Writing about Louis Bonaparte when the "second Bonaparte rose to power", Marx wrote ironically of his mass support:
Historical tradition had nourished among the French peasants the superstition that a man named Napoleon would return in the fullness of time bringing them all that their hearts could desire. Lo, there came one giving himself out as this Messiah. He bore the name of Napoleon, and, by the terms of the Code Napoleon, la recherche de la paternite est interdite. After twenty years' vagabondage and a number of preposterous adventures, this man becomes Emperor of the French. The prophecy has brought its own fulfilment. The nephew's fixed idea has been realized because it coincides with the fixed idea of the peasant class, the majority of the French nation.
Worse, those peasants who most enthusiastically backed the new man were the most conservative and hidebound!
The Bonaparte dynasty does not represent the revolutionary peasant, but the conservative peasant. It does not represent those among the peasantry who wish to escape from the narrow conditions of their farming life; it represents those who wish to perpetuate and consolidate these conditions. It does not represent that part of the rural population which, instinct with energy, wishes to join forces with the townsfolk for the overthrow of the old order. On the contrary, it represents those who, hidebound in their conservatism, are resolute champions of the old order, and who look to the ghost of the Napoleonic Empire to save and to favour themselves and their petty farms. It does not represent the enlightenment of the peasants, but their superstition; not their judgement, but their prejudices; not their future, but their past...
THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE, chapter 7
When, after "years of vagabondage" and "preposterous adventures" Boris Johnson arrived at his destined place, Prime Minister, he was backed by the zealots of the Brexit cult. As for what exactly Brexit meant, when asked, many would echo slogans about Making Britain Great Again, taking back control of immigration, and sending foreigners home. That ideology harks back to a mythical 'golden age', perhaps to a time when Britannia ruled the waves, with an empire on which the sun never set.
Little Englanders imagine that by cutting off ties with Europe they will be able to establish new free trade deals. And no doubt their new Messiah will show his ability to walk on water, as proof that he is in fact the Chosen One, and so can easily deliver Brexit. Nothing short of this will satisfy the superstition of those true believers!
It's a pity that all the energy, enthusiasm and passion of the Brexiteers and the 'Remoaners' has not been harnessed to a better cause, a unifying cause, a liberating, emancipation movement. Instead, the working class of these islands have let themselves be drawn into a divisive cult by the vapid rhetoric of demagogues, and whether Britain leaves the EU or not, the working class will still be slaving for wages, always dreading unemployment.
Trump & The Fascist Tendency
The American celebrity-cum-reality TV 'star' Donald Trump, since he became President of the US, has dominated news reporting, week in week out. His daily outrageous and bizarre Tweets match his naIve and extremist policies. If ever there is any news item likely to be critical, he actively pre-empts the news coverage by yet another headline-hijacking Tweet. The mass media react with outrage at this unprecedented and uniquely awful phenomenon.
But we would argue that Trump is far from unique. Historically, you can find plenty of examples of individuals very like him.
One of his characteristics is his refusal to obey rules, his flouting of norms and even the law: e.g. his persistent refusal to make public his tax returns; his past sanctions-busting business dealings with Cuba; his past dealings with the Mafia who controlled New York's cement supplies; his move into Mafia business interests like casinos and hotels, etc.
Over 100 years ago, the poet-playwright Oscar Wilde, in a letter home, wrote that "Americans are great hero-worshippers, and they always take their heroes from the criminal classes".
An unscrupulous criminal can advance his career in ways not open to the honest man. This is not just an American phenomenon: back in the 19th century, the Russian writer Gogol wrote a great satirical novel, DEAD SOULS, in which the anti-hero - a man without money or connections, stuck in a dead-end clerical job, gets himself noticed and promoted as the only man in the office who did not take bribes. (This was based on a true story.)
More recently, Putin - also stuck in a lowly clerical job and without connections - saw this was the only way to advance his career. In the St Petersburg planning bureaucracy, noted for corruption, he was picked out as the only one who did not take or seek bribes, the only honest man. And his career took off from this. Appearances are deceptive, and Putin the kleptocrat is now creaming it off Russian trade.
Donald Trump was a serial tax-dodger, a ruthless conman, a businessman who routinely shafted any who did jobs for him, even refusing to pay his architects and lawyers. But not to worry. As Shakespeare put it: "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them" (TWELFTH NIGHT, Act 2).
The 18th century satirist, Fielding, wrote ironically of a certain 'Great Man', i.e. 'criminal' (the politician Walpole), that he adhered to some basic principles, all of which are very Trumpian,
* Never to do more mischief to another man than was necessary to ... effect his purpose ...
* Not to trust him who has deceived you, nor who knows he has been deceived by you.
* To shun poverty and distress, and to ally himself as close as possible to power and riches.
* To foment endless jealousies in his gang...
* That many men were undone by not going deep enough into roguery; as in gaming any man may be a loser who doth not play the whole game.
* That the heart was the proper seat of hatred, and the countenance of affection and friendship.
"... we see our hero... setting himself at the head of a gang ... we view him maintaining absolute power, and exercising tyranny over a lawless crew, contrary to all law but his own will."
THE HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF THE LATE MR JONATHAN WILD, 1743,
from English Satire, ed. Norman Furlong, 1946
As Trump forced a prolonged, indefinite, government shutdown over the funding of his wall, it was actually only and always about his will, and his absolute refusal to negotiate with or concede to Congress. In this he echoes the absolutism and gangster politics of Putin, Xi of China, al-Sisi in Egypt, and countless other authoritarian kleptocrat dictators.
In past centuries there were many similar ruthless, selfish tyrants. At the dawn of British capitalism, Cardinal Wolsey was satirised by the poet John Skelton:
For all their noble blood,
He plucks them by the hood,
And shakes them by the ear,
And brings them in such fear!
He baiteth them like a bear,
Like an ox or a bull.
Their wits, he saith, are dull;
He saith they have no brain
Their estate to maintain;...
Judges of the King's laws,
He counteth them fools and daws...
Why Come Ye Not to Court? from Colin Clout, c.1523 - English Satire, pp 46-7
Like Wolsey, Trump cows his political opponents with coarse abuse and scornful nicknames, is noted for his dislike of an independent judiciary, and his contempt even for his own appointed officials.
In the 17th century, Samuel Butler's poem HUDIBRAS is also revealing. Trump boasts of being "a stable genius", of knowing more than his generals know about warfare, and in his illiterate ignorance used a coined word 'covfefe'. Of Sir Hudibras, Butler wrote:
For he could coin or counterfeit
New words, with little or no wit....
And when with hasty noise he spoke 'em,
The ignorant for current took 'em ...
His notions fitted things so well
That which was which he could not tell.
Curiously, this heroic reformer - with such childish ignorance - seemed also to resemble Trump's uniquely weird hair:
His tawny beard was th' equal grace
Both of his wisdom and his face;
In cut and dye so like a tile,
A sudden view it would beguile;
Th' upper part whereof was whey,
The nether orange, mixed with grey.
HUDIBRAS, 1663-78 - English Satire
But mockery and satire by themselves can achieve little. In ON HEROES AND HERO-WORSHIP, AND THE HEROIC IN HISTORY (1843), Thomas Carlyle made more serious arguments about the so-called Great Men of history. Unlike Socialists, Carlyle held that we need to follow great men - Socialists argue that only sheep need leaders but intelligent and class-conscious Socialists don't.
But Carlyle made some valid points. He argued that all too often those supposed Great Men were nothing of the sort, that there is a big difference between truly serious, public-minded men like Cromwell, and the sham.
He noted the selfless ambition and serious purpose of a truly great man, compared with the sham:
Examine the man who lives in misery because he does not shine above other men; who goes about producing himself, pruriently anxious about his gifts and claims; struggling to force everybody, as it were begging everybody for Godâ€™s sake, to acknowledge him a great man, and set him over the heads of other men!
A great man? A poor morbid empty prurient man; fitter for the ward of a hospital than for a throne among men. I advise you to keep out of his way. He cannot walk on quiet paths; unless you will look at him, wonder at him, write paragraphs about him, he cannot live. Because there is nothing in himself, he hungers and thirsts that you would find something in him.
HEROES AND HERO WORSHIP, lecture 6
As we observe Trump's frantic and incoherent Tweets, his determination to dominate the media conversation, to out-shout all other voices, we can see an embodiment of that "poor morbid empty prurient man", pathetically demanding our attention. You simply must "look at him, wonder at him, write paragraphs about him"!
Carlyle warns us not to be taken in, to detest quacks: "first discern what is true, we shall then discern what is false". Compared with Cromwell, a Trump is just a "prurient windbag". Carlyle argued that "the selfish wish to shine over others". As for political ambition, "you have two things to take into view. Not the coveting of the place alone, but the fitness of the man for the place withal".
Of Trump and Fascism
In 1940, a left-wing academic Harold J Laski wrote in his book WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE, a long essay on What Fascism Is. In the way the Fascist leaders came to power, their background, and their exploitation of a sense of grievances to arouse a sense of national prestige, there are obvious parallels with Trump and his backers, and his political 'base'.
The Fascists in seeking mass support made large promises for the discontented about a renewal of national pride - like Trumpâ€™s campaign slogan Make America Great Again:
Fascism begins with the formation of a little band of adventurers, whom no one takes very seriously... at its head a demagogue of genius. Its influence grows because it is able to exploit every grievance of a diseased society. It is careful to have no coherent doctrine... It offers the assurance of a renewal of that national pride which has been humiliated.
(Laski, Penguin ed. 1940, p 51).
Laski also argued that these 'adventurers' are of an outlaw, gangsterish type, with contempt for the masses, and at the same time hatred for privilege and for society's rules. Again, Trump seems to fit that description uncannily well.
The makers of the Fascist movements were fundamentally uneducated men, wholly unconcerned with the building of a logical system. They were men who ... were at once driven by ambition, avid of power .... they hated [society's] rules because these rules stood in the way of their success ...
Around a central group there gathered an army of the underworld, men who, in America, would have grouped themselves around the racketeers ... They were careful not to put forward any coherent programme... their technique was the simpler one of exploiting grievances and insisting they had sovereign remedies for them. The grievances were whatever men were capable of hating upon a scale wide enough, and with an intensity deep enough, to win support. They personalised their enemies in the sure knowledge that the masses are always interested by concrete symbols of hate
(Ibid., pp 60-61).
As Laski saw it, a Fascist movement was built on hatred. Both a hatred of privilege which made "the rules which condemned them to failure." and at the same time:
contempt for the masses who accepted a rule in which they got most of the toil, and little of the gain of living; they had contempt for the masses because, as outlaws, they had rejected a rule which normally, confined them to poverty and failure (p63).
It is this contempt you hear in Trump when he refers to people as "losers". And it was only by evading the law and norms of honest business, by shafting his contractors, workers and creditors, by walking away from an unsuccessful business, a failed casino, from all the conned who had hopefully signed up to join his fraudulent 'Trump University'â€“ that he could claim to be a successful businessman.
Again, Laski pointed to another feature of the Trump presidency - its lack of a coherent settled policy, its disorder and frequent changes of personnel. One loses count of the many senior appointments which have been replaced, often very fast.
If there is a clear policy, it is to undo any reforms made by previous administrations. An obvious example of this is the dismantling of environmental controls, with water pollution left to the tender mercies of Big Industry and fracking, while experts on climate change find themselves assigned to managing the payroll of the EPA. This in a country whose rotting infrastructure means that rusting water pipes, in many industrial cities like Flint, are delivering water contaminated by lead, mercury, zinc etc.
In his study of Fascism, Laski also explained the Fascists' lack of policy:
The only values they understood, the only values ... which had meaning for them, were those which consisted in the exercise of power by themselves. If it be asked for what end they proposed to exercise power, the answer is for the sake of power itself ...
Their view was the simple one ...
that, as fear and deception had gained them the state, so fear and deception would maintain them in possession of it
The logical outcome was a totalitarian state, with a complete obliteration of all independent social institutions - from the press and the media and the trade unions to the independent judiciary. Trump's authoritarianism, his attacks against the media as "fake news", his insistence that only his will counts: these are all in that Fascist tradition.
The probability is that the US political traditions will mean that further steps down that path would be resisted. But many of the pre-conditions needed to bring Nazis and Fascists to power, in the hungry inter-war years, are present in impoverished "left behind" groups of workers. Trade policies - such as free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, which led to factories re-locating and many workers jobless; technological development - increasing use of CAD-CAM, IT, and robots, destroying old-style jobs, e.g. retail jobs replaced by the mechanised and automated Amazon warehouse empire; and increased manufacturing competition from low-wage countries like China and India: all these have contributed to a sense of being "left behind".
Add to this a witches' brew of racism and white supremacist entitlement, fed by Trump's divisive xenophobic rhetoric, and his movement was able to sweep all before them.
But to what end? Imagine all the migrants and asylum-seekers suddenly deported: would that guarantee jobs and prosperity for American workers? No! Workers in all lands face the same wretched problems, how to feed and house and clothe themselves on wages paid by employers, while these same employers benefit from convenient loopholes and concessions in tax laws, and live the life of Riley on the back of their sweat-force, off the unpaid labour of the great unwashed, those that Tsar Trump looks down on as "losers".
The wage-slave class everywhere is subject to competition: the employers will remove their factories to anywhere they can find a cheaper workforce, a more profitable operation. Though the Chinese workers originally lacked any independent trade union organisation, and still lack any political voice, they are increasingly beginning to organise and demand better wages and working conditions. In time, globalised capitalism will seek out fresh, untapped sources of surplus value to exploit.
Such is the way global capitalism works. And the question of just which set of gangsters controls the state, whether intelligent, highly educated public servants or the uneducated, unscrupulous, self-serving "stable genius" that is Trump, whether democratic or authoritarian, is beside the point.
The real point for workers everywhere is to be conscious of how the capitalist system is one of class exploitation, which simply cannot be made to work in the interests of the working class.
The Trumps of this world rely, for their power and mass support, on aggravating divisive nationalism. But the solution is for the working class to unite, on the basis of our shared class interest, and put an end to the wages system. Nationalism leads to militarism and wars - Socialism alone can mean an end to war, and to class exploitation. And a movement of class-conscious and democratic socialists has no need for any so-called 'leaders'.
The 1819 Peterloo Massacre
Fundamentals and Principles
In the SPGB's DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, the first five clauses were all derived directly from Marx - about the class struggle, social evolution and the active role of a revolutionary working class. These are all about why Socialism is needed. But in 1904 the founding members of this party also stated clearly in 1904 why it was essential for the working class to organise as a political party so as to gain political power.
In those final clauses, about how this can be done, the SPGB explained why it was essential to gain control of the "machinery of government ... and the powers of government", including the armed forces, so that these could be "converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation". Much earlier, in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848), Marx and Engels had argued clearly that:
Political power ... is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.... [so] the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy ... the first step in the revolution by the working class is to ... win the battle of democracy....
Later, in the Preamble to the Rules of the First International (1861), Marx again emphasised clearly the need for a revolutionary, class-based, political organisation: "... the economical emancipation of the working classes is ... the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means".
Unfortunately, the International and its successor, the Second International, abandoned this uncompromising position. The First International was vague about its objectives, and its successor was worse - openly reformist. In Britain the Social Democratic Federation was both reformist and opportunistic, and William Morris's Socialist League also abandoned the Marxian strategy of political organisation and was soon taken over by anarchists.
So, at the start of the 20th century, the group of Marxist workers founding the SPGB were in opposition to all so-called 'Social Democracy' and 'Labour' parties as these were and still are set on the opportunist road to reform, not revolution. But we argue that if you aim for Socialism, you do not want to waste your time trying to reform capitalism - there are bigger fish to fry. And endless arguments about the merits of reforms would be hopelessly divisive. What Socialists want is the whole bakery, not just a larger slice of the loaf or even the whole loaf.
In 1904, this new Socialist Party was to survive and thrive, it had to be clear about how to achieve its objective - something the International had failed to do. It had to state clearly the need for an uncompromising, class-based, revolutionary, political party. That was not just respectable 'ballot box fetishism'.
Just as in the 19th century, there is an obvious practical need to gain control over the armed forces, police and other 'coercive machinery of government', to prevent these being used to protect the class system and the interests of the capitalist class by crushing the workers' movement.
As for overthrowing the class system, the SPGB commented: "It is the workers' political ignorance that keeps them where they are, and not the failure of political action" (SPGB, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO AND THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS, 1948. p.21).
That is not just political dogma or ideology. There are many lessons from history to support our argument. Many bloody massacres have hammered home this lesson, again and again. For instance, in 1871 the ruthless crushing of the Paris Commune with men, women and children shot; in St Petersburg, 1905, mounted Cossack attacks on unarmed Russians; Soviet tanks in Budapest, 1956; attacks on anti-war protestors in Chicago, 1968; 'Bloody Sunday', 1972, when British soldiers shot at a peaceful demonstration in Derry, Northern. Ireland; Chinese tanks and troops crushing the 'pro-democracy' movement in Tiananmen Square, Beijing and in June 2019 over 100 demonstrators killed in Khartoum, Sudan - to name just a few.
So, Peterloo in 1819 has to be seen as just one of a whole series of bloody events when, to defend their power and interests, governments' organised armed forces were used against unarmed members of the working class. Again, the 1911 Liverpool transport strike was countered by soldiers used as blacklegs and by violent thuggish police:
No man could have gone through the Liverpool strike without having his eyes opened to the real existence of the military and the police. True to its traditions, the 'Liberal' government had slaughtered the people here as it had at Featherstone, Llanelli and elsewhere.
(Tom Mann, MEMOIRS - see SPOKESMEN FOR LIBERTY, 1941, p.380).
Just 20 years after Peterloo, Chartists in Newport, south Wales, were shot at from behind hotel shutters, with an estimated 11-53 killed. In terms of numbers, that 1839 'insurrection' of 4,000 men was destroyed by a mere 30 soldiers, plus some special constables (Cole and Postgate THE COMMON PEOPLE p.286).
The Amritsar Massacre, 1919
Another example of so-called civilisation came 100 years after Peterloo. In 1919 British soldiers shot at a crowd of about 20,000 unarmed Indians in a public park in the Sikh holy city, Amritsar. Many of these were there to support a political rally but most were simply enjoying a family day out.
General Dyer later told how on arrival, he took a mere 30 seconds to decide his troops were "in danger" from all these "armed men", then gave the order to fire. As at Peterloo, the massacre was clearly planned in advance: the park's gates had all been locked shut so there was no escape from the deadly volleys.
Again, as at Peterloo, the state's armed forces claimed this massacre was done in "self-defence" - the version passed down in the official records. British history books were mostly silent on this incident.
But that British official version is contested (e.g. CHANNEL 4, documentary, 13 April 2019). Officially, no children were killed - actually 15 children were killed, aged from 6 months to 3 -12 years. It is estimated 500-600 people were killed, and 1000-1800 were wounded. Many were shot in the back as they tried to climb the high brick walls to escape. Those brick walls still show where the bullets hit.
That deadly violence by colonial forces was linked to previous incidents. Just 3 days before, in a time of riots and political protests, several British men had been killed so the British rulers were jittery, fearing a repeat of the 1867 Indian Mutiny. Later, the Hunter Committee accepted at face value General Dyerâ€™s excuse that it was "self-defence" when his troops shot unarmed people in a park. He also decreed a humiliating, racist, Crawling Order - in the Old City, Indians were ordered to crawl the length of the street. One recalled: "I lay on my belly - if I rose, I was hit by the butt end of a rifle". And there were public floggings at a whipping post on the British Clubâ€™s tennis court.
That massacre, followed by collective punishment and racist humiliation, was defended by Winston Churchill as "a singular event" - it was not seen as racist and morally obscene. Even now, no British government has ever made a formal apology for that atrocity.
Class rule by force
More than once such violent incidents have gone down in history as Bloody Sunday, such as when police in 1887 violently attacked a Radical demonstration in Trafalgar Square - 3 were killed and hundreds injured (THE COMMONWEAL - see Spokesmen for Liberty, p. 361).
Just a few streets away, in Grosvenor Square, a 1960s anti-war demonstration was attacked by police and a young schoolteacher was killed. Again, in the 1984 miners' strike, huge numbers of police were sent to the Yorkshire mining areas, and the 'Battle of Orgreave', an especially nasty case of state thuggery, was the result.
Another 'Bloody Sunday' went down in infamy. During the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in Derry, a mainly Catholic/Nationalist city, a peaceful civil rights demonstration was fired on by soldiers whose officers claimed this was done in 'self-defence'. As with Peterloo and Amritsar, the victims were unarmed. Such massacres were in no way a matter of 'self-defence'. They were all acts of government policy.
In suppressing the 1871 Paris Commune, soldiers had fired indiscriminately, and the victims were buried in mass graves - some still alive, according to the eyewitness account of a TIMES reporter.
Survivors were jailed or sent into remote exile, from which many never returned. In the historic centre of China's capital city, on 4 June 1989, the students' peaceful pro-democracy sit-in was crushed by tanks and troops, and all mention of this was and is treated as taboo. The incident has been buried and banned by the Chinese authorities, just as the 1871 Paris Commune victims had been buried by the French government.
Clearly, if the working class are ever to be able to overthrow the class system and establish Socialism, we need to be stronger and better organised politically than mere demonstrators and protesters. Socialists must be able to ensure that state forces cannot be used against our class struggle for emancipation. In short, we must be in a position to control these forces.
Obviously, the only way this can be done is by gaining political power and, with that, control over the machinery of government: the armed forces and the police, together with the judiciary, the law-courts and the jails. Only on the basis of a clear understanding of the class role of the state can we hope to win the "battle for democracy" and end class exploitation.
Peterloo, 1819 - what happened and why
In the early 19th century Manchester, like other new industrial cities of the North and Midlands, was growing fast. The rural people, driven off the land by enclosures, crowded into the industrialising cities where mills with new power-driven machinery were calling out for unskilled 'hands'.
As power-looms and factories took over, thousands of handloom weavers were left destitute and starving and desperate. While some took to machine-breaking and in the countryside others took to rick-burning. Luddism and the 'Captain Swing' riots were countered by the harshest of punitive acts: the death penalty and transportation were common punishments, and even children were hanged. In 1812, Byron made a stinging protest in the House of Lords at the death penalty in the Framebreaking Bill:
These men never destroyed their looms till they were become useless - worse than useless; till they were become actual impediments to their exertions in obtaining their daily bread ... Their own means of subsistence were cut off: all other employments pre-occupied ... - Is there not blood enough upon your penal code? ... Will you erect a gibbet in every field? ... Are these the remedies for a starving and desperate populace?
See Spokesmen for Liberty, pp.236-7
The end of the Napoleonic Wars brought hard times: wages fell but the price of bread was kept high by the Corn Laws and tariffs protecting the interests of the landowners. Both Cobbett and Byron wrote of how those landowners had all done very well for themselves as wartime had meant high grain prices and high rents. But post-war peace threatened all that:
The land self-interest groans from shore to shore,
For fear that plenty should attain the poor.
Up, up, again, ye rents! Exalt your notes,
Or else the ministry will lose their votes,
And patriotism, so delicately nice,
Her loaves will lower to the market-price.
Byron, THE AGE OF BRONZE - ibid., p.240
With the return to the gold standard, there was unemployment and hunger, with wages on average well below what they had been 10 years earlier, and paid police spies and informers kept the authorities informed about any expressions of discontent. Some even acted as agents provocateurs, persuading workers to join up with fictitious revolts and becoming rich from others' misery. Prosecutions relied wholly on their paid and perjured sworn evidence, as their lies stitched up unfortunates - for cash.
In 1816 in Spa Fields, London, a rally by Spenceans (for land nationalisation and the 'single tax') plus a Radical (pro-Reform) rally was followed by rioting and looting. The Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth, alarmed, claimed this indicated a general rising and the government suspended Habeas Corpus to allow for arbitrary jailing, without trial.
Sidmouth sent letters to all magistrates 'urging them to the utmost severity in suppressing all forms of treason and sedition' and prepared the Gagging Acts of 1817. These banned all meetings, unless approved by the magistrates, and the Home Office and local magistrates hired spies and informers to report on any 'seditious proceedings' (see Cole and Postgate THE COMMON PEOPLE 1746-1946, pp. 220-1).
The 1817 'March of the Blanketeers' had assembled in St Peter's Fields, Manchester, before setting off to London with a petition for Reform and relief to the Prince Regent. These hunger-marchers were mostly unemployed handloom-weavers and spinners. But a joint force of soldiers and yeomanry broke up their meeting, their leaders were arrested, and few got as far as Derby (THE COMMON PEOPLE 1746-96, p. 222).
Class and politics - and those responsible for Peterloo
At national level, government policy was decided by politicians, many from the peerage, and MPs, selected by the powerful and elected only by the wealthy, landowners and property-owners. At regional or local level, government policy was implemented by the magistrates.
In government a key man was Lord Castlereagh, son of the Marquis of Londonderry, who was active in the Londonderry Militia when in 1798 it crushed an Irish rebellion.
His career progressed fast: from an Irish MP to a London MP; from Whig to Tory in 1795; then in 1797 Irish Chief Secretary; later, as Secretary for War, negotiating the Congress of Vienna, he backed hereditary rulers and reactionary despots. Just months after Peterloo, he introduced the repressive Six Acts, harsher than the 1817 Act, and a real threat to any radical or reform journals. But in 1822 Castlereagh, unpopular and depressed, cut his throat.
In the Manchester area, the key man was Hulton, a tough Tory landowner with coal mines. In 1812, he had 12 men arrested for setting fire to a textile mill, and had 4 of these, including a 12-year-old boy, hanged. Any caught trying to form a trade union were transported, and the miners said his pits were the worst in the area to work in. He became High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1811, aged just 21, and by 1819 he was chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates. Other magistrates involved were landed gentry plus some Anglican clergy.
According to contemporary records by reporters and Samuel Bamford, one of the meeting's organisers, preparations were made for an orderly, peaceful, well-organised event. Workers' groups from around the district had practised assembling, marching in the hills with banners and bands. The organisers had invited a noted celebrity speaker, 'Orator' Hunt, to travel up from London to speak about parliamentary reform, and also had notified the police in advance.
Care was taken to ensure this meeting would be peaceful: on their arrival, men's walking-sticks were left at meeting-points, to be collected later, and loose stones were removed from the meeting place.
But the authorities had also made advance preparations and their forces were strategically deployed, hidden in back streets, yards and alleys, and surrounding the rally on all sides (cf. the London 'kettling' of the poll tax riot). In Samuel Bamford's eye-witness account, he described the various forces deployed: first, the Manchester Yeomanry, then the 15th Hussars and the Cheshire Yeomanry armed with sabres, plus the 88th Foot, 4 pieces of Horse Artillery and 200 special constables "so that a force for a thorough massacre was ready had it been wanted" (PASSAGES FROM THE LIFE OF A RADICAL - see Spokesmen for Liberty, p.257).
In a pamphlet he published soon after, he described and showed with a sketch map the positions of these various forces. This and much material on Peterloo can be found on the Spartacus Education website, while Mike Leigh's 2019 film PETERLOO is a masterpiece firmly rooted in the real history of the events.
The violence of Peterloo led to horror and anger: e.g. poems by Byron - "I have seen the people ridden o'er like sand / By slaves on horseback" (DON JUAN) and Shelley - "I met Murder by the way, / He had a mask like Castlereagh" (THE MASK OF ANARCHY - Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester). The violence at Peterloo was not self-defence as it was planned in advance.
And the state response to calls for reform was the reactionary Six Acts, aiming to shut down reform publications - Cobbett fled to America while Bamford was jailed.
Peterloo, and later Amritsar, Tiananmen Square, and many other massacres show clearly how ruthless the capitalists and their governments are when confronted by mass protests by workers. The lessons are clear. We know that workers are ruthlessly attacked and even massacred by state forces. To leave the army, police, judiciary etc, at the disposal of the ruthless exploiting class would be suicidal - utopian - folly.
Socialists argue it is absolutely essential for the working class to organise as a political party in order to gain control over how those forces are used. If we are to succeed one day, in building up a genuinely class-conscious movement working to achieve Socialism and the end of all class exploitation, this has to be an essential focus of our strategy. The bloody events of 1819 and 1919 and so many other instances serve as important warnings to us now. Whichever class controls the government, that party - that class - controls the armed forces and police, and decides their use and deployment in its own class interests.
No class ever gave up its power voluntarily. Lessons from past and present are clear, as Marx argued: "To conquer political power has become the great duty of the working classes" (Inaugural Address of the First International, 1864). Those who would seek to change society need to face up to this reality and join with us, committed Socialists, organising politically for Socialism, for "common ownership ... by and in the interest of the whole community", and to put an end to all class exploitation.
Capitalism and Global Warming
Global Warming Crisis
Climate change and the implications of climate change are not going away. Evidence from scientists in the field continues to link the environmental crisis with a whole range of problems from rising sea levels to mass migration.
According to the National Geographic:
Rising seas is one of those climate change effects. Average sea levels have swelled over 8 inches with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Every year, the sea rises another .13 inches (3.2mm).
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/sea-level-rise/ And the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated:
Climate change is expected to trigger growing population movements within and across borders, as a result of such factors as increasing intensity of extreme weather events, sea-level rise and acceleration of environmental degradation.
In addition, climate change will have adverse consequences for livelihoods, public health, food security, and water availability. This in turn will impact on human mobility, likely leading to a substantial rise in the scale of migration and
On August 8, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed how capitalism is dangerously re-shaping the land itself. De-forestation and intensive farming for profit are creating the conditions for potentially irreversible environmental catastrophe. According to the IPCC it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land. The IPCC fell way short of suggesting socialism as the answer. The common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society was not even considered. Capitalism as the cause of the climate warming crisis was ignored. The profit system was never questioned.
And there is some urgency in establishing socialism. In areas of the globe that are ploughed for farming, soil is being lost more than 100 times faster than it can be replaced. The result will be food shortages aggravated by severe weather such as floods, droughts, fire and hurricanes. In turn, this will cause mass migration, war, conflict, barriers at borders, migrant concentration camps, racism and xenophobia. Half a billion people already live in areas of the world experiencing desertification.
According to the report from the IPCC, land use accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Capitalist agricultural production now impacts on more than 70 percent of all ice-free land, a quarter of which has been degraded. C02 is no longer being absorbed by long-lost forests. Land that could have been used to grow trees or more sustainable crops has instead been devoted to profitable but unsustainable types of food production, while monoculture results in the loss of many species and biodiversity.
What of the political response?
What of the political response? Take as examples, President Trump of the US and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
President Donald Trump has withdrawn the US - the worldâ€™s largest carbon polluter after China - from the 2015 Paris Treaty on climate change. He believes global warming is just a ruse of the Chinese government. He is supported by the US fossil fuel industry and their "free-market" think tanks producing endless climate change denial reports.
Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro is encouraging the destruction of the Amazon rainforest at the fastest rate recorded. A football pitch of Amazon forest is lost every minute. Brazil's National Institute for Space Research warned (7 August 2019) that Amazon de-forestation increased year-on-year by 278 per cent year-on-year, resulting in the destruction of 870 square miles of - protected - virgin rainforest.
Bolsonararo dismissed his own government's satellite data as "lies" and sacked the director for telling "truth to power". Along with an increase in wildfires. which often occur in the dry season in Brazil, there are also deliberate efforts to illegally de-forest land for cattle ranching and gold mining (BBC NEWS 21 August 2019). The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.
And the areas of rainforest currently being torched include large areas of government and tribal lands where the remnants of the Amazonian native peoples still live. Dependent on the forest environment for their livelihood and supposedly protected from such ruthless incursions.
In Brazil, the Bolsonaro government uses nationalist rhetoric to resist any calls to protect the Amazon rainforest: such protests by voluntary groups, environmentalists and even international governments are resented and brushed aside as illegitimate foreign interference in Brazil's internal policies. Similar arguments were used by Russia (e.g. over the drying up and pollution of the Aral Sea), by China (e.g. over the de-forestation of Tibet), and now by the US and Canada (e.g.over fracking).
It would be wrong to say that capitalist politicians and governments are not interested in the problem and consequences of global warming. Marx pointed out that the state is the "executive of the bourgeoisie", taking decisions in its interest. The British government has initiated several environmental reforms, including attempts to reduce carbon emissions, but they are only related to the UK, not internationally. The EU has also made some steps in this direction but again these measures cannot be enforced globally, while the UN is hampered by its financial dependence on the US for its funding.
True, at one time the fears about the depletion of the ozone layer during the 1980s did result in some international action to switch from one dangerous gas used in refrigeration and aerosols to another, supposedly less harmful product. But since capitalism relies on wasteful consumerism and growth, unless and until the capitalist mode of production itself is seen as the cause of the global warming crisis we cannot expect really meaningful, worldwide action.
The principle problem of environmental reform is that the world is divided into competing nation states with their own interests and priorities. Governments have to weigh up the potential environmental damage caused by flood and fire and pollution, as against making capitalists pay for it in a very competitive global market. No one country can tie itself up in environmental regulations if other countries do not do the same. But as the problem of global warming is a world-wide problem requiring a global solution, the existence of competing nation states means that efforts to solve it can at best only mitigate its worst effects, never getting to tackling the root causes.
Governments in the US, at a state level, are trying to introduce measures to minimise the effects of global warming but like all capitalist politicians they come up against severe economic constraints. The need to make profits and minimize the burden of taxation is primary capitalist considerations. And states with sources of fossil fuels are interested in continuing to sell them on the world market despite the environmental consequences.
No state can take all necessary environmental measures despite the protestation of groups like Extinction Rebellion. If one state were to take the necessary measures unilaterally, involving higher energy costs for their capitalists, this would make their industries' commodities less competitive on world markets. So they are only going to take action if other states will do the same. Hence the various climate change conferences and the endless UN debates and reports over the decades as the problems have become worse.
At these conferences each state is trying not to disadvantage itself and to prevent other states getting an advantage over them. So what emerges is the lowest common denominator. Talking the talk and not walking the walk. Talking about the environmental problem facing the planet costs nothing, while doing something effective about it comes up against intransigent national interests.
The only framework in which the world can rationally tackle global warming is the establishment of common ownership and democratic control of the Earth's natural and industrial resources. This is not something capitalism's politicians and governments are interested in; they try to ignore the protests from environmental scientists and the green movement. And environmentalists shy away from naming capitalism as the cause while dismissing the socialist solution needed to be taken consciously and politically by the majority of the world's population.
The effects of climate change fall most heavily on the world's poorest people. But no country or class can escape the consequences of the climate crisis. Capitalism has never been a greater threat to humanity's well-being and survival.
Why Socialism will Effect Radical Environmental Change
It is easy to see why capitalism's governments and even intergovernmental agencies are unable to do much about this rapidly advancing environmental crisis, apart from publishing reports of what is going on. They can and do tell us - via TV reports and scientific studies - about the forest fires burning the Arctic forests, releasing the ancient methane stored in the permafrost; about the rapid disappearance of glaciers in many continents and latitudes; about how islands are disappearing under the rising seas; about the growing problem of air pollution in cities; about how several cities have come within a whisker of running out of water as even their groundwater has been depleted; about the many ways the loss of habitat has resulted in the danger of elimination for many species, including bees; about how competitive pressures have led to overfishing in once luxuriant fisheries; and so on and on and on.
Capitalism's ideologies, such as nationalism and the so-called 'free market" competitive 'beggar my neighbour' ideology of the neo-liberals, contribute to this catastrophe. Governments compete rather than co-operate. And so do businesses. On their profit and loss balance sheets, the value of the wild, of wilderness, of clean air and unpolluted fresh water, of the natural biosphere on which humanity depends. All this is rated by their accountants as a zero.
So there is no way capitalism is able or incentivised to address this problem. And time is fast running out.
But we socialists have been pointing to capitalism as a dangerous problem - for another reason - for over a century. Our reason has to do with our knowledge that this class system exploits us as workers. A tiny handful of the world's population owns and controls the vast majority of the planet's resources. And for that minority's profit-making, they are destroying or endangering the Amazon rainforest, the fertility of the soil, the beauty of birdsong, the real wealth of biodiversity, and the possibility of our children growing up with fresh clean air and unpolluted water.
Now, capitalism's endless lust for profits has polluted even the deepest trenches of the Atlantic Ocean and the remotest islands of the Pacific, while fracking permanently pollutes and removes from the water cycle the pure waters of hundreds of Canada's lakes. Today is the time: our Mother Earth is warning us that time is running out. We cannot any longer afford to ignore these warnings, and the plight of those millions of our fellow humans being driven from their homes as hapless refugees, desperately fleeing conflicts largely caused by the effects of climate change.
And so it is now that we socialists demand that our case be heard, and that we unite worldwide to end this dangerous, warlike and wasteful, chaotically competitive, greedy and consumerist system. And we socialists demand that we unite and work together to create a co-operative global system which will enable humankind to work together, in harmony with the eco-systems of the planet.
The fact is that socialism is our best - arguably our only - hope for a viable future. Production and distribution could be democratically organised so that materials are re-used, waste largely eliminated or treated and the environment protected. Socialist society would use technology and science to understand the world better, so that human activity becomes aligned with the environment and the bio-sphere.
Socialism offers a way of living that isn't dominated by profit, greed, exploitation, ever-increasing wasteful production, wasteful consumerism, and environmental damage. Socialism would make possible a really democratic running of society, where common ownership of the means of production and distribution would allow people to have actual democratic control over decisions and processes which affect us, our families and the social and natural environment.
Fully Automated Luxury Capitalism
We face serious challenges in the world today, among them, global warming and the persistence of world capitalism. Capitalism causes environmental degradation and many other social problems facing the working class, such as poverty, unemployment, poor housing and war.
There does not seem to be much positive inspiration around at the moment to abolish capitalism and solve the social, economic and environmental problems it causes. There are very few socialists on the ground, no rapid socialist movement working towards a revolutionary end, and a working class that is increasingly giving its support to anti-immigrant and xenophobic far right political parties.
The capitalist Left is either wedded to the "Back to the future" policies of Jeremy Corbyn; with its nationalisation, regulation of the economy and social reformism, or remains under the dead hand of Leninism with its leadership of professional revolutionaries telling workers what to think and how to act.
For several decades, socialists have been told that there is no alternative to capitalism; no alternative to the market and class exploitation. We have been told that capitalism is the final destination point of social evolution.
We have come to "the end of history". This is known as "capitalist realism" where, according to the late Mark Fisher 'It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism' (CAPITALIST REALISM: IS THERE NO ALTERNATIVE? 2010).
Socialism, however, does present itself as an alternative to capitalism. The problems created by capitalism remain untouched from one generation to the next, and they are often getting worse. Socialism has never existed, and production directly and solely to meet human needs remains a viable and practical alternative to capitalism. A socialist society would produce sufficient goods and services to meet the needs of the world's population in ways capitalism never can.
There does need to be an urgent debate about socialism and how socialism is to be established, and what political strategies can take that struggle forwards. Aaron Bastani, a leading figure in Novara Media, has written a book FULLY AUTOMATED LUXURY COMMUNISM: A MANIFESTO (London: Verso, 2019), which seeks to join that debate. However, despite the many interesting topics it covers on technology, it is an intervention that is fatally flawed. Under "FULLY AUTOMATED LUXURY COMMUNISM," writes Aaron Bastani towards the conclusion of the book:
"We will see more of the world than ever before, eat varieties of food we have never heard of, and lead lives equivalent - if we so wish - to those of today's billionaires. Luxury will pervade everything as society based on waged work becomes as much a relic as the feudal peasant ..." (p. 189)
Bastani proposes a world in which technology produces in abundance all that is required for people to live worthwhile lives, rivalling in quantity and quality what billionaires enjoy today. It will be a society:
"......in which work is eliminated, scarcity replaced by abundance and where labour and leisure blend into one another".(p. 50).
Here is a book which is optimistic and has left capitalism behind. There is optimism in technology, and in its use; a guilt-free optimism for the production of material goods; and optimism that socialism/communism (they both mean the same thing) can be a global organising principle making capitalism history.
The premise of the book is grounded on periodic "historical disruptions" to human society from the development of agriculture to the development of technologies associated with the industrial revolution. Bastani believes we are about to enter a third disruption which will allow the human species to have infinite energy through solar technology, the ability to mine asteroids for materials like lithium, to use genetic intervention to improve universal health care and well-being and abundant food supply. The bulk of the book looks at each theme in some detail, drawing upon current research and extrapolating trends into the future.
With solar power, for example, Bastani believes society has access to unlimited, clean and free energy. The amount of solar energy constantly hitting the Earth's atmosphere is around 174 petawatts (The petawatt is equal to one billion millions watts). Of this half hits the planet's surface.
Humans currently consume less than 20 constant terawatts (a unit of power equal to one million million watts) a year meaning that many thousands of times more energy furnishes Earth than is even required under capitalism. Bastani notes that by 2016 solar power was:
the fastest-growing source of new energy installations world-wide, outstripping the growth of all other forms of power for the first time (p. 103).
Socialism then, he argues, has the potential of pollution free and abundant energy source from the sun. However, whereas the source of solar energy is free as it hits the Earth, the planet is carved up into competitive nation states containing a ruling class who privately own and control the means of production to the exclusion of everybody else. The capitalist class has its interests protected by the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the state. The market control of solar power and its distribution under capitalism is no different to that of fossil fuels, like oil and gas. Even as the price of electricity from solar power falls, it is still under private ownership; still a profitable enterprise.
This brings us on to Marx. Marx makes a lot of appearances in Bastani's book - selective quotations are taken from THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, THE GRUNDISSEe, THE PREFACE TO A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY and CAPITAL. However, what is missing is the class dimension provided by Marx - the reality of class relations, the class ownership of the means of production and the political means necessary to make the means of production common property under democratic control. Class relations are ignored, so too is the class struggle: The book is 'Marxist-lite', so to speak.
In Bastani's book there is no identifiable class conscious and political agent of change, certainly not a world socialist movement who has formed itself into socialist political parties with the expressed aim of establishing socialism and only socialism.
And, because of his reliance on technological sources from those wanting to retain capitalism rather than abolish it, many of the technological claims made by Bastani are class neutral. Gene editing, the research facilities, those who are employed to work in them and their marketing, are all part of commercial enterprises supported by governments over questions of intellectual copyrights and patents.
Technical developments in capitalism take place within a class society and for reasons associated with maximising profit and capital accumulation. Bastani wonders in awe at the technology coming into existence but fails to question whether it is the right technology for a future socialist society or whether a future socialist society would want to use it. He offers a future of electric cars, but will a socialist society want the roads, the car parks and the traffic jams which go with this type of transport?
Would new patterns of transport be considered by future socialists, forged by new social relationships and ways of doing things?
What is missing from Bastani's book is a considered understanding of capitalism, the political process by which socialism is to be established and the world-wide socialist majority who is going to establish socialism. There is an acute tension in the book between technological determinism and utopianism which is never resolved.
Marx's theories transformed socialism from a utopia into a science. Marx rejected the romantic and idealistic utopianism of Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier in France and Robert Owen in Britain. Marx also dismissed the Jacobin tradition of Louis Blanqui during the French Revolution, whereby a small secret conspiracy of enlightened revolutionaries seized power by means of a coup d'Etat and imposed socialism on the rest of society.
There is no discussion in Bastani's book of the self-emancipation of the working class. In fact, save for the technological utopia, society does not really change. True, Marx avoided blueprints but he did believe that changing social relations would change society in a revolutionary way. In the GOTHA PROGRAMME he pointed out that creative and fulfilling labour should be one of "life's wants" and guided by the socialist principle: "from each according to ability to each according to need". And as a socialist principle he stated that the emancipation of the working class must be the emancipation of the working class itself.
When he drafted the rules for the International Workingman's Association in 1864, Marx began with the statement: "That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves."
This brings us to the most disappointing part of Bastani's book â€“ its final section. Here, he explains how Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) is to be brought about. After presenting reasons why we would want FALC, the question is: how do we get it? Is it just going to fall on our laps from the sky? What about us workers?
Assuming the reader is persuaded by a society without the wages system, the labour market, the buying and selling of labour power, what are we expected to do now? How are we going to get involved and what political mechanism do we use to get from here to there? The answer is disappointing. According to Bastani, we are to remain passive voters. And who we are supposed to be voting for is not divulged either. All he says is: '"The majority of people are only able to be politically active for brief periods of timE..." (p. 195).
And he goes on to say that the working class are apparently only "open to new possibilities regarding how society works around elections" (p. 195).
Isn't this a touch arrogant to limit the majority of society in establishing FALC and to be marginalised to brief periods of political intervention - say once every five years at elections.
What are workers supposed to do for the rest of the time? Leave it to technological leaders? Socialists object to this elitism.
The working class have to engage and to be persuaded to become socialists outside elections. The working class must come to understand and accept the case for socialism otherwise they will continue to vote at elections for capitalist political parties and capitalist political leaders like Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.
Elections, for socialists, are important. However, the hard work is to first persuade a majority of workers to become socialists. A socialist majority is important so that it can send socialist delegates to Parliament with a revolutionary use of the vote. Socialist delegates, accountable to the people who send them there, will gain control of the machinery of government. This will enable a socialist society to abolish capitalism and replace the profit system by the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
In not understanding that a fundamental change in society requires the active participation of a socialist majority FALC collapses into utopianism; the kind of utopianism found in the writings of Charles Fourier and Robert Owen. This is FALC'S fatal flaw. We are reminded of Engels in his pamphlet SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, where he dismisses the utopianism of his own day as;
"...a mish-mash allowing of the most manifold shades of opinion: a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition; a mish-mash which is the more easily brewed the more definite sharp edges of the individual constituents are rubbed down in the stream of debate, like rounded pebbles in a brook".
A remark that is sadly applicable to Bastini's FULLY AUTOMATED LUXURY COMMUNISM.
Capitalism: Hate, Violence & Conflict
That a killer should cold-bloodedly plan and carry out a ruthless killing of men, women and children at mosques in New Zealand - even broadcasting this live via so-called 'social' media platforms - was an event which sent a collective shudder round the world. There was no doubt about the killer's motivation: he had published on-line his paranoid 'white supremacist' ideology.
Collectively politicians round the world shuddered and spoke of shock and horror, sympathy for the bereaved and survivors.
But this violence could not and should not be such a shock. The US recorded several major incidents of mass shootings over the last year or so: often in schools or colleges (e.g. Parkland, Florida), some in places of worship - churches and a synagogue, and even one where the killer shot from a hotel room into a folk music festival. Sometimes the motive was ideological, political or racist, sometimes not.
But always there were these common factors: the killers all had a murderous mindset. And they were able to get hold of powerful weapons. But this is not hard in the US where any gun law reform is fiercely resisted by the powerful gun lobby, the NRA, with its controlling stranglehold over US politicians. In Paris and Manchester where killers attacked at pop music concerts, their victims were mostly young people - of all religions and none, and a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
As in the US, motives for such attacks are not always to do with white supremacist, nationalist, racist, neo-Nazi ideology. There are other - political - motives for terrorism: Islamic 'radical' jehadism is apparently the greatest threat. There are fears of a return to IRA violence as Brexit uncertainty and the question of a new border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic leaves Irish people unsettled. And some mass killings are not politically motivated.
The growth of populism
Nationalist politicians and rabble-rousing demagogues have promoted divisive 'politics of identity' ideologies, based on racism, nationalism, religion and culture. And divisive issues like these drown the sound of the socialists' call for workers to unite on the basis of their class interests - as a "class in and for itself".
The role of nationalist political demagogues has been to fan the flames of hatred, intolerance and division. Some of these actors are well-known figures: e.g. Trump, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage (UKIP), Marine le Pen (France's Front Nationale), Putin, Hungary's Orban, Italy's Salvatini, India's Modi, etc. Other influencers include 'preachers of hate' in extremist mosques; some mass media journalists and radio presenters using 'dog-whistle' signals to incite racist prejudice; and media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, with pro-Trump propaganda on his Fox News.
So why does this poison of divisive hatred find so many willing ears just now?
What is it about social and political conditions now that have enabled such hate and bite to dominate political rhetoric? Politicians and pundits have been quick to point to the role of Facebook and other social media platforms in enabling the viral spread of poisonous race hatred. But historically there have been similar terrorist atrocities and indiscriminate killings for decades, even back in the late 19th C - long before social media, before the Internet, before TV and even before radio broadcasting.
But those who study the role of the social media businesses have noticed that, in the last 3-4 years, the number and nastiness of extreme posts has grown to the extent that nasty is now the norm. And what is seen as nasty is far, far worse than it used to be.
Facebook and others now employ thousands of moderators whose unhappy job it is to filter out the nonstop streams of unspeakably vile, violent, hate-filled stuff that appears on-line. That job is so dreadful that moderators quit, suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. One former moderator told of "the rise of hate... and the normalisation of nastiness... that saps your faith in ordinary people, that affects your world view" (SUNDAY TIMES - from The Week, 16 March 2019).
But why is there so much hate propaganda? In the late 19th C, William Morris argued that capitalism had created such an unbearably hideous and horrible world that the result is either numbness or irrational hatred:
[Capitalism's] politics and ethics force us to live in a grimy disorderly uncomfortable world... [so] a man who notices the external forms of things much nowadays must suffer .... must live in a state of perpetual combat and anger; and he really must try to blunt his sensibility, or he will go mad, or kill some obnoxious person and be hanged for it.
(THE SOCIETY OF THE FUTURE, 1887, from Political Writings of William Morris, ed. A L Morton p200).
So, to find the origins of the warped mindset of those who set out to slaughter their fellow humans, we will not get far if we focus only on the ideological influences on these murderers. The answer to this question is to be found in our social conditions, as Marx wrote: "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines consciousness" (preface to the CONTRIBUTION TO A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, 1859). The inhumanity of mass killers is a by-product of an anti-social world.
Some would argue that, after the global banking crash of 2008-9 and a decade of austerity with drastic cuts to public services and average UK wages still no better than they were ten years ago, there are a great many frustrated people feeling hard done by.
Expectations of a reasonable pension in old age have mostly gone; young people have hardly any hope of decent housing; state benefits for the disabled or unemployed are meagre and hedged with impossible and degrading conditions, too many jobs are in the low-paid gig economy or sweatshops, and everywhere there are the hopeless and homeless - and food banks.
So, in the working class, there is a strong sense of being let down. The result is that many now look for a scapegoat, for someone to blame - just as they did in the past. In the aftermath of Germany's defeat in 1918, mass unemployment, hyperinflation and hardships helped the Nazis to power and the Jews were seen as the target. German workers were led to turn their anger mistakenly against a perceived 'other', a group they blamed for all their problems.
The US is a melting pot of all races and nationalities under the sun yet there has always been discrimination and prejudice, most obviously on grounds of skin colour - the Ku Klux Klan lynchings still cast a long shadow, but also against Europeans such as Poles nicknamed Polacks. Now, Trump bellows about a supposed 'invasion' of Mexicans, threatening many lawful residents with arrest and deportation.
In America, anti-Semitism lingers still. In Charlottesville, on a neo-Nazi, KKK-style, torchlight march, the marchers chanted "Jews will not replace us!" and the old Nazi slogan "Blood and Land!" and displayed the swastika, symbolic of their murderous neo-Nazi ideology. A new conspiracy theory is now promoted, globally, claiming that white men are under threat as within a generation other races will have replaced them. That 'Replacement Theory' was echoed in the racist, white supremacist manifesto of the Christchurch mosque killer.
The production for profit system
While targets and victims may vary, the real problem remains: too many of the working class are easily divided, persuaded that their tribal enemy is some 'other' group of the working class, rather than the capitalist class and the whole vile, vicious 'production for profit' system.
Remember, just days before the New Zealand mosque massacres where 50 victims were killed and many injured, a Boeing 737 Max plane crashed within minutes of take-off. An earlier crash, in October 2018, had killed all 189 people on board, and this second crash in Ethiopia killed all 157 people on board. In total, within just a few months, Boeing's latest plane had killed 346 people, all the crews and passengers in just two planes, and it was obvious that the two crashes of these Boeing planes had happened in near-identical circumstances.
Even so, days after the second crash, the US regulators and Boeing's directors were still reluctant to ground their planes, leaving passengers and crews at risk. While many airlines and many states did ground those planes, the US was the last to act.
Of course, the respectable Boeing boardroom execs were simply doing business as usual - they were not cold-blooded killers surely! Consider again that cold-blooded killing in New Zealand with a death count of 50, and tons of 'shock, horror' and sympathy for the victims. Then contrast that with the 346 people killed in those two crashes, and the meagre news coverage they attracted. Remember this curious contrast.
Experience has shown, over and over, that capitalism kills. Boeing's management deliberately kept silent for months about pilots' reports of problems, even when they must have known crews and passengers were at risk. But when profits are at risk, aircraft manufacturers will do anything to keep their planes flying and the orders coming in.
This latest plane disaster was also cold-blooded killing, mass murder. But the Boeing motive was not hate or racism - just greed, profit, sales and 'business as usual'.
Hatred and horror
We live in a society which glorifies violence, when done by paid killers in army or police uniforms, one where the individual is supposed to fend for himself - a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes, one where competition governs almost all our social interactions. In this jungle, many individuals are at a disadvantage and become frustrated, warped, bitter - and angry.
Add to this guy with a chip on his shoulder the easy availability of powerful weapons, such as semi-automatics, then you have your armed killer just looking for a suitable target, to kill as many as possible.
Socialists also argue that a better future - a peaceful and pleasant one - is ours if we want it. For now, that means fostering not hatreds but social solidarity, not tribal divisiveness but class-conscious unity and fraternity. Social solidarity is always there, even in this competitive, war-torn, capitalist world: solidarity appears every time there are disasters. It was evident in the grief and support of people in New Zealand after the mosque murders. It is also seen whenever there are floods, mudslides and other natural disasters - a natural spontaneous reaction whenever we see fellow humans in difficulties.
Marx and Engels argued that humans are by nature social beings but that capitalism counters this 'social-ism' with competition.
Competition has penetrated all the relationships of our life and completed the reciprocal bondage in which men now hold themselves. Competition is the great mainspring which again and again jerks into activity our aging and withering social order, or rather disorder.
(Engels OUTLINES OF A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1843-4).
Later Morris, writing of capitalismâ€™s "grimy disorderly uncomfortable world", suggested as THE SOCIETY OF THE FUTURE the very different world he would like to be reborn in:
It is a society [where] the social bond would be habitually and instinctively felt... the family of blood-relationship would melt into that of the community and of humanity.
The choice is ours: between a dark world, a jungle of ugly hate, greed and violence or a better future based on social bonds and mutual co-operation and support.
To achieve this liberating change requires us to organise politically, democratically and socially; to recognize and prioritise our shared class identity and class interests; to refuse to be divided by nationalism, racism and the deceptive 'politics of identity'; to ignore the ridiculous ranting of populist demagogues; and to work together to build a brighter future based on social solidarity.
Are You A Marxist
Is Corbyn a "Marxist"?
"A bloody ideology or just economics"? was the question recently asked of Marxism by the BBC (29 June 2019). To tilt the answer in favour of "a bloody ideology", the programme showed an image of Marx in front of a photomontage of a street demonstration with excited and angry people shouting and waving banners in a provocative manner. The question posed by the BBC was in response to Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell continually being referred to as "Marxists" by Tory MPs and the conservative media.
Boris Johnson, for example, launched an attack on Labour during a hustings in Exeter. In a speech during his campaign to become the new prime minister, he described Jeremy Corbyn as "the leader of a cabal of superannuated Marxists". Jacob Rees Mogg menacingly told a journalist: "I am not going to put a Marxist into 10 Downing Street".
Of course, Marxism is neither "a bloody ideology" nor "economics". What passed for "Marxism" during the 20th century had nothing to do with Marx. Marx cannot be held responsible for what others did in his name just as Charles Darwin cannot be held responsible for "social Darwinism" and the Nazi concentration camps.
A popular, but erroneous, image of Marxism is of gulags, firing squads, forced labour camps, tanks rolling into Budapest in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the ubiquitous Berlin Wall. These images are associated with the former Soviet Union. The former Soviet Union had a state capitalist economy in which the working class were exploited just as ruthlessly as workers are in the capitalist West. Whereas these images do reflect authoritarian dictatorships, they have nothing to do with Marx.
Nor did Marx write an economic textbook. In fact, Marx's published works on capitalism, like CAPITAL (1867), were a critique of political economy, something quite different from academic textbooks used in university economic departments. In economics classes, students are taught about fictional universal scarcity and infinite demands, and the magical harmony of markets and price movements to solve problems of distribution. Marx wanted to understand capitalism not give a shallow and superficial apology for the profit system.
Marx also disliked those political activists writing in his name. In 1880, when Marx was assisting French socialists in writing the program for the Workers' Party of France he famously said: "All I know is that I am not a Marxist". So, what then constitutes "Marxism"? And who is a "Marxist"?
What is Marxism?
Before the questions of what Marxism is and who is a Marxist are answered, we have to know a little more about what Marx thought about society and history. Marx was influenced by the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Hegel. Consequently, for Marx, everything is conceived of as being in a process of motion and change. His understanding of capitalism, as a social system with a beginning and a potential end in class struggle, was an intellectual response to previous economic writings, from among others, the economists Francois Quesnay (TABLEAU ECONOMIQUE), Adam Smith (THE WEALTH OF NATIONS) and David Ricardo (PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY). In his critique of capitalism, Marx proposed three interrelated theories: a theory of history, known as the materialist conception of history; a theory of value; and a political concept of the class struggle.
Marx showed how and why social systems in human history came and went. He said that at a certain stage of development, the material forces of production, including social and co-operative labour, came into conflict with the social relations of production.
Marx wrote: "From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters" (PREFACE TO THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, Selected Works, vol. 1 pp 362-4). This led to class struggle and, eventually the replacement of one social system with another - a social revolution.
Marx also went on to show that most social systems in human history were based upon class exploitation. There was slavery in the ancient states of Greece and Rome, serfdom during feudalism and, today, wage slavery in capitalism.
However, exploitation in capitalism was not as transparent as it had been in previous social systems. To understand exploitation in capitalism, Marx applied a theory of value to labour power; a peculiar commodity that the workers sold to employers for a wage and salary.
Marx demonstrated that workers worked, what he called, "necessary labour time", in which they reproduced the value of their wages and salaries, and "surplus labour time", in which they produced a surplus value. Surplus value, for Marx and Marxists, is the origin of profit going as unearned income to the capitalist class in the form of industrial profit, rent and interest.
The intensity and extent of class exploitation under capitalism caused class struggle, which is ultimately a political struggle over the ownership of the means of production and what they were used for. Marx's objective was for the working class to replace capitalism with socialism/ communism (both words mean the same thing).
Marx did not give a detailed account of socialism. However, he did sketch out a broad outline of what socialism would be like. He said it would entail the "abolition of buying and selling" (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO) and would be "an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common (CAPITAL VOLUME I: 171), and the "abolition of the wages system" (VALUE,PRICE AND PROFITâ€ (International Publishers, 1976 p. 61)).
This account of socialism can be summed up by Marxâ€™s famous aphorism: "from each according to ability, to each according to need" (CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME). Directly meeting human needs will be the central objective for a future socialist society.
Corbyn is not a Marxist
A Marxist, then, would be someone working within the broad theoretical outline provided by Marx. They would also agree with the Marxian principle that class conscious and political emancipation from capitalism and class society by the working class, "must be the work of the working class itself"
(Clause 5 of the DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN, published in 1904).
Clearly, this would rule out Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John MacDonnell being considered as "Marxists". Both are reformists who believe the problems facing workers can be legislated away while still retaining the private ownership of the means of production and the profit motive. Neither of them want to replace capitalism with socialism.
Instead Corbyn and MacDonnell want to reform capitalism in the interest of the working class - "the many, not the few", as they say. In this endeavour they will fail, like all previous Labour governments have failed. The Labour Party started out as the "Party of Peace", yet they supported two World Wars and a number of smaller ones. Labour also used troops to break strikes and imposed austerity policies on the workers. Nationalisation was a complete and utter failure. Capitalism can only be administered in the interest of the capitalist class and despite what he says, if he was elected Prime Minister, Corbyn would be no different.
The Labour Party has no intention of abolishing the wages system; the buying and selling of labour power, labour markets and class exploitation. Corbyn and MacDonnell do not intend to end class society. Nor do they want to establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Marxists they are not. Even if Corbyn and MacDonald were "Marxists" they still could not run capitalism in any other way than as a system of profit making and capital accumulation.
What the defenders of capitalism fear most of all, is workers coming to understand, accept and act upon the ideas of Marx. So it is useful for them to use his name as an umbrella to cover genocidal dictators like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and social reformers like Corbyn and MacDonnell. Marx equals 'communism' equals genocide and totalitarianism; that is the formula politicians, academics and journalists use to denigrate Marx's ideas and hope the working class will not be influenced by him.
What constitutes "Marxism" in the media is wholly wrong, but as political propagandists supporting capitalism, Johnson and Rees Mogg do not care. They will say or write any old rubbish if it gives them a political advantage over their opponents. However, it does confirm the adage that conservatism is the highest form of ignorance and the lowest form of thought.
THE TEA BREAK IS OVER
Marx said that the class struggle is fought over the extent and intensity of exploitation where employers try to force from of the workers as much surplus value as possible. Under capitalism, employment time is profitable time. Marx's observation was correct. The capitalist tries to extend surplus labour time for as long as he possibly can. So an assault on traditional tea breaks came as no surprise. Only a fifth of staff now stops for a tea break, according to a report published for Fox's Biscuits (BT NEWS 09 September 2013).
The report found increased workloads, tough bosses and the fear of being accused of slacking by colleagues as reasons for the disappearance of the tea break. Workers now spend less than 20 minutes away from their work station. Research by the TUC has not only supported the findings but has found workers carrying on work outside their contract hours by either working late, or on the way home or when they get home in the evening and it works out at about £ 32 billion of free work on top of the workers' contractual hours (TUC 27 February 2015).
The loss of the tea break in the working day, paradoxically, undermined performance. Loss of the tea break made workers feel more tired, stressed and demotivated. And, of course, the reduction in biscuits consumed ate into the profits of Fox's Biscuits who commissioned the PR report masquerading as detached academic research. More to the point, rather than calling time on the tea break, shouldn't workers be calling time on capitalism?
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.