1940s >> 1943 >> no-472-december-1943

Socialism—or Barbarism

Recent issues of the New Leader (August 28th and September 25th) have carried rather sweeping onslaughts on the Socialist Party by Mr. F. A. Ridley.

He is annoyed at the “incurable colour-blindness” of the S.P.G.B., which is a “still surviving relic of the meliorist Victorian age” (shades of Keir Hardie!) “They seem to think that the world is a glorified Hyde Park,” he snorts contemptuously. Whereas Mr. Ridley, according to the New Leader, sees through “ Socialist eyes.”

These “relics” “have accused the present writer [Ridley] of exaggeration, because I have always maintained that the concrete alternative to the Social Revolution was not even the continuation of Capitalism, but, ultimately, the Barbarism of a new dark age.” (New Leader, August 28th.—our italics.)

But on Saturday, September 25th, the Editor of the New Leader heads the article with the words ” F. A. Ridley says the choice before humanity is Socialist Revolution or violent and bloody collapse” (our italics).

In the first few lines of this particular outburst he says, “a few weeks back I raised in this column the fundamental question of our time: Socialism or Barbarism,” then follows a lengthy diatribe anent the “superannuated drivel” of those “fundamentalists” the S.P.G.B. who imagine “there are no set-backs in history.”

Incidentally. he did not announce all this till after the reported destruction of Hamburg—when he says “it is time to speak out ” (August 28th). Why he kept it back till then is a mystery.

He also states, “we are in a state of war. In my opinion this state of war will end with the end of Capitalism and not before ” (August 28th), i.e.. not permanent revolution, like Trotsky—but permanent world war.

The present war, “it is not fanciful to predict,” will lead, he says, to an underground society like that predicted by Bulwer Lytton in his novel, “The Coming Race,” and lastly, as though all this were not enough, “a grimmer .age of permanent war, of revolution and counter-revolution has arrived“ (August 28th).

Four weeks later, “apart from the victory of the Social Revolution, everything indicates the collapse of this era as the bloodiest and most violent of all.” (Italics ours.)

We have cited all this wearisome rigmarole because we cannot start to sort it out until we have got the whole mass of self-contradictory notions in one heap.

We may now draw up a little table as follows:—

In the opinion of Mr. Ridley the present war shows that alternatives before humanity are:—
Socialism—OR

1. Barbarism.2. A new Dark Age.3. Violent or bloody collapse.4. An underground society,5. Permanent War.6. A grimmer age of War, Revolution and Counter Revolution.

It is obvious, of course, that to Mr. Ridley and the New Leader all these are synonymous terms.

It must be admitted that if one’s only concern is to put the wind up readers of the New Leader, i.e., publish sensational “horrific” articles about what will happen to you, presumably, if you don’t vote for Commonwealth candidates (who support “Victory”), and eat up all your nasty I.L.P. porridge, it is probably quite effective.

Unfortunately, it has nothing whatever to do with Socialism—or its attainment.

Mr. Ridley says “I propose to apply this dialectical method, the method of Marxism, to the historical philosophy which denies the present retrogression and approaching collapse of capitalist civilisation.”

“Propose” is the operative word.

Shorn of all his irrelevant allusions to various classical writers, militarists, poets, historians, etc. (his articles are liberally sprinkled with frequent references to Tacitus, von Clausewitz, Leonardo da Vinci, Marx, Lord Tennyson, dear Lytton, Darwin, Aristotle, Flinders Petrie, Spartacus and old Socrates and Cicero, of course; Sir Geo. Paish, Lord John Ball), and his alleged “quotations,” page references for which he never gives, what does all this ridiculous taradiddle about “bloody and violent collapse ” amount to? It amounts to this—that Mr. Ridley and the New Leader have swallowed whole the moth-eaten Communist Party nonsense of twenty years ago (and even the Communists lifted it from the Labour Party), that Capitalism will collapse; and the S.P.G.B. have not. F. A. Ridley, therefore, says they [the S.P.G.B.] think that “evolution is uninterrupted,” and are like “Lot’s wife frozen into a permanent pillar of salt.” (September 25th).

The plain fact is that Mr. Ridley has lost the faintest glimmer of a notion of economics—and consequently, of the part they play in history; and all his flashy citations of scores of “great names” are merely an ineffectual attempt to conceal his ignorance.
Mr. Ridley does not know what Barbarism is—or Capitalism—either. He has no notion of how it is defined, or was determined. To a scientific Socialist, these terms are not fancy trimmings for political ghost stories; they connote a certain definite stage in social development; and Marx’s great merit was in discovering that a certain stage of development of the productive forces produced that scheme of social organisation, e.g.. Barbarism. In other words, he gave us a clue to the law of social development.
Ridley talks glibly of Barbarism OR a new Dark Age. The period called the Dark Age by historians was not Barbarism—it was feudalism, something totally different, and to announce blithely in print that we may revert, to one or the other, just accidentally, is sheer idle nonsense.
If Mr. Ridley could forget Socrates and von Clausewitz for a minute, and turn to the man who actually studied Barbarism—Lewis H. Morgan, or the man who popularised him, Frederick Engels, he might learn something. There, we find Barbarism defined as—

“The time of acquiring the knowledge of cattle raising, of agriculture and of new methods for increasing the productivity of nature by human agency.” (Origin of the Family, Kerr ed., p. 39.)

Barbarism started with, the discovery of pottery and ended with the invention of writing.
Is Mr. Ridley seriously suggesting in an article in which he describes the tremendous advances made by aviation, that humanity is discarding the knowledge it has accumulated and returning to primitive pasturage and agriculture as occupations?
And because he is hopelessly ignorant of the economics of Capitalism, he actually says in his article that “capitalist society does not differ in its social framework of exploitation and inequality from earlier vanished civilisations, such as those of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans . . .
“Wage-slavery is slavery, even if technically different from chattel-slavery.” (September 25th.)
So it turns out that it is no different anyway—so why Ridley is so worried about going back to it nobody knows.
Even the New Leader has hardly ever printed a more stupid statement.
Modern machinery, etc. (constant capital) presupposes “free” wage-slaves (variable capital) to operate it, and cannot be run in any other way. Chattel slaves couldn’t be trusted with a mattock—let alone a tractor.
But now we come to the guts of the question — will Capitalism collapse ?
The Socialist Party said No, when almost everybody else, including James Maxton, was saying Yes.

   “I am perfectly satisfied that the great Capitalist system that has endured for 150 years in its modern form, is now at the stage of final collapse, and not all the devices of the statesmen, not all the three-party conferences, not all the collaboration between the leaders, can prevent the system from coming down in one unholy crash. They may postpone the collapse for a month, two months, three months, six months, he cries, but collapse is sure and certain.” (August 22nd, 1931: “Why Capitalism will not Collapse,” S.P.G.B., February, 1932. p. 9.)

So that all Ridley has done, after twelve years, is to stick a few “bloodys” in. Maxton even knew the date then, which Ridley doesn’t claim to—now.
The whole thing originates in the absurd 1920-30 propaganda of the Communists—the idea of automatic collapse followed by blind revolt of the workers—which, for the Communist Party bosses, was the “psychological moment” to “seize power.”
Everything has shown since that “BLIND” revolts of the workers don’t end in Socialism—but much more likely in Fascism.

   “Our work has been made more difficult by the idea that Capitalism may collapse of its own accord. It is clear that if Capitalism were going to collapse under the weight of its own problems then it would be a waste of time and energy to carry on Socialist propaganda and to build up a real Socialist party aiming at political power. If it were true, as is claimed, that Capitalism will have broken down long before it will be possible for us to win over a majority for the capture of political power, then, indeed, it would be necessary to seek Socialism by some other means. Workers who have accepted this wrong and lazy idea of collapse have neglected many activities that are absolutely essential. They have taken up the fatalistic attitude of waiting for the system to end itself. But the system is not so obliging.”
(Why Capitalism will not Collapse, S.P.G.B., p. 1.)
“The problem of over-production that is behind every crisis is always relieved in due course for a time. Employers close down production. . . .  Capitalists destroy stocks. . . . Stocks deteriorate. . . .  As a last resort there is the colossal destruction of wars to relieve the pressure. Sooner or later, these crises of over-production have always given place to a resumption of fairly brisk trade and employment.” (Ibid, p. 14—our italics.)

That’s just what Ridley can’t grasp. When ho avers that the crises will become permanent wars, he doesn’t understand that the WAR is the temporary solution of the crisis.

   “How does the bourgeoisie overcome these crises? asked Marx. On the one hand by the compulsory annihilation of a quantity of the productive forces.” (Communist Manifesto, Rejayonoff edition, p. 33.)

This war is that annihilation. Even Lenin was well aware that “no situation for Capitalism is without a way out—we know that the overthrow of Capitalism . . .  requires the most titanic and long-drawn struggle, action, organisation and victory of the working class, and that until that is attained, Capitalism will still drag on from crisis to crisis, from hell to greater hell. (Why Capitalism will not Collapse, p. 15.)
To which we added :

“The workers will never be able to take sound action until they possess the knowledge of Socialism that it is our aim to provide, so long as the workers lack a knowledge of Socialist principles and determination to bring Socialism about—each crisis will pass off in this fashion. . . . Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending Capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely from one crisis to another.” (Why Capitalism will not Collapse, p. 15.)

   “There have been  . . .  political parties such as the Labour Party, the I.L.P., and the Communist Party seeking support on programmes of reforms. Some of these bodies have obtained a large membership and have appeared to gain small concessions. Some have even taken over the government and tried to apply their reform programmes. But such organisations do not, and cannot, bring Socialism. Their members are attracted by the promise of immediate results. . . . They may reform Capitalism, but they cannot abolish it.” (Ibid, p. 16.)

Mr. Ridley should not be entirely unaware of all this. For he has rushed in where Brockway and other I.L.P.ers fear to tread; and debated with the S.P.G.B. The result has always been the now-evident and bloodless collapse not of the Capitalist system—but of Mr. F. A. Ridley.
Horatio.