2000s >> 2005 >> no-1215-november-2005

Book reviews

Gilded socialism


Darrow Schechter: Beyond Hegemony. Manchester University Press. £55.


This turns out to be an attempt to work out a philosophical and sometimes nearly incomprehensible (at least outside the little world of academia) basis for an alternative to liberal democracy (free-market capitalism), social-democracy (regulated capitalism) and what Schechter calls state socialism (state capitalism).


Schechter identifies that what is wrong with these is that all three of them involve commodity production and consumption (production for exchange and the generation of money and capital rather than direct use), and that the alternative has to be a system where there is production directly for use. Unfortunately, he sees the answer in the Utopian scheme devised in the 1920s by the Labour historian (and Labour Party activist) G.D.H. Cole, which he called Guild Socialism. Although Coles blueprint did provide for close links between consumers and producers which could be interpreted as production directly for use, it still envisaged the continuation of finance, prices and incomes. And it was to come into being through the guilds eventually outcompeting capitalist industries in the marketplace (though, to be fair to Schechter, he doesnt explicitly endorse this and may well not support it).


But if Schechter stands for Guild Socialism why doesnt he just campaign for it? Does it really need the elaborate philosophical basis he has constructed for it? Perhaps its just that university lecturers have to publish to justify their jobs.




Dreadful Catalogue
Jessica Williams: 50 Facts that Should Change the World. Icon £6.99.
  The obvious reaction to the title is to say that it’s people that change the world, not facts. But Jessica Williams begins by
claiming that the facts she has assembled can change the way people think. The i n f o r m a t i o n gathered here does indeed provide many reasons why the world needs to be changed. Much of what is said will probably be familiar to readers of the Socialist Standard. One in five of the earth’s population go hungry each day, for instance, while one British child in three lives below the poverty line, and life expectancy is strikingly low in many countries, especially in Africa. Others are perhaps not so appalling: is it really so bad that Brazil has more Avon ladies than members of its armed forces?
  But many will find much that is new and enlightening here. For example, far from slavery having been abolished, there are more slaves in the world today (27 million) than at any time previously. More people die from suicide than from armed conflicts: in 2000 around one million people killed themselves and at least ten times that number tried to do so.

 What sort of world is it in which so many find their lives insupportable to this extent?

  Or where over two hundred million child labourers exist? In nine countries, same-sex relationships are punishable by
death, while over 150 states make use of torture. One third of the world’s population live in countries involved in armed conflict, and black American men stand a one-in three chance of going to prison at some time in their lives. Two million women are subjected to female genital mutilation eachyear, while over one million people are killed in road traffic accidents.

  The book presents a dreadful catalogue of poverty, violence, degradation and waste, a vivid picture of 21st-century capitalism, all backed up with useful references. Williams adds commentary of her own, together with ideas for solving the problems. Some of this is OK – she recognises that famine and malnutrition are not caused by food shortages. But far too much of it is concerned with what governments should do and how ‘we’ should influence them. The real lesson to draw, though, is that we truly do need to change the world, not just get the rulers to behave in a more enlightened way.



A Rebel’s Guide to Lenin. Ian Birchall. Bookmarks. £2.


This is an odd, 58-page top-pocket-size pamphlet. Odd because it is written in very simple language and seems to be aimed at schoolkids who might be influenced by anarchist ideas.


Thus, Birchall tells us, “Lenin’s goal was the same as the anarchists’, but he recognised that the path it would be complex”. Yes indeed, by means of the dictatorship of a vanguard party which would last for years and which would, supposedly, in time give up its power and privilege and abolish the state.


Birchall quotes from ex-anarchists who came over to the Bolsheviks such as Alfred Rosmer and Victor Serge and tells us that Lenin “spent hours discussing with anarchists such as Emma Goodman from the US and Makhno from Ukraine” and argued that “the syndicalist idea of an ‘organised minority’ of the most militant workers and the Bolshevik idea of the party were the same thing”.


This may have worked in the aftermath of the first world war and the Russian revolution to temporarily win over a number of anarchists and syndicalists, but it is hard to see it working today to get any budding anarchists to join the SWP.


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