Forum Replies Created
Reference to Freddy Demuth reminded me that back in the 1960s, Lewis Feuer, a US philosopher and editor of "Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy" (pub. 1959), met with his Soviet counterparts in Moscow where he revealed to them the story of Freddy being the illegitimate son of Marx. I think Feuer came across the Demuth-Marx story while searching the Marx archives held at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. Anyway, when his Soviet counterparts heard this they were of course quite shocked, not having known this before, until one Soviet responded : "Well, as Marx said – nihil humani a me alienum puto'" – which means "nothing human is alien to me" – the response given by Marx to the questionnaire ("Confessions") submitted to him by his daughters when asked for his favourite maxim (Francis Wheen gives all Marx's responses to this questionnaire in his Marx biography). BTW, it's worth mentioning that the first biography of Eleanor Marx was written by the Japanese Marx scholar, Chushichi Tsuzuki, "The Life of Eleanor Marx 1855-1898: A socialist tragedy" (pub.1967). Still worth reading IMO.
To Socialist Punk:I think you are wrong about Stephen Sackur. I too saw his interview with Picketty whom I thought handled himself well, although his heavy French accent made it difficult for me hear him clearly. Sackur, alike those before him who appeared in Hard Talk, always takes the role of Devil’s Advocate. This is how the program is structured, so interviewees must know this beforehand surely. The interviewer is always going to be hard-headed in putting hard questions to the interviewee. It’s why it’s called Hard Talk and not something wussy like Questions and Answers. Sackur asked Picketty what he objected to about inequality, by quoting from a Canadian economist (I didn’t catch the name) who said something like “what Picketty has against inequality can be stated in one word: envy”. It’s the Canadian economist you should be calling “a blatant apologist for capitalism”, not Sackur. Sackur also questioned Picketty’s claim that the top wealth holders in the world were mainly those whose wealth was inherited. He referred to the latest Forbes 400 list of wealthy Americans and pointed out that most of those at the top had acquired their billions not through inheritance but rather through their talents and hard work (so he said). That doesn’t seem to me an unfair question at all since it was aimed directly at a major argument of Picketty, like asking “where’s your evidence?” Forbes BTW has carried the most hostile reviews of Picketty’s book that I have read so far. It’s surely appropriate for a Devil’s Advocate to go the lair of the capitalists to forge his questions to Picketty. Meanwhile, I too(like ALB) have finally bought a copy of the book, and have read 100 pages so far. 570 to go! So far, I agree with Stuart’s appraisal (see#30, #31).April 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm in reply to: Is the case for socialism, one of morality, cold logic or long term survival of our species? #100840
Vin Maratty wrote (#43) have to say that I am somewhat bemused that the SPGB has avoided answering such an important question. We have heard mainly from non members but what is the SPGB's position?What is the WSM's case based upon? Morality? The class struggle? Save the planet? As a non-member, I am surprised that no member here has so far referred to the fact that the very question raised by Vin was put at the 2010 annual conference of the SPGB and I understand a ballot of the members was taken on the proposition that "socialism is both scientific and ethical". I may be wrong, but I think that this proposition was carried (63 for and 53 against). But as I understand it, another ballot later overturned that vote with the result that the members now hold that "socialism is scientific" (but not ethical). Is this the "official view" of the SPGB? I may have some of the details wrong here, but I mention the case only because the issue was discussed at great length on the old WSM Forum, in which I and several others participated, with strong views expressed for and against.
twc writes: pgb/ wrote: I think the quote on Marxism he (Frank Roydon) took from Lucien Laurat's 1940book is spot on for his purposes, and quite properly he uses it to argue acase to "re-examine all our assumptions and see if they are still sound."twc wrote: That is sheer nonsense when one is dealing with a political party whosecondition of membership is acceptance of its /Object/ and /Declaration ofPrinciples/What exactly is going on here? We are talking about an article written almost 70 years ago in a publication of a tiny socialist group in Melbourne in which the writer, reflecting on the failure of socialist revolution in the centenary year of the publication of the Communist Manifesto, suggests that "our little group in Australia (the SPA) should try and re-examine all our assumptions and see if they are sound". The reason I referred to Roydon's quote from Lucian Laurat was that Laurat eloquently makes the case for Marxism as a "living tradition" – an intellectual tradition which requires continual questioning "even of truths already acquired". As one who continually proclaims the virtue of the scientific method, I thought the Laurat quote would particularly appeal to you. Instead, you say it is "sheer nonsense when dealing with a political party whose condition of membership is acceptance of its Object and D of P". So if you are a member, you can never question the Object and Dof P. Right? It is disingenuous to believe that a world socialist party's“assumptions”* are anything other than its Object and Declaration of Principles. If they aren’t, please explain what they could ever be. Our Object and Declaration of Principles are not mere "assumptions”. They are scientific abstractions from the concrete phenomena of society, You make an awful lot out of Roydon's innocent use of the word "assumptions". You equate "assumptions" with the Object and Dof P. Yes, the D of P is full of assumptions. Here are a few: that the working class is a revolutionary class (the historical subject); that the only division in society significant for working class political identity is class division; that the ending of class division means the ending of other social divisions eg. "race"/ethnicity, gender . Like any assumption these are contestable, they are all open to rejection. Eg: the history of the past century would surely make anyone doubt the truth of the first assumption above. These are not, as you say, "scientific abstractions from the concrete phenomena of society". They are abstractions, but not scientific ones. Nor should we expect them to be. Their significance is not derived from the relationship in which they stand to evidence of the kind that scientists use (or historians). They are ideological statements whose significance derives from their intention and capacity to mobilise workers for social and political action, as is quite explicit in principle 8 of the DoP: "The (socialist parties SPGB, SPA etc) therefore enter the field of political action…….and call upon the members of the working class to muster under their banner…etc" All other political parties are different from the parties of worldsocialism. Most have no clear Object at all, and none have Principlesworthy of human support. To the man-in-the-street it seems highly reasonablefor them to go through continual soul searching, all other parties do it allof the time, except that none of them has a soul like our Object and Principles to find. We obviously hold fundamentally different views about the significance of the Object and DofP. From other posts of yours which I have read, you give them almost mystical status. To say of other parties that they don't have a "soul" like the Object and DofP is unusual to say the least for a materialist. It seems that you have bought the idea that Roydon's piece was an "obituary" for the SPA because you believed he was disagreeing with the DofP (he wasn't) which in your eyes amounted to "sabotage from within". And this, presumably, marked the beginning of the end for the SPA in 1948. "What was done was done" you say, and.."the consequences were devastating". What consequences? Who or what was devastated?
twc:Aren't you making a lot of fuss over Frank Roydon's 1948 article in Socialist Comment and particularly his use of the word "bias"? Surely all he is doing is emphasising the importance of "standing outside the Socialist movement " (his words) to better take up the role of a "detached observer". He specifically associates "bias" with having "hopes and aspirations", ie. with values. So I read this to mean that he is not (and cannot be) "value free", so a truly value free person would be a dead person. Quite. Roydon certainly has "biases": he is biased against capitalism and biased in favour of socialism and the working class. Most socialists are. But that shouldn't mean that we can't be objective. You don't have to be neutral or value free or "unbiased" in order to be objective. Marx was not neutral towards capitalism but I believe he was objective in his analysis of it (even though he might have agreed with Max Weber that there can be no such thing as a value-free social science). I have just finished reading Roydon's article more thoroughly a second time. I can find nothing in it to justify your claim that he "disavowed the Object and Declaration of Principles" of the Party. And nowhere does he suggest that the socialist case of the SPA, the SPGB and Marx is just "bias, opinion, ideology – and is probably wrong". I think the quote on Marxism he took from Lucien Laurat's 1940 book is spot on for his purposes, and quite properly he uses it to argue a case to "re-examine all our assumptions and see if they are still sound." Who was it who once called for "the critical examination of all that exists, without fear of the results of that criticism nor of the powers that be"?Thank you for the comprehensive material on the founding of the SPA in 1924 and activities thereafter. Very interesting. You refer to "a very long document" written by W J Clarke. It would be of great value to turn those pages into a history of the Socialist Party in Australia, and I hope that by lodging the document with the SPGB it will eventually appear in that form. I am not surprised that Jacob Johnson's papers were not made available, since we (esp. J Thorburn ) had the same knockback years ago. A great pity really. I recently read the one document which Johnson wrote and published (I hold a copy). It's an expose of Walsh's corrupt activities as president of the Union in 1928, appropriately titled: "The Crooks Exposed". It has great literary merit not seen today in anything coming out of TUs in my part of the world. Unlike Clarke and Casey, both of whom I believe had contact with the SPGB before arriving in Australia, Jacob Johnson came out here as as young child from Sweden so unlikely he knew of the SPGB beforehand. He would have made a great subject for a labour movement biography.
twc: Thank you for your interesting and heartfelt response. A major problem in understanding the "turbulent era" as you call it is that federal records of the Seamen's Union are practically devoid of material covering the years 1920-1935. Unfortunately Jacob Johnson kept no records relating to his own activities for fear Walsh would use them against him (and vice-versa). There is a story that large cases of Union records disappeared into Sydney Harbour. Your reference to Rowan Cahill is interesting. He is one of two historians who wrote the history of the Seamen's Union. The other was Brian Fitzpatrick, one of the first reputable Australian historians to write history in a Marxist framework. His contribution to the Union history covers the period 1872 to the eve of WW2. Rowan Cahill covers the period 1939-1972. There's no comparison IMO between the two. Fitzpatrick's work is first class. Cahill's is hagiographic – glorifying Elliot. So I can fully understand Clarke's dismissal of him. Fitzpatrick makes no mention of the SPA. Cahill does: "Casey, along with Johnson and Clarke, had been a member of the Australian Branch of the rigidly Marxist British Socialist Party. Author of the immortal IWW ballad 'Bump me into Parliament', he had been known as the 'philosopher of the proletariat' ". Cahill also refers to Casey as "the mainstay and guiding intelligence" of the Johnson faction. I recall (c. 1958) Clarke talking about Casey in almost reverential tones. In Strike across the Empire, a history of the 1925 seamen's strike, the authors Hirson and Vivian (UK historians) describe Johnson as "a member of the Australian Socialist Party: a small group that proclaimed that revolutionaries could only take power when they had the whole-hearted support of the masses". Finally, the Australian historian Stuart McIntyre in The Reds says: "Johnson and the branch secretaries in Melbourne and Brisbane were adherents of the rigidly doctrinaire Socialist Party of Great Britain, which allowed no compromise in the class war, and enforced the Union rules as strictly as they upheld the letter of impossibilist Marxism". Well, at least he got the name right.ajj: Yes, I read your previous post which carried the piece from Socialist Comment by one Frank Royden (unknown to me). I was surprised when I read it because it was unlike anything I had seen before in SC. Only after that did I look it up in my own collection of SPA material. It is an unusual piece because of a very forthright, honest and up-front tone, which I haven't found in other issues of Socialist Comment. Its analysis of parties on the Left is quite good even after almost 70 years. Thanks for pointing it out.twc wrote:The original Socialist Party of Australia was founded in 1924 by a mix of [mainly ex-British] seamen, who had been influenced indirectly by the SPGB, and of course local workers.These founders were committed world socialists. They were fearless world socialists.(The) seamen members rose to dominate the Australian Seamen's Union after they exposed the fraudulent activities of its former Communist Party officials, whom they caught red-handed syphoning union money off to mother Russia. The resulting scandal catapulted the Australian Party to a national prominence out of all proportion to its actual size of membership
You have misrepresented the nature and significance of the SPA and its relationship to the Seamen's Union of Australia (SUA). Its significance was entirely due to the fact that the General Secretary of the Union in 1926-1935 was a member of the SPA, Jacob Johnson. Two other members of the SPA were also important in this period: W.J.Clarke, who was secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Union, and Bill Casey, secretary of Queensland branch. These three constituted what Australian labour historians have called the "Johnson faction" or (rarely) the "Johnson-Clarke-Casey" faction in the Union. No one has ever referred to these three as constituting "the SPA faction". No one has ever referred to the Union as "Socialist dominated" in the period 1926-1935 in the same sense in which the Union after 1938 has been described as "Communist dominated". The fact is that the SPA had a tiny membership in only two places: Sydney and Melbourne. Most of the membership were members of the SPA because they were firstly members of the Union. If "seamen members (of the SPA) rose to dominate the Union", it wasn't because they "exposed the fraudulent activities of Communist Party officials". No Union money was ever "syphoned off to Mother Russia" as you claim. The only charges of fraudulent activities were made in 1928 against Walsh (ex-Communist) who was deprived of office by rank-and-file members after Johnson exposed him as a "crook" for faking the Union's HO ledger, misappropriation of funds, and attempting to form a bogus union. Thereafter, it might be said that the "Johnson faction" came to dominate the Union. This lasted, off and on, until 1936 when Johnson, in the aftermath of the 1935 strike (see below), was in turn deprived of office, and then eventually expelled from the Union on a mass rank and file vote. In 1937 Clarke resigned his Melbourne position while Casey dropped out of Union politics in Brisbane, to return as Queensland secretary in 1942-49. When the "Johnson faction" lost power in the Seamen's Union in 1936 it had no further role in the Australian labour movement and therefore neither did the SPA. (T)he Australian Socialists rose to such prominence, that one of them was nationally vilified day-in day-out in the press, and jailed for deportation by the Federal Government, over industrial Seamen's disputationThis is at best a half truth. The deportation case arose during the seamen's strike of 1925. The one who was vilified in the press was Johnson, general secretary of the Union, along with general president Walsh, then an ex-member of the Communist Party. Johnson and Walsh were vilified as "wreckers" by the mainstream Press because they called out Union members in support of a strike by British seamen who walked out when their ships docked in Australian ports. It was one of the very few genuinely international strikes in industrial history. Their deportation was only stopped because of the efforts of the prominent Australian Labor Party figure H.V.Evatt who defended Walsh and Johnson, and won, in the High Court. The strike ultimately failed in Australia as it did in Britain where some saw it as a run-up to the General Strike of 1926. Relationships between Walsh and Johnson deteriorated rapidly after this. An ill-conceived 1935 Seamen's strike…..was fomented by the Communists…..(and) finished up smashing the union when those same Communists, in true Leninist treachery, deserted the membership and set up a rival scab union, with themselves as national officials, in league with the ship owners, on secret cosy anti-worker terms, and went back to work, leaving their followers who had heeded their idiotic call to down tools standing high and dry on land, jobless and betrayed. Many of our seamen members found they no longer got work at sea under the Communist dominated scab union. With the support of members at workplace meetings, Communist members of the militant Minority Movement led the 1935 strike. The Union officials led by Johnson opposed it. At a large stop-work meeting in late 1935, the seamen replaced Johnson as general secretary with Keenan, a Communist. Within two months the strike was broken and Keenan discredited. Johnson was never again to lead the Union despite his two attempts to be reinstated by the Arbitration Court. Communists didn’t “smash” the Union, though it was in very bad shape, nor did they “desert the membership”. Indeed, there was widespread feeling amongst the defeated strikers that the "Johnson faction" had done nothing to help Keenan during the strike and that by their inertia they had contributed to its defeat. No "Communist dominated scab union" was formed after the strike. There were scabs (non-unionists) who obtained work on ships because they were strike-breakers and therefore trustworthy in the eyes of the shipowners. Even though an estimated 800 Union members crossed the picket lines and volunteered to board ships, the shipowners still preferred volunteers with no union background. If the few members (seamen) of the SPA could no longer get work, it wasn't because of their membership of the SPA; it was because they were unionists. Membership of the Communist Party or the Socialist Party or The Labor Party was not the relevant issue. The only "scab union" was the Australian Seaman's Federation formed in 1938 from volunteers which lasted until 1942 when it was eventually deregistered on an application by the SUA. Thereafter, the SUA was the only union representing Australian seamen. It's President (from 1941 to 1971) was a member of the Communist Party as were many of the Union's other officials. The Australian world socialist party finally disintegrated after WWII when a younger generation of members, mainly English immigrants, recruited into the SPGB during the Depression years, arrived here full of brash enthusiasm and slowly fell hook, line and sinker for sophisticated Labourism and the brave new world of post-War Australia, and the adulation they received as intellectual poseurs.Socialism was no longer a spur for them, and the lure of local intellectual superiority took hold of them, to the detriment of a working class party. In short, it was the gung-ho brand of egotistical bravado proselitysing, of the very determined kind being advocated above, as amply demonstrated in practice by those particular ex-SPGBers, that brought the Australian world socialist party to its kneesThroughout the 1940s and early 1950s the SPA existed in name only and in Post Box numbers in Sydney and Melbourne. Its only significant activity was the publication of a 4-page paper Socialist Comment between 1943 and 1948 largely through the dedicated efforts of Clarke (editor of the Union journal in 1935). Johnson had no part in this. It wasn't until 1956 that the SPA was resurrected as a functioning Party (but only in Sydney) with the arrival from New Zealand of two ex-members of the SPGB. They joined the SPGB in 1943 and 1946, not in the Depression years as you claim. As set out in a letter printed in the Socialist Standard in October 2004 written by me and co-signed by J Thorburn (ex Glasgow Branch), the revived Sydney Branch of the SPA was a very active Branch, holding indoor and outdoor meetings, debating with other, mainly left-wing groups (this was the year of the CPSU 20th Congress and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, so many ex-CPAers were looking for new directions), and selling the Standard and many SPGB pamphlets. Your description of these ex-SPGBers as "intellectual poseurs" with their "gung-ho brand of egotistical bravado proselytising" that eventually "brought the Australian world socialist party to its knees" is absurd, and a calumny against very able and dedicated socialists. The SPA was never brought to its knees by these comrades; it died from want of interest on the part of the Australian working class who had absolutely zero interest in the SPGB brand of revolutionary politics and doctrinaire Marxism. It is a bitter irony that you of all people, who presents himself as a materialist, should blame the decline of the SPA not on the material conditions of life in capitalist Australia, but on the imagined personal flaws and failings of the members who did most to rebuild it. Shame.
Thanks for your response Steve. I don't agree with what you say, but I shall take it on board. best wishes for 2014 too.
Robbo wrote:I can't help noticing that you have failed to address my earlier point -that there is no such thing as a free lunch in capitalism. Free hospitalcare, while I'm sure it is desirable, inevitably comes at a cost. It meansthe capitalists are able to get away with paying workers lower money wages asa result. The social wage and the money wage thus stand in inverserelation to each other as different components of the workers standard ofliving that is determined by other factors – what it costs to produce andreproduce the labour power of workers under current conditions, the efficacyof trade union organisation, the general state of the economy etc etc .This is what the Marxian law of value allows us to see. Now I realise youdon't care much for Marxian economics. That's fair enough. Its entirely yourprerogative. But, in this instance I think it would profit you to be alittle less sweeping in your knee jerk condemnation and consider what it hasto say. Workers can derive some benefit from reforms. how transient and fragilethese reforms may be and dependent on the state of the economy, but thesesreforms will only be implemented if they are functional to an economicsystem that by its very nature must operate in the interest of capital – asyou seemingly admit – and therefore against the interests of workers.That is the paradox which strangely you don't seem to see or want to see.. If I failed to address your earlier point – that there is no such thing as a free lunch in capitalism – it's because I didn't see your point. Distinguishing between the money wage and the social wage didn't make it any clearer. Saying that "free hospital care comes at a cost" is a truism. In a socialist society "free" hospital care would come at a cost too. Were you suggesting that because it wasn't truly "free" therefore workers had been hoodwinked into getting it and supporting it, or duped by those awful "reformists"? With your single-minded focus on costs, you have missed what I think is an important reason why socialists should support such things as free public health provision. By being "free", medical care is "decommodified" – it is not available only through the market, but available by right, to all without distinction of wealth, class, race or whatever. I see that as supporting the values of socialism – production for need and equality of access to society's resources. If health care were a truly capitalist provision it would be a commodity accessible only through the market, and it would be provided only if it were profitable. Same argument applies to public schooling. Although nominal fees (as opposed to prices) may play a part in mediating the allocation of these public goods, the allocating mechanism is not sale, but simply rights to free use (usually supported by legal claims). Saying that the provision of public goods is in the interest of capital doesn't disturb this fact, but of course it puts limits on them which will always be a focus of political contestation (eg. current austerity budget cuts in the UK). Why shouldn't socialists join in this fight? Your position seems to be that since welfare state provisions are of interest to capitalists, therefore they cannot be in workers' interests even though you say workers can benefit from them. Therefore socialists cannot support political action to maintain or defend these provisions. This is only so because you have chosen to define the interests of workers (their "true interests") as being essentially antagonistic to the interests of capital. You should ask workers what they see as their interests. Your so-called "paradox" has been fabricated out of your own definitions and preconceptions. I have no idea why you say that I don't care much for Marxian economics, since the opposite is true. But I don't see it as the universal truth about everything in a capitalist society. I said that the LTV is a no-no as a theory of wage determination – which is a small part of Marxian economics. And I only said that because it's wrapped up in the SPGB view of taxation which I have argued against many times on the old WSM Forum and have no intention of getting involved in again. You are doing once again what I earlier upbraided you fordoing – which is lumping together political reforms with economicreforms. Reformism as I explained to you has to do with the latter, notthe former. Capitalism is something that is defined in essentially economicterms. Since reformism is the attempt to reform capitalism it then followsthat for reformism to be called reformism at all , it has to have as itsfocus the economic domain and not the political domain. Oh dear, being upbraided am I! Isn't it a bit of a conceit to expect me to accept your particular definition of reforms? I don’t think it’s a good definition. This is mainly for the reason that it's not easy to separate what's "economic" from what's "political", particularly in advanced capitalist economies today where institutions in civil society (schools, media etc) are so important because of their ideological function, but also (particularly in my part of the world) where a lot of key economic relationships are legitimated through institutions of the capitalist state (eg. industrial arbitration). What about education, which has both economic and political functions? The SPGB website includes education (and housing, child employment, work conditions and social security) as examples of "successful reforms which have made a difference to the lives of millions". You don't explain clearly what "reforming capitalism" actually entails. The word "reforming" to me suggests something positive, like welfare state provisions. Elsewhere you refer to "mending" capitalism and in context it suggests that mending is what reforming does. But I think mending capitalism should refer to those actions of governments which maintain and extend the capitalist economy, but which have no direct benefit to workers, like regulating the finance sector as part of a govt. action to avoid financial instability. That's mending, not reforming. You seem to run the two concepts together. So I'd agree that you can't both mend and end capitalism. But certainly you can want to end it and also pursue reforms. I don’t have any quarrel with you about your "usual catalogue of liberal democratic rightssuch as the right of assembly, the right to free speech, the right to vote,the right to strike etc". This is NOT what I am talking about and, yes, ofcourse such "liberal democratic rights" are indispensable as a preconditionfor the existence of an effective socialist movement. Having said that, Iam less sanguine than you about the solidity of such legal rights in theface of current developments. In Spain where I live there is draft billbefore parliament at the moment which represents as serious clampdown onprotest, whereby unauthorised demonstrators can be fined 60,000 euros.Similar legislation is being considered in the US , the UK and other parts ofthe world, I believe. Other examples that spring to mind that somewhat dentyour rose-tinted view of "liberal bourgeois democracy" is whole saga of thespying scandal and murky goings on of such shady operators as the NSA. Whatever happened to our "right to privacy" ,huh?My comments on liberal democratic rights was a response to your insignificant remark that "rights are not inviolable” and your significant ones revealing the way you saw liberal democratic politics, eg. legislation being "scraps of paper", "workers going cap in hand, etc. etc." which I thought to be driven by dogmatic a priori propositions of the kind usually found amongst the fringe left . But revealing too, because they were part of a theory of the state and politics which I thought fairly poor – probably because Marxism has always lacked a serious political theory because "politics" is regarded as ("essentially") a matter of something else ("economics"). Also, I get a sense that for you, "rights" are useful only in an instrumental sense ("indispensable as a precondition for the existence of an effective socialist movement") and have no intrinsic worth as they have for me. It's ironic however that you should mention the "right" to privacy to shore up your claim to be a better sceptic then me with regard to the viability of "rights", since I originally intended to include it in my list but thought better of it and deleted it. This was because the right to privacy is the quintessential bourgeois right and I didn't want to be verbally slammed for mentioning it on a socialist website. Since you referred to the recent NSA cellphone spying program in the US as an example of a right to privacy it's worth mentioning that a Federal Court judge in the US recently ruled the scheme unconstitutional, a violation of the 4th Amendment. He called the program "Orwellian". As I said before, some rights are whittled away and whittled back, some services and entitlements are reduced , but they have not been wholly questioned, so I see them as part of the permanent landscape of a liberal democratic state. A fascist/military coup could change all that of course, but I don't see much evidence of that in western democratic states at present. Meanwhile, workers must fight to defend these rights. I am supporting Get-Up campaigns here for this purpose. Not much, I admit. What are you doing? You are trying to patch and improve a system that cannot be run in theinterests of workers but instead must necessarily be based on thesystematic exploitation of those workers – unless of course you reject thataspect of Marxian economics as well as being inapplicable to a "moderncapitalist economy" Whats more , and this is the really depressing thingabout your whole political stance, is that you offer us absolutely no ideawhatsoever of an exit route from capitalism. Apparently, according to you, weworkers must focus on pushing for reforms on the pretext that this advancesin some nebulous fashion our "class empowerment". Empowerment to do what? Youdon't explain. If capitalism cannot operate in the interests of workers, ifcapitalism depends instead on the systematic exploitation of workers, thenwhat you are recommending is the perpetual continuation of a system in whichwe are enslaved and to that extent remain forever powerless. No, I don't reject the notion that exploitation, strictly in the sense in which Marx used that term in his LTV, is applicable to a modern capitalist economy. But I reject the dogma that puts Marx's concept of exploitation at the heart of a socialist political strategy for advanced capitalist societies in the 21st century. Where the objective condition of exploitation exists the subjective experience of it rarely does, in my experience. Eg. a worker is highly exploited, but is convinced she/he has never had it so good and is not in the least exploited. No doubt you would say she is a victim of false consciousness. However, it's possible things are different in different capitalist societies. Eg: amongst rural labourers in Andalusia with its anarchist millenarian traditions. You are right that I am not offering an "exit route from capitalism" because I don't think there are "exit routes" from one mode of production to another. There are transitions over very long periods of historical time, therefore I don't envisage socialism as an emergent society "founded" in one decisive act built on the revolutionary consciousness of the working class who replace capitalism with socialism in an afternoon or a week, all over the world. You seem to believe that because I reject revolution therefore I see reforms as the way to go – that the steady advance of reforms eventually leads to socialism, somewhat like Bernstein's conception. I have never thought this. I support reforms where they advantage the working class. Whether eventually they lead cumulatively towards socialism I simply don't know (neither do you). But they can have a socialist character (as described before re public provision of free health care etc) and this I support. I am a socialist because I support the values of socialism : equality, fraternity, common ownership, freedom (self-realisation etc) and grass roots democracy. So where I see these things emerging I support them. Where they are threatened I defend them. In referring to "empowerment" I was referring to the experience of people engaged in a struggle to improve their working conditions or defending public goods or democratic rights which I have seen and participated in. It is a simple expression of what happens through participatory democracy: people engage in changing their conditions and through that process they change themselves : they develop a sense of political efficacy and self confidence and they learn how to organise themselves in fighting for a practical program. There is plenty of empirical evidence to support this. Reformist activity, even allowing for your restricted definition of reforms, surely can be a site for “empowerment” just as much as revolutionary activity IMO. You can’t accept this because you persist in believing that if reforms help maintain capitalism, therefore they cannot be in the of the interest of the working class. But history has proven you wrong. So if you want to blame someone for the failure of the workers to become a revolutionary class, don’t blame the insidious ideology of reformism, or betrayals by reformist politicians or the BBC or whatever. Blame History.
Hi Robbo:All you seem to be saying re reforms having to "benefit the capitalist class in some way" is that any reform has to operate within the structural constraints of a capitalist economy which sets limits to what is realistic and realisable. But what is the significance, apart from saying what is common knowledge – that there are limits to the scope of reforms within a capitalist system (or any system)? I am not aware that workers and TU' s who fought for reforms were unaware of this. Not the ones that I know of anyway. Saying that reforms are functional for capitalism doesn't mean that workers' interests have been "betrayed" or that workers who fought for them exhibited "false consciousness" or whatever. I think if I asked most workers here how do they feel about, say, free hospital care, they'd say they support it. And if I then said but capitalists benefit from it too, they'd probably say "so what"? I mean if it works, why does it matter if a capitalist approves or not? I won't go into your argument about capitalists paying for the capitalist state through taxes again. It's a uniquely SPGB shibboleth. I certainly wouldn't be asserting the Marxian law of value! It's a no-no as a theory of wage determination in a modern capitalist economy. Your reference to the Beveridge report suggests that the origin of Britain's Welfare State can be explained by the functional need for it, i.e. by the political action of capitalists (like Courtauld). I know little about the origins of Britain's Welfare State, but what I have read suggests quite the opposite, eg: "It was the growing strength of labour organisation that caused the shift leftward in public opinion that brought the Labour Party to power and thus was responsible for the passage of the welfare state reforms of the late 1940s" (J Stephens, The Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, 1979). When I put this up against your description of the political/legislative process, eg "some white paper being debated by a bunch of parliamentarians", "a mere scrap of paper", and workers going "cap in hand to the capitalist state" maybe you can understand why I was struck by the lack of realism, and why your propter hoc fallacy simply didn't work for me.You say that legal rights are not inviolable. Of course not. But that's no way of answering the only question that matters: have legal rights been done away with? Well, in my world there is the usual catalogue of liberal democratic rights such as the right of assembly, the right to free speech, the right to vote, the right to strike, etc. and in fact none have been taken away. There have been attempts to whittle them away from time to time, and attempts to whittle them back again, and there are inequalities of access to these rights, but no evidence so far that they have been seriously undermined let alone taken away. I could say the same about welfare state provisions such as medical and health care, etc. I have just made a mental list of reforms in my time and I don't find any that have been done away with. Workers fought hard to get them and keep them! You say I haven't noticed that workers rights are being rolled back in many parts of the world right now – well, sorry, I haven't noticed it here. What has been rolled back is workers' share of national income and their real wages, though not here so much as in the US though even there I haven't noticed a significant rollback of rights as such. Our fundamental disagreement is that I believe in the importance of political struggles and you don't because you regard all or most political struggles as "reformism". You ask for examples. OK, some of great importance to me, and in which I have taken a part, would be: political campaigns to defend free public schools against the threat of funding cuts in favour of private sector schools. A really major issue here at the moment. Another is defending the public broadcaster (ABC) against privatisation. Another is supporting asylum seekers arriving here as so-called "illegal" migrants. Another is to legislate for rights of indigenous (aboriginal) workers. These are all "reformist" political struggles, right? I'm not expecting that on my own I am going to awaken my fellow worker-activists to a revolutionary consciousness, but it should raise their level of political efficacy, and that is surely important in making socialists. Why should I regard this as "mending" capitalism or lead me to a "dead end"? Reformist politics hasn't led workers to a dead end. If anything, it's empowered them.
Robbo:I agree that the "insufficiency" Luxemburg refers to in her remarks on Konrad Schmidt is the insufficiency of capitalist reforms to bring about socialism "through an unbroken chain of augmented reforms". But that's an insufficiency from her point of view only – which was that reforms are meaningless if they were not a means to revolution. That doesn't mean that workers and SPDers held the same view about reforms as she did. So when you say that the inadequacy of reforms for RL can only mean that they must fail to meet the actual needs of workers, you are referring not to the actual needs of workers but to their needs as defined in Marxist class theory, based on a belief – firmly and unalterably held by Luxemburg – that the working class was revolutionary "by nature", it was "essentially" revolutionary. This surely blinded Luxemburg to the fact that the real (actually expressed) interests of workers in Germany and the SPD, evident all around her at the time, were on the side of reforms and reformism, of piecemeal social change. It was Bernstein and his revisionism that gave expression to these real interests of German workers.I agree also with your interpretation of Bernstein's position. But I didn't say that he merely "rejected socialism". I said that "he rejected socialism as being the final goal of the workers' movement", which is true for the reasons given in your quote from Luxemburg in that socialism as a goal of the workers' movement is unnecessary because for Bernstein, TU and parliamentary activity, as RL said, "removes from capitalist society its capitalist character". Hence no point in having socialist revolution as a final goal and political strategy for the workers' movement.Where I do disagree is with your views about the state and political action, as distinct from strictly economic (TU) action. Your picture of political action is so far away from my experience of politics in a modern (liberal democratic) capitalist state that I wonder am I on another planet. Why do you insist that pushing for reforms means "cap in hand supplication to the capitalist state"? That isn't even fair to those 19th century Chartists who pushed for democratic reforms (with the active support of one K Marx)! Why do you call legislation that enforces workers rights to eg. free medical and health care or occupational safety "a mere scrap of white paper etc"? Are you seriously suggesting that the legal entrenchment of a right is of no consequence for workers? In my part of the world these reforms were introduced via political parties and pressure groups and did not represent merely a "ratification of what happened on the ground". Your post hoc propter hoc fallacy doesn‘t fit. Making the propagation of ideas a principal role for a revolutionary socialist party today is fine. But it is a long way from what Luxemburg and other Marxists believed in and practised. For them, the propagation of socialist ideas was meaningful only in the context of an active working class movement. The lesson here for me is that socialists must actively engage in the political and economic struggles of the working class if their propagation of ideas is to be more than what you call “abstract propagandism”. Does the SPGB do that? But what if there is no working class movement to speak of? What if after a century and a half there is not the slightest evidence that the working class is “essentially” or even potentially a revolutionary class? Anyway, thank you for the opportunity to give my views on Rosa Luxemburg. It forced me to read again her pamphlet which I first looked at more than fifty years ago.
Robbo wrote:“On the question of Luxemburg's attitude towards reforms I'm not sure youare correct in saying that when she observed that they were "inadequate" shemeant from the point of view of obtaining socialism. What I think she meantby inadequate or insufficient was from the point of view of meeting theneeds of workers under capitalism. It was the realisation that they wereinadequate from that point of view that would cause workers, in her view,to turn to socialism instead" Well, I think you are wrong here. I don't think RL thought reforms as such were inadequate or insufficient just because they didn't meet workers' needs under capitalism. The value to her of these reforms had nothing to do with their alleviation or otherwise of worker’s real life conditions. Their value lay in the fact that the struggle for them was a necessary condition for the development of working class consciousness – the subjective condition for revolution. She never denied that workers could make gains from reforms, it's just that reformists (like Bernstein et al) had corrupted the revolutionary potential of the workers' movement by sacrificing the ultimate goal for immediate gains. She pointed to England as a case where English TU's had achieved successes but only by abandoning a class viewpoint and settling for gains within the framework of a capitalist economy. Here is another quote from RL (as posted by AJJ #14): "We know that socialism cannot be introduced all at once but only if we force small reforms by leading a sharp class struggle on an economic and political basis in order to increase our economic and political strength, to take power, and finally to wring the neck of today's society.” “The struggle for reforms is not and cannot be a means torevolution as Luxemburg claimed and it was Bernstein paradoxically whograsped better than Luxemburg what that struggle was about: – that the goalwould become nothing and the movement , everything”Bernstein’s statement was “ the final goal no matter what it is, is nothing,: the movement is everything”. He was not saying that the final goal (socialism) would become nothing if workers pursued only reforms. Why would he say that when he rejected socialism as being the final goal of the workers’ movement? Unlike Luxemburg (and Lenin) Bernstein believed that capitalism would not collapse in the foreseeable future, so the movement should aim at securing immediate social and political benefits (reforms) within capitalism. In that he was reflecting the view of the overwhelming majority of SPD members and German workers generally who had no desire at all to make a revolution but only wanted to better their conditions within capitalism. This is also true of all other Social Democratic and Labour (TU based) parties in the world. “The struggle for reforms ( or reformism) in thesense of measures undertaken by he the state cannot possibly prepare theworking class to undertake the final battle in the form of the socialistrevolution. On the contrary, it can only make for the perpetualpostponement and eventual abandonment of that revolutionary goal”Why? If workers struggle to, say, defend or extend welfare state provisions – measures undertaken by the state – why should that particular struggle not be a site which could provide for “an increase in (workers’) economic and political strength”(RL) ? The development of a revolutionary consciousness would involve more than just theoretical awareness (the big thing for Luxemburg), but no less things like collective solidarity, confidence and political efficacy, all of which would be positive for the development of a revolutionary will – the subjective condition for revolution. If you reject TU activity as a form of class struggle with the potential to turn workers into socialist revolutionaries, and if you also totally reject political struggles directed at the state for the same reason, then in what social domain do you think working class revolutionary consciousness might develop? And, from this, what do you then see as the role of a revolutionary socialist party today, in advanced capitalist societies?
Hi Robbo In the Introduction to her pamphlet Rosa Luxemburg refers to "the daily struggle for reforms, the amelioration of conditions of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions…." So she's identifying reforms with anything that ameliorates workers' conditions, which seems to me to be wide enough to include strictly trade union activity (eg. wage demands) as well as state or government activity (eg. welfare legislation). On this reading, "the daily struggle for democratic institutions" is treated separately from "the daily struggle for reforms". However, further on she refers more generally to "the struggle for reforms" and it is clear she is referring to both . But does it matter? The important thing is that she treats both as part of the class struggle, as a means for engaging in the "proletarian class war". And from this she takes the orthodox Marxist line, that the "struggle for reforms" provided the proletariat with the necessary practice to undertake the final battle which was of course the socialist revolution. The struggle for reforms was a means to the revolutionary end. This goes to the heart of her dispute with Bernstein. While for Bernstein and other revisionists the struggle for reforms was an end in itself, for Luxemburg this meant turning their backs on the ultimate goal – socialism. When Luxemburg said that reforms would fail, she meant that reformism (a la Bernstein et al) would fail to bring about socialism. I agree with ALB here. I don't think she ever believed that reforms of the kind fought for by workers and the SPD were necessarily "unrealisable" in themselves; only that they were "inadequate" as a means to the ultimate goal of socialism. Only in this sense would they "fail". In the same sense, she said that reforms on their own would be "meaningless" – if they were not a means to the conquest of power. As for comparison with Trotsky's transitional demands, I don't see that there's a total incompatibility. As I understand it, a transitional demand is one made in the knowledge that it would be unrealisable under normal capitalist conditions, like. eg. the demand: "Jobs for All!" I've heard demands like that made over many years by trade unionists in May Day marches! Whether they work or not is an empirical question. I don't think you can argue that they are inherently "unrealisable". Lenin's slogan "Peace, Land and Bread" is an example of a highly successful transitional demand. Given Rosa Luxemburg's strong belief in the role of the mass strike as the most effective weapon of working class revolt, I doubt that she would have rejected demands that she might have believed were unrealisable if they nonetheless had the promise of energising workers to deepen their struggle against capitalism.
mcolome1 wrote: It looks like you do support the individualistic conception of history. Nelson Mandela did not liberate “his peoples”,…. he did not even liberate himself,….The proletarian class is the only social class able to liberate itself without the need of leaders and liberastors. Mandela was a puppet of the capitalist class of South Africa.I have no idea at all why you should believe that I support "the individualistic conception of history", but then having read your posts for several years on the WSM Forum (from which I have gladly departed), I am neither surprised nor alarmed. What you say rarely makes any sense to me. But for your information, I discarded the Great Man Theory of History when I was 18 years old, having just read Tolstoy's War and Peace where, as you would know had you read it, there is a powerful critique of the theory, based of course on Tolstoy's understanding of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1810. You seem fixated on my use of the words "liberated" and "liberator" (note the commas). You should read what I said. I was talking about Mandela's reputation, and the way another poster saw him (presenting himself as a liberator). Of course South African workers didn't belong to him! And who are you to say Mandela did not even liberate himself?! And from what?! And who was Mandela's "boss" exactly??Where is your evidence or proof that the "proletarian class is the only class able to liberate itself without the need of leaders and liberators"? You've decided it's "true" only because it fits your definition of a leaderless, classless, moneyless, stateless, nationless, global society because that's your definition of socialism. It's merely a definitional "proof". If on the other hand you look at history (I don't know what else to look at) you see that all great revolutionary movements, political uprisings of radical change etc, had leaders who were effective where they had the capacity to mobilise large numbers of people in pursuit of a cause. Mandela was one such person. He represented millions of his own people and from everything I've read and seen they respected him for it. He was a "liberator" only in the sense that he was the leader of a political movement that liberated black Africans from the tyranny of Apartheid. It was by any measure an outstanding, heroic achievement. What happened later might be called a tragic failure. But that shouldn’t negate the significance of his earlier achievements. Instead you call him "a puppet of the capitalist class of S Africa". Still, I should be grateful for small things. In an earlier post you called him "a traitor to the working class of South Africa", which is absurd.
LBird wrote: You must be on a different thread to me pgb!The title of this thread is "Mandela Dead – So What?" Your post highlights the fact that nothing has changed in S.Africa today regarding the division between rich and poor. But unless you tell me what this means for Mandela's reputation as a "liberator" of his people, or what it might contribute to our understanding of the politics of change in a post-colonial African state, or some other related issue, then I am left only with a bit of information about wealth and income distribution in S. Africa today. The thread asks: So what? I already know about the facts you cite (and that's not because I also read The Independent) as I expect do most others on this Forum. So, again, what is the significance to you as a communist revolutionary of the facts as you stated them? In your previous posts you saw Mandela as "a paid up member of a black bourgeoisie" and a "class warrior" – for the rich. I found it difficult to avoid the impression from this that, for you, Mandela was a bit of a con-man, a bit of a fake, because although he presented himself as a liberator, and a "man of the people", etc, he was in fact acting in the interests of their oppressors – white capitalists and black capitalists (in waiting). Do you still hold that view?