Under capitalism the land and industry are owned by a small section of society who form a privileged capitalist class. Modern industry, however, can only be worked by the co-operative social labour of the working class. It is this fundamental conflict between sectional ownership and social production that causes today’s many social problems since it prevents social wealth being produced to satisfy human needs.
Only when ownership and production have been brought into social harmony – by the establishment of common ownership and democratic control by all of society – is there any hope of solving problems like war, world poverty, environmental degradation, poor health and lack of good housing.
These of course are the social problems which the other political parties promise to solve if only workers elect them to be the government. But they always fail. Why? Because they are trying to do something that cannot be done. It is just not possible to solve these problems as long as class ownership is retained. No matter how sincere or efficient a government maybe it cannot make capitalism work as if it was a rational social system whose motivation is to meet human needs.
Capitalism runs on profits and can only work as a profit-making system for the capitalist class that owns the means of production. As this class ownership, in preventing production solely for use, is the cause of these social problems any attempt to deal with them within its exploitative framework is bound to fail.
So, capitalism, as a class system that runs on profits, is constitutionally incapable of serving human needs.
Socialism, on the other hand, will provide a framework within which these social problems can be resolved. With the means of production and distribution owned by and under the democratic control of the community, there will be no class privileges to stand in the way of production solely for use.
With the abolition of the profit motive, society will set about solving these problems with the satisfying of human needs as its guiding principle. It is not as though enough well-built and comfortable houses could not be built or enough food for the whole world could be grown. It is just that under capitalism it is not profitable to give priority to basic needs like shelter and food.
That is why socialists say that nothing short of the establishment of socialism will do.
No Social System Lasts Forever
Unlike the classical school of economics (for example, Adam Smith author of THE WEALTH OF NATIONS and David Ricardo author of PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY) who believed in the harmony of classes, Marx emphasized, in his critique of political economy, the importance of class, class conflict and class struggle. In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848), co-written with Frederick Engels, the class struggle, for Marx, was a political struggle, the motor force of history in which the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Class was defined by Marx in an objective way with respect to the ownership or otherwise of the means of production. However, Marx was not the first person to recognize the struggle between classes or to hold out the prospect of socialism/communism (both words mean the same thing – a classless society of free men and women holding the means of production and distribution democratically in common) arising from an oppressed class struggling and winning out against an exploitive rich and powerful ruling class. But the revolutionary importance of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO was that it moved the struggle for a classless society away from utopian speculation to a materialist and historical grounding based on a real movement of men and woman – the working class - making history by their own effort alone. Marx wrote of this movement:
The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1948, p.71).
In capitalism, Marx considered the two major classes to be the capitalists and the working class. The capitalists owned the means of life, like the factories, transport and communication systems and minerals such as coal, oil and gas and lived off the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. The working class, on the other hand, was excluded from the ownership of the means of production and distribution. Workers could only sell their ability to work, as a commodity, in exchange for a wage or a salary. As a class, the workers were exploited in the production process, getting less in wages and salaries than the wealth they actually produced during the working day.
The class struggle under capitalism centres around the generation of what Marx called surplus value or surplus labour time. Surplus value is the difference between the value of labour power itself – the commodity sold by the worker to the capitalist – and the value which labour creates in the process of production.
Workers spend part of their time at work producing for themselves and their family. That is necessary labour time. The rest of the time they are working for an employer. That is the surplus labour time, in which they are contributing to the total pool of surplus value. The capitalists are forever trying to extend surplus labour time with workers trying to resist the encroachment of capital the best they can, usually in the formation and protection of trade unions. The class struggle is also affected by the prevailing economic conditions and the relative strength of the combatants including the capitalist state. This class struggle takes place on a day-to-day basis whether workers or capitalists are aware of it or not.
Is there an alternative to capitalism?
Capitalism cannot produce to satisfy human needs. Production under capitalism is all about making profit, accumulating capital and expanding value. Throughout the Twentieth Century capitalism and socialism as social systems were largely misunderstood. What passed for an alternative to capitalism was the authoritarian state capitalism of the Soviet Empire and China. However, nationalization is not socialism and the ruling class in Russia and China dismissed as irrelevant the important Marxian principle that socialism had to be established by the working class itself and not by leaders. The Soviet Union and China both had to trade on the world market.
Defenders of capitalism in the West, notably the United States, focused on the market as a defining feature of the profit system. The use of the word capitalism was avoided by using instead misleading or confusing terms like free enterprise, free market and the open society. The description of capitalism as a social system with historical origins was deliberately avoided: and for a very good reason. If you refer to a social system like capitalism with a history, then you also have to consider alternatives to capitalism when it is no longer around - anything that is born and lives also eventually dies.
Defenders of capitalism were intent on denying the possibility of any social system which could solve the problems caused by capitalism. They did not want alternatives to capitalism to be considered unless it was to point to the authoritarian dictatorship of Russia with its own set of social and economic problems. Instead of concentrating upon capitalism as a social system with a history, attention was moved instead to the market and universal scarcity. The individual buyers and sellers meeting on the market to exchange commodities were given an almost mystical position in economic theory by economists like F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman. Class, class power and class struggle were conveniently ignored.
Following the oil crisis of 1973, the increasing influence of these “free-market” economists within mainstream economics and government circles replaced the Keynesian orthodoxy of the time. Keynes’s supporters had no explanation for rising inflation and increasing levels of unemployment, and workers were told that the market, buying and selling, making profit and the private ownership of the means of production was the only game in town. Keynesianism was replaced by Milton Friedman’s Monetarism and Hayek and Mises’s economic ideas were used to attack government regulation and nationalization policies. ‘If it moves privatise it’: Lord Mount, one of Thatcher’s supporters at the time, once said. Margaret Thatcher, the former Tory Prime Minister who came to power in 1979, asserted in the 1980s: ‘There is no alternative to the market’ (TINA). There would be few, if any, in mainstream political parties at the time; Labour, Tory or Liberal, who would have disagreed with this statement. Even nationalization depended on markets, importantly the buying and exploitation of labour power.
However, the groundless dogma, which is TINA, was only an echo of previous statements advocated by defenders of capitalism. In an interview with Phil Donahue in 1979, the economist Milton Friedman remarked:
There is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.
In fact, the TINA doctrine had its roots in the laissez-faire writings of the 19th century Classical Liberal, Herbert Spencer who claimed: ‘all socialism is slavery’ (Man versus the State, 1884) and in an article The Coming Slavery in THE REVIEW of the same year wrote:
‘No political alchemy will get golden conduct out of leaden instincts; ... no well-working institution will be framed by an ill-working humanity” — hence mankind must abandon all hope of bettering our present system of society and of doing away with the wrongs and miseries of it’.
Spencer was answered by Paul Lafargue in an article:
‘A few words with Mr Herbert Spencer’ in TODAY
Herbert Spencer is better known for his crude social Darwinism and apologetic defence of capitalism and the capitalist class as ‘the survival of the fittest’. But his grasp of socialism was as poor and risible as Friedman and Thatcher’s own shallow understanding of a classless society. George Plekhanov, in his book ANARCHISM AND SOCIALISM, ironically described Spencer as a ‘conservative Anarchist’ (1909 Kerr p. 143). As one wit said: ‘conservatism is the highest form of ignorance and the lowest form of thought’.
The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism
Of course, what the likes of Milton Friedman conveniently ignore is the reality of capitalism rather than the economic fictions they spin-out in their theories. What has been unleashed by ‘a free enterprise system’ is productive activity that has led to environmental degradation as well as inequality, poverty, war and class exploitation. At the heart of the assertion that there is no alternative to the market is the desire to prevent a debate with the working class about the need for a socialist alternative to address the global failure of the profit system.
Furthermore, Thatcher, Friedman and other defenders of capitalism have no interest in improving the lot of the ordinary people. Politicians exist to defend the interests of the capitalist class just as Friedman did in Chile as an economic consultant to General Pinochet following a CIA supported coup in 1973 against a democratically elected government and also as an economic advisor to the authoritarian regime in China during the 1980s. Friedman, then, did not worry about the lot of workers in these two countries.
Capitalism only works for the capitalist class. In the UK, for example, a third of those aged between 18 & 34 are living with their parents. Increasing numbers of people are forced to go to food banks. A quarter of the people in poverty live in households where at least one person is working. Employment might be at record levels but the number of people in low-paid and insecure work has risen. (GUARDIAN 3rd May 2019). In short, there is a real need for an alternative to capitalism: socialism. The alternative to capitalism is the unity of the world’s working class in democratically constituted parties for the conquest of political power. There has to be the sole object of dispossessing the capitalist class of its means of production and the transformation of society from one based upon the private ownership to the means of life to one based upon the common ownership of these means of production.
Socialism will be a world-wide social system of production and distribution open to all people based on free access to the wealth that is commonly produced and its ruling principle will be from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. Socialism can only be achieved by the majority of the workers understanding its implications and relying upon themselves alone to accomplish this change. Not leadership, however well-meaning and benign, but mass understanding is the condition of achieving socialism.
Following Marx’s analysis of capitalism, socialists do not begin with ‘the market’ or ‘individual choice’ but with modes of production, social systems, social relations to production and distribution, the forces of production and classes, class struggle and social revolution. Capitalism is a social system with a beginning in class struggle and a potential end in class struggle through the formation of a socialist majority and a socialist revolution. Social systems come and go and this applies equally to capitalism as it has to previous social systems like chattel slavery and feudalism. Although history has to be made by men and women; the working class has history on its side. Marx set this out in his theory of history; more popularly known as the materialist conception of history.
Marx’s theory stated that all intellectual, political processes or movements are determined by the mode of production. Each stage in history has antagonistic elements and contains the seeds of its own destruction.
For capitalism the seeds of its destruction are the working class. With increasing numbers of the working class becoming socialists and taking part in socialist political activity within socialist parties, the growing number of socialists would eventually lead to a revolutionary change in society. The revolutionary change will occur when a socialist majority, through Parliament, secures the machinery of government, including the armed forces, to allow the transformation of production from profit to production directly for social use.
As Marx wrote in his Preface to the CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1859):
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite state of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness…It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness… (SELECTED WORKS, Volume 1, pp 262-4).
Marx goes on to say:
…at a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression of the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From the forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution….(SELECTED WORKS, Volume 1, pp 262-4).
The emergence of capitalism as a revolutionary social system occurred when capital – an accumulation of wealth in the hands of the capitalist class – took direct control over the process of production. This in turn required that capitalism be in a position to unite two vitally important elements of production – the means of production on the one hand, and a mass of exploitable labour on the other.
The tendency of capitalist competition to impose on every capitalist the need to reduce labour-time to a minimum gives rise to two tendencies in capitalist development. On the one hand there is increased productivity of labour. On the other hand such an increase in productivity enriches the capitalist class at the expense of the working class majority.
Increased productivity in capitalism does not lead to growing abundance of goods for the working class, or a reduction of work. Instead, expresses itself as a growing accumulation of capital and a growing poverty (absolute and relative) at the other end of class society. It means an increased burden of often boring and servile employment and a fluctuating reserve army of the unemployed living out a precarious existence. The introduction of machinery also means workers being thrown into the industrial reserve army of the unemployed. Capitalism’s development means dehumanized, degraded and exploited work as can be seen in the gig economy and places such as Wal-Mart, Amazon, etc..
For socialists, capitalism is now a fetter on production. Capitalism prevents production from meeting the needs of all of society and necessitates a socialist society to replace the profit system of class exploitation. Capitalism and the capital-labour relationship between the capitalist and working class prevents the productive forces, including human labour, from being used to directly meet human need. Production just cannot be used to produce goods and services as and where they are needed. What stands in the way are class relations where the means of production and distribution are owned by a capitalist class for the purpose of making a profit and accumulating capital.
Capitalism restricts production and distribution to effective market demand with devastating consequences for those who do not have the wherewithal to buy the commodities necessary to live. No more so than in the case of the millions of people suffering from chronic malnourishment around the world. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), for example, estimates that about 795 million people out of the 7.3 billion people in the world (about one in nine people) were suffering from chronic undernourishment between 2014 and 2016.
Almost all those in hunger, some 780 million people, live in developing capitalist countries, representing 12.9 per cent of the population. There are also 11 million people undernourished in developed capitalist countries.
In socialism, production would be used only to meet people’s needs for housing, health, education, transport, communication, food, clean water and sanitation so that men and women could participate in the affairs of society and live worthwhile and creative lives. The establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society would remove unnecessary world hunger by allowing society to produce without the restrictions imposed by the market and the profit motive on the use of technology and industry. Scarcity will not be a problem for socialism because scarcity under capitalism is social not natural; a feature of class relations. Although a future socialist society will have to deal with many problems bequeathed by capitalism, particularly in its early years, the basis for solving hunger outside commercial farming and the market already exists. According to Eric Gimenez of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, capitalism already grows enough food for 10 billion people even though hunger still persists. He wrote:
Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That's enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day -- most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land -- can't afford to buy this food. In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.
Poverty and hunger would not exist in socialism. Socialism would produce food in abundance within the framework of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Socialism will release co-operative and social labour to produce food to meet human needs. The barrier to adequately feeding the world’s population is capitalism and the class relations found in capitalism. The barrier to producing enough food to feed the world also comes out of powerful capitalist ideas protecting the power and privilege of the employing class. These barriers are not insurmountable but do require conscious, democratic and political action of a socialist majority to realize the socialist principle:
‘from each according to ability to each according to need’.
Social Systems Come and Go
‘Nothing beside remains’
At the end of the crushing defeat of the rebellion in 71 BC, with Spartacus dead on the battlefield, 6000 slaves were crucified along a 2k stretch of the Appian Way to Rome. Crucifixion was a cruel and painful death recently brought back into fashion by Isis in its feudal Islamic State. Rome’s symbolic exercise of crucifying the slaves was to demonstrate to this class the imperial power of Roman society; the power of its ruling class and the perennial glory of ancient Rome. But within a few centuries that Empire had been swept away. No Empire lasts forever and this is a fact equally applicable to countries today like the United States as it once was to Imperial Rome.
Shelley put it this way in his poem Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Here is another example from history of a social system which has passed away. At the end of the failed Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, Richard II reportedly told the serfs that ‘serfs you are and serfs you shall remain forever’. John Ball, one of the leading thinkers of the Peasants’ Revolt was tried in front of the King at St Albans and then hung, drawn and quartered with the King’s retort to the failed uprising still ringing in his ears.
There is no blue plaque to John Ball in the old market square of St Albans where he was executed. However, his protest: ‘When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?’ lived on in the PEASANT’S SONG (anon.) and later in William Morris’s romance THE DREAM OF JOHN BALL (Lawrence and Wishart, 1977). But the class to which he preached his sermons of liberation has long since disappeared, the peasants have left little or no written history of their struggles with the feudal order. However, struggle they did (see, for example, Hilton, R. Marxism and the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, 2007).
In 1539, during the Reformation, the Abbey of St Albans, in which John Ball was imprisoned some two centuries earlier, was dissolved. Henry VIII appropriated its income, disposed of its assets and expelled the successors to the monks who had once thought their future safe and secure.
The propaganda levied against John Ball was Jean Froissart’s ‘CHRONICLE’, ‘THE ANONIMALLE CHRONICLE’ (a detailed account mainly of Wat Tyler and his end) which is now considered a tract for propagating Richard II’s interests against the Peasants Revolt and anyone who dared challenge his authority (See: Spokesmen for Liberty ed. Jack Lindsay and Edgell Rickword). The Treasury and cloisters of the Abbey are now ruined fragments – a symbol to a feudal order no more permanent than capitalism.
Four centuries later no serfs were to be found in Britain at all. Instead there existed in towns and cities a propertyless working class whose children were sent to the mills and where women were forced down the mines (see Frederick Engels THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND in 1845. A different exploited class existed in place of the old feudal one - a class of workers imprisoned within the exploitive wages system and forced to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary.
Richard II was wrong in his belief of an enduring feudal system. The ruling class he represented was also been swept away, first, in the 17th century, through a Civil War which disposed, with the swing of an axe, the doctrine of the divine right of kings along with feudal tithes and the feudal power base of the monarchy. Then in 1688 the Glorious Revolution took political power away from the monarchy and gave it to a cabal of landed aristocracy, City bankers, merchants, and the early industrial capitalists.
Following the Reform Act of 1832 and the consolidation of capitalist power in the reforms of the Liberal government at the beginning of the 20th century, the capitalist class became the last exploiting class in human history who were (and still are) represented by politicians and governments who protect their private property with the machinery of government, law and the armed forces.
The capitalist class came into being through class struggle establishing new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of old ones (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO) calling into existence the working-class with a revolutionary potential to make history by becoming a class for itself.
The Working Class Movement
From the perspective of history, the working class movement is relatively young. Its movement is not smooth and linear. Mistakes have been made and there are periods when this movement is stronger than at other times.
At what point the working class as a revolutionary force is situated within capitalism’s history we do not know. However, what Marx did show was that it was and still is engaged in class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation and politically over the ownership and control of the means of production.
The working class movement in Britain has passed through three main political stages in its development. First, an incoherent stage around the actions of groups like the Diggers and Levellers (1649), rick burning in the 18th century, the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820 and the Swing Riots and Luddites in the early 19th century. There were also riots, like the Ely and Littleport riots (1816), the spa Field Riots (1816) and the Peterloo Massacre (1819) (see D. Taylor, MASTERING ECONOMIC HISTORY, Chapter 5, 1988).
In his book THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS (1968), E. P. Thompson advanced a theory about Luddism. He argued that Parliament was no longer interested in protecting the old traditional crafts or the way employers should conduct their business. Laissez-faire capitalism gave employers carte-blanche to do as they pleased, and this led to workers feeling insecure and vulnerable: hence the attacks on machinery. Luddism, in the widest context of working class struggle against the capitalists, can be seen as one of the contributory reasons for the rise of trade unionism, despite its early illegality, and the protection workers needed from the extent and intensity of exploitation. Luddism was in the words of Malcolm Thomis, ‘a successful exercise of working class solidarity’ (THE LUDDITES: MACHINE BREAKING IN REGENCY ENGLAND. 1970).
The 1830s also saw the formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union under the influence of Robert Owen which was opposed by employers using the lock-out as an effective weapon, forcing workers to give in due to starvation. Another tactic of the employers, still used today, was to compile a list of union ‘trouble-makers’ and mutually agree not to employ them.
Second, a more coherent phase which saw workers identifying themselves as a class with their own distinct political interests such as the Chartist movement with the ‘People’s Charter’ published in May 1838 with its call for six points: universal male suffrage protected by secret ballot, the abolition of the property qualification for Members of Parliament, payment for Members, equal electoral districts and annual Parliaments. Later saw the establishment of The International Workingmens’ Association (1864 – 1876), now often referred to as The First International, informed by the scientific writings of Marx and Engels among whose ideas was stated: ‘That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves’ (General Rules, October 1864).
And third, through bitter political experience by workers in the Social Democratic Federation, This led to the development of a political movement of workers who became transparently aware of their class position recognizing that it could only be furthered by their own effort, democratically within a principled political Party with only one object: socialism.
This mature political development was reached at the turn of the last century in 1904 with the establishment of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The Object and Declaration of Principles, drawn up by working class men and women, presented a sound Marxian critical analysis of capitalism. It also set out a practical political programme through the revolutionary use of the vote and the capture of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, by a socialist majority to achieve the socialist object; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
As the Socialist Party of Great Britain wrote in 1948:
In 1904 a new era in working class politics commenced with the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The Object and Declaration of Principles that were laid down by the founders of this party…have remained to this day a clear and concise statement of the basis of the organisation, admitting of neither equivocation nor political compromise with the enemy for any purpose however alluring. Here is no flirting with reforms nor false and soothing catchwords to enlist the sympathies and support of those who lack political knowledge but, instead, a straightforward statement of the essentials of the working-class position under Capitalism and the only road to its solution – the capture of political power by a working-class the majority whose members understand what Socialism means and want it.
(THE COMMUNIST PARTY AND THE LAST 100 YEARS, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1949 pp 28-29).
The importance of the SPGB’s contribution to socialism and the socialist movement is that it set out a scientific critique of capitalism, highlighted the working class as the makers of history and stressed that before socialism could be establshed a socialist majority had to take control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the state. And the Party also rejected reform programmes and nationalisation as having anything to do with socialism.
NOTE TO READERS
Our apologies for some errors in the last issue of Socialist Studies. In the print version, in the article on The Demons of Invention (p23), it seemed as if we had stolen a very well-known quotation from the Communist Manifesto. Perish the thought! Apologies to Marx and Engels, and our subscribers, for this apparent plagiarism - it was meant to appear as a quotation, but a technical glitch caused many problems with formatting.
Another error appeared in the Malthus article: the writer takes responsibility for not checking the facts. On p30, with reference to forcible sterilisation in India, we accused the wrong man. The politician responsible for this was not Rahul Gandhi but a predecessor, Sanjay Gandhi, son of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Apologies again!
The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism
Socialism will be a world-wide system in which the means for producing and distributing wealth will be commonly owned globally by society as a whole. All people will be social equals, freely able cooperating in the democratic running of social affairs. There will be no classes, no employers and employees, no labour market, no buying and selling of someone’s ability to work and no class exploitation.
Socialists are not obliged to produce a detailed plan for how socialism will work. Not only would it be undemocratic but the exact shape of a socialist society will depend on a number of factors we cannot anticipate. We do not know what the technical conditions will be like nor the extent of the problems bequeathed to socialism by capitalism. As the transition to socialism nears only then can detailed plans be drawn up, needs assessed and the situation better understood.
However, socialism can be described in a broad out-line. Socialism can only be democratic with ‘government over people’ giving way to ‘the administration of things”. Socialism will have no classes or class ownership over the means of production. There will be no coercive state. Democratic administration will be extended to all aspects of social life on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production and distribution by all of society. As explained in the Communist Manifesto :
‘In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.
(THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1948, p.81).
Administrative areas will exist throughout the world settling social affairs by majority decision. To ensure efficient decision making, delegation of functions will take place. Delegates would be chosen by the community and answerable to it. Delegates would be social equals undertaking work for the well being of all society.
The purpose of socialist production will be simply and solely to satisfy human needs. Production will be solely and directly for use. Science, technology and free and voluntary labour will be united to ensure that within production and distribution there is sufficient wealth to meet the needs of society. This is an organizational matter of planning and administration which will involve computer systems, artificial intelligence, robotics and information technology.
Capitalism has developed the forces of production (including co-operative and social labour) to the point where sufficient goods and services could be produced for all of society no matter where they live in the world.
A society of abundance in food, housing, clothes, medicine and so on has long been technically possible and this is the material basis of why socialism is held back by the ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class and, at the resent time, a lack of understanding by a majority of the working class. Socialism will not be about making profit but producing wealth solely to meet human needs.
When the wealth has been produced, apart from that needed to renew and expand the means of production, all members of society will freely take what they need to live and enjoy life. This is what socialists mean by ‘free access’.
‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, is a long-standing socialist principle. The principle refers to free access and distribution of goods and services. Such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that socialism will be able to produce. With the establishment of socialism and unfettered productive forces, there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs. The principle means what it says: that men and women will freely take part in social production to the best of their abilities, and freely take from what has been produced to satisfy their needs.
THE MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF HISTORY
The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.
Engels, SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN & SCIENTIFIC (1880)
Parson Malthus (Part 2): Quack Economics
Marx and Engels held ‘Parson’ Malthus and his theories as beneath contempt. Malthus, they wrote, was not only a sycophantic apologist for the landlords and the layabout, parasite class but also a habitual - as it were a professional - plagiarist, and guilty of bad science.
Malthus’s famous ESSAY ON THE PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION (1798) opposing ideas of social reform, was followed by a 2nd edition (1803) where he continued to argue that as Poor Laws and charity could do nothing to alleviate the hopeless poverty of the poor, so nothing should be done:
The truth is that the pressure of distress on this part of a community is an evil so deeply seated, that no human ingenuity can reach it (1st edition)...
... this principle [of population]... appeared to account for much of that poverty and misery observable among the lower classes of people in every nation, and for those reiterated failures in the efforts of the higher classes to relieve them (preface, 2nd edition).
In a truly Christian way, Malthus declared that ‘Dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful’ (Essay, 1st edition). Even now, such attitudes and prejudices are still powerful: there still remains that age-old stigma about being ‘on benefits’. To this day, governments stick to the Malthus-inspired 1834 Poor Law principle of making state welfare minimal and meagre, hedged around with degrading, humiliating conditions.
By contrast, William Cobbett attacked Malthus’s population ‘theory’ which told the poor to stop breeding, and satirised it in a comedy Surplus Population (1831, 1834). Tom Paine (Rights of Man, part 2, 1792) argued that the poor-rates resulted from growing poverty due to heavy taxes. Paine, a deist or humanist, not a Christian, was angered by poverty:
...ragged and hungry children ... persons of seventy and eighty years of age begging for bread. The dying poor ... dragged from place to place to breathe their last, as a reprisal of parish upon parish...
SELECTED WRITINS OF THOMAS PAINE, Yale, 2014, p341
Marx wrote scathingly about Malthus’s theories and methods:
What characterises Malthus is the fundamental meanness of his outlook; a meanness which only a parson could permit himself to display, a parson who looks upon human misery as the punishment for the Fall of man... but who, at the same time, out of consideration for the benefices accruing to him, finds it most advantageous, with the help of the doctrine of predestination, to ‘sweeten’ the sojourn of the ruling classes in the vale of tears.
(THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE, 1861-63, Vol II, quoted in Marx and Engels on Malthus, ed. R L Meek, 1953, p 118-9).
Marx contrasted the scientific impartiality of Ricardo, who drew his conclusions honestly from the data:
... the contemptible Malthus draws from the scientifically established premises - which he always steals - only those conclusions which are acceptable and useful to the aristocracy as against the bourgeoisie, and to both as against the proletariat... A man who tries to accommodate science to a point of view which is not derived from science itself... but which is borrowed from outside, from extrinsic interests which are foreign to it, I call “mean”... “Parson” Malthus... does his best to sacrifice the demands of production to the exclusive interests of the existing ruling classes or sections of them, and to this end he falsifies his scientific conclusions. That is his scientific meanness, his sin against science, quite apart from his shameless and mechanical plagiarism (ibid., p123).
Marx and Engels despised Malthus for his servile class outlook and as a pseudo-scientist who twisted his facts to reach convenient conclusions. Malthus was a blatant plagiarist, and his chosen sources all agreed that the drudgery of the poor was necessary to provide for the creature comforts of the idle rich.
For them, the idea that society was divided between the wealthy and the poor was divinely ordained. In the words of the popular Victorian hymn: The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly, and ordered their estate. Among Malthus’s sources, Marx quoted Parson Townsend (1786):
It seems to be a law of nature ... that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid and the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate are.... relieved from drudgery... [The Poor Law] tends to destroy the harmony and beauty, the symmetry and order of that system which God and Nature have established in the world.
(CAPITAL, vol I RELATIVE SURPLUS POPULATION - from Meek, op. cit., p104).
And Sismondi in 1803 had argued:
The indefinite multiplication of the productive powers of labour can then only have for result the increase of luxury and enjoyment of the idle rich (ibid., p105).
A later French economist, Storch, in 1823, wrote of a degraded class, not unlike the Untouchables of India’s ancient Hindu caste system:
The progress of social wealth begets this useful class of society... which performs the most wearisome, the vilest, the most disgusting functions, which takes.... on its shoulders all that is disagreeable and servile in life, and procures thus for other classes leisure, serenity of mind, and conventional dignity of character (ibid., p 105).
The upper classes, since their delicate condition and luxury depended on the drudgery of the servile class, saw any reforms that disrupted this convenient God-ordained state of affairs as a danger.
But the French Revolution gave the complacent privileged landlord class and their clerical hangers-on a mighty jolt, and Burke argued in Reflections on the Revolution in France:
Good order [meant] the body of the people ... must respect that property of which they cannot partake. They must labour to obtain what by labour can be obtained; and when they find, as they commonly do, the success disproportioned to the endeavour, they must be taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal justice.
[quoted in J L Hammond and Barbara Hammond, THE VILLAGE LABOURER,1760-1832, 1920, p 184]
Summing up on Malthus’s various works on economics, Marx wrote:
Malthus’s book On Population was a tract against the French Revolution and the contemporary ideas of reform in England... [an argument] for the poverty of the working classes. The theory was a plagiarism of Townsend, etc. His Essay on Rent was a tract on behalf of the landlords against industrial capital. The theory was a plagiarism of Anderson. His Principles of Political Economy was a tract in the interests of the capitalists against the workers and in the interests of the aristocracy, the Church, and the‘tax-gatherers’ etc., against the capitalists. The theory was a plagiarism of Adam Smith.
(Marx, THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE, vol III, 1861-63, Meek, op cit, p 168)
In the 19th century Ricardo like Marx was trying to advance and develop the understanding of economics. But Malthus’s various theories were always copied unacknowledged, mostly from 18th century writers, as today neo-liberal economists still echo Adam Smith. As Marx noted, that is how superficial ‘vulgar’ economics works. But all science is progressive: it advances by developing new theories, revising or rejecting older theories.
Not so with Malthus, who was incapable of thinking up any new ideas of his own, instead preferring to recycle the theories of yesteryear. In doing so, he reflected the interests of the landlords and his other rich patrons, who did not care to look too deeply into the true causes of their inherited wealth.
From Malthus to Keynes
Encouraged by his patrons, after his population principle had been so well received, Malthus launched forth theories on rent, on value and crises, the so-called ‘law of diminishing returns’ and the ‘iron law of wages’. Most of these were culled from other writers, and being simply not equipped to examine these, he sometimes distorted their arguments.
Anderson’s 1777 work on rent had suggested to Malthus that land must deteriorate and with declining fertility you get ‘diminishing returns’. That conclusion fitted neatly with Malthus’s principle of the supposed ever-growing pressure of population on the means of subsistence. But Marx noted that Anderson - a farmer - had in fact:
... emphasised that the absolute fertility of all grades of soils could be constantly increased, and with the growth of population must be constantly increased.
(THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE VOL II, 1861-3 - from Meek, op cit, p 117)
As with his argument about the principle of population, Malthus was blind to any potential improvement by scientific methods: science was never part of his thinking. Worse, he used Anderson’s work to support what the progressive Anderson clearly opposed!
Writing in 1815, Malthus was mainly concerned to argue for protectionist Corn Laws, to help landlords sustain high corn prices by banning grain imports. As Marx argued, this showed Malthus was an apologist for class interests:
The only practical conclusions which Malthus drew from the [Anderson] theory were a defence of the protective tariff which the landlords of 1815 were demanding - a sycophantic service to the aristocracy - and a new justification of the poverty of the producers, a new apology for the exploiters of labour ... [also a] sycophantic service to the industrial capitalists.
THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE VOL II - quoted from Meek, op cit, p118
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the political debates of the next decade or so focussed on the growing demand by industrialists for the repeal of the protectionist Corn Laws. Knowing which side his bread was buttered, Malthus slavishly churned out ‘theories’ to support the landowners’ interests.
The ‘iron law of wages’
This half-baked notion, taken up by Lassalle and his followers, was a step back as Engels argued (letter to Bebel, 1875):
This is based on a quite antiquated economic view... that the worker only receives on the average the minimum of the labour wage, because, according to Malthus’s theory of population, there are always too many workers. This was Lassalle’s argument.
This simplistic view is easily shown to be rubbish. True, when business is slack, it seems there are too many workers, and wages fall. But wages will also rise when business is booming and employers, short of labour, advertise for more hands. Then there are too few workers, not too many. But the size of the population may not have changed at all.
This supposed ‘iron law of wages’ might also have contributed to the mistaken idea that when wages rise, so do prices, so that workers should not organise in unions to improve their pay. That argument was used by Harold Wilson in 1970: one man’s wage increase is another man’s price increase. Marx refuted this line of thinking in a debate (VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT), also in CAPITAL.
Malthus’s 1823 work THE MEASURE OF VALUE was dismissed by Marx as a very model of intellectual imbecility, winding its way casuistically through its inner confusion. (THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE VOL 111 - see Meek p138). But he made use of Malthus’s confusion to develop his own theory of value, and explanation of the source of surplus value.
In recent times, Malthus found a disciple in J M Keynes, whose admiration for Malthus was as extreme as his contempt for Marx. This divergence was especially obvious in the two rival theories about the cause of capitalism’s cyclical crises.
Keynes’s theory was an echo of Malthus’s argument about a lack of effective demand being the cause of a depression. Keynes wrote:
If only Malthus, instead of Ricardo, had been the parent stem from which nineteenth-century economics proceeded, what a much wiser and richer place the world would be today! (Essays in Biography) ... in the later phase of Malthus, the notion of the insufficiency of effective demand takes a definite place as a scientific explanation of unemployment.
(GENERAL THEORY) (see Meeks, op cit, p49).
For those who saw Keynes as a serious and influential economist, it is odd to find him praising the quack Malthus for ‘his good common sense notion that prices and profits are primarily determined by something which he described.... as effective demand. Ricardo had looked on Malthus’s method as superficial but Keynes asserted that:
Malthus, by taking up the tale much nearer its conclusion, had a firmer hold on what may be expected to happen in the real world.
ESSAYS IN BIOGRAPHY - see Meeks op cit, p46
The Malthus-Keynes approach failed to understand what the cause of a crisis must be. Their superficial explanation stopped at price movements, and saw nothing behind the lack of ‘effective demand’. This is how a shopkeeper sees things: if prices are too high, demand will fall.
Marx and Engels looked deeper than the surface movement of prices. Their theory explained unemployment and crises as originating in declining profitability in the sphere of production, not in distribution.
And crises always result from a glut, from markets becoming saturated, from capitalism’s colossal over-production.
As Marx wrote: The chronic depression in all the decisive branches of industry ... still continues unbroken here, in France and in America.
Months later, he again wrote:
... the distress is greater than ever ... [in] an unusually severe winter. This is now already the eighth year of the pressure of overproduction upon the markets and instead of getting better it is always getting worse.
(SELECTED CORRESPONDENCE, letters to Bebel, 28 Oct 1885;and 20-23 Jan 1886).
Long before this, Marx’s early notebooks described how chaotic competition leads to recurrent crises:
The economist comes along with his lovely theory of demand and supply, proves to you that ‘one can never produce too much’, and practice replies with trade crises ... [for decades] these trade crises have arrived just as regularly as the great plagues did in the past - and they have brought in their train more misery and more immorality than the latter.
(ECONOMIC AND PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCTRIPTS of 1844, p168-9).
Periodically capitalism’s unchecked, anarchic, competition leads to over-production as markets become glutted. But the ‘vulgar economists’ persisted in their dogma that supply and demand will equal out! Malthus and Keynes were unable to explain the real underlying causes of crises. This was how Marx analysed the issue - not in the fluctuations of market prices but in the effects of unplanned, competitive production.
Malthus, Darwin and the ‘Struggle for Existence’
Marx and Engels, while approving of Darwin’s theory about biological evolution, were sceptical about the phrase struggle for existence, used to assert that the economics of capitalist competition was justified as being based on an eternal, a-historical, law of Nature.
But the emphasis on struggle and competition goes against the abundant evidence of natural systems of interdependence and reciprocity. In a letter (to Lavrov, 1875), Engels wrote:
The whole Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence is simply the transference from society to animate nature of Hobbes’s theory of the war of every man against every man and the bourgeois theory of competition, along with the Malthusian theory of population. [Then] ... the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature to history and their validity as eternal laws of human society [is] declared to have been proved. The childishness of this procedure is obvious.
Lavrov, influenced by Darwinism, argued that the first phase of human development had been a Hobbesian state of war of each against all, and Engels answered:
In my opinion the social development of man from the ape was one of the most essential levers in the development of man from the ape. The first men must have lived gregariously and so far back as we can see we find that this was the case.
Subsequent researches into the way of life of the earliest humans, support Engels’s argument that humans were from the start a social species, as are all primates.
For instance, with more known of the earliest stages of our social humanity, Engels’s argument finds clear evidential support (e.g. Penny Spikins, How Compassion made us Human - the Evolutionary Origins of Tenderness, Trust and Morality, Pen & Sword Archaeology, 2015). Also, research studies into primate behaviour by Franz de Waal, Jane Goodall and others support this.
Engels argued that Darwin’s emphasis on the ‘struggle for existence’ had skewed the natural sciences away from what was previously known of “co-operation in organic nature” [see Engels, letter to Lavrov, 1875, also his Dialectics of Nature, 1872-1882, quoted by Meek, op. cit., pp 175-8, pp 186-7].
The modern science of ecology has been founded on the knowledge that the biosphere, the natural world, is characterised by constant, symbiotic interactions and co-operative interdependence.
But Darwin’s emphasis on the ‘survival of the fittest’ had reflected the “struggle for existence” of competitive capitalist businesses. The poet Tennyson echoed this theme - “Nature red in tooth and claw”. This idea was also echoed by the American John D Rockefeller: “The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest”. (quoted by W J Ghent, OUR BENEVOLENT FEUDALSIM, 1902).
Everywhere you look around in competitive, warlike, capitalism seems to correspond to Darwin’s ideas of the laws of nature. So it is not surprising that Darwin’s biological theory of how different species evolve was distorted into a mirror-image, legitimating this ruthless, dog-eat-dog, competitive system. But anyone who studies how people interact socially cannot fail to see that at bottom it is social cooperation that defines us as a species.
On every count Malthus’s doctrines must be rejected. His heartless inhumanity is shown in his contempt for the unfortunate poor, an attitude which was taken up by influential politicians and which is still at the ‘heart’ of our current Poor Laws. While Malthus dreamed up the notion of lack of ‘effective demand’ to explain poverty and unemployment, Marx wrote, angrily:
Too little is produced, that is the cause of the whole thing. But why is too little produced? Not because the limits of production ... are exhausted. No, but because the limits of production are determined not by the number of hungry bellies but by the number of purses able to buy and to pay. Bourgeois society does not and cannot wish to produce any more. The moneyless bellies, the labour which cannot be utilised for profit and therefore cannot buy, is left to the death rate.
Let a sudden industrial boom ... make it possible for this labour to be employed with profit, then it will get money to spend, and the means of subsistence have never thitherto been lacking (letter to Lange, 1865).
Malthus’s economic theorising led him to chase down every half-baked rabbit-hole around, from the bogus ‘law of diminishing returns’ to the ‘iron law of wages’. His copying from 18th century writers meant he disregarded the role of science - his preference was for the dogma of Original Sin. And his sycophantic class bias led him to falsify his findings - something Marx attacked as a sin against science. His superficial, quack, economics influenced Keynes, and even now his baleful influence continues. And his untenable population theory still carries influence with neo-Malthusians today!
Socialists respect and admire Marx and Engels. That is not just for their revolutionary political campaigning but for their groundbreaking their work as social scientists, their scrupulously scientific explanation of how capitalism works, of how the working class is exploited, of the class struggle, and of how the wages system can never be made to work in the interests of the vast majority. Beside them, Malthus was a mere self-serving charlatan.
ENGELS ON THE CLASS STRUGGLE
It was Marx who had first discovered the great law of motion of history, the law according to which all historical struggles, whether they proceed in the political, religious, philosophical or some other ideological domain, are in fact only the more or less clear expression of struggles of social classes, and that the existence and thereby the collisions, too, between these classes are in turn conditioned by the degree of development of their economic position, by the mode of their production and of their exchange determined by it. This law, which has the same significance for history as the law of the transformation of energy has for natural science.
Engels, Preface to THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE (1885)
‘Cultural Marxism’ and Conspiracy Theories
Conspiracy theories existed long before the Internet was conceived. Most were harmless but others were pernicious and racist, like the publication of the PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION. This particular conspiracy theory originated in Tsarist Russia around 1903 and attempted to show the existence of a world-wide Jewish body seeking global domination. Henry Ford published 500,000 copies for distribution in the US as an attempt to divide the working class along racial lines. The Nazis used that conspiracy theory against Jews in the 1930s and it is still distributed today by Islamic groups, particularly in Saudi Arabia where government officials and state religious leaders often promote the idea that Jews are conspiring to take over the entire world.
Another recent conspiracy theory claims that the Holocaust – the mass extermination of Jews during the Second World War - did not happen. Most Holocaust deniers claim that the Holocaust is a hoax arising from a deliberate Jewish conspiracy designed to advance the interest of Israel at the expense of other countries. Of course, the real reason for the conspiracy is as a means for neo-Nazis and others to rehabilitate Hitler and make his anti-Semitism respectable, rather than leading to the nightmare of gas chambers and extermination camps.
However, with the rise of the Internet and other forms of social media like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube, there has been an explosion in conspiracy theories often linked to the so-called alt-right: white nationalists, anti-globalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. One such example is Alex Jones, a radio host known for the Alex Jones Show and InfoWars.com, both with a wide following and notorious for spreading conspiracy theories. Jones has promoted various New World Order conspiracy theories, such as that the US government orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.
Most conspiracy theories are against a particular group, investing them with power they simply do not possess and political means they do not have access to. This powerful group can be a mythical secret society made up of ‘international Jewish bankers’, an individual like George Soros, or an entire religion, say Muslims, or ethnic groups like Roma Gypsies. Another powerful conspiracy theory, which originated in France, is known as ‘the great replacement’.
This preposterous idea is that Muslim immigration is part of a bigger plan to make Muslims the majority of a country’s population, replacing the indigenous - Christian - people, and runs through the belief system of nationalist, far right groups like Ukip and Britain First.
The point of the conspiracy theory is to divide the working class, to blame one section of workers and to paint a fictional narrative of the other trying to undermine Western values. Rather than seeing capitalism as the source of the problems facing the working class, other workers are conveniently blamed. The fact is that these ‘others’ are just as much victims of the system as any of ‘us’. The only people who gain from turning groups of workers against each other are the class who exploit workers, of all colours and creeds, for profit.
It is ‘Cultural Marxism’ which currently takes the lead in promoting political conspiracy theories on the Internet. And cultural Marxism is also increasingly being used as a pejorative term in the mainstream media and by politicians to attack those who defend migrants, refugees and other groups from racist, homophobic and xenophobic physical violence and verbal abuse.
Here is the former editor of the DAILY MAIL, Paul Dacre, on the relationship between ‘Cultural Marxism’ and the BBC:
...what really disturbs me is that the BBC is, in every corpuscle of its corporate body, against the values of conservatism, with a small “c”, which I would argue, just happens to be the values held by millions of Britons. Thus, it exercises a kind of ‘Cultural Marxism’ in which it tries to undermine conservative society by turning all its values on their heads.
(GUARDIAN, 23 January 2007).
The ‘Cultural Marxism’ bogey has made regular appearances in newspaper and Internet outlets like the Telegraph, the Spectator and spiked on line, the latter ironically a former Trotskyist sect until they embraced free market fundamentalism. The DAILY MAIL journalist James Delingpole, in his article ‘How the BBC fell for a Marxist plot’ (27 September 2011), railed against the ‘sinister influence’ of ‘Left-Wing thinker Herbert Marcuse’ on the programming choices of BBC executives and senior management.
A recent use of ‘Cultural Marxism’ came from the Tory MP, Suella Braverman. Speaking at an event on Brexit organised by the Euro-sceptic ‘think-tank’ the Bruges Group, Braverman said in her speech:
‘We are engaging in many battles right now. As Conservatives we are engaged in a battle against cultural Marxism, where banning things is becoming de rigueur; where freedom of speech is becoming a taboo; where our universities, quintessential institutions of liberalism, are being shrouded in censorship and a culture of no-platforming’.
(GUARDIAN, 26 March 2019).
For Braverman, conservatism is supposedly battling against ‘Cultural Marxism’, whose dark forces are shutting down freedom of speech, enforcing censorship and preventing dissenters from having access to universities. But there is a leftwing orthodoxy which does try to enforce no-platforming etc - unofficial censorship of the Left, feminism, gay rights and others - a censorship which socialists oppose just as much as the right wing censorship! When no-platforming was first used in the 1970s against H J Eysenck at London University regarding his mistaken ideas on gender and race differences and IQ heritability, while socialists opposed Eysenck, we also opposed those who tried to ban him speaking.
Who are the ‘Cultural Marxists’?
The conspiracy theorists claim that these ‘Cultural Marxists’ were to be originally found in the Frankfurt School, founded by Carl Grunberg in Germany in 1923, using a mixture of Marx and Freud to undermine the cultural fabric of society.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, as the leading members of the Frankfurt School – Marcuse, Adorno, Horkheimer and Fromm - were all Jewish, they moved to the US and, so the conspiracy theorists go on to say, laid the foundations for an intellectual assault on God’s own country.
Yet the Frankfurt School were merely academics who were interested in making a critique of contemporary mass culture (e.g. DIALECTIC OF ENLIGHTENMENT by Adorno and Horkheimer, ART IN THE AGE OF REPRODUCTION by Walter Benjamin and TOHAVE OR TO BE by Eric Fromm). Most of their books have a dense academic prose which is often difficult and sometimes impossible to read and understand. They had little or no power except as professors teaching students and their influence was marginal, as opposed to the mainstream academic sociology and economics of the time.
Furthermore, what did their ‘critique’ of capitalism amount to? They painted a depressing and pessimistic picture of Western capitalism. It is depressing because mass culture controls the desires and wishes of the working class as well as its external behaviour though consumption. And it is pessimistic because it provides no means through which the working class can break free of this state of affairs. Ironically Marx’s agency of revolutionary change; the working class is shown to be passive, manipulated and dominated by capital. In claiming the working class is politically impotent in the face of an all powerful capitalism is not the Frankfurt School guilty of a form of conservative pessimism?
So, we have a group of Jewish intellectuals influenced by Marx (a Jew) and Freud (also a Jew). And out of this shared Jewish characteristic the conspiracy theorists spun out yet another Jewish-Communist-Marxist conspiracy which could then be blamed for every problem besetting society including changes in society towards gender and sexuality. ‘Cultural Marxism’ then is just another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory to join with the older ones like the Elders of Zion and Holocaust denial. Wikipedia does not even bother to give this conspiracy theory a separate entry in its index.
Virulently anti-Semitic ‘Cultural Marxism’ has been taken up enthusiastically by the Steve Bannon/Breitbart-inspired alt-right. These groups have embraced and followed a political narrative in which ‘Cultural Marxism’ promotes its plot against Western values through culture wars on university campuses and in other public institutions like the BBC. Well, if Cultural Marxism had so much manipulative power how did Trump ever get elected into the White House? Why is it that capitalism and its institutions appear to be so safe and secure?
‘Cultural Marxism’: all very sinister and all very wrong.
So, just what is ‘cultural Marxism’? In contemporary usage, the term ‘Cultural Marxism’ refers to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and has been doing the rounds since the 1990s. The conspiracy theory came to prominence when the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik included the term in his document 2083: A European Declaration of Independence.
The term was given its current conspiratorial usage by William Lind, then with the Free Congress Foundation, and the conservative presidential candidate, Patrick Buchanan (Death of the West, 2001) which was then widely disseminated across the internet. Lind reportedly told an audience at a Holocaust denial conference that the Frankfurt School were all Jewish. In THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS (2000), William S. Lind established the political time-line of Cultural Marxism; that:
If we look at it analytically, if we look at it historically, we quickly find out exactly what it is. Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. It is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the Hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I [to Kulturbolshewismus]. If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with [the basic tenets of] classical Marxism, the parallels are very obvious.
A key tenet of the ‘Cultural Marxism’ conspiracy theory as disseminated explicitly on countless websites is that it encourages immigration and multiculturalism to undermine ‘Western Values’ (that is, the ‘cultural heritage’ of ‘white, non-Jewish people’). The mainstream conservative right, like the journalists writing in the SPECTATOR, in free market institutes and increasingly from members of Parliament like Suella Braveman, are more circumspect, usually restricting themselves to suggesting that ‘Cultural Marxism’ is a barrier to the free expression of ‘legitimate concerns’ about immigration. ‘Legitimate concerns’ is, of course, a political code for a campaign of xenophobic hostility towards immigrants and immigration.
Why the recent growth in the acceptance of conspiracy theories? One reason was the Vietnam War with subsequent government administrations lying to the country, using misinformation, lies and fake news. Another, more recent reason was the Iraq War. The premise for invasion of Iraq by the Labour Government was on the basis of a Weapons of Mass Destruction document, which turned out to be a tissue of lies. The war led to the death of tens of thousands of men, women and children, all for the necessity of US and Britain and their allies to protect trade routes and have access to oil.
Socialists have no time for conspiracy theorists and are very critical of the Frankfurt School academics that rejected the working class as agents of revolutionary change. More so Herbert Marcuse in his ESSAY ON LIBERATION, written in 1969 during student protests, the rise of the ‘counter-culture’ and opposition to the Vietnam War, which placed feminists, students, black activists and national liberation movements at the centre of political change.
Nevertheless power – the power to exploit the worker class to make a profit - rests with the capitalist class due to its control of the means of production and distribution and the protection of its wealth-producing capacity by the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the state. Workers should not be distracted by divisive conspiracy theories –belief systems for the politically naive - but instead take conscious, political and democratic action to replace capitalism with socialism: the abolition of the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
SOCIALISM AND ONLY SOCIALISM
Every failed reformist tactic, recasts every phrase-mongers trap: ‘in the interest of the working class’ and ‘what reforms would you support and under what conditions?’ The simple fact is that a revolutionary socialist party which by definition only supports the one objective, socialism, is beyond the mental powers of such shadow-chasers to grasp.
Strip away all the ‘what ifs’ and imagined situations and remove just one very fragile hypothesis about what a minority of socialist members of Parliament would do, (which in nearly one hundred years has produced no example), and the entire edifice of contrived propositions disappears.
What remains is what socialists stand for: socialism. What socialist (S.P.G.B.) candidates have always sought a mandate for – socialism - and the only basis upon which they could be elected - socialism. This separates the revolutionary from the reformist.
The emergence of tens of thousands of socialist voters in one or two isolated constituencies, in reality, is unimaginable.
The communication of the socialist case even more so in today’s world than in 1904, would favour a fairly even growth nationally and internationally.
The days of capitalism would be numbered. The democratic process of the vote will at last come into its own as the battle lines will no longer be the phoney one of Tweedle Dee versus Tweedle Dum, but the clear cut real issue of keeping capitalism or getting rid of it and establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.
Animal Farm and Class Consciousness
The BBC recently showed the 1955 Cold War animation film of ANIMAL FARM produced by Halas and Bachelor from the novel by George Orwell. The animated film was supposed to be a lesson of not only what happens when a revolution goes wrong but how all revolutions are bound to fail because of flawed original thinking and impractical execution. The CIA paid for the filming as its cultural contribution to the Cold War, subtly changing many of Orwell’s themes and ideas in the service of the US against the USSR.
(see D. J. Leab, ORWELL SUBVERTED, 007). 29 The novel, ANIMAL FARM, is a fable, a fairy story satirising the Russian coup d’etat in 1917 by the Bolsheviks and the subsequent rise of Stalin and his reign of terror during the 1930s. It was written by George Orwell between November 1943 and February 1944, and published in 1945.
The importance of the publication of ANIMAL FARM was that this was the first serious literary criticism of Stalinism, although the Socialist Party of Great Britain had consistently criticised Lenin, Stalin and Russia’s state capitalism from 1918. The capitalist Left in Britain had been dominated through the 1930s by the Communist Party and its fellow-travellers, and especially in wartime, with Stalin seen as an ally against fascism: so an overt criticism of Stalinism, at that time, would not have been published - even ANIMAL FARM, first rejected by T S Eliot at Faber & Faber, only got printed as a story for children.
Political Purpose for Whom?
Orwell himself wrote of ANIMAL FARM that it was the first work in which I tried with full consciousness of what I was doing to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole, (G. Orwell, COLLECTED ESSAYS,JOURNALISM AND LETTERS (Penguin London, 1968, Vol. 1, p. 7). Orwell’s aim was to make art political.
The farm animals led by the pigs expel the farmer and set up a farm with an egalitarian set of “seven commandments”, to be run in the interest of all the animals. But the pigs take control, there are subsequent purges, denouncements and false confessions, and the use of dogs by the pigs to terrorise, control and dictate to the other animals. The seven commandments originally drawn up by the animals are reduced to a single law: “All animals are equal: but some are more equal than others”. The animals, especially the horses, work heroically to build a mill - just as in Russia workers and peasants slaved to meet Stakhanovite targets, imposed by the Party. And rations for the animals are ever shorter, while the pigs enjoy a privileged, lavish lifestyle.
The pigs controlled information and distorted history - an important theme that Orwell focussed on in his 1984, just a few years later, which is far more of a dystopia than ANIMAL FARM. ANIMAL FARM got through the post-war Iron Curtain because it seemed to be an innocuous children’s tale. As a fable it followed Aesop, La Fontaine and the Russian writers Krylov and Saltykov-Schedrin, in using an innocent-looking fable about animals to describe reality and spell out a radical moral, even under strict censorship.
Orwell’s novel ends on a pessimistic note. Pilkington, a farmer from an adjacent farm, gambles and drinks with the pigs who ape human behaviour by walking on two feet and dressing up in clothes while the name of the farm reverts back to Manor Farm.
The final scene is of the animals outside the farmhouse dining room window watching Napoleon the pig quarrelling with Mr Pilkington the farmer over a game of cards. Orwell wrote:
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.
(Penguin, 2015, p.115).
The novel is an example of a dystopia – the opposite of a Utopia; a nightmare world of violence, alienation and despair. In a dystopia, a writer sets out a horrifying future and leaves it to the reader to ascertain how not to go there. For Orwell the animals were too stupid to liberate themselves. They were only fit to be led, either by humans or by the pigs. This is the deep anti-Marxism in the book and it is for this reason it is celebrated by Conservative newspapers and academics who see Orwell as ‘one of their own’. ANIMAL FARM was a piece of ruling-class propaganda.
Is there hope?
The consequence of revolution for most of the animals is that they have no power; they are subject to arbitrary violence, remain exploited and are no better off than when Farmer Jones ran the farm. In fact, the situation is apparently worse for them than it had been before. They had been promised “animalism” a social system that would improve their lives but this had not been the case. They remained exploited.
There was no hope left. Hope in the promise of a better world had been held out to the animals by the Boar ‘Old Major’ (Marx). Hope was to be in animal solidarity working together with a common aim. But the last scene in the novel - of the animals peering in through the farmhouse window at the new exploiting class - showed the animals’ apparently hopeless situation.
But did the animals lose all hope? If they see no difference between men and pigs, surely this is recognition of their own subject position in the farm. You can learn from your mistakes; there is hope from despair, although the servile support given by the animals to the pigs - the Bolsheviks that ruled Russia - shows that political lessons are not always learnt. However, the scene of the ruling class quarrelling with each other, the one seen by the animals through the farmhouse window, will not go away, so hope always remains that a socialist revolution is still possible. The animals can learn from their experience and make history for themselves.
THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY TO SUPPLANT WORKERS
Another feature about capitalism is that it continually supplants workers by replacing them with new technology.
There is always new technological development in capitalism and the nature of certain jobs change. Some jobs even disappear altogether. Horse transport was driven out by canals, railways, car transport and aeroplanes. This technological process never ends. All sorts of jobs are being created, exist for a short time, are modified or disappear.
Over one hundred years ago there were over one million miners producing 250 million tonnes of coal a year. Coal was the sole fuel. Then oil became used in industry followed by gas and nuclear energy. Coal production lost its place and over the decades the numbers of miners were reduced in number.
The coal mining trade unions tried to resist this change. The idea that they can stop the introduction of new technology and different fuel supplies is an illusion. The trade unions cannot prevent these developments and the loss of workers in these industries. If the capitalists do not keep up with these new developments in the technique of production, they will go out of business.
What workers should be doing is becoming socialists to put capitalists out of business by bringing technology and the means of production under common ownership and democratic control of a socialist world society.
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.