mandag den 26. oktober 2015

Christianity and Socialism by Horace Jarvis - What is religion?

Gray's note: This is the first section of the pamphlet. I have altered the "Marx quote" Jarvis gave at the end to bring it into line with the standard translation found on They are certainly different -- Jarvis again not noting his source or indicating that he cut a paragraph out of that famous bit of  "A Contribution to the Critique of  Hegel's Philosophy of Right."

There are many who ask, why are socialists against religion? Why did Marx write:- "Religion is the opium of the people?"

Those who think religion is necessary to mankind and that it has a salutary influence, are usually very vague as to what constitutes religion.

Religion does not mean leading a good life; it is not sharing your possessions with the poor; it is not turning the other cheek when assaulted, or loving your neighbour. All these are problems of ethics and morality, so often confused with religion.. Christianity as well as other religions have their moral and ethical codes.

When Matthew Arnold defined religion as "morality touched with emotion", he added to this confusion.

Both Socialists and Christians may wish to help their fellows, and not harm anybody. They may try to be kind, courteous and considerate to the wishes of others - these are things which so many people think are religious principles. In fact socialists are doing their bit to better mankind in spreading the knowledge of socialism, and are often despised for it.

Religion portrays itself as a system of absurd anachronistic beliefs - usually accompanied by threats to non-believers and promises of rewards for the pious. In some cases it seems to be a pathological condition (what disease is to the body, religion is to the mind), where the person suppresses his reasoning power in certain directions. He accepts statements from the Bible as being beyond dispute, statements he would reject completely if he read them elsewhere. No wonder religion has been defined as a "psychological purgative for imaginary sins."

Religion is superstition running away from truth and afraid of being overtaken. This is because religion is based on belief. The many references to belief in the New Testament, makes it clear that "belief" is the basis of Christianity.

Religion is not a revelation, but the product of evolution as all forms of ideas and culture. No matter if fundamentalists reject evolution, their religion and all it contains has been the product of evolution. Even the idea of God evolved. See Grant Allen's "Evolution of the idea of God."

Originally, religion was a belief in the existence of supernatural beings, and the observance of rites and ceremonies in order to avert their anger or gain their good-will. "Corpse worship", as it has been tersely called, was the protoplasm of religion.

Religion is woven like a threat into the texture of human society from the early times to the present day. It is based upon man's ignorance of natural forces and has been propped up by rulers a s a means of keeping slaves in subjection.

Religion developed by primitive man to explain natural phenomenon such as storms, earthquakes, volcanoes etc. To the savage mind when the avalanche fell the rocks were angry; when the volcano belched forth destruction, the mountain was furious; when the ground rumbled and cracked then the earth was determined upon destruction.

Savage man saw everythingin his own image. When his mental development had advanced a stage further it was the mountain spirit and the river spirit and the earth spirit that was angry, and he commenced to devise means to propitiate angry spirits.

It was here the priesthood stepped in, the vague beginning of what was eventually to become the Church, that has harassed mankind across the ages, supported tyranny, and reaped much profit in the process. Priesthood became the imaginary bulwark of man against the forces of nature and society; and religion his refuge when life was too burdensome.

In the early civilisations of Babylon and Egypt the priesthood was wealthy and powerful; chattel slavery and poor freeman toiled for its benefit. How powerful it was has been clearly shown by the treasures and manuscripts found in the tombs of the rulers. By holding out the threat of eternal damnation on the unfaithful the Egyptian priesthood accumulated vast wealth and property and stood behind the whips of the slave driver.

Each new religion starting with the will of the oppressed has ended with the power of a new oppressor. Privileged classes learned early the value of religion and used it ruthlessly to support their domination.

All religion is based on faith and faith is an illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible. It is belief without evidence in a preacher without knowledge about things without parallel. Christian faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason; it is believing in something which your common sense tells you must be wrong. All this is in direct opposition to socialism, and cannot possibly be reconciled with or incorporated into socialism.

Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. 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. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

søndag den 25. oktober 2015

Christianity and Socialism by Horace Jarvis - Introduction

Gray's note: Jarvis doesn't note which version of the Bible, or publisher, he was quoting from nor make reference to editions, etc with other non-Biblical quotes.

There are among religious people many good and sincere citizens who could be very useful to society, who are prepared to sacrifice everything for their principles. The Salvation and Church Army. Nuns, who renounce marriage and motherhood, and dedicate their lives to helping the poor, the aged or the infirmed. There are also hundreds and thousands of workers for churches, christian associations, and "do good societies", who hope to leave this world a better place than they find it, and who are seriously interested in peace and the betterment of the human race, and the alleviation of suffering.

Christians often claim that their religion is a comfort in times of trouble, but in political crises (which are now continuous) and also in wars, they are in a hopeless philosophical position, like a ship without a captain in a stormy sea.

Because of this they easily become victims of wily politicians and ruthless statesmen, and instead of helping to work for a better social world order, find themselves unintentionally supporting corrupt regimes and dedicating their lives to maintaining these systems. Their naive blindness to the real nature and background of religion prevents them from seeing clearly the material tasks of this life.

"The greatest curse of humanity is ignorance. The only remedy is knowledge. Religion, being based on fixed authority, is naturally opposed to knowledge. Science needs investigation and criticism. Religion is opposed to both these." Robert Blatchford.

Socialists who take a realistic view of man's problems, will look on the miracles of the Bible, the virgin birth, the resurrection, life after death and all the paraphernalia of religion as an obstruction to social progress. It is difficult to understand how any normally educated person can take it seriously, and hard to believe that thousands of people still consider stories that are the equivalent of Andersen's fairy tales, are true.

Christians might do well to follow the advice of the Bible (1. Cor. 13.11) "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put aside childish things." So long as they are tied to the Bible, they can never put aside childish beliefs which prevent them from understanding socialism.

It is quite obvious that if Christians are guided by the Bible and the priests, they cannot be expected to see through the much more skilful propaganda of the politicians, television, radio and newspapers, on life's more important matters.

One must oppose religion because it stands in the way of socialism and the understanding the latter necessitates. A man under the influence of drugs and alcohol cannot be expected to make a good socialist; but if he can be freed from these, at least there is a chance.

One cannot hope to change the world if the ideas that have made it remain unchallenged.

"Philosophers up to know have merely interpreted the world; what we have to do is change it." Karl Marx.

To be continued. Next: What is Religion?

Religion and Socialism

As far as I am aware, nobody has published the text of Horace Jarvis' pamphlet Christianity and Socialism. Therefore I shall be reproducing it at about a section per blog. It is 80 pages long, in 20 "chapters" and looks (and feels) like the 1978 SPGB pamphlet Questions of the Day.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always had the position that religion is not a personal but a social issue, therefore applicants for membership are not allowed to join if they have religious beliefs. There is a specific question on this in the membership test so applicants are in no doubts as to where we and where they stand.

A book review from the Socialist Standard (November 1998) with some pertinent details:

Socialism and Religion

By F. A. Ridley. Rational Socialist League, 70 Chestnut Lane, Amersham. 40 pages.

This is a reprint, updated by the author before he died in 1994, of a pamphlet originally published in 1948.

On religion, it takes up a basically similar position to ours, derived from Marx: that religion is an expression of human alienation, of the fact that humans are not in control of their destiny but are the playthings of uncontrollable, impersonal economic and social forces and resort to religion to console themselves and to try to make sense of this. This is why, as Ridley puts it in a criticism of bourgeois non-political rationalists and freethinkers, "no amount of merely expository or destructive criticism—useful and necessary as such criticism is in itself—can finally destroy religion; only the coming of international socialism can do that, by abolishing the social antagonisms which necessitate its existence".

On socialism, however, Ridley is not so clear. Since he was a member of the old Independent Labour Party (ILP) who hob-nobbed with Trotskyists this is not surprising and explains his reference to that contradiction in terms a "workers state" existing in socialism.

He mentions our 1910 pamphlet Socialism and Religion which he says relied too much on Herbert Spencer's ghost theory of the origin of religion according to which the first gods represented the imagined spirits of dead heroes as they appeared in the dreams of their followers (fair enough). He also mentions a pamphlet, Christianity and Socialism, published by an SPGB member, Horace Jarvis, in the 1970s. This was published privately, partly because a pamphlet on religion was not considered by us to be a priority but also because it was more oriented towards textual criticism of the bible than a deeper Marxist analysis of the social and historical origins and role of the Christian religion. Even so, some Socialists have always liked that sort of thing. Jarvis, incidentally, before he joined the Socialist Party, had been a member of the Communist Party's front organisation, the League of Atheists, but left the CP when they dissolved this body so as to be able to attract religious support for the Popular Front policy they adopted in the second half of the 1930s.

lørdag den 24. oktober 2015

The Nature of Capitalist Crisis

Another of my recent acquisitions: the 3rd edition (1936) of Strachey's book, published by Victor Gollanz Ltd.

I only knew of the book and its author from articles in the Socialist Standard, like the one in the picture.

Strachey had a rather muddled political career. He joined the Labour Party in the 1920's. He left with Oswald Mosley, only to leave the New Party and join the CPGB when Mosley began drifting to overtly fascist politics, He then left the Communist Party, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, for another spell in the Labour Party, where he held a few ministerial posts and served as MP for Dundee from 1943 til his death. He was a widely read author in the 1930's and helped Gollanz found the Left Book Club in 1936. (Details from Wiki, retrieved 24/10/15.)

As for the SPGB's views on the issue, there is a plethora of material in my archive or at the SPGB website and/or in David Perrin's book on the Socialist Party.

fredag den 23. oktober 2015

Two Books by an American Socialist

Book Review
"It is a rare treat to review a book that claims to be about socialism which is not bursting with misconceptions and illusions. Samuel Leight's World Without Wages is not only readable (which contrasts sharply with those academic "Marxist" tracts written in language that only the initiated can comprehend), but it is full of the kind of basic socialist arguments which every open-minded worker will want to know about. There are fifty chapters and two hundred and twenty-nine pages, so it is possible to read the book in stages, absorbing the case for socialism bit by bit.
Samuel Leight is a member of the World Socialist Party of the United States, a companion party of the SPGB. World Without Money is based on talks given by him on KTUC radio station in Tucson, Arizona. From the first page the writer loses no time in providing the basic message:
    "Visualise with us a completely different economic, world-wide system of society. Within this system all the means of production and distribution that exist on the face of the earth will be owned and democratically controlled by the whole of society. Each person will stand in exactly the same economic relationship to the instruments for producing and distributing wealth. There will be no class owning and there will be no non-owning class—it will be a classless society. Goods and services will be produced and distributed solely for use and not for profit. People will contribute according to their individual ability, taking from society according to their needs. This means literally free access to whatever they require. Visualise then a system in which there will be no means of exchange, no money, no barter. A system wherein there will be no capitalist class paying wages, with no employers or employees. Such a system cannot operate in one country, as no one country is economically self-sufficient; nor can it be inaugurated until the vast majority understand its economic and social implications."
Recognising that socialism is "possibly the most abused, misused, misunderstood term in the English language", Leight makes no assumptions about his readers' acquaintance with the terms he is using; the socialist case is explained with the kind of clarity that only a real desire to communicate can achieve. Academic writers on the Left—especially those of the New Left Review type—often deter working class intellectual interest by the use of pretentious jargon. By contrast, Leight's approach is that of classical, down-to-earth Marxism—Marxism according to Marx, not Lenin, Trotsky, Mao or Mugabe. The class struggle, recognition of which is the basis of the socialist movement, is clearly explained:
    "In a society wherein the vast majority are non-owners of wealth production and distribution and a minority are the owners, a conflict of interest must exist . . .  We acknowledge the absolute necessity of Trade Unions under capitalism, and we support the active participation of workers within the Trade Union movement in their attempts to safeguard, and improve, their wage levels and working conditions. At the same time we also fully realise the limitations of the Trade Unions . . . We are the sole advocates of the highest expression of the class struggle on the political field—the demand for the abolition of class society, together with the class struggle, through the establishment of socialism."
The key to capitalism's "closely guarded secret"—the appropriation of surplus value by the capitalist class—is well brought out in Chapter 22 on The Wages System:
    "Most workers spend a lifetime blissfully unaware of the fact that as a class they are being legally robbed when they produce values equal to their pay cheques, but then continue producing excess values for the bosses."
There are chapters on war, human nature, Russian state capitalism, nationalisation, racism, ecology, charity, leadership, and the materialist conception of history—as well as chapters dealing with recent events in American labour history. Were this writer not a committed socialist he would have been convinced to become one by reading Samuel Leight's book. World Without Wages is distributed in Britain by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and costs £3.50, including postage and packing. Don't just buy a copy for yourself; buy one for your best friend and another for your worst enemy."
Steve Coleman (Socialist Standard, April 1982.)

torsdag den 22. oktober 2015

Non-Market Socialism book

One of those non-party books where the SPGB case is covered. It was not without problems, though. The ex-members of Camden and N. W. London Branches registered criticism of what they perceived to be members flouting the hostility clause of the Object and Declaration of Principles of the SPGB.

It is another of the books I picked up this month.

A book review from the Standard.
Non-market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries -  Palgrave Macmillan, paperback – 7 Aug 1987 by Maximilien Rubel (Editor), John Crump (Editor)
Faced with a social system which creates problems faster than its politicians can make promises, responses range from the stupidly complacent, to those whose self-righteous radicalism leaves no time for actually solving the problems they shout about. Would-be "leaders" the world over, rush to defend the indefensible. Political parties compete to run a system of organised poverty and obscene contradictions, which has built weapons to destroy humanity while millions starve. Most political debate is as irrational as the system of class division and profit which, in one form or another, it seeks to defend. It is therefore very refreshing indeed when a glimmer of social sanity shows itself through this dense fog of doublethink.
Just such an encouraging and exciting event took place late last year, with the publication of a book which is of significance. Until now, those historians who claimed to deal with the "labour movement" or the opposition to capitalism have focused, almost entirely, on the opportunists who have come to power by riding on the back of social discontent and perverting the idea of social freedom, through the Labour Party, the Communist Party or the Trotskyist fringe. Those who have upheld a clear and principled socialist alternative in the face of fierce hostility have all too often been relegated to a contemptuous footnote  in small print, if they were mentioned at all.
Now the record has been set straight. Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries is a fascinating and compelling account which deals exclusively with those who have seen through the nonsense of the profit system and who have stood clearly for the abolition of capitalism in any of its forms, whether private or state controlled and its replacement by a system of production for use, with human needs being met through free access to all goods and services. Socialist ideas are explained in a historical context which makes them all the more powerful and urgent. Moreover, it is demonstrated that capitalism really does "produce its own gravediggers", as various groups at different times and places have independently reached (and continue independently to reach) the same conclusion - that since the problems of the working-class majority cannot possibly be solved through the reform of the capitalist system, therefore it must be replaced.
Following the pattern used in each of the chapters of the book, let us first set out the background and central idea put forward in this work, before summarising the content and moving on to weigh up its strengths and weaknesses as a book. Non-Market Socialism, edited by Maximilien Rubel and John Crump, published by Macmillan and available in paperback at £8.95, arose out of a conference of discussion and debate which took place in York in September 1984. The revolutionary basis on which the book develops is made clear from the formal dedication on the very first page, which states
    "This book is dedicated to the men and women of the thin red line of non-market socialism who have kept alive the vision of socialism as a society of personal freedom, communal solidarity, production for use and free access to goods."
Socialism defined
In Chapter Two, written by John Crump (who for some time was a member of The Socialist Party), four key features are outlined, as a definition of socialism which is to be used throughout the book. These are that:
    "Production will be for use and not for sale on the market.
    Distribution will be according to need and not by means of buying and selling.
    Labour will be voluntary and not imposed on workers by means of a coercive wages system.
    A human community will exist and social divisions based on class, nationality, sex or race will have disappeared."
Crump them goes on to elaborate excellently on all the implications of such a revolution in social relationships, dealing very clearly with all the common myths of "human nature" which have sometimes been used to obstruct such discussion. He also explains the historical emergence of the "Social Democratic" and Leninist movements which distorted and confused this fundamental concept of the socialist alternative. The way in which the Russian Revolution of 1917 established a regime of state capitalism is also clearly stated, with quotations from the Socialist Standard from that period to demonstrate how socialists were able to make such an analysis even then. Also in Crump's chapter, the whole notion of a "transitional society" between capitalism and socialism is explored and rejected.
At this stage, the central thesis and claim of the book is explained. This is that there have been various movements which have stood openly for the socialist alternative as defined above, the five most significant such "tendencies" to be dealt with in detail in subsequent chapters. While agreeing on their object or aim, these movements have been in conflict over how to achieve that goal and over various other points of detail. Crump argues that such differences constitute a "periphery" which, at the present time, is less important than the "core" idea of defining socialism, introducing workers to this and encouraging them to adopt it as the only practical alternative to the exploitation of the capitalist system. We will consider this general thesis in more detail below but let us first take a look at the contents of the other chapters.
A background survey which explores the nineteenth century origins of socialist idea is provided by Maximilien Rubel, a recognised authority and scholar of Marx, based in Paris, who has been in close contact with The Socialist Party. Rubel takes as his starting point the 1848 Communist Manifesto's list of categories of "Socialism" and finds there some early progenitors of both the modern idea of "market socialism" (of course, a contradiction in terms) and of the non-market alternative. He seeks to rescue from relative obscurity and rehabilitate into their deserved place of recognition such early socialist thinkers as Wilhelm Weitling or Flora Tristan and many others. In contrast to "vulgar materialism", Rubel presents the need for socialism as an "ethical imperative": a term whose use has been debated in the columns of the Socialist Standard when Rubel has corresponded with us on that issue. Finally, and with great eloquence, he demolishes the very damaging claims of the Bolsheviks to have established "socialism" in Russia, with their perversion of "Marxism" into a distorted religious ideology.
In a chapter on "Anarcho-Communism", Alain Pengam develops further the rich heritage and background of ideas from which the modern socialist movement has developed, by focussing on those early anarchists who embraced most clearly the idea of abolishing property relationships. Déjacque, for example, wrote in 1858 that social revolution means that "Commerce . . . this scourge of the 19th century, has disappeared amongst humanity. There are no longer either sellers or sold" (p.64). Kropotkin is also extensively quoted on the need for the abolition of the wages system. Beyond this, however, Pengam struggles in vain to find any substantial threads of such a tradition extending into the twentieth century, referring for example to the military defeat during the Mexican Revolution of those anarchists who sought in vain to establish agricultural co-operative communes there.
World Socialist Movement
This brings us to Chapter Four, on "Impossibilism", which is written by Stephen Coleman and focuses on The Socialist Party itself. In a postscript to the book it is pointed out that the Socialist Party of Great Britain, "with a record of over eighty years' unbroken commitment to non-market socialism" is an exception to the general rule, whereby other groups proclaiming allegiance to the ideas of non-market socialism have tended to be rather more fleeting in their organisational existence. Coleman makes it quite clear in his chapter how and why that consistency of both organisation and principle has been achieved by The Socialist Party.
The formation of The Socialist Party in 1904 is described, as is the formation of its similar predecessor, the Socialist League in 1884, both as breakaway groups from the Social Democratic Federation. From the League, William Morris is quoted on the need to "put an end for ever to the wage-system" so that everyone could have "free access to the means of production of wealth" (p. 85). There is also a brief description of the ideas of Daniel De Leon and of the Socialist Labour Party, with their notion of the need for "labour vouchers" in a socialist society clearly dealt with.
Coleman then goes on to produce an excellent, sweeping survey of the history and ideas of The Socialist Party and its companion parties in other countries, referred to as the World Socialist Movement. This is of great historical significance in itself, since until now we have been faced with an overwhelming silence from labour historians in relation to the unique and inspiring record of The Socialist Party, in putting forward a consistent case for socialism in a way which is now properly documented and described in this chapter. In fact, the only other book previously published dealing with The Socialist Party was produced in 1975 under the title of The Monument, and consisted of a series of (often inaccurate) anecdotes, failing to deal at all seriously with the development of socialist ideas.
The work in question, on the other hand, sets this record straight. Using a wide assortment of examples, ranging from India to Canada, Britain and elsewhere we see how socialism was positively put and reformist compromise consistently opposed throughout the upheavals of these years. We read how both world wars were actively opposed, and how the Socialist Standard has been published every month without fail, despite the difficulties that have been involved.
A careful reading of Coleman's chapter also shows that there are two false assumptions which emerge elsewhere in the book. First, in his introductory chapter Crump claims that The Socialist Party is separate from the other traditions referred to because it has a "parliamentary strategy" which is "anathema to the other currents of non-market socialists". In fact, it would be more accurate to state the emphasis of Socialist Party material has been democratic, concerning on the need for socialism to be established by a conscious majority, since means must harmonise with ends. Coleman contrasts the "parliamentarianism" of the reformists, which involves sending representatives to Parliament to run capitalism, with the socialist policy in which a socialist majority mandates recallable delegates in order to dismantle the state machine, from a position of control. Coleman tells the story of the socialist speaker who referred to socialism coming not just through the ballot box, but through the "brain box" and points out that
    "it is clearly those who insist that ballot boxes and parliaments can play no part in the establishment of socialism and assert that socialism can only be established via industrial organisation alone, who are being dogmatic and historically fetishised in their thinking about the revolution." (p.94)
Second, one might think from reading the introductory sections of the book that the various tendencies considered differ fro one another only in their ideas about how socialism is to be achieved. It is clear however, from looking at the closing section of Chapter Four in comparison with other chapters, that there is another important difference which distinguishes The Socialist Party in particular from those other tendencies. This is that The Socialist Party is alone in remaining organised on a significant scale and politically active in Britain today.
Possible exceptions to this, it might be argued, would be found under the heading of "Council Communism", which is dealt with in Chapter Five by Mark Shipway. It is, however, stated in the Postscript that "it is doubtful whether any 'orthodox' council communist groups exist today". Of the organisations which are then listed, the International Communist Current has been found in debate with The Socialist Party to adhere to a fundamentally Leninist position and the group Wildcat, of which Shipway is a member and which is reviewed critically in the December 1987 Socialist Standard, state that "we struggle in favour of strikes, riots and all other acts of rebellion against capitalism", which hardly suggests credibility in terms of democratic organisation.
Council Communism
Shipway presents an historical account of the emergence of the Council Communist movement in the wake of the First World War, quoting extensively from Anton Pannekoek. Unlike other tendencies dealt with, the Council Communists were generally more preoccupied with a detailed discussion of how the revolution would take place -  as far as they were concerned, through the setting up of workers' councils to rival the capitalist state - rather than focusing, in any detail, on what end result was to be achieved through this process. In the course of his analysis, Shipway accepts the somewhat suicidal notion of workers forming their own militias to rival the capitalist armed forces (p.117), refers somewhat confusingly to "periods of revolutionary turmoil" (p.108) and quotes approvingly the need for a party to "win the trust of the masses" (p.124). He states, rather hopefully, that Council Communist intervention in working class struggles "should" be based on nothing less that the final goal of communism, while recognising that this has not generally been the case. (p.124). Further, support is given to Pannekoek's emphasis on theories of economic breakdown (p.120) and to his rather obscure and vanguardist references to building up the "spiritual power" of workers (p. 122).
In Chapter Six, Adam Buick presents a detailed view of "Bordigism", the movement named after the Italian Marxist Amadeo Bordiga, who died in 1970 after a great literary and political output. After an historical explanation of the succession of parties influenced by Bordiga's thinking, culminating in the International Communist Party, among others, Buick goes on to show how Bordiga's concept of socialism was explicitly based on the abolition of the market system and of all property relationships, including those of state capitalism.
By quoting extensively from Bordiga himself, Buick methodically and clearly demonstrates just how emphatically capitalism in all its manifestations was understood and rejected by Bordiga. Many good examples of this are given, perhaps one of the simplest being that "where there is money, there is neither socialism nor communism, as there isn't, and by a long way, in Russia" (Bordiga, 1959, quoted on p.139).
Buick also explains the paradox, that alongside this very clear revolutionary concept of the socialist alternative, the Bordigists have remained élitist in terms of political strategy, believing that socialist understanding on the part of the working class majority could be developed after, rather than before, socialism is brought about. This, again, relates to the underlying thesis of the book, because whereas Bordigist means of obtaining their goal can be seen in this chapter to stand at odds in many ways with their goal, it is argued by Crump in Chapter Two that this is "peripheral", since workers who are educated by Bordigism into revolutionary ends can themselves prove the Bordigists wrong in practice about the means required to bring this about. It is perhaps worth noting, however, that means often determine ends rather than the other way round and that of course ultimately the two cannot be separated. Buick implicitly recognises this fact by showing how the Bordigist conception of socialism itself is "non-democratic" and "technocratic", involving not full participation in the control of production but the appointment of experts to make decisions in the best interests of others - an angle which would perhaps be regarded with more cynicism by many workers in the 1980s than in former decades. Also, despite these reservations, there is clearly validity in Crump's point that Bordigism, together with the other movements considered, has definitely played a positive part in introducing workers to the idea of the abolition of the wages system and its replacement with a system of production for use.
Finally, the movement of "Situationism" is dealt with in Chapter Seven, again by Mark Shipway. The Situationist International was a small group based in France which produced a substantial amount of literature between 1957 and 1973 and which became widely known, out of all proportion to its numbers, as a result of the May 1968 "Events" in Paris. They were explicit in their opposition to modern capitalism, which they called the society of the "Spectacle", because of the passivity and alienation it produced and in their support for socialist revolution. Shipway clearly explains their theories of consumerism, with key texts by Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, finding roots in Marx's theory of alienation and weaknesses in that Situationist was based rather narrowly on conditions in the post-war boom in France. What also emerges, however, is that they developed some very important cultural and psychological insights into capitalism which complement much of the more traditionally political and economic analysis focused on in the rest of the book. Finally, Shipway ends the book with a comment on reformism which appears rather at odds with the rest of the book:
    "Of course it would be ideal if every time workers went on strike it was for the abolition of the wages system. But while this is not the situation in which revolutionaries presently find themselves, neither is it a reason for ignoring or abstaining from any struggle which starts out on the basis of ostensibly reformist demands." (p.169)
It is worth pointing out in relation to this that each author was separately responsible for his own chapter and clearly some have been more clear on such issues than others. A good reason, for example, why revolutionaries must abstain from struggles which start out "on the basis of ostensibly reformist demands" is suggested in a very clear passage by Crump in Chapter Two, in which he explains that there can be no halfway house between the two "all-or-nothing" options of world capitalism and world socialism:
    "the means of production must either function as capital throughout the world (in which case wage labour and capitalism persist internationally) or they must be commonly owned and democratically controlled at a global level (in which case they would be used to produce wealth fro free, worldwide distribution) . . . the changeover from world capitalism to world socialism will have to take the form of a short, sharp rupture (a revolution), rather than an extended process of cumulative transformation." (pp.54,55)
In conclusion then, the detailed chapters on the five main tendencies which have supported the idea of "non-market socialism" suggest that the original thesis was to some extent a victory of hope over reason. In terms of practical and active organisation in 1988, and particularly in Britain, the organised movement for socialism is somewhat more unitary than this volume might suggest. Also in terms of developing a practical strategy for establishing socialism which takes due account of the importance of both majority consciousness and democracy and which recognises the need to relate means to ends, then again the "thin red line" is perhaps thinner than we might wish it.
Despite such reservations, those who have collaborated in the production of this book have effectively broken a silence of decades. We hope this will also generate further discussion and debate among that growing number of individuals and groups who have come to reject capitalism, in all its forms, and seek to develop a non-market alternative. It is a strong vindication of Marx's Materialist Conception of History that from a variety of times, places and backgrounds within capitalism workers have reached similar conclusions about the need to establish a new social system capable of meeting the needs of all. The fact that workers now continue to seek such answers shows that non-market socialism is both practical and urgent. Those who wish, then, to further their understanding of the movement for socialism are recommended to get hold of this book. In continuing such discussions, we are helping to ensure that the "thin red line" does not remain so thin in the immediate future.
Clifford Slapper (Socialist Standard, January 1988.)

onsdag den 21. oktober 2015


This is the only copy I possess. (No. 28, Jan 1955.)  I don't know how long this internal discussion SPGB "newspaper" ran for.

This copy discussed relative surplus value, crises a matter concerning Paddington Branch but was mostly concerned with the so-called "Turner affair." It rumbled for a while and Turner eventually left the Party.

Details are available in the issue marking 100 years of the SPGB in 2004, in the article "Getting Splinters."