The Passing Show

Russian “Socialism”

A letter in The Times on May 10th read as follows:

“The gap between Marxist theory and practice could not be better illustrated than by the extension of the capital penalty in Soviet Russia. In theory the state and crime in the Communist society are supposed to “wither away.” The fact that 44 years after the Marxist Revolution it should be necessary to reintroduce the death penalty for a number of crimes is surely a very much more important propaganda point for the West than who manages to be first in orbiting the Earth with a satellite.”

The harm that has been done to the cause of Socialism by the Russian Communist Party is incalculable. Over and over again the opponents of Socialism are able to make speeches and write articles sneering at Socialism on the strength of what the Russians are doing. If we say that Socialism means the end of war, they retort that the Russians have Socialism, and they also have one of the biggest war-machines that have ever been built. If we say a means the end of wage-slavery, they retort that the Russian workers still have to labour for wages. If we say it means the end of crime, they show the Russians’ own reports revealing widespread crime in the Soviet Union. If we say it means the end of money, they point triumphantly to Russia—they have Socialism, and they have found they can’t do without money.

From both sides of the Iron Curtain the flood of lying propaganda is endless. The Russians maintain they have Socialism, hoping thereby to secure the allegiance of the world’s workers, and make the task of any states which go to war with Russia much more difficult. The Western world also maintains that the Russians have Socialism, because they hope that their own workers, seeing that the Russian workers are no better off than they are themselves, will therefore turn against Socialism.

State & Public Property

Further grist to the mills of capitalism’s supporters comes with the news that capital punishment in Russia has now been expended to further offences. It was abolished with great publicity in 1947,and then restored in 1950 for “traitors to the country, spies and wrecker-diversionists.” In 1954 it was applied to murder in “aggravated circumstances.” Now it has been decreed for persons convicted of large-scale theft of “state and public property,” for forgers, and for criminals who “terrorize” fellow-prisoners. The British newspapers have not been slow to make capital out of the news. Here we are, they say: here is the “classless society” that the Socialists want—and it can’t even get along without executions! Even many admittedly capitalist countries have been able to abolish capital punishment: even in the old Russia, under the last Czar the death penalty was reserved for political crimes—that is, treason and attempts to murder members of the Imperial House.

Against this, Socialists can only go on repeating the facts of the case: that in Russia, as the most cursory unbiased examination would show, the presence of private property, wage-labour, state industry, commodity production, crime, and the coercive apparatus of the state all demonstrate quite unmistakably the nature of the economic and social system. It is capitalism, and nothing else.

But this has to he done in face of the capitalist monopoly of the Press, pulpit, radio, cinema, and television, all of which strenuously maintain the opposite. In fact, so useful is Russia (i.e., a capitalist country calling itself Socialist) as a propaganda weapon to ‘the supporters of the status quo, that one is tempted to transfer a famous phrase: if it hadn’t existed, it would have had to be invented.

Strike Over Algeria

Monday, April 24th was a notable day in the history of France. At five o’clock precisely all industries, all public services, all organised labour ceased, and there was a nation-wide strike lasting one hour. All the trade unions—communist, social democrat, right-wing—joined to support this tremendous demonstration. Some ten million workers came out, and it was considered “probably the most massive strike in French history.” What had caused this enormous working-class reaction?

The answer, of course, is Algeria. The revolt of April, although led by four generals, was a movement of the French settlers in Algeria and their sympathizers. These settlers form a landed aristocracy. Their position as a propertied class depends on their keeping the Algerian land which they or their forerunners seized. While the Algerians themselves could be subdued without too much expense, the French capitalist class was prepared to support these landed settlers. But now the situation has changed. A whole rebel army is in the field, and large-scale military operations are necessary to keep Algeria from falling into their hands. A new Algerian moneyed class, which is the mainspring of the rebellion, is growing up.

It is in the interests of the French capitalist class to cut its losses, and by giving independence to Algeria to escape the crippling financial burden of the Algerian war. Then, in peace, French firms can resume their profitable activities in Algeria as they have in the other former French colonies in Africa. This is what the French ruling class requires, and this is what its present executive officer, General de Gaulle, will carry out. Even though the General was brought to power by a movement which had its origin among the settlers in Algeria, the necessities of the ruling class dictate his course. Which explains why there have been two more attempted coups in Algeria since de Gaulle took power, led by the very men who at first supported him, and who now, of course, regard him as a traitor. But he is not that. Just as in other countries the elected politicians throw overboard their promises when “the needs of the country” (i.e., the needs of the ruling class) demand it, so in France de Gaulle has been forced to disappoint and discard the men who thought they were raising him to power in order to “ keep Algeria French.”

This, then, is the nature of the struggle in Algeria. Basically it is a contest between the new Algerian capitalist class and the landed settlers, with the self-interest of the French ruling class forcing it at last to come down on the side of the former. And the massive strike carried out by the French trade unions was in support of the French ruling class against the settlers.

When the workers devote half the time and energy which they now give to fighting for the interests of their masters, to fighting for their own interests, they will he irresistible.


From the Sunday Express, May 7th:

“Soon returning to London after spending the winter months in Jamaica are Lord and Lady Brownlow. They have been staying at The Great House, Roaring River—the 3,500 acres of cattle land and plantation which Lord Brownlow— formerly Lord-Lieutenant of Lincolnshire —bought 13 years ago.”

But “although his estate adjoins the fashionable vacation resorts. Lord Brownlow does not find that his visits to Jamaica provide restful holidays.” He is reported to have said: “Being a member of the so-called Plantocracy these days means more headaches than profits.” Naturally! Property-owning has always meant “more headaches than profits.” Property-owners throughout the ages have been at pains to make this clear to the non-property-owners. So insistent have property-owners always been on this point that we would be tempted to believe them—if only they showed they meant it by giving up their property.


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