This year, 2020 marks the 200th birth of Frederick Engels in 1820. Who was Friedrich Engels? Why he is important to remember? What did he do?
Friedrich Engels was born on November 28, 1820, in Barmen, Germany, into a wealthy family with deep roots in the yarn and cloth industry. His father owned a textile factory in Barmen and he was a partner in a cotton spinning factory in Manchester, England. At the age of 13 Engels attended the grammar school at Elberfeld but had to leave at 17 to work in his father's firm and then sent to start an apprenticeship in Bremen. While in Bremen he read the philosophy of Hegel and began to write political commentaries.
Engels was soon leading a double life as a businessman by day, and increasingly, a radical at night. Affiliating with left-wing intellectuals, he began a career as a political journalist under the pseudonym Friedrich Oswald. Among his earlier writings were his LETTERS FROM WUPPERTAL (1839), an eyewitness account of the negative consequences of early industrialization and an attack on provincial bourgeois hypocrisy in the Rhineland district where he had grown up.
In October 1842, Engels moved to Manchester to work in the family business and to continue his career as a radical journalist. He arrived in England only weeks after the general strike of 1842. The strike was influenced by the Chartist movement - a mass working class movement from 1838-1848. After the second Chartist Petition was presented to Parliament in May 1842, Stalybridge a town in Tameside, Greater Manchester, contributed 10,000 signatures. After the rejection of the petition the first general strike began in the coal mines of Staffordshire. The second phase of the strike originated in Stalybridge.
Engels met members of the chartists and built-up a collection of radical books and pamphlets. Between 1843 and 1849 he wrote for the Chartist newspaper NORTHERN STAR. In November 22 1847 he wrote a sketch of the Chartist movement in the magazine LA REFORME.
Engels first met Marx in Paris in 1844. Engels met Marx for a second time at the Cafe de la Regence on the Place du Palais, 28 August 1844. The two quickly became close friends and remained so their entire lives. Engels stayed in Paris to help Marx write THE HOLY FAMILYy. It was an attack on the Young Hegelians and the Bauer and the brothers, and was published in late February 1845.
Engels contributed articles to various European publications, including OUTLINES OF A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1844) and to an annual publication co-edited in Paris by Karl Marx.
Marx was deeply impressed by Engels' work on political economy, describing it as a brilliant sketch on the criticism of the economic categories. (A Contribution to Political Economy 1971: page 22). The article may have been the catalyst that turned Marx's attention to economic studies.
OUTLINES OF A CRTIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (1844) was a sustained attack on the works of the political economists such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo and J. B. Say, the iniquitous Poor Law of 1834 and Parson Malthus's Population theory which blamed the poor for being poor. The article does not have the rigour of Marx's later critique of political economy but it is the start of scientific examination of capitalism, its contradictions, method of exploitation and the growth of the working class capable of replacing the profit system with socialism.
In 1843, Marx wrote a summary of the article for himself in the fifth notebook of excerpts from the works of economists when he was in Paris (M/E Collected Works volume 3). And shortly afterwards embarked on his own study of political economy, which absorbed the greater part of his time and energy for the rest of his life. In CAPITAL, Volume I, Marx quotes from Engels's essay five times (for the pedantic the entry can be found on pages. 168, 253, 267, 787, and 1007 of the Penguin 1976 edition).
The two men began a long-term intellectual and political relationship as revolutionary socialists. Engels thought he played "second fiddle" to Marx. He was being too modest. He was a revolutionary socialist in his own right. He had original and independent political and theoretical thoughts and insights. And he has left a body of work which is still of importance today.
Engels published, in German, THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND in 1845. Based on his own observations and a mass of contemporary reports, the book described the terrible conditions suffered by English workers - the unsanitary streets of densely crowded urban slums, the decaying and degrading living quarters, the disrupted and disintegrating families, and the unsavoury, unsafe, and physically debilitating factories themselves. He was taken through the slums, most probably for his own protection, by his partner and lover, Lizzie Burns. He learnt from first-hand experience the conditions of the working class.
Following Marx's exile from Paris, Engels joined him in Brussels in late April 1845, to collaborate with Marx on another book. Engels joined Marx, initially in Brussels, and worked closely with him over the next several years building the intellectual and political foundations of an international revolutionary movement. They co-authored THE HOLY FAMILY (1845), THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY (1846), and, most famously, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO (1848).
They joined forces in transforming various workers' groups, secret socialist societies, and incipient radical political parties into, first, the League of the Just, and then into the International Communist League.
When hopes for revolution faded on the Continent in the late 1840s, Engels and Marx moved to England. Although he disliked this, Engels went to work in Manchester in his father's firm which enabled him to financially support Marx and his family. This meant that Marx could study political economy at the British Museum and to later write CAPITAL. After Marx's death, Engels went on to edit the second and third volumes of CAPITAL from Marx's notebooks. He also wrote many prefaces to new editions of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO as it became translated into many languages and carried out correspondence with many supporters in other countries. Engels also wrote a number of reviews on CAPITAL including a synopsis and a supplement to Volume 111 (see Frederick Engels on Capital, International Publishers, 2002). Other notable works by Engels were DIALECTICS OF NATURE (1883) and THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE (1884).
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
Perhaps Engels's most popular and influential work was SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC which he wrote between January and March 1880. It was taken from a number of chapters from Engels's larger work, ANTI-DUHRING published in 1878. This short pamphlet by Friedrich Engels is, along with the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, one of the best and most significant introductions to Marxism ever written. It greatly adds to our understanding the reason why it is for the world working class, and the world working class alone, to establish socialism. For the English edition, Engels wrote a substantial introduction plotting the rise of materialism in England and the rise of the capitalist class from the 17th century until the reform act of 1832. The first section shows the limitations of the Utopian socialism of Saint Simon, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen. Engels concludes the section by commenting: To make a science of socialism, it had first to be placed upon a real basis. (SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, Kerr edition 1908 p75).
Engels noted that the real basis of socialism derived from the emergence of the class struggle taking place in Europe at such places as Lyon and with the rise of working class movements such as the Chartists. These new facts forced a reassessment of history where it was seen that:...all past history, with the exception of its primitive stages, was the history of class struggles... (ibid p. 90).
Engels went on to state that the class struggles were always the product of the social systems of their time. And socialism was not some accidental discovery but the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes - the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (ibid p91). Furthermore, capitalism could only be explained by two great discoveries: the materialist conception of history and the revelation of the secret of capitalistic production through surplus value.... This, Engels concluded: we owe to Marx. With these two discoveries Socialism became a science (ibid p.93).
And what is the science of socialism? What does it state? The answer is given in the opening third section of the pamphlet:
...the final causes of all social change and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains,..., but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch. (ibid p.94).
The third chapter gives a detailed sketch of the development of capitalism from the demise of Feudalism to the mid- 19th century drawing upon Marx's CAPITAL where the increased contradiction between socialised production and capitalistic appropriation leads to periodic economic crises and the class struggle (ibid p. 105). And in the final section of the third chapter, Engels discusses the capitalist state and the necessity for the working class to seize political power and gain control of the State to establish socialism.
With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. (ibid p133-134).
Throughout their adult lives, Marx and Engels held onto one of the most important political ideas to come out of socialist theory. It is found in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, in the rules of the First International and in their correspondence: And that is the idea that the establishment of socialism has to be the work of the working class themselves. Here is Engels in a letter:
The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.
(1879 Marx and Engels).
Here is Engels again from the conclusion to SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC:
To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed proletariat class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism. (ibid p. 139).
The establishment of socialism by the working class through its own efforts finds an echo in Clause 5 of the Object and Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, published in 1904: That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself
This clause is directly echoed from the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and the rules of the First International.
Engels's Standing Today as a Socialist Revolutionary
Left wing academics do not like Engels. They blame him, without reason or evidence, for 'distorting Marx', poorly editing the second and third volumes of CAPITAL, and for pushing Marx's theories into a direction which Marx would had been uncomfortable with. Yet, Marx was quite happy with Engels's collaboration; he asked him for advice and gave him the manuscripts of CAPITAL to comment on. True, the two volumes of CAPITAL that Engels edited lacked the polish of the first edition but they adequately work within Marx's plan and give a more or less total picture of Marx's intention in writing his critique of political economy. Who could have done any better?
By far the worse attack against Engels comes from career academics like Professor Terrell Carver of Bristol University. Carver wrote:
Karl Marx denied that he was a Marxist. Friedrich Engels repeated Marx's comment but failed to take his point. Indeed, it is now evident that Engels was the first Marxist, and it is increasingly accepted that he in some way invented Marxism. (MARX AND ENGELS: THE INTELLECTUAL RELATIONASHIP 1984).
Carver blamed Engels for inventing 'Marxism'. However, 'Marxism' is a unified theory of value (the labour theory of value), a theory of history (the materialist conception of history) and the political concept of the class struggle. These were all set out in ANTI-DUHRING which Engels not only read to Marx but which Marx contributed a section to the book while writing the first preface to SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC. Nowhere did Marx say that these did not represent his considered views.
You will find the germs of the materialist conception of history in Fredrich Engels's CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS, written in 1844; the labour theory of value was developed by Marx in VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT; and the class struggle and the role of the state are all in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, a joint work of 1848.
For Carver, the idea that Marx had "a methodology" was attributed to Engels, and hence declared false. What Carver, and others like him want to do, is make Marx respectable for university courses; a tame precursor to whatever is fashionable today in seminar rooms. As Carver recently put it, with no apparent sense of irony:
Marx was a liberal thinker. There's not as much difference between Marx or indeed Marxism and liberalism as many people think. This is because if you are against non-constitutional, authoritarian regimes, you are a liberal.
So, for academics like Carver, Marx was a liberal not a revolutionary socialist and Engels is condemned for propagating the belief that he was!!
And there are those academics who attack Engels for being a 'historical determinists'. Yet Engels, like Marx, always held that historical change was made by the actions of men and women. The class struggle was paramount. For socialism to be established requires the action of socialists. Socialism would not happen by itself.
We should not waste time with the 'get Engels' school of academic political science. Only to note their arrogance in thinking that they and they alone understand Marx and it is only their theories which are in the tradition of Marx. If Marx came back and saw what they were writing in his name, he would never stop throwing up. Marx and Engels were both revolutionary socialists and that counts for more than the scribbling of any academic hack.
However, there are criticisms that could be made of Engels. For a time he believed, unlike Marx, that capitalism had come to a standstill. This was during the great depression at the end of the nineteenth century. He later changed his mind again. Marx summed it up very well with the words: There are no permanent crises. (THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE Vol. II Part 2 p 269).
Another criticism which can be made against Engels is his view that socialism might come about through the actions of a minority of the working class. This was made in a letter to Bebel (24 October 1891).
Engels thought a minority of the working class might come to power by 1898 but saw the possibility that war might bring them to power prematurely, i.e. before they had time to:
recruit enough technicians, doctors, lawyers and schoolmasters to enable us to have the factories and big estates administered on behalf of the nation by Party comrades. Engels added: If...a war brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies; they will deceive and destroy is wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them but shall get cheated all the same.
This readiness to use 'terror' against a section of the working class, along with support for street fighting and Engels completely unjustified belief that the German Social Democratic Party could be regarded as socialist shows the magnitude of the advance made by the founders of the S.P.G.B. from even the mature views of Marx and Engels.
One final criticism would be around Engels's optimism that a socialist revolution was just around the corner.
He really did believe in 1892, with the publication of the English edition of SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC that a socialist revolution was near at hand. He could not see, or did not want to see, the contradictions within European social democracy.
In his conclusion to the English introduction to SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC he wrote:
But the triumph of the European working-class does not depend upon England alone. It can only be secured by the cooperation of, at least, England, France, and Germany. In both the latter countries, the working-class movement is well ahead of England. In Germany, it is even within measurable distance of success. The progress it has there made during the last 25 years is unparalleled. It advances with ever-increasing velocity. If the German middle-class have shown themselves lamentably deficient in political capacity, discipline, courage, energy, and perseverance, the German working-class have given ample proof of all these qualities. Four hundred years ago, Germany was the starting-point of the first upheaval of the European middle-class; as things are now, is it outside the limits of possibility that Germany will be the scene, too, of the first great victory of the European proletariat? (ibid p.45).
What Engels did not appreciate was that the reform programme of the SDP let into the Party non-socialists and also appealed to a non-socialist electorate. The Party also did nothing to ensure the membership was international in its outlook and rejected nationalism. The working class support for the SDP might have existed but it was not socialist. The programme was unfortunately a model to be copied by other political parties claiming to be socialist. Instead of unity around a socialist object there was disunity and confusion around a bundle of reforms.
Twenty years later the working class of England, France and Germany were killing each other on the battlefields of Europe. Standing alone, the Socialist Party of Great Britain opposed the First World War on grounds of class and class interest. Socialists oppose all wars, refusing to take sides. Unlike the SDP, the SPGB not only had a socialist membership with an international outlook it also had a set of socialist principles leading to a socialist object.
Nevertheless, Engels contributed much of value to socialist theory. He supported Marx. He wrote books and pamphlets in a clear and lucid style. His works are still worth reading, particularly for anyone new to socialism. We remember him with thanks as a socialist and as a revolutionary on the 200th anniversary of his birth.
Starmer's Anti-Socialism - Just Another Capialist Suporting Politician
The new Labour Party Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, desperately wants to run capitalism. To do so he has to court a non-socialist working class vote. He needs their votes. And to get their votes he has to persuade them he is no Jeremy Corbyn but someone who will ingratiate himself to their prejudices, dislikes and hatreds.
And Starmer has a political wheeze. Labour will try to get elected into power at the next election under the umbrella of a vacuous new slogan - 'A New Leadership'. He will appeal to patriotism and nationalism. He is no socialist.
The slogan about leadership and the nationalism within Starmer's speech speaks volumes for the crass and shallow reformist politics of the Labour Party.
Starmer does not want to change society in a revolutionary way, but like Corbyn before him, focus on leadership and control. He wants to manage capitalism not abolish it.
Starmer is no different to any other capitalist politician. And like any other capitalist politician he will fail. Capitalism runs politicians, not the other way round. All political leadership ends in failure.
Brexit is now history and Starmer wants to distance himself from the toxicity of the 'remain' vote. He needs to attract the anti EU Labour voters in the Midlands and North back to Labour from supporting the Tories.
Starmer wants to regain the 'The Blue Wall' of the Northern constituencies whose voters turned to Johnson and his 'Get Brexit Done'. If he gets their votes, the wall will still remain blue. He will not get the socialist vote.
At least you will not hear 'socialism' from Starmer's lips. The word socialism' will have been binned by his political advisors and speech writers as a vote loser.
Courting the Non-Socialist Vote
At the Labour Conference Starmer did not wave the Red Flag as much as the Union Jack. He wants to persuade non-socialist workers that he supports their 'values' around patriotism and nationalism. He will dress more solemnly than Corbyn at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.
Perhaps at that annual occasion in Whitehall, - a vulgar display of militarism, - Starmer might reflect on the wars pursued by previous Labour governments which led to the death of hundreds of thousands of workers.
He might even remember that the Labour Party once told us that they were the 'Party of Peace!' That was before the First World War; a war the Labour Party supported and socialists of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, at great cost, opposed on the grounds of class.
What about the nuclear option? As Prime Minister, will Starmer press the red button? If required, of course he will. Will he go to war to protect the interests of the capitalist class? Yes, without hesitation.
Where does Starmer stand on the question of health or wealth? Starmer agreed, with a few misgivings, about the need for workers to return to work after the Covid 19 lock-down in March 2020. In whose class interest was it to get workers back to their place of exploitation?
Those who shouted the loudest for workers to return to wage slavery were the shareholders, the rentiers, the financiers and the owners of commercial outlets such as Tim Martin, the owner of Wetherspoons.
They were the owners of the media outlets; Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay Twins. And they were the owners of the large office rental portfolios in the City. They were not the terrified working class who had to worry about crowded trains, unsafe working environments and bullying management. Starmer was not going to upset these very real economic interests against the health needs of workers. This is the class Starmer represents.
Starmer will unquestionably back the Tory Government in its wars abroad. No criticism of the war in Yemen. Nothing said about the jets and drones in Syria. He will embrace Rule Britannia at the Proms. And he will not despise 'white van man' for flying the George Cross from the window of his house.
The New Working Class: Same as the Old Working Class
Much of the content of Starmer's speech to the on-line Labour Conference this September came from the Labour leader's director of policy Claire Ainsley. Ainsley is the former head of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation think tank and author of the New Working Class - a reformist to the bone.
Apparently, the values of the new working class is 'Family, fairness, hard work and decency', or as one commentator put it, 'flag, forces, family'. She argues that identity politics is now more important than class politics.
Capitalist politicians and their advisers do not like class politics: and for a very good reason. Class focuses attention upon the real political issue of capitalism; the issue of ownership and control of mineral resources, land, factories, transport and communication systems and distribution points. Class draws attention to what the means of production and distribution are used for and for what purpose. And under capitalism they are used to make profit not to directly and solely meet human need.
The capitalist class own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the rest of society. Workers are forced to sell their ability to work as a commodity to the capitalist class where they are exploited in the production process producing more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. What workers want is rationed by the wages system. A wage or salary is only enough to produce and reproduce the workers and their families as an exploited class.
What is 'new' about the 'new working class'? The 'new working class' is the same as the old working class. It generates what Marx called surplus value, the source of the unearned income going in the form of rent, interest and profit to the capitalist class.
Workers pursuing their own class interest as socialists do not need leaders. They do not need people like Starmer telling them what to do and what to think. Starmer might be a new leader of the Labour Party but it is the same old capitalist policies. Starmer only joins the other flailed politicians as Labour leader all the way back to his namesake.
What about identity politics? If identity politics was politically dangerous to capitalism, capitalist politicians would not embrace those shouting out for 'rights', 'justice' and an 'end to discrimination'.
Of course, Starmer will pursue 'identity politics'. He will take the knee when required for the black vote; he will visit Imams, Rabbis and, Bishops for the religious vote and tour army and air force installations for the SUN vote. When Murdoch asks him to jump, he will ask 'how high'?
For socialists, someone earning a wage or salary is a member of the working class irrespective of colour, gender and sexuality. We are a global class. We have identical class interests in every continent of the world.
A world working class faces a world capitalist class and their politicians and media. Only socialism - a world without frontiers - can deliver a society without racism, xenophobia and prejudice. Socialism will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex. (Clause 4 Socialist Party of Great Britain).
And to gain votes, Starmer will come down hard on refugees and immigrants. Starmer might not be a racist but he knows that a sizable portion of the voters he will be chasing are. Many non-socialist workers voted against continued EU membership to prevent immigrants coming into the UK and to get rid of those already here.
Traditionally the Tories do better than Labour in getting the racist vote. Remember Thatcher and her 1978 comment on World in Action that "People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture". That comment helped her on her way to an election victory the following year. Johnson does racism very well. And it puts Starmer at a great disadvantage.
In attracting the anti-immigrant vote Starmer has an uphill task. Perhaps he could dust down the red mugs produced by one of his predecessors, Ed Miliband, now in his shadow cabinet, with its logo 'Controls on Immigration'. This was supposed to be an election pledge. What socialist could ever have been associated with such racism? Not that the production of these mugs did Ed Miliband any good. He still lost the election to David Cameron.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber
Identity politics accommodates itself within capitalism's social reformism. Identity politics is safe. Identity politics does not threaten class ownership of the means of production and distribution. Black capitalists, Chinese Capitalists, and Asian capitalists all exploit the working class. So do gay, female, religious and atheist capitalists.
A world capitalist class confronts a world socialist class over the means of production and distribution. The interests of these capitalists are not the same as those they exploit. Identity politics is no route towards socialism.
Only a socialist majority, without leaders and the led, can establish, politically and democratically, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. And that requires working with principled and democratic socialist parties with only socialism as the objective.
As for the class struggle it exists despite the wish of politicians that it didn't. The class struggle is fought over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. It takes place whether workers are aware of it or not.
Capitalists have to exploit the working class to remain capitalists and workers have to resist, individually or collectively in trade unions. And as leader of a Party desperately wanting to be re-elected and needing a smooth ride by the capitalist media, Starmer will have to keep the unions in the cold. Existing anti-Trade Union legislation will not be questioned.
It is only through uniting together as a class that we can transform society in a revolutionary way: from capitalism to socialism. Unless workers become socialists, we will be stuck with the likes of Sir Kier Starmer and Boris Johnson: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber.
Politicians who claim class no longer matters are obviously misleading us and if they were honest, they would admit it. Of course class matters. It matters to the capitalist class; to the rich; to the privileged. Being members of the capitalist class is how they get their unearned income.
Workers need class consciousness and to become aware that there are only two classes in capitalism: the working class and the capitalist class. And to understand that only the establishment of socialism, through the capture of the machinery of government, will deliver a classless society of free men and women.
In every generation, decade after decade, we are told of urgent and vital issues which even socialism must give way to. These are important matters of life and death, or so we are told as we are urged to abandon the Socialist cause and join forces with others.
This however the Socialist Party of Great Britain will not and cannot do. Nor would our individual members do this. If they did, they would cease to be socialists. If as a party we gave support to those other movements, our continued existence as a Socialist party would be ended.
Capitalism's 'Good Causes'
Currently one of the burning issues, which is truly an urgent one, is the climate change issue. As forest fires have raged in Australia and the western parts of the USA, hurricanes and floods have inundated regions and cities in many continents, and the polar regions lose their ice-caps, the capitalist world's politicians struggle to find common ground on what they can do about this global problem.
And as they dither and the planet's glaciers melt, time is fast running out and these politicians may be too late if they do decide to take concerted action, regardless of conflicting national interests.
If they do decide anything, e.g. by getting car and plane manufacturers to end their reliance on carbon fuels, it is probable that the new 'green' technology they turn to will also be a source of pollution. It is not just probable but certain that any new 'green' solutions will be a source of profits for the capitalist class, as well as a means of exploitation of the have-nots.
Another 'good cause' which we are urged to support is the Black Lives Matter campaign against racism. Again, while Socialists are against all forms of racism on principle and so have sympathy for this campaign, we cannot give our support to this movement.
We as a socialist party and as socialists cannot give support to those who would not support us and our object of establishing world socialism. As socialists we argue for an end to the wages system and class exploitation, to this capitalist system of competitive, nationalist rivalry, to a system where the whole world is divided between the haves and the have-nots, the 99% against the 1%. This is a world which systematically throws up nightmare problems and offers endless sticking-plaster non-solutions.
Wars Without End
From the time this party, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, was founded, there has been a whole series of such existential issues, particularly wars. In World War One in 1914 and its successor in 1939, Socialists were urged to fight in a good cause but the SPGB saw through this. Wars are never fought in the interest of the working class, and nationalism is divisive, so we oppose wars on principle.
A key point in the SPGB's founding principles declares:
That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the master class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the working class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
In previous generations we were urged to drop everything: e.g.to join the fight against Fascism (1930s and in World War Two); CND (the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 1950s onwards); the Anti-Apartheid movement (1960s); the movement for Women's Liberation (1960s onwards); the Left campaigns such as the Right to Work, etc. As we are opposed to racism, on principle, and organise on the same principle - 'without distinction of race or sex' we obviously do have sympathy for such causes.
But we do not confuse this sympathy with giving these movements our support. Our Party has only one objective: to establish a system of society, Socialism, 'based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community'. On this we are united, for this alone we seek support.
And we know that so long as capitalism exists, it will confront the world with endless problems, big and small, and a confusing medley of so-called 'solutions'.
It would take a lifetime, for instance, to anyone to read up on and keep up-to-date with the vast and growing literature related to climate change.
But none of the possible solutions being proposed could be effective globally, unless governments - capitalist governments - united and worked together, cooperating in the common good. That is most unlikely, to put it mildly.
Another example: socialists are opposed to wars. After both world wars, international organisations were set up, the League of Nations and later the United Nations, primarily to try to prevent wars, on the principle that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war". The failure of these organisations to put a stop to wars is obvious, and none of the major powers, especially those now armed with nuclear weapons, is willing to surrender a jot or tittle of their 'national sovereignty' to achieve any sort of ban on their use.
As things are, each government acts in what it thinks is its 'national interest'. Competition is the governing principle of capitalism and capitalist politics, and this competition at times leads to conflict and warfare.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain acts democratically on the principle of unity and cooperation, rejecting thuggery and violence.
So, when we are appealed to for our support, whatever our sympathies, we cannot agree to support those who would whenever possible seek to crush us and our movement.
For instance, when the Labour Party was set up, it refused to describe itself as a socialist party, and it was established to protect the trade unions from a law which put their funds at risk. Socialists recognize the real need for workers to have effective trade unions, so we can be sympathetic to these unions and their members needing to protect their use of strike funds.
But strikes and trade unions are only needed in a class system of exploitation, with workers exploited by capitalist employers. Without effective unions, workers are vulnerable - at the mercy of sweatshop employers.
Socialists have as our aim to put an end to this class exploitation system. We would be most unlikely to bring about any sooner our sole objective, a system of society without class exploitation, if we were to deviate from our principles, and form tactical alliances with non-socialist parties.
The Labour Party - and its allies, the Co-operative Party and the Independent Labour Party - have supported most wars, especially the two world wars.
In World War One, there were Labour MPs serving in the Cabinet, alongside Tories and Liberals, helping to implement conscription, even as that government passed laws to exile trade unionists from Clydeside and to put a stop to strikes. Why on earth should socialists support that cause?
In World War Two, Labour's Attlee was only too happy to get into bed with Churchill's Tories. This - we were told - was a war to 'defend democracy', a fight against Fascism. And yet our Party stuck to its principles, the principle of internationalism.
Attlee, however, was the Government spokesman who told Parliament and the world: 'we are taking power over all persons and all property' (HANSARD, 22 May 1940). The war had brought in what another Labour MP, opposing the Coalition, said was 'voluntary totalitarianism' (HANSARD, 13 May 1940).
Should socialists of all people support that cause? And help slaughter our fellow workers? And if we had, how could we have opposed the post-war Labour Party, with its pseudo 'socialist' reforms? And its deliberate confusing nationalisation with socialism? Such confusion would mean an end to the politics of Socialism.
So long as capitalism exists, its single-minded pursuit of profit at all costs, plundering the planet's resources, driving so many species into extinction, trashing the ecosphere, building and re-building slums, creating only scarcity and conflict: there will be endless protests and ad hoc movements and campaigns.
But to solve these problems, the working class need to recognize their cause, this system of production for profit, a system which is also the cause of poverty, homelessness, hunger and unemployment.
That recognition is the first step - next is to organize democratically to overthrow this system of exploitation and take control of our destiny establishing a new social system, based on cooperation not competition. On this there can be no compromise, and it cannot be done by means of reforms, however well-meaning.
Only a socialist party, the SPGB, has a well-defined object and a platform outlined in our Declaration of Principles, which lay out clearly both why Socialism is needed and how we can achieve it.
As a small party we have survived because of our adherence to principles, because our unity as a party is based on the simple fact of our agreement with this object and these principles. We know what we want, we agree on why that's needed and on how to achieve it. And we do not make tactical alliances with opportunistic groups and campaigns, or with reformist parties.
Our strength may be small in terms of numbers but not in terms of our unity which has stood the test of time, against all odds.
Capitalism's Environmental Crisis (pt 2 of 5)
Global Warming: What about the United Nations?
What about the United Nations and global warming? The United Nations is anything but united. As an international organisation, representing 193 national governments with competing interests, trying to tackle this global problem, the United Nations has been a dismal failure. Resolving the climate crisis requires the world's leading industrial nations to collectively agree to legally binding cuts in their emissions and to forego the short-term benefits to their economies continuing to burn more fossil fuels. In a world of divided and competitive nation states it cannot be done.
The origins of the UN climate talks date back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. At that gathering, 154 nations, including the United States, signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. Further treaties have taken place since then. The last treaty, the Paris Accord, dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance, was signed in 2016.
Over forty years after the first UN meeting, global warming is still a major global problem. Four countries, China, the US, India and Russia produce half of all carbon emissions. According to scientists, three quarters of Paris Climate pledges agreed in 2016 are totally inadequate (GUSRDIAN Wednesday 6/11/19).
At the recent UN climate talks (COP25) held in Madrid in December 2019, major emitting countries did all they could to block progress. The final text was a watered-down compromise. There was no collective action, nor could there be between competitive capitalist countries with conflicting interests. Poorer countries at risk of flooding are just so much collateral damage.
If the United Nations cannot do anything substantial about the climate crisis it at least produces statistics to show how serious the problem is. A recent UN report said that one million species face extinction (BBC NEWS 7 May 2019). The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that climate change is responsible for at least 150,000 deaths per year, a number that is expected to double by 2030. The effects of global warming will cause dire health consequences such as death from malnutrition, insect-borne disease and heat stress.
Extreme weather events, like the recent fires in the Brazilian rain forest, in Australia and in California and also the drought in Africa in 2015 and 2016, will increase in destructive frequency. About half of the 20cm sea level rise can be attributed to the world's top five greenhouse gas polluters (royalsociety.org). According to the UN's climate science panel, the global sea level rise could reach as much as 1.1 metres by the end of the century if emissions aren't curbed.
Indonesia, for example, is moving its capital from the climate-threatened city of Jakarta to the sparsely populated island of Borneo, which is home to some of the world's greatest tropical rainforests. These forests now face felling to make way for a new city - another contribution to global warming. As well as dire problems of pollution and traffic congestion, Jakarta suffers from severe subsidence, which makes the coastal city extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels, also caused by global warming (GUARDIAN 26/8/19).
Not all capitalists will be losers. Those constructing the new city for the Indonesian government will make a profit. Elsewhere, some capitalists will benefit in winning contracts for the building of flood defences, from exacting higher insurance premiums from policy holders, and by producing renewable energy systems including solar panels and wind turbines. Nevertheless, climate warming remains a systemic threat to capitalism, commodity production and exchange for profit. There have always been capitalists who profit from the misery of other people.
And some countries face a contradiction. They recognise that burning coal contributes to global warming and adverse weather conditions but carry on regardless. The government of Bangladesh, for example, plans to burn more coal for power even though it will worsen global warming in a nation already battered by climate crises from floods to cyclones. About 3% of the country's power comes from coal, but it plans to build 29 coal-based power plants in the next two decades to increase this to 35%.
The United Nations says that nearly one in three children in Bangladesh is at risk from disasters linked to climate change. Floods in 2019 have killed over 100 people and displaced nearly 800,000 in Bangladesh, which in the low-lying delta region of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, and is vulnerable to the impacts of rising global temperatures, including more extreme weather and rising sea levels. Its traditional sea-defence of the mangrove swamps has been impacted by capitalism's profit-seeking shrimp farming.
The capitalists and politicians are split about how to protect their class interests. Some even blame capitalism itself. The former boss of Unilever, Paul Polman, has warned that capitalism is a 'damaged ideology' that must 'reinvent itself'. He said that 'to survive', capitalism must do more 'to combat the climate emergency'.(GUARDIAN 30/10/19).
But how can capitalism change into something it isn't? He did not say. Capitalism is not a person but a social system. Capitalism is all about exploiting the working class and making profit. The profit system cannot reinvent itself. Capitalism can only be abolished. Ironically, his firm Unilever makes a lot of money from soya and coconut oil plantations, using land where once there used to be tropical rainforests. As such it has made a major contribution to the problems that Mr Polman is so concerned about.
The capitalists and their political representatives are like the mice in Aesop's fable, The Mice in Council who try to put an alarm bell on the cat that is killing them. They know that not to put the bell around the cat's neck will lead to decimation but no one will be brave enough to come forward and to put the bell on.
Why capitalism needs to be abolished
And capitalism needs to be abolished for another very important reason. Climate change affects the working class - the majority of the world's population. Our class do not own the means of production. We are forced to work for a living and produce more profit in the production process than we receive in wages and salaries.
While we remain a class of wage slaves chained to capitalism, we cannot pursue conscious, democratic and political change. Only a socialist majority can provide the revolutionary change necessary to ensure the environmental crisis can be met and resolved through the establishment of socialism. And because capitalism is a global system of exploitation, the profit system needs to be replaced by world socialism.
But capitalists and their politicians will only look after their own system. Little or nothing is being done for millions of people already affected by climate change or those who will be affected by climate change in the future. As climate change worsens, millions of people will face famine, extreme weather, floods and heat waves. Wars over resources such as water will spread as will diseases. A World Health Organisation report calculated environmental change would cause 250,000 extra deaths a year from malaria, diarrhoea, heat stress and malnutrition from 2030 to 2050.
Also, the forced migration of workers and their families towards Europe is caused, in part, by the effects of global warming. These migrants are referred to as 'environmental refugees' but the rich nations of the world do not want to know them. In December 2019, climate refugees were refused UN protection and denied rights under international law (IPSnews.net). But such migrants are forcibly stopped by EU funded concentration camps in Libya and by a wall of barbed wire and guards in the southern and eastern part of Europe. 'Fortress Europe' it is called.
As for the Mediterranean migrants smuggled in inappropriate boats, many drown attempting to get to Europe while those caught in Libya are at the mercy of the various militias where some migrants are tortured, sex-trafficked, die through lack of medical care or are sold as slaves.
There are currently 64 million forced migrants in the world fleeing wars, hunger, persecution and a growing force: climate change. UN forecasts estimate that there could be anywhere between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050 moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, with 200 million being the most widely cited estimate.
Sophie in't Veld, a Dutch MEP who was a co-author of a report on migrants held in Libya, said:
"Over the years, billions of Euros have flowed into Libya with the sole purpose of keeping migrants away from Europe. It is basically part of Fortress Europe, the European equivalent of Trump's wall. Just a lot more lethal than the wall. So maybe fewer people have drowned, fewer have reached the shores of Europe. But instead countless people died in the desert, were sold on slave markets, were tortured, raped and starved in Libyan detention camps, or were caught amidst violent conflict. Meanwhile people smugglers are thriving. No one in their right mind can call this a success. This policy is morally and financially bankrupt." (GUARDIAN 22/11/19).
Capitalists and their politicians might see the death and destruction of millions of people a price worth paying to protect or further their own interests. In short, a policy of genocide.
So, what can be done in the face of the failure of social, economic and environmental reforms? The answer is simple. The world needs to be free from nation states, economic refugees and migrants escaping the economic and social consequences of global warming, boundaries, frontiers, and immigration control. We want a world without migrants being trafficked, a world without the detention of tens of thousands held in the most degrading of conditions, and a world without the deportation of people to persecution and death. And that world is socialism. The choice for the world's working class: Socialism or Barbarism.
How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them
'Fascism' is a word that gets tossed around pretty loosely these days, usually as an epithet to discredit someone else's politics. One consequence of the misuse of the word is that no one really knows what the term means anymore. Some political commentators see fascism as the culmination of conservative thinking: an authoritarian, nationalist, and racist system of government organized around corporate power. Others point to President Trump's administration or to the politics of Marine Le Pen's National Rally Political Party or to the Alternative for Germany Party, as examples of contemporary Fascism.
However, Fascism did exist as a historical fact. Within capitalism's anarchic and violent history, three openly Fascist regimes came to power in Europe. Two came to power through democratic elections and one through a coup d'etat and civil war. The rise of these fascist dictatorships took place during the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1922 the Italian King, with the support of a section of the ruling class and its political representatives, appointed Mussolini Prime Minister. Once in control of political power the Fascists were able to consolidate their rule with Mussolini becoming a dictator, dissolving parliament and banning all other political parties. Mussolini's dictatorship lasted until March 1943 and the Italian Fascist Party lasted until the end of the war.
In Germany the 'National Socialist German Workers Party', or Nazis, also came to power. The Nazis were not socialist but they were nationalists. Their political programme was described as fascist.
Electoral support from the working class was won largely as a result of the failure of the reformist parties to solve the problems caused by capitalism, in particular the mass unemployment in the trade depression that followed the economic crisis of 1929. Like the Italian fascists, they too came to power constitutionally when President Hindenburg, with the scheming of other conservative politicians, appointed Hitler as Chancellor in 1933. From this position of state power, the Nazis were able to ban all other political parties and make Hitler the dictator of Germany.
In Spain, the fascist leader, Franco came to power in 1939 following a bitter civil war. His route to power came through a coup d'etat not elections. Those associated with the losing Republicans who stayed in the country, were persecuted by the victorious Nationalists. Franco established a dictatorship in which all right-wing parties were fused into the structure of the Franco regime. He remained in power until his death in November 1975.
How do modern fascist movements differ from the fascism found in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s? Is there a 'one-size-fit-all' definition? Or was the fascism of the past so unique we have to find a new political vocabulary to describe the new forms of extreme contemporary politics found in the US, Europe, Brazil, India and elsewhere in the world?
An attempt to answer these questions comes from a new book HOW FASCISM WORKS: THE POLITICS OF US AND THEM (Random House 2018) by the Yale philosopher Jason Stanley. He tries to clarify what fascism is and how it functions in the modern world. Stanley focuses on political propaganda and rhetoric, so his book is largely about the political language that drives fascist politics.
Professor Stanley accepts that fascism in Germany was different from what occurred in Italy. He also points out that fascist politics does not necessarily lead to a fascist state. He goes on to say:
fascist politics includes many distinct strategies; the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity. (p xiv - xv).
Each chapter of his book deals in detail with these political strategies. Little is said by Professor Stanley about capitalism and the economic and social problems created by capitalism which allowed fascism to take hold. What the book lacks is a Marxian account of fascism within a historical setting. There is no acknowledgement of the extreme limitations the profit system imposes on the policies proposed by capitalist political parties, including fascist ones, and the predictable failure of their reform programmes to meet the need of the working class.
Modern Trends in Fascist Politics
Professor Stanley believes that one common feature found in fascist politics is the way its adherents single out a particular group of people who are then blamed for all the countries economic and social ills. In the 1920s and 1930s it was the Jews, the Slavs and the Gypsies.
Today it is largely refugees and immigrants: the politics of 'Us' and 'Them'.
"...fascist politics distinguishes "us" from "them", appealing to ethnic, religious or racial distinctions, and using this division to shape ideology and, ultimately, policy. (p.xvi)
The politics of 'Us' and 'Them' undermines class unity. It was a problem for socialists in the 1920s and 1930s as it is for socialists today. Anti-immigration politics splits the working class. It pits worker against worker. It prevents workers from seeing that their problems derive from capitalism, not other workers. A politics of division hampers the fact that all workers, wherever they are, share face the same problems and share the same interests. Workers must come to understand that a world working class confronts a world capitalist class over class exploitation and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution.
If concentration camps were a defining feature of fascist politics in the 1930s then no more so than today. Hostility towards immigrants throughout Europe and the rise of populist parties and governments has led to the EU's 'Fortress Europe' policy which is designed to prevent a flow of the poor and desperate from Syria and the African continent into Europe.
There has also been a corresponding rise in anti-immigration legislation, increase in the number of border guards and detention centres such as Yarl's Wood.
Fortress Europe was a military propaganda term used by both sides of the Second World War which referred to the areas of Continental Europe occupied by Nazi Germany. The term is now used in a pejorative sense to describe the EU's system of border controls and detention centres, like the one on the island of Lesbos in Greece. The EU has also outsourced prevention of immigration to other countries like Libya whose coastguards, paid and trained by the EU, have a long history of shooting at migrants.
In 2014, the EU ended Operation Mare Nostrum, a search and rescue program in the Mediterranean which was part of its obligations under international law. It replaced it with Operation Triton, headed by Frontex, the EU's border security regime which it more than doubled its funding for, aimed at pushing refugees back. In 2016, the EU signed a deal with Turkey to seal its border with Greece and Bulgaria to stop refugees crossing, allow thousands of refugees already in Greece to be sent to Turkey, in return for 6 billion Euros.
Similar deals were made between Libya and the EU. According to Amnesty International, about 20,000 undocumented migrants fleeing poverty, civil war and drought, are held captive by the Libyan government, militias and criminal gangs, many subject to torture and abuse, practices in which European governments 'are complicit' (Kenan Malik, DETENTION, TORTURE AND KILLING...HOW THE EU OUTSOURCED MIGRATION POLICY. THE OBSERVER 08.03.20).
Malik goes on to write:
Nobody knows how many migrants have been killed by EU-funded forces. Of those who have escaped their clutches, at least 20,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean in the past six years alone.
Many populist political leaders tap into anti-immigration fears to secure political power. It has been a successful political strategy in France, Germany, Britain, Hungary, Poland and Austria. No capitalist politician or political party will now openly criticise the 'Fortress Europe' policy for fear of losing votes. Refugees that had already made it to Greece have been kept in detention in Moria and other refugee camps, in barbaric conditions. Those who made it to Calais and Dunkirk have had their camps destroyed, face regular attacks from French police, and both the UK and France have refused to acknowledge their rights to resettlement.
What is happening in Libya and in other African states where the EU has created a huge kidnap and detention industry, goes largely unreported.
An agreement, signed in 2016 between Turkey and the EU, led to barbed wire fences along Europe's borders with Turkey, and vast, overcrowded prison camps for refugees on Greek islands. Some 42,000 people are now held in camps on the islands close to Turkey in the north Aegean Sea.
Within Europe the plight of immigrants is largely ignored in the media although a recent video of Greek border guards attempting to capsize a small rubber dinghy full of migrants, and firing shots towards it showed how brutal and cruel the EU policy is. More recently hundreds of people attempting to cross by land into Europe have been attacked by Greek security guards using tear gas, batons and rubber bullets.
Ironically, the EC policy on immigration did not make much of an appearance in the recent Brexit debates. Remain supporters found it very easy to characterise the Brexit working class vote as xenophobic and racist but were very quiescent about the EU's Fortress Europe policy.
Fascism today might not look exactly as it did in the 1930s. However, as Stanley concluded:
...refugees are once again on the road everywhere. In multiple countries, their plight reinforces fascist propaganda that the nation is under siege, that aliens are a threat and danger both within and outside their borders. (p xix).
This is not to say that the EU is fascist for pursuing its Fortress Europe policy. However, it shows that strands of fascist politics (the propaganda of anti-immigration) can be supported by even those who consider themselves GUARDIAN reading liberals.
Socialism and Migrants
The politics of division - of 'us' and 'them' is not specific to fascism. It is applicable to all capitalist governments and political Parties. Trying to get one group of workers to blame other workers is part of the arsenal of politicians and government ministers the world over. It has to be resisted through class unity. Class solidarity is the reply to organisations who try to split the working class against itself. Every migrant is a possible socialist as is any other worker imprisoned within the wages system.
Workers have identical class interests no matter where they live. And our class interest recognises that capitalism is the cause of our problems and needs to be abolished and replaced with socialism. Socialists do not see migrants and immigrants as a problem anymore than we see other groups singled out for attack, derision and hate; single parent mothers, the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled and those forced to subsist on benefits.
Instead the problems facing the working class flow from a world divided into competing capitalist nation states.
Against the petty nationalism of the anti-migrants with their fear of the other and its crude neo-Malthusianism, socialists propose a society where there will be no artificial frontiers, where people will be free to travel all over the world unrestricted by border guards, and passport control. In socialism there will be no gunboats, no barbed wire, no immigration officers, and no internment camps. And as a response to the poison of nationalism we urge workers to become socialists. That is the real fear of the capitalist class who fund and support anti-migration pressure groups and pay Hopkins her thirty pieces of silver. Our class is better than the crude propaganda used to divide us. Class solidarity and a socialist movement increasing in numbers and strength: that is the only answer to the politics of hate.
Masking the Blame
Political enemies of President Trump were triumphant when he was forced to wear a mask. He had failed to wear a mask in the misguided belief that by downplaying the coronavirus it would go away. He thought he could change reality by believing in something different. Such is the problem afflicting narcissists. The same delusion was found in the political rants of the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, who then went on to catch the virus. The virus has no political allegiance as is sweeping through the continent of America. 136,000 dead in the US where many believe prayer is the cure.
The same fortune has befallen another popularist politician, Boris Johnson. He hides behind 'British exceptionalism'. He believes he is a great politician, following in the footsteps of his hero Winston Churchill. His administration has been rightly accused of incompetence and contributing to the deaths of thousands of people in care homes. His administration is now busy trying to blame everyone else except themselves: nurses, care workers, doctors and scientists.
Johnson too is now wearing a mask. He wants workers to go out to spend money. He wants workers to use public transport, restaurants and pubs as though this will kick start the capitalist economy. He is wrong. Blaming consumers for capitalism's woes may appeal to the ignorant but it is wrong.
The policy of getting the workers back into employment without a vaccine will most probably increase the virus and cause more deaths. But what option does any capitalist politician have? They administer capitalism where profit considerations dominate everything else.
It was Marx, in a letter he wrote in 1868 to Engels, who wrote:
Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs required different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode of its appearance, is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself, in the state of society where the interconnection of social labour is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.
Under capitalism only labour creates value. However, value is not created by people who control its production and use. Under capitalism, the ownership of the means of producing value is in the hands of a minority while the vast majority owns nothing except their ability to sell their labour power.
Under capitalism, value is appropriated by capitalists as a surplus over and above the value need to keep workforce alive and functioning. The power over investment, incomes and employment is with capital, not labour. That surplus value (unearned income) is then divided among the industrial capitalist as profit, the finance capitalists as interest and the landlords as rent.
Capitalism is not driven by consumption despite what is written in economic text books. The politicians have all back to front. Capitalism is driven by investments for profit. Profit-making is the name of the game. And if there is little chance of making profit capitalists will not invest. And by not investing workers will not be employed and have the wages and salaries to spend on consumer goods.
Politicians are not to blame for how capitalism behaves and the trade cycles it goes through. This is capitalism behaving normally even if it leads to periodic economic crises and high levels of unemployment.
How would Starmer, Corbyn, Biden or any other opposition politician behave if they were in power? All the policies in their economic tool-box are erroneous. They have been used before and failed: free market capitalism, monetarism, Keynesianism and state capitalism. All have failed to do anything about the consequences of commodity production and exchange for profit.
However, by blaming politician's for not wearing masks only masks the root cause of the problem for the working class and its solution. And that is the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by socialism. If we are to wear masks, have inscribed on their face: 'abolition of the wages system'.
Refugees, War & Capitalism
Refugees and Political Ignorance
In recent months there have been physical attacks in Britain on refugees by far right thugs. A refugee was attacked as he came ashore in Kent (METRO 18 August 2020). This is not new. Many refugees are attacked along their long journey, usually from Afghanistan and Syria. There were 600 attacks alone, for example, on refugees in Germany in the first half of 2019.
As Hope Not Hate noted on the attacks against refugees in the UK:
"Britain First [...]activists stormed into a hotel in Birmingham, currently being used to house refugees and migrants. Cameras in hand they walked down the corridors, banged on room doors and confronting residents when they opened. Similarly, BF leader Paul Golding went to Epping and harassed migrants at a hotel there which has already been the target of For Britain activists in recent months. (MIGRANT ARRIVALS 24 August 2020).
Attacks on refugees in the UK have followed on from a continuous stream of anti-refugee articles in the media, notably the SUN, DAILY EXPRESS and DAILY MAIL. This anti-refugee propaganda has been re-enforced by government ministers like the Home Secretary, Priti Patel and a plague of Tory politicians.
The refugee problem has created a politics of hatred and class division. One far right media commentator, Katie Hopkins, suggested using gunships to prevent refugees reaching Europe and denouncing them as 'cockroaches'.
How politically cowardly it is to blame the vulnerable, the poor and the helpless. After travelling thousands of miles to escape poverty, war, and violence refugees are tormented by the politically stupid who visit their accommodation at night to threaten and menace refugees and their families in their homes. And refugees are confronted by organised gangs at sea who taunt frightened men, women and children desperately trying to avoid drowning.
The refugees are portrayed as 'invaders' by the far right when they are nothing more than members of our class - the working class. As socialists we call for class solidarity not class division. The refugees are members of our class with the same class interests. We share their problems of poverty: poor housing, lack of health care, utilitarian schooling for exam factory and the job's market, with the constant day-to-day struggle to put food on the table and raise our children.
The hardship of refugees was described in a 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians:
Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution have travelled from the Middle East to Europe. Arduous journeys and poor living conditions are causing myriad health problems and access to basic healthcare is extremely limited for those on the move. At every stage of the journey, people are suffering, including after they settle in Europe. The difficulty in managing non-communicable diseases means that some refugees are not getting the treatment they need, which in the long term can have a significant adverse impact on their health. Pregnant women are frequently unable to access antenatal care in Europe and the vaccination rate for refugee children is worrying low. Those who have suffered traumatic experiences in their home country are highly susceptible to developing psychological problems; an issue compounded by poverty, their displacement and being victims of violence (The Health Impacts of the Refugee Crisis, October 2016).
And why do refugees risk coming to England in the first place? The answer is simple: capitalism and its wars generate refugees fleeing from conflict, imprisonment and torture. This is where workers who ignorantly blame refugees for their own social problems should turn their attention.
The refugee problem is caused by wars in Afghanistan and Syria, wars actively engaged in by the UK through the use of drones and aircraft. You sow what you reap.
Blaming refugees is a successful tactic used by the Far Right conservatives and politicians like Nigel Farage, because the workers who follow them have not understood the cause of their own poverty. Their poverty is not caused by refugees but by capitalism. It is capitalism, a system based on profit and not directly meeting human need, which leaves workers in poverty and wanting someone to blame.
Capitalism forces workers to live in the wages system which rations what they can buy by the wages they receive. What workers receive in wages and what they and their families need to live worthwhile lives are two different things. It is capitalism that forces workers to live in substandard, mean and insecure housing. It is capitalism which forces them to receive inadequate health care. And it is capitalism which forces them to seek help from food banks and charities. The poverty facing workers in Britain places the refugee problem in its correct context. For the workers in Britain, refugees coming to this country are not their concern and it is not their problem.
Workers have no country; they have no borders to defend. Workers do not own the land, oil reserves and coal, the means of production and distribution. Workers are just an exploitable class.
The reality for our class under capitalism is that the refugees and those who despise and blame them for their poverty are all in the same miserable boat!
Why are there Refugees?
Why are there refugees moving across the planet in fear of their lives?
In his article 'Of Course Refugees Will Come If We Ignite Bloody Conflicts' (INDEPENDENT 12 September 2020) Patrick Cockburn wrote that:
As a result of their "global war on terror" launched following the al-Quaeda attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, no less than 37 million people have been displaced from their homes.
Cockburn draws upon a Brown University ongoing study, 'The Costs of War Project'. The study is examining eight wars started since the beginning of the 21st century; Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, North West Pakistan and the Philippines.
The Brown University Protect has already released papers showing that the cost of the wars for the US alone is running at $6.4 trillion and has led to 801,000 deaths.
The Costs of War Project and Patrick Cockburn article ignored both Russia's and Iran's contribution to the refugee problem. Russia's and Iran's war in Syria, has also contributed to refugees pushing into adjoining Turkey. In April 2020 the UN said that there were 4 million refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey including almost 3.6 million Syrian nationals and close to 330,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities. Over 98% of Syrian refugees live across Turkey in 81 provinces. Syria surpassed Afghanistan in 2013 as the country in the world producing the most refugees.
Russia has also invaded the Crimea and displaced workers in that region. According to the Migration Policy Institute:
Following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 after a period of civil unrest and the subsequent onset of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian military, civilians fled en masse to unoccupied territories in eastern Ukraine as well as central and western parts of the country. At the peak of military operations in 2015, the Ukrainian government reported some 1.5 million IDPs [Internally displaced persons], with the vast majority from eastern Ukraine and around 50,000 from Crimea.
Russian capitalism is just as part of the problem of war and the creation of refugees as other capitalist countries such as the US and UK. Yet journalists like Cockburn and organisations such as The Cost of War Project, weight the blame for war and concentration of refugees on the United States and other Western countries.
In this respect they are similar to the mis-named Stop the War coalition, which has never stopped a war and not likely to do so.
The capitalist left are always selective in who they are going to blame for capitalism's conflicts; a trend going all the way back to the Cold War. United States Imperialism, it appears, trumps all else. US Imperialism is the problem not world capitalism. The capitalist Left follow the doctrine 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' even if it means supporting genocidal tyrants and terrorists.
Socialists do not take sides in capitalism's wars. We do not support one capitalist country against another. We say: 'a plague on both your houses'. We are under no illusion to what the action is needed to end war and the problems caused by war like refugees. To end war means ending capitalism.
As for the refugees, what have they got to look forward to when they arrive at the White Cliffs of Dover? If they survive the crossing over the English Channel, they face arrest, imprisonment and deportation.
If refugees avoid deportation, they either become part of the industrial reserve army of the unemployed or join the majority of workers as exploitable wage slaves.
Life for refugees in Britain is pretty grim. Until you get refugee status refugees receive £37.75 for each person in their household. And refuge in Britain is refuge in a class based society of capitalists and workers, where a minority own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the majority working class. And although the refugee has escaped from war and torture, they increasing are confronted by the politics of hate from a fractured working class looking for individuals to blame rather than the profit system itself.
The problem facing refugees and why they take the dangerous journey towards Europe is linked to wars prosecuted by major capitalist countries. The Libyan War to depose Muammar Gaddafi, for example, launched by Britain and France with US backing in 2011, left the country in civil war with warlords and gangsters controlling the lucrative refugee trade from North Africa to Europe.
As Cockburn pointed out in his INDEPENDENT article:
Even leaders as dim-witted as David Cameron, Nicholas Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton should have foreseen the politically disastrous consequences of these wars. They generated an inevitable immigrant wave that energised the xenophobic far right across Europe and was a deciding factor in the Brexit referendum of 2016.
Libya is host to 635,000 migrants and 48,627 refugees. Refugees are exposed to serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, slavery, extortion, kidnapping and torture (Open Democracy 18 May 2020).
The refugees are the consequence of capitalism's wars. War and capitalism is the real issue not refugees.
Cockburn concludes his article by saying that the refugee question will only end '... when the wars themselves are bought to an end...'. Cockburn is half right. What he should have concluded his article with is that refugees of war moving across the world to escape conflict, imprisonment and torture, will only end when the capitalist cause of war is abolished.
Capitalism and War
The refugee crisis is just one problem among many generated by capitalism. However, capitalism and war are inseparable. Wars reflect the determination of Governments to defend or to gain control of valuable possessions by armed force when other means have failed.
The purpose of modern war is to gain control of territories where there are rich mineral deposits, vital land, sea or air routes or where commodities can be sold or capital invested.
In the SPGB pamphlet WAR AND THE WORKING CLASS we said:
The Socialist party of Great Britain, like a voice crying in the wilderness, has always maintained that capitalism and war are inseparable. There can be no capitalism without conflicts of economic interest. From these arise the national rivalries and hatreds, the fears and armaments which may at any time provoke war on a terrifying scale.
War is caused by capitalism. The causes are economic in as much as they are about trade routes, spheres of influence, places of strategic importance, access to coal, iron ore and oil.
Socialists are completely opposed to war but realise the problems facing refugees can only be addressed by first abolishing capitalism. The establishment of socialism - a world without countries, borders and international rivalry is the only solution to the conditions that breed war.
Socialism will be a global system in which the people of the world will work harmoniously together for their mutual benefit.
The socialist case against capitalism is that the profit system forces the majority of us to sell our labour power as a commodity in exchange for a wage or salary. We produce, what Marx called, "surplus value". We produce more social wealth than we receive in the form of wages and salaries. We have no interest in preserving capitalism: we have every interest in abolishing it.
Only by ending capitalism can we end class exploitation. And by ending the profit system, we end the economic conflicts of interests which cause wars and problems like refugees having to seek safety and shelter elsewhere in the world.
Capitalism, as a social system of war and class exploitation, creates insoluble social problems like refugees. And because capitalism is a system of class exploitation it is in the interest of all workers; workers in the UK, refugees and workers elsewhere in the world, to abolish capitalism.
Only by ending the class ownership of the world's resources, will we be able to establish a global social system where production takes place directly and solely to meet human need. Socialism will be based on co-operation, not on competition and conflicting interests. Because socialism will be based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society, it is the only answer to the cause of war and the problems war creates.
Because the establishment of socialism is in the interest of the worlds working class and capitalism is not, we believe there is nothing standing in the way of the working class to organise itself worldwide democratically and politically to replace capitalism with socialism. All that is required is socialist understanding.
The establishment of socialism requires workers forming socialist political parties, sending socialist delegates to Parliament and securing the machinery of government so it "may be converted from a instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation ..." (Cause 6 of DECLARATION OF PRICIPLES, Socialist Party of Great Britain).
As we said to workers in our pamphlet WAR AND CAPITALISM:
The choice you have is between capitalism and socialism, between competition and war, on the one hand, and co-operation and peace, on the other. Capitalism has no solution to the problem of war. Only socialism - World socialism - is the answer. (p. 33).
And the establishment of socialism will not only end war but the problems associated with capitalism's wars - the desperate plight of millions of refugees.
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.