Friday, August 29, 2008

Why you should (still) be a socialist

Communism died on this day in 1991. Following the dissolution of the the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union, some six days later Le Monde informed us:

"Communism is dead - the word, the party, the empire, the theology, it's all dead and everyone is happy...Mr Gorbachev was the timorous individual who started the progress...on the road which history had forced upon him, into the brilliant sunshine of the market economy. Are not the communists, if any are left, blind men and women who never understood that capitalism has taken over human destiny, that there would no longer be a Revolution but rather an eternal reform making the rich a little less rich, the poor a little less poor, not overnight but through the patient work of centuries, promising freedom and bread for all?"

Le Monde's view was a typical example of the myth-making media at work. The Socialist Standard of October 1991 replied to such nonsense unequivocally:

"The fundamental error - more than error: grand deception - upon which such reasoning is based is twofold. Firstly, the Leninist revolutions did not remove capitalism. Secondly, "the brilliant sunshine of the market" still does not shine upon the workers who form the majority of the world's population; on the contrary, we live under black clouds of debt, poverty, pollution, war, mass starvation, economic anxiety, all of which are direct consequences of the system of production for profit."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mr Brown and Mr Bean

In his last speech as Chancellor in 2007 Gordon Brown boasted that “after 10 years of sustained growth, Britain’s growth will continue into its 59th quarter - the forecast end of the cycle - and then into its 60th and 61st quarter and beyond”.

There was always something dishonest about this. There are only 4 quarters in a year, so if growth was going to be sustained into a 59th quarter, this must have meant that it had been going for nearly 16 not just 10 years - in fact since 1992, when the last recession ended. Ten years was chosen by Brown of course since it was ten years previously that he became Chancellor following the Labour victory in the 1997 General Election.

Brown’s boast was supposed to imply he had devised a way of breaking the boom/slump cycle and avoiding a recession. As he predicted (or, more accurately, guessed), growth did continue into the 59th, 60th and 61st quarters (the last three quarters of 2007) and “beyond” into the 62nd, but only just. Corrected figures just released for the 63rd quarter (April to June this year) show that growth has now stopped. The expectation is that the 64th quarter will show a fall. If the 65th does too, as is highly probable, then the British economy will officially be in recession (defined as two successive quarters of “negative growth”, i.e. decline). But we won’t know till the figures are announced sometime next year.

Brown’s boast has been exposed as groundless. He didn’t engineer growth. He just happened to be Chancellor (just like his Tory predecessors from 1992) when world market conditions allowed an expansion of the British economy. Now that they no longer do so, there is nothing he or any other Chancellor can do about it. But if he is being blamed it is his own fault for claiming that the ten-year period of “sustained growth” was due to the policy he chose to pursue.

He can’t have it both ways. He can’t claim credit for the growth years and blame the world market for the bad times. If he’s responsible for the good times then he must also be responsible equally for the bad times. Actually, he’s responsible for neither since governments and finance ministers do not control the workings of the capitalist economy.

Meanwhile the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England Mr Bean - yes, that’s his real name - says that he and his colleagues are crossing their fingers that things won’t get too much worse . Which is about all they can do.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Stalin the God and Stalin the Gangster

Judging by his latest article, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Vladimir Putin both share a passion for distorting history. The former describes Stalin as "Marxist fanatic" and writes "When Vladimir Putin presented Russian teachers with their new textbook last year, Stalin appeared as “the most successful Russian ruler of the 20th century”" Putin here reveals his blood red capitalist colours, as from what other perspective could Stalin's pitiless rule be seen in a positive light? Montefiore's nonsense is in the same league as a poem published in Pravda (28th August 1936):

O Great Stalin, O Leader of the Peoples,
Thou who didst give birth to man,
Thou who didst make fertile the earth,
Thou who dost rejuvenate the Centuries,
Thou who givest blossom to the spring...

Stalin died in March 1953. He was no Marxist as Monttefiore and his ilk claim. Indeed, "It was Stalin who completed the work begun by Lenin, the turning of Marxism, a revolutionary doctrine into its opposite an authoritative ideology of State Capitalism on a par and at times competing with other state ideologies, i.e. Hitler's National Socialism and Mussolini's Corporate State." (Socialist Standard, April 1953) Read more here and remember that leaders come and go but capitalism continues to bring fear, misery, war and want to the multitude.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

1968 and all that

The following is an extract from an old TV review column ("Between the Lines") that was published in the Socialist Standard. Apart from being droll, it makes some observations that are still relevant today - Gray

Back in the late sixties, while thuggish cops kicked hell out of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators in Grosvenor Square and the Beatles sang "you say you wanna revolution", your reviewer was quietly tripping out on Junior Disprins, listening to John Peel on pirate Radio London and occasionally paying attention to my old man who told me that Harold Wilson was no more a socialist than Bob Dylan could sing. He was right about (Lord) Wilson, wrong about Dylan and now a lot of the Grosvenor Square victims are members of the SDP and like to recall their youthful rebel days.

World In Action (8:30 pm, ITV, January 4) was all about three of those rebels of 1968. Using film clips of the heady days when lads with duffel coats and earnest expressions were going to change the world, the programme jumped on to 1988 when Thatcher reigns supreme and young trendy lefties have turned into middle-aged, compromising bores. The first was Mike Tomkinson, then President of the LSE students' union, now a man who writes for the Digger and believes that the establishment is here to stay. Second bore was Dave Clarke (no, not the one who made bad records then and no records now) who owns his own business in Docklands publishing a local newspaper. Clarke, whose line in cliches has not changed much in twenty years, is shown in 1968 declaring that violent revolution is what we must prepare for and in 1988 admitting that Thatcher's put some good old life back into the profit system and — I bet you've never heard this one - if you're not a socialist before you're twenty you have no heart but if you're a socialist after you're forty you have no brain. Dave did not explain what you are supposed to be between twenty and forty, although he seems to have maintained a sort of permanent mindless dullness throughout the whole process.

Dave looks into the camera and declares that his heart is on the left, but his wallet is on the right. The fact is, of course, that back in 1968 Dave Clarke, then President of Manchester Student's Union, was a moralising trendy with nothing to do except sloganise in accordance with the then fashionable dogma which insisted that Vietnam should win its war. Now that Vietnam has won and millions of Vietnamese workers are living under an obscene dictatorship (just as they would have done if America had won the war) Clarke is trotting out the latest fashionable tripe about Thatcher being good for "our" industry. The false message of the programme was that Clarke had changed in twenty years; the reality is that he was a capitalism-supporting fool then and he appears to be no better now.

The third rebel chosen for ridicule by World In Action was Tariq Ali, a r-r-r-revolutionary then and an oh-so-constitutional Labourite with his own TV programme on Channel Four now. Ali is at least consistent: in 1968 he was struggling for state capitalism in Vietnam, now we are able to see from the programme that he is struggling for state capitalism in Nicaragua.

The purpose of this programme (if TV reviewers may be so arrogant as to seek such a factor) was to show that times have changed in twenty years. For conservatives this is supposed to be a
reason for good cheer: all them lefty radicals have grown up at last, what!; for leftists it is supposed to show that the good old days of the late sixties, when you could start a demo faster than Harold Wilson could light his pipe, have gone and we are now in the miserable age of Thatcherism. Socialists accept neither view. The Left in 1968 never was a threat to the system. We do not doubt that many workers matured a little politically through the struggles of those active years but that maturity came from seeing through the illusions of futile reformism, not pursuing them. What is sad - very sad, in fact — is that students in 1988 who mouth the platitudes of pseudo-revolutionary leftism have not moved beyond the moralising confusion of 1968. Twenty years ago they were rolling joints and wasting their hopes in the political haze of reformism; today the dope costs more and it's mainly young Tories who smoke it. Apart from that, the task of changing society has still to be carried out

S. Coleman, Socialist Standard February 1988

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Class War No More?

As mentioned, the Socialist Party will be holding a forum with Ian Bone in September. The following article from the Socialist Standard looked at Class War - Gray

The magazine Class War has decided to cease publication after 15 years

One of the more delicious frissons I derived from the recent death of Princess Diana was the wicked thought of what Class War magazine would have made out of it.They would have had a field day with the idiotic business, and shocked a great number of the grieving public with an extra-special dose of their puerile sick-bag humour.

But the demise of this less-than-august periodical means we will now have to make up our own sick Diana jokes, and we are the poorer for it. Of all the groups on the "Left", Class War was the most consistently outrageous and self-parodying. Any revolutionary after our own heart could find much to like about Class War, even if some of their statements could bleach the roots of your hair. Tearaways, hooligans perhaps, juvenile and even infantile at times, the Class War Federation had an energy and a freshness about it which you don't often see in print, a willingness to say the unsayable to alienate just about everyone, to flout almost every principle of taste and good manners in their unrelenting efforts to shock people into political awareness.

But now they've hauled down their pirates' flag. Class War is Dead, they proclaim. Long Live The Class War! They have decided to pack it in after 15 years, and do something else. And they are asking revolutionaries everywhere to discuss with them what that something else ought to be. In an Open Letter to the Revolutionary Movement contained in their final issue, Class War, in a fit of honesty certainly alien to the Left, offer to exchange dirty washing with all-comers in an attempt to find the way forward. There follows a sad tale of internal division and internecine squabbling which will sound familiar to many groups. And they frankly admit the "macho" female-excluding nature of their political ethos. That they are sincere cannot be doubted. Nor are they one whit diminished by these admissions but in fact appear more dignified upon their retirement than ever during their career.

Class War, it has to be said, succeeded brilliantly in appealing to a small section of the radical "market" — those who wanted action, but not the stale formulaic sloganeering of the Left. They had an effect and an influence out of all proportion to their size, making headlines and TV appearances again and again. But for every one person (young white male, as they admitted) who was attracted, fifty were put off. Mainly it was the violence. Pin-up pictures of dead coppers might make good satire, but confirmed most people's worse prejudices about the real nature of anarchists and of revolution. And it narrowed the already small band of their potential sympathisers to the point where Class War became more thuggery than thinking. And when the thinking stopped, the Federation fell apart.

Two not three

One gets no satisfaction from saying this, but in most respects Class War got it wrong from the start. They wanted a democratic moneyless society, without leaders or classes, and without state control. Furthermore they detested the elitist and authoritarian demagogues of the Left every bit as much as we do. But they made, without doubt, one crucial error in their class analysis. Instead of a two-class society — owners and workers, they had three. The middle-class to them was the "controller" section of society (around 20 percent) which actively collaborated with the top five percent, and also acted as a buffer zone between the owners and the bossed about "working class" (the bottom 75 percent). This view therefore involved a class struggle not against a tiny minority, but against a very large minority which, though some might be expected to embrace revolution, had its role as collaborator and class traitor already marked out for it.

"We were inspired by the principles of anarchism to raise the flag of direct class conflict because we know that it's the only way our class can win its freedom. To do this we have to push the middle class out of the way."

Hence the perceived necessity, indeed inevitability, of violence. Hence the dropping of paving stones off motorway bridges onto "posh cars". Hence the whole tone and thrust of the magazine. Revolution to Class War was essentially a bloody affair, with at least one quarter of the population condemned to the wrong side of a civil war: "We are in favour of mass working class violence, out in the open."

And this inverted snob dismissal of the "middle class" in turn condemned Class War, for in purposefully insulting the educated, the Guardian readers, the trendy-lefties, the road-protesters, the vegetarians and the tree-climbers, they managed to alienate the "joiners" and the "do-ers". Despite a circulation of up to 15,000, they could never persuade many of their "real working-class" readers to get involved. They were not interested in getting involved, and they bought Class War because it amused them, like Viz or Private Eye, or because it flirted with some secret desire to destroy and vandalise — few if any took it seriously. And revolutionaries need to be taken seriously if revolution is ever going to be possible.

Most jokes have a butt, a target to hit in order to get the laugh. It might be women, or men, or the Irish, or blacks, or politicians, but the victim must be there for the joke to work. Interestingly, most left-wing politics also has to have a butt, a human target, a victim, without which the argument doesn't work. Class War relied very heavily on having a palpable "enemy", against whom one could vent one's spleen and exact one's revenge, but the trouble with this is, who do you blame for the way a social system works? Our leaders? Or ourselves for following them? The rich? Or the poor for accepting their poverty? History doesn't hold individuals responsible. Capitalism as a system is the real enemy, not its come-and-go managers, nor its police, nor its teachers. If scapegoats there must be, we are all deserving. The creation of the human "enemy" in revolutionary politics is the point of departure from the Socialist Party's case for change, and the foundation and wellspring of all appeals to violence. In short, any solution which necessitates violence against individuals is probably wrong, not because of some pacifist moral imperative, but because it doesn't get rid of the problem.

Violent nonsense

In order for Class War's politics to maintain its appeal, the enemy had to be found, not in the abstract workings of a social system, but in concrete everyday realities. The owning class was too remote to be tangible, and certainly too remote to be vulnerable. So Class War dragooned the "middle class" into the role:
"Those who really run society never put a foot outside their heavily protected worlds. For most of us, our immediate enemy is the middle class: management, social workers, magistrates, teachers and all the other functionaries of capital."

Making a putative middle class into an enemy is as divisive as anything dreamed up by the owning class, and has more to do with testosterone than tactics. Violence is the steamy sex of left-wing politics, including Class War's. It is adventure, illicit excitement, danger, risk, Marx meets Millwall FC, hooligans on a mission. It is attractive, but only to some, in the same way as cave diving or bungee jumping.To most people Class War was one of three things: an affront to common decency, or an MIS plot, or a gang of kids having a lark. In no case was it a thing to get involved with.

What many groups can't stand about the Socialist Party is that we do not advocate violence and therefore cannot offer a practical programme of activity based on it. We are just not exciting enough for them, and thus we are labelled as sterile or "theoretical" (this being a term of abuse, naturally). But we are not Quakers and would countenance using violence if it was absolutely necessary to defend the democratic will of a socialist majority. We simply argue that it is quite possible, and highly desirable,for a large majority to establish socialism without bloodshed. The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship.

The Socialist Party has consistently struggled to be heard for almost a century, and continues to struggle. Our venerable age however is no cause to be smug, and we hope that we also can learn something from Class War's commendable openness. We also have not always got it right. We also have had divisions. And we also have known stagnation. Class War tried a tack — that of attack — which didn't work. We could have told them it wouldn't. But we are not sitting too pretty either, and are not pointing any fingers. So long as there are revolutionaries out there with the energy to act and the will to think, we want to talk to them.

PADDY SHANNON. Socialist Standard October 1997

Why we are hostile

McCain or Obama? Tweedledum or Tweedledee? The event is one protracted yawn, utterly irrelevant to working class interests. You might, therefore, be surprised to learn that the Socialist Standard mentioned Senator Joe Biden a decade before (April, 1998) either of the present presidential candidates:

"A few years ago Joe Biden fancied himself as the next president of the United States but his candidature came to an abrupt end when it was discovered that he had repeated word-for-word parts of a speech by Neil Kinnock. We can assume that Biden was not penalised because he lifted someone else's words but because it was clear that anyone who thought Kinnock even said anything worth repeating must be too mad to be trusted in the White House."

But no longer! If you really want to read more about Kinnock, you can do so here. Since that article was written, the Welsh Windbag as he is otherwise known, has risen to the House of Lords. But, perhaps the most apposite piece about Baron Windbag dates from 1983 when he stood for election as leader of the Labour Party:

"..The first task of the Labour faithful was to choose a leader. Needless to say, nobody questioned whether it was necessary to have a leader. None of the followers voted to stop following. In the end, the reformist fantasies fell, appropriately enough, for a "dream ticket". The poverty of imagination which regards Kinnock and Hattersley as a dream is reminiscent of the advertisement-mums who get kicks out of seeing their son's underpants whiter than white. Of course, the Kinnock-Hattersley dream is a fantasy conspired by the pragmatists who seek to sell their policies or capitalism like soap powder, with Boy Neil supplying the soft soap. Kinnock is without doubt an indignant opponent of the injustices of the system which he wants to keep intact. He peppers his reformist rhetoric with undefined references to "socialism", but in his main speech to the conference he, like Owen of Salford, advocated no more than the tried and failed Keynesian plan for investment in British industry...."

"...They are irrelevant to our needs; they have no political answers; their sincerity is wasted and their dishonesty is grotesque. If they never again uttered another word, issued another policy statement, appointed another leader, assembled at another conference, the world could only be better off. They are all "but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of the master class, the party seeking working-class emancipation must be hostile to every other party". But we are not only hostile to them - the socialist objective for which we stand is far, far bigger than the miserable band of political relics which stands in our way."

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Conflict in the Middle East

Six years ago Kenneth Pollack, a former C.I.A. analyst, argued in his book 'The Threatening Storm' that the USA had to invade Iraq. Since then he has changed his mind and in a new work, nearly 600 pages long, he, if the reviews are to be believed, suggests a generation's worth of reforms as 'A Path Out of the the Desert'. Socialists, however, know that the reformist road leads to nowhere via death, destruction, delay, depression and disappointment. With over 100 years of experience, we say ignore the Pollacks, here's Socialist analysis (from 1958 - valid then, as now):

Another Middle East storm has developed. This time it is the Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq that occupy the centre of the stage, with Kuwait also stirring. Again oil is the mainspring of the eruptions and clashing interests. The struggles concern the rich oil lands and the routes to those areas, with other economic advantages for the privileged seeping in.

The revenues from oil are in the region of the fabulous. They are cherished by the privileged possessors, and sought after by privileged non-possessors who want a larger share of the plunder. The toilers who make these revenues possible have no share in them. They only receive the customary payment for the work they do; some of the Arab workers receive hardly enough to buy the necessities of life.

In spite of the numberless pronouncements on peace, with which we have been deluged for decades from all quarters, armed force, or the threat of it, is always the final resource when capitalist sections feel that their sources of revenue are threatened.

Reality and Hypocrisy
The present flare-up, just as the recent Suez dispute, concerns oil and the interests of the mammoth oil companies. There is no secret about this. Reports, articles, and pronouncements concentrate on this aspect.

As usual, the designs of those responsible for the moves in this turbulent quarrel are surrounded with a cloud of hypocrisy. The Western Powers claim to be concerned to defeat the pernicious intrigues of Russia; the Eastern Powers to put a limit to the imperialist designs of the West; the Middle East revolutionists to secure the freedom of oppressed nationals.

But each group of participants has internal antagonisms, and the members view each other with suspicion. They are uneasy unions in which each participant mistrusts the others and intrigues for the best vantage ground to press forward the economic interests of the privileged groups it represents. Hence they are always likely to fall apart and change sides.

It is an old oft-repeated story; littered with indecision, broken pacts, duplicity, intrigues and wars. In the final chapter the privileged always occupy the seat of power and the mass of people remain in subjection. It will be the same in the Middle East after the present turmoil has come to an end. At best the most the mass of the people there can obtain is a standard of wage slavery that is equivalent to what obtains in the so-called advanced countries.

When there is plenty to spend
When Western workers put forward wage claims recently they were fobbed off with the excuse that industry could not afford the outlay involved. Where they persisted in pressing their claims the employers entered into long and protracted negotiations. But when sectional capitalist interests are threatened thousands of miles away, then the might of the State goes into instant action, regardless of the outlay involved. The American State has transported munitions and men to the Lebanon at enormous cost, and the British State has done likewise to Jordan. This makes a mockery of the appeals to freeze wage claims in spite of rising living costs.

There is no excuse this time about helping oppressed people-Armed assistance has been sent to help tottering semi-feudal monarchies —in defence of oil interests.

When black becomes white
When the Russian Government sent troops to suppress the revolt against the Hungarian Communist Government, American and British statesmen and spokesmen could hardly find words strong enough to express their indignation at such an abominable action. But when the semi-feudal governments of Jordan and the Lebanon were threatened by revolting subjects the Western States lost no time in answering the call for help with men and munitions of war. Russia and China are now able to reciprocate the phoney righteous indignation. But then hypocrisy has always been one of the hall-marks of capitalism.

Those who only suffer
One of the tragic sides of the Middle East armed adventure is that soldiers are being sent there to risk their lives in a quarrel that does not concern them, and from which they will gain nothing, except the possibility of a grave or mutilation. In the Middle East itself masses of people are worked up to fury against the present groups that are oppressing them, but their struggles will only result in fastening other groups of oppressors on their backs in place of the present ones. They have not yet discovered the way to abolish all oppression.

U.N.O takes a back seat
Once again the futility and sham of the United Nations Organisation has been exposed. When the principal Powers deem the time has come to take armed action they treat this expensive Tower of Babel with contempt. Likewise, when the heads of State consider the issue important enough and they decide to meet their opponents in the game of political manoeuvring, the so-called united organs of peace take a back seat.

The present flare-up also throws light on the British Government's determination to hold Cyprus at any cost. It is a strategic base for action in the Middle East in defence of capitalist interests there.

Futile “hands off” processions
As usual in this country there has been an eruption of "Hands off" movements. Although these emotional demonstrations, in which dupes of the Russian Government always take a hand, have never accomplished anything, and never can, the supporters continue their bedraggled slogan-shouting processions. Instead of spending time and thought grappling with the cause of social disharmony, they waste their time and energy in useless protests.

Economic interests determine policies
In the Middle East external governments are solely concerned with the interests of their capitalist controllers and will fight against, or acquiesce in, internal changes according to their bearing on these interests. The internal States are torn with strife over which section of the privileged can occupy the seats of power and reap the harvest produced by the workers' labour. In both instances the unprivileged do 'the fighting and reap the misery of victory or defeat.

The only solution
So it will continue until those who do the work of the world realize that only when privilege in all forms, and class ownership of the means of living, have been abolished will it be possible for the people of the world to live in harmony.

When this is achieved exploitation and the hunger for profit will disappear and there will no longer be tragedies like Hungary, Suez, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.


(Socialist Standard, September 1958)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Capitalism stinks!

The vast majority of the 'problems' in the world today rarely if ever inconvenience a small minority, wherever they live, the ruling class. They are not, of course, represented in nearly half of the world's population lacking basic toilet facilities. They can scoff at a government promoting rats as a cheaper option on the menu and afford to source their food and thus avoid eating shit. They can, by way of contrast, boast of an exclusive set of problems. Senator John McCain, for example, has difficulty rembering how many homes he owns! Workers of the world, is it not time we pulled the chain on this rotten social system?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Power Politics and Czechoslovakia

Some surprisingly valid comparsions have been made in the mainstream media between the invasion of Czechoslovakia 40 years ago today by Russia and that country's recent activity in Georgia. Ignoring such nonsense as the "fall of communism", the article in question is of interest for what one Vera Machutova, a resident of the Czech border city of Decin who woke this night in 1968 to the sound of Russian tanks rolling by, is quoted as saying. "What is similar, she said, is the clear message from Moscow that it will not accept a dramatic political shift in a country in [sic] sees as part of its sphere of influence -- what Russia calls its "near abroad."" The term sphere of influence is one of several used by Socialists when explaining what nations compete over and as one reason for war, so it is refreshing to see it employed this way in a Reuters' piece. Svante Cornell, Research Director for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, provides another surprise: "After almost two decades of engagement with the West, Moscow appears to have reverted to a "sphere of influence" world-view in which it tries to exert dominion over its less powerful neighbors. "The Putin doctrine has been very much about rolling back the Ukrainian and Georgian revolutions and getting back to a position of malleable, semi-authoritarian governments that the Russians are able to control," said Cornell." Doubtless neither he nor Machutova would describe themselves as Socialists, but that some aspects of their thinking appear to overlap with ours could be seen as encouraging. Indeed, it would be interesting to learn where they'd agree and disagree with the following statement published in the Socialist Standard of September 1968:

"The dictators of state capitalist Russia have sent their armies into Czechoslovakia in a bid to impose a puppet regime which will carry out their orders to crush free speech and restore rule by torture and the secret police.

For hundreds of years,as Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, this was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Austria was on the losing side in the first world war and was punished by having its empire broken up. One result was the state of Czechoslovakia, set up in October 1918. As its unwieldy name suggests this was a completely artificial "nation-state". Besides Czechs and Slovaks it contained within its boundaries sizeable minorities speaking German, Hungarian, Polish and Ruthenian, a language close to Ukranian.

A glance at the map of central Europe will straightaway show the strategic importance of Czechoslovakia. Whoever controls it has access to Russia and the Balkans. This was why Germany wanted, and got it, before the war. But Munich was not the only time that hypocritical politicians like Sir Alec Douglas Home, who now cry crocodile tears over Czechoslovakia, betrayed that State. They did it again at Yalta. This time the buyer was Russia. When the Czechoslovak and Russian rulers met at Cierna nad Tisou at the end of July they may have recalled that this was not always a frontier village. Pre-war Czechoslovakia stretched further east with the province of Ruthenia. In 1945 Russia grabbed this area, of some 4,000 square miles and a population at that time of three quarters of a million, and incorporated it into the Ukraine.

Russia may perhaps let Rumania go its own way without making too much of a fuss, but not Czechoslovakia, a dagger pointing right into Russia. No wonder the Russian rulers are worried. The Bratislava agreement confirmed that Czechoslovakia can never have an independent foreign policy. It was the artificial creation of the Great Powers and doomed always to be dominated by them, especially by one or other its great neighbours, Germany or Russia. The compromise reached at Bratislava seems to have been this: complete subordination to Russian dictates on foreign policy but some freedom in internal affairs.

Even at home the Czechoslovak rulers did not have much choice. Despite what anarchists and trotskyists believe, rulers cannot turn democratic rights on and off at will. Even ordinary press and radio commentators pointed out that the Dubcek government could not have suppressed freedom of speech even if the Russians told them to do so. As socialists have always argued: democracy is established and maintained by the working class, not a gift from our rulers. Freedom of speech is something that the Czechoslovak rulers are going to have to live with from now on, as the Russian military has found out. No doubt, in time, this wil lead to freedom of organisation. The Socialist Party of Great Britain wishes workers there every success in establishing the framework within which a genuine socialist movement can grow, namely political democracy.

The crude power politics of Russia once gain expose the myth of Socialism there. Russia is a great capitalist power and behaves like one.

The Socialist Party of Gt. Britain abhors this latest display of imperialist brutality, all the more vile as it has been committed in the name of socialism, and calls upon the workers the world over to oppose capitalism, east and west, and to unite for Socialism."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008



The war in Georgia seems to be over.

How it began is still not clear. The first major military action was Georgias bombardment of Tskhinval, but some claim that this was itself a response to escalation in the low-intensity fighting in the villages of South Ossetia that has been going on for many years. In any case, the Georgian assault on South Ossetia gave Russia a golden opportunity to pursue its own goals under cover of humanitarian intervention.

In general, both sides have excelled in hypocrisy. Russia as the protector of small peoples after Chechnya? The United States as the champion of national sovereignty against foreign aggression after Iraq? And yet there are always people prepared to take such guff seriously, or pretend to.

The context of the war needs to be understood at three levels:

Level 1: the struggle within Georgia for control over territory, waged by ethnically based mini-states (Georgian, Abkhaz, Osset).

Level 2: the confrontation between Georgia and Russia.

Level 3: the renewed great power confrontation between Russia and the West, especially between Russia and the U.S.

The West in its propaganda stresses Level 2, casting Russia as aggressor and Georgia as victim while obscuring its own role. Russian propaganda stresses Level 1, casting Georgians as aggressors and Abkhaz and Ossets as victims, and also Level 3, casting the U.S. and its allies as aggressors and Russia as their victim.

Only by focusing on Level 3 can we grasp what the war is really about.

The rulers of great powers often regard the areas immediately beyond their borders as their rightful sphere of influence. Thus, the U.S. calls Central America and the Caribbean its backyard, while Russia refers to other parts of the former USSR as its near abroad. They are especially concerned to prevent military ties between outside powers and states in their sphere of influence. Recall the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

After a period of weakness, Russia is now reclaiming great power status and a sphere of influence. In the military field, the main goals are to prevent Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO and block the deployment of ABM systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. In addition, Russia will not allow post-Soviet states to cooperate with the U.S. in any attack on Iran.

The Russian operation has succeeded in keeping Georgia out of NATO for the foreseeable future: it has demonstrated the risks involved and several of the existing European member states are unwilling to take those risks. Another Russian goal not yet achieved is to oust Saakashvili, who is rightly viewed as an American client. (The rose revolution that brought him to power in 2003 was funded by the US government, through such agencies as the National Endowment for Democracy.)

It would be a mistake to interpret even the knee-jerk support of the American media for Georgia as indicative of unequivocal support. The US and its allies (with Israel playing a major role) did create the conditions for war by encouraging their client and by arming and training his forces. However, it appears that Saakashvili started major hostilities on his own, without seeking prior approval from Bush, who was enjoying the Olympics at the time. This evidently caused some annoyance. The US refused him the practical support on which he was counting. Like many ambitious but inexperienced politicians before him, he overplayed his hand.

We must bear in mind that the Western ruling class is deeply divided concerning policy toward Russia. Certain forces, especially in the U.S., are upset that Russia is no longer subservient to the West and regard it once more as an adversary. Other forces have a more realistic view of the shifting balance of world power, are wary of making too many enemies and fighting too many wars at once, and want to maintain a more cooperative relationship with Russia. These forces are particularly strong in West European countries that are dependent on Russian gas.

The dominant view among our masters, fortunately, is that they have no interests at stake in Georgia worth the risk of war with Russia. They have only one really important economic interest in Georgia: the pipelines connecting the Caspian oil and gas fields with Turkeys Mediterranean coast (Baku Ceyhan), which pass through the south of the country. Significantly, although Russia bombed many valuable assets in Georgia care was taken not to bomb these pipelines. Perhaps secret assurances were given that the pipelines would not be damaged.

The Russian rulers too have no really vital economic (as opposed to strategic) interest in Georgia. Abkhazia has long been their favorite vacation spot and still has considerable tourist potential. Western Georgia is a traditional source of tea, tobacco, walnuts and citrus fruit.

Our hearts go out to the many thousands of ordinary working people who have borne the brunt of suffering in this war, as they do in every war cowering terrified in basements as the shells burst above them, jumping to their death from burning buildings, trudging along the roads tired, hungry and thirsty in the summer heat …

And yet we also have to say something that must sound heartless in the circumstances. The majority of these ordinary working people of the adults among them share responsibility for their current plight. Because it was they who demonstrated and voted for the politicians who ordered the shelling and the bombing. And most of them, it appears, are still ready to demonstrate and vote for the same politicians. Because they still believe that the location of state borders matters more, infinitely more than their own lives or the lives of their children. Because they still view as their enemy ordinary working people who happen to be of different descent and speak a different language. These delusions, for so long as they persist, guarantee that this will not be the last war.

The Cold War re-heats

The Cold War re-heats

According to Clausewitz, the oft-quoted 19th century general and military strategist, war is "the continuation of policy by other means." The recent brief – if brutal – conflict in the Caucasus is yet another example of the everyday nature of capitalism continuing by other means.

The conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which appears to have claimed thousands of lives has been a rare eruption, exposing the tectonic-like political and economic pressures shifting below the surface.

These recent events have been a wake-up call to those still deluded into thinking that the ending of the cold war (which was never an ideological battleground anyway) would mean an end to stand-offs between superpowers, with the ultimate potential for World War 3.

The Cold War has just been re-heated then: but this time round the battle-lines are clearly not drawn on grounds of some supposed ideological differences. There are no great ideological or moral issues at stake here. The protagonists (US and Russia) and their allies are simply rival capitalist economies, eager to secure strategic advantage, access to resources and regional influence.

In particular, in attempting to diversify its oil sourcing away from troublesome regions such as the Middle East, the US is relying on a new pipeline via Georgia which taps into relatively secure sources in Central Asia while avoiding Russian territory.

There are other considerations however. The failure of the centralised command economy version of capitalism as practiced by the Soviet Union till its demise almost 20 years ago did not end the cold war, it merely changed the front. As the economic and political basis for the Warsaw Pact crumbled, the regional military pact NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) has been expanding far beyond its original "north Atlantic" scope, with the states of the former Soviet Union strategically-attractive targets of its recent recruitment drive, as it expands its sphere of influence.

Military conflict is an unavoidable consequence of the everyday conflict of property society. In capitalism all productive resources – most explicitly oil production and distribution – have to be owned and controlled by someone. Modern warfare – with all the waste, devastation and atrocities it brings in its wake – is a problem of capitalism. In contrast, in a moneyless, wageless, classless and stateless socialist society no-one will own any productive resource to the exclusion of anyone else. There will be no laws, rules or coercive forces to administer or police such monopolisation.

The World Socialist Movement is unique as a political movement in clearly and consistently expressing its opposition to war throughout the last hundred years. This is not selective: we oppose all wars, and have done so from World War 1 to Gulf War 2. Our opposition has a simple basis: war is fought over issues of interest to employers, landlords and bosses – the capitalist class, in short – while it is workers, in uniform or civilian clothing, who are the cannon-fodder. The overwhelming majority of members of the global working class – whether from Georgia (Caucasus) or Georgia (USA), have no interests at stake worth shedding a drop of blood over.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Radical Film Forum

A Season of Free Film Evenings
From Sunday 14th September to Sunday 23rd November

Radical Film Forum - 52 Clapham High Street

.Tired of mainstream films?· Bored of the blockbuster?
· Want more than just passive consumption?

Sun 14th Sep
Animal Farm

Although the theme focuses on the concept of leadership it also questions our understanding of a democratic society.

Sun 28th Sep
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Classic example of profit coming into conflict with social needs and when the product on offer clearly threatens manufacturing interests the steps taken to ensure the profit system stays in control.

Sun 12th Oct
Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on trial

This film documentary is a brilliant expose of how determined the religious fundamentalists are in undermining the scientific explanation for evolution.

Sun 26th Oct
The Corporation

Documentary film critical of the modern-day corporation and for the US judiciary to accept it "as a class of person". This production evaluates the behaviour of corporations towards society and the world at large much as a psychologist might evaluate an ordinary person.

Sun 9th Nov


Produced by Peter Joseph a documentary film on the hypothesis that Jesus is a myth; the attacks of 9/11; and the Federal Reserve Bank. This production not only examines he origins of religion but also provides remarkable insights on why it continues to be a major social influence. Is religion a natural phenomena or major conspiracy?

Sun 23rd Nov
The War on Democracy

America is fond of portraying itself as the 'saviour of democracy' when the evidence suggests otherwise. Investigative journalist John Pilger places this portrayal under the microscope.

Please note all films start at 4 p.m.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The SPGB have organised a forum with
Ian Bone (Class War)
and Howard Moss (Socialist Party)

Title: Which way the revolution - what are our differences?

Chair: Bill Martin (Socialist Party)
Followed by open discussion
Venue: 52 Clapham High St, London
Saturday 20th September at 6 pm
Refreshments available, also free literature
All welcome

For further information:
Phone 020 7622 3811

Friday, August 08, 2008

Crunched credit

One victim of the credit crunch is the theory that banks can create new purchasing power which didn’t exist before, i.e., can “create” credit. While the writers of economics textbooks show mathematically how in theory the banking system as a whole could on certain unrealistic assumptions turn an initial deposit of £1 into £9 or even £99 (and while currency cranks get hold of the wrong end of the stick and that an individual bank can do this), practioners and journalists who observe them know this not to be the case. They know that banks can only lend out money that has been deposited with them or which they themselves have borrowed or their own capital.

First, a practioner, Bill Browder, chief executive of Hermitage Capital Management, a hedge fund (and, incidentally, grandson of Earl Browder, one-time General Secretary of the American Communist Party who lost his job in 1946 when Moscow zagged and he went on zigging):

“The banking system is the financial circulating circulation system. If the circulating system doesn’t work, the patient dies” (interview with the Times 4 August).

Precisely. Banks and other financial institutions involved in lending are in the business of circulating, not creating, money and capital. Ideally from a capitalist point of view, they circulate money from where it is not being used to where it can be applied the most profitably. As Browder points out, the credit crunch represents a clogging up of this circulation of money and capital which, if it continues, could have widespread repercussions on the real world of production.

Now, the financial journalist, Anatole Kaletsky of the Times:

“. . . the whole point of a bank is to exchange short-term, liquid, fixed-value liabilities for long-term, illiquid assets whose value is hard to guage - this liquidity and maturity transformation is, in fact, the main social function that a banking system provides” (14 July).

In other words, banks borrow short to lend long. Borrow ready cash (either from depositors or, these days, from short-term money markets) at one rate of interest to lend to capitalist firms in the hope of earning a higher rate of interest (it has to be added that, these days, banks also engage in speculation on currency and other markets in the hope of making a capital gain bigger than what they have to pay to their depositors and creditors).

What has happened is that their speculation with a view to a capital gain has gone horribly wrong as they put money into bonds which they themselves describe as “toxic” because not all that credit-worthy. Which now nobody wants to hold, so their price has fallen. This means that, instead of making a capital gain they have suffered capital losses, but they still have obligations to their depositors and still have to pay interest on their short-term borrowings on the money market. But because inter-banking trading has slowed down – nobody wants to be left holding a parcel of toxic bonds – the interest rate on these borrowings have gone up.

The banks are reluctant to borrow as much as before from this source. Which means they have less to lend out. Hence the credit crunch. Of course if they really could conjure up money out of nothing then could never be a credit crunch.

Monday, August 04, 2008

About Solzhenitsyn

According to the BBC today, Solzhenitsyn "opened the eyes of the world to the evils of Soviet Communism". No, try again. "He exposed the brutality of the Stalin era." Much better. By way of contrast, the Socialist Party has held the same, consistent and correct attitude towards Russia since before Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was born!

Searching our website, you could be forgiven for thinking that we have had nothing to say about this world famous author. This is not the case as at present only a only a fraction of our published material going back to our inception in 1904 is available online. The Socialist Standard of January 1972, for example, has a piece titled 'From a Russian prison camp':

"...We are not concerned here with his stature as a writer but rather with the way he adds to our sketchy knowledge of Soviet society. In 1945 he was sentenced to 8 years for comments he made about Stalin....His three novels dealing with the Soviet scene are 'One Day', 'The First Circle' and 'Cancer Ward'. Respectively they describe the world of the manual worker, the intellectual and the chronically sick.

In 'One Day' we learn how starving and frozen prisoners labour on a construction site (temperature minus 39 degrees), queue for fuel, munch their ration of dry bread and try to wangle a smoke or an easy job. As in the outside world, "you feathered your own nest as best you could". You knew that you were cheated of your rations by all who handled them. Graft was everywhere, and so were the informers. But prisoners spared their energy, needing it for survival.

In 'The First Circle', he describes an expensive top-secret research institute in Moscow where class enemies, saboteurs and other top scientists, imprisoned in the Thirties and Forties, enjoyed relative luxury. Yet the State is cruelly oppressive here too: the cruelty is of a different type, that's all. At Karaganda it was physical cruelty - hunger, cold and overwork; at Mavrino it is psychological - pressure to meet impossible deadlines successfully, dread of a transfer back to labour camps and fear for their persecuted families. As at Karaganda, and as in all parts of Russia, informers abound - the hallmark of a police state.

If you ever wondered what has happened to ordinary Russians, these books will tell you much. In the two books together, Solzhenitzyn has covered a lot: from the lowest camp drudges, the wives at home on the collectives, ex-Party members who helped collectivize the countryside at gunpoint and their wives, unable to get work without disowning their husbands, right on up through the secret service rat-race to the Minister, Abakumov, and the Immortal One himself.

Finally in 'Cancer Ward' he underlines the idea that his real subject is not a prison society but Soviet society. The whole of Russia is a sick society, all alike are sick - doctors and patients, jailers and prisoners. All Russia is a prison where every fifth man is an informer.

For all Russians, he says, life is an endless sentence without amnesty, measured by months of deprivation and humiliation. The proletarian is everywhere a prisoner of the system: we are all doing time. Some prisons are plush like Mavrino "the first circle of hell." Others are unspeakable. His explanation of the lush conditions at Mavrino applies equally to the so-called middle-class here: "It has been shown that the better sheep are fed and looked after, the higher their yeild of wool."

Solzhenitzyn earned the right to claim: "I've got an advantage no spy can make me lose: what I've been through, and seen others go through, should give me a good idea of what history is about, don't you think?"

But notwithstanding such insights, another article - 'About Solzhenitsyn' - from the April 1974 Socialist Standard reveals some serious flaws in his thinking.

"..Before weighing in with criticisms of his manifesto (Sunday Times, March 3), we must make it clear, first, that we have always opposed all forms of censorship, and secondly, that in criticising his ideas we are no way defending the Kremlinite creed, to which we have consistently expressed our hostility. But however sympathetic we may be to one who has struggled successfully and made his views heard in spite of all the Soviet censorship and suppression machine, we cannot applaud his political views.

We should like to have greeted him as a world citizen, an internationalist, not a nationalist. But his views are based on an insular patriotism and Russian Orthodox Christianity. He believes in the myth of the "national interest": indeed he bases his argument against a Russian war with China, not on the view that working-class interests are not at stake, but simply on the calculation that Russia could not win such a war and therefore it would be against Russia's "national interest"..."

By way of conclusion, his writings did not as the BBC claim help "expose and bring down the Soviet Communist system". Since the collapse of the brutally oppressive system of state capitalism in Russia, can it be said that the life of the working class there has improved dramatically? The same question can be asked about South Africa since apartheid. Another novelist, D.H. Lawrence, gave the answer when he stated "earning a wage is a prison occupation".

Friday, August 01, 2008

The War Crisis in the Middle East

The following extract from a statement published in the September 1990 Socialist Standard serves today, on the 18th anniversary of the Iraqi ruling class sending its workers to invade Kuwait, as a reminder that no war is worth the shedding one drop of our class' blood.

"..The Iraqi rulers want more oil and they also want a guaranteed bunkering and port outlets of the world. That is why they invaded Kuwait. If they gain control of enough oil and have the facilities to move and market that oil, then, they believe, they can exercise more control over prices and, thus, make greater profits. So Iraqi war aims are commercial as those of the Western powers, who want to protect the profits of their capitalists by securing for them a stable supply of low-price oil.

As with all wars, and threats of war, the conflict is about the squalid interests of the owning class in our society. The World Socialist Movement again reminds our fellow workers that we members of the working class own no productive resources except our ability to work. Britain and Ireland, like all other nations, belong to the world capitalist class and, when one nation threatens war on another, it is about the ownership and control of wealth; it is about resources, markets or areas of strategic importance - in a word, about things that concern us only in that our masters order us to kill and die for them.

We say to our fellow workers in all other lands, we have no quarrel with you. On the contrary, we appeal to workers in all lands to refuse to slaughter one another for, and at the behest of, our capitalist masters. We appeal to you to unite with us in the struggle to overthrow the system of capitalism which not only causes war but all the other social problems which our class endures throughout the world.

The Socialist Party Of Great Britain
The World Socialist Party (Ireland)

22 August 1990"

August 2008 Socialist Standard

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