George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain (29)

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In IC28, discussing the Labour Theory of Value, we quoted Marx’s statement that there was no lower limit to profits nor any upper limit to wages. The Sunday Times is not normally thought to be a Marxist journal but on this it confirms what the old revolutionary had to say; its issue of 21 June reports that some of “the young high-flyers” in leading City institutions earn more than £100,000 a year – an income many a capitalist would be glad to have.

The Observer of 5 July 87 drives the point home, reporting that some of the BBC staff have been freelancing; the earnings quoted range between £1,000 and £2,500 a day.

This does not mean that either the stockbrokers or the BBC people were not being exploited; doubtless their employers sold their work for more than it cost them. But it does suggest that exploitation does not have to mean poverty.

In IC26 we printed in full a letter from Mr. Harry Young, an official speaker for the (A-)SPGB and one of the few members who have known the Party as long as we have. It said the power of the Russian rulers was based on ownership of the means of living by a capitalist class to which those rulers did not belong.These were the operative sentences:

The Russian bureaucrats run Russian Capitalism for the benefit of investors.

There is nothing unusual or remarkable in political officials running an,economic system for their masters, the␣ owners of wealth.

In replying we quoted the Party pamphlet entitled Russia 1917-67:

In Russia the… privileged minority… maintain their monopoly through control over the machinery of government. They occupy the top posts in the party, government, industry and the armed forces. Their ownership of the means of production is not individual but collective; they own as a class. (p. 28)

Mr. Young says the Russian rulers work for capitalist owners; the pamphlet contradicts this, saying the Russian rulers are themselves the owners.

But the pamphlet was issued in 1967 and the letter twenty years later; perhaps the Party has changed its view in the meantime? This is unlikely, since they pride themselves on having learnt nothing of importance since 1904, but it looks like a possible resolution of the contradiction. At least; it does until we, read the Socialist Standard of July 1987, which reasserts the position put forward in the pamphlet. The article LIMITS OF GLASNOST, by “Alb”, speaks of “the existing state capitalist class” in Russia, and goes on to stress that the Russian rulers themselves monopolise the means of production:

Russia is just as much a class society with a capitalist economy as America or any other country in the West, only its ruling class monopolises the means of production in a different way.

the ruling class in Russiari-type societies monopolises the means of production…

the ruling class in these countries monopolise the means of production through their monopoly control of political power…

the leading role of the Party which is the basis of their rule and the class monopoly they exercise over the means of␣ production.

Mr. Young says directly: “the Russian bureaucrats run Russian Capitalism for the benefit of investors”. He names one of these investors, Mr. A. Hammer, and gives the rate of interest: 7%. “Alb”, writing in the Socialist Standard, directly denies all this. According to him:

the proceeds of the exploitation of wage labour are shared out differently, not by a legal property income in the form of interest, dividends, profit and rent but through bloated ‘salaries’, monetary prizes and various important privileges in kind…

The little group, hardly more than a coterie, who flatter themselves with the resounding title “Socialist Party of Great Britain,” claim to be able to explain to the rest of us how society operates. They make a special claim to have correctly understood the nature of the Russian Revolution from its beginning, and they also claim special knowledge of relations between the working class and the capitalist class. Yet here are two of their approved spokesmen giving opposite answers to the question: Do the Russian rulers work for the capitalists, or are they (as a group) capitalists themselves? Mr. Young gives one answer, “Alb” the opposite one. When the “socialist understanding” on which the Party prides itself is put to the test it collapses into confusion.

The (A-)SPGB are puzzled to understand why the working class as a whole do not support “socialism.” If they were to read their own writers, and listen to their own speakers, with a fraction of the critical attention they devote to the Labour Party, they would begin to see at least a part of the reason.

The (anarcho-) socialists are in a dither about what they like to call socialism as about most other important issues. Sometimes they say that only those living in such a society will be able to decide how it shall function. When it is pointed out to them that this means they cannot know in advance whether it would function as they would wish, they reverse the tape and start giving assurances about the life we shall live once capitalism has been disposed of. Everybody capable of working will do so, there will be no war and no murder, children will be cared for and we shall probably all be vegetarians. You can see it in pictures by Walter Crane; low living and high thinking.

The lives actually lived by peoples without capitalism were rather different. This is part of Glen Barclay’s account of the early Polynesians:

the pre-European experience of the island races would seem to suggest that enthusiastically cultivated eroticism and general high living, tempered with infanticide, socially approved murder, a dash of cannibalism, a considerable amount of small-scale warfare and the barest minimum of disgreeable physical labour, were the ideal recipe for health, happiness, social stability, profound religious experience and great cultural achievement in both the plastic and dramatic arts. (A History of the Pacific from the Stone Age to the Present Day, London, Future Publications Ltd., 1979).

from Ideological Commentary 29, September 1987.