employment and sexually harasses others. Green claims it is “banter”. An example of his abusive and bullying “banter” is given in Oliver Shah’s biography of Green, DAMAGED GOODS, in which Shah claimed Green, said to a womenswear buyer who had paid too much for a range of commodities:
“You’re absolutely fucking useless. I should throw you out of the window, but you’re so fat you’d probably bounce back again”.
BHS was always going to fail. With the arrival of internet shopping the department store has become a thing of the past – look at the recent problems at Debenhams who has been forced to close 50 stores with 3,000 job losses. Green knew this when he sold BHS for a pound in 2015 to a consortium called Retail Acquisitions Limited led by Dominic Chappell. Chappell was “less than credit-worthy” and a “repeat bankrupt” (PRIVATE EYE no. 1417 2016). Green was forced later to pay back several millions of pounds into the BHS pension fund.
Chappell and his associates took £15 million out of this loss-making company. In comparison the pension fund had a liability of £570 million. Intense competition, use of cheap foreign labour to produce clothes and cut-throat discounts favour the lean and the mean high street operators, out of town and mail order retail operators. By comparison, BHS was like a dinosaur. And the same problems of on-line commercial Internet competition are plaguing Green’s Arcadia Empire along with chains of cheap fashion shops like Top Shop.
On learning that he was to blame for the demise of BHS Sir Philip Green is reported to have said:
“If I give you my plane, right, and you tell me you’re a great driver and you crash into the first fucking mountain, is that my fault?” (GUARDIAN 19th March 2016).
Sir Philip Green has his admirers. Richard Godwin, writing in the EVENING STANDARD, saw Green as the embodiment of modern capitalism with:
“Its cynicism, the avarice, the bullying and insecurity” (EVENING STANDARD, 27th April 2016).
Godwin went on to remark that Green:
“…performs a service simply by showing us how it (capitalism) works”.
But does Sir Philip Green really show how capitalism works. Superficially, capitalists like Green are seen to undercut their competitors, make vast profits and amass as much capital as possible. If the business fails, then creditors, workers and others are just “collateral damage” in a system where making a profit counts for everything.
Colourful characters like Sir Philip Green litter capitalism’s history. Bernard and Norah Docker, in the 1950s, presided over the decline of BSA, as they milked the company to finance their opulent lifestyle. Then there was the landlord Peter Rachman, the architect and businessman John Paulson, Jimmy Goldsmith, Robert Maxwell, the “Guinness Four” (Saunders, Lyons, Parnes and Robson), one of whom became the only person to recover from severe dementia. They are the stuff of novelists and satirists. However being a ruthless bully, walking over competitors and treating workers like so much disposable rubbish is in fact not how capitalism really works.
If you want a scientific account of how capitalism really works you will not find it in the Business Section of the EVENING STANDARD or in op-ed pages of THE OBSERVER. In fact you will also not find it in the economic text books taught at universities. To discover how capitalism works you will first have to turn to the works of Karl Marx and similar socialist literature.
So, what is the function of a capitalist? Marx gave an answer:
“As the conscious representative of this movement, the possessor of money becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the point from which the money starts and to which it returns. The expansion of value, which is the objective basis ..., becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will...The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at (CAPITAL VOLUME ONE. Part II: The Transformation of Money into Capital. Chapter Four).
This comment by Marx applies to all capitalists whether they are “the good, the bad or the ugly”.
And where does this profit come from? It does not come from buying cheap and selling high or from cheating. Profits are not made in circulation but in production. It comes from the exploitation of the working class who produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. This “surplus value” as Marx called goes to the capitalist class in the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
It does not matter whether the capitalist is an ascetic philanthropist or a ruthless chancer like Sir Philip Green. They both have to exploit the working class as ruthlessly as possible to remain capitalists. They have no choice in the matter if they want to remain as capitalists, although capitalism favours the entrepreneur who destroys his competitors without losing any sleep. “Capitalism is not for wimps” and “Greed is good” is the ruthless world Green inhabits.
An investor would rather have Sir Peter Green at the helm than Mother Theresa. For the investor, the Greens’ of the world, while they are making money for the shareholders, will always be the acceptable face of capitalism.
In his article, Will Hutton believes British capitalism needs “a root-and-branch makeover”. It needs no such thing. Instead, World capitalism needs to be replaced with world socialism. That is what needs to be done. This is the last thing on Hutton’s mind. Hutton believes you can have capitalism without the effects of capitalism. You cannot. Capitalism is exploitive and capitalists have to exploit the working class. And Hutton admits this. He says that:
“We need more firms committed to creating value over time”
The creation of “value over time” comes from class exploitation, from workers’ unpaid labour, and it does not matter if it is exploitation is in the short or in the long term; by employers hugging workers as they turn up to work in the morning or behaving rudely and discourtesy to their workforce like Green and capitalists like him.
Hutton wants a touchy-feely capitalism; a capitalism working in the interests of everyone. And Hutton lectures socialist on their “utopianism”!!! Capitalists have no option but to intensify and extend the rate of exploitation. Capitalists have to be aggressive and competitive or they will not survive. As Marx once noted: “One capitalist kills many”.
What is not acceptable is for the working class to go on year-in and year-out producing the surplus value and subsequent profit for Sir Peter Green and his class to live-off while the rest of society lives in poverty and unmet social and individual need. The collapse of BHS shone a light on the grubby practices of those who have gained by its collapse. And the recent exposure of Green as an unpleasant and vulgar employer might also serve to demonstrate the reality of class power and privilege. However his behaviour does not show how profit is made any more than it explains capitalism and the workings of the profit system.
The question is not presenting an acceptable face of capitalism as though managing the effects of class exploitation can be reduced to a PR exercise. Nor is it a question of the right type of capitalist who invests for the long term, treats his employees well and considers the wider social environment as Hutton seems to want a capitalist to behave while still maintain a system of class exploitation.
Instead, it is a question of the ownership of the means of production and distribution, what they are used for and what they are not used for. This turns on whether there is production for profit or production solely for social use. And for production solely for social use to take place, the workers do not need the capitalist class living off their labour, whether with an “acceptable face” or not. Socialism is the answer to class exploitation not social reform.
Why is Russia Still in Syria
War and Capitalism
The socialist position on the cause of war and conflict under capitalism is unique to the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The socialist explanation for wars is that they are caused by capitalism and the division of the world into competing nation states.
Capitalism is a world- wide system of class exploitation in which the means of production and distribution, defended by the machinery of government including the armed forces, are owned by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the majority – the working class. The capitalist class are divided between themselves but they all exploit the working class by extracting what Marx called “surplus-value” from them which is the source of the employer’s unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Wars in capitalism are not fought for civilising ideals or over differing political ideas and beliefs but over issues of importance to competing capitalists – such as raw materials like oil and gas, trade routes and spheres of strategic political control and influence. The profit system drives nation states to war rather than what their political leaders might or might not say in order to gain popular support for their aggressive actions.
A current example supporting the socialist position for the reason why wars take place under capitalism is the on-going civil war in Syria which has seen the death of tens of thousands of people. According to the UN envoy to Syria, 400, 000 had been killed since the start of the civil war on 2011. Russia has played a large part in the civil war where there was a 34% increase in civilian deaths caused by Russian air strikes (INDEPENDENT 25 July 2018) – an example of state terrorism about which Putin’s supporters on the capitalist left remains silent.
Russia and Iran both support the Syrian regime under President al-Assad. These two countries’ contribution to the civil war has been the deaths of civilians through Russian air attacks on densely populated cities and ground assaults against rebel positions by 70,000 troops made up of Iranian soldiers, Hezbollah and a large militia force drawn from Pakistan and Lebanon (Majid Rafizadeh, IRANIAN SOLDIERS IN SYRIA Gatestone Institute. November 24, 2016).
Russia and Iran have very good reasons for supporting the Syrian regime. These interests revolve around Syrian deposits of oil and gas, the trade routes by which to pipe oil and gas to other countries for sale and profit and the protection of these assets by military force.
These three factors support the socialist case about why war takes place under capitalism and why wars will continue to break-out until the profit system is replaced by socialism.
Most wars within capitalism, particularly wars in the 20th century, have been over control of raw resources like gas and oil. If there was no oil supplies in the Middle East, there would not have been the amount of conflict seen there over the last one hundred years. Foreign policy by governments is driven by the need to secure and protect raw resources to keep industrial production going. And in this respect, Syria’s oil and gas has been an important consideration in the intervention in the civil War by countries like Russia.
Syria has large deposits of oil and gas reserves. Syria is the only significant crude oil producing country in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, Syria had 2,500,000,000 barrels (400,000,000 m3) of petroleum reserves as of 1 January 2010. Since that date estimates have been difficult to assess due to the civil war.
As for gas, an early United States Geological Survey (12 March 2010) estimate put Syria's potential offshore gas reserves at 24 trillion cubic feet, more than double the quantity of its onshore gas.
In January 2018, Russia and Syria signed an energy cooperation framework giving Russia exclusive rights to produce oil and gas in Syria.
The post-war rebuilding of the Syrian oil industry will be very expensive and will take time. According to the IMF in 2015, it would cost some $27 billion but that figure would be greater given the infrastructure devastation of three further years of civil war.
However, for Russia to take control of gas production is more profitable than oil. As the journalist Viktor Katona wrote:
“Taking control of gas fields seems a better (and more profitable) bet for Russia. If it manages to secure a fixed price, stable demand is guaranteed domestically, as gas will remain the dominant electricity generation input” (Oil Price.Dom 14/2/18).
And he concludes:
“Russia has been keen on increasing its foothold in Iraqi Kurdistan (Rosneft), Gazprom (Neft), tapping into Lebanon’s offshore gas (NOVATEK), and having a bigger say in Eastern Mediterranean affairs in general. For that, taking over Syria’s oil and gas sector might be a very powerful, non-military tool.”
Running Syria’s oil and gas sectors is a far more convincing explanation for Russia’s continuing presence in Syria than the one given by Putin of merely degrading terrorists in the region on behalf of the Syrian regime. Of course, Syria is of vital strategic interest to Israel as it is to the US, plus Syria has for a long time been the ally of Iran which the US sees as its enemy. Israel wants to protect its border from Iran and Hezbollah while the US has secured a part of North Eastern Syria rich in oil, gas and water reserves; some 30 per cent of the country (MINT PRESS NEWS April 16th 2018).
Gas Pipelines and Profit
The supply from this natural gas field has been threatened by proposals, first put forward in 2009, for Qatar to build a pipeline from the Persian Gulf via Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Syria and Turkey reducing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. This idea was dropped after pressure from Russia.
At the same time Iran, which owns a smaller share of the Persian Gulf gas field, wanted to plan a $10 billion dollar pipeline via Iraq and Syria and then under the Mediterranean Sea to European buyers..
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also would like to build a link, but it necessarily passes through Syria.
Much of Russia’s power comes from established pipelines used to transport gas to Europe cheaply. But other countries are now trying to get around Russia and provide new sources of gas to Europe.
Syria, Russia and Iran have other plans which will further their interests at the expense of their competitors in the region. These three countries have their own proposals for a competing pipeline
In an article for the WASHINGTON INSTITUTE, the journalist Nikita Sogoloff wrote:
[Russia] seeks “to actively participate in rebuilding and operating Syrian oil and gas infrastructure. By undertaking such a massive endeavor, Russian energy companies hope to control significant portions of pipelines, liquefaction facilities, refineries, and terminals, thus capitalizing on Syria’s potential as a transit hub for regional oil and gas heading to Europe. In doing so, Russia will not only expand its dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean, a dream since the Caucasian Wars of the nineteenth century, but also solidify its stranglehold on the European gas supply” (August 30 2018).
The conflict in Syria is not a local civil war, as such, but the geo-political machinations of several states who have an economic interest as to where geographically the gas lines are to be located, who is to control them and who is to reap the rewards.
Spheres of Strategic Control
Syria's geography matters to both Russia and Iran.
The naval installation in the port city of Tartus, first established in the Cold War, provides Russia's access to the Mediterranean, important for both commercial and military purposes.
On January 2017, President al-Assad struck a deal to confer territorial sovereignty of the base to the Kremlin, which has plans to expand capacity to host large warships, including aircraft carriers.
The Russian facility at Tartus has been used for delivering armaments and supplies by Russian dock landing ships and cargo ships that pass the Straits from the Russian Black Sea port in Novorossivsk to Syria for the purposes of Russia’s military operation that began on 30 September 2015 as well as for the Syrian Army.
There is also a Russian air-force base near the north-western Syrian city of Latakia; it was built essentially from scratch in 2015 and is home to more than 1,000 personnel.
Syria also provides the Iranian Navy's only direct Mediterranean access.
In studying events around questions of oil, gas, oil and gas supply and spheres of strategic importance like the location of navies in ports, a more realistic appraisal of capitalism and war can be given rather than the platitudes, evasions and lies of governments and politicians trying to get support from a non-socialist working class.
Socialism: Ending War and Conflict
Capitalism with its division into competing nation states is the cause of war. While capitalism continues to exist countries will continue to try to gain control over raw resources, protect trade routes and impose spheres of strategic influence upon other countries.
There is only one thing which has not been tried to end war. There has never been socialism in the world.
With the establishment of socialism there will not be any more war; there will be no armed forces for the propertied class to protect its property; there would be no production for sale and profit; there would be no markets; there would be no need to protect raw resources, trade routes and spheres of influence; the world would not be divided into separate capitalist nations each fighting the other; there would not be governments exploiting divisions between different languages and religions; and there would be no conflict between capitalists and workers because there will be no profit system and no exploiting capitalist class.
Socialism will be organised world-wide on the basis of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. Production would be solely and directly for use. The function of production would be to make goods available to all society. There would be free access.
To achieve socialism requires, first and foremost, the winning over the working class to understand and accept the socialist case. Capitalism causes wars and conflict just as it exploits the working class, generates poverty, environmental degradation and passes trough periodic crises and trade depressions with high levels of unemployment. It is a socialist principle that you cannot contemplate socialism being run except by socialists. Socialism is not possible until a socialist majority democratically gain control of the machinery of government (including the armed forces) as well as the means of production and distribution. Until then there can only be capitalism, conflict and war.
PETERLOO: “YE ARE MANY - THEY ARE FEW”
On 16 August 1819 in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, a troop of cavalry and yeomanry – whose commander had conveniently absented himself for a day at the races – charged with sabres drawn into a crowd of about 80,000 unarmed people, many of whom were unable to escape the enclosed space. The assembled crowd included women and children and had gathered to campaign for universal suffrage. A number of banners were carried with slogans such as “Vote by Ballot”, “Annual parliaments”, “No Corn Laws”.
At approximately 1.30 p.m. Henry “Orator” Hunt arrived to address the meeting. According to the Times report (which criticised the subsequent massacre), the crowd settled to listen to Hunt’s speech. Within a few minutes the Yeomanry rode through the crowd, surrounded the platform and arrested Hunt. He was led off to face the magistrates. After this the Yeomanry rode through the crowd with sabres drawn. The troops killed 15 and injured hundreds more. The massacre in all its violence has recently been captured in Mike Leigh’s film “Peterloo”.
The government was entirely pleased with the result, and did not object to the massacre’s nickname “Peterloo”. It reminded them of a rerun of its victory over Napoleon, the creature of something it continued to fear intensely: the French Revolution.. In response, Lord Liverpool’s government passed further repressive measures against the working class to make such gatherings illegal (part of the Six Acts”). The massacre was immortalised in Shelley’s poem “The Mask of Anarchy” written in 1819, with its final stanza in support of the demonstrators:
“Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chain to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few
Rosa Luxemburg at 100
Rosa Luxemburg is considered by many on the capitalist left as a revolutionary socialist and a Marxist theorist. This year marks the centenary of her tragic death in 1919 and so it would be a useful exercise to critically assess if these claims are correct or not. Did she have views on many subjects close to those of the Socialist Party of Great Britain? What were these views? And do they have any relevance for today’s socialists?
Throughout her political life she wrote a considerable amount of literature about the reformism within the SDP, advocated by people like E. Bernstein (“PROBLEMS OF SOCIALISM”, Neue Zeit, 1897-98), about the First World War which she opposed, about the political tactics she favoured such as the mass strike and about the supposed limits of capitalism as it became a fully integrated global system of class exploitation at the start of the 20th century. These writings are contained in such works as REFORM OR REVOLUTION (1898), THE MASS STRIKE (1906), THE NATIONAL QUESTION (1909), THE ACCUMULATION OF CAPITAL (1912), THE JUNIUS PAMPHLET (1915) and THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION (1922).
Going against the grain of the Bolshevik coup d’état in 1917, Luxemburg also contributed to a critique of Lenin’s anti-Marxism. She levelled two criticisms and a warning against Lenin. First she refuted Lenin’s policy of creating a centralised party structure whose leadership imposed tactics and strategy on the rest of the organisation and by extension to the working class outside it. She rightly denounced this centralism as “Blanquism”: the argument that socialist revolution should be carried out by a relatively small group of highly organised and secretive conspirators. She wrote:
“The centralisation of social democracy, based on the two principles [of] the blind subjection of all party organs and their activity, down to the minutest detail to a central authority, which thinks, acts and decides for everyone and secondly, the strict separation of [the] organized core of the party from the surrounding milieu, as Lenin would have it, seems to us no more or less than a mechanical transference of the Blanquist principles of the organisation of conspiratorial groups to the social democratic movement of the working class” (Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy”
Secondly, she dismissed Lenin “opportunism” in urging socialists to support “the rights of nations to self-determination”, a position which she had previously set out in relation to Poland where she had dismissed Marx’s own position on the question of nationalism as “obsolete and mistaken”.
THE NATIONAL QUESTION by Rosa Luxemburg (edited by Horace B. Davis, 1976).
In her polemic against Lenin she wrote:
“So long as capitalist States endure, particularly so long as imperialist world-politics determines and gives form to the inner and outer life of the States, the national right of self-determination has not the least thing in common with their practice either in war or in peace. ... In the present-day imperialistic milieu there can be no national wars of defence, and any socialist policy which fails to take account of this definite historical level and which in the midst of the world vortex lets itself be governed merely by the isolated viewpoints of a single country is doomed in advance.
(JUNIUS PAMPHLET, 1915, quoted in Luxemburg versus Lenin, Paul Mattick, https://libcom.org/library/luxemburg-versus-lenin-mattick).
Luxemburg, rightly saw both these political doctrines as a repudiation of core Marxian principles. These principles are that the establishment of socialism by the working class had to be by the effort of workers themselves and not by leaders no matter how benign. And that the political support for national self-determination of oppressed national groups was “opportunism” replacing the Marxian class struggle and socialist revolution with a national struggle and establishment of autonomous nation states.
The events of the twentieth century have proved her analysis of the national question correct. Not only was “rights” when applied to national self-determination an abstract and metaphysical demand but all national struggles have ever successfully achieved is to secure capitalist rule for its ruling class and has bought socialism no nearer as has recently been shown in Ken Burns documentary VIETNAM 1945 to 1975 where one authoritarian regime was replaced by another at the cost of 2 million lives and the continuation of class exploitation. Unlike the capitalist left, the Socialist Party of Great Britain did not support the Vietcong and North Vietnam.
And her warning about future events in Russia was prescient. She remarked:
Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins (the postponement of the Soviet Congress from three-month periods to six-month periods!) Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc." (THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION page 75)
However, it was the consequences of the First World War which tragically and prematurely ended Luxembourg’s life. Her opposition to the war found her arrested and imprisoned on several occasions but her opposition to the war also cut her off from former comrades who supported the carnage by voting for war credits.
Luxemburg also wrote the anti-war JUNIUS PAMPHLET (1915). In the concluding section of the pamphlet she optimistically wrote:
The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand scale; it is also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The soldiers of socialism, the proletarians of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for months been killing one another at the behest of capital. They are driving the cold steel of murder into each other’s hearts. Locked in the embrace of death, they tumble into a common grave.
The madness will cease and the bloody demons of hell will vanish only when workers in Germany and France, England and Russia finally awake from their stupor, extend to each other a brotherly hand, and drown out the bestial chorus of imperialist war-mongers and the shrill cry of capitalist hyenas with labour’s old and mighty battle cry: Proletarians of all lands, unite!”
Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht co-founded the anti-war Spartacus League (Spartakusbund) in 1916 after her second period in imprisonment for opposing the war. The Spartacus League would eventually become the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
When peace finally arrived in November 1918, the government, led by Prince Max von Baden, resigned and Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated as the country slipped into varying degrees of revolution and social unrest. Discontent and hunger were rife. The Imperial Navy mutinied in Kiel. In Berlin, workers’ councils were formed. In Munich a separate “socialist republic” was declared for the entire region of Bavaria. The rebellions were to go the same way as the Paris Commune.
During the November Revolution Luxemburg co-founded the newspaper DIE ROTE FAHE ("The Red Flag"), for the Spartacist movement. Almost at the same time the KPD was formed from a unification of Spartacist League and the communists there was an uprising in Berlin against Ebert’s majority Social Democratic government, with encouragement from Soviet Russia. Luxemburg considered the uprising of January 1919 a mistake but supported it nonetheless. Her doubts were not misplaced.
The former Berlin police chief, a radical sympathiser of the rebellion, supplied weapons to the rebels who captured the police station and erected barricades in the streets. Calls for a General Strike brought thousands of people onto the streets but the Revolutionary Committee had no practical plan to secure the city, nor initiate a political programme and could not agree what to do when confronted by superior military force that was disciplined and well armed. Some of the committee wanted to continue with the armed rising while others wanted to compromise with Ebert’s government. Attempts to persuade army regiments to join the revolt also failed.
Friedrich Ebert’s government crushed the revolt by sending in the Friekorps (government-sponsored paramilitary groups consisting mostly of World War I veterans). Equipped with artillery, machine guns and grenades, the Freikorps retook the police headquarters, the war ministry and other buildings the revolutionaries had captured, and shot hundreds of the demonstrators, including many who had surrendered. The workers’ and soldiers’ councils collapsed, partly by being no match for well trained soldiers but, more importantly, not having widespread support from the population in Berlin who sided with the government. Ebert went on to establish a new constitution for what was to be known as the Weimar Republic, which survived until Hitler took power in 1933.
The failure of the uprising was to prove a personal disaster for Luxemburg and Liebknecht. Freikorps troops captured and summarily executed both of them on January 15th 1919, and Luxemburg's body was thrown into the Landwehr Canal in Berlin.
The architect, Mies van der Rohe, designed the memorial monument to Luxemburg and Liebknecht in 1926 in a stark brickwork composition of bullet ridden bricks taken from buildings damaged and destroyed during the uprising. The dominant but vulgar hammer and sickle motif fixed to the memorial symbolised not only the dictatorship of the Party over the workers and peasants but also represented the millions killed in the Soviet Union under the Bolshevik dictatorship. In its brutality the monument was a fitting symbol to Luxemburg’s dictum “socialism or barbarism” which she had used in the JUNIUS pamphlet to describe the crossroads at which capitalism had arrived in 1915. The monument also symbolises for socialists the futility of the political mass strike made up of non-socialist workers and her misjudgement in taking part in violent direct action against the government and the armed forces of the state.
Socialists are in full agreement with Rosa Luxemburg’s rejection of Lenin’s method of centralised organisation and acknowledge her principled opposition to capitalism’s wars; however socialists are opposed to her theory of mass strikes, still in vogue with Trotskyists, today. The use of mass strikes to establish socialism is at odds with the socialist position of a socialist majority using the revolutionary use of Parliament in order to secure the machinery of government, including the armed forces, before socialism can be established. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, in its correspondence with supporters of violent direct action in the letter pages of the SOCIALIST STANDARD in the 1920s and 1930s uncompromisingly made the political point about workers taking on the armed forces of the state in mass strikes and street battles quite clear: that is, complete opposition. This opposition was based upon socialist principles and recognition of the facts of history.
LUXEMBURG ON WAR CREDITS AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR
“The great historical hour of the world war obviously demanded unanimous political accomplishment, a broad-minded, comprehensive attitude that only the social democracy is destined to give. Instead, there followed, on the part of the parliamentary representatives of the working class, a miserable collapse. The social democracy did not adopt the wrong policy – it had no policy whatsoever. It has wiped itself out completely as a class party with a world conception of its own, has delivered the country, without a word of protest, to the fate of imperialist war without, to the dictatorship of the sword within. Nay more, it has taken the responsibility for the war upon its own shoulders. The declaration of the “Reichstag group;’ says: “We have voted only the means for our country’s defence. We decline all responsibility for the war.” But as a matter of fact, the truth lies in exactly the opposite direction. The means for “national defence,” i.e., for imperialistic mass butchery by the armed forces of the military monarchy, were not voted by the social democracy. For the availability of the war credits did not in the least depend upon the social democracy. They, as a minority, stood against a compact three-quarters majority of the capitalist Reichstag. The social democratic group accomplished only one thing by voting in favour of the war credits. It placed upon the war the stamp of democratic fatherland defence, and supported and sustained the fictions that were propagated by the government concerning the actual conditions and problems of the war” THE JUNIUS PAMPHLET (published 1915).
Reform or Revolution?
Rosa Luxemburg’s most widely known pamphlet is REFORMOR REVOLUTION. This was written as a reply to Eduard Bernstein’s revisionist articles which had been published in the SDP periodical NEUE ZEIT and which were later collected together in an influential book “EVOLUTIONARY SOCIALISM”(1899). Bernstein was a close friend of Engels and spent many years in London where he came across the ideas of the Fabians. His revision of SDP policy was to build up a party capable of getting reforms through parliament, and to support co-operatives and the trade unions as well as making alliances with other political parties. Bernstein was for reform not revolution.
The first section of Luxemburg’s reply to Bernstein appeared in the LEIPZIGER VOLKSZEITUNG in September 1898. In 1899 she published a second article which dealt with many of Bernstein’s arguments against Marx. The two articles were published together in 1900 as REFORMORREVOLUTION, and a second edition appeared in 1908. It was only in 1938 that an English edition appeared in print. Although considered as one of Luxemburg’s more important pamphlets, “REFORM OR REVOLUTION” contains a serious flaw with respect to social reforms. Despite demolishing Bernstein’s revisionism Luxemburg did not criticise the reform programmes or “palliatives” of the German Social Democratic Party.
In 1891 the SDF had adopted a new political programme at its conference in Erfurt, known as the Erfurt Programme. This became the template for other social democratic parties in Europe and elsewhere and, although having a socialist goal it also contained numerous reform proposals including free medical treatment, midwifery services and burials. There was even a reform proposed to abolish “servant’s regulations” (for a critique of the Erfurt Programme see “THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS”, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1948 pp. 22 to 27).
Luxemburg, like most people associated with the Second International, was not opposed to social reforms as part of the aim of achieving socialism. Her opposition to reforms was because of Bernstein’s relegation of socialism to a far-off goal in favour of a reform programme within capitalism, a social system which he believed could be incrementally changed to meet the needs of all society: a reformed and regulated capitalism with a human face. In short: political gradualism rather than revolution – something which he associated with violence and chaos.
Socialism, Luxemburg argued, had its end in social revolution or it was nothing. Bernstein’s revisionism, she countered:
... tends to counsel us to renounce the social transformation, the final goal of Social-Democracy and, inversely, to make of social reforms, the means of the class struggle, its aim. Bernstein himself has very clearly and characteristically formulated this viewpoint when he wrote: “The Final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything.”(page 5)
On her own support for social reforms Luxemburg wrote:
“Can the Social-Democracy be against reforms? Can we contrapose the social revolution, the transformation of the existing order, our final goal, to social reforms? Certainly not. The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers the Social democracy the only means of engaging in the proletarian class war and working in the direction of the final goal – the conquest of political power and the suppression of wage-labour. Between social reforms and revolution there exists for the Social Democracy an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means, the social revolution, its aim” (REFORM OR REVOLUTION, Introduction p. 5 1899).
Luxemburg was of the belief that reforms had to be offered to workers to attract them to social democracy and the class struggle for socialism. She thought that reforms were the only means to make socialists, not the hard work of persuading workers to become socialists put forward by the Socialist of Party of Great Britain. Unlike the SPGB Luxemburg was for reforms. She did not believe workers could become socialists in any other way.
The pursuit of reforms as a precondition for the establishment of socialism has two serious flaws.
First, reforms do not solve the problems facing the working class but can sometimes even make them worse, or have unintended consequences, or cannot be enacted or are withdrawn by another political party at a later date. This policy also lets in other political parties to offer similar reforms to gain support from and divide the working class voters; a strategy adapted by Bismarck in Germany with the introduction of pension and other social welfare reforms to check the rise and influence of the SDP, and later by the Liberal Lloyd George in Britain with the enactment of the National Insurance Act in 1911 to undercut the Labour Party.
Another objection is that a party claiming to be socialist, but with a list of reforms or “immediate demands”, attracts both reformers who are not socialists as well as a non- socialist electorate behind who are more interested in these reforms than the socialist goal. Even if such a party obtains political power and forms a government, it is useless for the purpose of furthering socialism. The reforms take up all the time and often meet unknown obstacles like an economic crisis and trade depression or a war.
The position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain could not be more different over the question of social reform or revolution. The SPGB has as its sole and immediate object, not a struggle for reforms with or without socialism as an ultimate goal, but the establishment of socialism and only socialism. It is a revolutionary party based on the class struggle, and is not a reform party.
Socialists insist upon the need of first educating the workers to understanding the case for socialism. To achieve socialism as a social system requires workers’ class consciousness, their understanding of their position in the class struggle, and their recognition of the necessity for socialism. Workers cannot take the far-reaching step of making the means of production and distribution common property under democratic control without being fully aware of what they are doing. A political programme of reforms is, therefore, useless to a socialist party even if seen as a strategic or tactical move.
The immediate need of the working class is not the passing of reforms but emancipation from capitalism, which can only be achieved by the establishment of socialism. Socialists hold that no social reform minimising the impact of capitalism on the workers’ condition can be obtained under the profit system that would be worth the amount of time and energy spent in working and organising to obtain it. Socialists are opposed to the waste of such time and energy, and to the confusion involved in attempting to improve capitalism by means of reforms, thus obscuring the class struggle. The Socialist Party of Great Britain put it this way:
“For the party of the working class, one course alone is open: unceasing hostility to all parties that lend their aid to the administration of the capitalist social system and thus contribute, consciously or otherwise, to its maintenance. Our object is its removal and replacement by socialism” (THE FDUTILITY OF REFORMISM, Questions of the Day, 1976, p. 33).
Now, we Socialists continue along this path. Yet generations of workers have backed the Labour Party, the Communist Party, and a number of ‘Left’ parties labelling themselves Socialist, Communist, Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist, sometimes under the banner of the Second International, the Leninist-Bolshevik Third International, the Trotskyist Fourth International, and their successors etc,– too many to mention. All with reform proposals galore! But all these parties were fatally flawed. Instead of the revolutionary Socialist demand for the abolition of the wages system, all relied on the support of short-sighted workers satisfied with the contaminated junk food of reformism. And so we still continue to live in a capitalist world, of wars, poverty and class exploitation, with many reforms still being proposed – but never abolition of the wages system.
Labour's Leadership and the Zionist Witch-Hunt
Every summer, in the months before Party conferences, media reporting is obsessed with disputes over attempts to replace some party leader. Traditionally in ancient times if crops failed, the priest-king would be ritually sacrificed in the hope of a better crop.
Still, today, human sacrifices are expected. Their party’s drubbing in the 2017 elections left the LibDem leader exposed. Tories, bitterly divided over Europe and Brexit, are wrangling like rats in a sack, with several ambitious would-be leaders like Boris Johnson hoping for the top job. The Labour Party is divided with Blairite MPs - fiercely opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and policies - latching onto allegations that he is an ‘anti-Semitic racist’, with a media storm against him and any on the Left who dare to express criticisms of Israel’s policies or sympathy for the Palestinians.
Divisions over party leadership are masking but not solving debates over policy. Socialists have always held that a mature, democratic political party has no need for leaders to decide its policy – only sheep need leaders.
We have no time for would-be ‘Great Men’, and historically a party’s leader has often been its weak spot, an Achilles heel. For instance, Michael Foot, an earlier leftwing Labour leader, was smeared in the press in 1995 as an alleged KGB agent; he sued for libel and won, but the libel had done its work. Decades later, the exact same libel has been resurrected in the TIMES (PRIVATE EYE, Sept-Oct 2018). The dead cannot sue for libel so liars have immunity.
Any attack on a Leftwing Labour leader, dead or alive, is useful for the rightwing press, especially as some of Corbyn’s close associates are still strongly pro-Russia, a hangover from the time when so many on the Left ignorantly admired the Soviet dictatorship as a ‘Socialist state’.
Socialists hold as a matter of principle that working-class organisation for worldwide Socialism has to be “without distinction of race or sex”. We are strongly opposed to racism, nationalism and all other beliefs, including religion, used to divide the working class. We argue that, while nationalism is used to whip up support for warfare, the real causes of war are rooted in economic and political issues.
So what lies behind these hyped-up accusations of racism and anti-Semitism? This year, 2018, was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel – much celebrated both in Israel and among its supporters. But at the same time there were protests by Palestinians who regard that event as a Nakba, a disaster. From the start, Israel’s occupation of Palestine was ruthless and the bloodshed continues, as Israeli forces shoot at mostly unarmed protesters on the Gaza border.
Palestinians’ hopes were that their protests would draw world attention to the horrible treatment they have had from Israel, down decades of brutal ethnic cleansing and occupation. However, socialists oppose Palestinian nationalism just as we oppose Israeli nationalism. The working class in Israel and the Palestinian areas have common class interests in abolishing capitalism and replacing the profit system with socialism. In this they have the same class interest as workers elsewhere in the world. What divides them is holding onto a spurious belief in nationalism which ties workers to their respective ruling class. Workers have no country and do not own the means of production and distribution.
Socialists have no interest in the problems facing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party whom we oppose. That the Labour Party is split between different factions is its problem not ours. Capitalist politics is nasty, brutal and vindictive. Furthermore, Corbyn supports Palestinian nationalism and therefore he becomes a political target from the Israeli government and its supporters. He and his supporters should not be naive enough to believe otherwise.
Corbyn has been attacked for alleged anti-Semitism and racism at a time when it is Israeli policy to counter international critics: by equating anti-Zionism with racism and anti-Semitism so as to delegitimize critics of Israeli policy. Israeli policymakers have taken note of the Anti-Apartheid Movement’s successful sanctions against South Africa, one of the Left’s many ‘good causes’, and are determined to prevent the international BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) campaign having a similar effect.
Their media campaign may well have succeeded in making the whole issue toxic, political dynamite, so that to express support or sympathy for the wretched Palestinians is simply suicidal for any aspiring politician.
What is anti-Semitism?
The adoption by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Association, Romanina Conference 2016) of a “non-legal working definition” of anti-Semitism has been a central demand of the Jewish/Israeli lobby, Labour Friends of Israel included. This “working definition” was finally adopted by the Labour
Party leadership but they had reservations about some of the more political examples suggested. One example especially would make many criticisms of Israel impossible as it would mean that ‘anti-Semitism’ now could include: Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour [our emphasis].
This raises the question: is the state of Israel a Jewish state? In the past the state of Israel was conceived of by Zionists as a Jewish State. Zionism had started as a movement in the late 19th century, at a time of pogroms and widespread persecution of Jews in most of Europe. The commitment to setting up this state appeared first in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which explicitly referred to setting up “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
But that Declaration, adopted in 1926 as British government policy, also importantly included “doing nothing to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. This second part of the Balfour Declaration is conveniently ignored by latter-day Israel apologists.
In his book, ANTI-SEMITISM – THE OLDEST HATRED (2015), the Labour MP John Mann makes very few references to this historic document, never quotes the text of it and, in his very few brief references to it, only refers to the first part of the text – never to Balfour’s important condition.
In 1946 a Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion was clear as to what the Zionist movement wanted:
We shall go to Palestine in order to become a majority there. If need be we shall take the country by force... If Palestine proves too small, her frontiers will have to be extended (MANCHESTER GUARDIAN 3 July 1946, from SPGB THE RACIALPROBLEM, 1947, p45).
In July 2018 the Knesset passed a ‘nation-state law’, with constitutional force, stating that the right of self-determination in Israel was exclusively reserved for Jews and only for Jews, thus making explicit the second-class status of all other groups – Arabs, Druze, Christian, Bedouin, etc.
Something of the same sort was part of the Nazi project. In both there was and is the same mindset: ‘we’ are a superior race or group, the Chosen People, so all others are by definition inferior, untermenschen.
Modern Israel is in fact a racist state, with racist policies and a racist ideology, one which discriminates systematically against Palestinians. Its methods of repression, many of them illegal under international law, include house demolitions, house searches, closure of towns or villages for weeks at a time, curfews, use of spies and informants, ‘administrative detention’ even of children, and torture. Water supplies are controlled by the Israelis, likewise the issue of permits to allow for building work.
In Gaza electricity is only available a few hours a day: without power, water treatment fails so raw untreated sewage flows into the Mediterranean. Unemployment and restrictions on fishing add to the misery. Israel’s gunboats patrol the coast, shooting at fishermen and even at children playing football on the beach. And all exit routes are closed.
As in apartheid South Africa, the state controls the textbooks: Israeli schools’ textbooks only refer to Palestinians negatively. Every effort is made to keep Jews and Palestinians apart. And state spies and informers are everywhere in the occupied territories.
Israel and the Left
In Britain, sympathy for the underdog has always been a feature of Leftwing politics. It is natural and shows a sense of ‘fair play’, of anger at perceived injustice. In the early days of the Israeli state and for some time after, Israel was seen with sympathy and goodwill as the state of the Jewish victims of Hitler’s Nazi genocide, a form of compensation for the unforgivable injustices suffered by Europe’s Jews.
With the founding of Israel, the world turned a blind eye to Jewish terrorism and violence, the wholesale expropriation of Palestinian property, destruction of homes, and bulldozing of villages and towns, as Palestinians were driven out, forced to flee as refugees into neighbouring states. That was ‘ethnic cleansing’ long before the phrase was invented.
Until the 1967 Six-Day War, the outside world still broadly supported Israel. The cause of Israel was especially appealing to Left idealists many of whom in the 1950s and 60s volunteered to work on the kibbutzim, Israel’s egalitarian collectives.
But after the 1967 war of aggression, even the Left started to shift their position, realizing that Israel was no longer a special sort of ‘victim’ state but a new colonialist and racist regime. Israel’s annexation of the West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria showed it was an aggressively expansionist, militarist power.
In his book CURSED VICTORY (London, 2014), historian Ahron Bregman wrote (p.xxv).that the 1967 Six-Days War:
... marked the turning point... world sympathy started shifting from the Israelis to the new underdogs – namely the people who came under Israel’s
Palestinians then came to be seen as the underdogs, especially as Israel’s crude, oppressive occupation was combined with gross injustice, and political and economic inequality. Later the Sabra and Shatila massacres, when Israel shelled the wretched refugee camps in Lebanon, led the peaceniks of the Left to oppose Israel’s militarism.
As Israel’s founders had always held that they were surrounded by potential enemies, they needed and relied on support from the US. Over time, American financial, military and technological support has resulted in Israel’s armed forces having the only nuclear weapons in the region, plus the most advanced drones and electronic eavesdropping technology. Israel became the US proxy in the oil-rich Middle East. While American politicians live in terror of the powerful gun lobby, for them to criticize Israel’s policies would be political suicide.
After the 1967 Six-Days War, at a time of many ‘national liberation’ anti-colonial movements, that switch in public sentiment was expressed in the 1975 UN resolution (3379), which equated Zionism with racism and apartheid, as a “racist and imperialistic ideology... a form of racism and racial discrimination”. Later, in 1991, after heavy lobbying from Israel and the US, this was rescinded.
Jews, Zionism and racism
The Jews’ claim that Palestine is their land derives from the Bible: as God’s Chosen People, it is the ‘will of God’ that this piece of planet earth is theirs. Jews from all over the world have been encouraged to return, their illegal settlements loom over Palestinian villages, and their right of return is guaranteed in Israeli law.
But the driven out Palestinians remain stateless refugees over the borders or cooped up in the cramped and hopeless open-air prison which is Gaza. Such is the ‘will of god’.
A Jewish national identity cannot be found in any sense of a ‘Jewish race’. Scientists know that there are in the modern world no longer any identifiable biological ‘races’, and even Jews have blended with non-Jews in many different countries. So, in a biological sense, there is no Jewish ‘race’. However, there is a Jewish religion, and for some being ‘Jewish’ can be defined, as Einstein wrote, in terms of culture:
“The bond that has united the Jews for thousands of years and that unites them today is, above all, the democratic ideal of social justice coupled with the ideal of mutual aid and tolerance among all men”.
WHY DO THEY HATE THE JEWS? (1938)
Would Einstein now see in today’s Israel a state with those values, of “social justice ... and tolerance among all men”?
The reality is that from the start the Zionists intended Israel to be a Jewish State. Any Arabs or others were tolerated only as a source of cheap labour, a second-class group. Accusing those who criticize Israeli policy towards the Palestinians of being ‘racists’ is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Socialists call for workers to unite and realize they have only one enemy: the capitalist system. We are all victims of world capitalism, of exploitation, of endless conflicts.
Ideologies and belief-systems like racism, nationalism and religion are used to create divisions. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is opposed to all forms of racism, anti-Semitism included, and also to all forms of nationalism, and we work to develop working-class unity “without distinction of race or sex”.
Workers today have more historical and ideological shackles dividing them than ever before. We are all victims of history. New wars and enmities add their divisive weight to all our older shackles. Marx’s slogan is even truer now than it was in the 19th century “Workers of the world, unite – you have nothing to lose but your chains!”
WHAT SOCIALISM MEANS
Socialism is the only system within which the problems which now face workers can be solved: but what will it be like? Socialism is a system in which the means for producing and distributing wealth will be owned by society as a whole. Under capitalism the land, factories, offices, mines, railways and other instruments of production and distribution are monopolised by a section of society, who, thus form a privileged class. Socialism will end this, for, with the means of life owned in common by the entire community, it will be a classless society in which the exploitation and oppression of man by man will have been abolished. All human beings will be social equals, freely able to co-operate in running social affairs.
Drawing up a detailed blueprint for socialism is premature, since the exact forms will depend upon the technical conditions and preferences of those who set up and live in socialism; but we can broadly define the essential features of socialism.
Socialism can only be democratic. At one time socialism was known also as ‘social democracy’, a phase which shows that democratic control would extend to all aspects of social affairs, including the production and distribution of wealth. There is an old socialist slogan which speaks of ‘government over people’ giving way to administration of things; meaning that the public power of coercion, and the government which operates it, will have no place in socialism...
...The purpose of socialist production will be simply and solely to satisfy human needs. Under present arrangements production is for the market with a view to profit. This will be replaced by production solely and directly for use. The production and distribution of sufficient wealth to meet the needs of the socialist community as individuals and as a community will be an administrative and organisational problem. It will be no small problem but the tools for solving it have already been created by capitalism.
From QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, Socialist Party of Great Britain (1978, pp 97-98)
The Capitalist Class and politics
The Class Struggle is a Political Struggle
Marx showed that there was a constant struggle between the capitalist class and the working class over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. Workers were forced into forming trade unions to struggle for higher pay and working conditions. This Marx set out in a useful pamphlet, VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT. In the pamphlet, Marx warned workers that there were limitations on how effective workers can organise under capitalism.
This is because the class struggle, according to Marx, is a “political struggle” and it is a two-way process. The class struggle is political because it is really about the ownership or non-ownership of the means of production. It is about the political power of the capitalist class to exploit workers in the productive process and the political power preventing workers taking and producing what they want. And this is reflected in the capitalist state and the machinery of government, including the armed forces.
The institution of the state protects the private ownership of the means of production and distribution from external and internal threats. And this is paid for, as a political insurance policy, by the capitalist class from their taxation.
To protect private property and further the interest of the capitalist class, the state will enact anti-trade union legislation, pass laws to make it easier to dismiss workers, use troops to break strikes, spy on trade unions, and so on. And they will also announce that the class struggle is the figment of the socialist’s imagination. They wish.
The capitalist class not only have their private ownership of the means of production and distribution protected by the machinery of government (including the police, law-courts, jails and the armed forces) but they also control the state education system, the mass media and other capitalist institutions. Capitalists also have governments, politicians, academics, historians, economists and ideologists and others acting in their interest. This is a powerful force against the working class.
The Capitalist Class and the Mass Media
The capitalist class want their ideas defended and pursued by academics, politicians, political parties and governments. In pursuit of their political interest, capitalists own media and communication outlets to spread their particular ideas and beliefs. It is extremely expensive but, unlike the working class, they have the means to carry out this type of propaganda. Most of the mainstream newspaper outlets are owned by a small group of capitalists - Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, Lord Rothermere, and Alexander Lebedev of the INDEPENDENTand the Evening Standard to name but a few.
Senior capitalist politicians have found it useful to foster close ties with the mass media – for example, George Osborne’s editorship at the EVENING STANDARD, Boris Johnson at the DAILY TELEGRAPH and Labour politicians in the INDEPENDENT and GUARDIAN.
A report by the Media Reform Coalition, called “Who Owns the UK Media?” noticed that just three companies – SUN and TIMES owner News UK, DAILY MAIL publisher DMGT, and DAILY MIRROR owner Trinity Mirror – control 71% of the national newspaper market. Murdoch also owns and controls FOX and SKY NEWS (GUARDIAN 21 October 2015). This gives a very small group of the capitalist class a near-monopoly of producing and disseminating political ideas useful to their class interests.
And to spread their ideas and beliefs about capitalism, the capitalists also fund think tanks, mainly free market organisations staffed by market fundamentalists who believe the market is the solution to all our problems. Markets are not solutions to the problems facing workers. They are part of the problem. Markets lock out people’s needs and aspirations because markets only sell to buying customers. Sellers are only interested in buying customers not people with needs.
The labour market, in particularly, is the site of class exploitation. Workers are imprisoned within a wages system as wages and salaries merely produce and reproduce workers as class of wage slaves. As workers sell their labour power – their mental and physical abilities – as a commodity, its value, as with all commodities, is calculated with reference to the amount of socially necessary labour time needed for its production. For the unskilled workers, less training is needed and so their pay is typically low. By contrast, highly skilled professionals and workers whose skills are much in demand, can demand and get much higher rates of pay, and overall enjoy far better terms and conditions, including pensions.
In Britain, such high-paid white collar and professionals are encouraged to see themselves as a separate class – the ‘middle class’. Yet even they can find themselves suddenly declared redundant, and soon be forced to go in search of a new job, just like millions of others, the unskilled workers they misleadingly think they are socially superior to. Unemployment is a great leveller and pricks the pomposity of those who do not believe they are members of the working class.
While their privileged standard of living is far better, their economic position is basically not different to that of the rest of the working class. All - both high-paid and low-paid - must sell their labour-power in order to live. In the never-ending conflict between Capital and Labour, the overwhelming majority of people are in the working class, and only a tiny minority derive their incomes from the proceeds of capitalist exploitation, from rent, interest and profits.
The Capitalist class and Think Tanks
According to the pressure group Transparify, who try to find out who finances the major think tanks, seven free market think tanks “take money from behind closed doors…over £22 million of dark money” “Dark money” or money with no transparency comes from multi-billionaires like the Koch Brothers of the US, whose pet free-market institutes, like the Cato Institute, deny climate change because reforms would affect the commercial interests of the oil, coal and other industries.
In Britain, UK based think-tanks are able to collectively employ hundreds of people in their quest to shape public debates and influence government policies. The employment of ‘consultants’, academics and others dedicated to defending capitalism, buys a lot of influential propaganda.
In Britain the Institute of Economic Affairs, another Free Market think-tank was funded by the tobacco industry. In the 1970s and 1980s, the IEA was being paid by BAT substantial amounts of money. The money was routed to the IEA via the Charities Aid Foundation. Academics were used to attack the findings of scientists which linked smoking to cancer.
In 2002, for instance, it was revealed that the writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, who wrote a pamphlet published in 2000 by the IEA attacking the World Health Organisation for its campaign against tobacco, was on the payroll of Japan Tobacco International.
And, according to The New Internationalist, the UK-based Adam Smith Institute:
..., involves a research trust which is allied to a commercial consulting company (Adam Smith International LTD). The Institute’s commercial links are increasingly evinced in the tone and tenor of its research which the trust produces and which seems anything but dispassionate and objective. For example, this year the Institute went on a media offensive disparaging the claims of research conducted by Oxfam showing how the ‘world's eight richest people have the same wealth as the poorer half of the globe’s population.’
The journalist George Monbiot put it this way:
“I charge that the groups which call themselves free market think tanks are nothing of the kind. They are public relations agencies, secretly lobbying for the corporations and multi-millionaires who finance them”.
Quite, but don’t those think tanks aligned with the reformist Labour Party have similar axes to grind with reference to defending capitalism and class exploitation – just think of the Fabians.
The Fabian society was the first politically influential think tank publishing pamphlets to influence politicians and governments. The Fabians rejected the need for socialist revolution- they still do. Instead they argued that ‘socialism’ was to evolve over many years without anyone ever noticing and then, hey presto, we were going to be in a socialist society. We are still waiting! The Fabians founded in 1884 by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, G. B. Shaw and others, did more harm to the socialist case against capitalism than modern-day free-market think-tanks currently encircling the House of Commons.
The Capitalist Class and Political Parties
What of the financial contribution by capitalists to political parties?
In the US, for example, just 30 billionaires made a contribution of $184.4 million to political parties — with 58 percent going to the Republican Party. This sizable contribution was in pursuit of their class interest against the working class
The UK’s 2016 referendum to stay in or out of the EU was of no interest to the working class. But it was to the capitalist class. Just five capitalists contributed £15m out of a total £24.1m to the Leave campaigns in the five months before the Brexit referendum (INDEPENDENT, January 24 2017). And there were equally very powerful capitalists financially underpinning the Remain campaign.
In its report Take Back Control: How big money undermines trust in politics, the campaign group Transparency International found that of the donations to both sides during the referendum, about 52 per cent – came from just 10 individuals or companies (INDEPENDENT 7 October 2016).
Then there are the government and parliamentary political lobbyists working for businesses. Again the rich are able to use their vast wealth to buy patronage, influence policy and pursue their interests to the exclusion of everyone else.
In an article, The Truth about Lobbying, by the journalist Tamasin Cave, put it this way:
Lobbyists operate in the shadows – deliberately. As one lobbyist notes: "The influence of lobbyists increases when it goes largely unnoticed by the public." But if the reasons why companies lobby are often obscured, it is always a tactical investment. Whether facing down a threat to profits from a corporate tax hike, or pushing for market opportunities – such as government privatisations – lobbying has become another way of making money (GUARDIAN 12 March 2014).
That socialists can get our case across to workers at all is pretty remarkable given the resources at the disposal of the capitalist class to buy economists, politicians and journalists. Sometimes though, it is like shouting against a sea storm blowing in from the Atlantic.
THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered forms, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind”
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO
Class and Class Struggle
Capitalism: A Class Divided Society
For the majority in society, we either have to work for a living or are dependent on someone who has to go to work. This also applies to the self-employed. We are workers and we are all members of the working class.
The only way workers are going to buy food, pay the rent or mortgage and run the car, is from being paid a wage or a salary. And anyone who is in this position belongs to the working class, that is, men and women not only forced to find employment but who are divorced from the ownership of the means of production and distribution – land, minerals, gas, oil, factories, offices, machinery, transport and communication systems, distribution, and so on. Not only does this exclusion from ownership of the means of living define our class position, but it also defines, in a general sense, our poverty too.
The poverty facing the working class, which is expressed in having to enter the labour market, and sell our ability to work in exchange for a wage or salary, is a daily reality not all of society has to conform to. We live in a competitive capitalist society – a social system of commodity production and exchange for profit. However, it is also a class-divided society. Besides the working class majority there is a small minority – the capitalist class - about 5% to 10% of the population, who do not work but, instead own the means of production. Capitalists own the world’s resources and only engage in production if they expect there is profit to be made.
Workers do not usually come into direct daily contact with the capitalist class, because capitalism is run from top to bottom by workers. Yet the employers do exist. They turn up at shareholders’ meetings, make appearances in the “celebrity” columns of the newspapers and on the news programmes when they are identified buying and selling companies or hiding their wealth in off-shore bank accounts. This is the capitalist class minority, and it is a class whose interests are diametrically opposed to those of the working class majority. Furthermore, because capitalism is global, it is a world capitalist class which faces a world working class over the world’s resources.
Employers form a class – a capitalist class who do not have to work, but live-off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. According to the Office of National Statistics, the top tenth of households in the UK own 45% of total wealth, while the bottom half were left to share just 9%. The poorest 1%, meanwhile, owned just 0.05% of wealth (GUARDIAN 18 December 2015). And Boston Consulting Group found that, globally, millionaires and billionaires own nearly half of the world's personal wealth, which reached a sum of $201.9 trillion in 2017 (BLOOMBERG 14 June 2018).
Class and Unemployment
The capitalist class do not employ workers out of charity. Workers are only employed if it is profitable to employ them. Workers are employed to make commodities which are then sold on the market for a profit. If the workers are unprofitable to employ then they are made redundant. And in a trade depression that is exactly what happens. Millions of workers are made unemployed; others are put on half-time or forced to take pay cuts.
Even during an economic “boom”, unprofitable workers are still sacked, as the 4,600 Rolls workers found out on 14 June 2007 when they were told that the company had to make cuts to survive. Then there is the competition from internet shopping, which has meant that retail chains, like Pound World, cannot compete anymore and are forced into administration, thereby threatening over 5,000 job losses.
Of course, the economists and politicians who defend the interest of the capitalist class by producing ruling class ideas say that during down-turns in the economy, workers should have worked harder and taken even greater cuts in pay. However, even if workers gave up their weekends or worked two hours longer in the evening for free, yet were still unprofitable to employ, then they would still lose their jobs.
Nothing can be done by governments and their economic advisors about periodic booms and slumps. The workers employed in a market that is depressed and where employers cannot sell commodities for a profit, face unemployment. For the unemployed it is then uncertainty and worry of a world without paid work, the fear of becoming homeless, the humiliation of the dole queue and the food bank, and the desperation and fear for looking for another job in order to pay the bills. Spiralling out from this desperate social position of being unemployed there is the subsequent mental and emotional trauma and the break-up of families, and even suicide.
In the class struggle the employers have an effective weapon at their disposal-the displacement of workers by machinery. In the employers’ competition with each other the market goes to those who produce and sell more cheaply. If a new machine (or new industrial process) enables an employer to get the same output in less time or with fewer workers, and provided that the overall costs of the new method are less than existing costs, the employer will seek to make the changeover and reduce his labour force. And the employers will do this despite strenuous trade union opposition.
An example was the introduction of automation in the newspaper industry. In January 1986, Rupert Murdoch moved his company from Fleet Street to new premises at Wapping where he had installed the latest printing technology. He intended that any worker transferring with him might be asked to sign a “no strike agreement”. The unions expressed their opposition to this and Mr Murdoch replied by dismissing 5500 workers and introducing an army of blacklegs. In the end, Murdoch won and broke the long-established print unions. He was supported in this by the Thatcher government which was implacably opposed to the trade unions and had just beaten the striking National union of Mineworkers.
Whether it is worth while making the change depends on the level of wages. If wages are low the new machines are not installed. Marx pointed out that in his day much labour-saving machinery manufactured in Britain was not used here at all because of the low level of British wages. It was produced for export to America where, with higher wage levels, it could be used more profitably.
Class and the Labour Market
Workers are forced onto the labour market and have increasingly been forced to enter into formal contracts with their employers. These contracts are subject to employment legislation and so-called “workers’ rights”. Increasingly workers and trade unions are using the courts to protect their pay and working conditions. Recently, Uber lost its appeal against a landmark ruling ordering it to treat its drivers as “workers”, paying them the minimum wage and affording them rights including sickness and holiday pay (INDEPENDENT 10 November 2017). Uber are going to appeal. Other forms in the 'gig economy’ are also being fought by workers too long treated as casual or self-employed, including cleaners in government departments and the NHS.
Another court case in June 2018 saw the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain win the right to seek a judicial review of a ruling that found Deliveroo riders were not entitled to union representation. The often-long working day of a London courier, working in the so-called gig-economy, involves weaving through the city's crowded and congested streets in the saddle covering 60 to 70 miles, to be normally paid between £2 and £3 per delivery, depending on distance. Most of the money for their legal representation has been raised by crowd-funding but it will never match the resources and legal representation enjoyed by the employers. (GUARDIAN 18 June 2018).
Using the courts against employers has its dangers. There is the cost: the likelihood of losing the court case, getting a court judgement that is worse than the one before or one open to challenge by employers.
There is also the risk of future governments changing the court decision by legislation. In 2013 the Tory government changed the law on access to employment tribunals by raising the cost to £1,200 for a chance of redress. The number of cases going to tribunal fell by 70 per cent (GUARDIAN 28 March 2017). Workers could just not afford that amount of money, particularly if they were unemployed.
Trade unions and workers are fighting the same old battles over and over again. Even when they are successful trade unions, groups of workers or individuals constantly struggling against employers, offers no way out of the dead-end of capitalism. There is very little the working class can do within contract law or pursuing grievances through the courts which will substantially challenge or alter the way capitalism works. Capitalism only works in the interest of the capitalist class. It is after all a production for profit system, and the profits can only come from the unpaid labour of the working class, i.e. from exploitation.
Class and the Class Struggle
The working class produce all the wealth in capitalism but they only get back a part of it. They work a ‘necessary’ labour time for themselves covering their wages and a surplus labour time for the employers. They produce a value which equates to the commodities they need to produce and reproduce themselves as a working class. And workers generate a surplus value for the capitalist class which is the source of their profit.
Out of the creation of value and surplus value comes the class struggle: a struggle over the extent and intensity of class exploitation. The class struggle goes on day after day, week after week, whether workers are organised in trade unions or not. There is nowhere to hide. The working class are the source of the capitalists’ profit and employers want as much profit as they can get.
And time is money. Capitalists are after the last second of working time in order to squeeze out more and more profit from the working class. Once upon a time, in the years of the post-war boom, workers in factories and offices enjoyed a morning and afternoon tea break, but now no more. Workers used to have one hour for lunch, but now many, desperately thinking about protecting their jobs, just take half-an -hour off for a meal or eat their sandwiches while working at their computer consoles. On the train home from London thousands of workers do free-time for their company by finishing off reports or answering e-mails.
Not that this deters defenders of capitalism moaning about the low productivity of workers. The new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, for example, in 2012, along with other Tories wrote a book, “BRITANNIA UNCHAINED: GLOBAL LESSONS FOR GROWTH AND PROSPERITY”. It complained that:
“The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music”.
The main “evidence” for this slur on workers in Britain for being lazy and having low productivity, is little more than a piece of economic illiteracy since increase in productivity is largely bound-up with new investment and technology. Children in India dreaming of being cricketers or becoming Bollywood stars are passed over by the authors in silence (TIMES OFINDIA, April 20th 2017). And of course, nothing is said about the real idlers in society, the capitalist class living off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.
Last year the TUC published a report, Work Your Proper Hours Day. The report showed that more than 5.3 million people put in an average of 7.7 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2016. This is equivalent to an average of £6,301 they have each missed out in their pay packets. Fear of losing their job was one of the main reasons given.
Another trend facing workers is WeWork where home and work merge into one. WeWork already exists in New York. It has been described by the GUARDIAN journalist, John Harris as:
”...a range of tiny studio flats and slightly bigger dwelling built around communal areas, kitchens and laundrettes – in the same building as WeWork office space”.
Harris goes on to say:
“It is telling that this blurring of work and leisure, and the fading-out of any meaningful notion of home, is reflected at every level of the tech industry – from shared houses that double as start-up “incubators” (see the hit HBO comedy Silicon Valley), through the co-working and co-living spaces springing up in urban China, to the factories in the same country where workers churning out iPhones sleep in dormitories. The erosion of any barrier between grafting and downtime is reflected in big tech’s innate insistence that we are “on” at all times – checking our feeds, sending emails, messaging colleagues. You see the same things even more clearly among rising numbers of networked home workers – translators, CV writers, IT contractors, data inputters – whose lives are often a very modern mixture of supposed flexibility, and day-to-day insecurity” GUARDIAN 18 June 2018).
A class struggle then, takes place all the time over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. However, there is more to the class struggle than class exploitation. And it is a class struggle which will continue until the working-class abolish capitalism and replace the profit system with socialism.
A War Centenary
1918 marked the end of the ‘Great War’ which politicians say was “a fight for democracy”. But there was nothing democratic or voluntary about the conscription of workers to die, half-starved and miserable, in those miles of wretched rat-infested blood-soaked mud called the Front. Pity too, the survivors of gas attacks, disabled for the rest of their lives. And the shell-shocked, the crippled, the widows and orphans.
Colonials, like Indian soldiers, were usually given degrading and humiliating jobs - digging trenches and latrines. The British myth of a “fight for democracy ...was not for the non-white subjects of the Empire. In 1917, the war cabinet [of] Lloyd George, estimated that it would take Indians 500 years to rule themselves” (Mihir Bose, Indian historian - TIMES, 9 Nov. 2018) And in 1919 that point was rammed home with the notorious Amritsar massacre, while Ireland’s post-war history was one of a struggle for independence, ruthlessly suppressed.
Much later the 1998 Human Rights Act was passed, a mere 80 years after that ghastly but “glorious” bloodbath, that fratricidal “fight for democracy”. British “democracy” was just a deceptive lure: war survivors saw the 1926 General Strike, mass unemployment, hunger. And in 1939 another world war with its 55 million dead.
Today capitalism’s wars continue to claim its casualties, even in so-called ‘peace-time’ – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere in the world. Only the establishment of socialism can give the human species lasting peace.
Socialism and Censorship
Socialists argue against censoring political ideas. It is a long-held socialist principle that workers should hear competing political views no matter how unpalatable or disturbing they happen to be. And there is nothing more disagreeable and dangerous than fascist and far-right ideas and beliefs. These pernicious ideologies are used to blame minority groups, like refugees and migrants, in an attempt to divert attention away from today’s real cause of the economic and social problems facing the working class: capitalism.
And socialists have not flinched from opposing these vile and unpleasant ideas and beliefs. The Socialist Party of Great Britain debated against the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and with the National Front in the 1960s and 1970s. Socialists have a strong and unassailable case against capitalism and against all the political parties across the capitalist political spectrum. Socialists show that the ideas and beliefs of political parties we debate in public justify capitalism and do not serve the interest of the working class. Ruling class ideas are a material force creating class division rather than class unity and act as a barrier to the establishment of socialism. These anti-working class ideas do not come from nowhere. They come from the continuous failure of capitalism to provide decent and adequate housing, health and social care.
Socialists do not confine our hostility to the racism and xenophobia of organisations like UKIP and the far right. We equally oppose the racism and nationalism of the Labour and Tory parties who, when in power, have passed immigration legislation to the detriment of members of our class. State racism associated with the Windrush generation is only one recent example among many. Remember the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1968 under the Wilson Labour Government, Thatcher’s “anti-swamping” remarks in the early 1980s, Gordon Brown’s notorious “British Jobs for British workers” and the vans commissioned by Mrs May’s Home Office that cruised the streets with their “go home illegal immigrants” written on the side of the vehicles.
Open and free democratic debate must include the opportunity to make statements which are objectionable to sections of society. Socialists, in our position on religion have upset many who hold beliefs in gods, demons and angels. A lot of our political opponents find the socialist case against capitalism objectionable. Yet banning objectionable ideas is futile and only creates undeserving martyrs like Tommy Robinson and his Islamist equivalents such as Anjem Choudary. The National Unity Demonstration Against Fascism and Racism which held a popular demonstration in London in November 2018 may feel the need to save the working class from irrational persuasion but the SPGB has confidence in our fellow workers to listen to both sides of the political argument and to reject the irrational nonsense and hatred of the Robinsons and Choudary’s of this world.
The capitalist left like the SWP, the Socialist Party, Counterfire and a myriad of anarchist groups take an altogether different view than socialists on the question of open debate with fascists and the far right. These organisations want to “smash” the fascists, deny them political platforms and to confront the far right on the street. Here is a typical comment from the SWP:
“We need a mass movement to break the fascists’ confidence on the streets and take on the wider racism that fuels them” (Global menace of the far right can be beaten” SOCIALIST WORKER 30th October 2018).
The capitalist left do not want to give far right political groups a platform to say the “unsayable”. They want to censor. They and they alone are to decide who should speak and who should not. They do not want fascists and the far right to be given airtime. People like Tommy Robinson and Steve Bannon of alt-right and Alice Weidl of the far-right German party Alternative fur Deutschland are not to be tested in debate because the capitalist left believes that it risks making their ideas sound reasonable. But surely that is why they should be publically debated: to show their unreasonableness?
Josh Newman of Counterfire defended withdrawing platforms to the far-right on the following grounds:
“One of the principal aims of fascism is to destroy the freedoms of minority groups and the left. Sometimes this is promoted by an outwardly reasonable, well-spoken individual. Defeating someone like this in an isolated debating chamber does not make fascism go away. It is right to oppose invitations of this kind on campus, not to restrict freedom of speech, but to deny a group who wishes to forcibly close down freedom of speech and democracy for some the opportunity to promote themselves in a given space” (Global Menace of the far right can be beaten, Counterfire, 30th October 2018).
There are a number of problems with censorship. Once political censorship has been accepted, there is the important question of who is going to do the censoring. Is it the leadership of the SWP or other some other Trotskyist organisation? Will the censorship just stop with anti-immigration groups like UKIP and supporters of Tommy Robinson or would it be extended to any political group or organisation the SWP leadership happened to disagree with? And it is a dangerous step to give the State or the government the power to censor what can and cannot be said in public. The State inflicted censorship on the Socialist Party of Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars: The SOCIALIST STANDARD could not be sent abroad and socialists risked trial and imprisonment for breaking the Defence of the Realm Act. Never trust the capitalist state or governments with policies regarding censorship with its unintended consequences. The implementation of the government’s Prevent strategy, for example, which forces public institutions like universities to have policies in place to counter radicalism under Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 has led to the late Professor Geras’s essay “Our Morals: the Ethics of Revolution”, being flagged up by the university of Reading as a dangerous and subversive text . The university has warned students not to access the essay on personal devices and not let it be left lying around for other students to read. All very Orwellian (THE OBSERVER 11.11.18).
Denying it a platform will not make fascism go away. Fascism and xenophobic ideas are generated by capitalism and the failure of the profit system to meet the needs of all society. Therefore it comes as no surprise that in an era of forced austerity, poor housing, of cuts in health and education, and insecure and unpredictable employment, immigrants and others have been singled out for blame rather than capitalism itself. And unfortunately the demagogues are finding a willing hearing from some sections of the working class. In the last year there have been three big London demonstrations and many smaller protests organised by the far right Football Lads Alliance and its successor, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance. The biggest of these in June drew up to 15,000. Tommy Robinson, the figure at the centre of these movements, has a large and growing following on social media.
The organisers claim their demonstrations are for free speech, against terrorism and the sexual grooming of children. These three political baits are used as hooks by which to catch the unthinking but willing ears of some non-socialist workers. However the marches were organised and addressed by leading figures from the far right ranging from Dutch anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders to organisers of the white supremacist network Generation Identity. Trump’s former advisor, Steve Bannon sent his greetings to one of the demonstrations as he tries to carve out a trans-European far right movement.
Socialists are told that we cannot defeat these fascists by reason and debate but only through street protest and violence. We are told that you cannot have a free exchange of ideas with fascists. Street fascism or extreme right wing demagogy and xenophobia are already causing violence against minority groups and immigrants so socialists, we are told, cannot have the luxury of having debates with them. The capitalist left go on to say that fascism expresses itself as violence not as ideas in debate. Ideas are part of fascist violence and extreme right wing policy like caging children in the US or erecting razor wire fences around borders to be patrolled by armed guards and dogs. We are told that fascists can only be violently kicked not debated with. But they can and should be debated with. Workers have to be persuaded to become socialists and this can only come about from debate, not by the end of a boot.
And make no mistake: the far right groups all stand for capitalism. They are anti-socialist although they have no case against the urgent need to establish socialism. They are racists but race is not grounded in scientific fact. They want “British jobs for British People” but there is no such thing as “British jobs”. They call themselves “White Nationalists” but that is meaningless in a class-divided country. They deride socialists who oppose them as “race traitors” but “race” has no basis in fact because we are all part of the same species, whatever colour, gender or sexuality we happen to be. And they want to get rid of immigrants and those who do not fit in with “Englishness”, so as to reduce unemployment, conveniently forgetting that economic crises, trade depressions and periodic high levels of unemployment have occurred with or without immigration. They want to “Put Britain First” yet the majority of these groups do not own Britain but are part of a propertyless and exploited class forced to sell their ability to work on the labour market in exchange for a wage or salary.
The far right groups do not have rational arguments or a case that can stand up to scrutiny. They are weighed down by irrational conspiracy theories, hatred and ignorance. Not so the leaders of these groups. They know what they are doing. They have their own political agenda which is distinct from that of the membership and supporters. However these leaders have an Achilles heel. They want to debate; they want their ideas scrutinised under the banner of “freedom of speech”, well, bring them on. A socialist would have no difficulty exposing their anti-working class ideas and showing to their working class supporters that they do not serve or articulate their class interests. And do not forget that the majority of the membership and supporters of the far right and fascist groups are members of the working class: the same class as ourselves.
The sole enemy of socialists is capitalism which pursues profits instead of meeting human needs. Socialists are hostile to all defenders of the capitalist system of class exploitation, whether they claim to be democratic from the Labour Party or the Greens or authoritarians from the far-left or right. No defender of capitalism can achieve power without the support of a majority of the working class. And no politician can resolve the very real problems facing workers. All capitalist politicians fail as all capitalist governments fail. It is impossible to reform capitalism to meet the needs of all society and capitalism which causes the economic and social problems our class faces on a day-to-day basis. To blame other workers plays into the hand of demagogues like Trump and Farage and all the little corporals heading the far-right organisations. To end capitalism, working class ideas must change and workers need to organise themselves consciously, politically and democratically to replace the profit system with socialism. The battle, then, is over the minds of the working class which cannot be done by violence on the street or by preventing political debates taking place.
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.