1980s >> 1989 >> no-1023-november-1989

Letters to the Editors: Destructive Savagery

Dear Comrades,

I daresay quite a few readers were puzzled by the figure of 15 million dead in the Second World War in the article The Economic Roots in the September Socialist Standard.

This figure was based on one of the estimates for the military casualties on all sides. An estimate of the total number killed by the war, in one way or another, would be at least four times as much; some go as high as 200 million.

I am sorry if I misled anyone into thinking that we underestimate capitalism’s destructive savagery.


Ideas and Struggle

Dear Comrades,

I found an old copy of your magazine Socialist Standard at a friend’s place. I was very interested to read it and there were several thought-provoking articles.

Have you got anything on Trotskyism? Several of my friends have very nearly joined such parties as the SWP. Militant and the RCP. A few years ago, I was on the periphery of the RCP, but their ruthless party building (and total rejection of real working class issues) turned me off . . . fortunately. I find that the Trotskyists have a very patronising attitude to the working class that I presume results from Lenin’s theory that, on their own, workers can only reach a trade union consciousness and thus, hey presto, the need for the guiding light of a revolutionary party—it does not seem to have done that much guiding so far! And what do you think of anarchism? I have occasionally read anarchist papers—some of them are nothing more than liberal rubbish (such as Freedom), but others do have more sense (e.g. Direct Action) in that they emphasise the class rather than the culture!

I must say that I do have my differences with the SPGB analysis, particularly over how socialism will be achieved. I completely agree with you that a majority of the working class needs to be fighting for socialism, but. as Marx said, “ideas change in struggle”. To me this means that at any time there is a possibility of real change because in mass struggle the ideas of the working class do change. For example, if the miners strike had spread to other sectors (as it had to in order to avoid defeat), then we might have seen a possible revolution. I think that it is very Leninist to underestimate the abilities and potential of the working class. You say “the democratic conquest of political power”— what about the real power in this society, the economic structure? Thatcher is merely a puppet of the bosses’ interests. To talk of revolution in such mild terms makes me think of naivety such as what would you do if there was a military uprising against the new socialist government?

I also think that you emphasise educational activities far too much. I would never deny the importance of propaganda, but getting back to that original quote from Marx: “ideas change in struggle” . . . not through passive book reading. So I would argue that socialists should be fighting back against this rotten system in their own lives in the here and now (for example, agitating for a strike in their workplace, leafletting their community about the Poll Tax and helping to set up Anti-Poll Tax Unions) and supporting all other working class people in their struggles against class society. I think that it is only through such a movement as this that society will be changed—but I am very interested to hear what you have to say.

Norman Davis
London, N16

1. Yes, as Marx said, ideas change in struggle. But this does not mean to say that ideas change suddenly. In fact, the process of overcoming the overwhelming conditioning of capitalism is itself a long hard struggle. We do not underestimate the potential of the working class, as the Leninists do, when we say that the majority of workers are at present imbued with support for capitalism. There is a great potential for workers to make the transition to understand and want socialism instead, but we would be kidding ourselves and others if we accepted, for example, that if the miners’ strike had spread “then we might have seen a possible revolution”. The key precondition for a socialist revolution is that a majority should be socialists, fully conscious of their class position and their interests as workers in ending capitalism. If the miners’ strike had benefited from greater solidarity amongst other workers, it would have improved the miners’ position, and would have been a sign that class consciousness was growing. But that simple condition, of a majority of genuine socialists, still stands as an indispensable precondition for the revolutionary change we seek, and we continue to work with great determination to build up such a majority.

2. Yes, Thatcher is a puppet of the bosses’ interests. But political power within capitalism cannot be overestimated—the bosses spend millions through their parties securing and organising political power. In Britain today, the state forces including the military are, as a matter of concrete fact, under the control of a parliamentary government which is given electoral support by the very workers whose interests it opposes. Many on the Left find it hard to face up to the harsh fact that capitalism, in all of its forms, does depend on the acquiescence and/or apathy of a majority of workers themselves. With the growth of a socialist majority, determined to end capitalism, the notion of a military uprising to prevent this is nonsensical. How would such a military force even exist or survive against the solid and hostile opposition of a socialist majority throughout society? The greater degree of class consciousness which that would entail on the part of the majority would make it more than likely that such a military sect would be starved of food, of power and electricity supplies, of uniforms, of weapons and of credibility.

3. You say that “passive book reading” and educational work are not enough on their own, but must be combined with active campaigning, e.g. against the poll tax, or for strikes at work, as, going back once again to Marx, “ideas change in struggle”. It is false to make such a rigid division between passive reading and active action. Reading and learning is itself an activity. Furthermore, the substance and subject matter of what socialists write and read about is, of course, the subject matter of the class struggle itself. And, on the other hand, a lot of so-called radical actions are actually nothing more than feeble attempts to reform and modify capitalism, to dress up oppression in a new guise. But, as far as trade union and strike action are concerned, or democratic efforts by workers to combine and improve (or just maintain) their wages and conditions of work, the Socialist Party fully supports such action. As active members of a whole range of trade unions, many of our members have worked very long and hard at such active struggle. But as a political party standing unequivocally for socialist revolution our role, which we carry out to the best of our abilities, is to put to our fellow workers the most urgent choice facing the entire human race now in 1989: are we. the deprived majority, going to allow the world’s resources to remain harmfully in the hands of about 1-5 per cent of the population, or are we at last going to act on our true interests. and organise politically, consciously and democratically for the overthrow of capitalism, and the establishment of world socialism?