CPGB Lurching into oblivion
Last November the Communist Party of Great Britain held its 41st Congress in London at which dissolution and/or liquidation were on the agenda. It wasn’t a sombre preparation for a funeral but more of a Wake – the corpse is dead, long live the corpse! It will leave a number of descendants who will fight over the inheritance as if the mantle should descend upon their shoulders, such as the New Communist Party, The Leninist and the Communist Party of Britain. But what of the parent body? Well, anything could happen. It could be transformed into a brighter, newer, greener party, made more fashionable for the arriving generation of opportunists, or then again they may get into the Labour Party at last! It does not matter which option to pursue because all avenues are open to discussion, their politics are up for grabs, and nothing is excluded from the agenda.
Central to the discussions was the strategy document entitled New Times which expresses a conviction that times have changed (yet again) so new policies and a new outlook must be adopted. In reality it is really a continuity of all the nonsense put forward by the CPGB for decades now wrapped up in a new parcel. But this time they declare themselves to be the "cutting edge" of historical developments instead of trailing behind them; this time they will lead the next phase of bourgeois change which they elaborate in the phrase of "New Times". The essence of this position was summed up in six points by Martin Jacques, the Designer Socialist of this new strategy, in his speech to the Party Congress, which were:
1. The old system of mass production was breaking down and would be replaced by Post-Fordism (expressing the decline of that mass production system introduced by Ford motors), with a shift to service industries, different working patterns, more flexibility, with different categories such as women and members of minority groups drawn into the productive system, etc. There would even be a change in the attitudes to consumerism. Sounds very exciting, except for the fact that the bourgeoisie does this in an attempt to arrest the decline in profitability. Under Post-Fordism, exploitation will be intensified and organisation of workers undermined. Anybody who does not know much about politics may be surprised that somebody calling themselves Communist could praise such a concept. On top of that, consumerism can be fun! No wonder Mr. Jacques’ opinions have been courted by the capitalist media.
2. The grip of the nation-state over their own affairs has declined in favour of international markets, industrial conglomerates, the interdependence of the various bourgeois countries, etc.. But all this is an expression of the internationalising of crises spreading across the globe, uprooting sections of populations here, starving millions there, wars and military dictatorships in other places, and this is supposed to be progressive? But Lenin and the Bolsheviks had different notions of internationalism, such as calls for a United Socialist States of Europe – light years away from this nonsense!
3. The existing system of "Communism" is in crisis. "This is the end of the road for the communist system as we have known it: the central plan, the authoritarian state, the single-party system, the subjugated civil society. Stalinism is dead, and Leninism – its theory of the state, its concept of the party, the absence of civil society, its notion of revolution – has also had its day." It is not at all surprising that is what people like Jacques believe, but now they have come out with it openly. We will not join in any condemnation of this "new" line of the CPGB, preferring rather to celebrate their abandoning of the term Communist. We Communists jealously defend not only Marxist principles and policies, but also the integrity of the term Communist as well.
But that is not all. Jacques does not merely preside at the funeral of stalinism but also declares that what "we are also seeing is the beginning of the reunification of the socialist movement, which has been divided ever since 1914 into its rival socialist and communist traditions”. What we are about to witness is a panicky stampede into the rotten edifice of the Second International, the very one which the Third one was set up to fight. Lenin, during the First World War, declared that it was necessary to abandon the discredited name socialist and take on a new name, in the same way that people change their clothes from old smelly ones to clean linen. Here we have the spectacle of the CPGB preparing to swap the stinking rags of stalinism for the even more putrid tatters of social democracy. The Second International is dead, long live the Second International!
4. The extremely fashionable issue of the environment. Of course we are all concerned about this but Jacques really goes overboard on this one. International action is need to counteract the ecological dangers, together with a change in personal habits and lifestyles. First we are told by Jacques and his side-kick Stuart Hall that consumerism can be alright and even fun, then we are told that the damage to the environment is all our own personal fault and what we should do is alter our own consumption patterns. No criticism of capitalism here, of production for its own sake and for profit. Perish the thought! Jacques goes in for soul-searching instead and declares "There is no getting away from the fact that the Marxist tradition is productionist at its heart... the conquest of nature, the forces of production, the commitment to economic growth". But that is not Marxism Mr. Jacques, but bastardised stalinism, calling for relentless economic growth while people starve and go unsatisfied, all in the name of "building socialism". We Marxists are for the abolition of production for its own sake, producing rather for people’s needs, which in reality may very well lead to a certain amount of de-industrialisation. We refuse to take the rap for this problem instead of the capitalist class.
5. Equality of the sexes was next. Here we have a strange explanation as to the source of the sexual division of labour – it was the result of a deal between capital and labour in the postwar period which confined women to unpaid domestic work. It is the Marxist view that the patriarchal structure of society and family is the product of the division of the human race into classes based upon property and ownership of the means of production, distribution of the products of labour and of consumption. It is this division which foists upon real living people ideologies over which they have little or no control. The propaganda of the ruling class, its schools, religions, means of communications, political parties, reinforce all this. It goes without saying that life-styles and opinions are formed, reinforced and are a reflection of this class division.
Who does Mr. Jacques think is responsible for this. He says that "Our culture remains deeply masculine, public life is still dominated by men". We question this "Our" when referring to culture, in the sense that this culture belongs to the ruling class and is imposed upon all of society. Some classes do have a positive interest in preserving this domination while others suffer it. We understand the attacks upon sexual inequality, as well as upon all the filthy attitudes of bourgeois society, but regulating the inequalities will not end exploitation but merely institutionalise it.
6. Society and the relationship between civil society and the state are undergoing change. The CPGB wants to get into the centre of this change and looks for a means of accomplishing this. At present it is by-passed by events, hence its growing crisis, declining membership and extremely tarnished image. It is time to bite the bullet and accept the logic of the situation.
A Crisis Ridden Party
That was the gist of what Martin Jacques put forward, with our own comments. The CPGB are certainly a Party in crisis. Membership has declined to a derisory figure of 7,000, many of which exist on paper only, the same as with their youth movement, and they have even lost their daily paper, the Morning Star, to the break-away Communist Party of Britain. (It is worth noting that the Morning Star had voted away any formal connections with the working class at a share-holders meeting some years ago) Things are not going well at all for the CPGB. Their once powerful grip on the leadership of a number of trade unions (mainly a legacy of collaboration in the Second World War) has largely dissipated. The best part of seven decades of faithfully toeing the Moscow line, diligently following every twist and turn of the cominformist policy and they have ended up with nothing, not even a seat in any cabinet. Mr. Jacques recognises that the Party represents a dying constituency, so a new one is looked for. Find a likely section of the population to orient to and build a programme to appeal to them with? No wonder a revision of politics, and loyalties are called for. If they can’t achieve it by the stalinist road, then any other fashionable option will do.
We do not care what new name they adopt (the sooner they cease libeling the name Communist the better) or where they go in their new orientation. Liquidation into the Labour Party is one option, or liquidation into trendy "radical" circles is another. But there is one difference between the CPGB and the other stalinist parties undergoing similar crises. Jacques and Company are looking for the next stage of bourgeois development after Thatcherism so they can jump on the bandwagon, while others are jumping on to the coat-tails of Thatcherism. Some of the Stalinist parties are so enamoured by Thatcherism and by the style of the British Prime Minister, that is sabre-rattling, strike¬breaking and free market economics, that perhaps they should adopt the name Conservative Party. Some have already adapted the name Social Democratic, which is near enough anyway.
The breakaway Communist Party of Britain will still keep calling itself Communist and defending the stalinist legacy – an allegedly fighting tradition. The CPB represents the "tankie" wing of the stalinists in Britain, that is those who defended the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Also this party represents the dying constituency which Mr. Jacques referred to, that is those who have unswervingly defended the Russian policies and interests over the decades. They have possession of the daily paper, Morning Star, which only keeps going with heavy subsidies. After the Second World War, with the name of Daily Worker, it had a circulation of 100,000, but these days it has an official one of 12,000 and approximately half of the copies are sold in Russia and Eastern Europe.
How have the Russian leadership reacted to their continuing fan club in Britain? Have they continued to nurture these slender forces of Russiophiles? Not in the least as now the Russians have heavily cut the numbers of copies of the Morning Star they take for circulation... and pay for quarterly in advance. In the past Stalin got rid of people through purges, prison camps and assassinations. Today they just get rid of those who have outlived their usefulness by cutting them adrift and saying "your on your own lads". Oh well, may be these are the few Times Mr. Jacques talks about.
The roast beef of Old England
or the rich get richer and the poor should go and hide themselves
The English ’Sunday Times’ has deigned to reveal to us in ’the most authoritative guide to wealth ever published,’ the financial high jinks that our ’top’ people are up to, by listing the 200 richest people in England and showing what clever things they did to earn their money and how hard they worked. After all, they imply, if you proletarians could only pull your fingers out, you could all be billionaires as well.
But providing any information about the rich is a double edged sword, so what morsels are there for us jealous, ungrateful proletarians in this bulky treatise on wealth? For a start off, the wealth of the 200 wealthiest thieves in Great Britain totals £38 Billion pounds – equivalent to 8% of ’Britain’s’ Gross National Product.’ Who isn’t reminded of the similar figures that helped many of us choose the revolutionary road of Marxism? We should recall that the fundamental texts of Marxism teach us that these figures are representative of all the most industrialised and capitalized countries in the world and don’t merely Indicate a backwaters sultanate.
What else do we find out? Well, the richest person in the country is that dear old lady who shakes hands such a lot i.e. the queen; who, nice as she may seem, has signed death warrants in liberal quantities for opponents of ’British’ interests in the colonies.
The overall impression is that the cosy relationship that the landowning classes established with the bourgeoisie is alive and well today. More than 50 of the ’top’ 200 are landowners. In fact, outside London alone, this ’select’ bunch owns 7% of the entire United Kingdom. But a few, not many, are not ’old money’. So there is a sprinkling of the celebrated ’self-made men’ (and women) of the American myth, recast into the ’frightfully British’ mold of, ’VIRGIN’, and ’THE BODY-SHOP’. The myth of the genius, the fortunate, the clever, and the swashbuckling buccaneer is obviously alive and well.
The other side to the coin of this wealth is poverty, which all the government ’budgeting’ to ’put the countries accounts in order’ and ’balance the books’ does precious little to disguise. Depicted broadly, we can say that this ’boom’ has been produced at vast expense to the working class brought about mainly through three measures. 1) privatisation 2) attacking the social wage, and 3) direct attacks on wages.
As far as privatisation goes, the government is well on its way to privatising everything. Gas, British Airways, council houses, shipping, dockyards and communications have all gone under the hammer, and it comes as no surprise to find that fingers have been in the till – legally of course by the system of patronage – thus we find as director of British Telecom – the recently privatised telecommunications network – none other than Mr. Norman Tebbit, a former cabinet minister. Mind you, when ideas were being put around about the possibility of privatising the sanitary services, a name slightly closer to the seat of power was mentioned in the paper of NUPE in fact, the managing director of one of the firms that put up a tender was none other than – yes, you’ve guessed – Dennis Thatcher. In fact, doesn’t this amiable drunk, who’s been taken under the wing of the satirists, have business interests in the Falkland Islands? Of course not, it must be a vicious rumour.
Next the government intends to privatise electricity, prisons, and the security services! One of the security firms proposed for the latter auspicious role has already had a shadow of suspicion cast over it by the mysterious death of a nuclear disarmament activist. After all, the government doesn’t want to be tainted by burglaries and murders does it?
Most controversial at present though is probably the bungling attempts to privatise water (accompanied by flashy advertising campaigns,) universities, schools, and hospitals. The government needs a softly, softly approach here, so they are commencing the attack on these services by allowing schools and hospitals to ’opt out’ of local government control, the word ’freedom’ is being bandied about like nobody’s business. Apparently, these services must be privatised so the patient and the parent has the ’freedom’ to shop around for a better service. Meanwhile private medicine is being advertised. The big firm in the private health field is BUPA, who astonishingly claim on their T.V. adverts that all the profits are ’ploughed back in for a better service’. Who do they think they are kidding! People are supposed to think that one social service is exchanged for another we suppose.
These last mentioned privatisations of course constitute a goodly portion of the social wage, but a huge scandal in England at the moment is the attack on young people. Unemployment benefit has been axed for those of them who don’t take up a place on a government training scheme, and thousands of them are without any home or money, literally starving on the streets, becoming drug addicts and having to sell their bodies to the loathsome pimps that hover around the stations and doss houses. The aim is to make parents support their unemployed children, despite the fact that most proletarian families only live just within the margin of poverty at the best of times. Such is the brutalisation within which live working class families in one of the richest countries in the entire world representing the future for those not already reduced to this level. In response to all this the government has had to step down a tiny bit, admitting that there may be very real reasons for leaving home. In recognition of this fact, some teenagers are now awarded a pittance if they can producing damaging information about their home life to the ’soft cops’ of the social services, by producing details of a frustrated father showing sexual attention or beating them up with all the attendant humiliations.
As far as hospitals go, what a miserable picture London presents today. Exactly as in Italy, thousands of mental patients have been kicked out onto the streets after a long winded debate in the media about the advantages of ’care in the community’. Some care! Some community!
As to wage cuts, the working classes hardly needs more facts and statistics to prove the truth of this miserable reality. Suffice to say that every day new factories are closed down accompanied by new-fangled ways of drawing up the unemployment statistics that clumsily disguise the obvious ’figure fiddling’ that everyone knows is going on.
So to many the boom doesn’t appear much of a reality, is it to anyone? Yes for some the boom is undoubtedly a reality, in fact, in the last five years the number of millionaires in England has risen from 5,000 to 20,000. Perhaps the world economy will one day be dominated by building magnates specialising in heated swimming pools!
And another thing: we all know that these rich people live in big houses. How do they pay those bills? Well, that won’t be a problem, the poor old rich don’t have to worry about that because the bourgeois government, which always holds their interests dear, has stepped into the breach with a brand new scheme. This is the new Poll tax which has already been ’introduced’ into Scotland – where the government likes to try out its new schemes – and will come into effect in England and Wales in April. This new ’peach’ of bourgeois thinking will mean that people pay rates on the number of people living in a property instead of it being related to size etc.. This neatly sidesteps the thorny question of whether the working classes has ever had ’equal’ service from the social services anyway. For instance, word has It that the police don’t even bother to investigate a burglary unless ten thousand pounds worth is stolen. No prizes then for guessing who gets hit most by burglaries. Most people just get given a form and that’s it!
But how did this new item of right wing ’thinking’ regarding the new poll-tax arise? Mr. Douglas Masson of the right-wing Adam Smith Institute explains in ’the Guardian’ of March 31,1989. ’A few of us were discussing alternatives to the rates and we realised that everything else in local government was based on a flat-rate charge; swimming baths, housing rents, for instance, so why not a flat-rate poll-tax as well? It seemed so logical we were surprised no one had thought of it before’.
Pregnant now with the inspiration, which had so thoughtfully tiptoed into the inner sanctum of the Rufflets Hotel, Mr. Masson gave birth some weeks later to a 47 page report which was hastily put up for adoption and welcomed with open arms by the government. Having mulled over the implications of his startling offspring, it remained only for Mr. Masson to finally condense his wisdom into the following pithy statement ’the rich and the poor pay the same to tax for their cars, or for a TV license, there seems no reason why they should not pay the same for other council services such as refuse collection, police, fire or the provision and maintenance of roads’.
Certainly the English bourgeoisie doesn’t need such penetrating minds to affirm the right that gives it the force to crush the proletariat. Its behaviour is so brutal as to have one believe that a real working class doesn’t exist anymore on these sceptred isles. But workers there are, and they are making their presence felt. It is crucial however that they free themselves from that band of social traitors called the Labour Party, and the official unions which handed them over, bound hand and foot, to the class enemy at the time of the miners’ strike.
The governmental methods have been, and are still are, an example for the bosses and bourgeoisie of the entire world on how to put the brakes on the working class; but they are also a lesson, maybe clearer today than in other western countries, for the proletariat not to trust those who are flag-wavers of the national economy – nothing than the economy of the rich and of the exploited.
2. ECONOMICS AND THE PROLETARIAN CRITIQUE
In the first article of this series we dealt with the relationship of Marx and Engels to the revolutionary tendencies in Britain, particularly in the Chartist Movement, through to the First International and finally to the defection of trade union bureaucrats in forming the counter-revolutionary Trades Union Congress. We shall now deal with a number of schools of thought which have had an important impact in Britain. The first one we will deal with is the Cooperative Movement.
Before proceeding further, we shall state that the Cooperative movement went through two phases which we can designate as firstly Utopian and secondly as bourgeois. The first one was an instrument of the class struggle, while the second has become an integral part of the bourgeois system. The first phase resulted in some experiments which all failed to survive for any length of time, while the second is still with us and enshrined in the principles of the Rochdale Pioneers of 1844.
We don’t intend to detail here the events of the Utopian phase as we have dealt in part with it in Origins and History of the English Workers Movement and in any case there are plenty of examples in works on Robert Owen, etc. We will be dealing with the criticisms of bourgeois economics which arose out of both the Utopian phase and also against capitalism in general.
The offensive of financial and industrial capital was proclaimed in works by people such as Adam Smith. Very soon these same ideas, particularly on the question of wealth and value, were being taken up and used as criticisms of the existing distribution of wealth. The initial ideas of Charles Hall have been dealt with elsewhere, but it was a work by Thomas Spence, with the intriguing title of Perish Commerce, which stung James Mill to directly countering such criticisms. Suddenly, the bourgeoisie felt under pressure, not only on the industrial front over the levels of wages, but through being directly attacked on the level of bourgeois economics. This dangerous tendency had to be fought by the bourgeoisie before it could make the workers movement “safe” for capitalism.
The bourgeoisie could not fail but to examine the nature of the new economic relationships, examine the internal functioning of the economy and industry as well as the consequences for society as a whole. The identifying of value with labour by Ricardo was further grist to the mill of the “labour” economists. By 1821 the conception of “surplus-produce or capital” appeared in an anonymous pamphlet – this phrase was taken up in Capital by Marx and further developed. Even the “great test” of Bentham (the greatest happiness to the greatest number) was being used directly against the new capitalist system itself.
In the preface to Capital Vol, 2, Engels points out;
«Our pamphlet is but the furthest outpost of an entire literature which in the twenties turned the Ricardian theory of value and surplus-value against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat, fought the bourgeoisie with its own weapons. The entire communism of Owen, so far as it engages in polemics on economic questions, is based on Ricardo. Apart from him, there are numerous other writers, some of whom Marx quoted as early as 1847 against Proudhon (Poverty of Philosophy), such as Edmonds, Thompson, Hodgskin, etc,, etc,, “and four more pages of etceteras”. I select the following at random from among this multitude of writings: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth, Most Conducive to Human Happiness, by William Thompson... [written in 1822]... The constant effort of what has been called society, has been to deceive and induce, to terrify and compel, the productive labourer to work for the smallest possible portion of the produce of his labour».
Engels goes on further to say: «But what is there new in Marx’s utterances on surplus-value?».
Such modesty indeed! We will record the fact that the critiques of the English “labour” economists have been incorporated into the Marxist world outlook of the proletariat.
Class Struggle by the New Industrial Working Class
The great difference between German and French polemics in the 1840s on the one hand and in England in the 1820s on the other, is that in the former case the attempt was made to build bulwarks against the new economic system, whilst in the latter the struggles within the new system were seen as requiring to be fought out. The English “labour” economists were looking for ways to resolve problems in favour of the industrial workers whilst not holding back the wheel of time, as in the case of Proudhon, etc. With the class struggle going on all around them, there was an obvious need for this conflict to be pushed forward as far as possible. It was within this context that theoretical constructions were built and plans for the future reorganisation of society laid. With capitalism itself still only on the threshold of its youthful phase, the instrument for resolving the contradictions in society, the industrial proletariat, was not as yet fully formed. For this reason the plans put forward were as yet still limited, and rested in part on hopes rather than material forces, confining such programmes to utopianism. But this however does not invalidate the bulk of the criticisms of capitalism taking place, which were in some aspects superior to those of many later socialists.
Marx was to show that these critiques of capitalism were divided into two groups, those who wanted to pursue the class struggle, such as Hodgskin and Thompson, and those who fell into Proudhonist errors and advocated labour vouchers as a form of currency, such as Bray and Gray. The basic division between these two tendencies was over whether solutions were to be found within the relations of production, i.e., diminishing the extraction of surplus value, or whether the problems lay purely within the realm of distribution. Within the revolutionary tendency we shall see the division between a form of syndicalism and the genesis of socialism. The inevitable question of the right to the whole of the product of labour was confronted and fought out.
Thomas Hodgskin is chiefly noted for his work Labour Defended, which was published in 1825 at a time when the struggles for the legalisation of trade unions were reaching their height. He also gave a series of lectures to workmen at the London Mechanics’ Institution, published later as a Popular Political Economy.
Labour Defended asserted that, throughout the country there was raging a struggle between capital and labour. Because of the conflict of interests, workmen felt impelled to organise in trade unions to pursue their own aims. The employers paid them only the barest minimum in order for them to subsist. By his own calculations he asserted that while because of the new machines and science ten times more goods could be produced per worker than two centuries previously, the workers saw none of this increase and were forced to live on the same subsistence level as their counterparts of two hundred years before. All the advantages had gone to the capitalist and the landlord. Hodgskin asserts that this is wrong and that the value created by the worker should go to that person and not to the capitalist, as it is only by the use of living labour that goods are produced. Without the use of living labour, then the machinery of production would fall into decay. Capital, as dead or stored-up labour, can not produce anything without the use of living labour which sets it in motion in order to produce useful goods. As the possessor of capital, the employers are a burden on the backs of the workers. But it is not just the individual employer who is a burden to the worker. For instance, if a labourer buys a coat, he pays over and above the cost of what nature demands for its production; by making payments of interest to the owner of the sheep, the wool-buyer, the capitalists in the spinning mills and weaving sheds, the cloth merchant and the master of the tailoring shop. It is hard to say how much all these exploiters make out of the sale of the final coat, but it may be six times that of the necessary wages incurred in the overall processes involved in producing the coat. Thus the labourer, by purchasing goods pays many different types of capitalists.
Hodgskin refutes the notion that wherever workers are brought together to undertake production the end product belongs to any individual worker.
«Each labourer produces only some part of a whole, and each part having no value or utility of itself, there is nothing on which the labourer can seize, and say: “This is my product, this will I keep for myself”. Between the commencement of any joint operation, such as that of making cloth, and the division of its product among the different persons whose combined exertions have produced it, the judgment of men must intervene several times, and the question is, how much of this joint product should go to each of the individuals whose united labours produce it ?» (Labour Defended, 1922 edition, p,53).
Hodgskin goes on to declare that the division of value would be left to those workers involved. It is at this point that a number of unsatisfactory conceptions arise. While he passionately defends the workers’ struggles over the surplus product of their labour, he never comes up with a way of actualising a new form of distribution, of new forms of social relations. Whilst desiring that the workers have full access to the products of their labour, he still concludes that it is impossible to do away with capitalists altogether. He applauds the prospect of drastically reducing the profits of the capitalists, but concludes that driving them out completely would only “do mischief” as it would wreck economic relationships. It all comes down in the end to ideals, believing that if all decisions were taken on the basis of honour and principle between all those involved in production, then the rewards of labour would be settled by competition in the market. He could not escape the notion of free and competing units of production. In later works he asserted that individual property was natural and essential to the welfare and existence of society. The achievement of a more equitable distribution of the products of labour was, in Labour Defended, attributed to the working classes, but later on, he sees this as the role of the middle classes. These conclusions are nothing other than the sorry product of syndicalism.
Thompson, while recognising Hodgskins’ work in defending the interests of the working class, takes him to task for defending competition and the marketplace – the infamous “higgling of the market” – as a solution for the endeavours of the workers. In paying due respects to his “friend and fellow-labourer” he warns Hodgskin that he is in bad company in defending competition between enterprises, as all its advocates are on the side of capital and against the claims of labour.
Plan for the Reorganisation of Society
With William Thompson we find the process of transformation from bourgeois theories towards a form of socialism, combining elements of Bentham, Ricardo and Owen. Initially Thompson had been a follower of the Utilitarian school which praised Bentham’s test of the greatest happiness to the greatest number. This cannot be achieved without the physical means of enjoyment and objects of wealth. Abundant production and a just distribution are indispensable for the achievement of the greatest human happiness. The conditions in society showed that it wasn’t meeting this test, so he examined why in his Inquiry into the Principles of the distribution of Wealth most conducive to Human Happiness. It is a rather torturous work with many ideas and concepts being weighed in the balance... and found to be wanting. Thompson found that the mere abundance of wealth could not guarantee happiness. There already existed in 1822 a country rich in the means of production but there was still unhappiness. Moreover, poverty and misery were the lot of the majority of the producers. The only way this situation could be overcome was by the abundance of wealth being linked to a just and equal distribution; the wealth must be distributed over the whole population in order for each member to satisfy their needs instead of leaving wealth in the hands of a few.
All we can do here is summarise a few of the points raised, such as the view that labourers and craftsmen are the real producers of value and useful goods, as opposed to those of capital and the capitalists. Also, the system of private property does not give security to the producer, for much of the value of what he produces is taken away in the shape of profit and rent. The lack of security of the producer prevents the productive forces from producing enough to satisfy all of human wants. It is the unjust and unequal distribution which checks production; moreover, the little that is produced is monopolised by the few. Excessive wealth and luxury on the one hand, abject poverty and misery on the other – weighed in the balance, the existing form of society is found wanting.
In examining all aspects of production, distribution and the concept of value, Thompson could not find any way within the existing economic relations to alter the distribution of wealth in favour of the producer. It was this conclusion which pointed him in the direction of alternative solutions. The conclusion he drew is that there is no more potent force which operates on human character and on human happiness than the mechanism of the distribution of wealth. Considering the tremendous capacity of the new productive powers, there should be no hesitation in undertaking a redistribution of wealth. The existing accumulated wealth is really insignificant when compared with the possibilities of the creation of new wealth which a just and equitable distribution would effect. All this can be achieved only by (1) labour freely and voluntarily given; (2) the products of labour secured to the producers; (3) all exchanges of these products shall be free and voluntary. Only on the basis of these principles can there be both security and equality.
Thompson takes a further few steps forward in 1826 in his Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions f the Other Half, Men, in pointing towards ways of eliminating oppression and exploitation.
«Under such arrangements [Labour by Mutual Cooperation], women may have equal improvement and use of all their faculties with men; under these circumstances, they may derive as much happiness from every source – of the senses, of intelligence, and sympathy – as men, according to the peculiarities of organisation of each: under these circumstances, all may be perfectly equal in rights, duties, and enjoyments, according to their capabilities of acting, suffering, and enjoying».
He goes on to point out that even though men may be able to work harder than women in producing the objects of enjoyment [commodities under this society], where would men be without the peculiar pains, privations and cares that women endure in bearing children. Against the rather doubtful advantages of the present state of improved chemical and mechanical science, of mere superiority of animal strength on the part of men in producing goods, how does that compare with what women go through in preserving the human race. Which is more indispensable, the production of a few more broadcloths and cottons, or bringing up the next generation? He concludes by stating that «no person cheerfully exerting his or her means, whatever they might be, for the common benefit, would be punished for the scantiness of those means, still less from the pains or privations attending their development».
In 1827 Thompson published his main work, which was Labour Rewarded, in which he directly took up some of the limitations of Hodgskin’s Labour Defended. Here we can only summarise, and give a few quotations, from this important work. Were justice and kindness the basis in rewarding labour, the largest rewards and compensation would go to those who do the most severe and repulsive toil. But to such labourers, because they are the most helpless, does competition with its unequal remuneration, award uniformly the smallest share. Better means in the earlier stages of society being unknown resulted in competition with its unequal remuneration – prizes for the idle and few, want and misery for the many – calling forth the activity of industry. The end has been sacrificed to the means. This inequality of remuneration has been erected into a God by the successful patrons of brute force, or “higglers of the market”, and been consecrated and worshipped by public opinion, by law, by superstition. It can not be otherwise under such competition.
Despite the differences of categories of labour, there seems to be no reason to justify the difference of remuneration. It aggravates the misery of the wretched, while giving the rewards to superfluity and vanity at their expense. As to different classes of labourers, those who supply the necessities of life are now almost uniformly the worst rewarded; while those classes which provide superfluities, particularly if novelties, are the best rewarded. As to the same class of labourers, the scheme of unequal remuneration by task-work, produces at the same time excessive toil, and brings down to the lowest level the remuneration of labour. «It may be that skill, utility, and great demand, may happen to coincide; but this is purely accidental». Some through apprenticeships, corporations and guilds, etc., may have been able to elevate themselves higher than others; while the great mass of labourers have through competition been unable to do otherwise than live out their average lifespan and leave behind there a new race of labourers to continue the routine of unattractive, unrequited, toil. Those classes of trades or subdivisions of classes which are better remunerated are the mere aristocracy of trades, possessing no superior merit but certainly having all the vices of all aristocracies, which the chance of circumstances enables them to procure above the mass of their brethren. Later on in his book, Thompson points out that the highest price which Free Competition will enable unions of the industrious to obtain for their labour, is nothing like the value of their labour, but the same rate of remuneration which will permit the capitalists in the same industry to reap profits from their capital. Hence it is evident that the benefits of these voluntary unions to the industrious classes, are almost entirely limited to times of ordinary or extraordinary prosperity in their trades. In a declining state of trade, particularly when the crisis is more generalised, voluntary unions to guard against the under-bidding of the industrious against each other are rendered inoperative.
Thompson, in examining whether it is possible to secure to labour the products of its exertions, and giving equal remuneration to all labourers, concedes that this is impossible to achieve within the framework of individual competition, but not under other arrangements. How could these arrangements be brought into being? It is only by the workers becoming owners of the means of production.
«We have seen that, in any state of society ever so little advanced from barbarism, it is almost impossible to ascertain what portion of the produce of combined labour – and all labour to be economical must be combined out of the minute sub-divisions of its various branches – has been the work of any individual labourer, and of course that it is impracticable to award to the individual, separately, the products of his labour. What cannot be done individually, we shall see may be done collectively, and it is clearly our duty to make the nearest approach we can, consistently with reproduction, to the securing to all the products of their labour» (p. 37).
Thompson put forward plans for reorganising existing industries. Funds should be raised for the utilisation of the labour of the unemployed and other casualties of capitalism. He put forward plans for the acquisition of buildings and machinery to create new units of production and set them to productive work. Out of the products of this labour nothing should be withheld except the cost of management and depreciation of capital. [We refer the reader to Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme to see how close these two positions are.]
The form in which the plans are formulated show that Thompson still had not been able to totally leave the Owenite utopian school. The plans still talk in terms of each worker having a share, but one share only, in their own enterprise. It would still operate as a business but he pointed the way towards a break between use value and exchange value. He talks often about remuneration rather than wages, and the workers collectively having access to everything produced, with provisions being made for those incapable of work, etc. To Thompson goes the credit of formulating value by labour time and, pursuing the consequences of the quotations above, this could only be done as an average of the endeavours of all those involved in the collective processes of production. He was facing in the direction of scientific socialism, while still clinging to notions of moral enlightenment and progressive advancement.
Even with the most perfect organisation in industry imaginable – given the workers being able to achieve this – the problems of the workers would not end. They would still be prey to the burden of rents to landlords, rivalries to similar enterprises still operated by capitalists, profits made on the supply of raw materials and the fluctuations of trade dependent on general markets. He advocated the raising of funds to purchase land and settle agricultural associations as well as the formation of communities of cooperative production for their mutual requirements.
The general problems of the market continued to dominate Thompson’s work. In 1830 he was putting forward ideas for its suppression or replacement by the generalising of cooperative production.
«Want or uncertainty of employment for the industrial classes is the master-evil of society as now constituted. What immediately causes want of employment? Want of sale or market. Goods when produced cannot be sold at all or not at a price that would repay the cost of production; therefore manufacturers’ cannot give permanent and remunerative employment» (Quoted by Max Beer, History of British Socialism, Vol. 1, pp. 227-8).
Limits and Collapse of Utopian Socialism
The works of the English “labour” economists represented the limits that could be reached out of the criticism of bourgeois economics. They reflected also the upward turn of the growing class struggle, still at that time mainly on the economic level. Various aspects of the unfolding bourgeois economic relationships had to be examined to see their effects and limitations, as well as ideas proposed for society’s advance. As Max Beer points out «Most of the controversies of German and Eastern European scholarship concerning Marx’s Capital were, in their essence, fought out in the years between 1820 and 1830 in England round Ricardo» (p, 188). These “labour” economists did not restrict themselves to economic theories but were a part of the developing proletarian movement examining the new world they found themselves a part of. These same “labour” economists were active in lectures and discussions of the early working class leaders in preparing them for the ensuing struggles. However, as there did not yet exist the material force which could overturn the prevailing economic and political situation, they did not have a revolutionary perspective. However, they reflected on the political level the slow and painful uphill struggle to lay the foundations for the first independent proletarian organisation – the National Union of the Working Classes formed in the early part of the 1830s. Not only were these works a formidable critique of the fundamentals of the bourgeois economy, but also represented veritable arsenals for Marx and Engels in developing the world-historic outlook, of the proletariat.
One could not have expected the work that was accomplished by these “labour” economists to have gone further than it did, nor for it to have been able to transcend utopianism, because of the limitations of the period in which they developed. But they prepared the ground for others. They anticipated the preliminary steps in the transition from capitalism to forms of socialism, but their chief problem was in not being able to consolidate their work into a single school of thought – this was only possible with the development of the movement in Germany, and thus Marxism was born. Marx and Engels took up the work of the English “labour” economists, not only to beat down such ideas as represented by Proudhon, but also to point the way forward. The conquests of these utopian economists have been put into good order and incorporated into Marxism.
The polarisation over the question of cooperation during 1831-4, between those who advocated and pursued the class struggle on the one hand and those who defended the existing form of society on the other, is dealt with in our other series, Origin and History of the English Workers Movement. It represented a dividing line between the revolutionary movement and the defenders of bourgeois order. Also it is one of the issues involved in the bourgeois falsification of history, carried out in particular by Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
In the Webb’s History of Trade Unionism we find the rather fanciful notion that Robert Owen was led astray by utopian and impractical ideas. For the amusement of the reader we shall give a short quotation.
Owen «was disabled by the confident sciolism and prejudice which has led generations of Socialists to borrow from Adam Smith and the “classic” economists the erroneous theory that labour is by itself the creator of value, without going on to master that impregnable and more difficult law of economic rent which is the very corner-stone of collectivist economy. He took his economics from his friend William Thompson, who, like Hodgskin and Hodgskin’s illustrious disciple, Karl Marx, ignored the law of rent in his calculations, and taught that all exchange values could be measured in terms of “labour time” alone» (pp, 162-3).
So here we have Owen as a lovable idealist led astray from practical tasks by nasty extremist socialists with their nefarious ulterior motives. It is a pity for the Webb’s that the blame could not be laid at the door of “foreigners”, but had decidedly English origins. Indeed, it was the whole classical school of economists who had got things “wrong”. After a century or more of examination by bourgeois economists, labour was identified with value and rent “forgotten” – one can wonder whether the Webb’s had read Ricardo on the subject, or if instead they were just plain liars, [An interesting aside is that the main reason the Labour Bazaar left the Grays Inn Road, London, premises is that the landlord, a friend and supporter of Robert Owen, wanted £1,700 per year rent – a substantial amount in those days]. The Webb’s apparent lack of scruples is neither here nor there. What does matter to us is the falsification, that the "utopian” form of socialism had been tried and failed, to be replaced now by a more “practical” strategy.
The truth is that Hodgskin and Thompson’s plans for industry were not put into practice at all. They were in truth impractical (barring a complete takeover of society by the “industrious classes”, meaning in effect a revolution), but what was put into effect in Owen’s Labour Bazaars was a programme for the survival of self-employed craftsmen and artisans. It was a strategy more to the liking of bourgeois radicals, such as Francis Place, who wanted the working class to remain under the political control of the middle class. The goods exchanged were the result of very small-scale production, such as hats, coats and boots, etc., precisely the industries where mechanisation hadn’t penetrated yet. The hopes for a self-sufficiency based upon such exchanges were erroneous because many of the goods people needed were the product of large-scale production, such as woven goods (cotton and wool products), steel, coal, food, etc, and thus were controlled by the capitalist class, The capitalist owners of the means of production expected to be paid in coin of the realm, instead of fancy bits of paper. This was the real application of the law of value.
A more important point needs to be stated. The Labour Bazaars did not implement exchange by labour-time calculation – rather it was the other way around. A maximum price (calculated in money) was decided on what the market would stand for a particular type of commodity, then a wage was stated for the value of the labour of a worker, and so a number of hours he should have worked for was deduced. If he took longer than that, then it was just too bad. Why should the customer subsidise lazy workers? That was the rationale of the advocates of Labour Bazaars. As one disciple of Robert Owen put it later, the equitable labour exchange failed because «those who availed themselves of it were too ignorant, too selfish, too dishonest» (Cooperator, 15th August, 1865). The Owenite partisans would rather blame the lack of enlightenment of the masses than the consequences of the market system, which was the real cause of the problems.
Another problem of the Labour Bazaars should be stated. At times there were increasing stocks of goods that were sold only slowly. In fact they became repositories for the dumping of goods that people did not want. For the Webb’s, this just showed that the whole process was unresponsive to the needs of the market. They expected and wanted the productive processes, in this case that of the independent artisans, to be disrupted by the whims of the buying public. In other words, the whole process of capitalist anarchy in the market place should be introduced into the Labour Bazaar system. Periodically the whole system of production of handicrafts would then be thrown out of gear in precisely the same way as in large-scale production, brought about by the bourgeoisie re-asserting its levels of profit. For Marxism neither over-production and dumping on the one hand, or the chaos of the market on the other, is an acceptable solution for a future society. We attack both the concept of production for the sake of profit and the squandering of human and material resources of production for its own sake. We don’t give a damn about having people working just to fulfill “quotas”, for completing a set “working week” or satisfying some damn account book. All this nonsense will go with capitalism in general, and alienated labour in particular.
By challenging the falsification of the Webb’s we are not defending the Utopians as a school of thought. We have our own criticisms of the Utopians which we are quite open about. But at least those members of the Utopian school we have mentioned were against the capitalist economic relationships and strived to project forward an alternative world outlook. It is that element in their work we shall not have defamed, because it is part of the ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie to deny that there is any “realistic” alternative to the capitalist social relations. Falsifiers, such as the Webb’s, not only want to rob the workers of a future, they also want to rob them of their past. Opportunists hope that when the workers are convinced that there is no alternative to capitalism, then perhaps will they settle down to appreciate the wonderful nature of the bourgeois world. It is people such as the Webb’s who are the real Utopians,
who today deride the works of the early labour “economists” as
“impractical” and “unrealistic” are those who look for
more practical ways, inevitably within capitalism, within the present
framework of society. They look for some aspect of capitalism which
they can declare to be progressive (stalinism), independent
(libertarianism) or state controlled (Trotskyism). We can do nothing
better than to end this section by recalling the words of Thompson
that anyone that defends competition and the market are on the side
of capital and against the claims of labour. We will deal next with
the bourgeois phase.
(to be continued)
the thread of time
Marxism of the Stammerers
Battaglia Comunista, No 8. 17-20 April 1952
Immediately following the second world conflict, the world appeared divided into the two blocs which had emerged out of the broken war alliances. These soon discovered a new form of rivalry by competing with one another with offers of a sunny future of wealth and civilisation to the battered army of survivors. In the "capitalist" west, the magic recipe of an economy in constant unlimited expansion was flaunted before them; a wealth which would expand forever thanks to the impeded development of industry and the consequent limitless growth in salaries, meanwhile the state would intervene guaranteeing a large number of social assistance measures for the most vulnerable. In the East, in the newly constructed fatherlands of Socialism – built on the total systematic slaughter of the best comrades in the revolutionary party – the allegedly "socialist" state appeared as the proprietor of the means of production, in short, as managers of a planned economy capable of ’overtaking’ the economic rates of expansion in the ’capitalist’ camp, this, it was said, would be possible because it had been delivered from the anarchy of profit.
This contest of peaceful competition propped itself upon the desolate ruins of the revolution and the destruction of the international organisation of the communist party that had set the world ablaze not so long before, twisting the theory and practice which for ten years had constituted the backbone and spirit of that formidable revolutionary international apparatus – the Third International. Passages were now misread and systematically distorted so as to undermine the magnificent victory that had established the proletarian power in one country alone; and such it would eventually remain with the International instrument of the proletariat smashed to pieces. Indeed, even the very vocabulary of communism remained to be vulgarised by the grave-diggers of the revolution, for still, despite everything, reference would be made to the teachings of Marx. Everything and anything that suited the regime in Russia was supposedly ’socialist’ and ’communist’ and working towards the end of capitalism. In such a way the counter-revolution succeeded in establishing its definite victory with Stalinism: named after the figure represented the symbol of this catastrophic process.
Thus the world revolutionary wave was brought to a close for a interminably long period. The scattered remnants of the fraction of the left abroad, which had been reduced to near silence by the stalinist regime, or dispersed by fascism, continued to voice the same criticisms that they had raised in the International, and managed to retain a physical continuity as a group through Its press (’Prometeo’, ’Bilan’, etc.). With such tiny numbers its role became that of maintaining the Marxist tradition and trying to spread its influence where it had no presence. By 1943 the fraction had laid the basis for the future world party with a solid basis of doctrine, and the recognition of the irretrievably counter-revolutionary nature of the official communist parties that were prostrating themselves before the opportunist Mecca in Moscow. Eight years later, in early 1951 it would be possible to say that the party existed on a firm homogeneous basis as a clearly defined and unchangeable doctrine.
In this context appear the articles "On the Thread of Time". The article which we present here was composed in April 1952 and has the same characteristic structure of all the others in the series, consisting in a brief preamble introducing the ’theme’ of the dialogue, where the positions of adversaries are dealt with one by one. There are also two fairly lengthy sections entitled ’YESTERDAY’: in which are delineated how the terms of the matter were studied and resolved in the past, and ’TODAY’: in which the dialogue with the falsifiers, the traitors and the innovators are elaborated with forceful polemics supporting the main content. It was thus a work of infinite patience and unlimited faith (faith, yes, but positive and ’concrete’) to set to order the theoretical and programmatic cornerstones that the counter-revolution twisted and dishonoured, and to knit together once again the frail network of the international organisation of the party. No academic exercise in juggling concepts this, but a duty of a militant activity, once again, as has happened so many times in the history of communism in the wake of defeat and when the enemy forces are stronger, the struggle was carried out in the realm of ’ideas’. This hard, apparently obscure work of analysis, verification and synthesis that gave a context and order to the dynamic play of fact was absolutely indispensable for the rebirth of the party, and this would happen on the same basis is always, but even firmer in the light of the bitter, terrible but profound lessons of defeat suffered on the battlefield. It was indeed a gigantic duty for the tiny complement of forces that remained after the storm to frontally attack all the theories of both right and left which were then in circulation. Everywhere the swindlers, the babblers, ’the stammerers’ of Marxism would continue to infest the proletarian masses, and these it was that we attacked without quarter showing them to be demonstrably anti-Marxist: and standing out, in high relief amongst the ragbag of ’new innovations’ and ’creative fine-tunings’ of Marxism was the final insult to the hard won doctrine of communism – socialism in one country.
The articles entitled "On the Thread of Time" were written on the basis of, and contributed towards, this clear split with these latest discoveries and laid the basis which the organisation of the party could be reborn. This involved establishing and reappropriating in their entirety the original principles of Marxist doctrine, and knitting these together with the historical experiences of the past and the present into that coherent whole and continuity of thought and action that the counter-revolution had smashed. "Yesterday" and "Today" are not therefore two separate moments divided by some startling theoretical discovery (the absurd Stalinist theory derives from the ’double’ market and ’socialist’ merchandise) nor by an unforeseen historical accident that mean that doctrine and principle must be either thrown in the dustbin or set out on a new basis once again, rather they constitute a unity that moves in the same historical trajectory. When between 1949 and 1957 this long series appeared in the party press it had as its primary aim precisely that of demonstrating the invariance of revolution and counter-revolution, and conducting a ceaseless battle though still on theoretical terrain against the bourgeois adversary and its infamous ally, opportunism. The formal organisation was at that time in the process of being reborn, and as a formal organisation there would always be the possibility that it might succumb once again to the enormous pressure exerted by the bourgeois world, but the road to the revival of the class, and above all of the party, passed necessarily to this juncture. We may say then that the articles “On the Thread of Time" were the work of the party and indeed were the party, part of its history, of its doctrine and its life on a par with other works of the masters of communism. There remained a difference though, whilst in the past the author’s name and surname would accompany the work, now it became anonymous and impersonal, the work of a collective that doesn’t have names to exhibit to a public already stupefied and intoxicated with big names and journalistic scoops; this reaches its maximum formal expression by rejecting the outward manifestation of intellectual property as well as the signature at the end of an article. The so-called stalinist socialism was the mystifier of the mercantile nature of capitalism and it was this which the article "Marxism of the Stammerers" highlighted. But why no ’Tomorrow’? Like all the others in the series, tomorrow is not made explicit because Marxism is not an exercise in futurology: even so, the main elements of the questions expounded in that far off ’Today’ of 1952, would already anticipate and find an echo in the resounding clashes that we are witnessing today 38 years later.
Marxism of the Stammerers
The decontamination to which we dedicate 90% of our humble work will be continued a long time after us and be realised only in the distant future. This decontamination combats the epidemic – always and everywhere dangerous, of those who – in all places and at all times – innovate, bring up to date, renovate and revise.
It would be useless and even detrimental to specify or to personalise – to search around for a bacteriological bomb thrower – rather, it is a matter of identifying the virus itself and of applying the antibiotic which we obstinately assert exists in the continuity of the line and fidelity to principles, with preference being given 999 times out of a thousand to catechistical ruminations rather than to the exploit of the new scientific discovery, which require of us the wings of eagles, but to which all too often vulgar gnats feel themselves drawn by destiny.
It therefore disturbs these quivering winged creatures, when, bluntly down to earth, we remind them of the modest altitude that it is given to us to attain, we to whom all heroism and all romanticism is forbidden; we, who stick to irony rather than lyricism, feel obliged to remind those who are too impetuous: Don’t play at being Phaeton [or at least confine yourselves to the bird-man competition at Bognor-Regis; ed.] It would be nice to test out on the abacus those who suffer from the hysteria of making purist calculations, to ascertain if they are capable of adding up on the ends of their fingers or not.
Woe betide to those who believe themselves to be expressing revolutionary theory and who pretend to be – as is said nowadays – a mouthpiece of the proletarian movement, who haven’t yet digested and assimilated the crucial turning-point where our doctrine abandoned traditional positions.
Woe betide to all, but especially those groups who wish to place themselves at the extreme left of the movement, and to personify the struggle against degeneration. It has been far too easy for opportunists and those who collaborate with the class enemy, to defame the «left» by accusing it of being prey to illusions, sectarianism, extreme formalism and of not comprehending the overall dialectic of Marxism.
The retort and defence of the international left has consisted and consists, of demonstrating that the rejection of concessions, compromises and manoeuvres doesn’t stem from a relapse into mysticism and metaphysics, like that of the extremely simple child who, like in the old religious beliefs, opens all doors with the key of one sole antithesis between two opposed principles: good and evil.
The «good» for us would equate with the proletariat, and the «evil» with capitalism: which everywhere at all times without need of further reference points, is this same capitalism, an absolute evil, – always one – always the same. The rest a fairy-tale! We have fought for a long time to demonstrate that we don’t reason thus, and that we have understood well “the dialectic of living history” by unmasking the falsity of post-leninist opportunism, and by tracing out with sufficient exactitude the path of its line over thirty years from orthodoxy to total renunciation.
We certainly weren’t deterred when they reminded us that with the onset of each historical stage the terms of the antithesis change. For although for believers in all mystics, good can only beget good, and evil beget evil for fear that the eternal values etched in the light of the spirit should fall, according to our revolutionary doctrine, Communism is the son of capitalism and it could only have been engendered by it, and that despite that, and even because of it, it must fight and overthrow it. Furthermore, the historical timing of turning points and of reversals of positions occur by virtue of material conditions and relations – never thanks to the clownishly vigilant will of petty men or grouplets, self-appointed through their negligible conviction of being instrumental in checking the path is not a mistaken one.
The spread of the «Communist Manifesto» was slow in Italy. In the preface to the 1.2.1893 Italian edition, Frederick Engels was clearly aware of the “general opinion” according to which what was being dealt with were a country and a Proletariat that were “behind”. A view so general and enduring, that not less than half a century later, the second Risorgimento, the second 1848, would still remain «to be made». Engels harked back at that time to 1848, to recall that this revolution contemporary to the “Manifesto” wasn’t Socialist, but prepared the ground in Europe for the Socialist Revolution.
We have returned to this text to rediscover there two important truths, truths which are on the level of two and two equals four, but which it is evidently necessary to «resuscitate» – namely: “the manifesto gives full credit to the revolutionary part played by capitalism in the past. The first capitalist nation was Italy”. Let us chew this over thoroughly. The end of the feudal middle ages and the beginning of the modern capitalist era is fixed by Engels – not with Walter Audisio, Mussolini’s executioners – but with Dante.
We have often said that the «Manifesto» is an apology of the bourgeoisie, and we add that today, the Second World War and the reabsorption of the Russian Revolution, a second one should be written, not in terms of philosophies of values; for these values pour into the bourgeois ideology the implacable economicism and shopkeeper’s spirit appropriate to the class and the time. We need to vindicate the accused, in order to conclude that it is time to condemn him to death.
To prove this we should draw evidence from the Manifesto as a whole. We will confine ourselves however to memorising ten words: “the bourgeoisie has played an eminently revolutionary role in history”.
We now take up from a later passage. The main reason why the pre-bourgeois production relations were, in a certain sense, static regarding the requirements of the ruling class, whilst bourgeois relations are brutally dynamic, lies in the breaking down of the narrow circles of satisfaction of needs of the autarkic islands of production/consumption. Here is the thesis, expressed so often, but ever new: “In place of the old needs met by local (spell it! L-O-C-A-L) production, new ones appear which demand for their satisfaction, the products of distant countries and regions”.
Karl Marx’s “Capital” (whoever is horrified by the smell of decay and mummification is invited to seek after new, more exalted texts) contains a section, the fourth in the first chapter, which, in ten pages resumes the entire work and its subject, in fact all Marx’s work, written and unwritten. The section is entitled: «the fetishism of commodities and the secret thereof», an illiterate manual labourer can easily understand it, but for the intellectual who attempts its mastery, fifty years of elementary school will scarcely be enough.
We would recommend for inclusion on the agenda at a party meeting, for anyone who would like to give it a – «truly political» foundation, the reading and application – whilst looking out of the window of course – of chapter 1, section 4.
Marx was face to face with a thesis already established by classical political economy. Thus he named the school which openly sought to explain the nature of naissant capitalist production without glossing anything over, “in opposition to vulgar economy which contents itself with appearances (....) and restricts itself in truly pedantic fashion to erecting a system and proclaiming as eternal truths the most banal and stupid illusions, with which the agents of bourgeois production like to people their universe, the best of all possible worlds». A vulgar school still alive and well to which we may enrol the great economists of the like of Sombart and Keynes. Therefore Marx accepted a thesis, a discovery of classical economy: “the exchange value of a commodity is given by the labour time necessary for its production”.
Proletarian science accepts this thesis on the one hand whilst on the other it demonstrates that as long as this truth implicitly includes the conviction that as long as the world exists, objects utilised by people to satisfy their needs will have the character of commodities, this «scientific truth» shrinks to the level of arbitrary assertion, mystical, on the level of fetish, that is to say, to the level of a misleading falsehood, different in no respect from those contained in the ideologies and beliefs of pre-bourgeois times from which bourgeois science turned in derision, (not that they scoff quite so much anymore, but this phenomenon was to be expected).
Let us follow some of Marx’s evocative steps, after having in our turn anticipated, with a didactic aim, what he was getting at. The objects of consumption haven’t always been commodities – today they are affected by a price and a value of exchange which derives from work-time crystallised in them – but they won’t always exist as commodities: Once the complete analysis of the capitalist industrial mode of production is made, it can be deduced not only that it isn’t necessary that all the objects which satisfy the needs of our existence be commodities and be exchanged at their price and value, but that on the contrary, at a certain moment, they won’t be such anymore.
From primary school, we know what this statement signifies «politically» (agreed?). It signifies: the capitalist mode of production isn’t eternal and it will collapse with the victory of the working class. It will have disappeared as soon as exchange values and commodities don’t exist anymore, that’s to say when there isn’t either mercantile exchange of the objects of consumption, or money anymore.
This signifies something more precise: there cannot exist in the future an economy which is still mercantile but which isn’t capitalist anymore. Before capitalism there were economies which were partially mercantile, but capitalism is the last of this genre.
As obstinate adversaries of novelty, we show to those who are able to read properly, that this was written down: Let us suppose I have a candle at my disposal, and I need light. I make use of it by lighting it, and in a few hours I will have consumed it. Almost nothing odd there, in the candle or in the light, so «the mystical character of the commodity doesn’t derive from its use value (the property the candle has of giving light). It doesn’t derive either from the features which determine the value (so many grams of stearin)».
From whence then derives therefore, Marx asks himself, the enigmatic quality that the object of consumption assumes in cloaking the commodity form? Evidently from this same form. Do not take for banal what is profound!
The value form, that is the relation which establishes itself between the candle and the fifty francs which we pay for it, isn’t a relation between things: between the stearin and the grubby bits of republican paper; but it does conceal a social relation between men who participate in production. The mercantile monetary relation seems to be a simple means to exchange the candle that I burn, with let us say, the matches which I produce; it seems to be a relation between products: in reality it is a relation between producers, a social relation, better still a relation between social classes. It is here that Marx unveils the mystery of the commodity «fetish».
«A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour, this is the reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses».
Marx wanted to best explain this «Journey» in which the innocent candle – as opposed to the dry sticks snapped off the tree and rubbed together by primitive man in his lair – becomes, by assuming an exchange value, the expression of the relationship of exploitation which the owner of the factory makes his workers put up with in the candle factory.
He made a comparison with the stimulation of the retina which appears to us as an object existing exterior to the eye which sees it. But the light radiated by the object and the stimulation of the eye are physical realities, whilst the value form is nothing physical at all, contained neither in the stearin or in the light or stimulation of the optic nerve. The latter is a definite social relation between men, that assumes in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things, «in order, therefore to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped region of the religious world».
As in mysticism, «the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings» and it is the same with the products «in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities».
Marx, who isn’t a man of letters but a fighter, sees the class enemy in front of him with every line he writes. He isn’t a «thinker» and he doesn’t soliloquies, but writes in dialogue form with his enemy. You thought, oh theoreticians of the bourgeoisie, to have reached the acme of development in clearing away from the spirit of man the fetishes of beliefs in the divinities which justified the authority of the class to which you have succeeded, but you have set up a new and much sadder fetish which we will throw down in its turn from your altars – the banks – and eject from your temples – the stock exchanges.
«It is, however, just this ultimate money-form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers. (....) The categories of bourgeois economy consist of such like forms. They are forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production, viz, the production of commodities». All mysticism is dissipated if we refer ourselves to another type of distribution, one that is non market.
We have asked Karl Marx to demonstrate the transitory character of mercantile forms and to confirm the annexed thesis: the mercantile forms appeared at a certain stage in history, and it is when they have disappeared that we will be in the Communist stage. Marx then, in the twinkling of an eye, takes us from Robinson Crusoe to the society of the future. It is our standard and usual method: to elaborate the analysis of future development with indisputable data from the past. Would that they – who having read without reading, say that Marx stuck to the prudent science of contemporary facts and gave a mere photograph of capitalism of his day – (the imbecile puppy of 1952 knows more about it than Marx of course). Would that they clean their gummy eyelids; realised communism, they will find it on pages 82-3 in Volume 1 of Capital!
Since economy is fond of «robinsonades», let us start from there, said Marx. Robinson had needs and satisfied them with objects that he gathered together: he saved ink, pen and ledger and made an inventory; but...that’s all. He didn’t engage in double entry book-keeping, nor did he receive or deposit money, for around him there were no commodities of any description. Marx transports us away from «Robinson’s island bathed in light to the European middle-ages shrouded in darkness». This next part is for you: the liquidators of feudal guilt for the better glory of the brilliant neon civilisation of today. You, who understand only that light comes of light and dark from dark: deum de deo, lumen de lumine. For our part, we recognise the necessity for the passage from the light of the early and generous primitive communism, without commodities, to the shadowy society of feudalism, and then onto the fetid sewer of bourgeois civilisation in order to pass beyond it. For us nothing is a fetish, not even hatred of capitalism.
Right then, so in the middle-ages, commodities still don’t exist on a wide scale: the privilege of the dominant class is constituted by openly visible personal payments in labour. The social form of labour is also its natural form, that’s to say, particularity, and not as in the mercantile form, generality. Let us try to understand this. I have turned the winepress for you and after having stretched yourself out somewhere, you will imbibe a good glassful. This is less ignoble than buying from the pub the poisoned capitalist liquid, containing water and colouring – to increase the profit-margin.
Clear relations then in the gloomy Middle-ages: the lies of the priest dominate! But, «the tithe to be rendered to the priest is more intelligible than his blessing». The foul conjuring trick of representing the relations of human slavery as an equal relation between exchangeable things, will be the characteristic feature of the subsequent bourgeois epoch.
But can a human activity exist that is fit to fulfill essential needs without such a modern deception, outside of the fetish of the market? Yes, says Marx, and he gives examples for three periods: the past, the present, and the future.
The Past: Robinson, as an entirely abstract figure used for the purposes of analogy doesn’t interest us. Man is the species, not the person: this bizarre, solitary and evidently sterile being, knows only consumer goods and not exchange, and not finding himself in the Garden of Eden and besides the disadvantage of being deprived of Eve, he procures himself useful goods through his work.
Our example from the past we draw from the primitive communities. Between the «Manifesto» and «Capital», practical archaeological research has established that not only certain peoples, but every one of them, had their origins in organisations based on the work of all and the property of no-one. An organisation where one finds: “labour in common or directly associated labour” in its “spontaneously developed form which we find on the threshold of the history of all civilised races”.
The Present: Of communal work “We have an example close at hand in the patriarchal industries of a peasant family, that produces corn, cattle, yarn, linen, and clothing for home use. These different articles are, as regards the family, so many products of its labour, but as between themselves, they are not commodities. The different kinds of labour (...) possess a spontaneously developed system of division of labour. The distribution of the work within the family and the regulation of the labour-time of the several members, depend as well upon differences of age and sex, as upon natural conditions varying with the seasons”. On several occasions we have pointed out that these streams of autonomous organisation exist not only in backward areas into which the global market hasn’t yet penetrated, but exist still in the bourgeois countries: in 1914, a Calabrian woman, a large landowner, boasted of spending one penny a year on needles and buying nothing else. If we weren’t dialecticians we would say that our ideal is contained in such streams. On the contrary however, we say that the quicker these are swallowed up in the infernal circle of market capital – be it in Calabria or Turkestan – the better.
The Future: «Let us picture to ourselves, by way of a change, [the moderate tone employed here so as to avoid utopian affectations, blinds superficial people to the fact that it is the revolutionary programme being dealt with] a community of free individuals, [for us, on the historical level, free is equivalent to non-salaried] carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour-power of the community (...) The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary [Take note! you look for the designation ’into equal parts’ but it is not there] The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers».
In order to best establish that this «state of things» (nothing other – oh critics, oh vacant ones – than Communism; that Impossible Communism!) is the negation of commodity production, Marx makes a comparison by examining one of the ways of dividing things up, i.e. «the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time» (this would be the lower stage of Communism, as Lenin correctly described it drawing from the critique of the Gotha Programme – which in itself was another formidable hammering out of fundamental points). Very well then! Here, within communist organisation, «the social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution».
The last part of the paragraph deals with ideologies which necessarily reflect the three stages: ancient pre-mercantile economy, mercantile economies, and non-mercantile or socialist economies.
The ancient national religions belong to the first barbarian and semi-barbarian stage based on conditions of despotism and slavery.
The society of the universal market finds an appropriate religion in Christianity, and above all in its bourgeois development, the reformation.
It is only in the third stage, the communist one, that social life casts off the mystic veil that conceals its social aspect from itself. However, as we have noted elsewhere, there is a BUT, «This, however, demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development».
Marx finishes with a final taunt, by assimilating alongside earlier superstitions, the idiotic «self-knowledge» appropriate to the bourgeois epoch.
He chose Bailey, but we could choose Einaudi. The capitalist scientist speaks thus: «Value (that’s to say, the value of exchange) is a property of things. Wealth (use value) is a property of man.» Thus this capitalist savant is able to scientifically deduce that commodities, and the rich, will exist for ever and ever, amen, (for through reductio ad absurdum, Everyone will be rich).
We, who by the revolution will abolish commodities and the rich, will demonstrate to these alleged sages meanwhile, that on the contrary, it is things which have the property of being of use to mankind, and it is people alone and their present relations, which have the mercantile property, such that exchange value expresses an attribute of people – that of being exploiter or exploited.
The more the opinion of official science is enlightened and brought up to data, and the more it concludes that capitalist relations are irreplaceable and «natural», the more we consider it to be intrinsically ridiculous. Its calibre is comparable to the imbecilities that Shakespeare puts into the mouth of his ludicrous character Dogberry: «to be a well-favoured man surely is the gift of fortune, but to write and read comes by nature».
With the matter being so simple – but simplicity is hard to achieve, while complex things are well within the capacity of any peddler of culture – there are those who come along and say that «new formulas» are necessary. Why? In order to account for Russia and the encumbrance of the Marxist edifice, and for the fact that over there, whilst the means of production are no longer private, there nevertheless exists a capitalism not different by one Jot from those in the west! The entire international gang of stalinists loudly proclaim that Socialism is to be found there in its complete form. And the entire not less vast capitalist gang proclaim the same thing: communism exists over there; communism being nothing other than central and statist dictatorship over all wealth and over all people (to the horror of those in the wonderful free world).
Dear searchers for new formulas, why not go back and have a check over the old formulas, for I rather fancy that instead of convincing you to open an advanced research institute, they will convince you of the necessity of enrolling in a «school for dunces».
It is possible that Demosthenes got over an innate stammer and became a great orator – by dint of stuffing his mouth full of pebbles: But we are more than suspicious of the «cacaglios» of Marxism. You have understood that in Neapolitan dialect «cacaglio» means stammerer. Scandalous usage of dialect? Perhaps it was for Stalin who denied that the national language is a transitory class product. But in many cases, dialect is actually nearer to the thought of the dominated class. Dante strengthened the revolution in the measure that the bourgeois opposed the Tuscan vernacular to the Latin of the noble men and the prelates. In Russia the aristocrats mumbled in French whilst the proletarian revolutionaries expounded their ideas in German. Stalin, by ignoring both languages, expressed well the fact that one of the characteristics in the formation of bourgeois power is the extolling of the national language.
One need not hesitate to classify Russia within one of three stages: pre-mercantile, mercantile or socialist. At the time of Engels, the first stage was still manifestly evident, not only in the Asiatic principalities, but also in the mir – the rural community of European Russia. Was it possible then to graft this Communism of exclusive little islands, primitive and rudimentary, onto the Communism of a modern well equipped society? Engels, who was a great and wise diplomat of the revolution, recalled in presenting the «Manifesto» to the Russians, that Marx had predicted in 1882 that it was a possible point of departure if the Russian antifeudal Revolution signaled the Proletarian revolution in the West. If that didn’t occur, or if the signal was insufficient, Russia would have to go through the mercantile phase; this it is in the process of doing at the moment. In fact, the collapse of the fabric of Tsarist feudalism provoked the following result: the swallowing up of all the closed-off little islands of Eastern Europe and Asia – thanks to an accelerated industrialisation of the backward territories – in the irresistible tide of the mercantile system.
And the revolutionary outcome? Marx and Engels had always thought that a second 1848, no longer bourgeois but proletarian, could not be victorious as long as there existed in Russia a powerful feudal army. From 1917, this counter-revolutionary condition is removed.
Like them, we consider that in order to be able to transform the anti-feudal revolution into a proletarian revolution in Russia (Lenin’s line), the indispensable condition is a revolutionary victory in Europe.
In 1952, Russia hasn’t built Socialism, but capitalism, just as Germany, Austria, and Italy built it after 1848.
Today, England, America, France and the other industrial countries are no longer building domestic capitalisms, but protecting global capitalism. Their respective state machineries working solely in a counter-revolutionary direction, with their arsenals pointed solely against the future – not even partly against the past and partly against the future.
We will not elaborate any further here on the question of the mercantile character of the economic organisation, rather we will examine in greater detail how the isolated spots within the ocean of general commerce dissolved, by explaining the historical conclusion to be drawn from the fact that in given countries the process is still taking place, while in the territory of others «there are no more economic islands». And we will demonstrate further that this distinction is to be found in the pages of Marx, situated where he develops the history of the passage from fragmented labour to associated labour, which forms the necessary basis of the proletarian revolution and of Communist social organisation.
It has been announced that within two or three years, Russia should be able to exchange with other countries goods with an annual value totaling 40 billion roubles, that is 10 million dollars or 6,300 billion lire.
This Western propaganda would have us believe that this is all just a big hoax, and that this 40 billion will be spent with the sole aim of impressing the electors in the back of beyond, so as to get them to elect a Cominformist mayor.
We would like the tycoons of Western economy to explain to us how it comes about that the captains of industry who have set off for Moscow have become, not as ’Unità’ would romantically have it, suitors at the window but rather suitors of Potemkin (*), that is, mere hirelings.
It would be more worthwhile surely if they discussed other phenomena like the stalinist decision of Truman to requisition the steel industry and to fix prices and wages by state edict – given that there remains a clear margin of 18$ per ton, or perhaps the phenomena of the founding by the capitalists of an international financial Institution for economic development with the aim of resisting the intervention of governments in their business.
The present development of capitalism towards profit is no surprise to the Marxist doctrine, and this much is clear: there is not a single iota of Socialism in this development, as evidenced by the fact that for bourgeois economy – the economy which is diametrically opposed – this directed politics is «Socialism» par excellence. For Vilfredo Pareto for example, Socialism isn’t understood to mean the same thing as it does for us, namely organisation without market and without «the firm»; quite the contrary in fact, it is understood as arbitrary intervention of moral and legal elements within the natural economic fact.
(Marxism, on the contrary, maintains the opposite view, namely the intervention of economic reality in the shaping of the legal and moral artifice.) At any rate, at least Pareto is consistent when he declares: the Socialist systems, (as he sees them) are not different from the various protectionist systems. These latter, he adds, represent properly speaking, the Socialism of entrepreneurs and capitalists. This Socialism, envisaged by Pareto, more than half a century ago, we will willingly leave to Truman and Stalin. Never more than today has it been so obvious that Soviet Socialism is the Socialism of captains of industry. But in Russia have these not been suppressed? Well, now they’re importing them!
In magnitude, 6300 billion lire is double the size of imports into Great-Britain, six times those into Italy, and equal to those of America. It is equivalent to the annual labour of 26 million workers; of probably all or almost all the Russian workers already drawn into production other than that of the exclusive little islands, but certainly of the work of the whole population of a developed country with half the population of the present day U.S.S.R. If half of the labour effort of this people – excluding that expended in pre-mercantile Asiatic type consumption – has an equivalent price on the global market to that produced by the capitalist countries, other figures are not really needed in order for us to define the Russian economy as capitalist. Moreover, why doubt that it is immersed in fully fledged mercantilism when the ideological projection consists of the complete domination of the popular religiosity which is encouraged and utilised by the public power?
With the dialogue of exchange between the Russian commodity and the dollar which pays for it, and between the American commodity and the rouble which pays for it, we scarcely need to unravel its «fetishistic character». Objects can’t talk, commodities can’t talk, but where any type of commodity is produced, the relation is, in reality, the relation of the exploitation of wage-earners.
There is nothing to indicate that at the moment exchange isn’t an open palpable reality. Exchange functioned during the war between 1941 to 1945 under various forms, such as arms and ammunition from the west for industrial and «military» effort and work from the east. Today the respective industries step up the accumulation of capital which is a social fact even in the bourgeois regime, either with the aim of arming for an imperialist war (with Truman invoking reasons of national defence for the requisition of enterprises and the militarisation of strikers) or with the aim of the mercantile satisfaction derived from international exchange.
If one wishes to say anything new about Russia, it is more than useless to know that caviar was served at Stalin’s table and a millet paté to the workers. This could be compatible with a lower stage of communism. At the higher stage we will give caviar to everyone... and the millet to recalcitrant pupils who have an incurable itch to play at being teacher.
For our part, we are interested to ask ourselves if by having roubles in our pockets we can have caviar or millet, and whether, once the exchange rate is worked out, we can do the same with dollars or lire.
After this, for us the fetish quality of caviar or millet contains no more secrets, as indeed nor does the supremely stupid character of the latest jargon!
(*) Fiancés de Potemkin: allusion to
Catherine II of Russia and her favourite of the moment Potemkin. At the time of
a journey across the Russian countryside, Potemkin conceived a collapsible
village which he could transport across Russia, and which he used to take
Catherine to visit each time she wished to see the state of the peasants. With
the surroundings changed at each visit, Catherine thus received a very
favourable impression of the state of the Russian countryside and of her
Life of the party
Bolzano, October 1989
The Party, which normally holds three Reunions per year, held its latest one at Bolzano (North East Italy) on the weekend of 7th and 8th October 1989. After some organisational business, such as the distribution of our latest publications in Italian and English, reference was made to the progress of this work, its development as well as the content and deadlines of the Party’s press.
The work got under way on the Saturday afternoon with an analysis of the bloated state of global capitalism, a work that brings up to date the statistical tables which were commenced by the Party in 1956. It was shown that the various figures relating to the index of industrial production in these tables over the last ten years still reinforce demonstrably the laws discovered by Marxism in the genesis of capitalism. In particular, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was dealt with at some length and was confirmed beyond any shadow of doubt in the course of the economy over more than a century, certain analogies with this phenomenon of growth drawn from the physical and biological world were described.
Next, the present state of the carving-up of industrial power between the largest Imperialists was illustrated with percentages. In fact, all those who have taken the trouble to follow our work and who don’t require facile sensationalisms, will know that we have periodically evaluated these figures with the aim of understanding the relation of forces between our enemies – their trade, their peace and their wars. Our evaluations of the past and future, and the revolution to come, rely on this basis of production and not the stale idealist opposition that causes pestilence everywhere and according to which the driving force of history has always been and always will be the opposition between tyranny and democracy, with the latest manifestations being the various anti-fascisms and anti-stalinisms.
The speaker concluded his long study by observing that currently we are presented with a phase characterized by the absence of an imperialism that has a clear hegemony over the others in the economic, military and diplomatic sense. Thus we find the U.S.A., slowly but surely, condemned to the same destiny as Great Britain which it had previously overtaken in the epoch of the Two World Wars. Today, whilst no one Imperialism is able to be the dominant one, the others just as weak, do not wish to assume the honour of being the planetary policeman of capitalist conservation. We witness then as a result of this, a marshalling of the capitalist powers with each claiming a share of the imperialist profits whilst at the same time wishing to upset the equilibrium, unstable despite themselves, that they have imposed on the world and which no less laboriously they are struggling to maintain.
The next report was a continuation of the earlier study on the economic conditions in Russia which first gave the party a substantial set of statistics relative to agricultural production. A number of tables were shown which described the availability of land and their agricultural use, the legal form under which business is carried out – divided between Sovkhoses, Kolkhozes and private concerns – and the total production in each sector along with what is produced by the different types of company, by their personnel and by each individual inhabitant/consumer. In the long cycle from 1913 to 1987 it was easy to see the progress of various phenomena such as the tillage of virgin land and its consequent settlement with the worst land being discarded. Equally the average size of the company first grew to its maximum extension and then tended to shrink to the size most appropriate to the requirements of intensive cultivation. The same can be said for the average personnel per firm. Comparisons were made regarding the amount of land worked and in the different areas of production, these were divided according to conditions of membership of the firm, with cereals and fodder counterpoised to market-gardening and products used by industry.
A separate chart dealt with livestock resources and the average amount of meat consumed.
The data as a whole, derived from official Russian sources, describes an agricultural economy in evolution with a slow but steady increase in the relative importance of the sovcos, the state firms, to the detriment of the Kolkhoz, the co-operative of the small peasant proprietors. Also production destined for the use of consumers would finally overtake the pre-revolutionary level, sidling up ever closer to the purchasing power of those poor wretches, condemned to consume, in the Western countries.
Guided by the fundamental pamphlet by Lenin on the Tax in Kind that was written to explain to the party comrades the pressing necessity of taking up positions on mercantilism and the widespread nature of small peasant production, in a Russia that was in a crisis affecting even basic food items. It was totally inconsistent to claim as they do nowadays that this pamphlet contains any programme for a post-capitalist society, or that it accepts the conjunction of Socialism and Democracy in politics, and small peasant production and state capitalism in economics.
In reality, in Russia a bourgeois class capable of taking power in the first person was lacking, but in that Russian bourgeoisie there was to be found only counter-revolution and impotence, and the Russian bourgeoisie in its small peasant incarnation was to be led by the proletariat against feudalism. Thus came about the optical illusion of the ’bureaucracy’, the state as a broody-hen hatching out capitalism.
But in a developed capitalism the anarchy of the market imposed itself much more powerfully than any secret police force or ministerial edict as the expression of the boiling over of the rate of profit. It gives birth to the ’black’ markets and the various mafias. Above all in the post-war period, there has been the contradiction between the permanent necessity of one sole political control to prevent the breaking up of the empire and the tumultuous and deformed capitalist growth forced to march in step with the world market and intolerant of any forecasting or planning. In these last decades of peace, economics has slowly been subduing politics.
Finally in the evening we heard the continuation of the report on the history of the workers movement in Great Britain. There were two accounts, the first on Co-operativism in its bourgeois phase, and the other in a brief but clear synthesised form was on Chartism as an expression of the party of the working-class.
We recalled firstly the earlier reports in which Co-operativism had been described as an English branch of utopianism [see this edition], in which could be detected many intuitions of Communism, as well as the need for it, in the periods leading up to scientific Marxism. But when Marx and Engels found themselves in England after the revolts of 1848-9, the co-operative movement had ceased to oppose bourgeois society and had accepted mercantilism so as to be able to co-exist with it in rejecting class struggle. Against this new-fangled utopianism that could supposedly defeat capitalism with the peaceful arms of the Co-operatives, the speaker spoke about the brilliant polemic of Ernest Jones who wrote at this time under the direction of, and in collaboration with Marx. The inconsistency of the illusory ’three roads’ to Socialism, the same illusions peddled up to not so long ago by the same swine of today, he held to be as follows: one, the collective management of land on behalf of the workers; two, societies of workers for industrial production; three, consumer co-operatives. We can conclude that such economic programmes become substantially opposed to the principles of "true co-operation", in fact, instead of destroying the race for profits they recreate it by turning the workers into their own exploiters. The condemnation of Marxism is a double one: on the economic terrain it denies any possibility of emancipating labour from mercantile-wage relation if not on a national scale, (in England, we are in the centre of a planetary empire) anticipating thereby one agency alone that administers and distributes all wealth; on the political terrain, Jones is final: "I have shown that it remains within the power of the very wealthy the faculty of preventing or destroying the movement of association at any moment – unless the co-operative movement is sustained by a political power".
The synthesis of the second part on Chartism has demonstrated that Communism wasn’t in England only a question of a vanguard, but also of a mass movement.
In 1842 there was an insurrection with the working-class assuming the leadership in large areas of Northern England. The insurrection had been exactly the product of the union between the class organised in a large union and the party – at this time the Chartists.
This attempt failed because there still wasn’t a clear separation of the class from the bourgeoisie let alone a clear and complete revolutionary doctrine. There will be another insurrection in 1848 as well – the famous ’monster’ demonstration in London,
The speaker went on to demonstrate the relations between Chartism and the first communist organisms, that is for the most part with Marx and Engels.
In the backward conditions of Germany in 1848, the emigration was such that there came to be more skilled German workers outside Germany than within it: 85,000 in Paris and similar numbers in Brussels and London. Thus, the German working class assumed an international character from its very inception. It expressed first ’The League of Outlaws’ and then ’The League of the Just’. Of this latter organisation Engels would write "It was the first International movement of the workers of all time".
In 1840 the organisation was mainly in London and was influenced by Blanqui, Engels in fact would introduce the leaders of the Left of Chartism, Harney and Jones into the League.
Meanwhile, Marx had started up the Communist Correspondence Committee to put the Socialists and Communists of different countries into contact with one another in order to discuss in a scientific way the revolutionary programme. After many discussions the League came over to most of Marx’s positions. In a Conference in 1847 the League of the Just became the Communist League, and it was at this Conference that Marx and Engels were asked to write ’’the Communist Manifesto", The Correspondence Committee thus became a section of the League.
The League would then break into two parts. On the one side Schapper, Willich and the Blanquists, and open the other side Marx and Engels. Thus we witness right at the birth of the Communist movement a categorical rejection of political alliances even if the numbers concerned were tiny. From that day on, Communists haven’t thought to simply add up the number of membership cards. After the dissolution of the League, Marx returned to investigating the economy, convinced of the urgency of understanding it. He would, however, continue to work with Harney and Jones. Harney published the first translation of "the manifesto" in his paper, The Red Republican, introducing the authors as "citizens Charles Marx and Frederick Engels".
After a split on the Left of Chartism Marx continued to work with Ernest Jones for many years, writing articles in Jones’ paper The People’s Paper. Marx also attended many of the meetings called by Jones. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie had taken over the leadership of the Chartist movement. There were now a whole host of organisations: ’The National Reform League’, the ’People’s Charter Union’, the ’Social Reform League’, all of which more or less wished to extend the vote to ever wider layers of the bourgeoisie. Jones himself would finally capitulate to this trend causing no little disappointment to our Marx.
Six years later the First International would form out of the remnants of earlier organisations that had tried to form an international perspective, notably ’the International Association’. The First International was a federation of various workers movements which united in order to struggle side by side. This doesn’t contradict the rejection by Marx of some years before of alliances with parties or fractions of other classes.
We inherit two important things from Chartism, one: it demonstrated the possibility of a mass organisation of the working class contradicting the tenets of Blanquism; two: it posed the fundamental tactical problem of the working-class of whether to use force or parliament for the attainment of Socialism. This was the question debated within Chartism to which history would give its definitive reply in the insurgent Paris of 1871.
The work got under way on Sunday with an account which comprised of a series of considerations that, taking into account our classical opposition to the impotent concepts of the now fashionable ecology movements, presented again our Marxist position of dialectical relations which for us go in the material sense as follows: non-living, living, humanity, communist party, revolution, in which the revolution and the party itself are particular expressions of natural history. All societies see nature as based on itself; all societies insofar as they are a part of nature modify it, both materially and by how they understand its laws. It was no accident that the ancients maintained that the stars in the sky had their cycles upset when the city that looked up at them from below was suffering.
In the condemnation of every simplification and mechanical organicism typical of ecological idealism – a deterrent of the first order to any real conservation – we reject every abstract scheme of good nature and bad nature, in competition or collaborating, friendly or merciless. We recognise the reality of selective processes in the story of living species and in human society which reduces itself to neither of the two extremes of a pure competition or of a pure harmony of collaboration but of a complex play of both forces.
From the examination of evolution, from which neither the party nor the future communist society escape, whereby its evolutive laws exclude neither selection, competition in the technical field, in the realm of ideas, nor even of individuals. We exclude only that form of selection represented by bourgeois mercantilism, and the competition of diverse wills. Organic centralism has this significance – it is opposed to politics and democracy.
A last report continued with the study on the Marxist condemnation of the moneyed society, two chapters of which we have already published under the title of Reason and Revolution, in the last issue of Comunismo. In this third part it was affirmed, with the support of numerous quotations of Marx and our current, that it wasn’t simply money that announced the historical epoch of capitalism, as money was also accumulated in massive amounts in many ancient societies, but rather it was wage labour, and it was this indeed that is the specific form assumed by work in the capitalist mode of production. "The condition of capital is wage labour" proclaims the manifesto, “capital presupposes wage-labour and wage-labour presupposes capital: they condition each other, to generate each other in turn" wrote Marx, rather than seeing "real socialism" as involving wage- labour and capital.
Communism doesn’t take up the cudgels on behalf of wage-labour as a form opposed to private property, but considers the one as much as the other as two poles of the same relations of capitalist production. As opposed to workerists and immediatists, there isn’t within its programme a wage-earning and mercantile society without private property, but the destruction of wage-earning all together.
Communism isn’t about a just wage or an equal wage for all, nor does it mean high wages, and neither does it propose that proletarians work for themselves with a corresponding annulment of surplus value. In fact, quite the contrary, all work is surplus-value, everything goes directly to society and nothing to the individual worker or his kinsfolk. Society sees to the needs of all its members, whether they are capable or have actually performed any work. The speaker recalled Lenin’s insistence on ’communist Saturdays’ that is unpaid work that was obligatory, and performed by militants of the party in power. In such quantitatively small social experiments, there resided the only economic communism realisable in backward Russia. None of this has been encouraged by Gorbachev – in fact quite the opposite.
The reunion finished up, after having arrived at the latest agreements on organisational matters, in the general conviction of the hardness and certain difficulty of our work in these times so deaf to communist propaganda. We are convinced of the importance of this work in view of the crises, and the final disintegration of present society undermined by world economic crises and sufferings that lead to a revival of a great, purely class struggle.
From Our Correspondent
Transport Strikes in Australia
After years of Federal and State government austerity measures, in the main carried out by the Labor Party, the pressures on the industrial relations system in Australia have intensified. The Labor Party, before 1983 considered by many workers to be their one hope against the bourgeoisie’s depredations under Fraser’s Liberal-National government, is in 1990 merely regarded by most as a bosses’ tool. The unions’ pretence of concern for the workers is increasingly being seen as no more than an empty display. Accordingly, "safety-valve" measures such as short strikes over limited issues have become more common as a means of assuring the workers that their interests are still really being defended by the unions.
Although there were many such minor stoppages in the latter half of 1989, two more interesting strikes have recently occurred in the transport sector.
The strike among inter-state airline pilots which began in August 1989 nicely illustrates the methods used by the unions to ensure the isolation and defeat of certain sectors of workers who attempt to restore the wages eaten away by years of government-imposed restraint.
At the ACTU Congress of September 1989, the primary reason given by other unions for opposing the pilots’ demand for a 30% wage increase was that it was "elitist". Given their own subservience to the government and employers, this was no more than an excuse for their yellow unionism. The real "sin" of the pilots was not the size of their claim, but the waves they made for the other unions by their vigorous pursuit of it. At a time when wage increases have been so wretched and so rare, the pilots’ preparedness to fight outside the industrial relations system for their demands made it very hard for the other unions to justify their own timidity to their members.
Yet this is not to say that the Australian Federation of Air Pilots warranted the trust which its members placed in it. The pilot’s struggle was never linked to any of the other groups who were fighting to improve their wages and conditions – a good example being the air traffic controllers, who had gone on strike earlier in the year, and who had only recently had their claim of a 42% increase cut back to 7% by the Industrial Relations Commission; at no time did either of the unions involved make anything but noises about spreading the pilots’ strike to other workers in the airline industry. The AFAP leader, Brian McCarthy, even boasted of the fact that pilots would continue to fight in isolation; with the government and airlines strengthening their position every day, the union preferred to play at parliamentary politics by saying that the pilots could "hold out” until the next Federal election, several months away!
Inevitably, given the union stranglehold on this strike, the struggle of the pilots degenerated into what were often amusing but essentially trivial actions, such as hitting Prime Minister Hawke on the head with placards and singing "for he’s a silly old bugger". Sometimes, more disastrously, there were appeals to Australian xenophobia, with the union condemning the airlines recruitment of foreign scabs.
More positive in its vigour and enthusiasm was the strike wave which broke out on Melbourne’s transport system in December 1989, in response to a Public Transport Corporation (Met) plan to eliminate most conductors from the trams, with the introduction of a new "scratch ticket" system. In the beginning, the only action taken was to refuse to collect fares. However, as the Met then put the tram workers on no pay, the Australian Tramways and Motor Omnibus Employees’ Association (ATMOEA) organised a token four hour stoppage, which obviously had minimal effect.
When "solidarity" strikes were organised by other unions, this true Solidarity tactic of absurdly brief stoppages was repeatedly used. On 20th December, for example, trains, trams and public buses were stopped, but only for five hours – and this when only a few hours before, railway shunters in another dispute had been "encouraged" to return to work. The disputes in the transport system, which had essentially the same underlying causes, i.e. the state government’s cost-cutting drive, were on the whole disconnected. On the other hand, the militancy of the tram drivers and conductors was often impressive: at the Brunswick and Essendon depots, the tram workers didn’t wait for the union’s approval before voting to walk out on 22nd December.
On the 1st January, 1990 the workers turned on management after the latter attempted to enforce the new system. There were violent clashes at several depots: at Essendon, Glenhuntly and East Preston, workers threw buckets of water and turned fire hoses on management staff, and the manager of Essendon depot was locked in his office. Naturally, the boys in blue were called in to protect the representatives of state authority (The Age, 2.1.90).
On the 2nd January, trams were driven from the depots to blockade the city centre. The Met then cut off power to the system. Bus drivers voted for an indefinite strike in support of the tram workers, but at the same time that positive action like this was being taken, ATMOEA was asking for the introduction of the new ticketing system to be postponed, “to allow further talks’.
By 4th January the Melbourne Trades Hall Council was talking of bringing other unions into the campaign. Although Australian Railways Union members met to discuss joining in, their union made it clear that it would give no encouragement until later in the month: in other words, when it was too late to cause such trouble (The Age, 4.1.90). Some other public transport unions were prepared to give support "in principle", but ruled out action that would further disrupt services (The Age, 8.1.90) – decoded, they rule out anything that would upset the bourgeoisie.
As it happens, many workers did strike in sympathy with the tram conductors, including railway workers from the ARU and Electrical Trades Union on 15th January. Even building workers at some sites went out, but such manifestations of real sympathy were in general carefully managed by the unions.
By the 16th January, ATMOEA was speaking of accepting driver-only trams on condition that work on such trams be voluntary for existing tramways employees (The Age, 17.1.90). Had it been prepared to accept this proposal, that condition would have been a cheap price for the government to pay: but how could the union sell itself dearly when, like all unions today, it’s already been bought completely?
With this sort of sabotage from their own and other unions, it’s hardly surprising that when the leadership recommended a return to work at a meeting on 2nd February, a majority of tram workers, confused and dispirited, decided to accept the motion. What was encouraging was the fury which greeted this decision, as a large minority opposed the decision. The ATM0EA secretary, Lou di Gregorio, was pelted with missiles and called a scab; given that he’d only been voted into office on the 22nd November, 1989 on a platform of resistance to job cuts, it’s hardly surprising!
What was notable in the tram strike was the level of passion aroused, the militancy of the workers involved and the tendency of the strike to extend to other sectors. All of these factors could have led to a general strike had the unions’ grip on the workers been less tight. Although the unions couldn’t play the "anti-elitist" card as they had with the pilots (there was much public support for the tram workers), they were still able to dissipate the energies of many workers in token strikes.
In spite of this, the positive elements noted above augur well for the future of the class struggle in Australia. As strikes of this type multiply throughout the country – while I write, a railway strike against cutbacks in jobs and services is in the offing in New South Wales – the unions will find their servile tasks increasingly hard to perform. When these gentlemen’s firehoses finally yield no more than a trickle, what will the ruling class do in the face of a real proletarian inferno?
Poll Tax Riots
Ruling class says ’NO’ to violence
The sceptred isles, the notorious home of liberalism, has just been racked by the most violent riots this century. Apart from the occupation and total destruction of Stangeways prison in Manchester because of overcrowding (now spreading to other jails), riots raged in the streets of London during ’a peaceful demonstration’ to protest about the introduction of the new poll tax, or the ’Community Charge’ as the government craftily insists on calling it. It is particularly significant that earlier riots over the last ten years have almost always been tucked away in working class, usually ethnic communities, but this one occurred in central London. A considerable number of buildings were attacked and damaged including the South-African embassy in Trafalgar square. For many years now this pseudo-classical edifice has had its windows eyed hungrily by many a ’trouble maker’ as a tempting target for a brick. Their dreams came true as the ground floor went up in flames after being torched by the rioters. Apart from that, symbols of wealth were attacked, for instance, expensive cars were smashed up and ’posh’ shoos looted.
Apart from mere symbols of wealth, more obvious targets like the riot police were seen as legitimate targets with 374 injured. There were several battles and hundreds of arrests. As a result, the police have just issued a document in which a their new policy to deal with armed ’mobs’, is outlined. The ’Doomsday scenario’ as it is appropriately called, is outlined in the Tactical Oppositions manual of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). ’Work’ began on this apocalyptic document after the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985. Discussing the content of this brainchild of the forces of ’law and order’, a chief constable, quoted in the ’Sunday Times’, helpfully defines for us what ’neutralize’ means; ’Neutralize means to take out the offender. In essence, it is a shoot to kill policy’. It appears as though ’our’ bourgeoisie in the DisUnited Kingdom is getting a bit jittery – hopefully one day the organized and armed working class will give them an opportunity to try out their clever plans.
Meanwhile, the ’Sunday Times’ has produced the 2nd annual reckoning of the ’top’ 200 richest people (see the other article in this issue ’the Roast Beef of Old England’). With all the talk about inflation, cuts, and taxes and now ’mob rule’, it will surprise some that the top 200 have amassed an incredible £10 billion more than last year! All this will not surprise Marxists who see the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands as inevitable – despite all the rubbish about worker ownership etc.! The biggest cut of this ’new wealth’ goes to the queen, whose personal wealth is up by an estimated £1,4 billion pounds, partly due to her 25% increase in takings from the stock exchange – God bless your profits ma’am! Mind you, the taxpayer still has to dig deep in its pockets to fork out for the civil list. This ’perk’ for our ubiquitous royals was arranged in a deal with an earlier government when it was agreed that all of ’the crowns’ mining rights (on all of Britains beaches between the low and high water mark) would be exchanged for said civil list – ’you don’t get something for nothing in this world’ as the hypocritical bourgeois will always remind us.
The riots have resulted in a rash of long-faced and serious commentators in the bourgeois media helping us poor ignorant souls to develop the correct way of looking at it all, in other words, to ’educate’ us about the merits of non-violence. Both the Labour party and the conservatives have been issuing virtually identical proclamations about the ’rule of law’ in a cacophony of recriminations about ’mobs’ and the curse of violence.
The Labour party was particularly embarrassed as its Trotskyist fraction, ’militant’, was one of the main instigators of the demonstration turned riot, working through ’the Anti-Poll Tax Federation’. They needn’t have worried really, as these ’working class entryists’ have quickly got the leaderships drift and condemned violence as well! Other M.P.’s, whether militant or not (who gives a damn!), have also openly declared in parliament their support for the non-payment movement. Hairsplitting debates ensued, with both Labour and Tory, as always, seeing the rioting as due to small bands of agitators who have no roots in the real grievances that their laws give rise to.
Thence onto a witch hunt that sought to lay all the blame at the door of aforementioned ’militant’ group. In fact, little silver haired old ladies, war veterans (hang onto your blunderbusses, good sirs!) and even, horror of horrors, Tories have spoken out against the poll tax and were on the demonstration. In the final analysis, the ruling conservatives, with lashings of insinuation and character assassination, were really searching for ammunition to hurl at the Labour party as the popularity of the Tory leader plunges to the lowest a prime minister has had this century. Meanwhile, the labourites set about roundly condemning the ’troublemakers’ in its midst so as to continue its work of currying favour with bankers, industrialists and assorted other parasites on the body of the working class.
Thus the ruling class teaches the working classes the following: 1/ Violence is bad 2/ If you don’t like the Tories then vote for Labour.
The riots have been because of ’the poll tax’. This tax is a massive attack on the workers and middle-classes standard of living and adds insult to the injury of the enormous rise in mortgage rates (from about seven percent two years ago to the present 15%), a fact which certainly surprised many who bought their council houses. In fact, if we refer back to the ’Sunday Times’ article we find that 50 of the ’top’ 200 richest people are none other than – yes, you’ve guessed – property barons! What the tax entails is that instead of the old rating system – based on property values – now the rate is per adult in each residence. This adds up to an enormous reduction in rates for the very, and middling wealthy, and an enormous increase for the working class which will be especially affected because of the over crowded conditions in which it lives. A couple with two adult children living at home in a tiny ’two up, two down’ could end up paying four times as much as a duke living alone in a stately home! As a Television game show host night put it: ’ThaaaaaAAAt’s democracy!!’
But whoops! the conservatives have somehow managed to alienate their traditional support amongst small shopkeepers, and now these ’pillars of the community’ are all agitated about the ’Uniform business rate’ which came into force last week. Up to 900,000 firms will be amongst the worse affected. They can see that this new tax along with the poll tax and higher rents could drive them out of business. Gordon Clements a green-grocer who is already £7,000 in debt, and whose shop is half a mile from Margaret Thatchers house in Dulwich, will have to pay £877 more under the new system. He is quoted in the ’Sunday Times’ as saying ’I’ve always voted Tory but I have my doubts about voting for a Tory government again. Mrs. Thatcher has lost touch with small shopkeepers’,
The immediate remedy? You’ve guessed again – to pass the cost on to the customer. Thus the national Licensed Victuallers association which represents pub landlords warned that the price of beer could rise by up to 15pin the pint. Most of the working class was already drinking at home anyway because it was already too expensive, and lets face it, most pubs aren’t as welcoming as they used to be, with most people heartily sick of pandering to the vanity of the landlord with his gang of ’hard drinking regulars’.
Mind you, the rates on factories have come down so the industrialists will be 0.K.
The working class in Britain is slowly but surely developing a clearer perception of the way forward, and the anti-poll tax movement will bear several immediate fruits as well as long term ones. Thousands of people have witnessed police violence and thousands of people are gaining experience in organizing struggle committees: when this sense of working together assumes a class identity, as it is almost bound to do, the spectre of class war will loom again. Sadly, as has already happened, many of these impressive efforts will become prey to leftist and inter-classist groups which will seek to keep the struggle in a separate department. When the party has mustered more genuine working class militants to swell its minute ranks we can hope that we will be able to put sore positive alternatives.
When that time comes, we won’t attempt to be very original in our riposte to the pseudo-intellectual debate about violence or non-violence, labour or conservative. We won’t try and invent a ’new’ analysis, in fact we can sum up our analysis in one well-known, but largely ignored watchword of Marxism: A watch word that condemns all the inane drivel of the bourgeois academics to the dustbin of history: ’DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT’.
Trial and terror in the U.K.
A great deal of media attention has been given recently to the cases of "injustice" meted out by the police forces in the U.K. and by the Courts. This is obviously more welcome than the silence which normally shrouds the fate of so many who go through the legal system. The scenes of joy at the freeing of the Guildford Four last year underlined once again the heavy price paid by those who have been on the receiving end of British justice. Even when the Courts of Appeal reverse sentences and decree that a "conviction is unsound", and by implication that the defendants were on the balance of probability innocent, who is going to compensate them for the years of terror and incarceration at the hands of the Law and Order machinery? The concept of "innocence” is supposed to be paramount in the British legal system, so how were the Guildford Four treated when cleared of planting the bombs in Guildford in 1974? They were bundled out in the shabby clothing they were wearing. It was consistent with their treatment. The British legal system wouldn’t even provide them with decent clothing at its own expense, in recognition of their restored innocence. A few days later some of them were photographed with Haughey, the Prime Minister of Eire, who announced that he had paid for their new suits out of his own pocket. No private charity here, but done before the blaze of publicity. So after being misused by British politicians, they are now being used by the disgusting bunch in Dublin.
Others are still going through the process of "justice", which the Courts are very reluctant to admit has been based upon the flimsiest of fabricated evidence, as in the case of the Birmingham Six, who are still languishing in gaol. Castigated in the press as dangerous terrorists, supposedly responsible for the IRA bombs in Birmingham in 1975, they have been beaten up in prison, terrorised and confined to the most maximum security possible – now that security status has been reduced and they are placed almost in open prisons. A "damage limitation" exercise is underway until in due course they will be bundled out of prison with a quick apology for their life sentences. Some justice, some respect for the principle of innocence until a person is proved guilty! The evidence against them was mainly forensic evidence and confessions. The forensic evidence has long been discredited and the scientist responsible for the “tests" has been retired early. The only substantial evidence left was their alleged "confessions" which was not corroborated by anything else. Even former police officers who have testified at an earlier Court of Appeal session that the Six were beaten up and threatened with guns and dogs were dismissed as unreliable witnesses. However, if they were appearing for the prosecution then anything they would say as "serving officers" would be taken at far greater weight than that of anybody else. The Courts find it very difficult not merely saying a mistake has been made, but admitting that a full scale conspiracy has been responsible for their conviction is even harder for them. Not only the testimonies of a few policemen are at stake but the very reputation of the Courts and the legal system. "Let Justice Be Done Though The Heaven’s Themselves May Fall"? – It is better that ten guilty people go free than one innocent person goes to gaol? – All the well-worn legal maxims get thrown out when the Legal system is itself under threat!
These two cases have special importance because of the media hysteria at the time – the people picked up for allegedly planting bombs were tried and convicted in the most extreme haste and savage sentences were handed out. It later became increasingly obvious that they were not the people actually responsible for the bombs. The IRA team largely responsible were caught in London a short time later in the Balcombe Street siege and actually admitted to some of the bombs for which others were found guilty. All this, and other evidence long known to the police, was buried rather than having to admit that the confessions were extracted by the refined terror methods of the police. Others who were implicated in the confessions were arrested and gaoled for other offences. Once these cases are found to be "stitched up’ how many others are found to be "unsound" as well. The immediate common denominator of these cases is that they are "Irish" cases relating to IRA activities, but is it a case of leading sympathisers and supporters being stitched up for these offences? Not at all, it is usually those who have little knowledge of how things are done, of how the legal system operates. They are often the less articulate types of people who are easier bullied and terrorised, who are more easily prey to the belief that if they just give any old confession the terror will stop. It is only afterwards that it becomes clear that it is just the beginning of their treatment by the Courts and prisons. The object of the exercise is not only to obtain victims and convictions, but to make it clear to other people of Irish background that the same reign of terror can descend on them as well. But is this reign of terror to fall on the heads of all Irish people. Not at all – mainly those who come from the working and lower middle classes. Those who belong to the ruling class in Eire would have the benefit of Justice which is bestowed on all members of the ruling classes of various countries. Money recognises its international equivalents. These wealthy people and politicians don’t get arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, they don’t get false confessions beaten out of them, nor dragged before Courts. But those Irish people of the lower classes are fair game, just like anybody else.
There is perhaps another factor behind the delay in releasing the Birmingham Six. They are probably pawns in the discussions and manoeuvres in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the security deal between London and Dublin in 1985. It is true that the Dublin Government has expressed disquiet about the way British Justice has been bestowed. They have criticised also how the Ulster Defence Regiment goes about its "peace-keeping" role (the UDR is the reconstituted remnant of the disbanded notorious B-specials of the Ulster Police). To make sure they don’t act in a sectarian fashion, that is attacking or harassing Catholics, Dublin would like the UDR patrols to be led by officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We don’t think that people in Catholic areas in Ulster would sleep safer in their beds at the thought that UDR would be led more fully by the RUC!
The legal system, in the form of the police and Courts, are not there mainly or purely to oppress minorities of a national or religious nature. It is there to maintain class oppression, that is to keep the lover classes in line. The "modern" police force was introduced in London in the late 1820s by Robert Peel, then spread to the rest of Britain, primarily to combat and keep the working class in order. The old Chartists used to say "Why build statues of Peel when there is a monument to him on every street corner", in the form of a policeman. Anybody who doubts this should take a trip down to any Magistrates Court on any working day and see how the legal system deals with the working class.
And the class nature of law and the Courts? The law is there to defend the status quo, and these are property relations and the maintenance of wealth. If a landlord should let a property fall into disrepair and damage the health of his tenants, this is a mere inconvenience. But let a tenant damage his Property, then this is a CRIME! Employers can imperil the health and safety not only his employees but also their dependants (in the case of asbestosis and other diseases, and of the future generation in the case of nuclear installations) with virtual impunity. But just let the workers take any action against the assets of their employers, whether against property or finances, then this would be a CRIME! Pickets can be assaulted and virtually killed with impunity, but should strikers hit back against scabs, then this is a CRIME! It is these types of CRIMES which result in the most extreme sentences the law will allow.
The usually thick veil which covers the legal apparatus has been torn apart in various parts showing what really happens behind the scenes. Police enquiries are currently going on over the Guildford Four case and how they came to be charged in the first place, not withstanding certain files going missing. More cases are coming to light of people gaoled through false "confessions" – at times it almost appears like a weekly occurrence. Even more significantly the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad has been disbanded and cases they have handled over many years are under investigation. This was the same Squad which dealt with the Birmingham Six case, but the authorities are determined not to go back that far... not for now. The original remit of the investigation was to go back to 1985 (leaving a nice safe ten year gap from the Birmingham Six) but already they have been forced to examine cases as far back as 1982. In any case the image of the police forces took further hammerings a few years ago over the allegations of an Ulster "shoot to kill policy" in which the RUC was accused of deliberately killing suspects (the same RUC Dublin wants to lead UDR patrols!). An enquiry was announced, to be led by the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, John Stalker. Within a short while of the start of Stalker’s enquiry he was taken off it and suspended from his job because of accusations that people he knows are charged with criminal activities, although in the end he was cleared and reinstated. The whole episode is linked with Ulster police reactions to the "Shoot to kill policy" and a "get Stalker" element amongst Manchester police. After all if a Deputy Chief Constable of a major British City can be set up, who then is safe from false charges?
But that is not all by any means. The Colin Wallace affair may throw further light on intelligence service machinations, if the Parliamentary Enquiry ever successfully gets off the ground. Wallace was employed by Army Intelligence in the Information Department and was involved in distributing intelligence disinformation around 1974 designed to confuse and mislead the enemy, which would be terrorist groups, mainly the IRA and possibly sons protestants groups. The operation was under the name of Clockwork Orange. Wallace was a willing and enthusiastic participant in this until (according to Wallace and some other sources) the operation spread to the British mainland and involved leading Parliamentary politicians, including actual and former Prime Ministers, Cabinets Ministers and opposition leaders. Wallace then withdrew and became the object of mistreatment from some sectors of the state.
Disinformation techniques have long been used by the British Intelligence organisations in war and peace-time to further its own ends. It is the measure of its intentions that it should be applied to Ulster as if it were just another possession (like Cyprus or Malaya, scenes of previous anti-insurgency operations) in which it fights the equivalent of a colonial war. To succeed, disinformation campaigns have to be conducted with great secrecy and its objectives have to be guarded, otherwise the whole thing is "blown" and the object of the exercise can reveal sensitive operations or weaknesses. Disinformation exercises can not only confuse the "enemy" but "friends" as well, because of the security over the objects of the exercise. If it is true that a dozen or so leading British politicians were implicated in this disinformation exercise then it would do much to explain the rash of events of that period, which led to the Peter Wright / SpyCatcher allegations of the Wilson Government and others being burgled and bugged, the rumours of Coups being prepared, and some other politicians being involved in damaging cases. If a section of the British state felt it could not rely on those occupying No. 10 Downing Street (in this case the Government of Harold Wilson), and other politicians, including Tory ones, then all these events have some consistency. The paranoia of this element of the state could very well have unhinged one of the most successful anti-working class governments (the Wilson Government of the mid-seventies), precipitating a political and economic crisis – the change over to the Callaghan leadership, the "winter of discontent" strikes, the adoption of monetarism by the Labour Government (Peter Jay is the originator of this ruling class strategy not Margaret Thatcher!) – leading to the intervention of the I.M.F. to rescue the British economy. If this is correct then it emphasises once again that democracy is purely for the consumption and disorientation of the lower classes and not for the functioning of the bourgeoisie itself.