The recent massive demonstrations against the Macron administration in France forcing through so-called pension reforms reveals the determined attempts of capitalist governments in all the major economies to cut real wages when workers are old and can no longer work. Workers are forced to work longer. The UK government is considering extending the pension age for those in their 40s to 70.
Pensions are really deferred wages, deductions from income from work to pay for a reduced income when workers retire. After decades of exploited employment, workers, male and female, should be entitled to stop and enjoy the last decade or so of life without toil without being poverty stricken. Pensions have a long history; they were introduced by Bismarck in Germany (then set at 70 years of age) in the face of the rising Social Democratic Party. The Liberal Party, under Prime Minister Herbert Asquith introduced a pension scheme, devised by the previous administration under Lloyd George, in the UK in Jan 1909 under the guise of preventing the working class from engaging in what they erroneously believed was the revolutionary case for socialism.
The French government has used controversial special powers to force through a rise in the pension age. The president, Emmanuel Macon took a last-minute decision to avoid a parliamentary vote and instead enacted his unpopular plan to raise the pension age from 62 to 64. He opted to invoke article 49.3 of the constitution, which gives the government power to bypass parliament. So much for “capitalist democracy”.
Shortly afterwards, thousands of people gathered in a spontaneous protest at Place de la Concorde in the centre of Paris, as trade unions promised to intensify the strikes and street demonstrations that have taken place since January. The head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said forcing through the law “shows contempt towards the people” (BBC NEWS 23 March 2023).
Some, like journalist Agnes Poirier, see in the riots the “insurrectionary spirit of political extremes” (‘We French were born to confront Authority. Can Macron withstand the onslaught?’ THE OBSERVER 26 March 2023). They notice the rioters getting younger and becoming a new ‘1968’ by forming barricades, street fighting and attempting to seize public buildings. However, minority action was political suicidal folly in 1968 just as it is in 2023. Unless the immense majority of workers actively understand and want socialism there is no possibility of social change.
Even if an insurrectionist minority managed to gain control of political power, it would not alter the basic problems and processes of capitalism.
Remember, that after 1968, despite its radicalism and wall slogans “Soyez réalistes, demandez l'impossible. ("Be realistic, demand the impossible.") and “Le patron a besoin de toi, tu n'as pas besoin de lui.” (“The boss needs you; you don't need him"), the French President Charles de Gaulle, met secretly with the French military to obtain support if troops were needed to retake Paris from the rioters (shades of the Paris Commune of 1871). In any event the working-class in France voted for the conservative Gaullist, Georges Pompidou not for socialism nor the naïve politics of disaffected students.
The working class can only achieve its freedom from capitalism by democratically winning control of the machinery of government and using it to abolish class society by establishing socialism; a social system where production and distribution will take place solely and directly to meet human need. With the end of class society the need for the State disappears and socialism will simply be a democratic administration for settling social affairs; locally, regionally and globally.
Macron and his politicians currently have a secure grip on the machinery of government, including the armed forces and the police. Riot police fired teargas and water cannon, charged the rioters with raised batons to disperse the crowd, as some protesters impotently threw cobblestones and burnt cars. Arrest and imprisonment followed.
Macron’s underhand use of article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass Parliament raises the issue of the unintended consequences of bourgeois democracy and the constitutions on which they are based. Macron should be careful what he wishes for in using political technicalities to get his way. He narrowly defeated Marine Le Pen of the National Front Party at the last presidential elections. The ultra nationalism of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Barella’s Rassemblement National stand in the darkness of the side-stage of French politics. Fascism has not gone away.
It might not be the same again in the next French Presidential elections. A Victorious Le Pen forming a government could well use article 49.3 to bypass Parliament and implement a permanent prorogation of parliament – the classic move to dismantle the democratic process and establish an authoritarian regime. Only a socialist vote made by politically conscious socialists counts for anything and has any revolutionary affect.
Macron claims that Pension reforms must happen because of “finances and future generations”. The finances of the State are not the concern of the working-class, and the need of future generations is the security and sanity of socialism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Putting up the retirement age, which will see many workers die before they receive anything, starkly demonstrates that if you can’t work then you are no use to the capitalist class and its State so you simply become just an expendable burden on profits.
Macron states that there are not enough workers, and the current system would become bankrupt without the reforms. The profit system has nothing to offer the working class who we say are being exploited to keep a parasitical capitalist class in luxury and privilege. Yes, the capitalist class needs us; but we do not need them.
What of the the use by Macron of constitutional technicalities to bypass Parliament? We have been here before.
One of the detailed accounts of Hitler’s use of Article 48 and the Enabling Act to secure dictatorial power in 1933 is given by Richard J Evans in his book THE COMING OF THE THIRD REICH: HOW THE NAZIS DESTROYED DEMOCRACY AND SEIZED POWER IN GERMANY Penguin 2005).
Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic of Germany (1919–1933) allowed the President, under certain circumstances, to take emergency measures without the prior consent of the Reichstag. This power was understood to include the enactment of "emergency decrees". The law allowed Chancellor Adolf Hitler, with decrees issued by President Paul von Hindenburg, to create a totalitarian dictatorship after the Nazi's rise to power.
President Friedrich Ebert, who used the Freikorps to murder Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919 following the failed Spartacus uprising, used Article 48 on 136 occasions, including the use by social democratic and conservative governments.
The use of Article 48 by successive governments helped seal the fate of the Weimar Republic. Rule by decree became increasingly used not in response to a specific emergency but as a substitute for parliamentary democracy. The excessive use of the decree power and the fact that successive chancellors were no longer responsible to the Reichstag contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party.
On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor. Lacking a majority in the Reichstag, Hitler formed a coalition with the national conservative German National People’s Party (DNVP). Not long afterwards, he called elections for 5 March. Six days before the election, on 27 February, the Reichstag fire damaged the house of Parliament in Berlin. Claiming that the fire was the first step in a “Communist revolution”, the Nazis used the fire as a pretext to get the President, Hindenburg, to sign the Reichstag Fire Decree.
Under the decree, based on Article 48, the government was given authority to curtail constitutional rights including habeas corpus, free expression of opinion, freedom of the press, rights of assembly, and the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications. Constitutional restrictions on searches and confiscation of property were likewise rescinded.
The Reichstag Fire Decree was one of the first steps the Nazis took toward the establishment of a one-Party dictatorship in Germany. With several key government posts in the hands of Nazis and with the constitutional protections on civil liberties suspended by the decree, the Nazis were able to use their control of the police to intimidate and arrest their opposition, in particular the Communists and Social Democrats.
The 5th of March elections gave the Nazi-DNVP coalition a narrow majority in the Reichstag. Nonetheless, the Nazis were able to pass on 23 March 1933 the passage of the Enabling Act by the required two-thirds parliamentary majority, effectively abrogating the authority of the Reichstag and placing its authority in the hands of the Cabinet (in effect, the Chancellor). This had the effect of giving Hitler dictatorial powers.
Over the years, Hitler used Article 48 to give his dictatorship the stamp of legality. Thousands of his decrees were based explicitly on the Reichstag Fire Decree, and hence on Article 48, allowing Hitler to rule under what amounted to martial law. This was a major reason why Hitler never formally repealed the Weimar Constitution, though it had effectively been rendered a dead letter with the passage of the Enabling Act.
Who Benefits from Extending the Pension Age?
Trade unions in France say the pension reforms proposed by President Macron, will penalise low-income workers in manual jobs who tend to start their careers early. The change would bring France into line with other European capitalist countries, most of which have raised the retirement age to 65 or older.
So, who gains? It is not the working class since millions of workers will have to work two years longer.
It was Marx who explained why the capitalist State acted in the interest of the capitalist class and against the working class and why the class struggle is at the core of capitalist production. The capitalist state and the class struggle has a bearing on increasing the time period in which workers will receive their state pension.
Absolute surplus value can be increased by an extension of the working day; and in the case of French workers, it as an extra two years of exploitation. This extension depends on the relative strengths of the capitalist class and the working class.
“Hence it is in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is the working day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working class” (CAPITAL, volume 1, Chapter X, p. 235).
Marx stated that he did not invent the working class or the class struggle. However, he did reveal the key to class exploitation- the difference between the value of labour-power itself and the value which labour creates in the process of production.
The working class is divorced from the ownership of the means of production and distribution. As such, workers are forced onto the labour market to sell their labour power or ability to work to the capitalist class.
The value of labour power is determined, like any other commodity, by the socially necessary labour time required to produce this special commodity. It, therefore, depends upon the amount of labour necessary to produce the necessities of life – to feed, clothe, house and so on, the workers and their families. The labour time necessary to replace the value of labour power is less than the labour the worker performs, once they are employed, under the command of the capitalist class.
What the capitalist wants to do is increase surplus value. They do not want to pay more taxation in the form of additional money to pay for pensions. And by increasing the time to pensionable age the capitalist class can extract more surplus value from the working class. The working day can be made more intense by making workers work harder in a shorter time. Who now has a “tea break” in the afternoon. The one-hour lunch break has been reduced for many workers to half an hour.
And working on the train home or in the evening also extends the working day. The TUC recently said that workers put in £26 billion worth of work in terms of unpaid overtime during 2022 (TUC.org.uk 24 February 2023). Typically for the TUC who do not advance Marx’s labour theory of value and class exploitation, they call for “work your proper hours day”. They are completely silent on the unpaid surplus labour time workers undertake in the working day.
Marx gave the example of increasing the working day to extract more surplus value. However, there are limits to this. The health and productivity of workers begin to suffer if they are worked too hard. Sickness and psychological problems are rife.
However, the capitalist class in France is about to get the working class for another two years. If fifty per cent is necessary working time and fifty percent surplus working time that is a lot of surplus value.
Instead of protesting about pensions and unpaid overtime workers should be looking at getting rid of the power of the capitalist class to control worker’s time, forcing them into employment and extracting surplus value during the productive process. In socialism there will be no need for pensions. There will not be employment, labour markets or the capitalist class. Instead, labour will be free and people will have free and direct access to what they need to live whatever their age happens to be.
SPGB and Parliament
Can capitalist governments use political devices like article 48 (France) and 49 (Weimar Germany) to prevent a socialist majority from gaining control of Parliament?
We can take the example of the United Kingdom where Parliament has a complete and secure grip upon the armed forces, and government interventions in the strikes and environmental disturbances over the last two decades have shown on whose side they act. Whether it be the Labour government using troops to break strikes or the Conservatives passing repressive laws to enable the police to disrupt or prevent protests and demonstrations, is clear they use the forces of the State to attack the working class.
The use of state violence against workers, shown using police batons, tear gas and water canon against demonstrators in French cities underlines the necessity for the socialist working class to obtain control of Parliament before attempting to replace the profit system with socialism. The impotence of the reformers in the French parliament shows that the only way to obtain control is by sending revolutionary socialist delegates to Parliament backed by a socialist majority. It should not be forgotten that the demonstrators are not socialists, but workers, most of whom, voted for the reformers in Parliament and for President Macron as “the lesser evil” to Le Pen.
It has been suggested by our opponents that, when the socialist movement was large enough to challenge the position of the capitalists globally, they would abolish any parliamentary democratic governance and implement dictatorial regimes.
The abolition or suspension of a parliamentary democratic system would, in the first instance, prevent the right of socialist delegates to combine, and make illegal, all forms of working-class organisation, trade union as well as political.
However, at what cost to the capitalists of the abolition of Parliament? How would they enforce it? The State machine would be unable to function, owing to the political resistance among civil and military employees of the government.
And what can the capitalist class do? The size and complexity of the government, local and general, is so complex that it employs workers to fill all its functions.
These workers are members of trade unions and periodically are forced to strike for higher pay and working conditions. The government only exists by virtue of money coming into it through taxation or selling government bonds; functions undertaken by workers not capitalists.
The armed forces and the police, including the security services are all members of the working class. We are discussing a revolutionary situation where a majority in society do not vote for capitalist politicians and their parties. Workers would not have voted for reformist politicians and presidents. How could a determined minority impose its will in the face of a determined socialist majority?
The attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain on the necessity for a socialist majority to gain control of the political machinery has been logical and consistent. We hold the same view as Marx as to the need of workers to gain control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, before they can establish socialism.
We also hold Marx’s view that in the industrially advanced capitalist countries, the vote will give that control. The one way to prevent the capitalists from using political power against the workers is to refrain from voting them and their agents into political power. Accordingly, we have always urged the workers not to vote for any candidate who is a supporter of capitalism.
COP26 was seen as a turning point for the environment and global warming. Capitalist politicians congratulated each other on all the pledges they made to reduce carbon emissions.
At the climate change summit COP26 in Glasgow last year, more than 100 governments promised to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030. Of course, it was just a PR exercise signifying absolutely nothing.
The reality was the same as before the conference. The drive for profit and capital accumulation overrides every other consideration; environmental or social. Nowhere is this more plainly seen than in the deforestation taking place in Brazil’s Amazon Forest. The number of trees cut down in the Brazilian Amazon in January far exceeded deforestation for the same month last year, according to government satellite data. The area destroyed was five times larger than 2021, the highest January total since records began in 2015.
Environmentalists accuse Brazil's President, Jair Bolsonaro, of allowing deforestation to accelerate. Trees are felled for their wood as well as to clear spaces to plant crops to supply global food companies.
The latest satellite data from Brazil's space agency Inpe, again calls into question the Brazilian government's commitment to protecting the Amazon Rainforest. Cristiane Mazzetti of Greenpeace Brazil said:
"The new data yet again exposes how the government's actions contradicts its greenwashing campaigns," (BBC NEWS 13 February 2022).
Greenpeace are calling on supermarkets in the UK and elsewhere to drop suppliers who are involved in deforestation from their meat and dairy supply chains suppliers. It is an empty environmental gesture. The supermarkets are in the business to make a profit, not to save the Brazilian rain forest. They are private commercial companies. They are in the business to buy as cheaply as possible and sell for as much as possible. They have markets in which to sell commodities and shareholders who expect a return on their investments.
Greenpeace, like all reformist organisations, believe that problems created by capitalism can be solved by capitalism. Greenpeace refuse to accept that capitalism is the problem and that any solution to global warming requires the profit system to be replaced by socialism. Only the establishment of socialism can ensure the environmental balance in meat and dairy supply chains.
Deforestation totalled 430 square kilometres (166 square miles) in January - an area more than seven times the size of Manhattan, New York.
Brazil's vast rainforest absorbs huge amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, acting as what's known as a carbon sink. But the more trees cut down, the less the forest can soak up emissions.
Driven by the profit motive, Mr Bolsonaro’s government has weakened environmental protections for the region. He claims it is to reduce “poverty”. It is not in a government’s gift to end poverty. Most of the 24 million people living in and around the rainforest are dirt poor. Ensuring the conditions are ripe for trade and profit making is what capitalist governments exist for. That is why organisations like Greenpeace pursue futile policies of reform.
Global warming is just one problem caused by capitalism. Another is poverty. Thirty percent of Brazilians live in grinding poverty, including 13% who exist on less than $2 a day. Clean water, sanitation and electricity are luxuries. Almost one-third of the population is functionally illiterate and children face hunger and little or no access to education and health (BLOOMBERG NEWS 29 July 2021).
Under such conditions socialism not social reforms is the answer. Greenpeace are a one-trick pony never seeing capitalism as the problem facing the working class.
Their trick is to produce useful data against the profit system, but that is all – they offer no solution to this problem because they support a world-wide profit motivated economic system.
Greenpeace is politically scared to name capitalism, to criticise governments and unable to recognise that it is only the establishment of socialism that will give the necessary solutions to the social and environmental problems we face. Greenpeace, like other NGO’s believe the private ownership of the means of production and distribution to be sacrosanct, beyond reproach. Like Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace end up being part of the problem, a barrier to end capitalism which would, in turn, end global warming.
Strong global demand for agricultural commodities such as beef and soya beans are driving government policy. It is the expectation of profit, for Brazilian capitalists, that interests the Brazilian government. It is the profits which will be made by the farmers and for the loggers who clear away the forest, whose class interest Bolsonaro serves. The Brazilian government turns a blind eye to deforestation and grazing by pardoning the trespassers and giving them legal entitlement to the land (BLOOMBERG NEWS 29 July 2021).
So, it is no surprise to socialists that the number of trees cut down in the Brazilian Amazon in January 2022 far exceeded deforestation for the same month last year. The area destroyed was five times larger than 2021, the highest January total since records began in 2015 (BBC NEWS 13 February 2022).
The Brazilian Rain Forest is not under common ownership. It is under the control of the Brazilian government who look upon it as a commercial resource.
The only solution to global warming is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. That is, socialism; a system of society established democratically and politically by a socialist majority. Only then can there be a rational balance between the environment and human production.
A Year On: The War In Ukraine
When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Putin and his regime thought it was going to be a quick war. Tens of thousands of deaths later with much of the battlefield reminiscing the trenches of the First World war, the killing continues.
As the journalist Patrick Cockburn pointed out in an article “Conflict between Russia and US is getting much closer”, news reporting of the Ukraine war has degenerated into mere war propaganda:
“…the essence of which is not so much lying about what is happening, but a selective approach to the news whereby anything beneficial to our side is reported and anything harmful is marginalised or ignored”.
(The ‘I’ 25 November 2023).
Cockburn’s worry is that the biased reporting in the media obscures “a growing confrontation between a confident America and a weakened Russia”.
Socialists take no sides in capitalism’s wars and history teaches us the unintended consequences of war and its destructive capacity. The invasion of Poland by Hitler in 1939 ended with nuclear explosions at Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan. Fifty-five million people died in that conflict. Although war did not end. It continued each decade through the Cold War and wars of “national liberation”. War and capitalism go together.
The war between Russia and Ukraine and Cockburn’s remarks about a “confident America” and a “weakened Russia” reminds us that the climate crisis is not the only threat to the world and its population. Nuclear war is too, and that threat needs to be removed as well. The only way to do this is to end capitalism and replace the profit system with a borderless, stateless world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. In short, world socialism.
In launching an invasion of Ukraine, Russia is no different than any other imperialist power grabbing territory it needs. As far as Putin is concerned, “Right is Might” - national armies and kill or be killed by, even though the war has not gone to plan.
Socialists are not concerned with the rights or wrongs of the war, who is to blame and who is innocent. Nor are we interested in “international law” or the sovereignty of nation states and the “right of self-determination”. What we are concerned with is that it is members of the working class who are forced to enlist in national armies in order to kill, or be killed by, fellow members of the working class wherever they might be. It is the working class who pay the price for capitalism’s wars and the geo-political interests being played out.
Socialists condemn governments who are prepared to see workers killed in Ukraine in order to advance the interest of Western capitalism against Russian capitalism. We have nothing but contempt for the warmongers.
The attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to the question of war under capitalism differs from that of other political parties in this country. We do note that it was a Labour Government who helped form NATO, but the Labour Party has a history of actively supporting and prosecuting capitalism’s war. It is a capitalist party, and we would expect no less from this anti-working-class organisation.
Socialists have always held that war is inevitable under capitalism, and that its abolition can only be accomplished by the establishment of socialism. This puts socialists at odds with the capitalist left i.e. those who believe that capitalism can be regulated and reformed. There are those like Stop the War Coalition who believe peace can take place within a capitalist system. Stop the War call for “peace talks now” rather than persuading workers to become socialists; the first step in the political process of ending war. They are joined by pacifists and moralists against the war who also erroneously believe you can have capitalism without war. You cannot take war and conflict out of capitalism. You cannot have peace in a world made up of competing nation states, armed to the teeth and prepared for war.
Worse still are those Putin’s apologists who want to see US Imperialism and NATO humiliated by Russia winning the war. They claim to be acting in the interest of the working class. However, the working class has nothing to gain from the war. The class interest of workers in Russia and Ukraine are the same, as they are elsewhere in the world. The fundamental interest is for the working class to unite and replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Working People or Working Class?
For socialists, the political concept of class is important to understand and to explain to workers, members of our class, how and why they are exploited and why they should accept the socialist case against capitalism.
It is therefore important not to jettison key political concepts because our opponents are using a different language or socialists believe a change of language would be more receptive.
Increasingly the social democrats are using the expression “working people” instead of “working class” through political opportunism. Evolutionary biologists would not discard their scientific language because of difficulty convincing Christian fundamentalists of the stupidity of their beliefs. No more so than the Labour Party in the U.K.
In its recent policy document “New Deal for Working People”, they set out a battery of social and economic reforms supposedly to improve the employment conditions of workers. They state:
“Labour will strengthen the protections afforded to all workers by banning zero-hour contracts, outlawing bogus self-employment; and ending qualifying periods for basic rights, which leave working people waiting for up to two years for basic protections. This will include unfair dismissal, sick pay and parental leave, giving working people under Labour rights at work from day one”.
The Labour Party will not use the term “working class” in its text for fear of introducing the “capitalist class” and the fact that we live in a class divided society.
Socialists reject the use of the expression “working people”. The Labour Party and the Conservative Party in the U.K. and all the other political parties throughout the world, support the world-wide system based on ownership, exploitation and profit. By using the term ‘working people’ these political parties imply that they are not an identifiable group, that they are individuals working hard out of ‘choice’ to carve out a ‘good’ life for their families.
This is a deceit; the truth is the majority have no choice at all as they don’t collectively own the world’s resources, the means of production. This group even has to pay rent for a few square metres of the Earth’s surface to eat sleep and live on – nothing is theirs. This social condition unites them as a ‘class’ and this class has to work to create wealth for those who own and control the Earth’s resources – so, they are, by definition, the ‘working class’. As such, this class is subjugated by the class that owns the world resources, it’s wealth, it’s capital; the ‘capitalist class’.
As for the reforms in Labour Party’s Green Paper, they are just window dressing to attract votes. A Green Paper commits the Labour Party to nothing. What workers will find is that the proposals above and the remnant of these reforms as they are mutilated by representation from employer’s organisations, parliament and haphazardly administered by bureaucrats will be two totally different things particularly as the Labour government, if elected, will be administrating capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class.
And the Labour Party also does not say that rights given can be taken away or watered down and that many reforms have unintended consequences. Socialists counterpoise socialism as the only alternative to the reforms of the Labour Party.
As we said in our QUESTIONS OF THE DAY:
“For the party of the working class, one course alone is open: unceasing hostility to all parties that lend their aid to the administration of the capitalist social system and thus contribute, consciously or otherwise, to its maintenance. Our object is its removal and replacement by socialism”
(Socialist Party of Great Britain, p. 33 March 1978)
The working class is a material fact of life out of which derives a particular class interest, class consciousness, class struggle and the abolition of classes with the establishment of socialism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Marx and the Working Class
Unlike the Classical school of economists like William Petty, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who believed in the harmony of classes, Marx emphasised the importance of class and class conflict.
Marx defined class in an objective way with respect to the means of production – the land, raw resources like oil, transport and communications, factories and distribution points. In capitalism he considered the two principal classes to be the capitalists who owned property, factories and transport and the workers who did not own the means of production but had to work for a wage or salary.
The working class is composed of men and women excluded from the ownership of production and distribution. Workers are forced by economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies in order to get a living. Workers include the self-employed and those who are deemed to be ‘professionals’. Anyone who is forced to work for wages and salaries is a worker, a member of the working class. The working class form a majority class in society including retired workers and dependents of workers.
Capitalism, therefore, is a class society with a privileged capitalist class living off the labour of an exploited working class.
In the analysis of capitalism as a class society socialists use the political concept of working class not “working people”.
That the working class is exploited under capitalism is not hard to grasp. And workers need to understand that they are members of an exploited class to become socialists. Exploitation does not mean that workers are forced to work hard or bullied by managers. It simply means, that workers get as wages and salaries less than the value of what they produce as commodities in the production process.
We can present this in a more technical way. Marx employed a labour theory of value to study economic class relations. Value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in the commodity.
Unlike David Ricardo, Marx applied the labour theory of value to labour itself not just the commodities that are produced. That is, the value of labour power is determined by the socially necessary labour embodied in the commodity.
Exploitation is a necessary consequence of capitalism. Exploitation is a normal process resulting from the nature of commodity production and exchange for profit. Labour is exploited under capitalism because the worker is paid the value of their labour power and the employer gets the use value of this labour power. Pay is unrelated to the value, or the percentage profit, that the commodity realises in the market place. It is the minimum the capitalist (employer) needs to pay the worker to secure their labour.
By labour power Marx means:
“the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description
(CAPITAL volume 1, Chapter 6, p.167).
It is this exploitation of “surplus value” which provides a pure surplus which is the basis of the capitalist’s profits.
Workers, then, form a class in capitalism and are exploited just like serfs and slaves were in previous social systems.
Class struggle and Class Interest
The consequence of class ownership and distribution and the accompanying exploitation of the workers is an irreconcilable conflict between the working class and the capitalist class.
This irreconcilable conflict manifests itself as a class struggle. The class struggle takes place all the time over the trade cycle; during periods of boom and periods of bust. Its obvious features are strikes, like the many taking place now, as workers struggle to keep their wages above the rate of inflation.
Capitalists use organisations like the Institute of Directors, the CBI and “think” tanks to pursue their class interests. They also give vast donations to capitalist political parties including the Labour and the Conservatives parties in the UK.
The importance of the capitalist enjoying the political support of political parties should not be underestimated or forgotten. In the political field capitalists have the government on their side.
The Conservative Government’s new anti-strike legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in key public sectors including the NHS and schools is an attempt to water down the consequences of industrial disputes. The law will allow employers in health, education, fire, ambulance, rail and nuclear commissioning, to sue unions and sack employees if minimum levels are not met.
The capitalist class ownership and control of industry rests on its control of political power through its political parties. The purpose of capitalist governments is to protect and preserve the capitalists’ monopoly of the means of wealth production.
All the capitalist supporting parties in the U.K., Conservative, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrats must take the side of employers by protecting their ownership of property, by declaring states of emergency, by using troops to break strikes, by imposing wage freezes and by passing anti-union laws.
And it is also why the working class throughout the world, must organise politically into socialist parties with a socialist policy based on the recognition of this class struggle and the irreconcilable nature of this conflict.
The class struggle can be considered the dynamic of history and historical change since the rise of private property. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is an expression of the material interest of the working class in pushing the class struggle to its limit with the abolition of capitalism.
Class Consciousness and establishing a Classless Society.
Workers must think and act as a class. Workers must come to understand that capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of the working class.
Socialism is the only system within which the problems facing the working class can be resolved. Socialism will be a social system in which the means for producing and distributing social wealth will be owned by society as a whole. Under capitalism the land, factories, mines railways and other instruments of production and distribution are monopolized by the capitalist class to the exclusion of the majority. Socialism will end this capitalist class privilege, for, with the means to life owned in common by the entire community, it will be a classless society in which class exploitation will have been abolished.
Human needs can only be met under capitalism, to the extent that they can be paid for. This is not good enough. The means of production under capitalism has the potential to feed, clothe, educate and provide heath for everyone. What prevents this potential from being realised is the profit motive and private property ownership.
These can be removed but only politically and democratically. This requires a socialist majority, throughout the world, understanding their class position and working for its abolition along with the labour market, buying and selling of labour power, employers, class exploitation and the capitalist politicians and governments who defend one of the most miserable and barbaric social systems in human history.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain & The Spanish Civil War
In a surf on the internet we came across a web site of “former communists” who spend their time in an echo chamber talking to themselves about “the good old days”. A passing reference was made to the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Spanish Civil War. The writer remarked:
“I think it was the Spanish Civil War which caused major debate and controversy within the SPGB over its "sole objective." A hard core doctrinaire group within the SPGB always opposed any, every and all other demands as "reforms" and distractions from the "sole objective of socialism.
The more open majority within the SPGB (and still is) reasoned that as they advocated the establishment of socialism through democratic parliamentary means (that is a whole other debate), you had to first have democracy and a parliamentary system in order to be able to use it to establish socialism. Given that those fighting to defend the democratic Spanish Republic were indeed fighting for basic democratic rights and a democratic system of government they perhaps should be supported in that endeavour.
The hard liners of course vigorously opposed this but never answered the question of what the role of the SPGB should be in the absence of parliamentary democracy. Hibernate probably.
Some of this was reflected in the SPGB statement on the opening of World War Two when it supported all those fighting against the Nazi and Fascist dictatorships (anathema to the hard liners) and in the splits in the late 80s and 90s which included the breakaway SPGB, the Ashbourne Court Group.
Marxism-Leninism (another anathema to the SPGB) of course advocates revolution to establish socialism and in the absence of democratic rights and a system of democracy to fight for such, alongside working class democracy and socialism itself. We have never had any problem fighting for more than one demand at a time!
Unlike the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Party of Great Britain did not encourage any of its members to act as “volunteers” to fight on either side of the Spanish Civil War.
The Republican Government attracted sympathy for being attacked by the army, led by General Franco who wanted to seize power and establish a Fascist regime.
The result was the Left, with its anti-Fascist position, encouraged by Moscow, recruited volunteers to fight on the side of the Republic and “democracy”. However, the Left was split: the Stalin-backed CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain) vs. the wider Left including the ILP (Independent Labour Party), anarchists, and Trotskyists which sent its own volunteers, including Orwell, to form the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista).
But the CPGB used the war to eliminate many of its unreliable members – in a purge, with snipers and so on targeting many of other volunteers. (See Orwell on this in HOMAGE TO CATALONIA) It was during this Stalinist purge, that led our late comrade, Harry Young to quit the CPGB and ‘disappear’ to avoid the same fate as others on Stalin’s list.
The Left forms strategic alliances in an opportunistic way, which is disastrous. Marx in his “18th Brumaire” -chap 3- argued that with the coalition which formed the Social Democratic Party – “a united front... a coalition” between the petty bourgeois and the workers, the result was a “joint programme” - “The revolutionary point of the socialist demands of the proletariat was blunted, and these demands were given a democratic gloss.”
(p57-8, - tr. Eden and Cedar Paul, 1926).
At the same time, this alliance enabled “the petty bourgeois demands were made to seem as socialistic as possible. That was the origin of social democracy.” Note, Marx was not just warning against such alliances and coalitions, but was clearly predicting the future of, for example, the Labour Party, the German SDP (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) and countless other ‘socialist’ parties around the world with their reform programmes – better housing, health services, trade union laws and so on. These reform programmes were an abject failure or impossible to implement under capitalism. And he was clearly warning against the disastrous idea – taken up by Lenin and others – that the workers’ movement should form such opportunistic alliances.
During the Spanish Civil War: the British Government refused to allow any aid or arms for the Spanish government, and enforced this by a naval blockade. So much for a democratic opposition to Fascism! In fact, Word War Two was far from being a noble cause: the UK government had no problems with Hitler’s concentration camps and other repressive measures. The matter only became serious when it seemed that Hitler’s forces were about to threaten Britain’s own interests, especially the Channel as a trade route and its interests elsewhere in the Empire. But Fascism? No problem.
With regards the Second World War, which was said to be about defending democracy: the British government from 1941 onwards was happy and proud to be allied with Stalin, such a fine defender of freedom and democracy!
Thank goodness the SPGB had the common sense and principles needed at that time, and stayed clear of cheering on the militarists.
As for SPGB members being in the army in WWII: there was conscription and it was very hard to argue for exemption as a Conscientious Objector. For instance, Ken Knight was conscripted but into the army but given a teaching job he was a handful so gave him an education job.
Another of our late comrades, Cyril May spent some time in Wormwood Scrubs while other members of the Party, like Jim D’Arcy followed the example of some members in the First World War and went on the run. Doug Ayres was a CO and because of his geological knowledge, he was given "land work" down the Welsh mines. Heather Williams was conscripted into an armaments factory. Some others argued their cases at the CO tribunals – Arthur George won his tribunal with supportive evidence given by an active RAF Squadron Leader – he was directed to work on the land. Some got conscripted, others were let off or diverted into, like Harry Young, the Auxiliary Fire Service. When speaking on behalf of the Party at Hyde Park Corner during the war, Young would sometimes be called “a coward” for not fighting in capitalism’s wars but reminded the heckler how dangerous it was driving through London with bombs being dropped over your head. Would the heckler have driven a fire engine during the Blitz? Conscription was an act of state coercion, except, that is, for members of the Communist Party who willingly joined the armed forces of the capitalist state to “kill fascists” - that is other members of the working class - once Germany had invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
Whatever the case with individual members, the SPGB as a party was united on the position of opposing the Second World War on grounds of class, a position argued back in September 1914. In our WAR MANIFEST, published at the outbreak of the First World War, we wrote:
“THE SOCIALIST PARTY of Great Britain, pledges itself to keep the issue clear by expounding the CLASS STRUGGLE, and whilst placing on record its abhorrence of the latest manifestation of the callous, sordid, and mercenary nature of the international capitalist class, and declaring no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers of this and other lands who are being used as food for cannon abroad while suffering and starvation are the lot of their fellows at home. Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism”.
As for being “doctrinaire hard liners”, if this meant opposition and hostility towards Lenin and his supporters, we plead guilty. We joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain in agreement with its Object and Declaration of Principles. This included taking political action as The Socialist Party of Great Britain. We still do.
An Old Fossil
Reaching 65 years of age is a milestone of sorts. I had become an “old fossil” - so I was told - and to reinforce the point I received as a present, the fossilised specimen of a trilobite, meaning “three lobes”. Trilly, as I have named her, lives on the top of my computer hard drive.
This example of the extinct marine arthropod is from a deposit in the wheeler Shale Formation, Utah, USA. It is from the middle Cambrian period, circa 500 million years old. A much older fossil than the writer. 500 million years is a vast incomprehensible expanse of time.
The fossil predates human existence. It predates all of humanities’ social systems or “modes of production”, as Marx put it. The fossil predates primitive communism, chattel slavery, feudalism and capitalism. In fact, the existence of the profit system is only a blink of an eye in terms of the elapse of time since the fossils were formed. What are five or six centuries of wage slavery and class exploitation compared to the Cambrian period which lasted 55.6 million years.
What of human existence. Human beings are social animals and have created social organisations to survive and reproduce. Human social organisations have changed over time, from simple and primitive communities to complex capitalist societies. We now have advanced means of production which means society could feed, clothe and house everybody adequately and globally.
For most of human existence, before class societies, humans lived in primitive communist communities. We do not know much about them except from the work of archaeologists and anthropologists.
One human characteristic was ritual.
Dozens of handprints have been recently found in a cave in Mexico. They are believed to be part of an ancient Mayan ritual. Archaeologist Sergio Grosjean says the work is likely to be associated with a coming-of-age ritual and the colours of the handprints have meaning. The prints, mostly made by children could date back more than 1,200 years (BBC NEWS 2 May 2021)
Ritual is commonly associated with religion. This brings on to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The former leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, blotted her copy book with her membership by abstaining in a vote challenging the efficacy of prayer to convert gays to straight. Leviticus looms large to the belief system of DUP. The DUP are very “Old Bible”: vengeance, bigotry, genocide and misogyny.
They are all card carrying creationists, where theology trumps science.
In May 2021 Mr Edwin Poots, became leader of the DUP. Poots is a young earth creationist and rejects the theory of evolution.
When asked in an interview how old the Earth was, Poots replied:
“My view on the earth is that it’s a young earth. My view is 4,000 BC” (‘Creationism and Political Power in Northern Ireland’, NEW STATESMAN, 6 July 2012).
Poots, like all Christian fundamentalists, follows the teaching of the Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, who ‘calculated’ in the 1640s that the world was created in 4004BC – 22nd October, to be precise.
Apparently, 90% of the DUP membership agrees with Mr Poots. If Mr Poots is to be taken as his word the Trilobite cannot exist beyond this 6000 year limit nor can the children’s handprints found recently on a cave wall in Mexico. A Party led by politicians whose minds are filled with scientific illiteracy, but they are all for capitalism and unity with the UK.
Not that Poot’s political career as leader of the DUP lasted that long. His leadership of the DUP lasted 21 days. Less than the biblical flood.
And the creationists think they have all the answers. Apparently the ‘reason’ why the Bible does not mention dinosaurs going onto the Ark two by two is that Noah put them on the Ark as eggs and incubated them for 30 days and 30 nights.
The “family friendly” creation museum in Cincinnati, Ohio – which you can visit as an on-line experience of crass stupidity – shows Dinosaurs living cheek by jowl with human beings. Fossils and fossil history is explained by the flood.
But there again, Boris Johnson, Rees Mogg and Ian Duncan Smith belong to a church that believes in transubstantiation, angels, heaven and hell, a virgin birth, a resurrection and three Gods in one. Catholicism is a religion that has professional exorcists. They would write off socialism as a utopian fantasy. A world-wide social system without leaders, production just to meet human need, no borders, no money, no labour market and no buying and selling. Yes, to angels, no to socialism.
They also all have a deep faith in profit making and amassing as much capital as it is humanly possible. God’s will.
What does this all say for socialism? Socialists oppose all religion whether superficially stupid or laden with dense theology accumulated over hundreds of years.
Religion is a barrier to socialism. Religion prevents workers from having a true understand of the capitalist world, the need for class struggle and replacing the profit system with socialism. Religion warps sexuality and human relations; it places faith in charity rather than abolishing the wages system. And it is littered with religious leaders peddling superstition and telling people what to think and how to lead their lives.
The socialist opposition to religion has not in any way changed since the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. Unlike many others we do not see religion as a private affair. You cannot become a socialist and simultaneously hold religious beliefs.
The case for socialism is built upon a materialist understanding of history, the fact that men and women make history through class struggles which are the motor force of change from one system of society to another.
Socialism is scientific in that the evidence of peoples' experience in social production supports it. The social relationships entered into to produce and sustain human existence show that social production must be harmonised with social ownership and class antagonism abolished. Socialism is underpinned by knowledge and the instability bred of conflicting class interests under capitalism.
Religion, on the contrary, has no basis in knowledge or science; it is built upon myths and superstition, and sustained by poverty, fear and ignorance. The study of religion reveals, more than anything, the seemingly infinite capacity of the human mind to fantasise and to believe the unbelievable.
The sheer diversity of religion both historically and currently throughout the world really goes full cycle and cancels itself out. They cannot all be right but they can certainly all be wrong. The myths of creation, of almighty spirits, the immortality of the soul and the efficacy of prayer have trapped believers in the grip of predatory ruling classes, whose interest it is to perpetuate their submission and servility.
The appeal of socialism is of such a fundamentally different order that when it is asked why, after over a hundred years of socialist propaganda, so little progress has been made, a major part of the answer is that the lack of progress has been on the part of those who entertain religious views.
Before socialism can be established a majority of the working class must reject the pernicious ideas and beliefs of capitalism which includes religion and nationalism. To look at the persistence of religious myths and primitive superstitions gives us a sobering realisation of the distance we have yet to travel before the exploited class of capitalism, the working class, prioritise their emancipation.
We do not know where we are in capitalism’s anarchic trajectory through time. Integrated world capitalism is very new and it took the profit system several centuries to reach this level of development. Are we in the middle or at the end? The level of socialist consciousness and the number of socialists on the ground shows that the working class has a long way to go.
Hopefully the establishment of socialism will not be as long as 500 million years or even 50,000.
Marx on Force
First published in the SOCIALIST STANDARD No366 Feb, 1935.
“Force is the mid-wife of progress!” How completely this expression is misunderstood by many who use it! What Party speaker has not been confronted at some time or other by a callow youth or a bewhiskered old fogey, who has either indignantly demanded to know why the S.P.G.B. has thrown the teaching of Marx overboard, or has condescendingly, not to say pityingly, “explained” that nothing can be done through Parliament. To most of our critics, “force” means almost anything but action for the capture and control of the State machine. It may mean the “general strike” or, as Daniel de Leon preferred to call it, the “general lock-out of the capitalist class.” It may mean the blind, spontaneous upheaval of an unorganised mass or the deliberate insurrection of an armed minority. It may mean a combination of all these reactions to capitalist pressure; but nowhere does Marx indicate that it is to action on these lines that we must look for deliverance from our fetters.
Let us take a glance at the context of the pregnant phrase as Marx uses it. It occurs in the fifth paragraph of Chap. 31 of “CAPITAL” (p. 776, Swan Sonnenschein edition), which reads as follows:
“The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain. Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England, at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part upon brute force, e.g., the colonial system; but they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.”
The chapter is entitled “The genesis of the industrial capitalist,” and is packed with examples of how the State, in the hands of the capitalist class, wiped out the old classes of feudal society at home (including the peasants and handicraftsmen) and also destroyed the social organisation of more primitive peoples in other parts of the world, in the quest for markets, raw materials and labour power. This was done partly by military and partly by economic measures; for the State, being “the concentrated and organised force of society,” can use either, as the need arises.
It is itself an economic power, appropriating and expropriating by taxation, direct and otherwise, the incomes and means of livelihood of the small property owners whose existence stands in the way of capitalist development.
At the same time it converts itself into a channel of investment by the huge loans it floats. The holder of State-bonds escapes the risks accompanying the various non-State forms of commercial, industrial or financial enterprise.
There need, therefore, be no confusion as to what Marx and Engels meant when they wrote of “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions” at the end of the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. The authors state that,
“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class.”
The State, in the eyes of Marx and Engels, is the supreme expression of force in society. In the hands of the master-class it checkmates every move on the part of the workers which might endanger the property rights of the masters. Let some of the workers seize what few arms they can and it meets their puny force with greater force. Let them indulge in a widespread strike, whether of the stop-in or the stay-out variety, and it mobilises this same force to ensure to the capitalist class the control of the food supplies and essential services.
Throughout the struggle between the workers and their masters, the control of the State power decides upon which side victory lies. The capture of this power by the workers, consciously organised as a class for the purpose, is the essential first step towards their emancipation. To choose any other line is, in the words of Marx to the Fifth International Congress at the Hague, in 1872, “To renounce the things of this world.”
Eric Boden Socialist Standard February 1935. No366
The S.P.G.B. & The Question of Reform
If the Socialist Party of Great Britain had any reformist leanings at all, it is reasonable to expect that the new-formed Party in 1904 would proudly have nailed its colours to the mast in the first issue of its journal in September 1904.
Having broken with the Social Democratic Federation, the first Socialist Standard would have been the obvious place to proclaim what the Party stood for, and this is precisely what the Party did.
The first ever Editorial in the first Socialist Standard (September 1904), has this to say:
“In dealing with all questions affecting the welfare of the working class our standpoint will be frankly revolutionary. We shall show that the misery, the poverty and the degradation caused by capitalism grows far more rapidly than does the enacting of palliative legislation for its removal. The adequate alleviation of these ills can be brought about only by a political party having Socialism for its object. So long as the powers of administration are controlled by the capitalist class so long can that class render nugatory any legislation, they consider to unduly favour the workers”.
In an editorial feature article in that same first issue the SPGB wrote:
“The Social Democratic Federation”, formed to further the cause of Socialism in Great Britain has, during the last few years, been steadily following the compromising policy adopted from the first by the Independent Labour Party. So much is this the case that today, for all purposes of effective Socialist propaganda they have ceased to exist and are surely developing into a mere reform party seeking to obtain the provision of free maintenance for school children”.
Fifty years later, another milestone in the Party’s history was the publication of the Anniversary Number of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.
In looking back over 50 years and reaffirming the Party’s principles and the stand taken against war, Soviet capitalism and reform policies, this is an excellent piece of socialist literature. On page 3, under the heading: “Our contributions to the Socialist Movement”, fourteen points are listed. Number three of these says:
“Opposition to all reform policies and unswerving pursuit of Socialism as the sole objective”.
Point number ten states:
“The Socialist Party must be entirely independent of all other political parties entering into no agreement or alliances for any purpose. Compromising this independence for any purpose however seemingly innocent, will lead to non-socialists giving support to the Party”.
Writing the word “Socialism” across ballot papers where no Socialist was standing was reaffirmed, as a way of showing rejection of all the other parties and expressing the demand for Socialism.
The same uncompromising case for Socialism against reformism is made in the Party pamphlets. The Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Great Britain was the Party’s first pamphlet, published in 1905. It is full of trenchant condemnation of all the opportunist reform parties of the time and rejects outright their political trading and vote-catching stunts.
The independence of the Party is vigorously proclaimed. The case stated is as fresh today as in 1905 and remains the position of the S.P.G.B.
Thus, for example, on page 9:
“A glance over history shows that every class that emancipated itself had to commence by the capture of political machinery, that is the power of government. It is therefore necessary for workers to organise a political party having for its object the capture of political power. This political party of the workers can only be a socialist party because socialism alone is based on the facts of working- class existence. Socialism alone can free the workers from the necessity of selling himself for the profit of a master: Socialism alone will strip him of his merchandise character and allow him to become a full social being”.
There has been a chapter on the subject of reformism in every re-issue of the pamphlet QUESTIONS OF THE DAY since it first appeared in 1932. In that first issue on page 18 it states:
“…we know that the immediate need of our class is emancipation, which can only be achieved through the establishment of Socialism”.
There is also a detailed chapter on Parliament and “the necessity of gaining control of the machinery of government” Page 44.
The rejection of bartering our independence for promises of reform is stressed again. No opportunism, but a sober understanding of the fact that Parliament controls the armed forces, so Parliament must be captured “before attempting to uproot the existing foundations of society” (p.68).
A chapter on fascism makes the unanswerable argument that the only way to prevent political power being used against the workers is for workers to refrain from voting capitalist agents into power.
Forty-six years later, in 1978, QUESTIONS OF THE DAY was largely rewritten and brought up to date the treatment of old questions and dealt with later ones that had arisen, Chinese capitalism among them. There is still a chapter headed The Futility of Reformism and another on Parliament putting again the socialist case consistently stated before.
Keynes & The Russian Revolution
In the popular view two economists are accepted as having had an outstanding influence on events of the last half-century- Marx and Keynes. Marx is supposed to have guided the aims and policies of the Russian government since the Communist Party came to power in 1917 and Keynes’ preaching of full employment and the way to achieve it has been more or less closely followed by most political parties in the Western world, including all the Tory and Labour governments in Britain since the end of the Second World War.
Here, of course, is one of the issues on which Marx and Keynes came into conflict. Marx held that unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalism, while Keynes held that it should and could be reduced almost to the point of disappearance. It isn’t our purpose to deal with that aspect except to say that there is nothing in the post-war rises and falls of unemployment to justify the claims of Keynes’ admirers, which does not deter them from claiming that his discoveries have revolutionised economics and politics.
There is, however, a striking difference between the relationship of Marxism to Russia and that of Keynesian to Britain and other countries. It is that British politicians and their advisers have indeed been trying to apply Keynes’ theories in their conduct of affairs, but Russian governments have been acting in complete disregard to Marx’s theories.
Marx saw that the overthrow of Tzarist autocracy would clear the way for the development of capitalism. This has indeed happened, but while the Communist Party rulers in Russia had presided over the building up of a great capitalist power, they have chosen to pretend that it is Socialism.
What did Keynes make of all this? It happens that he set out what he thought in a series of articles in the New statesman republished in a booklet A Short View of Russia published by the Hogarth Press in 1925. This was some years earlier than Keynes’ book THE GENERAL THEORY OF EMPLOYMENT, INTEREST AND MONEY but after he had made a name for himself with his ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE PEACE and his TRACT ON MONETARY REFORM. He was already regarded as a major figure in the world of economics.
Keynes had nothing but contempt for Marx but we can now compare the maturity and accuracy of Marx’s views of developments in Russia with the superficiality of Keynes’s judgements.
For Keynes the Russian revolution was not a stage in the development of capitalism, but the emergence of a new world religion; not based on changes in the real world but engendered in the minds of the leaders, Lenin and his associates. Keynes had something in common with the Russian leaders; he shared their belief that progress comes from the “intellectual minority”.
Here are two typical passages:
“Like other new religions, Leninism derives its power not from the multitude but from a small minority of enthusiastic converts whose zeal and intolerance make each one the equal in strength of a hundred indifferentists”.
But quite apart from other factors, it was the indifferent multitude – indifferent that is, to Socialism -who, as the Socialist Party of Great Britain said at the time, made nonsense of the Utopian dreams of introducing Socialism in Russia in 1917.
The second quotation is an attack on Marx’s CAPITAL, chiefly revealing for what it tells us about the smug intellectual superiority that Keynes maintained in the face of criticism:-
“How can I accept a doctrine which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete textbook which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world? How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above bourgeois and intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the red bookshop? It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values”.
Keynes had no sense of the historical development of society and showed little appreciation of the problem which faced Russia, as it does all countries in the early stages of capitalism, of accumulating capital to build up large-scale industry. His advice to the Russian government was to lower the wages of town workers, and “get itself into a sufficiently strong financial position to be able to pay the peasant more nearly the real value of his produce”. As the town workers were a small minority and the peasants the vast majority of the population, it certainly wouldn’t have solved the problem. It was about as useful as telling a starving man that what he ought to do is to get rid of a large sum of money without telling him how.
Although, for Keynes, Leninism was a religion he did not wholly approve of it, but he did believe that it would create a society in which money making and love of money would lose their hold, especially among the new generation -though not to the extent of making “Jews less avaricious or Russians less extravagant”.
But although this might be right for the Russians it was not congenial to “an educated decent, intelligent son of Western Europe”. (Who incidentally made a fortune by financial speculations).
He disliked the “mood of oppression” in Russia, for which he had a simple explanation:
“In part, no doubt, it is the fruit of Red Revolution…In part, perhaps, it is the fruit of some beastliness in the Russian nature – or in the Russian or Jewish natures when, as now, they are allied together”.
What can one say of such a shallow interpretation of history except that if Keynes had troubled to understand Marx, he might have known what was really taking place in Russia.
Explaining and imagining socialism
Workers who come across socialist ideas for the first time believe they are ‘utopian’ and 'unrealisable’. We are criticised for “wanting the clock to chime thirteen”, as the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, H.H. Hyndman, apparently once declared against the 19th century “Impossibilists” who, in fact, went on to establish the Socialist Party of Great Britain, in 1904.
Unlike other political parties we have set ourselves a hard task. We insist on first convincing the workers, the world’s working class, of the need for socialism. Without a majority of socialists there can be no socialism. It is a repetitive and time-consuming effort. We have only a pittance to spend on the truth while our political enemies have millions to spend on their lies.
Besides having to face avowed supporters of capitalism like the Tories, we have to deal with the Labour Party, the Greens, Counterfire, SWP, the Socialist Party and others. They want the support of the working class for their own anti-working class ends, not for the establishment of socialism. Socialists reject leadership as a political concept, a concept associated with capitalism and capitalist political parties. A democratic socialist party does not have leaders and the led and neither will socialism. Workers have to think for themselves and stand on their own two feet if they are to establish revolutionary change and administer a social system democratically and voluntarily.
Our critics on the capitalist left reject our insistence that workers must organise as socialists in order to end capitalism. They claim workers want “something now”. This “something now” is usually some social reform or another. The Labour Party, for example, offers a menu of social reforms, particularly at elections.
At the last general election, they offered so many social reforms that the working class ended up not believing them – there is no such thing as “magic money trees” and “infinite social reforms” planning away the problems of capitalism. Instead, workers voted for the more openly capitalism supporting Tories.
What of the question of social reforms and socialist revolution? Socialists do not put reforms in our electoral programmes to gain working class support. We have described social reformism as futile. Social reformism has never changed the basis of capitalism leaving class exploitation intact. Social reforms have never brought socialism any closer. Nor have the problems of poverty, war and unemployment been resolved. And after umpteen different reforms, working class housing remains an insoluble problem. We are for social revolution not social reform. Social reforms we leave to the capitalist left and their ugly street politics.
Unlike socialists, the 'capitalist left’ (those who think capitalism can be reformed and regulated) do not think workers are cut out for socialism. Unlike socialists the capitalist left believe workers should be led and regimented to pursue social reforms, not socialism. They want workers to be hot and angry, to lash out rather than think with cool heads. Workers are forced to face their circumstances “with sober senses”. We tell workers that the only worthwhile “something now” is socialism, otherwise their social problems will be carried on from one generation to the next. Establishing socialism now is vitally important. Our lives and those of our children and grandchildren depend upon it. Our object is socialism and only socialism.
Contrasting capitalism with socialism
We actively pursue socialism to the best of our ability. However, socialism cannot be established by a minority. The establishment of socialism must be the democratic and political act of a majority of workers that are consciously socialist.
We continued to be exploited by the capitalist system because the majority of workers give their support to the profit system – to capitalist political parties and their leaders. The work of a socialist is to encourage the spread of discontent with capitalism and to persuade workers that there is an alternative to it.
Explaining the case for socialism to non-socialists is not easy. One way is to contrast the essential features of socialism with capitalism. We can diagnose the problems caused by capitalism with some forensic precision. And we can contrast these debilitating problems such as war, poverty and unemployment with socialism, a social system in which they are absent. Socialism will, like capitalism be a globally integrated social system, but the basis of production and distribution will be directly to meet human needs, not profit.
We must expose and highlight the failures of the capitalist political parties but because the workers’ support for capitalism is so deep and widespread, we have to spend an inordinate amount of time criticising the profit system and show it needs to be replaced by socialism.
The problems facing the working class will not go away. They remain the exploited class producing more social wealth for employers than they receive in wages and salaries. Each day they take part in a class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. This class struggle goes on whether workers are aware of it or not, and whether politicians want it to stop and go away.
To create a classless society of free men and women requires democratic political action by a socialist majority having socialist knowledge and understanding. It requires a principled socialist party who can send delegates to parliament to get hold of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Socialism can only be brought about democratically by a socialist majority.
We do not know when enough members of the working class will have become committed socialists for the establishment of world socialism. We cannot guarantee they ever will. Capitalism might destroy itself and the world we live in, through environmental degradation or nuclear holocaust. Yet we campaign, day-in and day-out, on the basis that it is in the interest of workers to become socialists and establish socialism. After all, if we became socialists, there is no reason why other workers cannot become socialists.
Capitalism is not a natural system but a social one. Capitalism replaced feudalism, simplifying class and class relations. Capitalism is a class society in which the means of living, such as land, factories and the Earth’s natural resources are owned individually or collectively by the capitalist class. In a capitalist system, labour is coerced while in a socialism system labour will be cooperative and voluntary.
Capitalism is also an integrated global system of commodity production and exchange for profit based on private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the working class majority. Socialism also will be a globally integrated system, but production and distribution will be under common ownership and democratic control by all of society.
Furthermore, we can show that the capitalist class and the working class are locked in a diametrically opposed class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. Class exploitation is a necessary feature of capitalism as the working class produce all the social wealth in society but receive only a fraction of that wealth in wages and salaries. An unearned surplus is taken by the capitalist class as profit to re-invest to make more profit.
Workers are forced to work because the means of production and distribution are protected by the machinery of government. Under capitalism, we cannot have direct access to what we need to live on, or, to produce directly for the good of all society. We have to enter the labour market to sell our ability to work as a commodity in exchange for a wage or salary.
And capitalism causes all the problems workers face: poverty, war and unemployment. In contradistinction to these inherent problems created by capitalism, socialism will produce at the level of abundance thereby ending hunger and inadequate housing, there will be no markets and competition, no borders, no countries, no war and conflict. In a world without money, the economic laws which bear on commodity production and exchange for profit will not be there to generate the trade cycle with its bankruptcies and high levels of unemployment.
So, capitalism can be described with some accuracy. What about the socialist alternative?
We cannot offer a detailed description of socialism. We can only give an outline based on socialist principles and a socialist object. We can offer a sketch of socialism not its details. A more detailed plan and organisation will be for future socialists to decide. We ask workers to use their imagination. Imagine an alternative to capitalism. As Ursula K. Le Guin once said: “The imagination is considered dangerous and of course, it is. The Imagination is truly the enemy of bigotry and dogma”
The Crowning of Charles III
“One man is king only because other men stand in the relation of subjects to him. They, on the contrary, imagine that they are subjects because he is king.”
Karl Marx, volume one, CAPITAL, Lawrence and Wishart, 1983, p63
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.