SOCIALISM OR BARBARISM (1988)

Submitted by dalcassian on 11 February, 2017 - 3:13 Author: Sean Matgamna

Durng the General Election campaign, Thatcher said that her goal was to kill socialism.

She hasn't killed socialism, but she has got Labour leader Neil Kinnock and his friends in such a panic that they are trying to do the job for her. The systematic 'reviews' of policy now being carried out by Labour's rightwing and soft-left leaders are not reviews but a clearing-out exercise.

Much that passed as 'socialist' in the labour movement for decades is being unceremoniously dumped. Labour leaders are 'Thatcherising' the party. In this issue and next week's, we print two important articles, by Tony Benn and by Eric Heffer, which expose in detail what the Labour Party leaders are trying to do. It is vitally important that socialists heed the call by the Left's candidates for leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party, and campaign for Labour Party conference to throw out this new 'revisionism'.

But we should keep it clear in our own minds that Labour's old policy of bureaucratic statism was not socialism. Labour nationalised only industries like coal and rail, selected to service private industry as part of the overall capitalist system, and with vast amounts of money paid to the old owners. For the workers, nationalisation sometimes brought greater security for a while, and sometimes a less relentlessly greedy employer, but otherwise nothing changed. Nothing fundamental changed. This was not socialism.

Labour's nationalisations were I part of a great wave of nationalisations world-wide. Capitalism was adjusting and reorganising itself, and it used statification as one of its techniques. In vast areas of the 'non-communist' world the core of the capitalist economy is state- controlled. But the workers are still I exploited - as they have been in Britain's nationalised industries.

Socialism is about ending wage slavery and ending the tyranny of the bureaucratic state. Wage slavery is a disgused form of slavery. Wage-slaves do not wear chains and manacles, and outside the Third World they do not work under the whip. They are wage slaves because they own only their labour-power and must sell it to the class which owns the means of production.

The owners of the means of production make more from using the labour-power of the workers than buying it costs them. From that excess of what the worker produces over the wages paid out, come profits, interest, and all the other forms of income of the capitalist class The price of labour-power rises and falls. Sometimes there is a boom and the workers, the sellers of labour-power, have increased bargaining-strength in the market; sometimes there is mass unemployment, and the buyers of labour power can dictate their terms Always the owners of the means of production squeeze a surplus out of the workers. Always they grab the riches of society, leaving the workers scraping to get by. Always they have the power over production, and the workers have none. In good times and in bad for the sellers of labour power, the system is one of wage-slavery.

Socialism is the abolition of wage-slavery and its replacement by cooperative labour, with the producers owning the means of production. In modern conditions that ,- can only be by collective ownership. State ownership is not necessarily collective ownership. It depends on who owns the state.

Everywhere today the state is a vast bureaucratic apparatus, bringing privilege and wealth to its functionaries and officials. It is less powerful in the countries of old capitalist development, where 'civil society' has stored up wealth and riches in the hands of private capitalist owners; it is more powerful in countries where 'civil society' is weak, and the private owners of land or industry are weak. But everywhere it is strong. Everywhere it is in the hands of a ruling elite and at their servic.

Socialism is collective, cooperative ownership and control by the producers. Therefore it is the abolition of wage-slavery and of bureaucratic state tyranny – or socialism does not exist. Today it does not exist anywhere.

All the other arguments between socialists - between those who criticise capitalism and want a better life - are offshoots of the basic questlon: for or against wage slavery? For or against abolishing it? For example, take the argument about whether of not you can have a peaceful transition to socialism.

If socialism is the abolition of wage slavery, then it must unavoidably mean taking from the ruling class what they have. The ruling class will not let us do that peacefully however big a
democratic majority we may win. No ruling class has ever gone to its grave peacefully when it had the power to fight; and the ruling class do have the power to resist, because they control the army, the police, the top layers of the civil service the press and immense wealth. They will resist like they resisted in Chile, where the army smashed a democratically elected socialistic government, and imposed a murderous dictatorship which is still in power 15 years later.

Those who want to abolish wage slavery will face facts like this, and not rely on the 'hope' that in a country like Britain things might go better than in Chile. In fact, Chile had a long tradition of political democracy, one of the longest in the world ,until the Army drowned it in working-class blood in September 1973.

What Labour's leaders are throwing out was never socialism

At best it was a series of measures from which workers could hope to get limited benefits provided that they were strong enough to insist on them.

In the discussion now going in within the Labour Party, socialists must defend traditional commitments against Labour's pink Thatcherites and panic-stricken ex-socialists, and, at the same time argue for the replacement of the old statist tradition with the ideas of working-class socialism.

In the middle of the 20th century the vast expansion of statism within capitalism confused many people who equated nationalisation with socialism, into thinking that the world was 'going socialist'. We know better now. Thatcherism is part of a limited backlash against that mid-century expansion of statism. We must fight that backlash where workers' interests are threatened. We must fight those in the labour movement who keep step with Thatcher. But we must also fight for a socialist concept of public ownership.

Those who have combined public ownership with a tyrannical state have shown that public ownership is not necessarily socialist. Public ownership is only a means to an end, the end of doing away with wage-slavery. But nobody has thought of another means of reaching that end.

We live in a world which may be about to change drastically. Last October's stock exchange crash - the worst for 60 years - has yet to work itself through into the rest of the economy. Nobody is sure yet, but probably it will produce a deeper slump than we have had since the '30s. In the advanced capitalist countries, a politics of consensus between the labour movement and capitalism were stabilised in the post-war boom.

That consensus has come under great strain in the 1980s. It may shatter in the period ahead. The vote of 4.4 million French men and women for the racist barbarian Le Pen in the French presidential election - almost as many votes as Hitler got in September 1930, less than 2 i/2 years before he took power - shows that old barbarisms can come rushing back at us, barbarisms that some people thought had been banished to the lumber room of European history and to the Thlrd world.

The labour movement needs to prepare itself to meet the challenges and threats that lie ahead of us. We need to rearm and recreate the labour movement. That is what the Benn-Heffer campaign is making a start at doing.

We need to do more. We need to resist the Kinnockites and fight to arm the working class and the labour movement with thoroughgoing socialist ideas for the 1990s.

The very life of the labour movement may be at stake here, as it was in Chile in the early '70s and in Germany in the 1930s. We do not know how things will go, but the signs are ominous.

If a major new economic slump hits Europe and the world, then Le Pen's vote may be the beginning of a new wave of barbarism in Europe. The choice before the working class in this century was posed long ago by socialists such as Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin and Trotsky: socialism or barbarism.

The choice may be lying ahead of us now, again, with an urgency it has not had in Europe (as distinct from the Third World) for over half a century. We must prepare the labour movement to fight for socialism.

An immense responsibility falls on the left now. We must find the strength and the resources to rise to it. Writing in 1937 about the responsibilities of his own generation, the poet W H Auden expressed it like this:

We are left alone with our day,
and the time is short and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or
pardon.

ED SO 357, 26-5-88