More than a third of workers in Britain are struggling in low-quality jobs that risk damaging their health, according to research by the Health Foundation
(THE GUARDIAN 4 February 2020)
In a report exposing the scale of precarious, low-paid or unfulfilling employment across the country, the independent pressure group, Health Foundation said that as many as 36% of workers in Britain – about 10 million people – were in such a position.
Even though there is high employment, most of the employment is low-quality and carries health risks. According to the research, as many as 15% of workers in low-quality jobs associated with poor or unhealthy working conditions such as modern day sweatshops associated with Amazon, say they have poor quality health, compared with 7% in better working environments.
The study found that as many as 51% of people in low-quality work in 2010-11 were stuck in the same position six years later. The wages system really is a prison from which the establishment of socialism is the only escape.
You will not find the Guardian, the Health Foundation and similar organisations criticising capitalism. Instead, they want government reforms of this or that defect of the profit system, bewailing the consequences of capitalism but not addressing the capitalist cause of these problems. They all want the impossible. They want capitalism without the effects of capitalism.
The report also noted that substandard employment extended far beyond zero-hours contracts and the gig economy. The Health Foundation defined low-quality work as a job that has two or more negative aspects, such as poor wellbeing, security, satisfaction, individual autonomy or pay. However, job satisfaction is very rare, lack of individual autonomy is the norm not the exception, the same applies to job security. Housing security is also an increasing problem. Low pay is so frequent that successive governments have had to legislate a legal minimum. Wellbeing is hardly the prime consideration for employers which may be why, when they have the chance, some workers opt to become self-employed or set up in small businesses.
Adam Tinson, a senior analyst at the Health Foundation, said:
“Low-quality work is where someone feels stressed and unfulfilled, whether that’s due to pay, insecurity, a lack of autonomy or a feeling of dissatisfaction. This can harm people’s health.”
Socialists would say that any form of employment is wage slavery. Capitalism can never “pay enough”. It needs workers hungry enough to be employed. Workers can never be given autonomy because they are employed and therefore told what to do, when and for whom. Even the self-employed have to jump to the tune of those giving them work.
Capitalist governments cannot abolish poverty.
According to a separate study, published in early February 2020 by the Resolution Foundation, sustained employment is no safeguard against in-work poverty for people across the country
(The Guardian 4 February 2020).
The Resolution Foundation said that poverty rates fall from 35% to 18% when people move into work, but that there had been a sharp rise in the number of working households in Britain struggling to make ends meet. Capitalism is a system in which the profit imperative dominates and not the meeting of human need.
The report goes to note that among adults in poverty in Britain, almost seven in 10 live in households where at least one person works. This figure has risen from five in 10 two decades ago.
In tandem with this has been the rapid growth in charities and food banks. Over the last 12 months, a wealthy Surrey town’s food banks reported a doubling of the number of food parcels they had given out. Whenever the benefits system is discussed in Parliament, there are MPs - from all parties and all parts of the country - reporting the dire misery and distress of their constituents.
Labour politicians blame the Tory government’s ‘universal credit’ for its harshness as for over a month, when being transferred from other benefits, the unfortunate claimants are left to live on fresh air with many finding themselves evicted and homeless as a result. But the post-war Labour government with its Beveridge reform to replace a pre-war hotchpotch of overlapping schemes, also aimed to simplify the system and reduce the cost. In doing so, it omitted to provide pensions for workers over a certain qualifying age.
Only socialism will abolish poverty
The real definition of poverty is in not owning the means of production in common and under democratic control. The poverty which affects all workers, is not having direct access to what they need in order to live secure and healthy lives. Poverty is not producing what society needs but instead, producing commodities for exchange and profit. Workers live in a wages system which is a form of rationing forcing workers to buy commodities sufficient only to maintain themselves as an exploited class. Wages or salary will, at best, provide the minimum social needs for the short term so that the employer is assured that their workers will need to come back each day.
Lindsay Judge, principal analyst at Resolution, said:
Work alone cannot eliminate poverty. Support to sustain employment and progress out of low pay are needed alongside a benefit system that provides adequate support for low-income working families.”
Hidden in this text is a “blame the Tories” narrative, as though poverty is all the fault of subsequent “evil” Tory administrations and life would be much better for the workers under a Labour government. Look at past Labour government records. They were forced by capitalism and the interest of the employers, to attack the living standards of workers.
Previous Labour governments introduced austerity measures, used troops to break strikes, spied on trade unionists, imposed pay restraints and blamed workers for not being productive. They also forced workers to wage war against other workers in two world wars and several lesser conflicts. For the working class, there is no difference between a Labour and a Tory government. Both have to administer capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class.
Ms Judge does not tell the truth of the matter. No matter what employment workers find themselves in, they are exploited. The working class as a whole are exploited by the capitalist class who own and control the means of production and distribution. Workers are forced, out of necessity, into employment for a wage or a salary and dismissed from employment when they are unprofitable to hire.
The issue is not low pay or the type of job a worker has but the concept of ‘employment’ itself which is a form of ownership which enables the employer to reap “surplus value” (as described by Marx) and accumulate wealth. Furthermore, governments are not charities. They do not exist to provide “adequate support for low income working families”. Governments exist to serve the interest of the capitalist class, to keep taxation and expense on “social security” as low as possible.
What should be the issue, is to end the wages system and for the working class to abolish capitalism and replace the pernicious profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.
It was Marx who put employment in its correct context:
“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. ………….
………They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economic reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"
(MARX, VALUE PRICE AND PROFIT ch.3)
Receding Ice sheets and ocean currents are reaching a tipping point as global heating push temperatures beyond a critical threshold, leading to accelerated and irreversible damage. Scientists in May 2021 reported that a significant part of the Greenland ice sheet was on the brink of a tipping point.
The melting of the Greenland ice sheet releases fresh water into the ocean and slows the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which is driven partly by salty water being pulled down towards the ocean floor.
According to the article “Interacting tipping elements increase risk of climate domino effects under global warming” in the journal Earth System Dynamics (Volume 12 #2 2021). A weaker AMOC means that less heat is transported to the North Pole, which in turn leads to a warmer Southern Ocean which can then destabilise ice sheets in Antarctica.
A summary of the report was given in SCIENCE DAILY (3rd June 2021) stated:
“Under global warming, tipping elements in the Earth system can destabilize each other and eventually lead to climate domino effects. The ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica are potential starting points for tipping cascades.... The Atlantic overturning circulation would then act as a transmitter, and eventually elements like the Amazon rainforest would be impacted. The consequences for people would reach from sea-level rise to biosphere degradation”.
Are governments alarmed? No, they are too busy taking advantage of the melting Artic ice sheets.
One of the side effects of global warming is that the northern sea ice is receding and exposing access to minerals, precious metals needed for industry and commodity production for profit. This has led to growing dispute between countries that have economic and political interests in the region, foremost Russia who wants to secure these mineral and energy resources for itself.
This is hardly surprising. World capitalism is highly competitive. Countries need to protect a constant stream of minerals and energy resources for their own industries. They do so by protecting trade routes and forming military bases and strategic spheres of influence to protect them.
Conflict is never far away. Most of the countries in the Arctic are armed to the teeth. Russia pursues its ambition to grow Russian control over global resources, the US seeks to dismantle Chinese dominance in rare earth minerals, and China looks to maintain that dominance. Is there a new Cold War fought on the geopolitical battleground of Arctic mining?
All land and seas in the Arctic are under the control of one of the eight Arctic coastal states: Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. While all these countries are equally vociferous for the potential wealth of the Arctic, it is Russia who has been singled out for wanting the largest slice of the pie.
At least that is what the propagandists in the Western media tell you (THE INDEPENDENT 2nd June 2021). Former President Donald Trump wanted to buy Greenland for its rare minerals. China has a foothold there. Socialists, of course, do not take sides in the squabble between countries: one capitalist nation is just as bad as the next. All capitalist countries exploit; they damage the Earth and more importantly they exploit the working class.
Russia does have the advantage in the region since its borders stretch for more than half of the Arctic Ocean coastline. It also has a population of 2 million living there. Russia has announced that it will conduct strategic military drills in the Arctic this autumn following the construction of military bases and infrastructure.
Global warming and the retreat of the ice has meant that not only energy reserves, minerals and fisheries have been exposed for commercial gain, but the Arctic is now open to shipping lanes across the region which could help re-route global trade and enable high-speed electronic communications between Europe and Asia. This gives advantage to Russia and disadvantage to the United States and its allies. More conflict for the future.
The United States is unhappy at Russia’s moves in the Arctic region. The US wants the resources and control of communication and trade routes. US Secretary of state Antony Blinken, a man who represents the interests of the capitalist class in the US, criticised Russia for its “unlawful maritime claims”. The US claims it is defending “freedom of navigation” which means freedom of navigation for US trade and interests
(THE INDEPENDENT 3rd June 2021).
For the first time since the mid-1980s, the US conducted naval exercises in the region close to Russia. Norway has also annoyed Russia by allowing the US to build facilities at three of its airfields and a naval base.
What a dreadful uncivilised system of rapacious greed and envy. Capitalism causes global warming with all its negative effects, particularly the poor who lose their homes, livelihoods to flooding or drought while, at the same time, the rich countries squabble over resources and trade routes opened up by the consequences of global warming.
Surely this system of economic anarchy, destruction and conflict should be abolished and replaced with the sanity of production directly for social use? Surely, capitalism should be replaced with socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution as quickly as possible?
Global socialism has to replace global capitalism. Only socialism will prevent war, conflict and environmental degradation. Socialism will be a world without artificial frontiers, barbed wire and guards. There will be no nation states so there will be no national rivalry, conflict and war. The world’s resources will be held in common under democratic control. Free men and women would just produce goods and services directly to meet human need. No money and no bartering.
To use a socialist dictum:
“from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.
Unfortunately, socialism just cannot happen. It requires the world’s working class, those forced to live off wages and salaries, to take effective democratic and political action to gain control of the machinery of government. Our interest is global: the creation of a world of human co-operation.
So, the choice for the world’s working class is more of the same capitalism with its degradation of the environment, class exploitation and war or a revolutionary socialist alternative.
Can Capitalism Be Saved?
Can Capitalism be saved?
Larry Elliot, a Keynesian and economics editor for THE GUARDIAN believes that Covid has created “a new variant of global capitalism” (‘Since Covid, Capitalism has Developed a New Variant’ 30th July 2021).
Elliot states that for the last forty years the “Austrian variant of capitalism” –small state, non- interventionism, trickle-down economics, free trade, and low tax policies advocated by Hayek and other market fundamentalists, have dominated government economic policy.
Eliot does not admit this fact. Hayek’s market fundamentalism flourished because of the abject failure of Keynesianism where high inflation existed simultaneously with high unemployment. This was never supposed to happen but Eliot offers no explanation.
Hayek, with the ear of Margaret Thatcher, saw market forces as a means to strengthen corporate profitability and business dynamism. There was no alternative to the market. TINA it was called. Nationalisation gave way to privatisation and trade unions were shackled with successive anti-trade union legislation. The “small state” was still an anti-working class coercive state.
What did it for Hayek’s free market doctrines and the market anarchists who followed him, was the financial crisis of 2008/9. They said it could not occur; that the market could never fail – but it did. And the imposition of austerity programmes to balance the books made life hard for millions of workers. Instead of understanding how capitalism functions, workers threw their support behind popularists like Farage, Johnson, Trump and a myriad of others in Europe, North and South America and India.
Then there was the Covid pandemic. Covid forced governments to take a more interventionist approach, paying wages for furloughed workers, keeping businesses afloat through grants and loans, preventing landlords evicting tenants. A wartime economy, if you like.
Eliot discerns in these economic trends a “new variant capitalism” which looks very much like the economics existing before 1979 - before Thatcher and Regan. Eliot writes:
“The idea is to harness the power of the state with the dynamism of the private sector and, as was the case with Keynes, to save capitalism from itself”.
And he concludes:
“The reason a new variant has emerged is simple: there is a need for something stronger than the old model”.
However, what has emerged is the basis of a failed economic policy which will just fail again. Capitalism is an anarchic form of commodity production and exchange for profit based upon private ownership of the means of production and distribution and the exploitation of wage labour. Capitalism goes its own destructive way riven through with contradictions which reveal themselves as class struggle and periodic trade crises.
Failure upon failure
Capitalist economics is based on false premises. First, the belief that markets are harmonious and self-adjusting. Second, that governments have the power to control and direct the economy in the interest of everyone.
Capitalist economics, no matter what “model” being pursued, has and always will fail in this objective. Economists can only go back to previously failed policies and reintroduce them again as though they were something new.
Laissez Faire up to the 1930s, Keynesianism up to the 1970s Monetarism in the 1980s Economic Liberalism until the last economic crisis and now it is back to Keynesianism. One failure after another.
And Eliot does not tell us why Keynesianism failed. He does not look at the history of the 1970s when the claims for Keynes’s ideas were found wanting.
Economists have learnt nothing. For going back to a real understanding of capitalism means a return to Marx. But interest in Marx was closed with the publication in 1936 of J. M. Keynes’s THE GENERAL THEORY OF EMPLOYMENT, INTEREST AND MONEY. This doctrine gave economists and politician’s magic powers to “manage the economy in such a way as to maintain demand”. The Keynesian doctrine announced full employment to be established and the trade cycle abolished. No more “boom and bust”.
Keynes told economists not to read Marx’s CAPITAL, the only place where an analysis of wealth production and distribution under a capitalist system can be found. Keynes wrote of capital as:
“an obsolete economic textbook, which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world”
(A SHORT HISTORY OF RUSSIA, 1925).
Keynes once famously said that when the facts change “I change my mind”. Were he alive today, would Keynes’s have the honesty to say that Marx was right and he was wrong? We doubt it.
Why did Keynesianism fail?
Throughout capitalism’s anarchic and violent history, as Marx explained, periods of good trade and low unemployment have alternated with periods of bad trade and high unemployment. This is known as the trade cycle which economists cannot predict and governments can do nothing about.
Unemployment went above a million under the Heath government in 1972, and to 1,500,000 in 1976 under the Labour Government and to nearly 2 million in 1979. This was capitalism operating in a normal way. It was nothing to do with Keynesian policies. Monetarism, which took the place of Keynes at the end of the Callaghan administration, could not stop trade depressions and periodic periods of high unemployment. It was Margaret Thatcher who took over the Monetarist doctrines of Callaghan and then dropped them for being an unmitigated disaster.
Keynes’s doctrines did nothing for unemployment but the policy’s effect on inflation was that by 1977 the general price level was ten times it had been in 1938.Following a decade of quantitative easing programmes, inflation is now rising again.
Why Save Capitalism?
The Socialist Party of Great Britain was not taken in by Keynes and his economic ideas and beliefs. We argued that full employment could not be maintained; that trade depressions cannot be eliminated and that Keynesian policies would lead to high inflation. Furthermore, Keynes’s policies of government intervention in the economy would do nothing to serve working class interests.
Why should we save capitalism? It is based upon class exploitation and its priorities of profit-making and capital accumulation means that billions of human beings have their needs unmet across food, housing, health, transport, and education. What stands in our way is not the right or wrong economic policy but capitalism and the interests of the capitalist class it favours.
Instead of capitalism, workers should consider socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Socialism will just not happen. It first needs the democratic and political action of a socialist majority.
Diggers At Pirton: From Utopia Communism To Wage Slavery
The Diggers offered a vision of a moneyless world of common property ownership, where production took place simply to directly meet human need. Their vision was just that, a vision. They could not establish such a society in the mid 1600s as conditions did not exist in the mid 17th century for direct and free access to the means of production.
Until then, what Marx called ‘the forces of production’ were largely agricultural and animal husbandry, not commodity production for profit. This did not occur until a century later with the development of industrialisation financed by a merchant class made rich by the exploitation of the new colonial empires.
Engels sketched out the limitations of utopian socialism (interchangeable with ‘utopian communism’) in his pamphlet SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, Engels wrote that for the Utopians:
“Socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason, and justice, and has only to be discovered to conquer the entire world by virtue of its own power” (p74).
Mental abstractions cannot change society. All the utopians could do was form:
“...a mish-mash allowing of the most manifold shades of opinion; a mish-mash of such critical statements, economic theories, pictures of a future society by the founders of different sects, as excite a minimum of opposition; a mish-mash which is the more easily brewed the more the definite sharp edges of the individual constituents are rubbed down in the stream of debate, like rounded pebbles in a brook” (p75).
Socialism had to be put upon a real material basis and that meant the possibility of production and distribution of goods and services in abundance.
For the Diggers, their utopia was the return to the lost world before the Norman Conquest and their vision derived from God and the earth “before the fall”. The solution to poverty lay in communal cultivation of the commons and waste land. For the Diggers ownership of private property, enjoyed by the rich at the expense of the poor, was the problem.
The Diggers were led by Gerrard Winstanley who told his followers that it was God who had told him that:
“The common people ought to dig, plough, plant and dwell upon the commons, without hiring them or paying rent to any”.
(THE GIGGERS IN BIRTON, M Tomkins, March 1977, Pirton Local History Group)
St George’s Hill
On Sunday 1st April 1649, Winstanley, William Everard, and a small group of about 30 or 40 men and women started digging and sowing vegetables on the wasteland of St George’s Hill in the parish of Walton, Surrey. They were mainly labouring men and their families, and they confidently hoped that five thousand others would join them.
What was the utopian communism of the Diggers? Winstanley wrote in favour of a society without wages or money:
“The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouse and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go into the fields in the summer, or to the common stables in the winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money”
(Gerrard Winstanley, THE LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. January 1649 in ‘The works of Gerrard Winstanley: with an appendix of documents relating to the Digger movement’ with an introduction by George H Sabine, 1965)
Yet the rejection of buying and selling given by Winstanley was made on moral grounds not that the class relations of production were holding back the forces of production:
“For matter of buying and selling, the earth stinks with such unrighteousness, that for my part, though, I was bred a tradesman, yet it is hard a thing to pick out a poor living, that a man shall sooner be cheated of his bread, then get bread by trading among men, if by plain dealing he put his trust in any. And truly the whole earth of trading, is generally become the neat art of thieving and oppressing fellow-creatures, and so laies burdens, upon the Creation, but when the earth becomes a common treasury this burden will be taken off”
This utopian communism did not go down well with local property holders and gentry at Cobden in Surrey. According to the late historian John Gurney, the Diggers had good reason to stay as far away from Surrey as possible:
“The Diggers had failed to appear at the Southwark Assizes in April 1650 to answer the charges made against them of riot and trespass, and orders to the sheriff to produce them before the assizes were issued regularly over the following two years...”
(BRAVE COMMUNITY: THE DIGGER MOVEMENT IN THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION, 2007 p211).
They were evicted from their Cobden community on George Hill by force including the use of Cromwell’s troops.
Digger communities sprang up in their path. In “A Declaration of the Grounds and reasons why we the poor Inhabitants of the Parrish of Iver in Buckinghamshire, have begun to digge and manure the common and wast Land...” we are told:
“We hear that they have begun mannuring the commons in Kent, at Wellingborough, and Bosworth old in Northamptonshire and in Gloustershire and in Nottinghamshire, and they intend to sowe roots til July & then follow for winter corne, and then to build for the poorest in the Parishes, and if the rich will not let them alone, the poor will leave them their Children to keep, as they have done in Surrey”
“They are at work in Barnet, and at Enfield and there they are resolved if they will not let them plant and build, they will leave them in Barnet seven children, and at Enfield nine Children.
(‘DIGGER TRACTS 1649-50’ ed. A Hopton 1989 p31-34)
Desperate men and women were prepared to use their children as bargaining chips with the authorities. Children left ‘on the parish’ were going to have a better life than starvation with their parents.
Among other “towns” they visited “to promot the Business” were listed “Redburn”, “Mine”, (possibly Mimms?), “Wellin”, and “Dunstable” and on their travels they passed through Pirton.
The Diggers at Pirton
The Digger communities, one after another collapsed in the face of the violent assertion of private property ownership. The Diggers last stand, as a collective group, was in August 1650 at the village of Pirton, just outside of Hitchin.
At Pirton, utopian communism met with the reality of private property ownership and wage slavery. With their own crops destroyed they sought out those who wanted help in bringing in their own year’s crop. Some of the Diggers with Winstanley were employed by Lady Eleanor Douglas where she held the Rectory manor and the tithes of grain. Poverty forced the diggers to work for her for wages. Four of the diggers were employed to thresh her wheat.
Here is Winstanley writing as a broken man; “now my health and estate is decayed and I grow in age, I must either beg or work for day wages, which I was never brought up to, for another”
(THE DIGGERS IN PIRTON, M Tomkins, March 1977, Pirton Local History Group).
Any evidence the Diggers were at Pirton has long disappeared. We only have Winstanley’s bitter letters claiming that Lady Douglas had cheated the Diggers of their wages.
From Wage slavery to Communism
Wage slavery was to be the lot of the working class. It still is. Workers have access to farms, factories, mines, railways and so on only as wage-labourers.
The workers own nothing save their labour-power (manual skills, qualifications, experience, brains) but they have got to live. They do not have free access to food, housing or anything; they all have a price tag. They cannot get a living without money. They do not own the means of production so they are forced to sell their labour-power.
At the end of the week or month they are paid according, roughly, to how much it costs workers to keep a roof over their head and reproduce, skilled workers at a higher rate. Wages generally are located around the “cost of living” figures. They are not located around the value of what the workers produce.
The employers make a profit from the value of the work done, over and above what is paid out as wages, cost of raw materials, machinery and other overheads.
Everything the workers buy is produced and distributed by the working class themselves. Yet their access to the wealth they produce so abundantly, is severely rationed and limited by the money in the pay packet. They don’t own what they produce.
This is what wage slavery means in practice: rationing, by a singularly inappropriate process. Our pay packets have no relevance to our level of needs: they only reflect the value of our labour-power — whether we are skilled and scarce, or unskilled and abundant. Old people, handicapped people, women, children, sick people: all these are especially needy, and they are the people who have least money.
Escape from wage slavery through utopian experiments has not fared well. The history of socialist utopianism is a history of failure. The settlements inspired by Charles Fourier and Robert Owen in the eighteenth and 19th centuries fared no better than Winstanley and the Diggers, neither did the Kibbutz’s in Israel, the Hippie Communes in the 1960s and 1970s, nor the Windsor Free Festivals of 1972 to 1974 which looked back to Winstanley and the Diggers. Small ‘islands of socialism’ do not survive in a world of brutal, nasty and anti-social competition.
Socialism has to be universal; a world view transcending nations and the profit system; a global system based on: “from each according to their ability to each according to their need”.
Capitalism has the wrong priorities. This problem of the distribution of what men and women produce can only be solved by socialism, a common ownership society, democratically controlled by all people, with free access to all humankind’s wealth. Socialism will mean no poverty, no one suffering hunger or homelessness, instead there will be food and housing in abundance meeting human need in a moneyless society.
The Class Struggle, Reforms and the Unions
The interminable nonsense talked about the nature of the class struggle by Trotskyists, Young Labourites and Communists does much to hold back class consciousness. According to these empty vessels, every possible aspect of working-class action, real or potential, is part of the class struggle: protests against the Government’s prices policy, squatting, and demands for higher pensions, lower rents, higher Social Security payments, etc., are all part of the class struggle.
In fact, reformist activities in support of these aims cannot solve the problems they are about. The Class Puzzle would be more appropriate to these utterly useless activities, not the class struggle.
The class struggle is a struggle between collective capital, i.e. the class of capitalists or employers, and collective labour, i.e. the working class. A class is a category with common economic interests, the interests defining the class. The interests of employers and workers are diametrically opposed. The capitalists’ interest is to continue private ownership of the means of production, and to appropriate as much as he can of the social product (wealth) which is currently produced by the working class.
The working class resist this process by taking defensive action, mainly through trade unions and strike action. Their economic interests can only lie in the removal of the conditions which give rise to their struggle. This means the abolition of capitalism and the replacement of private ownership by common ownership (Socialism). It is not possible to reconcile these opposing interests. The class struggle is an organic part of the capitalist system of production and consequently is inseparable from its operation.
This is the Issue
The whole social and economic system rests on the capitalists’ control of the political machinery. That control in turn is based on the support of the majority of the population who either actively or by default vote for political parties who propose to continue to administer the capitalist method of production.
Alternative methods of administering capitalism through a Labour Government in this country, or a Communist Government in Russia or China, do not materially alter the basic position. It is perfectly clear that the class struggle is ultimately a struggle for political power, the issue being Common Ownership vs. Private Ownership. There is no half-way house. This is the revolutionary proposition, and this is the sole issue upon which Socialists seek political support.
It is not the function of a Socialist Party to advocate, support, or oppose, or otherwise participate in reformist issues. This includes agitation or protest against the withdrawal of any reform previously granted; for example, the withdrawal of housing subsidies, or school milk, national health services or protests against rising prices — to quote a few recent examples.
Reformist schemes designed to improve the lot of workers under Capitalism can never express Socialist political activity in the class struggle, or have any prospect of achieving a Socialist revolution, and it is a waste of the workers’ time and energy to attempt to improve capitalism which, of course, is the very cause of their ills.
But instead of workers using their votes to abolish Capitalism, they use the same votes to keep it going, even if on a temporary reform basis. This is not in their interests, either in the short or long term, as history has shown. Whilst the “welfare of the working class” under capitalism is not worth the effort wasted on trying to enhance it, the political welfare of the working class is our concern, and ours alone.
Interests & Understanding
This is why we are hostile to those political parties and groups, be they Right Wing or Left Wing, who mislead the workers by pretending that their real interests lie in making capitalism more comfortable. Communists, Trotskyists, Social Democrats, etc. even describe their reformist activities as leading to Socialism. Typical of the stupidity and worse was the advice given recently by the Socialist Worker newspaper (I.S.) to workers during the recent G.L.C. Elections:
The socialist case for voting Labour does not depend on any assumption that the Labour Party will carry out its pledges. We know very well that, in general, it will not carry them out, indeed cannot carry them out because it is committed to making capitalism work. We know it, but millions of workers disagree . . . Power is the test. And so we urge all our readers to swallow their distaste and vote Labour — vote Labour without illusions but vote Labour
(SOCIALIST WORKER, 7th April, 1973).
Similar advice was given by the Communist Party, who condemn the Labour Party as being a Capitalist Government, and then advise workers to vote for it.
The struggle to obtain or retain reforms, i.e. changes in capitalism made by and through the machinery of government in such fields as housing, pensions, health, education, Family Allowances, or political activity over prices, wage freezes and high rents, is not part of the class struggle, because such activity accepts and favours the retention of private property. It is no excuse to justify this on the grounds that the workers are unable or unwilling to understand Socialism, and that their lives should be made a little easier in the meantime. This is the Gospel of Despair. By the same political act (the vote) the workers can obtain Socialism. What is lacking is Socialist understanding. If that is so, then it is the plain duty of those who do understand to devote their entire activity to the spread of Socialist ideas.
Reforms are not revolutionary, and it is highly debatable whether or not they are effective in the long or short term. The main point which is sometimes forgotten is that the introduction or the withdrawal of any legislative measures endorsing reforms depends ultimately on the will of the capitalists who control the political machinery. It is they alone who have the final word, and their attitude will be determined by their economic and political interests and not on the particular merits of the reform, no matter what the social need.
What Unions Can Do
The struggle for higher wages, etc. is not reformist. It is an aspect of the class struggle. It is not the will of the capitalist that determines what wages he shall pay. As the product of labour is divided into Wages and Profits one cannot relatively expand without the other relatively contracting. Almost invariably the employers are opposed to higher wages, or shorter working hours, which is, in effect, the same thing. More money for less labour. Economic forces decide this issue. The strike by workers, the lockout by employers, wage increases are gained against the will of the employers, and wage reductions enforced against the will of the workers. This is open class conflict. Workers who take part in strike action, either inside or outside trade unions, are not committed to any particular political point of view. Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Labourites, Tories, Christians, will unite for the common objective — not through choice, but through necessity. They do not have to squander their votes to get higher wages as is the case with reforms.
Trade unions are not revolutionary institutions, neither are they political parties. They are an integral part of capitalism, and their role is that of negotiating the conditions under which their members shall sell labour-power. They do not represent the interests of the working class, but the interests of their members. They are not Socialists and neither does Socialism depend on workers being trade unionists. Trade Unions who decide to extend their activities and press for political objectives, such as the reform of trade union law and government prices policy, or oppose various Government policies, and who are prepared to use the strike for these purposes, will find that the economic weapon is no match for the political power wielded by the capitalist class. Also, as protests and demonstrations are the stock-in-trade of Communists, Trotskyists, Labourites and other hangers on, trade unions who join in reformist agitations are no longer functioning as trade unions, but as reformist organisations.
It speaks volumes for the resourcefulness of the capitalist class that they are only being asked to contribute to the reformers’ begging bowl and will donate as the needs of capitalism dictate. Surely if the workers, using their most potent industrial weapon, the strike, cannot force the capitalist employers to disgorge their wealth beyond a certain point on the industrial field, what hope have they of getting any extra by appealing to their better nature on the political field?
A Socialist Party does not waste time and energy chasing reforms. It seeks political power for the sole purpose of abolishing capitalism.
J. D’Arcy , SOCIALIST STANDARD July 1973
Social Evolution & The S.P.G.B.
The Supposed Influence of Herbert Spencer
The Socialist Party of Great Britain works within an Object and Declaration of Principles. There are eight clauses. The first four principles describe capitalism and why it must be replaced, the remaining four principles set out who is going to take political action – the working class – and the political process they are going to take to achieve the socialist object.
Clause 4 is of particular importance. It states:
“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.”
There was a misguided view that Herbert Spencer had an influence on the Socialist Party of Great Britain in its formative years.
What such a view overlooks is that the founder members of the S.P.G.B. gained their experience in the Social Democratic Federation (formed out of the Democratic Federation in 1883) where the predominant influence was not Spencer but Marx.
G.B. Shaw, writing in 1889 (FABIAN ESSAYS p.186) noted the swing away from Spencer as a result of Hyndman’s popularisation of Marx in this country.
“The Democratic Federation and Mr. H. M. Hyndman appeared in the field. Numbers of young men, pupils of Mill, Spencer, Comte and Darwin, roused by Mr. Henry George’s Progress and Poverty , left aside evolution and free thought; took to insurrectionary economics; studies Karl Marx...”
Davis Thomson (ENGLAND IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY) – took a similar view of the declining influence of Spencer:
“Spencer’s main publication Man Versus the State (1884) and The Principles of Ethics (1891-3), belong to the last decades of the century and he remained an almost lone figure championing the most extreme doctrines of laissez-faire long after more serious thinkers had abandoned them” (Pelican edition p. 106).
It is true that some of the founder members were familiar with Spencer’s works but many of them were very widely read in history, economics, philosophy and politics and were familiar with the writings of Marx, Engels, Morris, Kautsky, Morgan etc.
It is only necessary to look at the articles written in the SOCIALIST STANDARD in the early years to see the absence of any influence of Herbert Spencer; the articles show clearly what is in their minds – reforms, Marxian economics, the Materialist Conception of History, political experience in the S.D.F, gradualism, leadership, revisionism, trade unions and syndicalism. There were articles about Darwin (with no mention of Spencer), on Bernstein and Bebel but no article on Spencer.
The Party published or sold pamphlets by Marx, Kautsky and Morris but nothing by Spencer. Nor was any work by Spencer included in lists of recommended books.
When an article in the SOCIALIST STANDARD made use of Spencer’s concept of society as an organism (SOCIALIST STANDARD Dec. 1906), the writer, F.C. Watts, explained that this did not mean that “society must develop in the same way as the human body”. Society has its own “laws of development peculiar to it”, and the revolutionary socialist case is based on our analysis of society, its history and economics, in accordance with those laws.
There were quotations from Spencer along with quotations from Marx and Engels (and many others) in the pamphlet “Socialism and Religion” but these quotations were about his theories on ancestor worship, ethics etc.
The Idea of Social Evolution
The idea of social evolution was held by Spencer but he was only one among others, including Marx and Engel.
Sidney Webb in his SOCIALISM IN ENGLAND (1890) had a section on the “The influence of the evolution hypothesis”, He made the point that the “statical” view of society held by the Utopians had been replaced by the idea of the evolution of society”. While acknowledging the influence of Comte, Darwin and Spencer - he also acknowledged the influence of Marx.
The term “new social order” was used in the MANIFESTO OF ENGLISH SOCIALISTS (1890) and the term “order of society” in S.D.F. publications.
The term “social evolution” was used in Fabian Essays (1889)
Founder members of the party will have been familiar with these works but the source from which they obtained their view of the evolution of society was Marx and Engels (and Morgan’s Ancient Society).
An article in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, May 1905, quotes from Marx’s CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY:
“we may in wide outlines characterise the Asiatic, the antique, the feudal and the modern capitalistic methods of production as a series of progressive episodes in the evolution of society”.
Another source with which the founder members were familiar was Engels 1888 Preface to TTHE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, which anticipated the idea of “order of social evolution” in our Clause 4:
“the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploited and exploiters, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles for a series of evolutions in which, nowadays, a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class – the proletariat – cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class – the bourgeoisie –without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class-distinctions and class struggles”.
The concept of social evolution was described in the Socialist League Manifesto (1888):
“As chattel-slavery passed into serfdom, and serfdom into the so-called free labour system, so most surely will this latter pass into social order”.
In the notes which William Morris and Belfort Bax added to the Manifesto they used the term “social evolution”.
“…the economical change which we advocate...would not be stable unless accompanied by a corresponding revolution in ethics, which, however, is certain to accompany it, since the two things are inseparable elements of one whole, to wit, social evolution”.
The second part of our Clause 4, that socialism would involve the emancipation of all mankind, was inherent in Marx’s view of social evolution. It owed nothing to Spencer. In 1864 before Spencer had published anything and before Darwin’s ORIGIN OF SPECIES Marx had written:-
“It follows from the relation between alienated labour and private property, that the emancipation of society from private property, from servitude, takes the political form of the emancipation of the working class, not in the sense that only the latter’s emancipation is involved, but because this emancipation includes the emancipation of humanity as a whole. For all human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production, and all the types of servitude are only modifications or consequences of this elation”.
(Economic and Philosophical Documents).
Society as an Organism
With regard to the comparison of society to an organism, Spencer made this comparison in his PRINCIPLES OF SOCIOLOGY which appeared in print from 1877 to 1896. Marx had already made the comparison ten years earlier in his Afterword to the first German edition of CAPITAL (1876) where he wrote:
“Within the ruling classes themselves, a foreboding is dawning, that the present society is no solid crystal, but an organism capable of change, and is constantly changing”.
There are, in CAPITAL at least two passages where Marx compares human social conditions with ideological conditions and to some extent establishes the limitations of such comparisons:-
“………the division of labour within the society brings into contact independent commodity-producers, who acknowledge no other authority but that of competition, of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their mutual interests; just as in the animal kingdom, the bellum omnium contra omnes more or less preserves the conditions of existence of every species”,
(CAPITAL VOL 1, chapter XIV, page 391 in Kerr Edition).
In the second, also in CAPITAL VOL. 1, Marx clearly recognised the limitations of the comparison:-
“We presuppose labour in the form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in his imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour process we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at the commencement"
(CAPITAL VOL. 1, ch VII, page 198 in the Kerr edition).
To conclude; Spencer had as much influence of the SPGB as any other bourgeois thinker of the time.
The Mayflower Myth: Plunder, Genocide and Slavery
Capitalism is full of grotesque anniversaries, often celebrating death, war and destruction. A few decades back there were celebrations for the “Glorious Revolution” (1688-9). It was glorious for the merchants of London, the gentry and other members of the ruling class. It was not “glorious” for the emerging working class and its descendants. More recently we had to endure endless documentaries on the end of the First World War and “VE” day. There are other “national celebrations” in the pipe-line.
However, there is no shared history. The capitalist class have their history and we, the working class have ours. Nevertheless, their history is thrust down our throats. A history of the ruling class and their exploitation and plunder is not our history. In fact, the working class still has to make its own history by abolishing capitalism and replacing the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
2020 marks the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower leaving Plymouth for what was to become the United States. The narrative told by history books, films and museums is a sanitised narrative which plays down or ignores the historical reality.
Rather than telling a story of colonisation against a background of land grabbing and slavery, the Mayflower narrative concentrates on the separatist Puritan half of the Mayflower passengers. But the founding of the New Plymouth Colony by the Mayflower passengers is the start of the New England colonies that led in turn to the founding of the United States of America – that is why the Mayflower is so famous.
In reality the Mayflower journey was part of early English Colonialism which involved:
* The invasion of Virginia, New England and the Caribbean, and land seizure wars against the indigenous peoples of North America;
* Plunder, genocide and slavery;
* The establishment of patterns of violence in the Wars conducted against Indigenous peoples that lasted 300 years
* A history of racism and racist violence
The Mayflower myth with its yearly Thanksgiving festival is the establishment of a tradition of sanitizing the story of English colonialism in the Americas. The capitalist class have a lot to be thankful for, but has the working class, particularly blacks Americans?
Take the example of slavery.
Slavery was one of the more profitable enterprises in the primitive accumulation of capital and the emergence of capitalism from feudalism. And England was one of the first to profit from the slave trade.
One of the first to be engaged in the slave trade was John Hawkins who became a merchant in the 1550s. He organised three ships to Guinea in 1562 with the help of merchants in the Canary Islands.
John Hawkins went on to trade slaves in Spanish ports in the Americas. His most unprofitable voyage, in 1567, comprised a fleet of up to 10 ships, including a ship, loaned by the Queen, and one, captained by the notorious pirate, Francis Drake.
The venture was an economic disaster. Out of 500 slaves captured, 120 unfortunates died on the voyage. What this ‘unsuccessful’ sailing adventure did English interest in pursuing the slave trade was interrupted after this period for about 100 years.
The slave trade was revived in 1660 following the restoration of the monarchy with the establishment of the Company of Royal Companies into Africa, reformed as the Royal Africa Company in 1672. Between 1680 and 1686, the Company transported an average of 5,000 slaves a year. John Locke, the philosopher, Samuel Pepys, the diarist, Charles II and many peers and members of the ruling class, were notable investors. The Company continued purchasing and transporting slaves until 1731, when it abandoned the trade in slaves in favour of ivory and gold dust.
Admiral Sir John Hawkins the slaver and Sir Francis Drake the pirate are still heroes of conservative historians - of the Establishment elite of modern buccaneering and swashbuckling post-Brexit capitalism. They can do no wrong: they are held up as role models for the young and impressionable. The port of Plymouth does not have much trouble in celebrating the lives of those like Hawkins who were engaged in the slave trade. There is even a square in Plymouth named after Hawkins and an Island named after Drake which the British navy sails past on its way to protect trade routes, defend minerals, oil and gas and establish spheres of strategic influence.
In 2020 Plymouth celebrated the Mayflower voyage of 1620 without reference to the capitalist context in which it took place. Union Jacks and the Stars and Stripes will be flown while the historical reality will be played down. Myth rather than history will be taught to schoolchildren.
The myth that Plymouth and its American counterpart wants to remember is of a brave search for religious freedom by the oppressed. But what needs to be remembered is that this was an invasion, seeking plunder, and part of that process was the construction of racial categorisation which placed “whites” at the top and “blacks” at the bottom (see Jennings, F. THE INVASION OF AMERICA: INDIANS AND THE CANT OF CONQUEST, 1976).
The early English colonists of Virginia and New England adopted slavery as a labour practice. The wealth of New England was built on another triangular trade: supplying the Caribbean slave plantations and distilling rum to exchange for slaves in West Africa. That was after the Carib peoples of these islands had been exterminated in acts of ruthless genocide.
But Plymouth, will wax lyrical about “freedom”, “democracy” and “US and British exceptionalism”. They will be joined by a legion of conservative historians who will write their articles in the popular press denouncing any criticism of the Mayflower celebrations and praising the heroism of the Mayflower passengers. They do not want to face up to the painful truth of the slave trade. They will not place slavery in the context of capitalism’s history of class exploitation.
In the autumn of 1620 the ship Mayflower, with 102 passengers, landed in North America and started the colonisation of the area that became known as New England.
The Mayflower had landed in a region where the local tribe helped them survive. This did not last. A generation later, following a rebellion by indigenous Native Americans, the ship Seaflower set sail from New England with a ‘cargo’ of Native American slaves bound for the English Caribbean colonies. From helping colonists to survive in one generation, to becoming slaves in the next is the basis of Thanksgiving Day.
The creation of the New England colonies by thousands of English colonists in the seventeenth century involved the rapid decline in the indigenous population, the violent seizure of territory and slavery. The first slave colony was at Jamestown, Virginia, not the Plymouth colony (see Newell, Margaret Ellen, BRETHREN BY NATURE: NEW ENGLAND INDIANS, COLONISTS AND THE ORIGIN OF AMERICAN SLAVERY, 2015).
And what is the historical reality? Just what is being commemorated?
In 1769, just six years before the start of the War of Independence against British rule, the Mayflower commemorations, particularly what was known as the ‘Mayflower Compact’ were charged with patriotic fervour with the inauguration of Forefathers Day in Plymouth Massachusetts. Marking the establishment of the New Plymouth settlement was used as an ideological battering ram by the disaffected ruing class in the colonies. They used Forefathers Day to exploit political discontent over colonial government by the British and restrictions on westward colonial expansion.
The ‘Mayflower Compact’ was a set of rules for self-governance established by the English settlers who travelled to the New World on the Mayflower. Subsequently, the ‘Mayflower Compact’, signed in November 1620 by the majority of the male Mayflower passengers, was hailed as a forerunner of the Constitution of the USA, and the Thanksgiving of Autumn 1621 was rebranded as ‘The First Thanksgiving’.
By 1775 the rebellion by thirteen of the then fifteen British North American colonies had been made possible because of the economic success of New England in the previous 150 years. The connections between the British Caribbean and New England colonies in the early seventeenth century were developed through trade relations centred on sugar produced by slave labour, initially in Barbados.
A Caribbean, New England, West African triangular trade of molasses (black treacle from refining sugar cane), rum and slaves led to the economic success of the North American colonies and the creation of the Mayflower story, which in turn led to the challenge to the British crown. Slaves did not register very highly in the draft for the Declaration of Independence and the US is still scarred today by the racism of the past. Many of those who signed the Declaration were slave owners.
What were the consequences in human life of this colonialism? There had been a 90% decline in the indigenous population along the North Atlantic American coast between 1600 and 1700 as a result of disease and colonial war. The resulting land seizures enabled the development of agricultural production, the creation of rum-refining and shipping industries, and trade-driven economic growth. Death and destruction; genocide and plunder – these were the events that kick-started United States capitalism. No wonder the US ruling class want to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
Workers have nothing to celebrate regarding the Mayflower. They have nothing to commemorate in Plymouth or in the United States. What has occurred is generation after generation of racism and racist violence, splitting the working class in the US into different groups: a divide and rule politics. Racism exists because the working class do not understand its capitalist cause. They are easily led to blame other workers for the poverty of their lives, their unemployment, poor wages and slum housing. Racism is an obstacle to working class unity. Workers, therefore, have no interest in celebrating plunder, genocide and slavery. Nothing can be done to salvage the past. What can be done is to end capitalism by establishing socialism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. That will be something to celebrate.
Controlling History To Control The Future
Controlling the Past
In this, our age of infamy,
Man’s choice is but to be
A tyrant, traitor, prisoner.
No other choice has he.
It was Orwell who wrote in his 1949 novel “1984” 'Who controls the past, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’. The Party understands that by rewriting the events of the past and controlling the narrative of history, they can maintain their position of authority.
All governments want to control history. The British government has been fighting the history establishment to re-impose a teaching of kings and queens, great statesman and the exceptionalism of the United Kingdom onto the school history curriculum. They have partially succeeded.
History that does not support the government’s view of the world is ignored or suppressed. The fact that slavery and the use of child labour in mills and factories, underpinned the development of capitalism is played down or ignored by the capitalist media. So too is the brutality and genocide of the British Empire and the Chinese government play the same cynical game by pretending the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989 never took place.
However, historical truth is recorded. The working class still has its history. It can still make history.
Gulags and Concentration Camps.
The expression “concentration camp” originated during the Cuban revolution against Spain in the 1890s. The United States followed Spain when it introduced concentration camps during the Philippine rebellions and Britain had its concentration camps, too, during the Boar War as did Hitler’s Germany as soon as he assumed power in 1933. The US still has its detention camp for 39 political prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. China has its Uighur forced labour internment camps with their torture and sexual abuse. And Russia had its Gulag system (see ‘Lenin’s Gulags’, Richard Pipes, International Journal of Political Science and Development, Vol. 2(6), pp, 140-146, June 2014). Russia, under Putin, still has its political prisoners, 308 at the last count
(Statista Research Department, Aug 19, 2021).
The Gulag system was established by Trotsky, something you will not find being admitted by his followers today, and conveniently missed from Isaac Deutscher’s biography of the anti-Marxist dictator. Gulags were a system of forced labour. Many prisoners - particularly those imprisoned during the great Purge - died of starvation, disease, exhaustion or execution. The Gulag system was begun by the Bolsheviks in 1919 and by 1921 there were 84 camps holding political prisoners. It is estimated that around 50 million perished in Soviet gulags between 1930 and 1950. In 1956, after Stalin’s death and following Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech to the 20th Party Congress, thousands of prisoners were freed from Stalin’s labour camps.
In the late 1970s, an official voluntary group was set up to research and make publicly available the hidden history of the horrors of the Gulag system. It was called ‘Pamyat’ – the Russian word for ‘remembrance’.
In 1990, a Pamyat team travelled to the Solovky Camp in the north of Russia - formerly one of the most notorious in the Gulag system. They brought back a memorial stone to be placed in central Moscow.
The work of Pamyat never sat comfortably with the authorities. It was initially cautioned in 2006, and in 2014 it was added to the list of "foreign agents" - a roster of organisations and individuals the government claims receive funding from abroad (BBC NEWS Jan 3rd 2022). Putin’s erasing of history is similar to Stalin’s removal of images of the old Bolsheviks from photographs and publications.
Before Putin showed this was not his idea of a good cause, Pamyat used to run annual festivals with young people encouraged to hear the memories of the old and to view the old prison camps. They also ran meetings in Moscow opposite the old KGB building where the names of those whom Stalin had executed were read out.
Pamyat also used to search the areas of old WW2 battles for the bones of dead soldiers – Russian and German – which were then buried decently. Something neither Stalin nor Putin cared about. Pamyat worked to recover the memory of the millions of innocent people executed, imprisoned or persecuted during the Soviet era.
Pamyat has been formally "liquidated" for failing to mark a number of social media posts with its official status as a "foreign agent". That designation was given in 2016 for receiving funding from abroad. In court, the prosecutor labelled Pamyat a "public threat", accusing the group of being in the pay of the West to focus attention on Soviet crimes, instead of highlighting a "glorious past" (BBC NEWS 30th Dec 2021).
The “glorious past” reminds us of a speaker for the Socialist Party of Great Britain being asked by a heckler in Hyde Park what businesses were to be found in Russia. The SPGB’s speaker quickly replied: “undertaking”.
Pamyat’s closure is a clear symbol of how the country has turned back in on itself under President Vladimir Putin, rejecting criticism - even of history - as a hostile act. As a consequence, Russian historians are forced to toe the line. A Kremlin history is taught in schools, so it would be a brave academic who tried to tell the truth about Stalinif it went against the Kremlin’s nationalist narrative.
History and nostalgia play a key part in Vladimir Putin's presidency. In December he lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union and the demise of what he described as "historical Russia".
"What had been built up over 1,000 years was largely lost," he said (BBC NEWS, 3rd Jan 2022).
Stalinism lives on. There is even a Stalin Society in the UK who wants to praise his “achievements”. There are political apologists in the US and Europe known as “Tankies” (named after the use of tanks in the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968) who support the actions of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s genocidal actions. And the “cult of personality” lives on in Russia.
The Russian Communist Party is led by Gennady Zyuganov, a supporter of Stalin who pretends the millions of deaths in the gulags during the 1930s did not occur. The Stalin memorial in Moscow’s Red Square is a shrine visited by many Russians. There he is revered like a latter-day Russian Saint. You can buy Stalin wall calendars, fridge magnets and other memorabilia (BBC NEWS 18th April 2019). Uncritical museums are opened up in his name and he is placed favourably in Russian state history as a “war hero”.
Stalin was no “war hero”. Stalin was a political monster, a mass murderer who ultimately failed. And as the Socialist Party of Great Britain pointed at the time of his death, Stalin was no solo genocidal maniac; he had his accomplices - those who took power after his death in 1953 - all of them were to be found perched on a mountain of corpses.
As we noted some 50 years ago:
“Stalin alone was not the cause of the terror, anymore than he was the ultimate cause of the leadership cult. The cult and the terror were both resultant from the “social and political system”—the state capitalism used to industrialise backward Russia. So that the Russian State of the twentieth century continues to repress the intelligentsia who have continued their traditional role—one of lament and protest, the mouthpiece of political and social debate under the new despotism just as they were under the old”.
(C. Skelton. SOCIALIST STANDARD Nov 1972 ‘Stalin’s Successors & Censorship’).
Contemporary Political Monsters: Lukashenko and Putin
There are also one or two Stalinist government leaders left in the world. Step forward, the Belarus president and practicing Stalinist, Alexander Lukashenko. He is using immigrants as pawns to force the EU to lift sanctions against him following the rigged presidential election, attack on dissidents and subsequent arrest, imprisonment and beating of protesters. And in this use of immigrants to further his political end he is supported by President Putin, another fan of “Uncle Joe”.
Belarus's jails and detention centres are holding hundreds of people described as political prisoners, whether they are political opponents, independent journalists or protesters.
Some 7,000 Belarusians were rounded up and thrown into crowded prisons in a matter of days, when they took to the streets in August 2020 to denounce the presidential election as rigged. Reports suggested beatings and torture were common (BBC NEWS 27th May 2021).
A state-sanctioned human trafficking programme brings desperate refugees, from war zones or areas of grinding poverty, to the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Then state functionaries bus them out to the border of “Fortress Europe”. In this case the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. “Apply sanctions to my regime”, Lukashenko tells the EU “and I will puncture the walls of ‘fortress Europe’”.
Political monsters like Stalin, Lukashenko and Putin come and go. They are not all powerful. Stalin was unable to establish the conditions for the Soviet Union to go on forever. The Soviet Union survived a mere 36 years after his death. War with the West over Ukraine could well spell the end of the political careers of both Lukashenko and Putin.
Although Pamyat has been suppressed, the historical reality of the gulags survives. History is not static. History is still remembered and transmitted to future generations. History is made by the men and women who make up the working class. They can and must make history in its own interest using democratic and political means. This requires replacing the profit system with socialism: replacing world capitalism and its competing nation states, leaders and political prison camps with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society and for all society.
The Labour Party: Division Two Tories
Keir Starmer should have been on the Tories Leadership contest. His recent speech in Liverpool could have come from Sunak or Truss. He set out his economic vision as “growth, growth, growth”. He could have been a bit more precise, as a capitalist politician by arguing for “profit, profit, profit” or better still “Accumulate, Accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets” (Marx).
After his turgid speech he was berated in a local café by a Labour supporting pensioner. She told him, he was a disgrace for writing an article in the Sun newspaper due to the paper’s coverage of Hillsborough under its former editor Kelvin Mackenzie and a liar for not keeping his promises; ditching nationalisation policies and emptying the Labour Party of activists. He was no socialist, she told him. He just sat there like a plank of wood (the confrontation can be seen on Robespierre’s You Tube channel July 26th 2022).
Starmer claims one of his heroes is Clement Attlee who was returned to power in 1945 with an overall majority. Wishful thinking! Attlee had a personal representative at the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. He was also the architect of NATO which has waged war in Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), and Libya (2011). Starmer supports NATO and Ukraine in the war with Russia.
Unlike Labour nostalgists who like to believe that the Labour victory of 1945 saw the dawn of socialism in the United Kingdom with the nationalisation of the railways, the steel industry, gas, electricity, coal mines, the Tripartite educational system and not least, the establishment of the NHS. Of course, this was not the case at all and Attlee’s 1945 government continued administering the needs of the capitalist system, just as before – the relationship between labour and capital did not change in anyway. In fact, the government retained war-time legislation banning strikes; it sent troops into the docks to break strikes; it put gas workers and dockers on trial; it imposed wage restraint and then a wage freeze; it introduced peace-time conscription for the first time; it began the development of the British atomic bomb; it sent troops to help United States imperialism in Korea and it did not solve the housing problem facing the working class.
Given the historical failure of the Labour Party to do anything about the social and economic problems facing the working class why is the pensioner, who verbally attacked Keir Starmer in the YouTube clip, still a member of this capitalist party? And why does she believe that nationalisation would solve the economic problems of the working class when it failed miserably the first time round? Nationalisation is state capitalism and does not change the labour-capital relationship.
Workers are still exploited in the nationalised industries, forced to defend themselves in trade unions and struggle for better pay and working conditions. Nationalisation has nothing to do with socialism and the free and direct access to goods and services which people need to live worthwhile lives.
Starmer’s speech on the keynote theme of economics in Liverpool showed he did not understand economics at all. Apparently, he has to be tutored in economics by the likes of Ed Miliband and Lord Falconer ( ‘i’ July 27th 2022); the blind leading the blind. All three do not accept that social wealth comes from the exploitation of the working class. They have no idea of the cause of the trade cycle, the class struggle, inflation and unemployment. The ideas of Karl Marx are a closed book to them. Starmer cannot dissect or explain why capitalism is not working for the working class majority and why, if he was in power, he would be unable to do anything about their class position of poverty and insecurity.
Journalists criticise Starmer for being vague. Every new agenda setting speech Starmer makes, they opine, ends up with him making it less clear what Labour stands for. There is nothing in the Tory policy menu he would be uncomfortable with. He is also against strikes yet his Shadow Ministers stand in support on picket lines. Starmer writes articles on VE day in the TELEGRAPH, on Memorial Sunday in the MAIL and chases the ethno-nationalist vote in the SUN. Starmer wants to be more patriotic than the Tories and is keen to wrap himself up in the Union Jack.
Unfortunately for Starmer, Tories do Tory policy better than second division Tories like the Labour Party and the Liberal Party.
For socialists, it is very clear what the Labour Party stands for. Like the Tories and other capitalist parties, Labour stands for the interest of the capitalist class. It stands for British capitalism and it stands for the private ownership of the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the majority of society.
Why do people stay in the Labour Party who set policies in the interests of those who own the and control the means of production? It beggars belief. The history of capitalism shows that it cannot be reformed or regulated. The inequity and exploitation bound into the relationship between labour and capital remains exactly the same as it did at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Socialists might be thin on the ground, yet we adhere to a set of socialist principles and a socialist object which, given a socialist majority taking democratic and political action, will replace capitalism and the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. Workers should be with us, thinking and acting for ourselves not the Labour Party.
The Rich Get Poorer
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the unearned wealth amassed by the world’s billionaires has fallen from a record high in 2021 of $31.1tn to $12.7tn (£9.7tn) in assets. The number of billionaires has also dropped by 329 to 2,688.
As we have often pointed out, fighting wars is an expensive business with much created wealth, in the form of bombs, guns etc, literally being destroyed. There is also the destruction of the means of production like factories and transport systems, all privately owned by the capitalist class. Whatever happens on the stock exchanges, wealth remains within the capitalist class.
It is doubtful that the capitalist class will lose much sleep over this dip in their collective wealth, unlike the working class who have been pushed into greater austerity by inflation and hikes in energy prices. Unlike the capitalist class, many workers are weighing up whether to heat or feed their families this year.
Forbes, who reports with delight the obscene wealth of the rich, also said Elon Musk, the owner of Telsa and Space X was the world’s richest person with a $219bn fortune, up $68bn on the previous year because of rising shares prices he owned (GUARDIAN 6 April 2022).
And that is the crux of the matter: ownership. The capitalist class own the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the working class majority.
It resolves itself into a political question. To get rid of the capitalist class and their private ownership of resources, land, factories, transport and communication systems and distribution points requires the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society. This means democratic and political action by workers within principled socialist political parties gaining control of the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is a majority of socialists replacing world capitalism with world socialism.
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.