An A to Z of Marxism


This compendium of Marxist ideas and practices is aimed at the newcomer to the socialist movement who may be unfamiliar with socialist terminology. We have included cross-referencing, suggested books for further reading and links to relevant websites at the end of most entries.

Included are many biographical entries of individuals and organisations of interest to the socialist movement. The inclusion of any of these should not necessarily be understood as an endorsement of their ideas and practices. Likewise, the suggested books and websites may contain views which are not necessarily the same as those of the Socialist Party. The website links are checked at the time of publication but we cannot accept responsibility for their continuing availability.

It will be obvious that there are some errors, omissions and unworthy inclusions. We make no claim to comprehensive, final and definitive truth. This compendium can and should be better. We therefore invite suggestions and constructive criticisms for use in future editions of this compendium.

Education Department

June 2010

As a PDF Compendium document



Abundance. A situation where resources are sufficient, or more than sufficient, to satisfy human needs; whereas scarcity is a situation where resources are insufficient to meet human needs. It is because abundance is possible that socialism can be established.

In capitalist economics human wants are said to be unlimited, so that abundance is impossible. Economists infer that because wants exceed the poverty imposed by the wages system then scarcity and capitalism must always exist. (See also NEEDS.)


Murray Bookchin, Post-scarcity Anarchism, 2004

Accumulation of capital. The driving force of capitalism is the accumulation of capital through the extraction of surplus labour, as surplus value, from work in productive employment. The accumulation of capital is obtained by an increase in the stock of means of production, and invested money capital, from surplus value.

In capitalist economics this process is often described as capitalists having a subjective preference for future consumption (i.e. present investment) at the expense of consumption in the present. However, the imperative to accumulate operates independently of the will of individual capitalists: it is imposed on them by competition in the world market. After receiving their privileged income, capitalists re-invest surplus value in the means of production, thereby reproducing capital on an expanded scale. (See also CAPITAL.)


Michael Lebowitz, Beyond Capital, 2003

Alienation. Karl Marx argued that human self-alienation arises from capitalist society and has four main aspects:

  • Workers are alienated from the product of their labour, since others own what they produce and they have no effective control over it because they are workers

  • Workers are alienated from their productive activity. Employment is forced labour: it is not the satisfaction of a human need.

  • Workers are alienated from their human nature, because the first two aspects of alienation deprive their work of those specifically human qualities that distinguish it from the activity of other animals.

  • The worker is alienated from other workers. Instead of truly human relations between people, relations are governed by peoples’ roles as agents in the economic process of capital accumulation.



Bertell Ollman, Alienation, 1976 (online at

Anarchism. A general term for a group of diverse and often contradictory ideologies. All strands of anarchist thought however tend to see the source of human oppression and exploitation in external authority in general and the state in particular. Socialists, on the other hand, see oppression and exploitation in the social relationships of capitalism (which includes the state). There is a superficial resemblance between anarchist-communism and socialism – but it is superficial. All anarchists agree that the working class cannot, or should not, organise consciously and politically to capture state power, preferring instead either insurrection or (what amounts to the same thing) trying to change society whilst ignoring the state. (See also BAKUNIN; KROPOTKIN; PROUDHON; STIRNER.)


An Anarchist FAQ:

Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists, 1985

Ancient society. ‘In broad outline, the Asiatic, the ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society’ (Marx’s Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859). Marx’s list of historical epochs is not comprehensive (it does not mention primitive communism), nor is it how social development has everywhere taken place (North America has never known feudalism). Ancient (Graeco-Roman) society reached its greatest extent in the second century AD, with the Roman Empire encompassing most of Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. In ancient society the predominant relations of production were the master and slave of chattel slavery. However, a society is not identified merely by its class relations: it is rather a specific mode of appropriation of surplus labour. Independent producers who were the forerunner of the medieval serf produced the surplus labour, appropriated as taxation. As the Roman Empire declined chattel slavery increased, but the increasing demands placed on the independent producers by an expanding and costly empire brought about (together with external invasion) internal collapse.

Reading Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, 1997

Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society, 1877

(online at

Asiatic society. In the 1859 Preface (see above), Marx had designated the Asiatic as one of the epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. He believed that the Asiatic mode of production was based on a class of peasant producers rendering tax-rent (in the form of money or produce) to a landlord state. Marx gave the example of Mughal India, though the ‘Asiatic’ mode of production could also be found in Africa and pre-Columbian America. Marx said the consequences of this mode of production were despotism and stagnation. Asiatic society also goes under the name of ‘Hydraulic Empire’ and ‘Oriental Despotism’. (See also STALINISM.)


S.H. Rigby, Marxism and History, 1998

Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism, 1957


Bakunin, Mikhail (1814-1876). Bakunin was a collectivist anarchist who opposed authority from the point of view of peasants and workers. He thought that a spontaneous uprising would sweep away the state, but his belief in the cleansing benefits of violence was mystical:

Let us then put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternally creative source of all life. The lust of destruction is also a creative lust.’

(The Reaction in Germany, 1842. Note that the last sentence is often mistranslated as ‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge’.)

Revolutionary violence, it is claimed, would create a new society organised as a federation of communes with an individual’s income being equal to their work. Bakunin’s conspiratorialism and adventurism brought him into conflict with Marx in the First International. It ended with Bakunin being expelled in 1872. One consequence of this was that, to this day, anarchist criticism of Marxism centres on the alleged authoritarianism Marx displayed in the dispute. But the dispute was much more than a mere clash of personalities. In the first place, Bakunin rejected all forms of political action; Marx’s insistence on the need to gain political power was anathema. Secondly, Bakunin believed that the state must be destroyed by conspiratorial violence; Marx’s proposed ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was rejected on the grounds that it would result in a new form of tyranny.

Since Marx’s day, however, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ has taken on a meaning which he never intended and anarchists have seized on it as proof of the authoritarian nature of Marxian socialism. But this is due to Lenin’s distortion of the concept in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. For Marx the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ meant democratic control of the state by a politically organised working class; it didn’t mean rule by a vanguard party, as Lenin claimed. Nevertheless, Marx put forward this concept in the circumstances prevailing in the nineteenth century, which in certain respects no longer apply.

In his Conspectus of Bakunin’s ‘Statism and Anarchy’ (1874), Marx argued that, so long as a class of capitalists exist, the working class must make use of the state (‘the general means of coercion’) to dispossess them of the means of production. This would be the most effective way of changing society because it minimises any potential for violence. With a socialist working class in control of the states through their use of their socialist parties, international capitalism can be replaced by world socialism. It is of course a great irony that anarchists should condemn this proposed course of action as potentially authoritarian, given their recipe for bloody civil war by waging violence against the state. In this respect they are closer to the Leninists than they might realise. (See also ANARCHISM; MARXISM.)


Bakunin Archive: http://dwardmac.pitzer.du/anarchist_archives/bakunin/Bakuninarchive.html

Mark Leier, Bakunin: The Creative Passion, 2006

Banks. Financial intermediaries which accept deposits and lend money. Banks and other financial institutions do not create wealth: their profits are ultimately derived from surplus value created in the production process.

Capitalist economics mostly maintains that banks can create money by making loans. But if this were true then no bank would ever get into financial difficulty; they would simply pull themselves up by their own bootstraps by creating the required credit and money. The history of the collapse of banks shows that they cannot create money. (See also INTEREST; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)

Bolshevism. At the second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), held in London in 1903, a vote was taken on the composition of the editorial board of Iskra, the Party newspaper. The vote gave a majority to Lenin’s group, who then assumed the name ‘Bolsheviki’ (the majority). The other wing of the RSDLP were known as the ‘Mensheviki’ (the minority), led by Julius Martov. These two titles are misleading, however, since what really separated the two wings of the RSDLP were the Party’s conditions of membership. Under Lenin’s influence, the Bolsheviks believed that, because the working class by themselves could only achieve a trade union consciousness, workers needed to be led to socialism by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. The Mensheviks, especially Martov, were critical of the elitist and highly undemocratic nature of Bolshevism. The Bolsheviks seized power in Russia during the October 1917 revolution. (See also LENINISM.)


Paul Mattick, Anti-Bolshevik Communism, 1978

(online at


Capital. Capital is a social relation that expresses itself as a form of exchange value. As money capital it constitutes the accumulated unpaid surplus labour of the past appropriated by the capitalist class in the present. Capital can also take the form of a sum of commodities (machinery, raw materials, labour power, etc.) used in the reproduction of exchange values.

In Marxian economics capital only exists when the appropriate historical and social conditions are present. Specifically, when the means of production are generally used to exploit wage labour for profit. In capitalist economics capital is one of the ‘factors of production’ along with land and labour (and, in some definitions, entrepreneurship or management). Capital is money invested in production with the expectation of profit, though in capitalist economics capital is primarily a timeless asset. This is why those who have been exposed to capitalist economics will sometimes express bafflement at the socialist proposal to abolish capital. ‘But any society must have capital’, they exclaim, as if we propose to physically destroy means of production. No, any modern society must have means of production (land, factories, railways, etc.), but it is only in the capitalist system of society that the means of production takes the form of capital. Socialists want to abolish capital by establishing common ownership of the means of production, replacing production for profit with production solely for use. (See also CAPITALISM; PROFIT.)


Saad-Filho A. & Fine B., Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010

David Harvey, Reading Marx’s Capital, online at

Capitalism. A system of society based on the class monopoly of the means of life, it has the following six essential characteristics:

  1. Generalised commodity production, nearly all wealth being produced for sale on a market.

  2. The investment of capital in production with a view to obtaining a monetary profit.

  3. The exploitation of wage labour, the source of profit being the unpaid labour of the producers.

  4. The regulation of production by the market via a competitive struggle for profits.

  5. The accumulation of capital out of profits, leading to the expansion and development of the forces of production.

  6. A single world economy.


Sarkar B. & Buick A., Marxian Economics and Globalization, 2009

Capitalist class (or Bourgeoisie). Capitalists personify capital. Because they possess the means of production and distribution, whether in the form of legal property rights of individuals backed by the state or collectively as a bureaucracy through the state, the capitalist class lives on privileged incomes derived from surplus value.

The capitalists personally need not – and mostly do not – get involved in the process of production. Social production is carried on by capitalist enterprises which are overwhelmingly comprised of members of the working class. (See also CLASS.)


Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. 2: The Politics of Social Classes, 1979

China. Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung) helped to form the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921. After the Second World War all the major Chinese cities, previously controlled by the Japanese, fell into control of the nationalists, the Kuomintang, led by Chiang kai-shek. However, the Kuomintang soon became discredited in the eyes of the peasants and by 1947 civil war broke out between the Communists and the Kuomintang. In September 1949 Chiang kai-shek and other Kuomintang leaders fled to Taiwan. On 1 October 1949 Mao proclaimed the inauguration of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Mao launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-59) in an attempt to hasten economic development. He also instituted the Cultural Revolution (1966) to re-establish revolutionary fervour and get rid of his opponents. Mao modelled the development of Chinese industry on Russian State capitalism; and this model of development continued after the Sino-Soviet split in 1960. Since Mao’s death in 1976 the development of capitalism in China, on a more market-orientated basis, has continued under the tight control of the CCP. (See also MAO; MAOISM; STATE CAPITALISM.)


History of China:

John Keay, China: A History, 2008

Class. People are divided into classes according to their social relationship to the means of wealth production and distribution. These classes have changed according to changing social conditions (e.g. slaves and masters, peasants and lords). In capitalism people are divided into those who possess the means of production in the form of capital, the capitalist class, and those who produce but do not possess, the working class (which includes dependants).

The working class, as they have no other property to sell on a regular basis, live by selling their labour power for a wage or a salary. This class therefore comprises unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, professional, and unemployed workers; it includes those at various stages of the reproduction cycle of labour power, such as students, housewives and pensioners. This class runs society from top to bottom. The capitalist class, on the other hand, does not have to work in order to get an income. They draw rent interest and profit (surplus value) because they own the means of life.

Of course there are other social groups such as peasants and small proprietors, but these are incidental to capitalism. As a system of society that predominates throughout the world, capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class through the wages system. Nor does the number of jobs in management and the professions alter the situation; for the most part they too are workers compelled to sell their labour power and suffer unemployment. Even if there has been some separation of ownership and control of capitalist enterprises, the capitalists still maintain a privileged income through their ownership; they still possess but do not produce. (See also CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS; CLASS STRUGGLE; WORKING CLASS.)


Keith Graham, Karl Marx, Our Contemporary, 1992

Class-consciousness. The objective social position of the working class is that they stand in an antagonistic relation to the capitalist class. When the working class become aware of this antagonism, the subjective dimension of class, they can abolish capitalism and establish socialism. As Marx put it, workers would develop from a class ‘in itself’ (a common class position but without workers being aware of it), to become a class ‘for itself’ (a collective awareness among workers of their class position).

Class-consciousness develops mainly out of the working class’s everyday experiences of the contradictions of capitalism (poverty amidst plenty, etc.). These contradictions are, in turn, derived from the most basic contradiction of capitalism: the contradiction between social production and class ownership of the means of production. (See also CLASS; CONTRADICTION; IDEOLOGY.)

Class struggle. ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle’ (Communist Manifesto). Marx and Engels later qualified this to refer to written history in order to take account of early primitive communist societies in which class divisions had not yet emerged. In ancient society the struggles were between slave owners and slaves; in feudal society between lords and serfs; and in capitalism, capitalists and workers.

These struggles have been over the distribution of the social product, the organisation of work, working conditions and the results of production. The class struggle is more than a struggle over the level of exploitation, however. Ultimately it is a struggle over the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. Throughout history, classes excluded from the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution have been driven by their economic situation to try to gain such ownership through gaining political power. (See also CLASS; HISTORY.)

Climate changeThe claim, for which there is overwhelming scientific evidence, is that global warming is taking place as a result of human activity, especially through the emissions of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane) which artificially warm the atmosphere of the earth.  Since 1900 the average temperature on the planet has increased by 0.74 degrees Celsius and the result is higher sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms).  These are expected to become more severe.

The global context for climate change has been industrialisation driven by the imperative for economic growth. All over the world, enterprises and states seek to minimise costs so as to maximise profits, and releasing greenhouse gases into the environment is a way of reducing monetary costs. Human and environmental needs always come second, if at all, in the profit system. Capitalism’s primary imperative is always to produce more and accumulate capital or lurch into economic crisis.

Reformists claim that we can’t wait for socialism and something must be done now. But this assumes that a solution can be implemented within capitalism. If it can’t, as we maintain, then concentrating on ‘something now’ rather than changing the basis of society will be a waste of valuable time while the situation gets worse. (See also ECOLOGY; GREENS; ZERO GROWTH.)


D. Helm & C. Hepburn (eds.), The Economics and Politics of Climate Change, 2009

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

RealClimate: climate science from climate scientists:

Commodity. Commodities are items of wealth (goods or services) that have been produced for sale. Commodities have been produced in pre-capitalist societies but such production was marginal. It is only in capitalism that it becomes the dominant mode of production, where goods and services are produced for sale with a view to profit. Under capitalism the object of commodity production is the realisation of profit when the commodities have been sold; these profits are mostly re-invested and accumulated as capital. Commodities must be capable of being reproduced, and this includes the uniquely capitalist commodity of human labour power. (See also LABOUR POWER; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)


A. Filho & B. Fine, Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010

Common ownership. If everyone owns the means of wealth production and distribution then, to put it another way, nobody owns them. The concept of property in the sense of exclusive possession then becomes meaningless. Common ownership is a social relationship and not a form of legal property ownership. This social relationship will be one of equality between people with regard to the control of the use of the means of production. In practical terms, common ownership means democratic control of the means of production by the whole community. Common ownership is therefore synonymous with democracy. (See also DEMOCRACY.)

Communism. The word ‘communism’ originated in the revolutionary groups in France in the 1830s. At about the same time, Owenite groups in Britain were first using the word ‘socialism’. Marx and Engels used both words interchangeably. In fact, in Marx and Engels’ earlier years on the continent they usually referred to themselves and the working class movement as communist; later in Britain as socialist. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx made a distinction between two stages of ‘communist society’, both based on common ownership: a lower stage, with individual consumption being rationed, possibly by the use of labour-time vouchers, and a higher stage in which each person contributes to society according to ability and draws from the common stock according to needs. In both stages, however, there would be no money economy or state.

Lenin, in his State and Revolution (1917), made famous the description of these two stages as ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ respectively, in which there would be a money economy and state in the transitional society of ‘socialism’. Socialists use the words socialism and communism interchangeably to refer to the society of common ownership, thereby denying the Leninist claim that there is a need for a transitional society. (See also SOCIALISM; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY.)


A. Buick & J. Crump, Non Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism, 1983

Communist Party. In 1848 Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party (now somewhat misleadingly called the Communist Manifesto) was published by the Communist League. In the Manifesto, Communists are said to be distinctive only in always emphasising ‘the common interests of the entire proletariat’.

In Russia the Bolshevik section of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party changed its name to the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), after its seizure of power in 1917. From 1952 it was called the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was formed in 1920 and took its political line (and, until its demise, a lot of its money) directly from Moscow. During the 1970s many European Communist Parties began to re-assess their bloody, anti-working class history. One by one they adopted ‘Eurocommunism’ and attempted to distance themselves from the CPSU and their Stalinist past. Following the fall of the Kremlin Empire in 1989, however, the Communist parties lost all credibility and many changed their name and ideology. Though suppressed by Yeltsin in 1991, the Russian Communist Party retains its name but is now more a supporter of market capitalism than state capitalism. In Britain the CPGB became the Democratic Left, a pressure group for various reforms, before collapsing completely after a few years. The tradition of the old CPGB is carried on by the Communist Party of Britain, which publishes the Morning Star. There is also a new CPGB which publishes the Weekly Worker, but this group merely usurped the name when the old CPGB dropped it; they are a Leninist sect which is not in the CPGB tradition). (See also BOLSHEVISM; COMMUNISM; RUSSIA.)


Stuart Macintyre, A Proletarian Science, 1986

Contradiction. In capitalist society there is a contradiction, or conflict of material interests, between the class monopoly of the means of wealth production and distribution and the social process of production. Capitalism, in other words, subordinates production to privileged class interests. Profits take priority over needs. From this essential contradiction of capitalism others follow, such as: famine amidst plenty, homelessness alongside empty buildings, pollution as a way of ‘externalising’ (i.e. reducing) costs and maximising profits, and so on.

Socialist society will end these contradictions because it will bring social production into line with social ownership and therefore into line with social needs. (See also CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS.)

Co-operatives. Enterprises which are nominally jointly owned and controlled by their members. The origins of the co-operative movement go back to Robert Owen in the early nineteenth century. As an alternative route to socialism it has been a failure, although the modern co-operative movement continues to draw inspiration from examples such as Mondragon in Spain.

Some supporters of capitalism are also supporters of co-operatives. They see them as a way of mitigating the class struggle and persuading workers that they have an interest in accepting ‘realistic’ (i.e. lower) wages. However, co-operatives do not give workers security of employment or free them from exploitation.

Co-operatives cannot be used as a means for establishing socialism. As long as the capitalist class control political power, which they will be able to continue to do for as long as there is a majority of non-socialists, capitalist economic relations (commodity production, wage labour, production for profit, etc.) will be bound to prevail and these will control the destiny of co-operatives. Co-operatives usually only flourish to the extent that they can be successfully accommodated within capitalism. (See also CAPITAL; OWEN.)

Crises. Capitalist production goes through a continuous cycle of boom, crisis and depression. A boom is a period when most industries are working to full capacity and unemployment is correspondingly low. A crisis is the sudden break that brings the boom to an end. A depression is the decline of production and increase of unemployment that comes after the crisis. It is important to recognise the difference between the two latter stages of the trade cycle, because the factors that govern the period up to the crisis and the crisis itself are different to the factors which operate during the period of depression.

A booming economy will go into a phase of ‘over-trade’ when a key industry, or a number of industries, find that they have produced more than they can sell at a profit in their particular market. Then comes the sudden crisis followed by depression. This cycle is natural for capitalism and does not mean that something has gone wrong with the economy. The trigger for the global financial crisis of 2008 is to be found in overproduction in the US housing market. (See also DEPRESSIONS; SAY’S LAW.)


Simon Clarke, Marx’s Theory of Crisis, 1994

Cuba. The national liberation movement in Cuba succeeded with an assault on Fort Moncada on 26 July 1953 and ended with the seizure of power by Fidel Castro and his July 26 Movement on 2 January 1959. This overthrew the corrupt and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista.

After the revolution, in February 1960, a trade and credit agreement with Russia was signed. In April, Russian oil began to arrive in Cuba and, when the American-owned oil companies refused to refine it, Castro confiscated the Texaco, Shell and Standard Oil refineries. Between August and October 1960 Castro nationalised virtually all American-owned properties and most large Cuban-owned businesses. In October the United States announced a total trade embargo with Cuba. So, to survive the economic isolation, Castro looked towards the ‘Communist bloc’.

In April 1961, the day before the Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro officially declared that Cuba’s revolution was ‘socialist’. By a convenient coincidence, and with no previous interest in left-wing ideology, in December 1961 Castro announced that he was now a ‘Marxist-Leninist’. In October 1965 the Communist Party of Cuba was formed. However, for several years it had no programme or statutes (its first Congress was held ten years later, in December 1975), and was essentially an organisational extension of Castro’s personal authority. Brought to power by mass support for national liberation, Castro and his ruling party, and since 2008 his brother Raul as leader, continue the development of national state capitalism. (See also NATIONAL LIBERATION.)


Robin Blackburn, Slavery and Empire: The Making of Modern Cuba, 1978

International edition of the Communist Party of Cuba Newspaper:


Darwin, Charles (1809-1882). Born and educated at Shrewsbury, passing on to Cambridge university to study theology. He sailed on a naturalist expedition in the Beagle (1831-1836), and on returning he spent over twenty years developing his hypothesis that species evolve by the process of natural selection. In 1859 his theories were published in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (usually abbreviated to Origin of Species). His theories created a major sensation, and their influence went far beyond the biological sciences, helping to create the scientific outlook of the late nineteenth century.

Marx thought very highly of Origin of Species and sent Darwin a presentation copy of Capital. But he did not, as sometimes claimed, offer to dedicate Capital to Darwin. Rather it was Marx’s son-in-law, Edward Aveling, who offered to dedicate one of his own books to Darwin. Darwin never read Capital and he rejected Aveling’s offer. (See also DARWINISM.)


Janet Browne, Darwin’s Origin of Species, 2006

Darwin online:

Darwinism. Darwin’s theory of organic evolution through natural selection. Combined with gene theory as the ‘modern synthesis’, it is the ‘theory that evolution is guided in adaptively nonrandom directions by the nonrandom survival of small random hereditary changes’ (Richard Dawkins). However, Darwinism has become confused with the notions of ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘social Darwinism’.

In the fifth edition of Origin of Species (1869), at the suggestion his friend and colleague, Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin first introduced the notorious phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. Wallace had taken this phrase from the writings of Herbert Spencer, a well known champion of free market capitalism in late nineteenth century Britain. In Spencer’s social philosophy, which would later be called ‘Social Darwinism’, social organizations operate on exactly the same principles as biological organisms. But Darwin had never taken any of Spencer’s ideas on social evolution seriously and the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ is at odds with Darwin’s own ideas about natural selection by adaptation.


Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain, 2003

Anton Pannekoek, Marxism And Darwinism, 1909

(online at:

De Leon, Daniel (1852-1914). De Leon joined the Socialist Labour Party in the United States in 1890. As editor of the SLP paper The People, De Leon was an outstanding advocate of Marxism until his death in 1914. In 1903 a Socialist Labour Party was formed in Britain, which broke away from the SDF a year before the SPGB, and modelled its ideas on the industrial unionist policy of De Leon and the American SLP. On the political front, De Leon firmly rejected reformism and argued for the capture of political power solely to establish socialism; and on the industrial unionist front he argued for a revolutionary trade unionism. In 1905 he joined in founding the Industrial Workers of the World (the ‘Wobblies’), a syndicalist organisation. (See also SYNDICALISM.)


Stephen Coleman, Daniel De Leon, 1990

De Leon online:

Democracy. A term which originated in ancient Greece where it meant rule by the citizens (which excluded the majority – foreigners, women and slaves). In the modern Western world, ‘liberal democracy’ means little more than regular elections in which competing political parties put up candidates for government office, offering voters the chance to choose between marginally different sets of policies. This is to be preferred to those conditions in countries where even these limited rights do not exist. However, ‘liberal democracy’ does not constitute a meaningful conception of democracy. Socialists argue that all governments, no matter how well-intentioned or enlightened, in trying to administer the capitalist system as a whole (‘the national interest’), usually pursue policies that favour the capitalist class. It is in this sense that the the United Nations has declared 15 September as the ‘International Day of Democracy’

In socialist society the machinery of government of the states of the world can have given way to democratic administration at local, regional and global levels. Real democracy will involve equality between all people with regard to the control of the use of the means of production. (See also COMMON OWNERSHIP; DICTATORSHIP; PARLIAMENT.)


Keith Graham, The Battle of Democracy, 1986

Depression (or Recession). Capitalist production goes through continuous cycles of boom, crisis and depression. In a boom some industries, encouraged by high profits, produce more than can be profitably sold in a particular market. A crisis then occurs. And, if the combined effect is large enough, it is followed by a depression as other industries get sucked into the downward spiral of unsold commodities and falling profits. Businesses then curtail production, or close down altogether, and lay off workers. Eventually the conditions for profitable production are restored (less competition as competitors go bust, an increased rate of exploitation, higher profits, etc.) and business booms … but only to repeat the cycle. (See also CRISES.)


Simon Clarke, Marx’s Theory of Crisis, 1994

Dialectic. For Socrates it was teasing out the threads of an argument by asking questions. In Hegel’s philosophy it was the development of the idea through history. With Marx and Engels, however, there is some dispute as to what their version of the dialectic means, or even if they were both talking about the same thing. This apparent confusion is compounded by Plekhanov’s term ‘dialectical materialism’, a phrase not used by Marx or Engels, yet this was designated the official philosophy of state capitalist Russia in the years after the Bolshevik revolution.

For Marx it seems that his dialectic has two main features. Firstly, it is a philosophy of internal relations. Capitalism is a system constituted by its social relations of production, and a change to one relationship will have consequences for the whole system. This philosophical viewpoint tries to understand that process. Secondly, it is a method of abstraction. The key social relationships of capitalism (e.g. value, commodity, class) depend upon, but are not reducible to, material objects. They can only be comprehended as abstractions but they are nonetheless real and can affect our lives profoundly when they mean that profit-making takes priority over human needs. According to Bertell Ollman:

Dialectics is not a rock-ribbed triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis that serves as an all-purpose explanation; nor does it provide a formula that enables us to prove or predict anything; nor is it the motor force of history. The dialectic, as such, explains nothing, proves nothing, predicts nothing, and causes nothing to happen. Rather, dialectics is a way of thinking that brings into focus the full range of changes and interactions that occur in the world.’

(See also HEGEL; MARXISM.)


Bertell Ollman, Dance of the Dialectic, 2003

(online at

Dictatorship. Under a dictatorship the traditional forms of working class political and economic organisation are denied the right of legal existence. Freedom of speech, assembly and the press is severely curtailed and made to conform to the needs of a single political party that has for the time being secured a monopoly in the administration of the state machine.

The concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ has a central place in Leninist thought. The phrase was used by Marx and Engels to mean the working class conquest of political power. In State and Revolution (1917), however, Lenin wrote of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat under the guidance of the party’. The Leninist theory of the vanguard party leads inevitably to the dictatorship over the proletariat. (See also DEMOCRACY; LENINISM.)


Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Dictatorship of the Proletariat, 1987

Draper on DOP:

Direct action. A form of civil disobedience in which people seek immediate remedies to political, social and environmental problems. Modern direct action movements, which can be violent or non-violent, often combines Green and anarchist strands of thought and urges people to organise at local level and avoid indirect electoral activity.

The direct action criticism of the socialist argument for gaining political power rests on disillusionment fostered by capitalism’s inability to solve its own problems, and a belief that the capitalist class would use the state to violently crush a majority decision to establish socialism. On the other hand, this is contradicted by their claim that the ruling class will give in to pressure from below from grass-roots groups who have not shown that they represent the majority view. (See also ANARCHISM; ECOLOGY; GREENS)


Earth First! Direct Action:


Ecology. In 1871 a German biologist, Ernst Haeckel, coined the word ‘ecology’. It derives from the Greek word ‘oikos’ meaning ‘house’ or ‘habitat’ and can be defined as the study of relationships between organisms and their environment or natural habitat.

Under the present economic system production is not directly geared to meeting human and environmental needs but rather to the accumulation of profits. As a result, not only are basic needs far from satisfied but also much of what is produced is pure waste. For instance, all the resources involved in commerce and finance, the mere buying and selling of things and those poured into armaments. Moreover, capitalist states, industries and even individuals are encouraged by competition in the market to externalise their costs (‘externalities’ as economists call them) by dumping unwanted waste products into the environment. The whole system of production, from the methods employed to the choice of what to produce, is distorted by the imperative to accumulate without consideration for the longer term and global factors that ecology teaches are vitally important. The overall result is an economic system governed by blind economic forces that oblige decision-makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

If we are to meet our needs in an ecologically acceptable way we must first be able to control production – or, put another way, able to consciously regulate our interaction with the rest of nature – and the only basis on which this can be done is the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, with production solely for human and environmental needs. (See also GREENS; ZERO GROWTH.)


Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature, 1999

David Pepper, Eco-socialism, 1993

Economic Calculation Argument. The claim made by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and others that, in the absence of market prices, a socialist society would be unable to make rational choices concerning the allocation of resources. But as Robin Cox points out, this argument merely amounts to the tautology that ‘only a market economy is able to perform economic calculations couched in market prices’ and that it is ‘reading into socialism the functional requirements of capitalism’. In reality it is the wasteful, destructive and exploitative capitalist system that is incapable of rationally allocating resources. That is why the Socialist Party exists and constitutes the case for socialism.

Socialism will be a system of production for use in direct response to needs, without the need for society-wide planning for all production. The operational basis for this system would be calculation in kind (e.g. tonnes, kilos, litres) instead of monetary calculation. (See also ABUNDANCE; ECONOMICS; PRICE.)


Robin Cox, The “Economic Calculation” controversy: unravelling of a myth, 2005

(Now online at: here

Economics. The study of the production and distribution of wealth in capitalist society (also known by its older and more accurate name, political economy). Under capitalism wealth production is governed by forces based on exchange value which operate independently of human will and which impose themselves as external, coercive laws when people make decisions about the production of wealth. In other words, the social process of wealth production under capitalism is an economy governed by economic laws and studied by a special discipline, economics.

Socialism will re-establish conscious human control over wealth production; therefore, socialism will abolish capitalism’s economic laws and so also ‘the economy’ as the field of human activity governed by their operation. Hence socialism will make economics redundant. (See also MARKET; SOCIALISM.)


Sarkar B. & Buick A., Marxian Economics and Globalization, 2009

MIA Glosssary of Economics:

Engels, Friedrich (1820-1895). Born in what is now called Wuppertal, Germany, the eldest son of a textile capitalist. Engels was trained for a career as a merchant, but in 1841 he went to Berlin and became closely involved in the Young Hegelians, a group of left-wing philosophers with whom Marx had also been involved. In 1842 Engels became a communist (before and independently of Marx) and went to Manchester to work in his father’s business. In England he became interested in Chartism and the struggles of the English working class. His researches, and his socialist conclusions, were recorded in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844). Engels and Marx agreed to produce a political satire: The Holy Family (1845) marked the beginning of a life-long collaboration. Engels and Marx began writing The German Ideology in November 1845 and continued work on it for nearly a year before it was abandoned unfinished, as Marx put it, to ‘the gnawing criticism of the mice’ (teeth marks of mice were subsequently found on the manuscript). This work contains an attack on the Young Hegelians (the German ideology in question) and in so doing they set out the basic principles of the materialist conception of history. Engels helped Marx to write the Manifesto of the Communist Party, published by the Communist League in 1848. To some extent, this work derives from a piece Engels wrote in catechism form the previous year, Principles of Communism. Engels and Marx then became active in radical journalism during the upheavals that followed the revolutions of 1848.

In 1850 Engels re-joined the family firm in Manchester, where he stayed until 1870, helping Marx financially and journalistically. Engels also developed his own lines of interest, especially in the natural sciences, and one result of his studies was published in 1927 as Dialectics of Nature. In 1878 he was able to retire and move to London. As Marx became less politically active due to ill health, so Engels took on more responsibility for setting out ‘our joint position.’ In 1878 Anti-Duhring appeared, and three chapters from it were published as Socialism, Utopian and Scientific in 1880. This latter work proved to be immensely popular within the growing socialist movement as a general exposition of Marxism. Engels continued to pursue his own lines of interest and in 1884 The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State was written and published. And in 1888, in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Engels explained his philosophy of nature and history. However, after Marx’s death in 1883 Engels spent most of his time editing Marx’s notes for volumes two and three of Capital, published in 1885 and 1894 respectively. Engels also spent his last few years acting as an adviser to the parties of the Second International, before dying of cancer in 1895. (See also MARX; MARXISM.)


M. Steger & T. Carver, Engels After Marx, 1999

Rubel on Marx and Engels:

Equality. Socialism will be a system of society based on the common ownership of the means of production. Common ownership will be a social relationship of equality between all people with regard to the control of the use of the means of production. This establishes a classless society. Socialism does not mean equality of income or reward, nor does it mean equality by a re-distribution of personal wealth.

Contrary to popular myth, Marx and Engels did not frame their arguments for socialism in terms of material equality. In fact they rejected demands for levelling down as ‘crude communism’. As Allen Wood has pointed out, they did not criticise capitalism because poverty is unevenly distributed, but because there is poverty where there need be none, and that there is a privileged class which benefits from a system which subjects the majority to an artificial and unnecessary poverty. And in his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx argued that communism would run along the lines of ‘From each according to ability, to each according to needs’. This is not an egalitarian slogan. Rather, it asks for people to be considered individually, each with a different set of needs and abilities. (See also COMMON OWNERSHIP.)


Allen Wood, Karl Marx, 2004

Exchange value. A relative magnitude which expresses the relationship between two commodities. The proportion in which commodities tend to exchange with each other depends upon the amount of socially necessary labour-time spent in producing them. Commodities actually sell at market prices that rise and fall according to market conditions around a point regulated by their value and, more specifically, their price of production. (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE; PRICE OF PRODUCTION; VALUE.)

Exploitation. A morally neutral term, as used by socialists, to denote the historically specific form of the extraction of surplus labour. Feudalism was based on the appropriation of surplus labour as feudal tribute (in the form of money, produce or labour services) from the peasantry. Capitalist enterprises buy workers’ labour power for a wage or a salary which is more or less equal to its value but extract labour greater than the equivalent of that wage or salary. This surplus labour takes the form of surplus value and is the source of profit. But it is important to remember that, because surplus value is socially produced, an employee is not just exploited by their particular employer. Exploitation is a class relationship only: the capitalist class exploit the working class. (See also CLASS; LABOUR POWER; SURPLUS VALUE.)


Fabian Society. Established in 1884 to ‘permeate’, first the Liberal Party, then the Labour Party, with ideas on the need for state capitalism. Among the early Fabians were George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Fabians called themselves ‘socialist’ (although their political outlook was largely derived from Utilitarianism) and believed that ‘socialism’ (i.e. state capitalism) could be brought about only after a long process of social reform — a belief that Sidney Webb termed ‘the inevitability of gradualness.’ The Society played a minor part in the formation of the Labour Party, but in 1918 the Labour Party adopted a constitution that was mostly written by Sidney Webb. Today the Society is little more than a ‘think-tank’ for the Labour Party.

According to George Lichtheim, the title ‘Fabian Society’ appears to have been suggested by Frank Podmore, a founder member:

It was a reference to the elderly Roman commander Fabius Cunctator, famous for his extreme caution in conducting military operations, especially when matched against Hannibal. Some of the earliest tracts of the Society bore a motto (composed by Podmore) which ran in part:

For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain and fruitless.”

Closer acquaintance with Roman history might perhaps have induced Podmore to inquire where and when Fabius “struck hard”: there is no record of such an occurrence. Malicious critics of Fabianism have been known to hint that there may have been something prophetic, or at least symbolic, in this misreading of history and that anyone who expects Fabians to “strike hard” for socialism or anything else is quite likely to have to wait until Doomsday.’



George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism, 1983

Fabian Society:

Fascism. The term fascismo was coined by the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and Hegelian philosopher Giovanni Gentile. It is derived from the Italian word fascio, which means ‘bundle’ or ‘union’. Fascism was an authoritarian, nationalistic and anti-socialist political ideology that preaches the need for a strong state ruled by a single political party led by a charismatic leader. Later the word was used in relation to a similar extreme nationalist movement in Germany even though this described itself as ‘national-socialist’ (Nazi) rather than fascist. Both these movements won control of political power more or less constitutionally, in Italy in 1922 and in Germany in 1933, and proceeded to establish a one-party dictatorship with mass organisations to win over the population and preaching that all members of the ‘nation’ had a common interest. Fascism/Nazism was implacably opposed to Marxism for its internationalism and its advocacy of the class struggle within nations. (See also DICTATORSHIP; RACISM.)


Roger Eatwell, Fascism: A History, 1996

Giovanni Gentile & Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932

(online at

Feminism. Feminist theories of womens’ oppression and inequality have been developed largely within the liberal tradition of political philosophy. Demands have usually been formulated on the basis of moral arguments relating to legal rights and justice, and ignoring the economic conditions that render such claims meaningless within the context of capitalism. ‘Socialist’ feminists, while recognising the importance of class, have become bogged down in reformism; in effect their demand is to be wage slaves equally with men. ‘Radical’ feminists attack patriarchy, not class, as the source of women’s oppression.

While it is undeniable that most women experience certain forms of oppression and discrimination as a result of their gender, to suffer from sexism at all it is usually necessary to be a member of the working class; it is not normally a problem for female members of the capitalist class. The socialist movement, being based on a class analysis of capitalism, provides a motivation for women’s liberation since socialism can only be achieved with the majority support of women and of men. (See also REFORMISM; SEXISM.)


Vincent, A., Modern Political Ideologies, 1992

The Feminist eZine:

Fetishism. In capitalist society fetishism arises because the relations based on the exchange value of commodities control workers and their products. Exchange value is a direct relation between products, and indirectly, through them, between the workers. To the workers, therefore, the relations between them appear not as direct social relations but as what they really are – material relations between people and social relations between things.

In capitalist society commodities are produced primarily for exchange, for their exchange value. Therefore it is exchange value that will determine production and distribution, and the workers own products confront them as alien objects ruling over them.

In socialist society this mystical veil over social production will be lifted and in its place there will be direct social relations between people and their products. (See also ALIENATION.)


Marx on The Fetishism of Commodities:

Feudal society. In his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Marx designated the feudal as one of the epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. As a system of society, feudalism flourished in Europe in the Middle Ages, though it existed elsewhere and at different periods. The feudal mode of production was based on the effective possession (but not necessarily legal ownership) of some of the means of production by the peasantry. Within this manorial organisation of production the lords appropriated the surplus labour of the peasants as feudal rent (in the form of rent in kind, money, labour or taxes) using political force and religious ideology as the means of control.


Rodney Hilton, The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, 1985

Forces of production. What can be broadly understood as technology, the forces of production include materials, machinery, techniques and the work performed by human beings in the production of wealth. (See also HISTORY; RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION.)

Freedom. According to classical liberal political philosophy, freedom is the absence of direct physical constraint; freedom being essentially negative, it is always freedom from something. This point of view ignores poverty, unemployment and wage labour as examples of constraints and lack of freedom.

Under capitalism, however, the working class are unfree. Although individual workers may have some ‘freedom’ of action (to change jobs, for example), as a member of the working class we are coerced into selling our labour power, or taking on any of the roles involved in the reproduction of labour power, such as student, housewife or pensioner. Because the capitalist class own the means of life, workers cannot escape from their class position in society: we are wage slaves.

For socialists, freedom is self-determination. On the new basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for self-determined needs, socialism will be a society in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. (See also CAPITALISM; SOCIALISM.)


Allen Wood, Karl Marx, 2004


General strike. The British general strike of 4 – 12 May 1926 was provoked by the mine-owners who, faced with an adverse market for coal, demanded a cut in wages and an increase in working hours from the mineworkers. The Miners’ Federation, led by A.J. Cook and others, asked the TUC to bring out all the major industries, in line with a resolution supporting the miners carried at the 1925 Congress. The Conservative government, with Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister, had prepared for the strike by recruiting special constables and setting up the strikebreaking Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. During the strike millions of workers came out in support of the miners. The government monopolised the means of propaganda, however, and the BBC suppressed news that might have embarrassed the government. Director General of the BBC, John Reith (knighted for his services the following year), wrote in his diary after the strike:

They want to be able to say that they did not commandeer us, but they know that they can trust us not to be really impartial.’ (Quoted in On Television, by Stuart Hood, 1997.)

After nine days the General Council of the TUC called off the general strike, betraying every resolution upon which the strike call was issued and without a single concession being gained. The miners were left alone to fight the mine-owners backed by the government with the tacit approval of the TUC and the Parliamentary Labour Party led by Ramsey MacDonald. The miners stayed out until August before being forced by starvation to accept the mine-owners’ terms of reduced wages (below 1914 level) and an increase in the working day by one hour.

The General Strike cannot be used to get socialism. To get socialism requires a class conscious working class democratically capturing state power to prevent that power being used against them. In 1926, the very facts that the government were in power, that millions of workers had supported them and other capitalist political parties (including the Labour Party) less than two years before at the general election, showed that socialism was not on the political agenda. Workers who would not vote for socialism will not strike for it. (See also STRIKES; SYNDICALISM.)


Chronology of general strikes:

Anne Perkins, A Very British Strike, 2006

Globalization. The claim is often made that global capitalism of the past few decades is in a qualitatively new stage in the historical development of capitalism, that integration of national economies into the international economy is an inevitable process to which national governments are largely powerless.

Hirst, Thompson and Bromley, using detailed evidence, disagree and argue for the following conclusions. The present highly internationalised economy is not unprecedented. In some respects, the current globalized economy has only recently become as open and integrated as the regime that prevailed from 1870 to 1914. Genuinely transnational companies are relatively rare. Most companies are based nationally and trade regionally or multinationally on the strength of a major national location. There is no major trend towards the growth of truly global companies. Foreign direct investment is still highly concentrated among the advanced industrial economies, and the Third World remains marginal in both investment and trade. The emergence of India and particularly China has disrupted this picture, though it has not significantly shifted the centre of gravity from the already advanced countries. Investment, trade and financial flows are concentrated in the Triad of Europe, Japan/East Asia and North America, and this dominance seems set to continue. Supranational regionalization (e.g. European Union, North American Free Trade Agreement, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) is a trend that is possibly stronger than that of globalization. The major economic powers, centred on the G8 with China and India, have the capacity, especially if they coordinate policy, to exert powerful governance pressures over financial markets and other economic tendencies. Global markets are therefore by no means beyond regulation and control, though this will be limited by the divergent interests of states and their ruling elites.

However, the authors do not explain that it is the competitive accumulation of profits which is the driving force of capitalism’s inherent tendency towards globalization.


Hirst P., Thompson G. and Bromley S., Globalization in Question, 2009

Sarkar B. & Buick A., Marxian Economics and Globalization, 2009

Tony Smith, Globalization: A Systematic Marxian Account, 2009

Government. The government of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole capitalist class. Socialism will be a system of society without government but with democratic administration by the whole community. (See also STATE.)

Gradualism. Reformist political action which, according to those who advocate it, will gradually transform capitalism into ‘socialism’, without the need for class conscious workers’ political action. In Britain the leading gradualist thinkers were in the Fabian Society, formed in 1884; but nowadays there are numerous left-wing organisations fulfilling a similar role. Gradualism was adopted by the Labour Party and its ideology has always been explicitly anti-Marxist, though it is doubtful whether New Labour would still claim to be gradualist. (See also FABIAN SOCIETY; REFORMISM.)


George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism, 1983

Gramsci, Antonio (1891-1937). Born in Sardinia, Gramsci won a scholarship in 1911 to the University of Turin. In 1913 he joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and, under the influence of the writings of Georges Sorel, became a syndicalist. Bowled over by the Russian revolution, Gramsci helped to found the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1921 and became its general secretary (and a Member of Parliament) in 1924. He was arrested in 1926 and remained a prisoner of the fascists until his death in 1937. But while a prisoner he set out his theories in the Prison Notebooks, published posthumously. For Gramsci, ‘organic intellectuals’ had a key role to play in social transformation. They would arise from within the working class and had an organisational function, articulating the cultural politics that would allow the working class to establish its hegemony. In Gramsci’s version of Leninism, the ‘war of movement’ typified by the Russian revolution was appropriate for similarly underdeveloped countries; but in the more advanced capitalist societies a ‘war of position’ would allow the revolutionary party, via its intellectuals and alternative hegemony, to lead the working class to ‘socialism’.

Gramsci’s theories are very popular with modern leftists, since they appear to put some distance between Leninism and Stalinism. But Gramsci himself never repudiated Stalinism in practice. (See also LENINISM.)


Gramsci’s writings:

Steven Jones, Antomio Gramsci, 2006

Greens. In Britain the Green Party (formerly the Ecology Party) explains the cause of the environmental crisis, varyingly, on technology, ‘overpopulation’, human greed and consumerism. Some Greens even blame capitalism. The Greens are a ‘broad church’ and so lack a coherent and consistent political thought. But they generally see the solution to the environmental crisis in the election of a Green government committed to reforming the present growth-orientated industrial economy into a decentralised, democratically-run and ecologically-sustainable economy. While awaiting the election of such a government the Green Party concentrates, like Greenpeace and other conservationist organisations, on advocating reform measures to try to protect nature and the environment.

We are up against a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class and property and governed by coercive economic laws. Reforms, however well meaning or determined, can never solve the environmental crisis – the most they can do is to palliate some aspect of it on a precarious temporary basis. They can certainly never turn capitalism into a democratic, ecological society. (See also ECOLOGY; OVERPOPULATION; REFORMISM.)


Green Party:

David Pepper, Eco-socialism, 1993


Hardie, James Keir (1856 – 1915). Born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, the son of a ship’s carpenter. Self-educated, Hardie worked in the pits from the age of 10 and became a miners’ leader before he was 20. He was the founding Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party in 1888, and was elected as an Independent Labour MP for West Ham in 1892. Hardie formed the Independent Labour Party (independent, that is, from the Liberal Party and the ‘Lib-Lab’ MPs) in 1893, and played a leading part in the creation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which became the Labour Party in 1906. He lost his seat at West Ham in 1895 but became an MP for Merthyr Tydfil from 1900 until his death in 1915. Hardie became the first Chairman and Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1906. Hardie mouthed socialist phrases but in practice pursued the interests of capital, and this included support for capitalism’s wars. After initially opposing the Great War of 1914-1918 he changed his mind. Hardie told his electorate in Merthyr:

May I once again revert for the moment to the ILP pamphlets? None of them clamour for immediately stopping the war. That would be foolish in the extreme, until at least the Germans have been driven back across their own frontier, a consummation which, I fear, carries us forward through a long and dismal vista… I have never said or written anything to dissuade our young men from enlisting; I know too well all there is at stake… If I can get the recruiting figures for Merthyr week by week, which I find a very difficult job, I hope by another week to be able to prove that whereas our Rink meeting gave a stimulus to recruiting, those meetings at the Drill Hall at which the Liberal member or the Liberal candidate spoke, had the exactly opposite effect.’ (Merthyr Pioneer, 28th November, 1914.)

(See also LABOUR PARTY.)


Caroline Benn, Keir Hardie, 1992

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770-1831). Born in Stuttgart, the son of a revenue officer. From 1818 until his death Hegel was Professor of Philosophy at Berlin University. Hegel was a liberal who approved of constitutional monarchy and was not the state-worshipper he is often accused of being, though some of his followers did interpret his philosophy as a justification for the autocratic Prussian monarchy. His written works, such as his main work on politics, Philosophy of Right (1821), are notoriously obscure. Hegel’s philosophy is a form of idealism, according to which all that really exists are ideas. He interpreted politics, history, law, morality, religion and so on, in terms of the development of ideas; he sought the original idea of a particular subject and then examined how it had developed logically (that is, dialectically) throughout history.

As a student at Berlin after Hegel’s death, Marx had come under his influence, especially when Marx was briefly involved with the Young Hegelians, a group of left wing philosophers who used a modified version of Hegel’s philosophy as a radical critique of politics and religion. Marx publicly made his break with Hegelian philosophy in his Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, published in 1844. Marx then went on to argue that the explanation of social development lay not in the development of ideas but in the development of the material conditions of life. In 1845 Marx and Engels collaborated to produce The German Ideology, which sets out the basic principles of this materialist conception of history.

But despite Marx’s criticisms of Hegelian philosophy many commentators insist on emphasising his intellectual debt to Hegel, to the extent of claiming that Hegel’s philosophy stood ‘right side up’ is a necessary condition for explaining Marx’s method. Lenin even went as far as to claim that you cannot properly understand Marx’s Capital unless you have first fully grasped the arguments of Hegel’s Science of Logic. There is also the controversial issue of the dialectic that is associated with Hegel and Marx. Of course Hegel had some influence on Marx, and a modified version of the dialectic did play a part in Marx’s method for investigating social development (see 1873 Afterword to Capital). Seen in the context of the whole body of Marx’s writings, however, this can be seen in proper perspective with all the other influences on Marx. (A case can be made out for Aristotle having at least as much influence on Marx, because Aristotle’s legacy dominated so much philosophy at that time – including Hegel). Marx’s work can be understood and assessed in its own right. (See also DIALECTIC; MARX; MARXISM.)


Hegel online:

Stephen Houlgate, An Introduction to Hegel, 2005

History. The history of societies since the break up of primitive communism has been one of class struggles. These struggles between the exploiting class and the exploited class have been over the distribution of the social product, the organisation of work, working conditions and the results of production. Socialists view these struggles in the context of the development of the forces and relations of production, and analyse social development with a view to taking informed political action.

Karl Marx’s Preface to his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) contains a summary of Marx and Engels’ materialist conception of history. Marx comments that during the course of his studies he reached the conclusion that the explanation of social development was not to be found merely in the realm of ideas but rather in the material conditions of life, and that a proper understanding of capitalism is to be found in economics. Marx then gives a condensed account of his key concepts and their likely relationships which provided the guiding thread for his historical research:

The general result at which I arrived and which, once won, served as a guiding thread for my studies, can be briefly formulated as follows: in the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their social being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundations the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so we cannot judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individual; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of human society to a close.’

Discussions of this passage usually omit the first sentence above where Marx says the following ‘general result’ served as a ‘guiding thread’ for his research. This makes it clear that his theory of history is not a substitute for actual research. The materialist conception of history is a method of investigation, not merely a philosophy of history. Marx and Engels emphasised this point in their first explanation of their materialist (in the practical sense of the word, not in its acquisitive sense) outlook:

Viewed apart from real history, these abstractions have in themselves no value whatsoever. They can only serve to facilitate the arrangement of historical material, to indicate the sequence of its separate strata. But they by no means afford a recipe or schema, as does philosophy, for neatly trimming the epochs of history. On the contrary, our difficulties begin only when we set about the observation and the arrangement – the real depiction – of our historical material, whether of a past epoch or of the present’ (The German Ideology, 1846).

As Engels wrote: ‘…the materialist method is converted into its direct opposite if instead of being used as a guiding thread in historical research it is made to serve as a ready-cut pattern on which to tailor historical facts’ (Letter to Paul Ernst, June 1890). And Marx emphatically rejected ‘general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical’. He poured scorn on a critic who:

… insists on transforming my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in western Europe into an historico-philosophical theory of the general path prescribed by fate to all nations whatever the historical circumstances in which they find themselves in order that they may ultimately arrive at the economic system which ensures, together with the greatest expansion of the productive power of social labour, the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. He is doing me too much honour and at the same time slandering me too much’ (Letter to the editorial board of Otechestvennive Zapiski, November 1877).

Despite the numerous warnings, many commentators have concluded that Marx’s theory of history, as set out in the 1859 Preface, is a form of productive forces (or technological) determinism. For instance, in his influential book GA Cohen claims that ‘high technology was not only necessary but also sufficient for socialism’ (Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence, 1978). But socialism is not inevitable; the fatalism of determinism is fatal for the socialist movement which requires a politically active class conscious working class to achieve our self-emancipation as a class.

The 1859 Preface assumes the development of human productive forces throughout history, but this is not automatic or inevitable. In Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) social and political development did not occur exactly as outlined in the 1859 Preface, but that was not the point. Marx’s hypothesis showed the key concepts and where to look in researching the past and present. That study reaffirmed the importance of understanding the specific contexts of material circumstances and humans as agents of historical change:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.’

If this looks like stating the obvious (apart from the sexist assumption), to some extent it is because of Marx’s influence on public thinking about history. In his day prominence in historical writing was given to the role of ideas – for example, nationalism, freedom, religion – in explaining social development. This is still not unknown today and there are many who, explicitly or implicitly, reject the materialist theory of history for its revolutionary conclusions.

The 1859 Preface identifies certain well-documented ‘modes of productionfound in history, whose constituents are forces of production (productive technology) and relations of production (economic classes). Present-day capitalist production relations involve minority class ownership of the means of life, which means the majority must sell their labour power for a wage, while production is geared to profit for the few. In feudalism, where aristocrats owned most of the land and peasants were tied down to that land by a host of restrictions, including the requirement that they did unpaid labour for their liege lords. There was slavery, where the bodies of the producers were the property of slave owners and were bought and sold like land or goods. The Asiatic mode of production (sometimes called ‘oriental despotism’ or ‘hydraulic society’) was a system where peasants were engaged under military pressure to raise water for the irrigation of crops. There were various types of primitive society, the key one being the primitive communistic tribal form, where localised common ownership was practised.

The actual correspondence between forces of production and relations of production takes place through the mediation of the class struggle and the balance of class forces – what Marx called ‘the respective power of the combatants’ (Value, Price and Profit, 1865). For example, China’s rise as a capitalist super-power has taken place mainly through the Chinese state’s ruthless use of cheap and plentiful labour power rather than advances in its productive technology. (See also CLASS STRUGGLE; FORCES OF PRODUCTION; RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION.)


Keith Graham, Karl Marx, Our Contemporary, 1992.

S.H. Rigby, Marxism and History, 1998

Human nature. Socialists make a distinction between human nature and human behaviour. That people are able to think and act is a fact of biological and social development (human nature), but how they think and act is the result of historically specific social conditions (human behaviour). Human nature changes, if at all, over vast periods of time; human behaviour changes according to changed social conditions. Capitalism being essentially competitive and predatory, produces vicious, competitive ways of thinking and acting. But we humans are able to change our society and adapt our behaviour, and there is no reason why our rational desire for human well being and happiness should not allow us to establish and run a society based on co-operation. (See also ALIENATION; NEEDS.)


Norman Geras, Marx and Human Nature, 1983

Hyndman, Henry Mayers (1842-1921). An Eton educated capitalist. Hyndman played a leading role in the setting up of the Democratic Federation in 1881, which was an association of radical-liberal clubs. Later that same year he claimed to be converted to Marxism after reading Capital. Afterwards he wrote and published his own interpretation of Marxism, England for All, without mentioning Marx by name. Hyndman’s biographer, Tsuzuki, suggests that this work is ‘a text-book of English “Tory Democracy” rather than of continental Social Democracy’.

It was Hyndman’s hostility towards liberalism rather than his supposed Marxism that led the Democratic Federation to become the Social Democratic Federation in 1884. Nevertheless, this organisation did much to popularise Marxism in Britain, and included in its membership Eleanor Marx, Belfort Bax, Tom Mann, John Burns and William Morris.

By December 1884 a group including William Morris and Eleanor Marx, fed up with Hyndman’s arrogance, seceded from the SDF to form the Socialist League. A second revolt led to the formation in 1903 of the Socialist Labour Party. Another revolt against Hyndman’s opportunism led to the creation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904.

In 1911 Hyndman established the British Socialist Party when the SDF combined with parts of the Independent Labour Party. However, Hyndman split the British Socialist Party by supporting the British side in the First World War. Hyndman then formed the National Socialist Party, of which he was leader until his death. (See also IMPOSSIBILISM; SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


Obituary in the January 1922 Socialist Standard:

Chushichi Tsuzuki, H.M. Hyndman and British Socialism, 1961


Idealism. Any philosophical theory according to which the material world is created by, or is dependent upon, ideas or the mind.

Idealism is a form of ideology that distorts our understanding of the everyday world we experience. The ideas of a given epoch are the product of social conditions of that epoch. As these conditions change so do the ideas. That is why moral outlooks have undergone such fundamental changes over the centuries. As materialists, socialists do not deny the causal efficacy of ideas; indeed, we are engaged in a battle of ideas to establish socialism. But, without practical action, ideas alone will not bring about the desired change. (See also HEGEL; IDEOLOGY; MATERIALISM.)

Ideology. The socialist concept of ideology can refer to (a) general claims about the nature of a society’s superstructure (e.g. law, politics, religion) or (b) a distortion of thought that stems from, and conceals contradictions within, capitalist society.

Marx did not invent the concept of ideology but it does play an important role in his analysis of capitalism, particularly as distortion. In capitalism profits take priority over needs, so that people starve while food rots, people go homeless while buildings are empty, people remain unemployed while needs are unmet, and so on. Because people are unable to solve these contradictions within capitalism they tend to project them in ideological forms of consciousness; that is to say, in ideas which effectively conceal or misrepresent the existence and character of these contradictions. Accordingly, profit-taking is held to be justified as risk-taking for the capitalists, so that starvation, homelessness, unemployment and the rest are the price paid for ‘good economics’. By concealing contradictions ideology contributes to their reproduction and therefore serves the interests of the capitalist class.

Marx criticised capitalist economics because it is an ideology which stems from, and conceals, the social relations of production beneath the surface appearance of commodity exchange in the market. The free and equal exchange of values in the market conceals the unfree and unequal nature of wage labour in its social relation to capital. Marx believed that it was the role of scientific socialism to penetrate the surface of social phenomena and reveal capitalism’s inner workings.

Marx never used the phrase ‘false consciousness’, though many commentators insist that he did. Engels did once use the phrase, after Marx’s death in a private correspondence, but this usage is not consistent with his or Marx’s published writings on ideology. (See also CONTRADICTION; IDEALISM; SCIENCE.)


Terry Eagleton, Ideology, 2007

Ideology and False Consciousness by Joseph McCarney:

Ideology Study Guide:

Imperialism. Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was a growing tendency towards the formation of trusts and combines associated with what came to be known as imperialism. J.A. Hobson, a liberal, tried to account for this development in Imperialism (1902). He claimed that monopolistic industries restricted output in the home market, in order to raise prices and profits, and therefore have to seek foreign outlets for investments and markets. For this purpose, he alleged, they get governments to colonise foreign territories. R. Hilferding, a German Social Democrat, further developed this line of argument in Finance Capital (1910). He gave a detailed account of the supposedly unstoppable growth of monopoly in industry and banking, but carried it much further, crediting the banks with dominating industry and the cartels and dividing up world markets among themselves. V.I. Lenin made use of the work by Hobson and Hilferding for his own Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). According to Lenin, imperialism had five essential characteristics: (1) the concentration of production and capital, leading to the domination of the world economy by big monopolies; (2) the merging of bank and industrial capital and the consequent rise of a financial oligarchy; (3) the especially important role of the export of capital; (4) the division of the world among monopolistic associations of international capitalists; (5) the completion of the territorial division of the world among the great imperialist powers. Lenin thought that these factors would make wars increasingly inevitable.

Hobson, Hilferding and Lenin all failed to allow for the sectional divisions of interest in the capitalist class throughout the world. Some capitalists have an interest in exports (most of Britain’s exports are now to ‘developed’ countries); while some capitalists have an interest in imports (Britain is now a net importer of goods). And while monopolies can charge monopoly prices and get monopoly profits, the rest of the capitalists object to being held to ransom. For this reason many national governments and supra-national organisations (such as the European Union) have legislated or directly intervened to control monopolies. (See also LENINISM.)


Anthony Brewer, Marxist Theories of Imperialism, 1990

Impossibilism. ‘Possibilism’ and ‘impossibilism’ were terms used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to refer to different wings of the Social Democratic parties. ‘Impossibilists’ were those Social Democrats who struggled solely to achieve the goal of socialism, while ‘possibilists’ were those Social Democrats who concentrated their efforts on reforming capitalism. Eventually the impossibilists either split away from the Social Democratic parties or abandoned impossibilism as the price for remaining a Social Democrat. Impossibilists from the Social Democratic Federation formed the Socialist League in 1884, the Socialist Labour Party in 1903, and the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. (See also SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


M. Rubel & J. Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Chushichi Tsuzuki, ‘The “impossibilist revolt” in Britain: the origins of the S.L.P. and the S.P.G.B’, International Review of Social History 1, 1956

Inflation. A continuous increase in the general level of prices caused by an excess issue of inconvertible paper currency (properly called ‘currency inflation’). This is the result of the action of governments printing and putting into circulation millions or billions of pounds of additional paper money that is above and beyond that needed for production and trade.

There are other factors affecting prices. During periods of good trade prices rise and during periods of bad trade they fall. And a monopoly can charge a higher than normal price. Furthermore, the required amount of currency rises with the growth of population, production and trade, and falls with monetary developments such as the growth of the banking system, the use of cheques and credit cards. But a persistent increase in the cost of living is the sole responsibility of governments when they issue more currency than is needed for economic transactions to take place.

Wage increases cannot cause inflation. For unless market conditions change in their favour, employers cannot raise prices further simply because they have had to pay higher wages. If employers could recoup wage increases by raising prices, there would be no point in their resisting wage claims. The fact that businesses do generally resist wage claims is because they increase costs and reduce profits. (See also KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; MONETARISM; PHILLIPS CURVE)


Changes in the Value of Money over time:

Interest. The price of money. Those capitalist enterprises that borrow money capital to finance production pay to the lenders a portion of the surplus value produced as interest. (See also BANKS; PHILLIPS CURVE; SURPLUS VALUE.)

Internationals. The First International (The International Working Men’s Association, 1864 – 1876) was an international federation of working class organisations. Founded in London, Marx and Engels were actively involved and Marx drew up its Inaugural Address and Rules. At the Hague Congress of 1872 there was a clash between Marx and the anarchist Bakunin, which led to Bakunin being expelled and the transfer of the seat of the General Council to New York. The First International was dissolved at a conference in Philadelphia in 1876. The Bakuninists tried to keep it going in Europe and the anarchists later revived the IWMA as an anarchist international which exists to this day.

The Second International (1889 – 1914) was founded in Paris but was dominated by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Unlike its predecessor, this International claimed to be Marxist in outlook. However, its early Congresses were especially concerned with Eduard Bernstein’s ‘revisionism’, which was opposed by the SPD’s leading theoretician, Karl Kautsky. Delegates were sent from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, soon after its formation, to the Amsterdam Congress in August 1904; and after seeing the reformism rampant, the SPGB refused to have anything more to do with it. In 1908 the British Labour Party was admitted. Although at Stuttgart (1907) and at Copenhagen (1910) the International had passed resolutions demanding joint action to prevent war, the various national parties (excluding the Russian, Serbian and Hungarian parties) of the International failed to respond in 1914. After its collapse in the First World War the Second International was revived in the 1920s as a loose association of Labour and Social Democratic parties, and still functions as the ‘Socialist International’.

The Russian Communist Party established the Third International (1919 – 1943), also called the Communist International or Comintern. Based in Moscow, the Comintern controlled the Communist parties that had sprung up round the world. In 1931 the Comintern issued an instruction that it was necessary to stop distinguishing ‘between fascism and bourgeois democracy, and between the parliamentary form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and its open fascist form’. It was partly because the Communists in Germany followed this instruction that Hitler was able to rise to power. The Comintern was dissolved in 1943 to appease Stalin’s Western allies.

A Fourth International was set up by Trotsky and his followers in 1938 in opposition to the Second and Third Internationals. Trotsky predicted the rapid demise of Social Democracy and Stalinism. Because of the failure of these and other predictions of Trotsky, the Fourth International has been subject to serious infighting and splits. (See also BAKUNIN; COMMUNIST PARTY; KAUTSKY; REVISIONISM; TROTSKYISM.)


Julius Braunthal, History of the Internationals, 1966 – 1980

History of the International Workingmen’s Association:


Joint-stock companies. Most large-scale capitalist enterprises outside the state sector are joint-stock companies. The ownership of invested capital as stocks and shares entitles the owners to an unearned income of a proportion of distributed profits in the form of dividends.

Justice. A central concept in liberal political philosophy in which people get what they deserve. For socialists, as for Marx, this and associated concepts (such as ‘rights’) are not so much wrong or false as not relevant for our purposes. Socialists operate within a different frame of reference, employing different concepts and asking different questions. To the liberal who is appalled by our lack of concern for ‘justice’, we might equally ask why there is no role for the class struggle in liberal politics.

Nor would socialist society have to be underpinned by some conception of ‘distributive justice’. From each according to ability, to each according to need, is a practical arrangement for meeting self-defined needs. (See also EQUALITY.)


Allen Wood, Karl Marx, 2004


Kautsky, Karl (1854 – 1938). Born in Prague, he became a Social Democrat while a student at the University of Vienna. Kautsky was the leading theorist of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Second International. He wrote the theoretical section of the Erfurt Programme adopted by the SPD at its Congress in 1891. The Socialist Party of Great Britain translated and published in 1906 and 1908 the first three parts of this work but, on learning the contents of the fourth, refused to publish it. The sticking point was his reformism. At the Lubeck Congress of 1901 he opposed Bernstein’s ‘revisionism’ (that is, the rejection of Marxism in favour of gradualism). This controversy was misleading, however, since Kautsky’s writings showed that he did not oppose reformist activity and had a state capitalist conception of ‘socialism’.

Kautsky, nevertheless, was an outstanding populariser of Marx’s ideas. He edited Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value (1905 – 10) for publication, and gave his own introduction to Marxian economics in the very popular Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx (1925). He also applied the materialist conception of history in his Origins of Christianity (1908) and other works. Kautsky opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917, and he criticised Lenin’s interpretation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as a distortion of Marxism. Lenin then publicly denounced him as a ‘renegade’. But Kautsky’s analysis in Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1918) shows a much better understanding of Marx’s views on democracy and socialism than did anything Lenin ever wrote, despite Kautsky’s reformism. (See also DICTATORSHIP; INTERNATIONALS; REVISIONISM.)


Dick Geary, Karl Kautsky, 1988

Kautsky online:

Obituary of Kautsky in the January 1939 Socialist Standard:

Keynes, John Maynard (1883 – 1946). Born in Cambridge, educated at Cambridge University, he became Baron of Cambridge in 1942. Keynes’ main work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, was first published in 1936. His chief concern expressed in this book was the revolutionary consequences of heavy and sustained unemployment. His fear was that capitalism would not survive the mass unemployment of the 1930s. As Keynes wrote:

It is certain that the world will not much longer tolerate the unemployment which, apart from brief intervals of excitement, is associated – and, in my opinion, inevitably associated – with present-day capitalistic individualism.’

He believed that free market, individualistic capitalism had to be replaced by a more corporate form of capitalism if capitalism as a system of society was to survive. He therefore advocated greater government intervention in the economy to cure unemployment, and held that this was justifiable as ‘the only practicable means for avoiding the destruction of existing economic forms in their entirety’. Keynes described Marx’s Capital as ‘an obsolete economic textbook, which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world’ (A Short View of Russia, 1925). But it is Keynes’ views that have not fared well. Despite the fact that Keynes was a Liberal and an avowed defender of capitalism, the Labour Party and most of the left-wing organisations are still Keynesian in their economics. (See also INFLATION; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; UNEMPLOYMENT.)


J.M. Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936

(online at:

Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, 2004

Michael Stewart, Keynes and After, 1991

Keynesian economics (or Keynesianism). The branch of capitalist economic theory associated with J.M. Keynes. In general, Keynesian economics argues that:

  • Depressions and high unemployment are caused by insufficient aggregate demand in the economy.

  • Aggregate demand can be most easily increased by increasing government expenditure.

In his main work on economic theory, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), Keynes argued that increased government expenditure need not be inflationary and that, indeed, the long term policy of governments should be to ‘allow wages to rise slowly whilst keeping prices stable’. He thought the real enemy was the revolutionary potential of mass unemployment.

After the Second World War the Labour, Liberal and Tory parties all became Keynesian. Their common outlook was expressed in the policy adopted by the Labour Party at its Annual Conference in 1944:

If bad trade and general unemployment threaten, this means that total purchasing power is falling too low. Therefore we should at once increase expenditure… We should give people more money and not less to spend.’

All the main political parties pledged themselves to maintain ‘full employment’ and prevent inflation. In the years immediately following the war unemployment was unusually low, but this was mainly due to the post-war reconstruction and some of Britain’s competitors being temporarily knocked out of the world market. The Keynesian economist Joan Robinson admitted that the post-war boom would have happened anyway and for those reasons.

However, from the mid-1950s onwards unemployment had been on an upward trend, rising to 1.5 million in 1976 under a Labour government. It was in 1976 that the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, told the Labour Party Annual Conference:

We used to think you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that this option no longer exists.’

Not only did Labour and Tory governments fail to secure ‘full employment; they also failed to prevent inflation. Under the Labour government of 1974-79 the general price level rose by 112%. The Tory government elected in 1979 had formally abandoned Keynesian economics. But they still inflated the currency to pay for government spending, and in the following decade prices rose by over 100%. During the same period unemployment increased to over 3 million.

Inflation is caused by governments – Labour and Tory – financing their increased expenditure by printing and putting into circulation hundreds of millions of pounds of excess paper money. They did this in the vain hope that it would prevent unemployment rising, ignoring the fact that unemployment generally is caused by a failure of profitability. (See also INFLATION; KEYNES; MONETARISM; UNEMPLOYMENT.)


Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes, 1971

Kropotkin, Peter Alexeyevich (1842 – 1921). Born in Moscow into a noble family, he was educated at an elite military school and served as an army officer. He resigned his commission in 1867 and became an anarchist in 1872. Kropotkin was imprisoned for his propaganda activities in Russia in 1874, but escaped two years later and lived in Western Europe until 1917. In France he founded and edited Le Révolté, was arrested again in 1883, but was released early, in 1886. He then went to England and helped found the anarchist paper, Freedom, in London. A prolific writer, Kropotkin is an example of a thinker in the anarchist trend called ‘anarcho-communist’. His books can be recommended: The Conquest of Bread (1892), Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899) and, above all, Mutual Aid (1902). (See also ANARCHISM.)


Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, 1902

(online at:

Martin Miller, Kropotkin, 1979


Labour Party. In 1900, representatives from the ILP, SDF, Fabians and other organisations joined trade unionists in setting up the Labour Representation Committee, to establish ‘a distinct Labour Group in Parliament’. In the 1906 general election 29 out of the 50 LRC candidates were successful and it was decided later in that year to change their name to the Labour Party. Lloyd George, a Liberal, claimed that the name alone was worth a million votes.

At the start the Labour Party was intended merely as a trade union pressure group in Parliament. It had no socialist pretensions, and was indeed merely the tail end of the Liberal Party. Nearly every Labour MP returned before the First World War owed his election to Liberal votes in accordance with a shady deal Ramsay MacDonald had made with the Liberals. In 1918, under the influence of the Fabians, the Labour Party adopted a new constitution that included the now rejected Clause Four. This clause in fact committed it not to socialism, but to state capitalism which was the real aim of the Fabians.

The first Labour government, kept in power with Liberal support, was in office from January to November 1924. The second Labour government, returned in 1929, again had Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister. He had promised to reduce unemployment, then standing at 1,164,000. But within a year it had gone up to 1,911,000, and in two years it had more than doubled, at the record level of 2,707,000. In 1931 the Cabinet were split over what was to be done about the economic crisis. The upshot was that the Labour Prime Minister, MacDonald, formed a National Government along with Liberal and Tory leaders, and the Labour Party was split in two.

When in 1945 Labour were returned with an overall majority they set about nationalising a large section of industry; but those who thought that state capitalism coupled with a Labour government was in the interests of workers soon learned the truth. In administering capitalism Labour did what was required to protect and further the interests of the British capitalists. They retained war-time legislation banning strikes; they sent troops into the docks; they put striking gas workers and dockers on trial; they imposed wage restraint and then a wage freeze; they introduced peace-time conscription for the first time; they began the development of the British atomic bomb; they sent troops to help American imperialism in Korea – but they did not solve the housing problem as Bevan had promised.

Elected in 1964 and 1966, Labour were once again able to show their commitment to capitalism – another wage freeze, incomes policy legislation, proposed trade union legislation (‘In Place of Strife’, dropped in the face of a storm of union protest) and a tougher immigration bar. In 1974 Labour was elected with Harold Wilson again as Prime Minister. In the same year Labour’s Chancellor, Denis Healy, had said: ‘We will squeeze the rich until the pips squeak’. But over the next two years the richest 10% of the population increased their share of the wealth from 57.5% to 60.6%. During the Labour government 1974 – 1979 unemployment went up from 628,000 to 1,299,000, while the general price level rose by 112%. It was a Labour government led by James Callaghan, trying to hold wage increases down to half the increase in the cost of living, that led to the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978 – 1979) and the sending in of troops to break the firemens’ strike.

After defeat at the polls with Michael Foot (1983) and Neil Kinnock (1987 and 1992) as leaders, the Labour Party had moved away from policies favourable to state capitalism towards openly accepting market capitalism. Under the leadership of Tony Blair (1994 – 2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-2010), Labour remodelled itself as ‘New Labour’ and Labour governments (1997- 2010) have not been afraid to pursue the interests of the capitalist class, including offensive wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Labour are still the enemy of labour.

The evolution of the Labour Party is a practical confirmation of the theoretical case against reformism. With a working class that has never at any time understood or wanted socialism, the Labour Party, instead of gradually transforming capitalism in the interests of the workers, has itself been gradually transformed from a trade union pressure group into an instrument of capitalist rule. (See also FABIANS; NATIONALISATION; REFORMISM; SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY; TRADE UNIONS.)


Labour Party online:

H. Pelling & A. Reid, A Short History of the Labour Party, 2005

Labour power. The capacity to do useful work which creates value in the form of commodities. Workers sell their labour power to capitalist enterprises for a wage or a salary. As a commodity, labour power has an exchange value and a use value, like all other commodities. Its exchange value is equal to the sum total of the exchange values of all those commodities necessary to produce and reproduce the labour power of the worker and his or her family. The use value of labour power is its value creating capacity which capitalist enterprises buy and put to work as labour. However, labour power is unlike other commodities in that it creates value. During a given period it can produce more than is needed to maintain the worker during the same period. The surplus value produced is the difference between the exchange value of labour power and the use value of the labour extracted by the capitalists. (See also COMMODITY; EXCHANGE VALUE; WAGES.)

Labour theory of value. The labour theory of value explains how wealth is produced and distributed under capitalism, and how the working class is exploited. Human labour power applied to nature-given materials is the source of most wealth. The wealth produced, however, belongs not to the workers but to those who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution (land, factories, offices, etc.). Wealth production under capitalism generally takes the form of commodities produced for sale at a profit.

The value of a commodity is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required under average conditions for its production and reproduction. Subject to any monopolies or government subsidies, it is around a point regulated by value that the price of a commodity fluctuates according to supply and demand. (See also CAPITAL; COMMODITY; VALUE.)


A. Filho & B. Fine, Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions about the Labour Theory of Value:

Law. Most laws are a set of state-sanctioned commands with the overall aim of conserving the power and privilege of the ruling class. The capitalist state, including its judiciary and police, exist to protect the prevailing capitalist property relations. This becomes obvious with certain aspects of the class struggle, such as strikes and picketing, The capitalists and their apologists want the workers – those excluded from owning more than relatively insignificant amounts of property – to regard the state as protector of rich and poor alike and for everyone to be equal before the law. In reality, the state historically developed as an instrument of class rule and the capitalists’ monopoly of the means of life ensures that the law can never be impartial. If capitalist property is threatened the law must defend it above everything else, or else the whole legal system is threatened. This is why the modern state and its laws arose and puts into context the incidental laws which may not seem to be directly necessary for class rule – for example, laws dealing with health and safety at work.

Of course, capitalism being the essentially vicious and anti-human society that it is, laws may seem to be a permanent necessity to protect us from some of our fellow workers. But there is no reason why, on the new basis of material sufficiency and social co-operation, human behaviour can be very different. In world socialism there will no doubt be various democratic procedures for dealing with unacceptable behaviour, but there will definitely be no state and its laws. (See also HUMAN NATURE; STATE.)


Hugh Collins, Marxism and Law, 1986

Leadership. Working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. The World Socialist Movement has an absolute need of supporters with understanding and self-reliance. Even if we could conceive of a leader-ridden working class displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of democratic socialist society. (See also CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS.)

Left-wing. A term which comes from the old French legislature, referring to that section of the membership sitting on the left side of the chamber (as viewed from the president’s chair) holding progressive liberal opinions.

Socialists reject the conventional method of political analysis that seeks to understand politics in terms of ‘left’ or ‘right’. The left and right are different only to the extent that they provide a different political and organisational apparatus for administering the same capitalist system. This includes those on the left who aim for socialism some time in the distant future but in the meantime demand some form of transitional capitalism. For this reason the World Socialist Movement cannot be usefully identified as either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’.


M. Rubel, & J. Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Lenin, V.I. (1870-1924). Real name: Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov. Born in Simbirsk (called Ulyanovsk after the 1917 revolution, but since 1991 renamed Simbirsk), the son of a school inspector. At sixteen years of age his eldest brother Alexander was hanged for complicity in a plot to assassinate the Tsar. Soon after, Lenin devoted himself to anti-Tsarist revolutionary activity, was arrested, and spent three years in prison in Siberia. In 1900 Lenin joined Plekhanov in Geneva and the following year he adopted the pseudonym ‘Lenin’. He helped to set up a newspaper, Iskra (The Spark), which would articulate anti-Tsarist opinion and activity. Lenin set out what he saw as the necessary organisational structure for a revolutionary political party under an autocracy in What Is To Be Done? (1902). In 1903 he became the leader of the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democrats.

After the revolution of March 1917 Lenin returned to Petrograd (as St Petersburg was renamed because of its German connotations, which became Leningrad, and has now reverted to St Petersburg) in a sealed train provided by the German army. No doubt they counted on Lenin and the Bolsheviks spreading disaffection amongst the Russian army. But after an abortive coup in July he fled to Finland. Lenin then put to paper his views on the state and the socialist revolution, based on his theory of imperialism and giving special emphasis to his interpretation of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, in State and Revolution (1917). He returned to Petrograd in October and led the Bolsheviks to power with a successful coup.

As head of the new government Lenin was preoccupied with the chaos produced by an external war with Germany and an internal civil war. His response was to re-emphasise ‘democratic centralism’ in which the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ came under the increasingly totalitarian control of the vanguard party. However, since the number of people in any country who wanted socialism was very small (Russia especially), the Bolsheviks had no choice but to develop some form of capitalism. When he died from a stroke in January 1924, most of the main feudal obstacles to capitalist development had been removed, together with all effective political opposition.

With his concepts of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and the leading role of the vanguard party, and a transitional society of ‘socialism’, Lenin distorted Marxism and thereby severely damaged the development of a socialist movement. Indeed, Leninism continues to pose a real obstacle to the achievement of socialism. (See also LENINISM.)


Neil Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought, 2010

Lenin online:

Anton Pannekoek, Lenin As Philosopher, 1938 (online at:

Leninism. According to Stalin, Leninism is ‘Marxism in the era of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution … Leninism is the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular’ (Foundations of Leninism, 1924). Accordingly, this ideology is often referred to as ‘Marxism-Leninism’. This, however, is a contradiction in terms: Marxism is essentially anti-Leninist. But not everything Lenin wrote is worthless; for example, his article entitled The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism (1913), contains a concise exposition of Marxism. Why, then, is Leninism objectionable? Because, for socialists, it is anti-democratic and it advocates a course of political action which can never lead to socialism.

In What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin said: ‘the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness’. Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries, drawn from the petty bourgeoisie, and organised as a vanguard party. But in 1879 Marx and Engels issued a circular in which they declared:

When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.’

Nor is this an academic point, since the history of Leninism in power shows that allowing elites to rule ‘on behalf of’ the working class is always a disaster. Working class self-emancipation necessarily precludes the role of political leadership.

In State and Revolution (1917) Lenin said that his ‘prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state’. Lenin argued that socialism is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which ‘there still remains the need for a state… For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary’. Moreover, Lenin claimed that according to Marx work and wages would be guided by the ‘socialist principle’ (though in fact it comes from St Paul): ‘He who does not work shall not eat.’ (Sometimes this is reformulated as: ‘to each according to his work’.) Marx and Engels used no such ‘principle’; they made no such distinction between socialism and communism. Lenin in fact did not re-establish Marx’s position but substantially distorted it to suit the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. When Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (i.e. State Capitalism in Russia) he was drawing on an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings.

In State and Revolution, Lenin gave special emphasis to the concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. This phrase was sometimes used by Marx and Engels and meant working class conquest of power, which (unlike Lenin) they did not confuse with a socialist society. Engels had cited the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though Marx in his writings on this subject did not mention this as an example, since for him it meant conquest of state power, which the Commune was not. Nevertheless, the Commune impressed itself upon Marx and Engels for its ultra-democratic features – non-hierarchical, the use of revocable delegates, etc. Lenin, on the other hand, tended to identify democracy with a state ruled by a vanguard party. When the Bolsheviks actually gained power they centralised political power more and more in the hands of the Communist Party.

For Lenin the dictatorship of the proletariat was ‘the very essence of Marx’s teaching’ (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918). Notice, however, that Lenin’s Three Sources article – referred to above – contains no mention of the phrase or Lenin’s particular conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And for modern Leninists this concept, in Lenin’s interpretation, is central to their politics. So, for its anti-democratic elitism and its advocacy of an irrelevant transitional society misnamed ‘socialism’, in theory and in practice, Leninism deserves the hostility of workers everywhere. (See also BOLSHEVISM; COMMUNIST PARTY; IMPERIALISM; LENIN; RUSSIA; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY; VANGUARD.)


H. Gorter, A. Pannekoek, S. Pankhurst, Non-Leninist Marxism: Writings on the Workers Councils, 2007

Neil Harding, Leninism, 1996

Luxemburg, Rosa (1871-1919). Born in Russian Poland, she moved to Germany where she made a name for herself as an opponent of Bernstein’s revisionism in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Her pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution (1899) was an attack on the view that capitalism could be gradually transformed into socialism by a process of social reform. A courageous agitator, she was arrested many times. The Socialist Standard for January 1907 carried a report of Luxemburg’s trial at Weimar and commented:

Well done “red Rosa”; you have grandly expressed the sentiments of the class-conscious workers of the world and may you live to see the Social Revolution accomplished.’

But Luxemburg was not opposed to all reforms; she agreed with the SPD’s tactic on reform: that the working class should be encouraged to struggle for them in order to prepare itself for the eventual capture of political power. By 1910, however, it became obvious to her that reformism was not confined to Bernstein but included Kautsky, Bebel and other leaders of the SPD. She still did not blame advocating reforms as such and in fact her answer to the danger of reformism was to involve the workers themselves in a ‘mass strike’. This was a tactic she had picked up from the 1905 revolution in Russia in which she had participated.

In her main theoretical work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Luxemburg argued that capitalism would collapse due to its inability to sell an ever increasing surplus product over and above what the workers could buy back. She believed that as capitalism approached this point the growing economic instability would cause the working class to establish socialism before the point of collapse was actually reached. However, she made the mistake of assuming that the level of demand was determined exclusively by consumption whereas in fact it is determined by consumption plus investment (capitalist spending on new means of production as opposed to consumer goods for themselves).

Luxemburg led the opposition to the First World War in Germany, and eventually helped to form a new party, the Spartacus League. She had to spend most of the war in prison and it was there that she wrote the classic socialist statement against the war, the Junius Pamphlet (1915). She had already criticised Lenin for his conception of a centralised vanguard party in Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy (1904). She had also criticised Lenin for his insistence on the right of nations to self-determination – even describing Marx’s demand for Polish independence as ‘obsolete and mistaken’. And yet the differences between Luxemburg and Lenin are often exaggerated. In The Russian Revolution (1918), she again criticised the Bolsheviks for their attitude towards democracy; but in other respects her sympathies are unmistakable: ‘the future everywhere belongs to Bolshevism’, she concluded.

Rosa Luxemburg was freed from prison in late 1918 and participated in an armed uprising in Berlin. In January 1919 soldiers responsible to the SPD government murdered her and Karl Leibknecht.


Luxemburg online:

Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, 1985


Mao Zedong (or Mao Tse-tung) 1893-1976. Born in the Hunan province of south central China; Mao’s father was a poor peasant who became rich from trading in grain. Mao helped to form the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921. He led the Long March (1934-35) to Yanan where, after the collapse of the Japanese army, he defeated the Nationalists and proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As ‘Chairman Mao’ he instituted the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958-59) and the Cultural Revolution (which was at its height from 1966-68 but lasted several more years). After Mao’s death in 1976 there was a power struggle within the CCP, starting with the putting down of the ‘Gang of Four’ (which included Mao’s widow). (See also CHINA; MAOISM.)


J. Halliday & J. Chang, Mao: The Unknown Story, 2005

Mao online:

Maoism. This term is never used in China or by its supporters elsewhere. What is called ‘the thought of Mao Zedong’ is a synthesis of Leninism, China’s economic backwardness and Chinese philosophy.

Mao was basically a peasant revolutionary. At the time of the Chinese revolution (1949) the great majority of the population were peasants. Mao believed that the peasantry were discontented enough to be the agency of China’s capitalist revolution. In his Report of an Investigation into the Peasant Movement in Hunan (1927), Mao admitted that the coming revolution would not be socialist: ‘To overthrow these feudal forces is the real objective of the revolution’.

His argument, derived from Lenin, was that capitalist development could be quickly telescoped into a ‘socialist’ society. Mao administered China’s capitalist industrialisation on the basis of a predominantly peasant population, combating the resulting contradictions (class struggles) with a state bureaucracy under strict CCP control and attempting to justify this by drawing on various elements of eastern philosophies. In On Contradiction (1937), Mao argued that class struggles would continue within a ‘socialist’ society and that the subjective will of the masses could overcome objective obstacles to economic development.

The key role assigned to the peasantry has meant that Maoism has been widely used as an ideology of peasant revolution in Third World countries. (See also CHINA; MAO.)


Brantly Womack, The Foundations of Mao Zedong’s Political Thought, 1982

Marx, Karl Heinrich (1818-1883). Born in Trier, south-west Germany, Marx was the son of a lawyer and raised as a Protestant Christian. He was a student at Bonn and Berlin universities before taking his Doctorate at Jena in the philosophy of science in ancient Greek philosophy. At Berlin he had come under the influence of Hegel’s philosophy. Marx was briefly but actively involved with the Young Hegelian movement which produced a radical liberal critique of religion and Prussian autocracy. Marx then took up journalism, and at some point in late 1843 to early 1844 he became a communist while living in Paris. Marx set out his new ideas, for self-clarification, in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844). Just before he was expelled from Paris for being a subversive Marx had met Engels for the first time.

In Brussels, Marx and Engels sought to ‘settle accounts’ with their ‘former philosophical conscience’, Hegelian philosophy, and in so doing established the basic principles of their materialist theory of history in The German Ideology (1845). After being initially impressed with the anarchist Proudhon, Marx launched an attack with The Poverty of Philosophy (1846), his first published work. As a member of the Communist League, Marx wrote their Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848). After being journalistically involved in the revolutions of 1848, Marx and his family moved to London. There he wrote two analyses of the 1848 revolutions: The Class Struggles in France (1850) and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851).

During the 1850s Marx intensified his study of political economy, courtesy of the British Museum Library. His main source of income during this period was Engels; but though often in dire poverty Marx was not the idle sponger he is sometimes made out to be. Marx was in fact a journalist for twenty years and was twice a newspaper editor (Rheinische Zeitung, 1842-3, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 1848-9). He wrote about 700 articles (many quite lengthy) up to 1862 when he gave up journalism.

The first result of Marx’s study in Britain of political economy came in a manuscript first published in 1941 under the title Grundrisse (Outlines). In 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy was published. This contains a Preface in which Marx gave a summary of the ‘general result’ which served as a ‘guiding thread’ for his empirical studies; and this Preface also contains the only auto-biographical account of Marx’s intellectual development we have. In 1865 Marx delivered a report to the General Council of the First International, later published as a pamphlet under the title Value, Price and Profit, arguing against the view that higher wages cannot improve the lot of the working class. In 1867 volume 1 of Capital (subtitled: A Critique of Political Economy) was published; volumes 2 and 3 were edited for publication posthumously by Engels.

As well as Marx’s theoretical concerns, moreover, he was a political activist. He was deeply involved in the First International, serving on its General Council from 1864 to 1872. After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, Marx became notorious through his defence of the Commune in The Civil War in France (1871). He corresponded with socialists world-wide but, for the last several years of his life, Marx’s health had deteriorated to the point where political work was impossible.

It is from Marx and Engels that we get that body of thought known as ‘Marxism’. This comprises the labour theory of value, the materialist theory of history and the political theory of the class struggle. These are tools of analysis, which have been further developed and modified by socialists, to explain how the working class are exploited under capitalism and how world socialism will be the emancipation of our class. The validity of Marx’s theories is independent of Marx the man. Nonetheless, criticisms of Marx have been made because of the misinterpretations and distortions of Marxism that have occurred in the twentieth century. (See also ENGELS; MARXISM.)


Marx online:

Francis Wheen, Das Kapital, 2006

Francis Wheen, Karl Marx: A Life, 1999

Marxism. The socialist theory formulated by Marx and Engels and further developed by socialists. Marx regarded himself as having given expression, in theory, to a movement that was already going on; it was the direct product of the recognition of the class struggle and the anarchy of production in capitalist society. Socialist theory arose in opposition to capitalism, but expressed itself in terms of already existing ideas. Marx’s close collaborator, Engels, identified three intellectual trends that they were able to draw upon:

  • Utopian socialism (Fourier, St. Simon, Owen)

  • German philosophy (Hegel, the Young Hegelians)

  • Classical political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo)

Socialist theory was a critical blending together of these three tendencies in the light of the actual class struggle.

The utopian socialists provided a constructive criticism of capitalism (its private property, competitiveness, etc.) and some interesting ideas about the possibilities of socialism (dissolving the distinction between town and country, individual self-development, etc.). But, lacking an adequate understanding of the class nature of society and social change, they were unable to see socialism as anything other than an ideal society, one that could have been established at any time. What was needed was a politics that acknowledged the class struggle.

An adequate theory of society and social change is what Marx was to contribute to socialist theory, providing it with a scientific basis. Hegelian philosophy tried to explain history, law, political institutions and so on, in terms of the development of ideas. Marx inverted this method and argued that the explanation lay not in the development of ideas, but in the development of social classes and their material conditions of life. Marx’s method for studying the general process of historical change is called the materialist conception of history.

By 1844 Marx had become a socialist and had reached the conclusion that the anatomy of ‘civil society’ (i.e. capitalism) was to be sought in political economy, in economics. Marx studied the classics of British political economy, Adam Smith and particularly David Ricardo. In Ricardo’s labour theory of value the value of a commodity was said to be determined by the amount of labour used in producing it. Profits, according to some of Ricardo’s followers, represented the unpaid labour of the workers; and so it was said that workers were not paid their full value and were cheated by their employers. Marx’s version of the labour theory of value explained exploitation, not by the capitalists cheating the workers, but as the natural result of the workings of the capitalist market. Marx pointed out that what the workers sold to the capitalists was not their labour, but their labour power; workers sell their skills, but have to surrender the entire product to the employer. Workers are exploited even though we are generally paid the full value of what we have to sell. Marx produced a theory of how the capitalist economy functioned which is still broadly acceptable today.

The Socialist Party has further developed Marx’s theories, and has made plain where it disagrees with Marx. We do not endorse Marx’s ideas regarding struggles for national liberation, minimum reform programmes, labour vouchers and the lower stage of communism. On some of these points the Socialist Party does not reject what Marx advocated in his own day, but rejects their applicability to socialists now. There are other issues upon which the Socialist Party might appear to be at variance with Marx, but is in fact only disputing distortions of Marx’s thinking. For example, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is usually understood in its Leninist interpretation. Indeed, it is a tragedy of world-historical proportions that Marx has been Leninized; what is basically a method of social analysis with a view to taking informed political action by the working class, has had its name put to a state ideology of repression of the working class. Instead of being known as a tool for working class self-emancipation, we have had the abomination of ‘Marxist states’.

Undeterred by these developments, the Socialist Party has made its own contributions to socialist theory whilst combating distortions of Marx’s ideas. In the light of all the above, the three main Marxist theories can be restated as:

  • The political theory of class struggle

  • The materialist theory of history

  • The labour theory of value

Marxism is not only a method for criticising capitalism; it also points to the alternative. Marxism explains the importance to the working class of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use and the means for establishing it. And while it is desirable that socialist activists should acquaint themselves with the basics of Marxism, it is absolutely essential that a majority of workers have a working knowledge of how capitalism operates and what the change to socialism will mean. (See also CLASS STRUGGLE; ENGELS; HISTORY; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE; MARX; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


Terrell Carver (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Marx, 1991 (online at:

Keith Graham, Karl Marx, Our Contemporary: Social Theory for a Post-Leninist World, 1992

Marxism online:

Materialism. In philosophy this is the view that everything that exists is, or at least depends upon, matter. Socialists can agree with that proposition, but then again so can many anti-socialists. In Marx’s theory of history materialism is usually referred to in a somewhat different sense. Marx called his theory the materialist conception of history, and he never used the terms ‘historical materialism’ (Engels’ term) or ‘dialectical materialism’ (Plekhanov’s term). In The German Ideology (1845), Marx had stated the materialist principles that were to serve as a guiding thread for his research: living people, their activities and their physical conditions of life. It is in this practical sense of the word (not in its acquisitive sense) that socialists are materialists in their outlook. (See also HISTORY; IDEALISM.)


Z.A. Jordan, The Origins of Dialectical Materialism, 1967

(online at:

Anton Pannekoek, Materialism And Historical Materialism, 1942

(online at:

Means of production. Land, factories, railways, offices, communications, etc. A mode (or system) of production is constituted by its forces and relations of production. The forces of production in capitalism include means of production and labour power. (See also FORCES OF PRODUCTION; RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION.)

Monetarism. A capitalist economic theory which holds that increases in the ‘money supply’ cause inflation. Indeed, persistent inflation is always a question of the ‘money supply,’ defined precisely as the supply of currency (notes and coins). Monetarists, however, usually include bank deposits in their definition of ‘money supply’. This is absurd since it attributes to banks the ability to create new purchasing power, whereas all they can do is redistribute existing purchasing power from their depositors to their borrowers. Only the central state can create new purchasing power, in the form of more currency.

The emergence of monetarism in the 1970s can be largely attributed to Milton Friedman. He has wrongly labelled Karl Marx a monetarist: ‘Let me inform you that among my fellow Monetarists were Karl Marx’ (Observer, 26.9.82).

Marx explained inflation on the basis of his labour theory of value. With convertibility (into gold) the price level is determined by the total amount of gold in circulation. Although prices rise and fall according to market conditions, there is no inflation (a sustained increase in the general price level). But with inconvertibility the required level of currency is determined by the total amount of commodities in circulation. If there is an issue of currency in excess of this amount, prices rise.

Of course, capitalism without inflation, as in the nineteenth century, no more solves working class problems than does capitalism with inflation, as in the years since the end of the Second World War. (See also INFLATION; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS.)


History of Economic Thought, on Monetarism:

Money. Historically, money developed on the basis of private property and the exchange of commodities. Money can function as a means of exchange, a measure of value, a general equivalent, a standard of price, a store of value.


Samezo Kuruma, Marx’s Theory of the Genesis of Money, 2008

Morality. The rules which ought to govern human behaviour. Socialists are indignant about the effects of capitalism on people and the environment. However, the case for socialism is not grounded in morality but in material class interests. Marxism reveals, as no other theory can, how capitalism came into being, what its dynamics are, why it must exploit and what it must be replaced with. Morality does not exist in a timeless social and economic vacuum; the current (basically liberal) notions of rights, obligations, justice, etc. misrepresent the exploitative social relations of capitalism and are inappropriate to the struggle for socialism.

In all societies there must be rules of conduct or the society would fall to pieces. Thus in a socialist society, when it has been established, there will also be rules of conduct in harmony with its social basis. The moral outlook will be the custom, based on voluntary co-operation with common ownership and democratic control of the means of life. (See also IDEOLOGY; MARXISM; SCIENCE.)


Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality, 1985

Morris, William (1834-1896). The son of capitalist parents, he became a pioneer Marxian socialist. While a student at Oxford in the 1850s he was involved with a group of romantic artists known as the pre-Raphaelites because they reckoned that painting had degenerated after the Middle Ages with Raphael, the first Reformation painter. Morris tried his hand at painting but became more famous as a poet, though he was involved in a wide variety of arts and crafts.

Morris began his political life in the Radical wing of the Liberal Party. In the 1880 general election he worked for the return of Gladstone, but soon became disillusioned with the new Liberal government. In 1883 he joined the Democratic Federation, an association of working class radical clubs formed in 1881. Soon after Morris joined, it changed its name to the Social Democratic Federation, proclaiming Socialism as its aim and Marxism as its theory, though in fact it never did outlive its radical-Liberal origins as it continued to advocate the same reforms of capitalism. Morris set about studying Marxism and there can be no doubt that he did understand Marx’s ideas well enough to be regarded as a Marxist. But that was not all. John Ruskin had defined ‘art’ as the expression of man’s pleasure in his labour. Morris wholeheartedly endorsed this definition of art, with its implication that people would produce beautiful things – things of everyday use, not mere decorations – if they enjoyed their work. It was recognition that capitalism denied most people pleasure in their work that led him to become a socialist.

Hyndman, the man who had been largely instrumental in founding the Democratic Federation, was an authoritarian and tried to run the SDF as his personal organisation. This led to discontent and eventually, at the end of 1884, to a split in which Morris became the key figure in the breakaway Socialist League. Unlike the reformist SDF, the Socialist League saw its task as simply to make socialists. As Morris wrote:

Our business, I repeat, is the making of socialists, i.e., convincing people that socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles into practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible’ (Where Are We Now?, 1890).

Morris found himself as the main theorist of the Socialist League. He never denied that the working class could capture political power, including parliament; but his refusal to advocate the use of parliament to get reforms upset a group, including Marx’s daughter Eleanor, who in the end broke away from the Socialist League. This left Morris at the mercy of the real anti-parliamentarians and anarchists, who eventually came to dominate the League with their advocacy of violence and bomb throwing. In 1890 Morris and the Hammersmith branch seceded, carrying on independent socialist activity as the Hammersmith Socialist Society.

William Morris was an outstanding socialist activist: he frequently toured the country giving talks and wrote a prodigious amount of literature, culminating in his masterpiece about a socialist utopia, News from Nowhere (1890). He died in 1896, but eight years later the Socialist Party was formed from a group that broke with the SDF (and for much the same reasons as the League). The Socialist Party, when formulating its Declaration of Principles in 1904, drew heavily upon the Manifesto of the Socialist League that was drafted by Morris. (See also HYNDMAN; IMPOSSIBILISM; SOCIALIST PARTY.)


S. Coleman & P. O’Sullivan, William Morris and News from Nowhere: A Vision for Our Time, 1990

Fiona MacCarthy, William Morris: A Life For Our Time, 2003

Morris online:


Nation. Name given by their rulers or would-be rulers to a collection of people with a distinct culture usually but not always based on a common language. The geopolitical entity of the state and its machinery of government are not necessarily the same as the nation; and this forms the ideological basis for nationalism – the belief that a nation should become a state. (See also NATIONALISM; STATE.)

Nationalisation. The wages system under new management. Nationalisation is state capitalism and does not differ from private capitalism as far as the exploitation of the workers is concerned. They still need their trade unions, and the strike weapon, to protect themselves from their employers.

The Socialist Party has never supported nationalisation. It is not socialism, nor is it a step towards socialism. (See also STATE CAPITALISM.)


A. Buick & J. Crump, State Capitalism, 1986

Nationalism. An ideology which emphasises the distinctiveness of a nation and usually points to its statehood. Nationalist movements arose with the development of capitalism and the state. In the nineteenth century, Karl Marx supported some nationalist movements because they were historically progressive in that they served the class interests of the rising bourgeoisie in its struggle against the traditional aristocracy. In the twentieth century, nationalism was, and still is, associated with movements for ‘self-determination’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Socialists do not support movements for national liberation. Certainly socialism will allow the fullest linguistic and cultural diversity, but this cannot be achieved through nationalism. Marxism explains how workers are exploited and unfree, not as particular nationalities, but as members of a class. To be in an ‘oppressed minority’ at all it is usually necessary to first belong to the working class. From this perspective, identifying with the working class provides a rational basis for political action. The objective is a stateless world community of free access. Given that nationalism does nothing to further this understanding, however, it is an obstruction to world socialism. (See also NATION; STATE; STATE CAPITALISM.)


Nigel Harris, National Liberation, 2002

Needs. Wants of the means of living. Needs have a physiological and a historical dimension. Basic physiological needs derive from our human nature (e.g. food, clothing and shelter), but historically conditioned needs derive from developments in the forces of production. In capitalism, needs are manipulated by the imperative to sell commodities and accumulate capital; basic physiological needs then take the historically conditioned form of ‘needs’ for whatever the capitalists can sell us. The exact type of ‘needs’ current will depend on the particular stage of historical development.

In socialism, a society of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use, human beings will be ends in themselves and consumption will take place according to their self-defined needs. (See also HUMAN NATURE.)


Agnes Heller, The Theory of Need in Marx, 1976

Michael Lebowitz, Beyond Capital, 2003


Organic composition of capital. The ratio of constant to variable capital (c/v). Constant capital is that money invested in machinery, buildings and raw materials. In the process of production their value is only transferred to the finished product. Variable capital is that money invested in labour power and is so called because this is the part of the total capital that increases in value in the process of production. An understanding of the organic composition of capital is important for ascertaining the rate of profit. (See also CAPITAL; LABOUR POWER.)

Overpopulation. In his Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, first published in 1798, the Reverend Thomas Malthus argued that population growth always tended to outstrip the growth in food supply, with the result that periodically population growth was checked by famine, disease and war. It was, and still remains, a very popular apology for the poverty of capitalism.

Karl Marx showed that there is no such thing as a general law of population that applied to all societies and to all times. At times under capitalism there seemed to be overpopulation and at others underpopulation. But this had nothing to do with the birth rate. It was a feature that appeared at the various stages of the business cycle. In depressions there were more people than jobs offered by capitalist industry. In booms, on the other hand, there was a comparative shortage of workers – as in the years after the Second World War when immigrants were recruited to make up the shortage.

It was not just a question of the number of people; moreover, productivity had to taken into account. Beginning with the industrial revolution, technological development increased social productivity so that more food was provided for the increasing population. However, food is not produced directly to meet human needs but rather for profit. Capitalism is a system of artificial scarcity, so creating poverty amidst potential abundance and the illusion that there are too many people and not enough to go around. (ABUNDANCE; ECOLOGY; GREENS.)


United Nations, Population

Owen, Robert (1771-1858). Born and died in Newtown, Wales. In 1800 he became a partner in a mill at New Lanark, Scotland, and was able to show in practice that people work better if their living and working conditions are improved. This confirmed the theory he was to set out in A New View of Society (1813), that the establishment of a better society was all a question of changing the environment. At first he addressed his pleas to the manufacturers and aristocrats; but when this failed he turned to establishing communitarian colonies, mostly in America, and most of which failed. In later years he was to be a formative influence on the co-operative movement and helped found the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834.

The term ‘socialist’ is found for the first time in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine of November 1827. For Owen and his followers, ‘social’ signified ‘co-operation’ and a socialist supported co-operation. They criticised the private enterprise and competition that produced poverty, unemployment and crime. In their proposed ‘Villages of Co-operation’, private property, money, the Church, the legal and penal systems were all to be abolished and common ownership introduced. Owen’s labour standard of value was to determine the distribution of goods, though some would be given according to need. In the 1830s some of his followers established ‘labour bazaars’ where workers brought the products of their labour and received in exchange a labour note which entitled them to take from the bazaar any items which had taken the same time to produce. These bazaars were failures, but the idea of labour-time vouchers, or ‘labour money’, appeared in substantially similar forms in France with Proudhon, in Germany with Rodbertus and in England with Hodgskin and Gray. The idea was also to appear in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). This proposition has been seized upon by left-wingers as proof that Marx presumed the use of money in the early phase of communism. But in this work, as elsewhere, Marx is clear that communism (in its early and mature phases) will be based on common ownership and have no use for money:

Within the co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products.’

Marx was quite adamant that his and Owen’s suggested labour-time vouchers would not function as money:

Owens “labour-money”, for instance, is no more “money” than a ticket for the theatre. Owen presupposes directly associated labour, a form of production that is entirely inconsistent with the production of commodities. The certificate of labour is merely evidence of the part taken by the individual in the common labour, and of his right to a certain portion of the common produce destined for consumption (Capital, Vol. 1).

These producers may… receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate’ (Capital, Vol. 2).

Marx only suggested labour-time vouchers as a possibility; given the low level of development of the productive forces, he believed that this was one way of regulating individual consumption. The objective was, for Marx and Owen: from each according to ability, to each according to need. And this is now realisable, as soon as a majority wants it. For Owen in the early nineteenth century the problem of the underdevelopment of the forces and relations of production was even more acute; and it is probably for this reason that he did not recognise the existence of the class struggle. This is why Marx and Engels called his ideas (along with those of Fourier and Saint-Simon) ‘Utopian Socialism’. (See also CO-OPERATIVES; UTOPIAN SOCIALISM.)


R.E. Davies, The Life of Robert Owen, 2009

Keith Taylor, The Political Ideas of the Utopian Socialists, 1982

Owen online:


Parliament. Subject to certain commitments to the European Union, Parliament is the centre of power in Britain. It makes the laws and provides for their enforcement.

The Socialist Party has has always insisted that parliament can and should be used in the process of establishing socialism – not because we are parliamentarians, but because we are democrats. The basic function of the state, controlled by parliament, is to protect the interests of the capitalist class. For working class emancipation it will be necessary to gain control of the state through parliamentary action, in order to dispossess the capitalists of the means of production. When a majority of the working class are socialist they can use parliament by sending elected delegates there to formally carry out the socialist revolution, thereby neutralising the legitimacy and effectiveness of any counter-revolution.

Left-wing criticism of the parliamentary road points to the failure of Labour governments and similar regimes around the world. But these point up the futility of reformism, of a largely non-socialist working class voting for governments to administer the profit system. The working class has never tried to capture political power for socialism. Of course, the insurrectionist left wing reject the parliamentary road because they reject democracy; they expect violence because, being a minority, they must impose their views on the rest of society – including the working class. (See also DEMOCRACY; STATE.)

Peasantry. Those who work on the land and possess their means of production: tools and the land itself. Peasants had to pay a rent or a tribute to maintain their possession of the land. Production by the peasantry takes place outside capitalist social relations and no surplus value is created. (See also FEUDAL SOCIETY.)

Phillips curve. After the economist A.W. Phillips (1914-1975), the theory that there is a trade-off between inflation and unemployment: governments could have either higher inflation and lower unemployment or lower inflation and higher unemployment. Until the 1970s, that is, when Britain and many other states had both rising inflation and rising unemployment (so-called ‘stagflation’). That discredited the Phillips Curve, but basically the same idea is still being pushed by politicians, union leaders, some economists and the Bank of England.

In the modified version of the Phillips Curve, inflation and unemployment levels are said to be controlled by interest rates, through the Bank of England (as ‘lender of last resort’) setting their base rate which will determine the interest rate in other financial institutions and their charges for loans and mortgages. Allegedly, if the Bank of England sets higher interest rates this will deter inflation but will also deter investment and job creation. On the other hand, lower interest rates are said to allow inflation to rise but also increase investment and job creation. However, this explanation confuses cause and consequence. When the general price level is steadily rising financial institutions will need to offer an interest rate which is above the inflation rate, otherwise depositors will lose out in real terms. In other words, interest rates are largely a reflection of inflation, not its cause.

Persistent inflation is the sole responsibility of governments when they issue more currency than is needed for economic transactions to take place. Inflation, apart from extreme exceptions, has no bearing on unemployment levels; the rate of unemployment is determined by the functioning of the labour market and the profitability of production. (See also INFLATION; INTEREST; UNEMPLOYMENT.)

Popper, Karl (1902-1994). Philosopher of science and critic of Marxism. He argued that the test of a scientific theory is not whether it can be verified, since no amount of observations can verify it, but that it is open to being falsified by experience. A theory is said to be scientific if it fits the facts and generates predictions capable of being proved wrong. Popper thought that his philosophy could demarcate between science and non-science but is not itself a scientific theory (so the objection ‘What falsifies the falsifiability principle?’ is entirely misplaced). Popper’s explanation of the logic of scientific discovery has been widely influential, but it is overshadowed by Thomas Kuhn’s explanation of how science is actually conducted in practice. Kuhn argues that normal science is governed by paradigms which dictate what kind of scientific work should be done and what kinds of theory are acceptable. Eventually normal science produces a series of anomalies which cannot be explained within a paradigm, leading to a scientific revolution (‘paradigm shift’) as the old paradigm is replaced by a new one.

In The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) Popper claimed that Marxism is not a scientific theory since it cannot be falsified, or else when it was falsified its supporters shifted their ground to protect their theory. His attack on Marxism was based partly on a misunderstanding of what Marx wrote and partly on the experience of the Communist Party in Russia. Popper concluded that the totalitarian nature of the Communist Party in action in Russia showed that Marx’s theories were totalitarian, rather than the more plausible conclusion that the Communist Party’s claim to be Marxist was and is false.

Popper criticised Marx using a misquotation in his book The Poverty of Historicism (1957). Popper attacked the notion that there are laws of human development, and that knowing these laws enable us to predict the future course of human history. He misquoted from Marx’s Capital, where he says the aim is ‘to lay bare the economic law of motion of human society’ (i.e. any human society). Marx actually wrote that his aim was to lay bare the economic law of motion of ‘modern society’ (i.e. capitalist society). The economic law of capitalism, Marx’s law of value, is in fact quite specific to capitalism. The Socialist Party does not claim to predict the future course of human history; but we do claim to know how capitalism operates and what it is and is not capable of doing. (See also MARXISM; SCIENCE.)


Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1996

Kuhn online:

Bryan Magee, Popper, 1997

Popper online:

Price. What must be given in exchange for something. According to capitalist economic theory, prices are the means for determining the rational allocation of resources in a money economy. But, in fact, prices under capitalism are not intended for the purpose of organising production. The function of pricing is to fix costs with a view to making profit. In practice, costing and pricing are ultimately about calculating the exploitation of labour, enabling the capitalist class to live and accumulate capital from the wealth that the working class produces but does not consume. (See also PROFIT.)

Prices of production. In Marxian economic theory the ‘price of production’ is the

price sufficient to yield the average rate of profit on capital advanced. Actual market

prices fluctuate around prices of production through the equalisation of profit rates.


Primitive accumulation. The historical process by which capitalism came into existence. This entailed the transformation of the use of existing means of production into their use in capitalist production. This did not initially require any additional accumulation of means of production or new technology, just their operation according to new social relations. Once this had occurred the process of competitive accumulation gathered its own momentum.

For capitalist economic history, Britain became the first industrial nation ‘spontaneously’; that is, without the help of direct state intervention. This interpretation, however, does violence to the history of violent expropriation of the agricultural population from the land. The state did critically intervene in the interests of the emerging capitalists in two ways:

  • Enclosure movements, enforced by the state, dispossessed the peasantry of both common and individual land usages. The landless labourer was created.

  • Wage legislation and systems of social security, most notably the Poor Law

Amendment Act of 1834, forced long hours and factory discipline on the landless labourer. This turned the landless into wage labourers.

It is important to note, though, that the creation of capitalism in Britain has been somewhat different than on the continent. The forcible dispossession of the peasantry from the land was more extensive than in the rest of Europe. For this reason a much larger proportion of the population was transformed into wage labourers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, the formation of a class of wage labourers out of the agricultural population remains an important starting point for an analysis of primitive accumulation. (See also FEUDAL SOCIETY.)


Rodney Hilton, The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, 1976

Michael Perelman, ‘The Theory of Primitive Accumulation’ from The Invention of Capitalism, 2000 (online at

Primitive communism. Propertyless, stateless, classless, moneyless society based on common ownership before the advent of class society. Most of human history has been in the stage of primitive communism, before the rise of class society about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Even now there are a few primitive communist tribes surviving on the outskirts of capitalism in Asia, Africa and South America. The usual reason why socialists insist on the evidence for primitive communism is not because they provide a model for the future – they had undesirable features such as poverty – but because they show that property is not an inevitable and eternal feature of human society. (See also PROPERTY.)


Maurice Bloch, Marxism and Anthropology, 2004

Productive and unproductive labour. Productive labour is that employment which creates surplus value for the capitalist, whereas unproductive labour does not. For example, a chef employed by a capitalist to work in his hotel is productive, whereas if that same chef were employed to work in the capitalist’s home she would be unproductive. Nowadays, though, most unproductive labour is carried out in the state sector of the economy.

The distinction is useful for analysing the structure of capitalism. For instance, it sets theoretical limits for the size of the state sector of the economy, since this must be paid out of the surplus value arising from productive labour. No value judgement is implied on the importance or worth of either type of work and the working class carries out both productive and unproductive labour.

Productivity. The relationship between the production of goods and services and the inputs of resources used to produce them. But there is often confusion about what constitutes ‘production’. In everyday language a car is said to be ‘produced’ by the workers who assemble it, and the bread to be ‘produced’ by workers in the bakery. However, the labour of these workers is only a part of all that required to produce cars and bread. As Marx put it:

We must add to the quantity of labour last employed the quantity of labour previously worked up in the raw material of the commodity, and the labour bestowed on the implements, tools, machinery and buildings with which such labour is assisted (Wage, Price and Profit, chapter VI).

Let us assume that the ‘previous’ hours of labour needed to produce a commodity are 80, and that the ‘last’ hours are 20 – a total of 100 hours. Let us further assume that without additional investment, but merely by simplifying the last operation, it becomes possible to reduce the necessary hours from 20 to 10. It then only takes 90 hours in all, in place of 100. Productivity will have risen by about 11 per cent. But if ‘productivity’ is calculated – wrongly – on the last operation only, it will appear to have increased by 100 per cent. Would anyone be so foolish as to look at in that way? Well, yes, it often happens. A news report about the introduction of a new machine operated by two people instead of the former ten will be presented as ‘two do the work of ten’, as if the making and maintenance of the machine did not absorb additional labour. So productivity in that example will be said, wrongly, to have been multiplied by five.

As Marx explained, the amount of labour that is saved is not the whole saving on the last operating process, but the difference between that amount and the additional labour required for the new equipment (Capital, vol. 1, chapter 15). (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)

Profit. That part of the social surplus value which is appropriated by capitalist enterprises. The rate of profit is calculated on the ratio of surplus value to the total capital invested (s/c+v). Distributed profits as dividends form part of the privileged income of the capitalist class. However, because of the pressure of competition from other capitalist enterprises, most profits are re-invested and accumulated as capital.

Capitalist economics attempts to explain profit in two ways:

(a) By buying cheap and selling dear. Some sellers can profit in this way, but the seller’s gain is exactly offset by the buyer’s loss. The total amount of value in existence remains unchanged. If all sell dear then they cannot buy cheap and all lose as buyers exactly what they gain as sellers. Exchange, in this explanation, is a zero-sum game.

(b) As a reward, either for the sacrifice of present consumption for investment by the capitalists, and/or as a reward for risking their capital in investment. Professor David McLellan attacked the labour theory of value by claiming that ‘it overlooks the fact that capital accumulation requires deferred consumption, and capital therefore unavoidably commands a premium over and above the labour it embodies’ (The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought, 1991). However, this is an attempt at justification of profit as reward, not an explanation of the source of profit, which is what the labour theory of value is concerned with.

Generally speaking, vast personal fortunes and the social accumulation of capital can only be satisfactorily explained as the result of the unpaid labour of the working class being appropriated by the capitalist class in the form of profit. (See also CAPITAL; EXPLOITATION; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE; SURPLUS VALUE.)

Proletariat. The working class ‘who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour power in order to live’ (Communist Manifesto, 1848). This of course includes everyone involved in the reproduction cycle of labour power: wage and salary earners but also students, housewives, pensioners, and so on. (See also LABOUR POWER; WORKING CLASS.)

Property. Ownership rights. These rights are socially determined and therefore vary from society to society. Property rights are a reflection of the social relations between people, because they define who does and who does not have legal access to their use – in particular, the means of life. Under capitalism, the main right to property is the right to draw an unearned income from the ownership of land and invested capital. The working class is propertyless in the sense of not having any regular income sufficient to live on other than through the sale of their labour power.

Socialism will be a propertyless society in the sense of there being no ownership rights, or exclusion rights, to the use of the means of production, because it will be based on common ownership and democratic control. (See also COMMON OWNERSHIP.)


Alan Ryan, Property, 1988

Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph (1809-1865). A self-educated French artisan. The term ‘anarchism’ was first used in Proudhon’s book What is Property? (1840), in which he gave the famous reply: ‘Property is theft’. However, he did not mean this phrase to be taken literally, as Marx did in his attack on Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847. Proudhon was in fact in favour of private ownership. He made a distinction between ‘property’ and ‘possession’; and he rejected property – the capitalist right to draw rent, interest and profit through ownership of the means of production. He favoured possession: individuals could have exclusive use of land and tools on the condition that they did not live on unearned income. In Proudhon’s conception of an anarchist society individuals would have an equal right to possess, based on a ‘mutualist’ system of equivalent exchange between self-governing producers and financed by free credit. Marxian socialism, therefore, is rejected on the ground that it would violate the right to possess by establishing common ownership.

Proudhon was critical of some aspects of property society (unearned income, the state), but not others (commodity production, capital). And this remains true of many anarchists today. (See also ANARCHISM.)


Alan Ritter, The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1980

Proudhon online:


Racism. The beliefs that people of one ‘race’ are superior to another. It often results in hostility towards the race thought of as inferior and in the practice of discrimination, persecution, and, in some cases mass murder. According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term ‘racial discrimination’ and ‘ethnic discrimination’.

There is no scientific foundation for racism, which is a prejudice diverting the working class from the real cause of modern society’s problems. There is only one biological race of people on this planet: the human race (Homo sapiens). Moreover, we are all Africans: modern humans have evolved out of migrant Africans over many thousands of years. Historically, the doctrines of anti-Semitism and white supremacy originated as weapons to defend pre-capitalist systems of exploitation. On occasions the modern state has sponsored racism, but it is a double-edged sword and potentially disruptive to the economy (as in apartheid South Africa, for example). The market is colour blind, and employers usually want to recruit from the largest possible pool of labour power. But working class existence is always insecure, especially in times of slump, and those workers who migrated in boom times (as, for instance, workers from the Indian sub-continent and the West Indies, induced by the Minister of Health in the 1950s, Enoch Powell) became the scapegoats.

To the extent that socialist ideas permeate the minds of the working class wherever they may be; to the extent that workers realise that their interests are in common irrespective of ‘race’, and opposed to the interests of the capitalist class irrespective of their ‘race’, to that extent they will reject racism and work for the emancipation of all people. (See also FASCISM; CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS.)


Race, Racism and the Law:

Ali Rattansi, Racism: A Very Short Introduction, 2007

Reformism. Reforms are legislative and other enactments deemed necessary for governments in running the various forms of capitalism. The Socialist Party is opposed to reformism – the policy of advocating reforms, either as a way of ‘improving’ capitalism or as a means to socialism – but we are not necessarily opposed to individual reforms which may be of benefit to the working class. However we do not advocate any reform, because we hold that to do so would lead to a socialist party changing into a reformist party, attracting the support of non-socialists.

Parliament can be used by a socialist-minded working class, not for reforms or reformism, but for the revolutionary act of dispossessing the capitalist class by establishing common ownership of the means of production.


Relations of production. Classes in society are determined by the possession or non-possession of a means of production. In capitalist society it is the relations of production which constitute the capitalist class and the working class. (See also CLASSES; FORCES OF PRODUCTION.)

Religion. This is how Marx described religion:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people… The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusions about their condition is a demand to give up a condition that requires illusion. The criticism of religion is therefore the germ of the criticism of the valley of tears whose halo is religion’ (Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844).

It is to be noted however that this psychological critique of the social function of religion could have been put forward by an Enlightenment philosopher of the eighteenth century, and many modern anti-socialist atheists could concur. Marx never developed a specifically socialist (or indeed ‘Marxist’) analysis of religion.

Socialists share in the Enlightenment inheritance of respect for reason and evidence against its traditional foe, religion. But at the same time we recognise that the main source of irrationality and exploitation in the modern world is to be found in the capitalist system of society. For socialists, therefore, the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. We fight religious superstition wherever it is an obstacle to socialism, but we are opposed to religion only insofar as it is an obstacle to socialism.


AC Grayling, Against All Gods, 2007

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 2007

Rent. Ground rent is a portion of surplus value paid to the owner of land for its use by a capitalist enterprise. House rent is a price for hiring accommodation; it is not a portion of surplus value. (See also SURPLUS VALUE.)

Revisionism. A term coined by the opponents of Eduard Bernstein in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries to describe his reformism.

Bernstein, a close friend of Engels, spent many years in exile in London and it has been suggested that he was influenced by Fabian gradualism. He attacked the main principles of Marxism and called upon the SPD to recognise that they were in reality only a reform party. He suggested that they be honest with themselves and drop their ultimate commitment to the capture of political power for socialism and instead concentrate on getting reforms within capitalism by working through parliament. The SPD turned down Bernstein’s suggestions but the decision meant nothing as far as the party’s practical policy was concerned. They retained their paper commitment to the socialist revolution (formally abandoned in 1959) but continued their day-to-day reformist practices. (See also FABIANS; GRADUALISM; INTERNATIONALS; REFORMISM.)


Bernstein online:

George Lichtheim, A Short History of Socialism, 1983

Revolution. To many, the word ‘revolution’ conjures up images of violent insurrection. All it means is a complete change, without any implication as to how that change is to come about. The Socialist Party stands for a revolution in the basis of society, a complete change from class to common ownership of the means of production: this social revolution to be carried out democratically by the use of political power. It is possible for a majority of socialist workers to win power through democratic institutions, by the use of the ballot and parliament, for the purpose of carrying out the Again, you do not have any authority redefine words yourself to tell people that their jobs make them “slaves”, in any sense of the actual word and what it means. Godspeed with your thought! I hope it improves.socialist revolution. Therefore we stand for democratic revolutionary political action. (See also DEMOCRACY; PARLIAMENT; REFORMISM.)

Russia. Socialism has never existed in Russia or anywhere else. The Bolshevik left, however, maintain that the revolution of November 1917 was socialist. But, as the Socialist Standard at the time and subsequent years show, this position is untenable:

Is this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for socialism? Are the hunters of the north, the struggling peasant proprietors of the south, the agricultural wage slaves of the Central Provinces, and the industrial wage slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity and equipped with the knowledge required, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life? Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has ever recorded, the answer is “No!” ’ (Socialist Standard, August 1918.)

We have often stated that because of a large anti-socialist peasantry and vast untrained population, Russia was a long way from socialism. Lenin has now to admit this by saying: “Reality says that State capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us” (The Chief Task of Our Times)… If we are to copy Bolshevik policy in other countries we should have to demand State capitalism, which is not a step to socialism’ (Socialist Standard, July 1920).

Both Trotsky and Stalin draw up their programmes within the framework of state and private capitalism which prevails in Russia’ (Socialist Standard, December 1928).

[all the Bolsheviks] have been able to do is to foster the growth of State capitalism and limit the growth of private capitalism’ (Socialist Standard, July 1929.)

Since the collapse of the Russian Empire after 1989, state capitalist monopoly has given way to a Western-style ‘mixed economy’, with many of the former Party bosses as bosses of the new privatised businesses. Now that the sham of Russian ‘socialism’ has passed into history, workers in Russia can join in the struggle for the real thing. (See also BOLSHEVISM; COMMUNIST PARTY; LENINISM; SOCIALISM; STATE CAPITALISM; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY.)


A. Buick & J. Crump, State Capitalism, 1986



Say’s Law (or Say’s Law of Markets). Named after the French economist Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), this is usually interpreted as saying ‘supply creates its own demand’; or more precisely, that the normal state of an economy is equilibrium in which total demand equals total supply. However, if this were a valid explanation of how the economy works there would never be crises and mass unemployment. As Marx pointed out, ‘no one directly needs to purchase because they have just sold’ (Capital, Volume 1, Penguin edition, pp208-209). Capitalism is based on the competitive accumulation of profits and a competitive disequilibrium between sales and purchases is the normal state of the economy, and with it goes capitalism’s inherent potential for crises and mass unemployment. (see also CRISES; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; UNEMPLOYMENT.)


J.B. Say online:

Science. In academia and capitalist production a theory or practice is said to be ‘scientific’ if it has been peer-reviewed and approved by practising scientists. In socialist theory, however, science means something different. According to Marx, ‘all science would be superfluous if the outward appearances and essences of things directly coincided’ (Capital, Vol. 2, Ch. 48); and ‘that in their appearances things often represent themselves in inverted form is pretty well-known in every science except political economy’ (Capital, Vol. 1, Ch. 19). Marx argued that his scientific method penetrated the surface of capitalist social relations to reveal their inner workings. His labour theory of value shows the exploitative nature of capitalism, whereas political economy takes capitalism at face value as the free and equal exchange of commodities in the market.

Marx’s method of scientific investigation consists in uncovering the real underlying and often unobservable mechanisms of exploitation. This is to be contrasted with ‘positivist’ accounts of science which demands that science can only deal with empirically observable phenomena. (See also IDEOLOGY; POPPER.)


A.F. Chalmers, What Is This Thing Called Science?, 1999

Science Resource Online:

Sexism. Discrimination because of gender. Reforms have been passed in Britain to counter sexism, the Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) in particular. The victims of sexism are usually to be found only in the working class. Female capitalists are not socially inferior to working class men or women and female capitalists do not usually suffer discrimination.

Socialism will include the liberation of women in its struggle for human emancipation. This will not come about in an automatic or inevitable way. A political organisation whose object is socialism cannot permit sexism (any more than racism) within its ranks on the grounds that nothing can be done now and that the problem will be resolved ‘after the revolution’. For a socialist party to be credible, it must embody the attitudes, values and practices that it seeks to institute in society at large. (See also FEMINISM.)


Natasha Walter, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, 2010

Social democracy. Originally synonymous with Marxian socialism, it now usually stands for reformism, the ‘mixed economy’ and welfare state capitalism.

The change came from divisions within the German Social Democratic Party at its founding Conference at Gotha in 1875, and the subject of Marx’s withering Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). Marx attacked the Programme for claiming that the capitalist state and economy could be reformed in working class interests. The social democratic position was more fully set out by Bernstein in the debate over ‘revisionism’, which was an explicit rejection of Marxism in favour of reform. In Britain, the Fabian C.A.R. Crosland further elaborated social democracy (and for much the same reasons as Bernstein) in The Future of Socialism (1956), where he argued that Keynesian economics would lead to greater social equality. (See also KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS; REFORMISM; REVISIONISM; SOCIALISM.)


A List of Social Democratic Parties:

Kevin Morgan, Rethinking Social Democracy, 2005

Socialism. The term ‘socialism’ is found for the first time in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine of November 1827, where it stands for a society of common ownership. Marx and Engels used the words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ interchangeably to refer to a society of common ownership. Marx and Engels gave few other details about what they thought socialism would be like. However, they both wrote at length about what they thought socialism would not be like via a critique of ‘other socialisms’. The ‘other socialisms’, according to Hal Draper, were:

Utopian Socialism. Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen gave useful criticisms of existing

society and interesting possibilities for a future society, but they were politically naïve

about how this was to come about.

Sentimental Socialism. Not a school of socialism as such but a tendency to be found

in various schools, substituting the power of love, humanity or morality for the class


Anarchism. Stirner, Proudhon and Bakunin were criticised for failing to see the authoritarianism inherent in the anti-democratic nature of anarchism.

Reactionary Anti-capitalisms. All those who yearn for a pre-capitalist ‘golden age’ of harmony, plenty etc., as found for example in the writings of Thomas Carlyle.

Boulangism. After General Georges Boulanger in France, an arch-opportunist and a forerunner of ‘National Socialism’.

Bismarckian Socialism (or ‘State Socialism’). In late nineteenth century Germany the Bismarck regime introduced nationalisation and social-welfare reforms. To a large extent this was an attempt to undermine and ‘steal the thunder’ of growing support for the reformist German Social Democratic Party.

It is this latter Bismarckian, statist conception of socialism which has become world famous. But the policies pursued by such ‘socialist’ regimes in practice – nationalisation, social welfare provision, free compulsory education, etc. – have also been pursued by openly pro-capitalist governments. There is nothing inherently anti-capitalist about these reforms, or any of the measures pursued by any Labour/Social Democratic/’Socialist’ government worldwide; and, indeed, as a whole they were merely a form of state capitalism. We in the World Socialist Movement stick to our principles and the original meaning of socialism: common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use. We do so not because we are dogmatic but because our socialist theory consistently provides an insightful analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, because of the repeated failure of the alternatives put in to practice, and because the prospect of socialism as the meeting of our real needs provides the motivation. (See also ANARCHISM; COMMUNISM; MARXISM; OWEN; SOCIALIST PARTY; TRANSITIONAL SOCIETY; UTOPIAN SOCIALISM.)


J. Crump & M. Rubel, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Critique of Other Socialisms, 1990

Socialist Labour Party. On 4th November 1995 Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, presented a discussion paper to a meeting of trade union activists and other campaigners in London. In this paper Scargill called for the establishment of a Socialist Labour Party, ‘on the basis of class understanding, class commitment and Socialist policies’ (Future Strategy for the Left, November 1995). On 4th May 1996 the Socialist Labour Party was launched. What led Scargill to resign from the Labour Party and set up a new party was Labour’s decision in 1995 to amend its constitution by replacing Clause 4 with a new aim which committed it to support ‘the enterprise of the market’, ‘the rigour of competition’ and ‘a thriving private sector’. He is right to say that New Labour cannot be supported by those who call themselves socialist.

Clause 4, however, was never a definition of socialism. What it was – and was meant to be by the Labour leaders of the time who drew it up – was a commitment to nationalisation, or state capitalism, to be achieved ‘for the workers’ by the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It was a rejection not of capitalism as such, but only of one institutional form of capitalism (private enterprise) in favour of another (state enterprise). Production was to continue to be for the market and workers were to continue to work for wages, only this was to take place under the direction of the state. The Fabian, Sidney Webb, who was mainly responsible for writing the constitution and its Clause 4, would have been horrified to learn that this was regarded as a ‘class commitment’.

Ideologically, the new SLP is more obsolete than the old De Leonist SLP in Britain, founded in 1903 on an industrial unionist policy until its effective demise in 1921 when most of the members joined the newly formed Communist Party. At least the old SLP had a better grasp of the way the capitalist economy functions, and would never have deluded themselves, as Scargill does, by claiming that a ‘British government’ could abolish unemployment ‘even within a capitalist society’ (Guardian, 15/01/96). The new SLP represents the same old statist reformism of the past. We’ve seen it and it doesn’t work. (See also DE LEON; LABOUR PARTY.)


Raymond Challinor, The Origins of British Bolshevism, 1977

SLP online:

Socialist Party. The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed on 12th June 1904 by a hundred or so members and former members of the Social Democratic Federation who were dissatisfied with the policy and structure of that party.

The SDF had been formed in 1884, under H.M. Hyndman’s leadership, and spent much of its time campaigning for reforms. The opportunism and arrogance of Hyndman led to a break-away later in 1884 when a number of members, including William Morris and Eleanor Marx, set up the Socialist League which soon unfortunately ceased to be of use when it was dominated the anarchists. A second revolt led to the formation in 1903 of the Socialist Labour Party, following the industrial unionist policy of Daniel DeLeon and the American Socialist Labour Party.

Another revolt against Hyndman’s dominance of the SDF was organised by a group of women and men dismissively called ‘impossibilists’. After they failed to reform the SDF, some were expelled and branches dissolved. After the April 1904 SDF Conference in Burnley a meeting took place in London to establish a new organisation. The Socialist Party was founded with a policy and structure so that what happened in the SDF would be impossible. The Socialist Party is thoroughly democratic, including its internal affairs with all meetings being open to members and non-members. In fact, the party’s existence has been a practical refutation of those who argue that all organisations must degenerate into bureaucratic rule.

An Object and Declaration of Principles, drawn from the Manifesto of the Socialist League drafted by William Morris, was adopted at its foundation and has remained unaltered ever since. This is a testament to the validity of the Object and Principles, but its original language has been retained because it is also an important historical document. In September 1904 the Socialist Standard was issued and has been published every month since. Together with our companion parties overseas we use the umbrella name, World Socialist Movement.

The Socialist Party has made a number of distinctive contributions to political debate. Here are our most significant contributions:

  • We have solved the reform or revolution dilemma, by declaring that a socialist party should not advocate reforms of capitalism and by recognising that political democracy can be used for revolutionary ends.

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

  • We predicted the inevitable failure of electing Labour and Social-Democratic governments as a way to introduce socialism.

  • From the start we have realised that nationalisation was no solution to the workers’ problems. Nationalisation is state capitalism; merely the wages system under new management.

  • Realisation of the worldwide (rather than international) character of socialism. Socialism can only be a united world community without frontiers and not the federation of countries suggested by the word ‘inter-national’.

  • Modern wars are fought against the interests of workers and in the interests of the ruling class or aspiring ruling class; specifically being disputes over spheres of influence, trade routes, sources of raw materials and markets. Socialists oppose all capitalist wars, refusing to take sides.

  • For the same reason, rejection of so-called ‘progressive wars’ or struggles for national liberation. Workers have no country.

  • Recognition that there is no need for a ‘transition period’ between capitalism and socialism. Social productivity has long reached a point where free access can be established when a majority of workers want socialism.

  • Exposures of leadership as a capitalist political principle, a feature of the revolutions that brought them to power. The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.

  • Advocating and practising that a socialist party should be organised as an open democratic party, with no leaders and no secret meetings, so foreshadowing the society it seeks to establish.

  • We have always argued that Keynesian economics would not prevent crises and rises in unemployment, and that Keynesian policies as administered by governments – left and right – would be merely inflationary.

  • That the state, including the ‘welfare state’, is ultimately financed by taxation on profits. The capitalist class will therefore have an interest in keeping their tax burden as low as possible in order to compete in an increasingly competitive world economy.

  • We recognise that capitalism will not collapse of its own accord, but will continue from crisis to crisis until the working class consciously organises to establish socialism.

  • Socialism cannot be based on central planning which would be, by definition, antithetical to local decision-making and would be unresponsive to changing needs. Socialism will be a system of production for use in direct response to needs, these needs arising in local communities. The operational basis for this system would be calculation in kind (e.g. tonnes, kilos, litres) instead of monetary calculation, combined with a responsive system of stock control.


David A. Perrin, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 2000

M. Rubel & J. Crump, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 1987

Socialist Party online:

Socially necessary labour. The labour-time required to produce a commodity in a particular branch of industry under average conditions. Not to be confused with ‘necessary labour’ – the labour-time required to reproduce the value of labour power. (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE.)

Stalin, Josef Vissarionovich (1879-1953). Born in Georgia under the family name Dzhugashvilli, the son of a cobbler. After training to be a priest, he joined the Bolsheviks in 1904 and was co-opted to the Bolshevik Central Committee in 1912. In 1913 his Marxism and the Nationalities Question was published, in which he defended Bolshevik organisation for all the nationalities in the Russian Empire. He became editor of Pravda in 1917 and helped the Bolsheviks win power in Petrograd during the October 1917 revolution. In 1922 he was appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party, and after the death of Lenin in 1924 defeated the successive oppositions of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin. By 1929 Trotsky had been exiled, Stalin was leader of the party and state, and the first of the five year plans had begun. In the 1930s he ruthlessly pursued state capitalist industrialisation and collectivisation, at the cost of millions of lives, and in 1936 announced that Russia was ‘socialist’. He was denounced in Khruschev’s ‘secret speech’ in 1956, and in 1961 his body was removed from the Kremlin to a plain grave. (See also STALINISM.)


Isaac Deutscher, Stalin, 1990

The Stalin Society:

Stalinism. Originally a reference to the dictatorship which existed in Russia under Stalin from the late 1920s to his death in 1953. In particular, it is used by Trotskyists to refer to their opponents in the Communist Parties loyal to Stalin and his successors in the USSR. Now it is an epithet applied to any dictatorial regime.

Stalin was able to rise to power because Lenin had already laid the groundwork. He had effectively silenced all opposition and centralised power in the hands of the Communist Party. Whoever controlled the party controlled the state. And when in the 1930s Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ he was able to draw upon an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings. But Stalin himself had written an article in 1906 in which he said the following:

Future society will be socialist society. This also means that with the abolition of exploitation, commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished and, therefore, there will be no room for buyers and sellers of labour power, for employers and employed – there will be only free workers…Where there are no classes, where there are neither rich nor poor, there is no need for a state, there is no need also for political power, which oppresses the poor and protects the rich. Consequently, in socialist society there will be no need for the existence of political power’ (Anarchism or Socialism?).

In comparing what Stalin wrote in 1906 with what he later claimed was ‘socialism’ it can be seen to what extent he and the so-called Communist Parties everywhere have distorted the original meaning of the word and dragged it through the mud. (See also STALIN.)


A. Buick & J. Crump, State Capitalism, 1986

Stalinism online:

State. The state is essentially a coercive machine (police, judiciary, armed forces, schools, etc.) for conserving the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers in a geographical area. This puts us at odds with the views of the ‘pluralists’ who argue that power is (or should be) diffused throughout a plurality of institutions in society (trade unions, pressure groups, etc.) and that the state is neutral in relation to the class struggle. However, history shows how the state evolved:

The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is an instrument for exploiting wage labour by capital’ (Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, 1884).

Moreover, the state and its machinery of government will have no place in a socialist society:

The society that organises production anew on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machine where it will then belong: in the museum of antiquities side by side with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe’ (Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1878). (See also GOVERNMENT.)


Paul Thomas, Alien Politics: Marxist State Theory Retrieved, 1994.

State capitalism. The wages system under new management. State ownership or nationalisation is not socialism, nor is it a step towards socialism. Capitalism is not just a particular form of property holding, but is essentially an impersonal economic mechanism; impersonal in the sense that it is a mechanism that operates independently of the will of people and imposes itself on them as an external force.

State capitalism and private capitalism have never existed as pure forms of society; every country has its own historically developed mix. But the main features of a model of state capitalism, drawn from historical examples, are as follows:

* State ownership of the principal means of production

* Generalised wage labour

* Generalised use of money and money calculation

* A relatively free market for consumer goods in the form of agricultural products and light industrial products

* A market for means of production which is closely monitored by the state

* Wide-scale planning activity, allocating supplies and directing products within the sphere of heavy industry, setting production targets, fixing prices and directing the flows of capital

* A sizeable black-market.


A. Buick & J. Crump, State Capitalism, 1986.

Stirner, Max (pseudonym of Johann Casper Schmidt, 1806-1856). A German schoolteacher, writer and individualist anarchist. He opposed all authority on egotistical grounds. But Stirner took this line of argument to its logical conclusion. In his claims for absolute egoism he rejects not only the state but society itself. This nihilistic attitude was clearly expressed in his main work, The Ego and His Own, (1844):

I, the egoist, have not at heart the welfare of this “human society”. I sacrifice nothing to it. I only utilise it: but to be able to utilise it completely I must transform it rather into my property and my creature – i.e., I must annihilate it and form in its place the Union of Egoists.’

Most of The German Ideology (1845), by Marx and Engels, is a reply to Stirner’s ideas. They argued for socialism in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all; and it was not an attempt to subjugate the individual to some monstrous collectivity, as Marxism is so often portrayed in anarchist caricatures. As for Stirner, his ideas would be impossible to put into practice. The required ‘Union’ contradicts his egoist viewpoint: the co-operative nature of the modern productive process is inescapable. But this doesn’t stop so-called ‘Libertarians’ today making private property a virtue in the manner of Stirner, though they would rather not spell out his nihilistic conclusions. (See also ANARCHISM.)


Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists, 1985

Stirner online:

Strikes. In their use of strikes, workers need to recognise certain basic facts about capitalism: that (except on rare occasions when the government chooses to turn a blind eye) the law will be enforced against strikers; that the unions’ ability to halt production is of little use during a depression when employers are themselves restricting or halting it; and that the financial resources of the employers are much greater than those of the unions. When the employers consider the issue of sufficient importance to warrant all-out resistance, the unions cannot hope to win by an indefinite strike. This was shown in the hopeless months-long strike of the firemen (1977-78) when the Labour government used troops as strike-breakers, and the miners’ strike (1984-85) when the Tory government used the police force to break the strike.

Democratic practice requires that no strike should be started without a ballot and no settlement should be accepted without one. In no circumstances should union members leave the decision to leaders, but should keep it in their own hands. (See also CLASS STRUGGLE; GENERAL STRIKE; TRADE UNIONS.)


Strike news:

Surplus Value. Ground rent, interest and profit form the surplus value produced by wage labour. Workers are constrained to selling their labour power for a wage or a salary, but during their time in employment they can produce a value greater than their wages and salaries. Because the capitalist class owns the means of life and their products, they appropriate this unpaid surplus when the commodities are sold on the market. The rate of exploitation (rate of surplus value) is the ratio of surplus labour (surplus value) to necessary labour (variable capital), (s/v). (See also CAPITAL; EXPLOITATION; LABOUR POWER; VALUE.)


A. Filho & B. Fine, Marx’s ‘Capital’, 2010

Syndicalism. The English rendering of the French word for trade unionism. More specifically, a movement to secure ownership of the means of production by the workers through ‘direct action’ – that is, strikes in general and the general strike in particular.

Its chief architect was Fernand Pelloutier (1867-1901), secretary of the Federation des Bourses du Travail. Its most influential theorist was Georges Sorel (1847-1923) in his Reflections on Violence (1908). Syndicalism was powerful in France in the years leading up to the First World War, to a lesser extent in Britain during the same period and in the USA with the ‘Wobblies’ (Industrial Workers of the World), established in 1905 as ‘one great industrial union … founded on the class struggle’. Syndicalism was influential in Spain during the Civil War, but is only active now anywhere as anarcho-syndicalism. (See also GENERAL STRIKE; STRIKE; TRADE UNIONS.)


Bob Holton, British Syndicalism 1900-1914: Myths and Realities, 1976

Anarcho-syndicalism online:


Taxation. In the long run taxes are a burden on the capitalist class only. Wages and salaries (not some theoretical gross, but what is actually received, what the employer invests as ‘variable capital’) corresponds more or less to the cost of maintaining and reproducing the working skills which employees sell to employers. During their time in employment employees perform surplus labour, they create surplus value which belongs to the employer. The upkeep of the state and its machinery of government ultimately fall on surplus value, or incomes derived from surplus value, through taxation. Moreover, it is in the interest of the ruling class to maintain the state apparatus because it maintains their dominant social position – though of course that doesn’t stop them complaining about the cost and demanding cuts in its running charges.

Rises in tax (direct and indirect), by increasing the cost of maintaining employees and their skills, are generally passed on, through the operation of market forces, to employers in the form of increased money wages and salaries. However, this process is not automatic or inevitable: workers have to struggle for higher wages and salaries. (See also LABOUR POWER; STATE.)

Trade unions. Organisations of employees who have joined together to improve and defend their pay and conditions of work. Necessary as they are under capitalism, the unions are strictly limited in what they can achieve for their members within the capitalist system of society out of which unions arose and within which they operate. Capitalist private companies and state capitalist nationalised industries are both operated for the purpose of making a profit and they cannot long survive without it. Trade unions cannot push wages up to a level that prevents profits being made. When companies are marketing their products profitably a union can hope to win concessions by threatening to halt production and interrupt the flow of profits. But against a firm nearing bankruptcy, or during a depression when firms generally are curtailing production, laying off workers or closing down whole businesses, the strike is a blunted weapon.

Even in central and local government, where the issue of profitability may not appear to arise, workers cannot isolate themselves from developments in the forces of production and are compelled to remain competitive in terms of pay and conditions with workers in the rest of the economy. The class struggle affects all employees. (See also CLASS STRUGGLE; STRIKE; WAGES.)


Henry Pelling, A History of British Trade Unionism, 1992

Michael D. Yates, Why Unions Matter, 2009

TUC history online:

Transformation problem. Many economists (including some who claim to be Marxist) maintain that prices cannot be transformed from values in the way Marx described in Capital. The critics make a couple of assumptions about Marx’s theory of value. First, it is assumed that value and price must be two separate systems. Second, it is assumed that inputs into production and the outputs that subsequently emerge must be valued simultaneously, and the input and output prices must be equal.. When these assumptions are made, so the critics claim, Marx’s theory of value becomes ‘internally inconsistent’ and breaks down.

However, these assumptions are mistaken. In Marx’s theory, value and price are interdependent; profit exists when, but only when, surplus labour has been performed. The assumption that value and price must be two separate systems implies that there can be profit without surplus labour, which is a major misinterpretation of Marx’s theory. And the assumption concerning simultaneous valuation and the equal prices of inputs and outputs flatly contradicts the main principle upon which Marx’s value theory is founded, that value is determined by labour-time. It is because valuation necessarily involves labour-time that input and output prices can differ. Andrew Kliman has shown that the ‘internal inconsistencies’ appear when the theory is viewed as a simultaneous valuation and disappear when not viewed as a simultaneous valuation. In short, the critics have misunderstood Marx’s theory of value. (See also LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE; PRICE; VALUE.)


Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”, 2007

Transitional society. The idea of a transitional society called ‘socialism’ was made famous by Lenin, though others such as William Morris also accepted the idea. In Lenin’s Political Thought (1981), Neil Harding claims that in 1917 Lenin made ‘no clear delineation’ between socialism and communism. But in fact Lenin did write in State and Revolution (1917) of a ‘scientific distinction’ between socialism and communism:

What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the “first”, or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production become common property, the word “communism” is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism.’

The first sentence of this quote is simply untrue and Lenin probably knew it was. Marx and Engels used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably to refer to the post-revolutionary society of common ownership of the means of production. It is true that in his Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) Marx wrote of a transition between a lower phase of communism and a higher phase of communism. Marx held that, because of the low level of economic development (in 1875), individual consumption would have to be rationed, possibly by the use of labour-time vouchers (similar to those advocated by Robert Owen). But in the higher phase of communism, when the forces of production had developed sufficiently, it would be according to need. It is important to realise, however, that in both phases of socialism/communism there would be no state or money economy. Lenin, on the other hand, said that socialism (or the first phase of communism) is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which there is both a state and money economy. According to Lenin: ‘It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois right, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!’ But Lenin and his followers failed to see what this would involve. In effect, the theory of ‘socialism’ as a transitional society was to become an apology for state capitalism. (See also CAPITALISM; LENINISM; SOCIALISM; STATE CAPITALISM.)


Adam Buick, The Myth of the Transitional Society, 1975

(online at:

Trotsky, Leon (real name: Lev Davidovich Bronstein, 1879-1940). The son of moderately well-off peasant farmers in the southern Ukraine. As a student at the University of Odessa he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary. He soon fell foul of the authorities and was sentenced to prison and exile in Siberia from where he escaped in 1902 using the name of one of his jailers on his false identity card. This name – Trotsky – he was to use for the rest of his life.

Trotsky played a prominent part in the 1905 revolt that followed Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese war, being elected the Chairman of the St. Petersburg soviet. He denounced Bolshevism as a formula for a ‘dictatorship over the proletariat’ and tended to favour the Mensheviks until he returned to Russia after the February revolution in 1917, and together with Lenin led the October insurrection and the civil war which followed. After Lenin’s death Trotsky was gradually eased out of power, finally ending up in exile in Mexico. In 1930 he wrote The History of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky led the opposition movement against the supposed ‘betrayal’ of the revolution by the Stalinist bureaucracy, as set out in The Revolution Betrayed (1936). In 1938 Trotsky and his followers founded the Fourth International which, in the opening words of its manifesto written by Trotsky, declared that: ‘The world political situation is chiefly characterised by historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat’. In 1940 an agent of Stalin assassinated Trotsky with an ice axe (not an ice pick, as many writers claim). (See also TROTSKYISM.)


David Renton, Trotsky, 2004

Robert Service, Trotsky: A Biography, 2010

Trotsky online:

Trotskyism. A variant of Leninism. (All Trotskyists are Leninists, but not all Leninists are Trotskyists.) Trotsky’s contribution to Leninism is ‘the theory of the permanent revolution’ which argued that, because of Russia’s economic backwardness, the minority working class had to seize the initiative and revolutionise society through capitalism to ‘socialism’. At the same time, progress was dependent on a successful revolution in Europe. Of course, the revolution in Europe failed to materialise. But Trotskyites maintained that Russia was a post-capitalist ‘degenerate workers state’ in which a bureaucracy had usurped political power from the working class but without changing the social basis (nationalisation and planning). This separation of economic base and political superstructure contradicts Marx’s writing on this subject.

Trotsky’s theory clashes with Stalin’s doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’, and it is typical of Trotskyism that it defines itself in terms of individuals. Not for them the materialist theory of history but rather the Great Man theory of history: not an account of objective social development but how Trotsky lost out to Stalin in a power struggle for the leadership. This approach also ignores the problems inherent in Leninist ideology and, indeed, the dictatorial tendencies within Trotsky’s own writings. Lenin laid the basis for Stalin’s rule and it is a moot point how much Trotsky would have differed. Trotsky stood for a one-party dictatorship.

Trotsky set up the Fourth International in 1938 on the basis of his prognoses. Most of these turned out to be mistaken; most notably, the alleged rapid demise of Social Democracy and Stalinism and the spread of fascist regimes throughout the world. Nevertheless, Trotskyist groups continue to abound, all committed to the cult of the leader. For instance, John Callaghan records how Tony Cliff’s leadership of the International Socialists permitted abuses ‘… such as the decisions to launch the Right to Work campaign (late 1975) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (late 1976) without consulting the membership’ (emphasis added).

The Socialist Workers’ Party, and the more orthodox Trotskyist groups, support reforms on the grounds that they are ‘transitional demands’. These reform demands are said to be different from those of Labour and Social Democratic reforms in that Trotskyists are under no illusion that the reforms demanded could be achieved within the framework of capitalism. They are posed as bait by the vanguard party to get workers to struggle for them, on the theory that the workers would learn in the course of the struggle that these demands could not be achieved within capitalism and so would come to struggle (under the leadership of the vanguard party) to abolish capitalism.

Actually, most rank-and-file Trotskyists are not as cynical as they pretend to be here: in discussion with them you gain the clear impression that they share the illusion that the reforms they advocate can be achieved under capitalism (as, indeed, some of them could be). In other words, they are often victims of their own ‘tactics’. (See also LENINISM; TROTSKY.)


John Callaghan, British Trotskyism, 1984

Trotskyism online:


Underconsumption. A situation where, it is alleged, there is insufficient demand in the economy leading to crisis and depression. In one form or another this belief informs the Keynesian theory of unemployment. However, crises are usually the result of a failure of profitability and not the lack of markets or an inability to buy back what is produced. Marx warned against trying to explain crises in terms of the workers’ lack of purchasing power:

‘ … crises are always prepared by precisely a period in which wages rise generally and the working class actually gets a larger share of that part of the annual product which is intended for consumption’ (Capital, volume 2, chapter 20, section 4).



Simon Clarke, Marx’s Theory of Crisis, 1994

Unemployment. Capitalist economics identifies different types of unemployment:

  • Frictional unemployment: caused by people between jobs

  • Classical unemployment: caused by ‘excessively’ high wages

  • Structural unemployment: caused by changes in the structure of the economy

  • Keynesian unemployment: caused by a deficiency of aggregate demand

Capitalist economics never identifies profitability as even a theoretically possible cause of unemployment. This shows how ideologically loaded capitalist economics is. What is the ‘opportunity cost’ of the enforced idleness of millions while unmet needs abound? (See also CRISES; DEPRESSIONS; KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS.)

Uneven development. Industrial development is not evenly spread over the world. In Europe, North America, Australasia, the Pacific Rim, the vast majority of the population live and work under capitalist conditions of production for profit and the wages system, while in some parts of the world capitalist industry is only an oasis in the midst of a desert of less developed agriculture. In between are countries in varying stages of industrial development. As yet not all mankind are propertyless wage-workers, many of the remainder being peasants exploited by landlords and moneylenders.

To say that a major part of mankind are not living under capitalist conditions as wage earners is not to say that their lives are not affected by that system. Price fluctuations in the world market directly touch on their standard of living and they cannot escape the consequences of wars between capitalist powers. In view of this and in view of the fact that the bulk of the world’s wealth is produced in the capitalist parts, we can say that capitalism is the predominant social system in the world today.

We don’t need to wait for capitalist production to predominate everywhere before socialism can be established. World socialism has been possible for many years now, for as many in fact as its industrial basis has existed. As soon as the workers of the world want to, they can establish common ownership of the means of production. For the same reason, socialists do not support movements for ‘national liberation’ which aim to gain political power in the less developed countries and, of necessity, pursue policies of capitalist development.

The very idea of socialism, a new world society, is clearly and unequivocally a rejection of all nationalism. Those who become socialists will realise this and also the importance of uniting with workers in all countries. The socialist idea is not one that could spread unevenly. (See also NATIONALISM; NATIONAL LIBERATION.)


David Harvey & Neil Smith, Uneven Development, 2008

Use value. The use value of a good or service is its power to satisfy a human desire. Under capitalist commodity production, however, their use value is secondary to their exchange value. Commodities are produced primarily to be exchanged, for their exchange value. (See also EXCHANGE VALUE; VALUE.)

Utopian socialism. A term used to describe the ideas of Claude Henri de Saint Simon (1760-1825), Francois-Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen (1771-1858).

They provided interesting criticisms of existing society (competitiveness, the cause of crime, etc.) and useful ideas for a future society (individual self-realisation, co-operation, etc.), but were politically naïve about how this was to come about. Owen, for example, appealed to the ruling class for their implementation. (See also OWEN; SOCIALISM.)


B. Goodwin & K. Taylor, The Politics of Utopia, 1982

Krishan Kumar, Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Modern Times, 1991


Value. A social relationship between people which expresses itself as a material relationship between things. The value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary abstract labour time needed for its production and reproduction. Price is the monetary expression of value. (See also COMMODITIES; LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE; PRICE OF PRODUCTION.)


Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”, 2007

Vanguard. In the Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels wrote of the communists’ understanding of ‘the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate results of the proletarian movement’, which they conceived as ‘the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’.

This is to be contrasted with Lenin’s view. Although there is more than one version of the party to be found in Lenin’s writings, all of them envisage a centralised vanguard leading the working class. In his What is to be Done? (1902), Lenin argued that class-consciousness had to be brought to the workers ‘from without’ by professional revolutionaries organised as a vanguard, as a body capable of leading the working class to ‘socialism’. Because workers on their own can only develop trade union consciousness, on this view, self-emancipation is impossible.

Hal Draper has argued that Lenin was making explicit what was already implicit in the politics of the Second International generally and Kautsky in particular. If that is the case, then this would mark an important difference between the Socialist Party and the Second International, along with the Socialist Party’s rejection of the Second International’s reformism. (See also BOLSHEVISM; LEADERSHIP; LENINISM; SECOND INTERNATIONAL)


Hal Draper, The Myth of Lenin’s Concept of The Party (online at:

Violence. A new world society of democratic voluntary co-operation can only be established by democratic voluntary co-operation. By its very description, such a society cannot be imposed nor could people be led into it. Unlike Leninist and other left-wing groups who advocate violence because they rely on minority support, socialists rely on the legitimacy conferred by majority understanding, support and participation. And this is why it is reasonable to suppose that this process will be peaceful. However, socialists are not pacifists. Should an anti-democratic minority try to impose its will on a majority-expressed decision for socialism then the majority can defend themselves with force, if necessary. (See also DEMOCRACY.)


Wages. A wage or a salary is the price of the human commodity labour power, the capacity to work. Because workers are compelled to work for their employers for a duration of time, being exploited, the wages system is literally a form of slavery and the working class are wage slaves. (See also EXPLOITATION; LABOUR POWER.)

War. Capitalism is the cause of the rivalries that led to war in the modern world. In general, these conflicts between states and within states are over property. Specifically, it is competition over markets, sources of raw materials, energy supplies, trade routes, exploitable populations and areas of strategic importance. Within each state in the world there is a conflict of interests over social priorities. But all over the world there are conflicts of interest between states which lead to war when other means fail.

The vast majority of wars since the end of World War 2 in 1945 have been wars within states (‘civil’ wars), in which the victims are overwhelmingly civilians or non-combatants. Between 1945 and 1999 about 3.3 million battle deaths occurred in 25 interstate wars. In the same period there were some 122 civil wars resulting in 16.2 million deaths – five times the interstate death toll.

Of course wars took place in class societies before capitalism existed. These wars however can generally be attributed to the absolute shortages of the past. In our own age the problem is a different one. Now the means exist for producing enough to supply the needs of all. With international capitalism, however, we have the problem of artificial scarcity created by the capitalist system of production. Social production takes place for profit, not directly for human need. It is this global system of competitive accumulation that creates the rivalry that leads to war. (See also VIOLENCE.)


A Global Time-line of War:

Wealth. A product of human labour, acting upon nature-given materials, that is capable of satisfying needs. This identifies wealth with use-value. But capitalism is a society where wealth becomes a commodity having exchange value also, and sometimes only a socially-bounded use-value that is peculiar to this society – as with nuclear weapons (See also COMMODITY; EXCHANGE VALUE; USE VALUE.)

Webb, Beatrice (1858-1943) and Sidney (1859-1947). As prominent members of the Fabian Society both were involved in the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (1900) which, in 1906, became the Labour Party. In 1918 the Labour Party adopted a constitution (rejected in 1995) which was mostly written by Sidney. More well-known in their own time for their researches in social and economic history, the main intellectual influence on Beatrice came from Herbert Spencer, whereas Sidney (in 1929 Baron Passfield) was more influenced by Jeremy Bentham.

They both had a very poor opinion of the working class. Beatrice wrote:

We do not have faith in the “average sensual man”, we do not believe that he can do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think that he can prescribe the remedies… We wish to introduce the professional expert’ (Our Partnership, 1948).



Webbs online:

Welfare state. In 1942 the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services by Sir William Beveridge (later Lord Beveridge) was published to widespread acclaim. All the main political parties hailed the Report as the basis for a restructured and improved social provision for the working class after the war against Germany had been won. The Socialist Party analysed the purpose and nature of the Beveridge proposals in a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. This pamphlet quoted the Tory MP Quentin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) and his advice on the necessity of social reform within capitalism – ‘if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution’ – and suggested that the Beveridge recommendations were best judged in the light of the wave of working class discontent which followed the 1914-18 war, which the capitalist class and their political representatives feared might be repeated.

The actual content of the Report and the proposals it put forward for social reform were, as the Times put it, ‘moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence’ (2 December 1942). In large part the reforms aimed at providing an efficient working framework for the replacement of the unbalanced and disparate system of poor relief previously in existence in Britain. In fact a familiar claim of Beveridge at the time was that his proposals would be cheaper to administer than the previous arrangements. As he put it in his Report:

Social insurance and the allied services, as they exist today, are conducted by a complex of disconnected administrative organs, proceeding on different principles, doing invaluable service but at a cost in money and trouble and anomalous treatment of identical problems for which there is no justification’ (page 6, emphasis added).

Many of Beveridge’s proposals were already effectively in force for a significant number of workers, but the Report recommended the introduction of a unified, comprehensive and contributory scheme to cover loss of employment, disablement, sickness and old age. An enlargement of medical benefits and treatments was proposed, as was a plan for non-contributory allowances to be paid by the state to parents with dependent children.

This latter scheme was criticised in another Socialist Party pamphlet called Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis, which demonstrated how Beveridge’s proposed Family Allowances would be of principal benefit to the employing class, not the wage and salary earners. This scheme would allow employers to make across-the-board wage reductions as wages had previously had to take account of the entire cost of the maintenance and reproduction of workers and their families, even though the majority of workers at the time had no dependent children to provide for. The Family Allowances plan was a scheme based on targeting provision on those workers actually with children. Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis explained:

‘wages must provide not only an existence for the worker himself, but also enable him to rear future generations of wage workers to take his place. It is quite logical therefore from a capitalist point of view to raise objection to a condition which in a large number of cases provides wages “adequate” to maintain children for those who in fact possess no children.’

In outlining the case for universal state benefits and health care, the Beveridge Report was undoubtedly of some benefit to sections of the working class who, for one reason or another, had found themselves outside the existing scheme of provision. But as the case of Family Allowances demonstrated some of the gains for the working class were more apparent than real.

As the Socialist Party was able to predict, the recommendations of Beveridge and, for that matter, the modifications that have been made to the various branches of the welfare state in the past 60 years, have not succeeded in solving the poverty problem. Particularly since the end of the post-war boom in the late 1960s (the ‘golden age’ of capitalism?), the problems of poverty and income inequality have accelerated. The health services and social security have to be paid for ultimately out of the profits of the capitalist class, generally via taxation (the burden of which in the last analysis falls on the bosses) or borrowing. In an increasingly competitive and crisis-ridden global economy, the welfare state becomes a luxury they cannot afford. (See also REFORMISM.)


Pat Thane, The Foundations of the Welfare State, 1996

Workers’ councils. Advocated by some left-wingers as the means to fight capitalism, overthrow it, and establish and administer socialist society. Workers’ councils comprised of delegates from workplaces would co-ordinate the struggle. Workers’ councils may indeed have a role to play, but their social base is too narrow (many workers operate outside the traditional workplace) to effect a social revolution, and socialists insist that the overthrow of capitalism must involve the capture of state power.

Workers’ councils are to be distinguished from Works’ Councils. The latter are currently being sponsored by the European Union, as a means to ‘industrial democracy’, by encouraging workers to be more competitive and productive in conjunction with their bosses. (See also DEMOCRACY.)


Serge Bricaner, Pannekoek and the Workers’ Councils, 1978

Working class. All those who are excluded from the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution and depend for their existence on wages and salaries or incomes derived from them. In Britain this is over 90% of the population, the remainder being mostly the capitalist class – those who live on unearned income derived from their ownership of land and invested capital.

As shorthand, socialists sometimes refer to the working class as wage slaves or wage and salary earners. This, however, is a way of bringing out the importance of wage labour for capitalism, and is not a value judgement by socialists on the worth or importance of the workers not employed. The life-blood of this system is the pumping of surplus value out of wage labour. But in fact employees constitute only about half the total number of the working class. Of necessity, there are many roles within the working class that are needed to facilitate the reproduction cycle of labour power, such as schoolchildren, housewives, pensioners and so on. The whole working class is involved in creating, maintaining and reproducing labour power. For the benefit of the capitalist class. (See also CAPITALIST CLASS; CLASS.)


E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 1991


Zero growth. Capitalism is primarily an economic system of competitive capital accumulation out of the surplus value produced by wage labour. As a system it must continually accumulate or go into crisis. Consequently, human needs and the needs of our natural environment take second place to this imperative. The result is waste, pollution, environmental degradation and unmet needs on a global scale. The ecologist’s dream of a sustainable ‘zero growth’ within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream.

However, on the new basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use, socialist society will be able to sustain a stable and sympathetic relationship with nature. After clearing up the mess left by capitalism and a possible initial increase in production to eliminate poverty, production can be expected to settle down and level off at a level sufficient to provide for human and environmental needs. (See also ECOLOGY; NEEDS; SOCIALISM.)


David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction, 1996

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