The Socialist Position on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

War, conflict, and genocide are all consequences of capitalism. Periodically it means indiscriminate massacre of men, women, and children like those recently committed in Israel by the terrorist organisation Hamas. It brings with it retaliatory violence by the Israeli government with punitive air strikes and the shelling of the Northern Gaza Strip which was already a desperate and poverty ridden slum housing some 1.1 million people.

The response by the Israeli government to the Hamas massacre of 1400 men women and children was predictable. Israel drew upon the support of the United States and other western governments to take as much brutal retribution as they saw fit even if it meant killing the elderly and children, displacing millions already in poverty before entering the Gaza strip causing more death and destruction.

A biblical “Eye for an Eye”? On the 28 October the Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu invoked the Old Testament tale of the Amalek, a rival nation that the Israelites were told to exterminate in an act of revenge (“slay both men and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass”- Samuel 15:3 quoted in Mother jones 3 November 2023)). And on 5 November, the Israeli government minister Amichai Eliyahu was suspended by Netanyahu for suggesting using a nuclear strike on Gaza (Politico 5 November 2023. In Israel’s imposition of “collective punishment” more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry (Guardian 14 November 2023). A powerful military force continually firing missile and bombs at an impoverished strip of land containing 2.3 million people, nearly half of them children.

Not that Israel are alone in using the strategy of bombing cities. Russia did so in Syria. Following Russia’s entry into the Syrian war in 2015, Russian fighter jets bombed both military outposts and civilian areas. Russia launched a sweeping bombardment campaign to help al-Assad eradicate nearly all the opposition forces and turn the tide to regain control of much of the country. Of the United States air strikes in Iraq, Patrick Cockburn reminds us:

During the siege of Raqqa by the US-led coalition, the then US defence secretary promised a “War of Annihilation” against IS, but it turned out that the ones who got annihilated were the civilian population which numbered about 300,000…
(the i newspaper October 28, 2023)

Under capitalism there is no safe space from war and violence. Israeli workers cannot find a safe place under capitalism. Jacobson writing in the ‘OBSERVER’ (15 10 2023) said that Israel should be considered a lifeboat in a sea of antisemitism picking up those in distress. It is the wrong metaphor. Israel can be likened to an aircraft carrier in a sea of hostile nation states whose landing strip accommodates the interest of US capitalism who considers Israel as a useful buffer in the protection of oil routes against countries like Iran and those states with whom it shares borders. It can also provide an alternative trade route to Europe in competition with China Belt and Road initiative.

When Biden visited Israel, it was to show support to a country who is important strategically to the oil interests of the United States. He gave the green light for more death and destruction as did the Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Already the US has carried out air strikes against two weapons and ammunition storage facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Biden draws upon “the Carter Doctrine” a policy against the Soviet Union proclaimed by President of the United States Jimmy Carter in his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980, which stated that the United States would use military force, if necessary, to defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf. Iran, backer of Hamas, has now replaced the Soviet Union.

And this is exactly what the US are doing. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the strikes were in response to recent attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups. There is a real threat that the war in Gaza will spill over to adjoining countries.

The Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and his shadow government also gave support to the Israel government to do what they liked in the Gaza strip even if it meant breaking “international law” and leading to the death of thousands of Palestinian children. The Labour Party has always been the Party of war and Starmer is no different to his predecessors like Atlee and Blair. Starmer wants to cravenly follow the US and the EU by not calling for a “cease-fire” but he desperately needs Muslim votes. He is faced by resignations in his own party and defied by several shadow ministers. How can a craven political opportunist square the circle?

The Palestinians, on the other hand, drew on support from the capitalist left in the West like Jeremy Corbyn on time supporter of Irish Nationalism, Iran, and the Palestinian diaspora. Demonstrations took place supporting Palestine, flags were waved, nationalist fervour displaced class interest and cases of antisemitism increased dramatically. Speakers at a demonstration in London blamed Israel and “United States Imperialism”. Some claimed that Hamas was a “resistance movement” giving it “unconditional support” (see article by Mostafa Omar in the SWP pamphlet “PALESTINE: RESISTANCE, REVOLUTION AND THE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM”) being sold at the demonstration. Nothing was said about capitalism and capitalism’s cause of war. Nothing was said about oil interests, strategic interests, and trade routes. There was no criticism of Iran and its theocratic dictatorship nor of Syria or Qatar. Socialists do not want to see established a Palestinian state but world socialism.

The conflict in the Middle East, displayed the usual poison and politically ignorant display of nationalism either in the form of Zionism or the struggle for a Palestinian state.

Poison because nationalism divides the working class. It pits worker against worker. It nullifies class consciousness and an awareness that the problem is not other workers but capitalism; a world divided into conflicting nation states in which war is a natural outcome of competition for raw materials, trade routes spheres of strategic interest and the private ownership of the means of production, land, raw resource, factories, distribution point communication and transport systems. This also includes the oil under the Gaza Strip. These are all issues over which the world’s working class has no interest.

And ignorance because while workers wave nationalist flags, chant out inane slogans and support the governments of another class, they will not be able to organise politically and democratically to replace the profit system with socialism. Socialists have solidarity with the working class in Israel and Gaza. This solidarity come out of a shared class interest where workers are exploited as a class and have an urgent necessity to replace capitalism with socialism. We take no sides in capitalism’s disputes. We say to the Israeli government and to Hamas and its backers like Iran “A Plague on both your houses”.

Under capitalism the working class are excluded from access to what they need in order to live lives as human beings. The class struggle and poverty exists in both Israel and in the Gaza strip. According to the National Insurance Institute's 2021 data, 21% of the Israeli population lives in poverty. In Gaza the poverty is worse. According to UNICEF, more than half of Gaza's just over 2 million people live in poverty, and nearly 80 per cent of the youth are unemployed. "This year, humanitarians need US$510 million to provide food, water, sanitation and health services to 1.6 million people.”

Poverty is something associated with being working class, not the wealthy who own the means of production and distribution. We have no interest in the capitalist class of either territory nor the governments who serve their interests. According to Israeli daily business newspaper THE MARKER, Israel has seventy-one billionaires as of 2021, with one of the highest per capita rates in the world, at 6.7 billionaires for every million people. If the wealthy are well known in Israel, then what of the ruling class which is Hamas? Here is a picture of the Hamas leadership painted by Matthew D’Aancona in the New European (19. 10. 2023”):

Many of the leaders of Hamas live in affluent exile in Qatar. The video clip las week of Ismail Haniyek, the organisation’s political leader, and 12 of his henchmen in their smart suits in his air-conditioned office in Doha, celebrating the murder of children and rape of young Israelis, spoke for itself.

Hamas imposed authoritarian rule on the Palestinians in Gaza, preventing dissent and opposition to their rule. They are also a “death cult”. As Ghazi Hamad, a member of the terrorist group’s leadership, said on Lebanese television on October 24, the initial massacre was “Just the first tome and there will be a second, a third, a fourth. Israel is a country that has no place on our land” (THE EUROPEAN 17 November 2023). Hamas will never remove Israel from the Middle East and Israel will never eradicate the violent terrorist response to its occupation. Socialists oppose the terrorism of Hamas and the state terrorism of Israel. Only the establishment of socialism by a united world working class can guarantee the end of national conflict through the abolition of nation states, removing artificial borders and making the means of production and distribution in common under democratic control. There is no other way.

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Marx: The Problem of Production and Distribution

More than one hundred and fifty years ago Karl Marx made two seemingly contradictory statements:

……it is not a fact that too many necessities of life are produced in proportion to the existing population. The reverse is true. Not enough is produced to satisfy the wants of the great mass decently and humanely…It is not a fact that too much wealth is produced. But it is true that there is periodical overproduction of wealth in its capitalistic and self-contradictory form” (CAPITAL, Vol. III, pp. 302-3).

The Statements are not contradictory, and both are still true.

In the world as a whole and in separate parts of it there are always masses of people not receiving enough “to satisfy wants…decently and humanely”.

United Nation sources estimate that more than 700million people — or 10 per cent of the global population — still live in extreme poverty, which means they are surviving on less than $1.90 a day. Experts predict these figures will continue to rise as a result of the COVID-19 crisis alongside the ongoing impacts of conflicts and climate change.

And in the industrialized countries, including the United Kingdom with its precarious employment, “food banks”, and “warm spaces”, there are large numbers of people on low wages, unemployment pay, pensions or social security payments that are insufficient to meet the cost of a decent, humane standard of living.

Capitalism: “A fetter on production”.

Marx also claimed that capitalism was “a fetter on production”. He wrote:

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters
(‘Preface: Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy’ 1859).

Capitalism is still a constraint on production. The basic contradiction of capitalism is between co-operative social production and class ownership of the means of production. We can illustrate why capitalism is a “fetter on production” by considering the potential of solar energy.

Professor Mehran Moalem of UC Berkeley an expert on nuclear materials and nuclear fuel cycle, amongst other engineering specialisms, stated in a recent article that:

If we cover an area of the Earth 335 kilometres by 335 kilometres with solar panels, even with moderate efficiencies achievable easily today, it will provide more than 17,4 TW power. This area is 43,000 square miles. The Great Saharan Desert in Africa is 3.6 million square miles and is prime for solar power (more than twelve hours per day). That means 1.2% of the Sahara Desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy.

Professor Moalem uses capitalism’s price mechanism to illustrate the cost of this project as being around $5 trillion. Although there would be no prices or money in socialism where production will be undertaken by free voluntary labour, Professor Moalem’s cost of universal solar energy can be contrasted with military spending and “fast-food” consumption under capitalism.

According to Professor Moalem, universal solar energy production is the same amount of money that the world’s competing nation states spends on the military and its weapons over three years ($1.7 trillion per year/$5.1 trillion), what the U.S. spent on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001 ($5.6 trillion) and the amount of money Americans spend on fast food over 13 years ($5.08 trillion).

The article asks what prevents solar energy being developed in this way. For a start the Sahara Desert straddles several competing nation states including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan, and Tunisia. Most are wracked by civil war and social disability. The politics of capitalism gets in the way. The means of production like the raw resources and machinery which make up the solar panels, the transport and so on including solar energy technology and its production, is like all the means of production under capitalism, privately owned to the exclusion of most of society.

In socialism, a world-wide social system, without artificial borders protected by armed guards, barbed wire and passport controls, this would not be a problem. The forces of production including social and co-operative labour would be developed to its full capacity. There would be no barriers preventing the use of global systems of power and energy.

Marx made this point in the GRUNDRISSE:

Capital itself is the moving contradiction…In the one side, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social force thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky high” (Penguin p. 706).

Marx, Ecology, and the Environment

Marx has been accused of being a “productivist”; someone who thinks production can carry on without any detrimental harm to the environment. This is not so as Saito Kohei, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, has shown in his recent book MARX IN THE ANTHROPOCENE (Cambridge University Press 2020).

Kohei Saito made a detailed examination of Marx’s notebooks on the natural sciences. Marx clearly showed the damaging relationship between nature and capitalism which was fundamentally unsustainable. Marx was not a “productivist” but was concerned with the “metabolic rift” between production and nature that commodity production and exchange for profit caused by not returning to nature elements it extracted from it. Saito writes:

Marx consistently problematized the capitalist squandering of two fundamental factors of production: ‘labour power’ (…) and ‘natural’ forces (…). The alienation of labour and of nature are mutually constitutive of each other. In other words, capital not only exploits labour power but also subsumes the whole world, significantly affecting ‘space (scale)’ and ‘time’ (rate), With its ever-expanding and accelerating scale of economy, capital bring about spatiotemporal transformations on an unprecedented level” (p.24).

Marx spent some time in CAPITAL showing the destructive wake which followed capitalism’s plunder of the natural environment, particularly with reference to soil erosion. What he did say – and this was his fundamental contribution to socialism – is that the social relations of capitalism – the class relations – prevents the productive forces, which includes co-operative and social labour, from being used and developed to end social problems like poverty and energy. We do not have to endure poverty, homelessness, and hunger. The means exists to solves these problems and capitalism prevents them from being solved. The profit system, though, acts as a barrier. Only socialism can overcome that barrier.

The Purpose of Socialist Production

The purpose of socialist production will be solely and directly to satisfy human wants taking into account the environment and biosphere. Capitalist production cannot do this since it is activated by the profit motive.

What Marx understood by capitalist production was that its technology and social productivity could satisfy wants “…decently and humanely”. A society producing sufficiently to meet human need throughout the world is possible. There is no reason why sufficient decent housing could be constructed, adequate health and care, enough food, clothing, communication, and transport.

Capitalism, driven by the profit-motive, cannot meet the needs of all of Society but socialism, freed from private property ownership, would be able to meet these needs.

Socialism, making full use of techniques of production will, also have creative social and co-operative labour freed from the exploitive wages system. Men and women will be producing and distributing social wealth solely and directly to meet the needs of humanity, and not for the profit of a privileged few.

From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” is the fundamental socialist principle which will guide socialist society. Men and women will freely take part in social production to the best of their abilities, and freely take what they need to flourish and take part in the democratic affairs of society. To achieve socialism necessarily requires the democratic and political action of a socialist majority.


Socialism is the only social system within which the problems facing our class can be resolved. What, though, will socialism be like? Socialism will be a social system in which the means of production and distributing wealth will be owned by all of society world-wide. Under capitalism the land, factories, offices, mines, railways and other instruments of production and distribution are monopolised by a section of society only, who, consequently, form a privileged class. Socialism will end this monopoly ownership and class privilege. With the means of life owned in common by the entire community, socialism will be a classless society in which class exploitation will have been abolished. All human beings will be social equals, freely able to co-operate in democratically running social affairs. Socialism can be defined by two useful aphorisms:

“From each according to their ability to each according to their need”


“…an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

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Rather a Socialist Than Not One at All

To be a socialist in a world drenched in nationalism, political ignorance and deference is not easy. Discussing socialist politics and socialist ideas with anyone is hard particularly as many people have a misconception of what a socialist stands for and what they want from being a socialist. Socialists are often erroneously linked with the Labour Party and social and economic reformism, or the Left wing of capitalist politics with their penchant for violence, anger, and demonstrations or even the state capitalism that used to exist in Soviet Union until 1991.

What is a socialist you may ask? A socialist is foremost someone who recognises their class position within a social system where the means of production and distribution are owned by a minority capitalist class for the purpose of making a profit to the exclusion of everyone else. A socialist is someone who recognises that social reforms and those who enact them, cannot resolve the social and economic problems facing the working class.

And a socialist is someone who not only rejects the capitalist concept of political leadership but understands that to establish socialism where production and distribution take place purely, directly, and solely to meet human need, first requires a formation of a socialist majority in society. In short, a socialist is someone who wants to see a point in social development where a socialist majority exists and democratically sends socialist delegates to parliament to replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

This takes about a minute to say. If a socialist is allowed to speak for a minute, then what is taken as socialism is often written off as ‘utopian’, ‘pie in the sky’ or against ‘human nature’. Cynicism prevails.

What is socialism?” We’ve now come to the second part which is wholly negative but equally important. Socialism is not nationalisation, socialism is not government ownership, socialism is not what existed in Russia or Cuba, China, Venezuela and Vietnam and socialism is not the Labour government.

In fact, socialists have a particular contempt for the Labour Party who erroneously believe you can run capitalism in the interest of all society. You can’t. Capitalism runs Labour governments in the only way possible, support for the interests of the capitalist class and the profit motive. The Labour Party is not a socialist party, has never been a socialist party, and will never be a socialist party. We urge workers not to vote for the Labour Party. The problem workers face is not the Conservative Party but the profit system and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution.

There appears to be a current streak of servility in the working-class mind-set. Rather than have the confidence to take matters in their own hand, workers defer to political leaders to do the thinking and acting for them. Workers, in the main, are held in suspended animation from one election to the next, only to be bought out to vote for this or that capitalist political party. However, politicians only act in the interest of the capitalist class and can only defend capitalism.

All capitalist political parties disappoint. When in government, they always end in failure. Their responsibility to the capitalist class and its interests always goes against those of the working class.

Real dissent is to reject political leadership as a purely capitalist concept. Leadership has nothing to do with being a socialist or with socialism. Workers can stand on their own two feet They can think and act for themselves.

We are often told that capitalism is the only game in town. If it is, then the severe economic and social problems facing the working class will remain. The reformers have been in the political driving seat for over two hundred years. Housing reform, for example, fills a library with legislation, but the housing crisis continues. Workers do not get the housing they need and if they do, is often mean and substandard.

Marx’s socialist colleague, Frederick Engels was writing about the housing crisis in the late 19th century. After the First World War it was “homes fit for heroes”, then after the second World War it was the utopian vision of high-rise flats while “Parker Morris Standards” were going to solve housing spatial needs. Council housing provision after 1918 came to a standstill due to economic crises. High rise flats just added to the housing problem, and many have been demolished, while Parker Morris standards could not be afforded and so were dropped in the early 1980s.

The Grenfell fire is a tragic example of working-class housing when it goes horribly wrong. The working class only gets second best or nothing at all. Reforms cannot solve the problems facing the working class. More and more workers are living in substandard and dangerous housing with mould, inadequate heating, poor insulation and overcrowding.

According to the Resolution Foundation, one in six adults in the UK are living in poor-quality housing where damp, draughty and cramped living conditions are harming the physical and mental health of millions
(GUARDIAN 15 April 2023).

There is no alternative to the market and the profit system we are told. It is dogmatic to say otherwise. However, we do not need to live in a profit-driven system in which the majority are exploited producing more in social wealth than what they receive in wages and salaries. There is an alternative. There is production just to solely and directly meet human need.

The skill and creativity of the working class exists, and the materials, land, factories, transport and communication systems exist. What is lacking is the imagination by the working class, those who live off salaries and wages, to change society in a revolutionary way. Unlike socialists most workers temporarily cannot imagine the end of capitalism. They cannot think outside the capitalist box.

Yet workers have more political power than that they imagine. Workers have the vote. They can organise and they can organise politically in their own interest. They can take conscious political and democratic action with socialist parties and abolish capitalism and replace the profit system with socialism.

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120 Years of The Socialist Party Of Great Britain

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has a record of being consistently correct on a number of important issues over its 120 years or so of activity.

We warned about the dangers of advocating reforms long before the shameful collapse of European Social Democracy in the first world war.

We said in 1918 that the Bolsheviks could not set up socialism in Russia, and it was we who in this country pioneered the view that Russia was developing state capitalism.

We predicted the inevitable failure of Labour government both as a way to socialism and as a means of improving workers’ living standards.

From the start we realised that nationalisation was no solution to the workers’ problems.

We have always exposed the false and divisive nature of nationalism, racism and religion.

In two world wars we declared and kept an attitude of socialist opposition.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has also made its own contributions to socialist theory, in the light of further developments, going beyond some of the theories of socialist pioneers like Marx and Engels.

And we have kept alive the Object and Declaration of Principles which we all agreed to accept and defend when we joined this Party.

We have refused to compromise our socialist principles by uniting with reformist organisations or those who agree with the object but reject the political and democratic means of establishing socialism. We have firmly insisted that the only road to socialism is through democratic organisation and political action based on class conscious understanding.

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A Critique of Political Economy

Marx's critique of political economy was not a proposal for a new 'socialist economics'. For Marx, socialism implied the disappearance of economics since it was related to capitalist production and exchange of commodities. Socialism will have no wages system, no labour market, with no wage labour producing value, no commodities and no profit through class exploitation. Socialism will be a society of abundance balanced with respect for the environment where there will be direct free access to what people need to live active and creative lives.

In a letter to Lassalle, Marx set out what his project entailed:

The work we are discussing is a Critique of Economic Categories or, if you like, the system of bourgeois economy in a critical description”. (Marx to Lassalle 22/2/1858 in MARX AND ENGELS, 1983 page 51).

For Marx, classical political economy represented the attempts by economists like Smith and Ricardo to grasp the nature of modern society. Their categories and methods of thought gave the highest theoretical expression to the contradictions of capitalist social relations.

Essentially, all these contradictions, including the struggle between capitalists and the working class, express a more fundamental one: the contradiction on the one hand between the workers-self-creation, self-consciousness and social relations to production and on the other labour power becoming an exploitable commodity, forced upon the labour market and sold for a wage and salary.

What economics took for granted as 'natural' and 'rational', Marx saw as a degrading and irrational shell inside which the human life of the worker was imprisoned. Marx's critique is inseparable from the socialist struggle to release labour from capital and to free the forces of production from capitalist social relations of production.

Marx characterised the 'classical political economists' as those who, 'since the time of W Petty have examined the real internal framework of bourgeois relations of production' (CAPITAL Vol. I: 174-5 1976).

As he wrote in a well-known letter:

Once insight into the connectedness has been gained, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions collapses before the practical collapse”.
(Marx to Kugelmann 11/7/1868, in MARX AND ENGELS 1983 p.149).

But as workers under capitalism, we all live inside these relations, so how can we get hold of this 'insight into the connectedness'? The critique of political economy was Marx's answer to this question.

In examining the work of the classical political economists, Marx was investigating a social dysfunction. It was like his attitude to religion: it could not be cured by correcting some logical errors, but only by the working-class replacing capitalism whose contradictions they expressed with socialism. His critique opened the way for 'revolutionary practice', in which 'human activity or self-change' could be seen to coincide with 'the changing of circumstances' (Theses of Feuerbach.).

Marx also drew a distinction between ‘classical’ and ‘vulgar’ economy. The latter tried to understand the inner workings of capitalist production but were imprisoned in their “bourgeois skin”; while the vulgar economists revelled in the appearance of capitalist production degenerating into various schools of apologetics; free market anarchism, Keynesianism, Neo-Ricardian and economic liberalism.

Marx argued that science starts with appearances to the discovery of the underlying reality.

Inquiry, he wrote:

…has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out the inner connections. Only after the work is done can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully…the life of the subject matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror
(CAPITAL, Preface to the second edition).

In CAPITAL Marx pointed out that whereas the “vulgar economists” dealt only with the surface appearances of capitalism, his critique of political economy seeks to uncover the real relations of commodity production underlying the appearances, and on that basis explain the appearances.

The way of thinking of the vulgar economists”, wrote Marx, “derives from the fact that it is always the immediate form in which relationships appear which is reflected in the brain, and not their inner connections. If the latter were the case, moreover, what would be the need for a science at all”?

And explaining his own method of scientific analysis of capitalism, he pointed out that at the end of it:

…we have arrived at the forms of appearance which serve as the starting point for the vulgar: ground rent coming from the earth, profit(interest) from capital, and wages from labour. But from our point of view the thing is now seen differently. The apparent movement is explained
(LETTERS TO ENGELS, June 27, 1867, and April 30, 1858).

And it is from Marx’s point of view that we suggest to workers to read Marx’s writings to understand how and why they are exploited; why capitalism causes the social problems they face and why it can never be made to run in their interest. Marx’s critique of political economy makes a compelling case for revolutionary socialism.

However, there are several difficulties with reading CAPITAL, and this is partly the result of the technical language Marx used in his study of capitalism. There are three important expressions to come to terms with: “critique”, “economic categories” and “political economy”.

Why Critique?

Why did Marx use the term Critique?

Marx had been drawn to political economy by his friend Friedrich Engels. Engels had written on political economy as early as 1843 when he published “OUTLINE OF A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY”.

The term “Critique” had been used by the idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant in his works on reason and experience. In his CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (1781), Kant wrote: “Our age is the genuine age of criticism, to which everything must submit…there is nothing so important because of its utility, nothing so holy, that it may be exempted from the searching review and inspection, which shows no respect for persons” (pp100-101 Cambridge 1999).
Note criticism is just criticism. It lacks a political dimension.

This led Marx to state that philosophers have only interpreted the world in many ways; the point is to change it. And revolutionary change can only be political.

As early as 1843 Marx would write:

It is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present…ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be (MECW 1, p. 144).

Critique for Marx is political as well as being a critical examination or analysis that investigates what is correct and what is incorrect in an object of study. When a critique is applied by Marx to Political Economy it is to the texts of the Classical School of Economics from Petty to Ricardo.

Where Smith or Ricardo, for example, made valid points Marx acknowledges them. When they make mistakes, Marx shows why these were made and gives a solution to them. A critique is not the same as a simple attack or criticism. Marx used the term critique in his reading of the GOTHA PROGRAMME in the same way as he did with CAPITAL, carrying with it a revolutionary political dimension. Marx was not afraid of conflict “with the powers that be”.

What of the expression ‘Political Economy’? Political Economy was regarded by Thomas Carlyle as “the dismal science”. And dismal it really is. A grounding in mathematics is the only in road into understanding most of what is now written as “economics”. And its practitioners are so smug. They all might disagree among themselves, but they all believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds, that markets are here to stay and there is no viable alternative to buying and selling.

Most, if not all of economics is produced by workers but it is extremely hostile to trade unions, and its writings on workers in what pass for labour economic theory you would be excused that they had been directly paid by Rupert Murdoch or Richard Branson. They praise employers for restructuring their business by making workers unemployed and congratulate workers for taking wage cuts in the present economic depression as through there is no alternative to the wages system.

Marx referred to political economy (now called economics) as “bourgeois science” because it only went so far; its practitioners like Smith and Ricardo could not get out of their “bourgeois skins” and think of capitalism as a social system in which social relations generate class struggle.

Marx drew a distinction between the Classical Political Economy of Petty, Smith and Ricardo who tried to understand capitalism and the vulgar economists like J. B. Say who followed them who were only interested in the appearance of capitalism and in defending the interests of the capitalist class. We could call them “gunslingers”, “hired hands”, and “intellectual whores” and there are thousands of them in the universities, the City and in government paid to attack the working class for being greedy, the cause of inflation, lazy and for daring to strike for better wages and working conditions.

Difficult as reading Marx may be at least he writes from the interest of the working class.

For Engels “Political Economy in the widest sense is the science of the laws governing production and exchange of the material means of subsistence in human society” (ANTI-DUHRING p.177-78). This means that Political Economy has a historical dimension. It is linked with capitalist production and exchange for profit. It’s subject matter is time specific not eternal as modern economics would have us believe.

Marx and Economic Categories

Marx used another term; “categories” to describe the various aspects of a capitalist economy. For Marx, categories like commodities, money, wages, and capital are historically specific to capitalism.

Marx criticised Proudhon for not understanding: “that economic categories are only abstract expressions of these actual relations and only remain true while these relations exist…the political-economic categories (are) abstract expressions of the real, transitory, historical social relations
(Letters, Marx to P. V. Annenkov, December 28, 1846).

Value, money, capital and wages would not exist in Socialism. Instead there would be free access to what is required produced by free men and women within the framework of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. We can consider three examples described by Marx as economic categories; capital, wage labour and money. They are not eternal but specific to capitalism.

Of capital Marx wrote:

Capital consists of raw materials, instruments of labour and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are utilised in order to produce new raw materials, new instruments of labour and new means of subsistence. All these component parts are creations of labour, products of labour, accumulated labour. Accumulated labour which serves as a means of new production is capital. So say the economists.

What is a Negro slave? A man of the black race. The one explanation is as good as the other

A Negro is a Negro. He only becomes a slave in certain relationships. A cotton- spinning machine is a machine for picking cotton. Only in certain relationships does it become capital. Torn from these relationships it is no more capital than gold in itself is money or sugar the price of sugar

(Wage-Labour and Capital, Foreign Language Press, p.29).

The same applies to the category “wage labour” or the “wages system”. Workers only become employees-a class who receives a wage or salary -under capitalism because they do not own the means of production and are forced by pain of starvation onto the labour market in order to get a job. The mental and physical ability the worker sells as a commodity to the capitalist is not “eternally binding” but forms part of a historical and transitory social relationship. Outside capitalism, say in Socialism, labour will just be labour, and machinery will be just machinery used together by free men and women to produce useful things for people’s needs. Marx’s conclusion to his study of capitalism-one he impressed onto the working class-was the abolition of the wages system.

Marx’s writings on money are totally at odds with those of the economists. One so-called “Marxist”, Suzzanne De Brunhoff decried Marxists who saw money in terms of social alienation, fetishism and a social relation between classes masquerading as a thing. She believed that a Marxist theory of money could be plucked out of CAPITAL, reformulated into a mathematical model to compete with academic theories of money
(MARX ON MONEY, 1976, p..xii).

Even though Marx spent a great deal of time on the technical issue of money, he never lost sight of the corrosive and toxic social power money exercised in society generally and between classes specifically.

In CAPITAL, Marx quoted Shakespeare, as support for the idea of money as a “God” which perverted human relations. Columbus was cited as saying that “gold can even enable souls to enter paradise”, Sophocles as stating that “nothing so evil as money ever grew to be current among men” (CAPITAL Volume 1 Ch. 3 pp. 229-30), and Boisguiollebert, an early French political economist, as saying that “money declares war on the whole of humanity” (CAPITAL, Volume 1 Ch 3. page 239).

Commodity fetishism was inseparable from money fetishism. Money became the object of production-capital for the sake of capital, and in this process the social bond between people gave way to “Purely atomistic” relations which were “independent of their control and their conscious individual action” (CAPITAL Volume 1 , Ch 3 p. 189).

In fact, Marx criticized economists like David Ricardo for only concentrating on the technical aspects of money rather than the alienating aspect of money. He would have characterized de Bronhoff’s analysis of money as false and one-sided. This is what Marx wrote:

With Ricardo,…,this false conception of money is due to the fact that he concentrates exclusively on the quantitative determination of exchange-value, forgetting on the other hand the qualitative characteristic, that individual labour must present itself as abstract, general social labour only through its alienation

Marx argues that money becomes an object of worship and greed because it contains an alienated social power (ECONOMIC AND PHILOSOPHICAL MANUSCRIPTS, p. 168). This train of thought is carried over into his critique of political economy. Just as “one man is king only because other men stand in relation of subject to him, and they, on the contrary, imagine that they are subjects because he is king” (CAPITAL Volume I Ch. 15 p.570) so the appearance that money is all powerful, and all other commodities are subservient to money is also unavoidable.

Money as alienation has a social cost; money becomes an obsession; it unleashes negative human behaviour and creates disorganization in production. Overcoming the social alienation associated with money requires overcoming the social relations within capitalism through socialist revolution.

Marx began his critique of Political Economy with capitalism as it appeared to people in their ordinary lives; a world of commodities. Along the way he demolished one after the other; the various arguments used by economists to justify class exploitation. And it was precisely these failed arguments which were used to create academic economics after his death- market harmony, factors of production, capital as a thing, and so on.

There is no course of study within university departments called “A Critique of Political Economy”. A critique of political economy brings with it not only a labour theory of value but the materialist conception of history and a political concept of class struggle. It is inconceivable that the capitalist State would fund such a course.

The courses and books which claim to teach “Marxist economics” are run by either supporters of State capitalism and Trotskyists or those economists’ taking aspects of Marx’s CAPITAL to apply to trends in academic economics.

The supporters of State capitalism with their journals like CRITIQUE, REVIEW OF RADICAL POLITICAL ECONOMICS, CONFERENCE OF SOCIALIST ECONOMISTS, CAPITAL AND CLASS have added nothing to Marx’s own critique of Political Economy except to spread confusion and turn Marx into the means to secure papers for publication on the way to this or that professorial chair.

The “eclectics” have tried in vain to turn Marx into a mere economist by straining out his socialism, so he becomes lost in the history of economics; “a minor post Ricardian”, “a precursor to Keynes” or a “trace” in the economic theory of some more fashionable contemporary economist.

An example of the former is POLITICAL ECONOMY (1952) by John Eaton, then a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The book claimed to be a study of Marxist Political Economy rather than a Critique of Political Economy and ends with a section misleadingly entitled “Wages in a Socialist Society” (182-185) in which Eaton made the fatuous and anti-Marxian claim that workers in the Soviet Union were not exploited. The Socialist Party of Great Britain applied Marx’s Labour Theory of Value to post 1917 Russia and argued that the law of value held there just as it did in any other capitalist country. Workers were exploited by producing more social wealth than they received in wages and salaries. Furthermore, Russian capitalism could not escape the vagaries of the world market.

As an example of the “eclectics” we have the economist, P. N. Junankar. In his book MARX'S ECONOMICS (1982), Junankar writes:” Marx provided an interesting analysis of money and circulation which in effect, was the first growth model of the von Neumann or Harrod type” (p12) as though Marx’s CAPITAL was politically neutral and just a contribution to capitalist economics.

Worse still is the book FIFTY MAJOR ECONOMISTS by Steven Pressman (1999) which sees Marx inserted between the economists John Stuart Mill and Leon Walras. Marx was no more an “academic economist” than he was a “philosopher”.

So, what has happened to CAPITAL? On the one hand the questions it asked have been politically blocked by academics who claim Marx was either “inconsistent” or held to a theory of value that is now “out-dated”. Marx had anticipated this reaction. He wrote that: “In the domain of Political Economy, free scientific enquiry meets not merely the same enemies, in all other domains. The peculiar nature of the material it deals with, summons as foes into the field of battle the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest"
(CAPITAL, Preface to the First German edition p.21).

If someone wants to change society in a revolutionary way, there are vested interests who want society to remain exactly as it is and they will do whatever it takes to try and silence the revolutionary. Marx was no exception.

How much the ruling class and its agents fear Marx and his ideas can be seen by the almost daily negative references to him in the media –the Tory MP and TIMES columnist, Michael Gove, recently wrote off CAPITAL's literary style as an example of “stale flatulence” (TIMES,10.06.08). Not much intellectual rigour there, then, Mr Gove, an example of conservatism displaying the highest form of ignorance and the lowest form of thought.

On the other hand, Marx’s CAPITAL and his scientific objective “to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society" (p. 20 ibid) has been kept alive and developed by Socialists of The Socialist Party of Great Britain. Socialists are not dogmatists. If a theory is wrong then the accusation has to be taken seriously, and if true, the theory replaced by a better explanation.

However, socialists have seen neither inconsistency nor irrelevance in Marx’s labour theory of value and the ideas he developed in CAPITAL. The relationship of the production of gold to other forms of commodity production, money and price is not “out-dated” and gives useful insights to an understanding to productivity and inflation. The mystical school of banking has been rightly criticised on the basis of the labour theory of value by demonstrating that wealth cannot be created “by the stroke of a pen”.

The class struggle is explained by the extraction of surplus value from the working class. Taxation has been shown to be a burden that ultimately falls onto the capitalist class. And Marx’s political conclusion has been kept clear-the abolition of capitalism and establishment of socialism by a class-conscious working class. More importantly Socialists have treated the three volumes of CAPITAL as a whole rather than a pick and mix of theories to be improved or corrected.

One word of caution.

There is a comedy sketch from NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS about a group of earnest young professional revolutionaries poring over a copy of CAPITAL. One of them looked up and began reading out a particularly difficult passage. He paused, turned to his fellow conspirators and uttered words to the effect of: “Sod this for a game of soldiers, let’s just go out and bomb something…

Of course, Marx did not write for “earnest young professional revolutionaries” any more than he advocated terrorism. But the prose style of volumes II and III are very dense, difficult, and often stilted and clumsy. And for a very good reason. The second and third volumes of CAPITAL were not completed by Marx at his death.

Both volumes dealt with important topics relating to capital’s movement and the discussion of value started in the first volume. The second volume was a study of circulation, reproduction and extended accumulation while the third volume was a study of capital as a whole. Volume II was worked up in draft form, but the third volume was in a more difficult state to edit coherently. A lengthy discussion of the various independent forms of money capital, including credit, occurs in part 5 of the third volume of CAPITAL, but this material was pieced together from a “disordered jumble of notes
(Engels, Preface CAPITAL Volume III, p. 95).

Engels edited and published what he considered to be a definitive edition of Vol. I of CAPITAL in 1890, and brought out Volumes. II and III of in 1885 and 1894 by carefully editing and arranging Marx’s draft manuscripts.

Engels took the view of not presenting a polished text similar to the first volume of CAPITAL. He tried to present, where possible, Marx in his own words from primitive drafts which would have been worked up by Marx in a more lucid and approachable style.

Consequently, the prose-style in Volume II of CAPITAL is often hard to read even though it is basically complete. However, there were further problems with the drafts Marx left for volume III. Engels was faced with sentences in which thoughts are written down just as they arose which “became instead longer and more intricate” (Preface, p. 93). Engels retained the character of the original draft but as a result Marx’s presentation is laid out in an unfinished way, peppered with gaps, repetitions, and silences.

The Carbon-emitting Wealthy ‘Plundering the Planet’

The richest one percent of people on the planet emit as much carbon dioxide as the poorest two-thirds, according to a report by Oxfam.

In 2019, the carbon emissions of the richest one per cent soared to 16 per cent soared to 16 percent of the world’s total, equally the amount produced by the poorest five billion” (INDEPENDENT 20 November 2023).

Typically, Oxfam wanted governments to tackle inequality. That is not what governments exist for. They exist to serve the interest of the one per cent. It is not reform of capitalism that is needed but, instead, socialist revolution.

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Who’s Afraid of Artificial Intelligence

From Science Fiction to Science Fact: The Emergence of Artificial Intelligence

In November 2022, the artificial intelligence (AI) research laboratory Open AI launched a free prototype of its text-based human conversation simulator called ChatGPT. GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. The GPT models are pre-trained by human developers and then are left to learn for themselves and generate ever increasing amounts of knowledge, delivering that knowledge in an acceptable way to men and women.

ChatGPT is designed to generate natural language responses to questions, provide recommendations and to write copy. It has numerous applications and has the potential to transform the way people interact with technology and each other.

Sam Altman, the chief executive of Open AI, which developed ChatGPT said:

In the next five years, computer programs that can think will read legal documents and give medical advice. In the next decade they will do assembly-line work and maybe even become companions. And in the decades after that, they will do almost everything, including making new scientific discoveries that will expand our concept of everything
(TIMES, 7 April 2023).

Of course, the new technology is sensationalised in the media into a technological development that threatens humankind with mass unemployment and robotic enslavement. It is not a new fear of technology. One newspaper recently carried a headline of football managers being replaced by robots although what would happen to the often-sacked manager is not discussed. The DAILY MAIL went one further with a headline:

Killer robots could make humans their SLAVES before destroying everyone on the planet, claims scientist” (14 June 2018).

Even capitalists are at this sensationalism. According to the GUARDIAN: 'Elon Musk says AI Could Lead to Third World War’ (4 September 2017) although NATO and Russia in the current Ukrainian war are following conventional lines of destructive hostility towards the Third World War. That is not to say the military have not embraced AI in their war plans.

The Czech writer Karel Capek wrote a Utopian drama ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS(Prague 1920) in which one of the characters states:

…The best sort of worker is the cheapest worker. The one that has least needs. What young Rossum invented was a worker with the least needs possible. He had to make him simpler. He threw out everything that wasn’t of direct use in his work, that’s to say, he threw out the man and put in the robot”.
(Cited in MARX AND THE ROBOTS, Introduction, p1 2022).

In fact, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN in which the “monster” eventually destroys its creator. Science fiction writers have been playing on the fear of robotics, computers and artificial intelligence ever since. It sells newspapers.

Fear of the consequences of AI were amplified by a letter to AI laboratories and governments from the multi-billionaire Elon Musk and others. In their letter they wrote:

We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4…If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium.

Musk and others feared the negative potential of AI, that an all-powerful “artificial general intelligence” could have extreme dangers for humanity.

However, their demand for a six-month ban on developing more advanced AI models has been met with scepticism. Yann Le Cun, the leading AI expert at Facebook-parent company Meta, compared the attempt to put AI under wraps like the Catholic church trying to ban the printing press. He imagined the outcry in Papal circles when they learnt of Johannes Gutenberg inventing the moveable printing press in 1440:

Imagine what could happen if the commoners get access to books,” he sarcastically wrote on Twitter.

Nevertheless, although books had the power to propagate ruling class ideas besides scientific inquiries into capitalism like Marx’s CAPITAL, technology does have a more destructive dimension.

What came of the research into atomic energy in the 1930s? In august 1939, Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt to warn him that: “the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy” and that “extremely powerful bombs may thus be constructed”.

Some six years later in August 1945 the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing over 100,000 men, women and children.

Socialists, AI and Technology

Socialists have long had an interest in technological advance. Not for its own sake or for its application to the profit system. Instead, socialists have looked at new technology, under common ownership and democratic control of all society to increase the forces of production and to free men and women from the necessity to work. In other words, extends the realm of creativity, leisure and taking part in the affairs of society.

Marx and Engels made some useful comments on the development of the means of production in their own day. In THE CONDITIONS OF THE WORKING CLASS (1844) Engels made the point that mechanisation not only shed jobs it often created new employment in new sectors of the capitalist economy. Not that it benefited workers whose lives were often turned upside down and remained an exploited class.

In the GRUNDRISSE’ Marx wrote:

The real facts, which are travestied by the optimism of the economists, are these: the workers, when driven out of the workshop by the machinery, are thrown onto the labour-market. Their presence in the labour-market increases the number of labour-powers which are at the disposal of capitalist exploitation…the effect of machinery, which has been represented as a compensation for the working class, is, on the contrary, a most frightful scourge. …. As soon as machinery has set free a part of the workers employed in a given branch of industry, the reserve men are also diverted into new channels of employment and become absorbed in other branches; meanwhile the original victims, during the period of transition, for the most part starve and perish.

The implication here is that automation for the working class means increased precarious jobs and rising inequality. The rise of what the late David Graber called “bullshit jobs”.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has also added its scepticism in the use of new technology to create millions of unemployed workers.


So why did the forecasters get it wrong? There is a common factor in most of the forecasters disproved by events. It is that the forecasters looked at what was happening in the final stage of each industry’s production process and failed to take into account the process as a whole”.

Most forecasters, for example, look at the labour displaced by a machine but ignore the labour needed for the production, maintenance and operation of that machine.

It was left to Marx to provide a valid measurement of productivity and its increase by the application of his labour theory of value. In accordance with that theory the value of a commodity corresponds to the total amount of labour socially necessary to produce it. But that amount of labour is not merely the labour needed in the last stage of production but the whole production, from start to finish. Marx wrote.

In calculating the exchangeable value of a commodity, we must add to the quantity of labour last employed the quantity of labour previously worked up in the raw material of the commodity, and the labour bestowed on the implements, tools, machinery and buildings with which such labour is assisted
(VALUE, PRICE AND PROFIT, International Publishers 1976, p 32)

In the, so-called ‘Fragment of the Machine’ (a passage that Marx himself never titled as such), buried deep in the GRUNDRISSE, a series of notebooks that weren’t published until 1973, a full 125 years after they were written, Marx did not see the advancement of machine technology incompatible with human beings, if and only if, the development of machines took place within socialism.

Marx even gave a thought experiment of a social system in which production was wholly mechanised, He wrote:

Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself… As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure”.

AI, though, is emerging under capitalism, a system based on profit and class exploitation where the means of production are privately owned to the exclusion of the rest of society. And it is under capitalism with its national conflicts over resources, land, trade routes and spheres of influence that we should first start looking at this emerging technology.

AI, Competition and the Military

AI finds an outlet in the intense competition between the United States and China. US is to deny China the most advanced semiconductors necessary for cutting edge AI. However, in the 1940s it did not take the Soviet Union long to get the necessary technology to manufacture the atomic bomb for themselves. In a recent article John Naughton wrote:

A National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence was convened…In its report, the commission warned that China could soon replace the US as the world’s “AI superpower”; that AI systems will be used…in the pursuit of power; and that “AI will not stay in the domain of science fiction”. It also urged President Biden to reject calls for a global ban on highly controversial AI-power autonomous weapons, saying that China and Russia were unlikely to keep to any treaty they signed” (‘AS AI weaponry enters the arms race, America is feeling very, very afraid’ 0.9 April 2023).

Meanwhile, as with all other high-tech innovation under capitalism, the power of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence are understood to fetch substantial contracts with the British Armed forces.

With AI technologies already in use by the British Army in its war games in Estonia battlefield operations in the capitalist wars of the twenty-first century, including unmanned drone air assaults and targeted assassinations, the power of GPT decision-making is being actively pursued by the British Army.

The Ministry of Defence boasts:

The Defence AI Strategy makes clear that AI has extraordinary potential as a general enabling technology. The DAIC is the central catalyst to realise its benefits right across the MOD, from the ‘back office’ to battlespace. It will enhance the speed and efficiency of business processes and support functions; increase the quality of decision-making and tempo of operations; improve the security and resilience of inter-connected networks; enhance the mass, persistence, reach and effectiveness of our military forces; and protect our people from harm by automating ‘dull, dirty and dangerous’ tasks”.

Defence Procurement Minister, Jeremy Quin, said:

Future conflicts may be won or lost on the speed and efficacy of AI technology, and our approach to AI must be rapid, ambitious and comprehensive. Our new Defence AI Centre (DAIC) and AI strategy will create a focused hub to champion these technologies, working ethically hand in hand with human judgements to maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of global security and responsible innovation”.

Capitalism can only use the development of new technologies for war and class exploitation. Only socialism can use the potential of technologies such as ChatGPT to benefit all of society. Capitalism has developed technology like AI and social productivity to the point where sufficient housing, health provision, communication, transport and food can be produced for everyone. This is the material basis of socialism.

Capitalism is incapable of meeting human need; the profit system cannot make full use of the global productivity system it has built-up over the past three hundred years or so. Socialism making full use of the developed methods of production like AI will alter the purpose of production. Production will take place directly and solely to meet human need.; that is through the revolutionary socialist reorganization of society by the working class.

AI: Capitalism, Unemployment and Profit

The expectation for capitalism, productivity and profit, is that the core technology of ChatGPT will be sold to corporations across all industries as a means of cutting costs and eliminating jobs.

The global artificial intelligence market size was estimated at US$ 119.78 billion in 2020. It is believed that AI could contribute up to$15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined (Sizing the Prize, PwC Global There is indeed investment opportunities in AI and for profitable outcomes for investors.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, half of the tasks performed by auditors, interpreters and writers can be performed more quickly by AI tools. A report published by McKinsey & Company estimates that 25 percent of work across all occupations could be automated by 2030 and 60 percent of 800 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labour Statistics could have one-third of their work tasks automated in the coming decades.

While past rounds of automation affected factory jobs, Anu Madgavkar, who leads labor market research at the McKinsey Global Institute said that AI will affect white-collar jobs most. She said:

It’s increasingly going into office-based work and customer service and sales…They are the job categories that will have the highest rate of automation adoption and the biggest displacement. These workers will have to work with it or move into different skills.” (Anu Madgavkar, GUARDIAN, 8 February 2023).

In 2018, a report from the World Economic Forum estimated that AI would create a net total of 58 million new jobs by 2022. The report also said that AI would eliminate 75 million jobs by 2022. Most work will not be full-time, but employers are expected to expand their remote workforce and rely increasingly on contractors and sub-contractors.

Workers as “contractors and sub-contractors” means precarious and mentally damaging part-time work currently experienced by those striking Amazon workers in the large, computerised Amazon warehouses dotted along the motorways of the UK or the staff at Mechanical Turk, Foodora and Uber.

Marx, in the first volume of CAPITAL, made some useful observations regarding the working class and machinery. He said:

An organised system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motions of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs
(Section 1: The Development of Machinery).

Marx was always clear that the development of the forces of production, as long as they remained under the ownership of the capitalist class, would not benefit the workers. He wrote:

Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO)

Industrial Workers as employers are always vulnerable to the profit motive and the competition of companies to make a profit. As employees they face machinery as something alien to them. They have no control. And they have no ability to use the means of production for their own needs and the needs of their families. This brings us on to the real issue about AI, its use and for whom.

The real issue is about ownership and control, what is AI used for and by whom.

The real issue is about ownership and control, what is AI used for and by whom. We should not fear AI. The real problem for workers is the development and use of AI by governments and capitalists and their governments.

Creative and satisfying work given freely to meet human need will be the object for a socialist society either supported or not by Artificial intelligence. Human beings will not be slaves to technology. Work is both a biological and a social necessity for human beings. We do not believe that AI and robotics will end the need for human beings to work. Work is a human condition and should be creative and pleasurable. However, how work will be organised in socialism will be totally different than it is under capitalism. Work as creative pleasure rather than work as exploited drudgery.

If under capitalism the application of AI will further degrade and alienate human existence, then this will not be the case in socialism. Working for an employer is always degrading, often boring and unpleasant and sometimes dangerous and unhealthy. Outside employment workers do find pleasure and enjoyment. Work is not the same as employment and the use of AI in production and distribution will not be an issue of employment but free and voluntary labour producing useful things to directly meet social need. Employment and employees will not exist in socialism.

Machines cannot think of potential and qualitative changes. AI and robotics cannot tell us how to be human beings and what it is to be a human being. New knowledge comes from such transformations (human), not from the extension of existing knowledge (machines). Only human intelligence is social and can see the potential for change, in particular social change, that leads to a better life for humanity and nature. Socialism would prioritise people and nature rather than technological progress. As Aaron Benanav concluded in his book AUTOMATION AND THE FUTURE OF WORK (2020):

Recognition of the fundamental dignity of the 7 billion plus who make up humanity requires that we no longer agree to relegate some to a life of drudgery so that others may be free. It means we must share out the work that remains to be done in a technologically advanced society, so that everyone has the right and the power what to do with their time” (p93).

Or as Marx and Engels had put it earlier in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO

: “…we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

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Divide and Rule: Fragmenting The Ruling Class

The working class form a majority in society. They are united as a class because workers have to sell their ability to work (their labour power) for a wage or salary to an employer. They are forced by economic circumstances to enter the labour market where they are exploited as a class in producing more social wealth than their income, what Marx called “surplus value” or “surplus labour time”. As a class, workers have the potential power to change society in a revolutionary way, from production for profit to production solely and directly to meet human need.

Workers have the ability to politically and democratically form themselves into socialist political parties, gain control of the machinery of government and replace capitalism with socialism. What prevents this from happening? One serious barrier preventing workers acting in their own class interest is that they are constantly being split and fragmented by defenders of the capitalist class into opposing groups; both nationally and within the country itself.

Divide and rule is not new. The Latin phrase “divide et impera” is as old as politics and war. The Romans were adept at divide and rule. Julius Caesar successfully applied it to conquer Gaul. The British used the policy of divide and rule in India in the 19th and early 20th centuries when they created a rift between the Hindus and Muslims and between lower and upper castes. The policy of divide and rule still did not stop the Roman Empire collapsing nor prevent the British being forced to leave India in 1947.

During war, government propaganda often successfully pits workers from one country against workers from another country. However, workers have no interest in capitalism’s wars. Workers do not own the means of production and distribution. Issues such as disputes over trade routes, spheres of strategic interest, land and resources are of no interest to the working class. There is one world working class with workers in Russia, for example, having the same interest as workers in Ukraine and workers in Israel having the same class interest as workers in the occupied regions of Palestine. One global class and one global class enemy. Nevertheless, in times of war, governments constantly depict other workers as “the enemy” to be killed and destroyed.

Divide and rule splits the working class into fragments and they misleadingly see other workers as the problem rather than capitalism and the profit system. Low wages, unemployment, poor housing and health care are all mistakenly seen as the fault of other workers but not capitalism: the private ownership of the means of production and distribution to the exclusion of the rest of society. Workers misleadingly believe that if migrants were stopped coming to the UK, wages would rise and there would be no scarcity of housing.

This is not the case. Workers are paid as little as employers can get away with and the reason why workers cannot get decent housing to meet their needs is because it is just too expensive. With or without migrants, workers would still be in the same subservient class position. Workers are in poverty because of capitalism not because of other workers.

Who is to Blame?

To divide the worker class, a minority group is identified, demonised by politicians and the media and then presented as a threat to all that is decent and wholesome. In the mid-1970s, Margaret Thatcher’s right-hand man, Keith Joseph, warned that the cycle of social deprivation was the result of sexual promiscuity and over breeding of sections of the working class. Single parent mothers on council housing estates were, according to Joseph, threatening “our human stock”. He conveniently changed the focus of attention from capitalism as the cause of social deprivation to groups within the working class who were unable to defend themselves.

We are reminded that in the 19th century the working class were divided into ”the deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor”. Vagrancy laws set up the dichotomy between the “deserving and undeserving poor”. The undeserving poor became increasingly associated with society’s social decay – the “Residuum” who became prey to the pseudo-science of eugenics from which social programmes of sterilisation were considered. The Labour Party Fabians, Shaw, H. G. Wells and the Webbs were ardent eugenicists as was Keynes and Beveridge (See G. R. Searle “THE WUEST FOR NATIONAL EFFICIENCY” 1971).

Margaret Thatcher played on fears of immigration to help win the 1979 election by remarking about British people fearing they might be “rather swamped by people of a different culture”. She was after the National Front vote and she succeeded in getting it. The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon used a similar slur against immigrants in October 2014. All part of the politician’s racist arsenal to divide and rule.

Enoch Powell successfully divided the working class during the late 1960s. In his so-called “rivers of blood”, speech in Birmingham in 1968, he quoted Virgil’s Aeneid: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the river Tiber foaming with much blood’.” His image was future “race wars”; violence between black and white members of the working class leading to bloodshed and death.

Shortly afterwards, thousands of Dockers and meat packers marched and took strike action in support of Powell’s xenophobic views. Capitalism, the cause of the poverty facing the working class, was moved onto other workers. Boris Johnson, a student of Powell, when Prime minister, pushed white English ethno-nationalism in the North of England to gain votes that were formerly going to Farage’s UKIP.

Since the 1960s the targets for those wanting to split the working class has been immigrants, gays, trade unionists, people with a disability, those living in inner-city council estates, the unemployed and youth sub-culture. In the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher looked to striking miners as “the enemy within”. These striking miners were also condemned by the Labour leader Neil Kinnock. New Labour also supported attacks on single parents when they cut lone parent benefits in the early days of the Blair government. Labour, too, carried on Tory policies of demonising migrants. Remember labour’s anti-immigrant branded mug with its promise “Controls on immigration”.

Of course, this is not new. At the turn of the Twentieth Century it was the Jews from Eastern Europe. Then it was workers from the Caribbean in the 1950s, then Refugees from Kenya and Uganda in the 1970s and then “trade union barons” holding the country to ransom in the late 1970s who had to be disciplined with anti-trade union legislation. And the universities and politicians divide the working class into “working class” and “middle class” ignoring the fact that all workers who receive a wage or salary are members of the same class. The so-called “middle-class” (architects, doctors, university lecturers) make up 15% of the working class.

More recently the young have been encouraged to blame their inability to get housing on the elderly who are reported to live such fantastic lives on the state pensions. David Willets, the former universities Minister, contributed to this false division in his book THE PINCH: HOW THE BABY BOOMERS TOOK THEIR CHILDREN'S FUTURE - AND WHY THEY SHOULD GIVE IT BACK, in 2010 and up-dated it in 2020. The “enemy” now were the “baby boomers”, an alleged pampered section of the working class who, according to Willets, were ruining their children’s future. Yet, pensioner poverty is at an all time high. The Centre for Ageing Better’s annual report, published on 17 March, finds that there were 200,000 more poor pensioners in 2021. Nothing was said about capitalism by David Willets. And he was unsurprisingly quiet on the vast wealth and privilege of the capitalist class.

Beyond the Fragments

Is the working class so fragmented that it would rather tear itself apart rather than understand that capitalism, the profit system, is the cause of their social and economic problems not other workers? Politicians and the media seemingly find it very easy to divide and rule. Capitalism and the capitalist class get off scot-free.

Are the cynics right? Is there no hope? Can the working class be brought together? It is true that the working class are pitted against each other the minute they go to school in preparation for the jobs market. As adults, workers compete against each other for resources and jobs. This competition affects all areas of their lives.

Marx commented on the problem of competition which fragments the working class against itself:

Competition separates individuals from one another, not only the bourgeois, but still more the workers, in spite of the fact that it brings them together. Hence it is a long time before these individuals can unite...Hence every organized power standing over these isolated individuals, who live in conditions daily reproducing this isolation, can only be overcome after long struggles. To demand the opposite would be tantamount to demanding that competition should not exist in this definite epoch of history, or that the individuals should banish from their minds conditions over which in their isolation they have no control.” (German Ideology).

Marx believed that despite competition and class division, workers can unite and this unification came out of the dynamics of the class struggle. In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO he sketched out the development of the working class from an incoherent mass to one organising into trade unions and then political parties.

Conditions of capitalism have the potential for class solidarity and unity. Struggling for pay and better working conditions unites all workers, so does the necessity for joining trade unions to further class interests. And not all workers, for example, see migrants as “the enemy” as demagogues like Nigel Farage hoped for when he criticised the RNLI as a “migrant taxi service” for saving migrants. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution raised more than £200,000 in a single day after defending its work rescuing migrants at risk of drowning in the Channel, while volunteering inquiries almost quadrupled.
(GUARDIAN 21/7/21).

Marx distinguished between what he called a "class in itself" and a "class for itself." Workers first become conscious of sharing common interests around pay and working conditions (a class “in itself”) and eventually develop an awareness as a class opposed to employers and seeing the necessity to replace capitalism with socialism (a class “for itself”).

Most of the time, workers experience life in isolation from other workers. The economic and political narrative of their isolated lives is framed by the media; particularly the newspapers and television who continually demonise other workers. As individuals, they are much more likely to accept the ruling ideas of society, to see others as the problem not capitalism as a debilitating social system to be changed in a revolutionary way. Even in the face of a sea of capitalist propaganda dividing the working class against itself, workers; male and female, black and white, work together for a common purpose in trade union organisations and socialist political parties. There is class solidarity, weak as it currently is.

Workers, despite the capitalist propaganda, have understood that the social system has to be changed and can be changed once there is a majority of socialists in society.

In this revolutionary process “divide and rule” loses its political power. Workers have become socialists and workers will become socialists because capitalism, as Marx noted, “creates its own grave diggers”. Capitalism can never resolve the problems facing the working class. It can never meet the needs of all society. Capitalism and the contradictions of capitalism cause into existence socialist ideas, socialists and a socialist revolutionary force. Capitalism is a “fetter on production” generating economic crises and the class struggle.

Nevertheless, there is only so much socialists can do. We can warn and we can persuade but we cannot lead. The abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism have to be the work of the working class itself. Yet as socialists we have to remain positive and optimistic even in these dark and depressing times. As Bob Marley sang: “Don’t give up the fight: Never give up the fight”.

What of the political terrain over which the working class lay fragmented and fighting against each other. We can look no further than the optimism of Erin Quinn in Channel Four’s “DERRY GIRLS”:

If our dreams get broken into pieces, we have to make a new future from the pieces

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What the S.P.G.B. Has Done Since 1904

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is often asked: “You agree with and teach the Materialist Conception of History and the Labour Theory of Value. You kicked off in 1904, but what have you contributed to the Socialist movement, what else have you learnt and taught?” Before answering that question, we think it is appropriate to state what the Socialist Party of Great Britain has not done.

The problems facing the working class under capitalism broadly comes under three headings war, want & insecurity.

The British capitalist class were involved in two major wars in the last century and have been involved in a war in Afghanistan and Iraq in the first decade of the 21st century. NATO is currently fighting a proxy war in Ukraine with tens of thousands of working-class deaths.

While capitalism lasts, these will not be the only conflicts to be fought this century. The SPGB has not encouraged the working class to lay down their lives to maintain British capitalism or to defend the Russian revolution of 1917 when it was, in fact, a coup d’etat.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks could not establish socialism in a largely backward country. In the First World War, we issued a statement pointing out that war was endemic to capitalism and that only socialism could end war:

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.

In the 1914-18 war, the Labour Party urged workers to fight in order to “crush militarism and end all war”. It supported the 1939-45 war for “freedom and democracy” and promised a programme of ‘social justice’ after the war. It is still pursuing this failed policy in the misguided belief that you can have capitalism without the effects of capitalism. Organisations “left” of the Labour Party either supported the war in order to defend Russia, or because they thought the Russian revolution was socialist but had taken the wrong path and needed to be preserved to get it back on the correct one. The SPGB in 1918 had pointed out that Russia could only develop capitalism – a fact proved by history.

Want & insecurity are both endemic to capitalism. When the Beveridge Plan was proposed, workers were to be given the princely sum of £2 per week unemployment benefit. The Labour Party, the Communist Party and the Conservative Party all entered the market offering £2.10, £2.50 and £3.00 benefit respectively. The SPGB issued a pamphlet BEVERIDGE RE-ORGANISES POVERTY. We urged the abolition of capitalism, not its retention.

We said that whatever reforms were brought in, poverty would continue. How right we were. The National Health Service is now 75 years old. Yet cuts in services are the order of the day. Wards are shut; health workers are made redundant, and health provision for the working class are, as we predicted, very second rate compared to what the capitalist class enjoy. Nurses and mid-wives are forced to strike. So too the ambulance drivers.

Another policy in the capitalist Left’s attack on want is nationalisation (in reality for reasons of “efficiency”), all the major capitalist parties once advocated it, especially Labour, and trade unionists supported it thinking that industries were being bought under ‘public ownership’ and that they would take part in the control of their industry. The SPGB has continually pointed out that nationalisation is not socialism but state capitalism. There is no evidence that nationalisation has guaranteed security for the workers. In some respects, the workers are worse off with nationalisation, having no alternative employer.

With the fear of atomic annihilation and the periodic crises of capitalism, increasing the unemployed from hundreds of thousands to millions, in no way can it be argued that workers are any more secure today through the efforts of Labour governments. They have instituted reform after reform, but they have been powerless to remove any problem facing the working class.

Marx had another theory as well as the two mentioned in the question: the Theory of the Class Struggle. In any suggested political, social or economic programme, the socialist asks: “What is in it for the working class as a whole in the long run and what are the consequences for the capitalist class?

The capitalist class wants their system to run smoothly and so will offer reforms that may give temporary benefit to a section of the working class. Similar reforms, advocated by organisations that have mass misguided support from the working class, may also be acceptable to the capitalists. This is the reason why the parliamentary parties keep complaining that the other parties have stolen parts of their programme Reforms do not change the basic structure of capitalism and so do not endanger the class ownership of the means of production and distribution. We have learned the correctness of the analysis of capitalist society made by our founder-members, and which they detailed when they drew up the SPGB’s Object and Declaration of Principles.

We have taught:

* That the capture of political power is essential before any fundamental change in the social system can be made.
* That while leadership is a necessary principle for capitalist society, the Socialist revolution requires the conscious understanding and participation of the majority of the working class. That means it must be a bottom-up, not a top-down, revolution.
* That the Socialist Party cannot advocate reforms of capitalism, must not encourage support from non-Socialists, and must be independent of all other parties.
* That socialism can only be a world-wide system.
* That there is no need for a transition period between capitalism and socialism. Production for social use, and direct and free access to what people need to live decent human lives: these are possible now
* That all wars must be opposed, without distinction between alleged wars of defence, offence, or opposition to tyranny, since no capitalist wars are ever fought in the interest of the working class.
* That nationalism will not exist in a socialist society.
* That taxation is a burden on the capitalist class and not on the working class, whose take-home pay must approximate at least to the minimum of wages needed to reproduce the commodity labour-power.
* That all Socialist parties in different areas of the capitalist world must be open democratic parties, with no leaders, no closed or secret meetings, with all members on an equal footing, operating by majority decision, and thus demonstrating the society they seek to establish.
* That capitalism will not collapse of its own accord, but crisis will follow crisis until the working class of the world consciously and politically unite to abolish commodity production and exchange for profit and replace capitalism with common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.

And we have learnt from bitter experience that the pursuit of the socialist object within clearly defined principles is the only way to conduct political action: the only way the working class can democratically and politically replace the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society.

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The Iron Law of Oligarchy and Political Parties

There are many books which came out of the Cold War which were published to show Marx was “wrong”, “utopian” or, worse, led to Lenin / Stalin / Mao, etc. Many are still in circulation, published by conservative think tanks, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Mises, Hayek and Popper lead the field followed by Acton and Berlin.

Another less known, but still widely circulated anti-Marxist author is Robert Michels. His best known work, still on many academic lists for sociology undergraduates, was POLITICAL PARTIES: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY OF THE OLIGARCHAL TENDENCIES OF MODERN DEMOCRACY (publ. 1911). He might be a third-division anti-Marxist, on the grounds that he eventually joined the Italian Fascists, but his pernicious ideas are still in circulation, still being used against socialists.

Did Michels influence the SPGB?

What was his alleged influence on socialists? Since Michels’s POLITICAL PARTIES was not published till 7 years after the Socialist Party of Great Britain was founded, it clearly did not and could not have been an early influence. This Party was established in 1904 by Socialist workers, without leaders and without a bureaucracy. The SPGB was from the start a repudiation of Robert Michels’s argument.

If you look at the Contents page of the Michels book, you find near the end a section on the “Oligarchal Tendencies of Organisation” and a chapter on the “iron law of oligarchy” (pp.342-356). The supposed conservatism of “the masses” and their assumed need for leadership are often cited in academic attacks on Marx, and the ability of the working class to establish socialism without leaders is denied.

Michels was originally a member of the Social Democrats in Germany which did have a leadership and cloying bureaucracy. The Social Democratic Party was originally radical, paying lip-service to the ideas of Marx, but became a reform party, and in 1914 voted for war credits. Post-war, the SDP helped form an openly capitalist government in 1919 with the formation of the Weimer Republic. Socialist it was not.

Michels argued that any social or political organisation of any size is bound to have a bureaucracy and leadership, and he also picked up the phrase “political class” and adopted this concept too. Today that phrase is commonplace in the mass media ‘commentariat’.

But to a Marxist, the term class is a fundamental economic category: – it has to do with the ownership and control, or lack of it, of the means of production and distribution, which is miles away from the ideological world of the political commentators and the politicians that they comment on.

From Michels to Lenin

Michels’s ignorance of Marxism is clear, and of course he cited the CRITIQUE OF THE GOTHA PROGRAMME, which Lenin later leaned on and distorted in his book THW STATE AND REVOLUTION (1916-1917).

Indeed, in “WHAT IS TO BE DONE?” (c. 1902), Lenin had much earlier argued for a pyramid-style of political organisation, led by a ‘vanguard’, a leadership, with as in an army a General Staff, officers, NCOs and other ranks. We tell you what to think and say, when and where to have a revolution, and you, the masses, follow our inspired leadership, and do as you are told.

That was not Lenin’s own original idea (it is really hard to find any idea he advocated which actually was original, not borrowed) but an idea common among some other Russian revolutionaries of that period, especially Tkachov. It is known that Lenin had read Tkachov, and that he strongly recommended his work and his ideas to fellow-Russians that fetched up as exiles in Geneva.

Nevertheless, it was this Leninist idea of a vanguard party which left an evil legacy in the Bolshevik principle of ‘the leading role of the party’, which meant the domination by Party apparatchiks of every sphere of life in the Soviet Union. This political idea is still prevalent in China, North Korea, Belarus, etc

As the SPGB argued for decades, the Soviet Union was a dictatorship of the party, not of the proletariat. In fact, from the start it was a dictatorship over the working class in Russia by the Bolsheviks, one which did not allow workers to form independent trade unions, did not tolerate independent publications, or a free and independent socialist party. In Russia, the ‘leading role of the party’ has even outlived Lenin’s party, and its legacy is still omni-present, e.g. in Putin’s control over the mass media.

Michels, Bakunin and Fascism

Michels’s dishonesty – or was it just ignorance? – is revealed in his reference to Bakunin as “Marx’s pupil”. Anyone who knew of the way Bakunin deliberately set out to destroy Marx’s reputation, including splitting the First International, could never have written that.

Contrary to Bakunin’s smear, Marx was no “statist”. From the start, he and Engels argued that the state was a coercive class institution, and saw – as Bakunin did not - the need to take political action so as to end the class system and, with that, the existence of the state. Bakunin only willed the end – he failed to see the means and, as a result, the various rash revolts he backed all failed.

What of Michels’s flirtation with Fascism? Decades later, the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the inter-war years was arguing there were two fascisms, both to be opposed – Black Fascism and Red Fascism. So far as we know, the SPGB was the only political party to take up this position.

The Left were relaxed about Red Fascism – and utterly opposed to Black Fascism. They still are. After the disaster of the Soviet Union, particularly for the working class, there are still today some who support Stalinism, just as there are those who follow the ideas of Trotsky. The Tories, Liberals and others took the opposite line – opposing Russian Red Fascism, but easy about Black Fascism, from the Nazis and Hitler, from Italy’s Mussolini to Spain’s Franco and the Portuguese Falangist, Salazar, and so on.

The many military generals and juntas who have ruled in South America, Africa, the Middle East, etc. as dictators are all heirs to this legacy of fascism, as are many modern authoritarian states like Hungary, Turkey and Egypt, etc. To the extent that the US’s politics are dominated by the influence of the MIC, the powerful ‘military-industrial complex’, the US too can be said to be a de facto fascist state.

Ironically, British capitalism and Russian capitalism formed an alliance with the United States during the Second World War, with Roosevelt, Churchill and Attlee becoming uneasy bedfellows with Stalin. Again, this was a war that the Socialist Party of Great Britain opposed on grounds of class. The working class had no interests to defend – no colonies, no trade routes, no oilfields or gold mines, etc.

War also meant increased nationalist propaganda, further dividing the working class. But from the start, it was known that the world’s working class needed to unite, as Marx and Engels had argued in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains – you have a world to win!

Why did the Socialist Party of Great Britain reject the capitalist political concept of leadership? We doubt if it was only because of the autocracy and authoritarianism of Hyndman. Indeed, it is hard to find any Continental socialists or social democrats of that period with an egalitarian outlook. Even those who later opposed Leninism as undemocratic – e.g. Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky– were not opposed to leadership.

Equality as a principle

It is possible that the SPGB founder-members may well have been influenced by earlier English – and Scottish – writers, e.g. men like Tom Paine (in “Commonsense” he argued against a monarchy, especially the idiotic and dangerous idea of a hereditary monarch and Robert Burns “a man’s a man for all that”.

Generation after generation, working people have held onto the principle of equality. In England, the 19th century movements for an expanded suffrage were founded on strongly held ideas about equality: ‘Orator’ Hunt, the radical speaker at Peterloo in 1819, argued, well ahead of his time, not only for universal male suffrage, even for the poorest, but also for women to have the vote.

Look, too, at the history of the commons and popular resistance to enclosures. Look too at the 17th century Civil War period – and movements like the Diggers and the Levellers. When Gerrard Winstanley and Everard, met General Fairfax to discuss the Digger community at St George’s Hill, near Weybridge, they refused to remove their hats for, to them, Fairfax was “but their fellow creature” (Bulstrode Whitelocke, MEMORIALS, Oxford 1853 p. 18).

In medieval England there was the so-called Peasants’ Revolt, and the popular rhyme “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” was passed down the generations, an heirloom.

Much later, a refusal to “doff the cap” would then be natural for those in 1904 aiming to overthrow this class exploitation system.

For our predecessors, those founder-members of the SPGB, another source would have been Marx’s revolutionary proposition that socialism/communism must be the work of the working class themselves - “...the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority” (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO). This statement precludes leadership or the emergence of an elite or controlling ‘vanguard’.

We have long held that “democracy” is not something we can be given - it is something we do. Democracy - as something socialists do - became apparent in the Party from the start in our organisation, and in all our social and political interactions and practices.

Hence, however knowledgeable, eloquent or charismatic, none of our members was ever seen as a leader of the party. For that, there would have had to be socialists willing to be the led, rather than working together as comrades. With any sort of democratic practice, there has to be the reality of equality not simply an aspiration or political ‘mission statement’.

And that same ancient principle is at the heart of many social and even many political institutions, even now. But under capitalism that principle is inevitably flouted and trampled on.

There is sometimes talk in Labour Party circles about ‘social justice’. But we argue that you can never have socialist distribution while you retain the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. In the hands of the Labour Party, ‘egalitarian’ social and economic reforms can never succeed. Capitalism simply cannot be reformed in our interests.

To the extent that workers fail to object and resist when this system brings injustice, they will continue to be burdened with the chains and shackles of class exploitation. We experience these whenever we have to pay for what we produce – paying for food and housing, etc. We experience these too in the poverty we experience in our everyday life.

If you read up on the history of workers’ struggles or the struggle for slave emancipation – “Am I not a man and a brother?” – this theme of egalitarianism and equality is always there. As in the slogan of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, equality and fraternity are inextricably linked to the fight for freedom.

The SPGB founder-members clearly understood that socialism as a social system based on common ownership and democratic control would have to operate on the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” – and that must imply an egalitarian system, without any hierarchy.

As a result, the party they founded has lasted - for over a century – without any leaders or leadership, and without any bureaucracy emerging. Something Robert Michels and his latter-day followers, and modern Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc. would no doubt find utterly incredible.

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I Have Seen the Future

At their Berlin Concert in December 2016, King Crimson gave their rendition of David Bowies’ hit single “Heroes” in which two lovers find themselves stranded on either side of the Berlin wall. The Berlin Wall had been erected in Cold War Berlin by the East German authorities in 1961. The YouTube recording of King Crimson’s concert is accompanied by film clips of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. On some of the tumbling masonry is the scrawled graffiti exclaiming “I have seen the future…”. This is a reference to a letter by the American journalist, Lincoln Stephan to Marie Howe, dated April 3, 1919, about the author’s visit to Petrograd in that year. Stephan exclaimed to Howe in his letter that “I have seen the future and it works”.

The fragment of Stephen’s quotation scrawled by a protester on a piece of the Berlin Wall was intended as a piece of irony. The Berlin Wall showed the real destination of 1919 Petrograd. The Berlin Wall symbolised Bolshevik state capitalism with its secret police, gulags and suppression, not the starry-eyed future imagined by uncritical intellectuals and fellow travellers like Lincoln Stephan. It was a future that had its boot on the neck of the working class.

Lincoln Stephan must have walked around Petrograd with his eyes shut because the economic and political reality of the city was one that would never work for the working class. One wonders what he saw in Petrograd at the time. There was no worker’s paradise but a dictatorship over the working class by a ruthless political organisation led by Lenin.

What of Petrograd in 1919? The working class were still a minority of the population and were being forcibly conscripted into Trotsky’s Red Army to fight a brutal civil war where deserters fleeing the front line were summarily shot in their hundreds. Discipline within the factories was harsh. Lenin had introduced capitalist management techniques such as Taylorism and had forbidden free trade unions and strikes. Workers were exploited as a class producing what Marx called “surplus value”. Russia was not socialist but state capitalist.

The Bolshevik dictatorship began with the coup d’état in October 1917. One of the first actions of the Bolsheviks was to dissolve the Constituent.

Assembly at the end of a gun. The constitution of the Soviet Union established a one-party state.

So-called “war communism” was also introduced to support the prosecution of the Civil War

War communism included the following capitalist policies:

* The nationalisation of all industries and a central planning authority to dictate the economy.
* State control of foreign trade
* Requisition of agricultural produce from the peasants
* Imposition of state capitalism throughout the economy

Then, there was the secret police set up during the “Red Terror”. The Red Terror started in late August 1918 after the beginning of the Russian Civil War and lasted until 1922. It is estimated that it led to the death of some 2 million people. The Cheka secret police were active under Dzerzhinsky. By late 1918, hundreds of Cheka committees had sprung up throughout the country imprisoning and killing opponents.

Ostensibly set up to protect the revolution from reactionary forces, such as the aristocracy, former capitalists and members of the clergy, the Cheka was soon used as a repressive tool against all political opponents of the Bolshevik regime. At the direction of Lenin, the Cheka performed mass arrests, imprisonments, torture, and executions without trial. The Cheka laid the basis for Stalin’s police state.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain did not need to visit Petrograd to see that there was no future for the working class in a Party dictatorship led by the Bolsheviks. The SPGB were students of Marx and understood that where you had a labour market, the buying and selling of the commodity labour power, you also had class exploitation.

Using Marx’s theory of history as a guide the SPGB said:

Is this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the South, the agricultural wage slaves of the Central Provinces, and the industrial wage slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life? Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has recorded, the answer is “No!”

‘What justification is there, then, for terming the upheaval in Russia a Socialist Revolution? None whatever beyond the fact that the leaders in the November movement claim to be Marxian Socialists.

(SOCIALIST STANDARD, August 1918 ‘the Revolution in Russia –Where it Fails’).

You will not see this text in history books or given to students studying the revolution and coup d’état of 1917 as a clear repudiation that Russia was “socialist” and the Bolsheviks were “socialists”. Historians do not want to bring to attention a socialist critique of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, particularly those “historians” of the capitalist left who support Lenin’s coup d’état and are members of the various political parties who propagate Lenin’s anti-socialist ideas and beliefs. The SPGB has been written out of history. We are despised for telling the truth.

The article “A Socialist View of Bolshevik Policy” was published in the SOCIALIST STANDAR in July 1920. Two socialist criticisms by the SPGB were made against Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

First the establishment of State Capitalism in Russia. The SPGB drew attention to a pamphlet written by Lenin under the heading ‘The Chief Tasks of Our Day’ written in 1918.

The SPGB said:

We have often stated that because of a large anti-Socialist peasantry and a vast untrained population, Russia was a long way from Socialism. Lenin has now to admit this by saying” (p20):

And the Party quoted the following from Lenin’s pamphlet:

Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us (p. 11).

On the rule of the minority in Russia the SPGB remarked:

The denunciation of democracy by the Bolshevik leaders is quite understandable if we realise that only the minority in Russia are Communists. Lenin therefore denies control of affairs to the majority, but he cannot escape from the compromise involved in ruling with a minority. Not only is control of Russian affairs out of the hands of the Soviets as a whole, but not even members of the Communist Party are allowed to vote” (p 23)

Lenin and the Bolsheviks could not establish socialism in Russia, their actions were imprisoned by history. There mistake was to repudiate the key Marxian principle that the establishment of socialism had to be the work of the working class itself and not imposed on them by a professional minority elite. Socialism could not be imposed in one country but had to be established globally by a world socialist majority.

The remarks made against Lenin and the Bolsheviks by the SPGB were not written on the Berlin Wall. If they had been, then workers in Germany and elsewhere in the world would have been directed to a real socialist future expressed in the form of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. They would have understood that it will be the working class alone who will be the heroes of the revolution, “storing heaven” as Marx remarked, in their own interests. They would have understood that it is only the democratic and political action of a socialist majority that can revolutionarily change the profit system into a free association of individuals where production takes place solely and directly to meet human need.

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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


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.