Until the cause of a problem is pin-pointed and understood then a solution is not forthcoming. Scientists are saying that we are facing an environmental crisis because of climate change. Scientific papers are published showing the reality of global warming. However, none conclude that the cause of global warming is capitalism.
We are told by politicians and newspaper editorials that human beings are to blame, or it is the fault of individuals or rich countries or specific industries. Attention is diverted away from the capitalist cause. No scientists are brave enough to tell the truth that is global warming is caused by capitalism. It is caused by a social system. But what's the evidence for global warming and how do we know it's being caused by capitalism?
What is Capitalism?
We live in an integrated world-wide social system based upon commodity production and exchange for profit. On the one hand there is the capitalist class supported by its government, who own the means of production and distribution and on the other hand, everybody else who are the majority working class, the wealth creators, who are forced to work and are exploited in the productive process; a class who produce more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries.
This social system is known as capitalism for the very good reason that capitalists compete on the market to make a profit, reinvest their capital to make more profit and expand capital as an anti-social object in its own right. Capitalist production has historically left a trail of environmental pollution, damage and despoliation. From the smoggy and polluted cities of the 19th and 20th centuries, described by Friedrich Engels and others, to deforestation, acid rain and carbon monoxide emissions, the profit motive has created a polluted world undermining biodiversity and environmental harmony.
The rapid climate change we are now seeing is caused by capitalism using oil, gas and coal for commodity production and exchange for profit. And the fossil fuel industries, who have long known about the capitalist cause of global warming, have paid journalists, some scientists, and free market institutes to deny reality. They have paid them not to tell the truth.
Individual capitalists under pressure of competition have not been interested in the environment. They invest capital in production and buying the ability of workers to work in order to make a profit. In the past the cost of pollution has been picked up by other capitalists.
However, global warming has created an environmental crisis which conflicting nation states and their governments are unable agree to any solution. Capitalism, the cause of global warming, is unable to agree to any solution.
How do we know the world is getting warmer?
Our planet has been warming rapidly since the beginning of industrial capitalism. The world is now about 1.2C warmer than it was in the 19th Century. The average temperature of the Earth's surface has risen by about 1.1C since 1850, some eighty years after Adam Smith wrote the WEALTH OF NATIONS claiming to show capitalism and the market to be harmonious and benign. Furthermore, since the middle of the 19th Century, each of the last four decades has been warmer than any that preceded it.
These conclusions come from analyses of millions of measurements gathered in different parts of the world. The temperature readings are collected by weather stations on land, on ships and by satellites. Science shows the reality of global warming but does not name its cause. Multiple independent teams of scientists have reached the same result - a spike in temperatures coinciding with the onset of industrial capitalism.
Scientists can reconstruct temperature fluctuations even further back in time. Tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments and corals all record a record of the past climate. This places contemporary global-warming into some context. In fact, scientists estimate the Earth hasn't been this hot for about 125,000 years (BBC NEWS 13 October 2021 and 26 October 2021).
How do we know capitalism is responsible for global warming?
Greenhouse gases - which trap the Sun's heat - are the important link between temperature rise and human activities associated with capitalism. The most important is carbon dioxide (CO2), because of its abundance in the atmosphere.
Scientists can tell that CO2 is trapping the Sun's energy. Satellites show less heat from the Earth escaping into space at precisely the wavelengths at which CO2 absorbs radiated energy.
Burning fossil fuels and deforestation leads to the release of this greenhouse gas. These activities accelerated after the 19th Century and productive techniques associated with capitalism, notably the factory system, so it's no surprise that atmospheric CO2 increased over the same period. The evidence of where this extra CO2 came from has been pinpointed. The carbon produced by burning fossil fuels has a distinctive chemical signature. Tree rings and polar ice both record changes in atmospheric chemistry. When examined they show that carbon - specifically from fossil sources - has risen significantly since 1850.
Analysis shows that for 800,000 years, atmospheric CO2 did not rise above 300 parts per million (ppm). But since Industrial capitalism, CO2 concentration has soared to its current level of nearly 420 ppm (BBC NEWS 26/10/21).
Computer simulations, known as climate models, have been used to show what would have happened to temperatures without the massive amounts of greenhouse gases released by capitalist production, deforestation and the use of fossil fuels.
They reveal there would have been little global warming - and possibly some cooling - over the 20th and 21st Centuries, if only natural factors had been influencing the climate. Only when human factors associated with commodity production and exchange for profit are introduced can the models explain increases in temperature.
Capitalism has caused global warming. Capitalism is causing global warming and will continue to cause global warming until it is abolished and replaced by a system which would produce directly for social need instead of profit and takes into account the effect of production on the environment i.e. socialism.
This is what the politicians want to deny. They all support capitalism and the interest of the capitalist class. They are swayed in their deliberations by multi billionaires who own the oil wells, the gas supplies, the coal mines, the fossil fuel industries and those who are cutting down the Amazon and other rain forests. They are powerful economic and political forces.
What impact is capitalism having on the planet?
The level of heating the Earth has experienced already is predicted to cause significant changes to the world around us. Already, people in poorer countries suffer the most as they do not have the money to adapt to climate change. Many farms in developing countries already have to endure climates that are too hot and this will only get worse. Worldwide, climate change is destroying livelihoods, infrastructure and communities, forcing people from their homes, towns and even countries. In 2016 alone, extreme weather-related disasters displaced around 23.5 million people. This does not include the people forced to leave their homes as a consequence of slow-onset environmental degradation, such as droughts, sea level rise and melting permafrost.
Bangladesh is on the frontline of these impacts. Scientists have estimated that some 18 million people in Bangladesh will be forced to move by rising sea levels by 2050
The impact of capitalism on global warming has led to climatic changes which have been observed and recorded by scientists. They include:
* The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melting rapidly
* The number of weather-related disasters has increased by a factor of five over 50 years
* Global sea levels rose 20cm in the last century and are still rising
* Since the 1800s, the oceans have become about 40% more acidic, affecting marine life
(BBC News 26/10/21).
The human cost will not only mean flooding of many coastal regions but increasing, drought, loss of food production, increased starvation and migration. It will mean conflict, violence and war.
Has not the past been warmer?
There have been several hot periods during the Earth's past. Around 92 million years ago, for example, temperatures were so high that there were no polar ice caps and reptilian creatures lived as far north as the Canadian Arctic. The fact that a capitalist system wasn't around then should offer no comfort. At times in the past, sea level was 25m higher than the present. A rise of 5-8m is considered enough to submerge most of the world's coastal cities.
There is abundant evidence for mass extinctions during these periods. And climate models suggest that, at times, the tropics have become dead zones, too hot for most species to survive.
These fluctuations between hot and cold have been caused by a variety of phenomena, including the way the Earth wobbles as it orbits the Sun over long periods, volcanic eruptions and short-term climate cycles such as El Nino, a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean that effects the weather patterns of the Americas.
For many years, groups of so-called climate deniers, like the journalist Lord Lawson, and the free-marketeer Lord Monckton, have cast doubt on the scientific basis of global warming. They have sought to show capitalism fitting the spurious Adam Smith model of market harmony and self-adjustment when the reverse is true. They are just ideological shills, paid advocates of capitalist interests.
However, the majority of environmental scientists who publish regularly in peer-reviewed journals now agree on the current causes of climate change but refuse to draw attention to capitalism and commodity production and exchange for profit. The latest IPPC report released in August 2021 said it "is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land".
We should not forget that 'humans' are in fact the capitalist class, a minority in society who have the largest carbon footprint by their excessive and wasteful consumption of wealth. The military are also a sector of large carbon consumption. Then there are the cars produced, the aircraft, shipping, chemicals, processed foods and so on. These take place as a consequence of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. Harmful industrial processes like agriculture, fishing, logging, mining and so on are also contributory factors to global warming. When the UN refers to 'human beings' they should be referring to the capitalist class.
For political reasons, the UN report will not say that capitalism has caused global warming and if a solution for global warming exists it will not be found in the profit system. The UN report dare not conclude that the profit system should be politically and democratically replaced by world socialism, through the action of a socialist majority and not by political leadership. As Bob Dylan rightly sang in 'Subterranean Blues': "Don't follow leaders".
Politicians will not say that international rivalry is an impediment to solving global warming. They will not dare say that commodity production and exchange for profit is the cause of global warming. They will not say that profit interests are the driving consideration not meeting human need or the environment.
Socialism would not be impeded by the profit motive and capitalist growth. Common ownership of the means of production and distribution under democratic control would quickly phase out fossil fuel production and expand renewable energy systems, improve the energy performance of housing and decarbonise the world economy. In a society not divided by class and competing nation states, buildings, automobiles, transportation systems, industrial production processes would expand the availability of clean energy sources for zero emissions. This global problem would be resolved by a global social system in which the principle driving force would be "from each according to their ability to each according to their needs".
Inflation: Its Causes and Effects
Preface to the 1992 publication.
The article below was written by our late Comrade Hardy who
had been a student of Professor Edwin Cannan at the London School of Economics in the early 1920's who impressed on Hardy clarity in writing and not to be swayed by economic fashion. Hardy was a life-time Socialist and Marxist. In a lecture he gave just before his death he wrote:
It only needs to add that getting rid of inflation is not the answer. Capitalism without inflation, as in the nineteenth century, no more solves working class problems than does capitalism with inflation, as in the years since the end of the Second world war.
Hardy wrote a series of articles for publication by the reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain. Many were published as QUESTIONS OF THE DAY. These are freely available on our web site.
Unfortunately, the digital version of his paper on inflation was mislaid and has only recently come to light. Although the article was written 30 odd years ago its arguments still remain sound and valid. We are publishing the article again because inflation is now back in the news - although inflation never went away. Predictably workers are erroneously being blamed again for inflation as they were in the 1970s when a Labour government tried to force on trade unions a wage restraint.
A recent example of blaming workers for inflation was an article by the Sean O'Grady published in The INDEPENDENT under the heading 'Ministers fail to grasp basic economics' (4/10/21). O'Grady stated that wage increases cause inflation and can only rise if productivity does. He tells workers to accept a lower standard of living and not to struggle for better wages. It preaches economic abstinence and political apathy.
Marx's lecture given to General Council of the First International in June 1865, later published after his death as VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT, demolishes O'Grady's argument.
Marx showed that increased wages do not push up the general price level of commodities but does lead to a generalised reduction in the rate of profit. Workers, then, should ignore capitalism's apologists like O'Grady and struggle for higher wages and better working conditions when trade circumstances allow.
Marx reminded workers:
By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any large movement.
However, as Marx noted, workers are only dealing with effects and not causes. They are struggling in a system that is weighted in favour of the capitalist class. He said that the working class should set out to "abolish the wages system".
The wages system only exists because labour power functions as a commodity. When commodity production and exchange for profit is abolished in socialism and is replaced with the production of useful goods and services meeting human need, prices, including wages, will no longer be necessary.
Workers have no alternative but to organise democratically and politically for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Editorial Committee 2021
INFLATION: ITS CAUSES AND EFFECTS
From the pamphlet Questions of the Day No.28 (SPGB 1992)
Prices have been rising in this country for over half a century and are now about thirty-five times what they were in 1938. It is therefore not surprising that many people believe that it is normal and necessary for prices to go up. They are wrong. There is no need for prices always to rise. The government and the Bank of England could, if it wished, reduce prices or keep them more or less stable (provided of course that it knew how to do it).
After the inflation of the Napoleonic wars the government reduced prices by about a half and then maintained prices up to 1914; the price level in 1914 was almost exactly the same as it had been in 1850. After the inflation of the 1914 war prices were reduced between 1920 and 1925 by about a third. So the decision after the 1939 war to continue with inflation in peace-time was a departure from previous practice.
Several questions call for answers. By what means could the government control the price level? Why do governments sometimes raise prices and at others reduce them? And who gains and who loses?
Taking the last question first, it is obvious that anyone whose total income fails to increase as much as prices (or whose income falls more than the fall of prices) will be worse off. This happens to some workers and to some of the people who live on income from owning property. But incomes can, and do, move up or down independently of changes in prices. This will be seen from the following examples of movements in the average wages of the working class.
Between 1920 and 1925, when the government reduced prices, average wages fell more than prices so the workers in work were worse off.
Between 1873 and 1883 wages and prices both went down but the fall in prices was more than the fall in wages and the workers in work were better off.
Between 1900 and 1910 wages and prices both went up, but prices by more than wages, so workers in work were worse off.
Between 1910 and 1937 wages and prices both went up, but wages more than prices so workers in work were better off. The same is true of wages and prices between 1945 and 2008. Now prices are rising faster than wages.
The reason why wages can change independently of price changes is that other factors influence wage movements, the most important being whether the employers are making profits or losses and the effectiveness of trade union organisation.
A special case concerns borrowers and lenders. When prices are rising the lender, in terms of purchasing power, receives less than is indicated by the rate of interest. For example, if the lender lends £100 for a year at 10% and prices rise by 10% during the year, the £110 the lender receives at the end of the year will buy no more than the £100 would buy at the time of the loan was made; the lender has, in effect, lent the £100 at no interest.
When prices are rising lenders therefore stand out for a higher rate of interest, but experience has shown that interest rates tend to rise less than the rate at which prices are rising. So, periods of rising prices are of benefit to borrowers, like governments, at the expense of lenders. Conversely periods of falling prices tend to be of benefit to lenders at the expense of borrowers.
There has long been a body of opinion holding that inflation, with its higher prices, should be adopted as government policy, because, or so its advocates believe, it leads to greater production and reduces unemployment.
Sir Ralph Hawtrey, a Treasury official who wrote extensively about financial and economic problems, summed it up in 1923 in his CURRENCY AND CREDIT:
inflation itself is popular in business circles because it brings high profits, and is recommended because it means active trade, and therefore increases production. (page 231).
The MacMillan Committee (Committee on Finance and Industry) in its Report in 1931 also wanted higher prices. It argued that the prevailing depression having been caused or at least accompanied by falling prices the way out was to raise them. They recommended that steps be taken to push up the wholesale prices of the "principle foodstuffs and raw materials entering into international trade" (Paragraphs 266 and 285), and proposed to do this by means of agreement "to lower the international value of gold in terms of wholesale commodities".
The value of gold, like the values of other commodities cannot be altered by agreement of governments because value is determined in production. Wholesale prices have certainly risen in over half a century of inflation but it has not ruled out depressions; for example the depression beginning in 1979, the later depression which began in 1990 both showing unemployment above 2.5 million.
It may nevertheless be true that at least some business men and women look favourably on inflation in the belief that it will raise the prices of goods they sell more than the prices of the materials they have to buy and the wages they have to pay and thus increase profits.
The method by which past governments raised, lowered or stabilised the price level was by regulating the amount of currency (notes and coin) put into circulation by the Bank of England. Under what was known as the gold standard the Bank of England was bound by law to give notes in place of gold or gold in place of notes on the fixed basis of about a quarter of an ounce of gold for each £1. Prices were in that way tied to gold. Furthermore, beyond a limit of £18, 450, 100 of notes which could be issued without gold backing, the Bank had to buy and hold in its vaults gold for every additional note issued.
That does not mean that every increase in the amount of notes and coin in circulation would raise prices. It would raise prices only if it was in excess of the amount required by the volume of transactions to be dealt with. If production increased the amount of necessary currency would increase. Since 1938 currency has been increased from £442m to £15,000m
The way in which prices were reduced in 1920-1925 was by reducing the amount of currency in circulation, including the burning of £66 million of notes taken out of circulation.
Most economists including Karl Marx were in general agreement that prices were controlled by regulating the amount of notes and coin in circulation. Marx defined "excess" as an amount of notes and coin in circulation in excess of the amount of gold that would be in circulation if all the currency was gold (see CAPITAL VOL. 1. Chapter 111, Section 2c).
That was the position in the nineteenth century and up to the 1920's. Since then their sound theory has been rejected and replaced by what Professor Edwin Cannan derisively named "the mystical school of banking theorists", of which J. M. Keynes was a prominent member. According to Keynes: "The internal price level is mainly determined by the amount of credit created by the banks, chiefly the big five", and: "the amount of credit, so created, is in its turn roughly measured by the volume of the bank's deposits" (MONETARY REFORM by J. M. Keynes 1923, page 178).
If the banks determine the price level it is the banks who are responsible for inflation, as was shown by M. E. Robinson in his PUBLIC FINANCES (1932 page 129), with an introduction by Keynes.
The MacMillan Committee of which Keynes was a member, endorsed the theory that the bulk of bank deposits are not created by depositors but "arise out of the action of the banks themselves...by granting loans" (report 1931, Para 74).
Professor Milton Friedman was another member of the 'mystical school'. In FREE TO CHOOSE (1979, page 298) he and Rose Friedman declared the banks responsible for inflation because they: "can legally authorise a book-keeper to make entries on ledgers that are equivalent to pieces of paper" (i.e. of currency notes). Another believer in this nonsense described it as the power to create untold wealth "by the stroke of a pen".
The banks do not create anything. Bank deposits are not assets the banks possess but merely a record of what they owe to depositors. The function of the commercial banks is simply that of borrowing from depositors and lending to borrowers.
The 'mystical' theory of banking theory is not new. It was answered in 1865 by John Stuart Mill in his PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY (Chapter XI)
Walter Leaf, Chairman of the Westminster Bank answered it in his BANKING (Home University Library 1926 page 102) with the statement: "The banks can lend no more than they can borrow - in fact not nearly so much"
Professor Edwin Cannan answered it at some length in AN ECONOMIST'S PROTEST (1927, Pages 256-266).
The final answer to the theory is the enormous price rise of the past half-century or more. All three parties, Tory, Liberal and Labour, were committed in 1944 to maintaining a fairly stable price level.
Every government since 1945 has not only declared its opposition to inflation but has spelled out the way in which it thought it could make this effective. Since the 1970's Labour and Tory Governments have directed their efforts to "watching" the movements of several differently defined amounts of "money supply" or "money stock", meaning predominantly bank deposits (not "notes and coin" alone).
Their efforts have had no effect at all, for prices have risen every year; which stands in contrast to the century before 1914, by regulating the amount of notes and coin in circulation the monetary authorities did maintain a fairly stable price level.
It remains to understand why governments sometimes raise prices, sometimes lower them and sometimes seek a stable price level.
It has first to be emphasised that capitalism can function just as well or ill with rising prices, falling prices and stable prices. It has functioned in half a century of rising prices; it functioned under falling prices (a fall of 41% between 1920 and 1936) and it functioned with stable prices in the century before 1914.
When a government, faced with an emergency such as World war, has to decide which monetary policy to adopt their decision depends on how much or how little the ministers and their advisors know about monetary theory; which school of theory they favour and to what extent they are subject to pressure from sectional interests which stand to gain by one policy or another, such as the businessmen who favour inflation.
In three world wars (Napoleonic War, the 1914-1918 and the 1929-45 war) the government decided on inflation but it is not easy to understand what decided the issue. The one common factor is that under world-war conditions it was pointless to try to maintain the gold standard. The government had to get control of the gold standard themselves and prevent its export by banks and others, because in those war conditions no foreigner from whom they needed to buy materials would accept paper money in payment.
It is probable that in 1790 the government ministers did not realise that they could avoid inflation without the maintenance of the gold standard; simply by limiting the amount of notes and coins in circulation.
Why the government adopted inflation at the outbreak of the 1914 war is something of a puzzle. Professor Cannan found it so. In 1917 he wrote:
"Before the war no fairly orthodox authority would have admitted that the British government in any future war would have endeavoured to pay its way in inconvertible paper. The past was supposed to have shown the fallacy of the plan". (AN ECONOMIST'S PROTEST, page 110).
All that Cannan could offer by way of an explanation was that "war seems to deprive people of their reasoning faculties".
By 1939 the theories of Keynes and other members of the "mystical" school of banking theorists had gained acceptance in government circles so that they were ignorant of the relationship between the amount of currency and the price level.
Keynes himself did not favour inflation generally and in his HOW TO PAY FOR THE WAR (1940) he counted on the avoidance of inflation during the war. The government apparently considered it could hold down prices by price controls and by subsidised food and other materials in spite of inflation.
Why the Labour Government, after the 1939-1945 war, decided on peace-time inflation this breaking away from 19th century tradition is not hard to understand. The gold standard and the policy of a stable price level were developed when London was the world's financial centre and Britain was the world's leading manufacturer and exporter. It suited importers and exporters and bankers to have a stable price level. But when Britain's world position steadily declined a policy of higher prices, balanced as it had been by a decline in the foreign exchange rate of the £ from, $4.86 to $5.87 became more attractive. The Attlee Labour Government was, on paper, opposed to inflation but a Report of the National Executive Committee to the 1944 Conference committed them to the proposition: "If bad trade and general unemployment threaten...we should give people more money, and not less to spend".
They were also committed not to return to the Gold Standard.
Several theories have been offered by economists and others who reject the valid theory of Marx and Cannan to explain inflation. They range from the very common explanation that it is higher wages that push up prices, to the simple moralistic argument that inflation is the result of people's greed.
They are both easy to answer. If rising wages cause prices to rise how is it that between 1850 and 1914 average wages rose by ninety per cent while the price level rose by only 2 per cent from an index of 100 to 102? That rise of wages took place because the growing trade unions were able not only to secure the benefit from increased output per worker but also to secure a certain amount of gain at the expense of profits.
As for greed, the argument must lead us to conclude that people have been excessively greedy from 1938 to 1991 but not at all greedy between 1850 and 1914 (or only 2% greedy). And that between 1920 and 1925 when prices were reduced by 30% people were not only not greedy at all but filled with benevolence to their fellows.
It is reasonable to accept that the Labour Government in 1945-1951, having swallowed the mystical nonsense of the Keynesian bank loan theory of prices, knew nothing about the real cause and effects of inflation, but even they cannot have been so misguided as to suppose that a tiny additional revenue from increasing the currency would be sufficient to pay for the vastly greater increase of expenditure forced on them by inflationary higher prices.
In the above outline of the cause and effects of inflation we have been dealing with capitalism and the monetary policies Liberal, Tory and Labour governments have adopted in Britain during the past two hundred years. Capitalism has to have a monetary system - notes and coin in circulation and banks and other financial institutions. Under capitalism the products of industry are what Karl Marx described as "commodities", that is to say they are produced for sale, not directly for consumption.
In socialist society "commodity production" will cease. Goods will be produced directly and solely for consumption. There will be no capitalist class, no rent, interest and profit, no wages and no prices.
As Marx and Engels put it in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, the abolition of capitalism will involve the "abolition of buying and selling". All members of socialist society will have free and direct access to what is produced. Whatever problems socialist society may have to deal with, money and prices will not be among them.
Centenaries of Note: 1921 - 2021, The CPGB, The CCP - and Kronstadt
The year 2021 marks the centenary of some significant events. In January 1921, some British fans of the 1917 Russian Revolution signed up to the Comintern's blueprint and founded the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In July 1921, with a Comintern representative present, the Communist Party of China (CCP) was founded. And in March 1921, faced with widespread discontent as Bolshevik rule was seen as simply a new tyranny, Lenin and Trotsky ruthlessly used armed force to crush the Kronstadt mutiny.
While these events had nothing to do with the Socialist cause, they have had a lasting impact, worldwide. That impact has been and still is an obstacle for the SPGB and others, as too many workers still believe that to argue for Communism / Socialism / Marxism is no better than wanting another Stalinist dictatorship.
But, almost from the start, the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) was sceptical about the claims that Lenin's Bolshevik minority were establishing Socialism, or that they could hold power as a minority except by force, i.e. as a dictatorship. Over time, more and more evidence came out showing how right we were.
Leninists claimed that Russian 'state Socialism' or state capitalism meant that Socialism had been achieved, even though Russian workers still had to work as wage-slaves.
So we, the real Socialists, have had to waste time explaining the meaning of the words we use, with basic questions of definition having to be fought over.
Even now, many generations later, this still continues to be a never-ending, tiresome and sterile dispute. Leninism's lying claim has been aided and abetted by powerful political voices utterly opposed to Marxism or Socialism, from Churchill onwards. That lie is still regularly reinforced by dictionary definitions which usually define socialism as being about state ownership or state control. It is supported by the Labour Party's nationalisation and 'welfare state' policies, always described as 'socialist' both by supporters and opponents. In the US, where any ideas about state support for workers' healthcare are widely denounced as 'socialist', a prominent Trump supporter has put out on social media a video showing herself armed with a semi-automatic gun, shooting at a vehicle painted with the word Socialism. The message was obvious.
Lessons from the Kronstadt Massacre
In 1917 sailors at the Baltic naval base, near Petersburg, had spearheaded Lenin's November coup. But, just years later, in March 1921, they mutinied, as they realised that Lenin's slogan "All Power to the Soviets" was mere rhetoric. Instead, Lenin had imposed a dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party in all spheres of society: "All power to the Party"!
Since 1902 (WHAT IS TO BE DONE?), Lenin had argued for a 'vanguard' party, organised like an army with orders and instructions issued by the leader / leaders, out through the party ranks, and so on - down to the 'masses'. But there was nothing in his top-down scheme of things to allow for workers having their own independent organisations.
Whether these were Soviets or trade unions, the media, education, science and research, music and art, etc, all had to be under the control of this 'vanguard party'. In a one-party state, the 'leading role of the party' is a sure-fire recipe for dictatorship, not democracy.
The Kronstadt sailors argued that they had a just cause:
The Communist Party, master of the State, has detached itself from the masses, the Party has lost the confidence of the working masses .... We stand for the power of the Soviets, not for that of the Party. We stand for freely elected representatives of the toiling masses. Deformed Soviets, dominated by the Party, have remained deaf to our pleas. Our appeals have been answered with bullets.
The Kronstadt Izvestya, 1921, quoted in Ida Mett The Kronstadt Uprising
Those Kronstadt sailors who dared to protest and rebel against this betrayal of the revolution which they had helped achieve were massacred, and then officially denounced as 'counter-revolutionaries', anarchists, and 'enemies of the state'.
Among those responsible for this massacre, apart from Lenin, the most prominent was Trotsky, who later has been portrayed by his Western fans as a cuddlier sort of Bolshevik. Just because he himself became a victim of Stalin's murderous dictatorship does not mean he would not have done likewise if he had become Lenin's heir.
The bloody Kronstadt massacre was as significant in Russian history as the Peterloo massacre in Britain. Its ruthlessness pointed to the way the Bolsheviks acted towards workers and peasants, both then and later. And the Moscow-funded Left excused this: "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"!
Kronstadt was a forerunner to many fratricidal party purges, and a series of Stalinist campaigns against so-called kulaks, saboteurs, writers, army officers, and the suspected Doctors' Plot, just before the ever-more paranoid Stalin died in 1953.
From 1921 on, the history of the CPSU, under both Lenin and Stalin, was to show how right the Kronstadt sailors were when they argued that the Party-dominated Soviets no longer represented the workers.
In 1921, the Russian working class, in whose name the 1917 revolution had supposedly been made, were struggling to get by on wages far lower than they had been in 1913. Peasants found themselves trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis of famine or factory. Well before 1921, the Cheka was active, filling prisons and concentration camps, and with extra-judicial shooting of suspects.
In this so-called 'socialist' Russia, workers were utterly lacking in independent trade union organisation. Like the Soviets and other institutions, the 'official' trade unions were already "deformed", under the control of the Party. So long as the 'leading role of the party' was at the heart of the system, these 'official' unions were useless for the workers. From then on, their role was to act merely as a tool of management, urging workers to increase their productivity.
Also, to secure the 'leading role of the party', the CPSU had become the only political party - and thus a Party dictatorship.
In Putin's Russia, it seems that very little has changed as elections are again held without opposition candidates being allowed.
The CPGB and the
The Comintern's blueprint for new 'communist' parties was non-negotiable. The new party's name had to be the Communist Party of [insert name of country]. It must follow the Party line laid down by Moscow. It must operate with a centralised leadership and strict discipline. Any members who deviated from the Party line must be expelled and denounced. The official euphemism for this was 'democratic centralism', and the 'vanguard' role of the party was clear.
John Callaghan, later editor of the Daily Worker, wrote:
"A revolutionary party must ... lead the workers ... It must become the political leader of the working class... The Communist parties move in the light of Leninism. Unlike the parties of the Second International they are ideologically united. It must learn to move sharply in response to a Communist lead, and to move as a united body. This necessitates an iron discipline and a capable centralised leadership" (LENINISM AND THE PARTY, 1925).
That "Communist lead" meant utter confusion. To start with, Lenin insisted that the British CP had to be thoroughly hostile to reformism but at the same time these new CPGB members were required to affiliate to the Labour Party. But the Labour Party was then, as now, thoroughly reformist.
So CPGB-ers were from the very start confused, and by the end of the 1930s there was even more muddle as these, anti-Fascist, British Bolsheviks loyally changed their tune.
They were suddenly heard praising the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact (DAILY WORKER 23 Aug. 1939), and denouncing the war as an "imperialist war".
But after the German invasion of the Soviet Union the wind changed again, and this 'advanced party' abruptly did yet another U-turn on Moscow's instructions. So the CP, like the Labour Party, supported the war and conscription, opposed workers who struck for better pay, and in a by-election even ordered CP supporters to vote for a Tory candidate. Such unscrupulous twists and turns disgusted even the CP's members and by the end of the war shedloads of them had quit the CPGB.
The post-war rump of a CP 'political vanguard' got itself into even more difficulties. In early 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for his Party purges, his "crimes against the Party" and his "cult of the individual". Though the CPGB had dutifully portrayed Russia under Stalin's rule as free and democratic, it was yet again required to "move sharply in response to a Communist lead", as Campbell had written earlier.
Later that year, the already demoralised CP members were confronted with Soviet tanks on the streets of Budapest.
They had managed to swallow the Moscow line about Tito, and had loyally followed the party line on Trotsky and even on Stalin. But this time, many decided that this was a bridge too far.
As the Stalinist CPGB had lost any claim to be credible, a number of Trotskyist groups emerged. "Hope springs eternal"!
Swapping the cult of the Leninist Stalin for the cult of the Leninist Trotsky, those naive true believers in elitist vanguardism were still unable to admit to the essentially dictatorial nature of Bolshevism.
About the same time, the New Left with a variety of supporters - from campaigns about the A-bomb, apartheid and racism, or Women's Lib, plus a libertarian - "make peace not war" - fringe, were all competing for support. Such opportunist groups were and still are flitting from one issue to another - in support of the miners' strike (1984), on Right to Work marches, tenants' strikes, and on demos large and small.
What these groups all had and still have in common is rejection of the case for Socialism, the case for an end to the capitalist wages system and production for profit. Yet it is capitalism which is the root cause of the various problems they are trying to deal with. The Left became fragmented, abandoning any claim to be revolutionary.
Now, the only traces of their slavish loyalty to Moscow's Marxism-Leninism are found among the few surviving heirs of the Moscow-controlled Left. What's left of Western Leninism lingers on with writers like John Pilger, the opportunistic Stop the War Coalition, Le Monde Diplomatique, a medley of Trotskyist groups and 'Internationals', e.g. the so-called Socialist Party.
Socialists against the Left
In one important issue the CPGB utterly failed. That was in their lying claim to be the only real Marxist party for the workers of this country to support.
In spite of their many determined and often thuggish efforts, they could never close down SPGB meetings and activity. That they tried cannot be doubted.
In small ways they even achieved some petty triumphs, for instance in systematically removing any reference to the SPGB's existence from the historical record. Examples? That otherwise useful book THE COMMON PEOPLE 1746-1946 by G D H Cole and Raymond Postgate, and any modern histories by Tony Cliff or Eric Hobsbawm, just for starters. Also, in academic histories, e.g. BRITISH COMMUNISM - A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY, part of the Manchester University Press series Documents in Modern History. It's as if this Party had never existed, never opposed the two world wars, never attacked Fascism, never opposed racism, never contested elections...
The Left had a special hatred for the SPGB. As a Marxist party, ours was the only party to expose the dangerous fraud that Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, aided by their collaborators in other countries, a number of CPs and fellow-travellers, were pushing out as gospel truth.
The SPGB position was already clear within a few months of the 1917 revolution, unlike Trotsky who was still part of the Bolshevik leadership group for quite some time. The SPGB writers and speakers argued that this was not a socialist revolution, quoting Lenin himself who wrote that, in backward Russia, German-style 'state capitalism' was necessary.
The SPGB maintained that Socialism was not possible in Russia in the wartime conditions of 1917 since:
* Russia was economically too backward, a largely peasant country;
* The workers and peasants were not class-conscious;
* They were dominated by the Orthodox Church, with its superstitious beliefs;
* Many had supported the war and were nationalistic;
* And, as Lenin's Bolsheviks were only a tiny minority lacking majority support, they could only hold power by force, as a dictatorship.
vanguard' party organisation, and his mistaken claim that a 'transition' stage was essential which he called 'state socialism'. On both these issues, Lenin undermined the Marxism he claimed to espouse.
Revolution and the class struggle
Lenin's idea of a top-down elitist 'vanguard' party, leading and instructing the ignorant masses, was poles apart from Marx's argument.
In their best-known work, the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, Marx and Engels argued that the working class is:
"...the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands ... The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority".
"...to conquer political power is the great duty of the working classes... What was new in the International was that it was established by the working men themselves and for themselves".
Documents of the First International 1871-2, Marx
THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL AND AFTER, Penguin, pp269-271
Years later, in his 1888 Preface to the MANIFESTO, Engels again argued that: "the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself".
So, for decades, Marx and Engels had consistently argued that the working class - as a class - would be the agent of the Socialist revolution, that it was "a revolutionary class", the class "that holds the future in its hands". And the SPGB's DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, drafted in 1904, echoes Engels, saying clearly: "this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself".
In fact, the vanguard theory of organisation was actually not derived from Lenin's reading or misreading of Marx but was taken from ideas common among other Russian radicals, especially Tkachev.
This point was openly stated in 1923, in a Soviet journal, PROLETARSKAYA REVOLUTSYIA:
It is an irrefutable fact that the Russian Revolution proceeded to a significant degree according to the ideas of Tkachev, with the seizure of power made at a time determined in advance by a revolutionary party which was organized on the principle of strict centralization and discipline. And this party having seized power is working in many respects as Tkachev advised.
Albert L Weeks THE FIRST BOLSHEVIK, 1968, n. p.viii
Lenin's other damaging legacy was his theory that, after the overthrow of capitalism but before Communism was established, a 'transition stage' was essential, one which he chose to call 'state socialism'. He set this theory out in THE STATE AND REVOLUTION, a book written mainly from earlier notes, and published in the late summer of 1917.
Even now, there are still some who hold a strangely high opinion of that work. In his book about Lenin and the Russian revolution, John Medhurst describes it as Lenin's "supreme example of revolutionary theory" (NO LESS THAN MYSTIC, 2017, p16).
Later, however, he points out that Lenin's theory and practice were often worlds apart:
All Lenin's actions post-October, and his own unequivocal statements about the paramount need for authority, control, direction from the top and one-person management, demonstrate that the revolution he actually led (as opposed to the one he wrote about in THE STATE AND REVOLUTION) was about the arrival of a new master (Medhurst, p27).
Lenin's transition theory has meant for us a legacy of endless confusion as to what we mean by Socialism, or what we mean by Communism. Lenin's own confusion on the question of the system being set up in Russia was clear when he sometimes slipped and referred to it as 'state capitalism', while the official line was that it was 'state socialism'.
To Socialists, what was being established in Russia was simply a form of capitalism, and we quoted Lenin's own words when he called it "state capitalism". We also argued that this must be a step backwards for Western workers, not a transition to Socialism.
Like Marx and Engels we saw no point in differentiating between Socialism and Communism. After all, what counts is not the name but the reality.
The SPGB argues that there is no form of Socialism which could possibly require the existence of the state. As Socialism means a classless society and an end to class exploitation, there can be no place for the state since it is essentially an instrument of class domination. Once the system of class exploitation is ended, there can be no need for the state as its core function is to defend the interests of an exploiting class.
But Lenin's â€˜'transition stage' and minority Bolshevik rule depended, from the start, on the terrifying power of the Cheka and the Red Army, both being aspects of the coercive power of the state.
These forces were used ruthlessly, as at Kronstadt in 1921 and against numerous peasant risings (e.g. in Tambov), to crush and silence workers and peasants in whose name the November 1917 revolution had happened. The Kronstadt massacre foreshadowed the Stalinist mass liquidations and the Gulag Archipelago.
Bolshevik rule was a dictatorship, as the SPGB had argued it must be; the Bolsheviks knew themselves to be a minority, clearly lacking in mass working-class support, and opposed by the peasants.
A dictatorship held in power by ruthless purges and mass murder is no way to 'transition' towards socialism. As we argue: Socialism is democratic or it is not socialism. Lenin's coup d'etat meant that a top-down party organisation with its policy decided by the centralised 'leadership', an elitist 'vanguard party', had seized power. But as it was a minority lacking mass support, the only possible outcome had to be a dictatorship. And in early 1918, since they had only a few delegates. the Bolsheviks forcibly shut down the Constituent Assembly. From then on, Russia was a one-party state.
But Socialism, as the outcome of the class struggle, achieved by the revolutionary class-conscious, politically organised working class, cannot be other than democratic. Socialism properly understood means the "common ownership of the means of production and distribution", and that requires "democratic control by and in the interests of the whole community". Only such a democratic system could make a system based on common ownership actually function.
Lenin's Bolshevik revolution was clearly unable or unwilling to go further than electrification or modernisation, along the lines of the state capitalism which had been successful in Bismarck's Germany.
Socialism has not yet been achieved, anywhere.
Lenin's Chinese heirs - from Mao to Xi
Lenin's Comintern was very active in 1920-21 and, a few months after the CPGB had been created in 1921, on 4 July 1921 some scattered radicals, student groups, etc. came together to form the Communist Party of China (CCP). A left-wing journal chose to mark the CCP's centenary with an article by a Harvard academic, headed: "What's left of communism in China?" (Jerome Doyon, LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE, no. 2109, Sept. 2021).
His argument was that, in modern China, the CCP welcomes capitalists "with open arms", so that now the CCP has more 'professionals and managers' (50%) than workers and peasants (35%).
Doyon argued that those joining the CCP mostly do not see this as joining a party "working for communism" but simply as a pragmatic way of furthering their own careers and business interests. Cynical, yes - but realistic too: powerful connections could be useful in a crisis, for protection.
Similarly, for decades before the fall of the Soviet Union, membership of the CPSU or its youth wing, the Komsomol, was also seen as a vital way to open doors, obtain influence (blat), get housing, etc. Interests counted, not ideology.
From the earliest days of the 1917 Russian revolution there was corruption, with privileges for the well-connected. There are obvious parallels with the CCP today.
Modern China is emphatically a capitalist economy, producing 18% of global GDP with fast growth, only slowing down in recent years. But income inequality has grown exponentially, by 15% between 1990 and 2015. While the well-off have had mansions built for themselves, many city workers have had to squeeze into tiny mini-rooms, mere cupboards, often lacking windows or separate cooking and washing facilities.
Typically for a capitalist business, the vast Chinese real estate developer, Evergrande, had borrowed too much from banks, and as a result looks likely to go belly-up.
If so, billions will be lost - owed to banks and leaving investors and suppliers in the lurch. As for workers who had paid advance deposits on flats, some part-built, some just architects' sketches: all those painfully saved up deposits could be lost.
But bankruptcy is a regular and ruthless feature of capitalism, culling the less successful businesses, however big. If Evergrande goes broke, it is probable there will soon be other bankruptcies, and this crisis could give modern China its first real taste of a capitalist recession with mass unemployment.
The LMD article claimed that, with 30% of the economy in the public sector, China is "a textbook case of state capitalism". That may be partly due to so much being spent on the vast state military and security apparatus which keeps this repressive dictatorship in power. Also, with 70% of the economy in the private sector, that would look just like a "textbook case " of capitalism.
Either way, the wages system means the working class are exploited, and someone or other profits from that.
As the LMD article makes clear, the CCP under President Xi continues along Leninist lines as a party with a 'leading role'.
The Party's charter was amended in 2017 to emphasise that "in government, the army, society and schools - in the east, west, north and south - the Party leads on all fronts".
The modern CCP is a typically Leninist/Maoist organisation, with strong internal discipline geared to ensure allegiance to the leader, 'party spirit', and nationalism.
Also, so as to further control the culture and close off any openness to outside influences, at all levels of education the use and teaching of English is now being actively discouraged. The Xi regime now sees this as a sign of "suspicious foreign influence" (NEW YORK TIMES - The Week, 18 Sept. 2021). Just as an earlier generation were expected to study the Little Red Book, the 'thoughts' of Chairman Mao, the schools are now required to teach even very young schoolchildren 'Xi Jinping thought'.
In China, as in neighbouring North Korea, the all-powerful ruler dominates. While Kim inherited his role from his father and grandfather, Xi has enhanced his own role by making himself 'President-for-life', rather like one of China's Emperors or Russia's Tsars.
Like Lenin's Cheka, the Party's Discipline and Inspection Committee "is able to hand out extra-judicial punishments to members". Under Xi, the CCP's internal discipline has got tougher, even reverting to the cruel Maoist practice of punitive, humiliating, public criticism and self-criticism sessions, known as 'democratic life meetings'. Under Mao such sessions often led to suicides. Examples are made of wealthy or influential Chinese individuals or celebrities, punished for being 'corrupt' or whose lifestyles are not 'moral'.
In addition to this vast party-state organisational apparatus, with its 95 million members (est. 6.5% of the population), the authorities now use newly developed technological wizardry.
Along with the Chinese state's control of Internet access with a digital firewall, the state now uses a digital database of the whole population linked to facial recognition software, to track individuals and all their activities and contacts, whether in the street or on-line. As if in George Orwell's 1984 or some weird Behaviourist experiment, the whole population is constantly being monitored, and punished or rewarded for their daily doings. No doubt the CIA and other Western security and police organisations are doing likewise, possibly using the Israeli spyware system on people's mobile phones.
Western politicians wring their hands in horror at the persecution of minorities by the Chinese state. The Uighurs - a Muslim minority - are being wiped out by a cruel genocide. But, just as when China took over Tibet, the West governments stand by and, apart from speechifying and protesting, do nothing.
With the suppression of any in Hong Kong who dare to demonstrate (e.g. to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre) and who have been stripped of any political freedoms, any chance to choose political candidates other than those approved of by the CCP: still the UK's 'democratic' government simply stands by.
There is a simple and obvious explanation. For many decades as Western governments ran policies of deficit funding, they borrowed from China. And now these Chinese bonds are a powerful economic tool, China's form of 'soft power'.
In recent decades, as the Chinese economy grew and Chinese exports flooded world markets, Western states were unable to compete with the products of Chinese cheap labour - and slave labour - and consumers in Western countries became dependent on China's cheap exports. As a result, these Western governments are unwilling to oppose China, however totalitarian its dictatorship.
Since Mao's time, China has come of age as a powerful capitalist state and has even created an empire. For instance, to ensure future food supplies, Chinese firms have bought up some of East Africa's more fertile land. A side-effect of this is that local farmers have lost water so their crops fail. Facing starvation, many desperately migrate to try to find a better life elsewhere. In some African states, reports come out that the Chinese treat local workers as the racist British used to treat 'the natives' - as coolies.
China's 'Belt and Road' initiative is building critical infrastructure in many former Western colonies (Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc). So, along with economic development, China has been building a powerful global network of political control.
Under the name of economic development, the Chinese state is looting resources. Tibet got roads and a railway, which were then used to transport Tibet's timber to China, for construction purposes, and Han Chinese workers to Tibet, for settlement. In Africa (and now Afghanistan), China's interest is in mineral resources, especially those 'rare earths' so essential for batteries in the climate change economy.
Colonies, empires and racism
Looking at capitalism's history, you can see it as a series of empires. The 19th century wars over colonies ultimately led to the world wars of the 20th century, and to the Korean and Vietnam wars, with the British Empire being succeeded by the global dominance of the US. Now it is China's turn.
Tsarist Russia fought a series of wars to control the Caucasus. Turkey's Ottoman Empire once ruled Egypt, many Arab countries, and part of the Balkans. The Belgian king owned much of the Congo. basin, treating its people cruelly. The French state as a colonial power held onto Algeria till the 1950s, using torture and censorship against the Algerian movement for liberation. After the French retreat from Indo-China, the US continued the Vietnam War. And so on, and on.
Each empire in turn looted resources to enrich its heartland and boost its industrial muscle. All relied ruthlessly on military force, the power of the boot, to retain their power even against fierce opposition. The modern Chinese empire does likewise.
Orwell - once part of the British colonial police in Burma - was well aware that, there is a cultural and ideological price to pay for empire, as Socialists have argued for decades. Empire has been used to legitimate a culture of racism, with a lasting legacy in states which historically profited from slavery and the infamous slave trade.
Such empire-building left another legacy in endless wars fought disputing artificially created borders. No amount of UN charters or resolutions stops this never-ending bloodshed, the strutting of serried ranks of uniformed thugs and warlords, the fratricidal enmities that lead even to genocide.
The Chinese state, now a powerful economic player in world trade, with increasing inequality between rich and poor within China, is clearly a capitalist state. Surely that makes the CCP's claims to be a 'communist' party utterly ludicrous!
Like Lenin's Bolshevism, Maoism had little if anything in common with Marxism. The legacy of Leninism has been nothing but harmful to the cause of socialism and has made 'Marxism' synonymous with state tyranny.
This was the real Big Lie of the 20th century, still plaguing us in the 21st century. Even now, we still have to explain why we say that Socialism does not exist and has as yet never been brought into being. We still meet people who insist that state capitalism is the same as socialism. Or that between capitalism and Communism there has to be a transition stage.
They tell us that to create a revolutionary party means to organise a small elite of professional revolutionaries who alone have an "advanced theory", and workers can only aspire to "trade union consciousness". What patronising tripe! More than anything, that explains why Bolshevism and its Chinese version ended up not with communism but capitalism.
Our own experience as Socialists tells us this is rubbish. The fact is that our party was founded back in 1904, by class-conscious workers, all of them having a clear understanding of Marxism. And these workers were quickly able to see through the pretence of Leninism and the Bolsheviks' false claims of a 'revolution in backward Russia.
The SPGB then as now holds, like Marx and Engels, that the emancipation of the working class will be and can only be "the work of the working class itself". And, as ever, we insist on the need for our organisation to be democratic, as "Socialism is democratic or it is not Socialism".
History as Politics: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
History is not a Morality Tale
History is politically contentious and so are the political actors who walk its stage; "great and small", "pious and profane", "genocidal and peace loving".
No more so than when we come to look at the actions of capitalist politicians in relation to historic events. Academic historians have a tendency to become cheerleaders for a particular hero or heroine and overlook the shortcomings and failings of their subject. History is portrayed as largely a male affair drawn from the ruling class and its interests; the good wearing white hats, the bad wearing black ones and the ugly ones writing the history books.
History is depicted as a bibliography of the good, the bad and the ugly: a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western which, in its details, is largely facile and uninteresting. History becomes a series of dictators being defeated by the good. History becomes a morality tale of human progress championed by historians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay. Macaulay, for example, saw history as a progressive railway line going on and on into the future delivering more and more freedom by the good guys at each station the train of history stopped at. He wrote:
The history of our country during the last hundred and sixty years is eminently the history of physical, of moral, and of intellectual improvement.
(HISTORY OF ENGLAND 1848, p14).
The old Whig interpretation of history was derailed by the First World War. Capitalism may have been 'progressive' as it emerged from Feudalism. It was praised by Marx and Engels in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. However, capitalism is no longer 'progressive'. The profit system merely passes from one economic crisis to the next, from one cycle of class exploitation to the next and from one war to the next.
The Marxian view of history, by contrast, in the words of Marx and Engels in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO - emphasises that ultimately: "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". The class struggle is "the motor force of history".
Marx's theory of history, popularly known as the materialist conception of history, is a revolutionary history: a history of revolutionary change. His theory was sketched out in the preface to: A CONTRIBUTION TO THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY. In the preface he famously wrote:
in the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of the material forces of production.
Unlike academic historians, when socialists look at history we look at it in terms of changing social systems, forces of production including co-operative social labour, class, class relations, class interest and class struggle. Individuals are not dismissed as irrelevant but are set within social forces which impose limits on their actions.
The opponents of Marx argue that he repudiated the role and significance of the individual in social development. Marx's theory of history is also dismissed by academic historians as being "economically determinist".
Of Marx's works, THE EIGHTEENTH BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE repudiates both accusations. In his pamphlet he offered unique insights into the role of the individual in history. Individuals did have "choice" but these choices were constrained by historical circumstances. He wrote:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.
(COLLECTED WORKS VOL. II, p.103).
The Working Class and Class Struggle
Marx never denied the importance of human agency in determining the course of history. The working class taking democratic and political action to establish socialism was fundamental to his political thinking. However, the actions of the working class were undertaken by men and women, most of whom are not known or even recorded in written human history.
Sometimes, as if by accident, the poor can be heard. In 1736 Dr George Clarke bequeathed to Worcester College, Oxford a collection of papers. His father, William Clarke had taken notes at St Mary's Putney from 28th October to 9th November 1647 during the English Civil War. These notes, discovered in 1890, have become to be known as the Putney Debates. Here were recorded the views of ordinary soldiers, agitators or representatives of the army rank and file. They were attempting to make history but were to fail when Cromwell crushed their mutiny at Burford in May 1649.
In 1904, members of the working class, without leaders, published a socialist Object and Declaration of Principles. The Declaration of Principles was a series of associated statements describing capitalism, the class struggle, and the steps necessary for the working class to establish socialism. And the socialist Object was clearly defined:
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 interests of the whole community.
More recently the voice of ordinary workers was recorded in the Govan Forum of December 1931.
Members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain debated with supporters of state capitalism, on the Russian Revolution, defining socialism and other political questions.
A report of an address delivered by Comrade A. Shaw, Glasgow Branch of the SPGB; to Govan Workers Open Forum, at Robert Street on Wednesday, December 24th, 1931. Other Party members also contributed to the forum which began at 8.00 in the evening and went on until nearly 11.35. The building in which the Open Forum was held was rented by the British Section of the International Socialist Labour Party to whom the SPGB were opposed.
The Govan Workers Open Forum can be read at:
The report has fallen on historically deaf ears. As a recorded document of working class history, it has been ignored by historians. The historians around the capitalist Left will not touch the report because it mentions the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
And the capitalist right will not touch it because it highlights workers discussing politics, political action and revolution, something Tories erroneously claim only 'intellectuals' indulge in. Across the capitalist political spectrum workers are supposed to be politically passive and led by 'the leader' and to stand in line and do as they are told. Socialists stand in line for no one. We refuse our consent.
Asking the Right Questions
Marxist history writing, like all good history writing, is about asking the right questions more than predetermined answers. Here is the poet and dramatist, Bertolt Brecht, asking some very pertinent questions in his poem: A WORKER LOOKS AT HISTORY
Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did kings haul up the lumps of rock?
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?
So many accounts.
So many questions.
(Bertolt Brecht, POEM, edited by J.Willett & R.Mannheim, pbl: Methuen, 1976).
What Brecht is saying: standard accounts of the past only tell us about the ruling class and political leaders, but the people who actually did the work are omitted from the history books - they were the ones who built the cathedrals, took part in battles and worked in factories or offices and were the most important historical actors. They were the oppressed, the slaves, the peasants and the labourers.
A group of workers have to be employed either as slaves, peasant or workers to produce anything, but the ruling class certainly could never have accomplished anything without the workforce they enslaved or employed.
Employers might need workers to create their wealth for them, but workers do not need capitalists or employers. Workers can organise society for themselves.
Workers, acting as a class, are a revolutionary force capable of making history by their own effort alone. The establishment of socialism will involve millions of men and women. History will be made by a working class majority not leaders or the led, great statesmen and politicians.
As for historical outcomes there is no 'destiny' or 'fate'. Again, returning to the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, Marx and Engels wrote that:
The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority
"Self-conscious" means being aware of what you are doing and why. You are not moved by astrological events. There is no 'crystal ball' and no Tarot cards. The Marxian theory of history talks about movements of classes not 'fate' or 'destiny'; a movement towards a goal, raising questions of what objective, how and by what political means it is to be achieved? The class struggle is in fact a political struggle.
Is this democratic and political movement smooth and linear? Even Marx and Engels thought it could be disrupted; one step forward and two steps backwards.
Marx and Engels refer to the organisation of workers "continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves" (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO). They also entertained the possibility that there might not be a socialist outcome in the class struggle. There might be the destruction of the contending classes. This is hardly a history of 'fate' and 'destiny'.
When the historian E. P. Thompson looked at the formation of the working class in England in 1963, he called his book THE MAKING OF THE ENGLISH WORKING CLASS. The book celebrated the working class and moved the historian's attention from "history from above to a "history from below". Thomson set out to:
...rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' handloom weaver, the 'utopian' artisan and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott from the enormous condensation of posterity. (p 13).
These workers were saved from the "condensation of posterity". However, working class history was still about the working class not the vision of Marx in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO which saw workers transcending class through the formation of a political party - "This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party..."
That is history as politics.
The book that has still to be written would be called 'The End of the Working Class'. It will be a book celebrating the freedom from class, class exploitation and class power. In establishing socialism workers will be free from class and class relations. Socialism will be a classless society of free men and women co-operatively producing useful things directly to meet human need. In socialism there will be no working class to write about.
The Poverty & Ignorance of Ethno-Nationalism
The continued blight of capitalism on the lives of the working class has led to a proliferation in the rise of Neo-Nazi groups.
Many neo-Nazi groups are located in the north of England. They have infused anti-immigrant and particularly anti-Muslim xenophobia into their ideas and beliefs through the concept of 'ethno-nationalism'. Their aim is to create a nation composed of a single ethnicity from which everyone else is debarred.
These neo-Nazis claim that the working class are suffering economic and cultural losses due to immigrants and ethnic minorities. They ignorantly believe they are being 'displaced' by immigrants in a 'white genocide'. Ethno-nationalists also view multiculturalism as a code word for the destruction of the native national identity. It comes as no surprise that they deride what they define as 'Marxists' and 'Socialists'. They hold conspiracy theories that see the country dominated by a 'cultural Marxism', with 'Marxists' to be found in all the political institutions from the Media to politics.
In the United Kingdom, the biggest threat from neo-Nazi groups has come from the remnants of National Action, which was the first radical right group to be proscribed as a terror organisation in December 2016. The group, whose members believe that "Britain should be for British people" and reportedly operated training camps where recruits learnt hand-to-hand combat in preparation for 'white jihad'.
Many ideas have been borrowed, via the internet, from Nazi groups in the US and Europe, from Isis and from Pol Pot.
Members of National Action escaped into a fictional history of Empire and English exceptionalism. It was a fantasy politics. They wanted a white utopia (or should that be dystopia) with the country cleared of all immigrants; a vision which offered them hope for the future but was, in fact, no future at all. A bankrupt and childish ideology of hate only led to imprisonment.
Since December 1916, there have been at least 14 trials involving more than 30 individuals formerly involved in the group. These cases deal with membership charges, hate crimes, and terror plots by individuals affiliated with neo-Nazi groups.
According to Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism group, Instagram has become a hub for young neo-Nazis to recruit young people to far-right groups, warned (GUARDIAN 22/3/21).
Britain's youngest convicted terrorist, who led a neo-Nazi cell from his grandmother's house, was handed a two-year rehabilitation order last month after pleading guilty to 12 offences, including two of dissemination of terrorist documents and 10 of possession of terrorist material. The boy from south-east Cornwall was just 13 when he first got hold of instructions for explosives.
Hope Not Hate identified two far-right groups active in the UK - The British Hand and the National Partisan Movement - which have used Facebook-owned Instagram to recruit members, while using other messaging apps, such as Telegram. They tend to scoop up vulnerable and impressionable teenager looking for meaning in their otherwise empty lives.
More often than not, these recruits are bored and poorly educated. Life is no more than casual violence, recreational drugs, and alcohol and scape goats. They are drawn into a politics of hate because they have been manipulated into believing their problems derive from immigrants and refugees rather than the profit system.
These young workers live in abandoned town and villages with nowhere to go and no reason to think there is a future. The groups to which they belong are overtly racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT. They criticise those who oppose them as "race traitors". Race is, of course, a fiction, a social construct. There is only humankind, divided into a class society around the ownership and non-ownership of the means of production and distribution. Class unity not class division should be the watchword.
Standing behind these neo-Nazi foot soldiers are the secretive leadership. The mass of the membership are led and manipulated by politicians who would never have them at their table.
All that the leaders of these neo-Nazi groups want from their followers is violence, their obedience, and their fists and boots. They are just seen as demonstration fodder, useful to shout out inane and meaningless slogans.
All these leaders can offer the embittered young workers they prey on is the same capitalism and the same class exploitation offered by any other political party. The leaders of these neo-Nazi groups sell them the lie that their troubles flow from immigrants, poor workers like themselves, not from capitalism. Their ideology cannot solve the problems of unemployment, poverty, poor education and bad housing. All these problems flow from capitalism.
Are they a threat? More of an irritant. Commodity production and exchange for profit still goes on regardless. And a little reading of history should teach these would-be fascists that fascism has had a poor record of success.
Italy's fascism did not last long and its leaders executed. The Thousand Year Reich lasted less than twenty years, its leader committing suicide in a Berlin Bunker. Fascism in Spain and the Americas also has had little success within a historical context. Fascism has had a track record of unmitigated failure. It has left a train of death and destruction, of imprisonment and torture, of genocide and war but it has never been politically successful.
And the police do not have much difficulty infiltrating neo-Nazi groups, arresting its members and banning them as political organisations. They might kill, they might cause violence and hatred but their movement is largely ineffectual to the working of capitalism and its political representation.
Nevertheless, their mental landscape is full of anti-socialist ideas which suit those who want capitalism to continue uncritically from one generation to another. If someone is being drenched in neo-Nazi ideas and beliefs at a computer screen in their bedroom, they are not going to be amenable to socialist ideas. They will not understand that it is capitalism that causes their problems not immigrants and refugees, who are exploited, poor and desperate like themselves.
The neo-Nazis amount to a collection of dysfunctional losers and misfits. This does not mean that they are not dangerous. Nail bombs, knives, transit vans fitted with explosives can inflict terrible injuries and death with terrible tragedy for anyone directly involved. But there is no mass movement and no mass backlash.
Problems associated with mass unemployment drives nationalism. Capitalism is the cause and while it remains will continue to generate reprehensible ideas and beliefs as illusionary solutions to the problems facing the working class.
The neo-Nazi leadership have another problem: Boris Johnson's Tories. Just as Margaret Thatcher took thousands of National Front voters away with her rhetoric of 'swamping' in the 1979 General election, so Boris Johnson, with his post-Brexit English nationalism has undermined the neo-Nazi agenda. The far-right group For Britain got fewer than 50 votes in 25 of the council wards (GUARDIAN 10 May 2021). Thousands of UKIP voters have joined the Tory Party.
More dangerous than Johnson's English nationalism is the vial of nationalist poison which will seep into Scottish politics as Nicole Sturgeonâ€™s Scottish nationalists press ahead for a second independence vote. Nationalism is inherently aggressive and violent. Nationalism is a divisive belief system which can explode into hate and violence. This is not the grounds necessary for the growth of the socialist movement and a world-wide system of production directly for social need.
This includes those workers erroneously attracted to neo-Nazi politics. These are only anti-working class ideas and beliefs which can be dropped by an awareness of capitalism and the need to establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
The argument for socialism is that the problems facing our class, forced to live off wages and salaries, will cease to exist and freedom of choice within the terms of common ownership of all the means of living. It is only with the establishment of socialism, politically and democratically by a socialist majority, that neo-Nazism, fuelled by unemployment and poor housing, will disappear.
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.