Marxism Versus New Fabianism

It was in [the post-war] period of upswing that the right wing of the labour movement – who always base themselves on the capitalist system, as opposed to socialist ideas – were given a new lease of confidence. The theoreticians of the right wing, in the Fabian Society, for example, fell over themselves to announce that class struggle was at an end and that the very concept of 'class' was losing its meaning. Slumps and mass unemployment were the horrors of the past that would never be repeated, society had learnt to overcome past conflicts and from now on, they argued, there would be a gradual and unbroken increase in living standards. The leadership of the Labour Party, around Hugh Gaitskell, even tried (unsuccessfully, because of the resistance of the rank and file and the trade unions) to remove the socialist Clause 4 from the Labour Party constitution.

The second part of this chapter consists of an article in the International Socialist (edited by Ted Grant), November-December 1952, commenting on the New Fabian Essays. In the Essays, writers like Richard Crossman, Anthony Crosland and Roy Jenkins, put forward the idea that the 'welfare state' or 'welfareism' had superseded class society. 'By 1951', Crosland argued, 'Britain had in all essentials ceased to be a capitalist country'.

Cutting through the superficiality of the Fabian theories, Grant defends the basic Marxist position, that as long as the market dominated the economy, then there would inevitably be cycles of boom and slump. Explaining the causes for the longevity of the boom, he also points out its limitation and the inevitability, at a later stage, of new recessions and slumps. This article, although directed particularly towards the British economy, was no less relevant to the other main capitalist countries, where similar conditions prevailed and similar arguments raged.

Nearly forty years later, the arguments in the article have lost none of their relevancy, because in all their essentials, the so-called 'modern' policies put forward by the right wing in the Labour Party in the late 1980s are the same as the discredited notions of their 1950s predecessors.


A Political and Philosophical Basis for the Left Wing

The publication of the New Fabian Essays with an introduction by Attlee marks a stage in the development of the labour movement in Britain. In it is supposed to be summed up the experience of the last 50 years both nationally and internationally, by the intellectual elite of the Labour Party including Crossman, Crosland, Strachey, Mikardo, Denis Healey, Austen Albu, Jenkins and others.

The old programme of the Fabians, having been largely carried out by the Labour government between 1945-50, is recognised as being inadequate or outmoded to solve the problems of creating a socialist society. At the same time there is ferment within the ranks of the labour movement; the rank and file are looking for a theoretical and practical explanation of the inadequacies of the government of 1945-50 in order to implement policies which will clear the way for socialism.

The publication of Bevan's book,[1] the new Socialist Union publication, and the New Fabian Essays are all symptomatic of the awakening and the searching for a fresh policy. The Bevan controversy which has shaken the movement from top to bottom is the best indication of this search for a policy and programme which will serve the needs of socialism.

To analyse adequately and criticise all the arguments in New Fabian Essays would require another book as lengthy or lengthier than the Essays themselves, especially as the Essays contradict each other in many fundamentals and do not constitute a harmonious philosophical, theoretical or political whole. Despite the varying views and some healthy criticisms of the bureaucratised nationalised industries (from the point of view of pressing for greater democracy and greater participation of the workers in the control of these industries), there are some basic threads of thought underlying all the Essays: the idea that the structure of British society has been fundamentally changed by the nationalisation of some of the basic industries and the creation of the 'Welfare State', the rejection of Marxism which is equated with the doctrine of totalitarian Stalinism, and the theory that this is the epoch of the so-called 'managerial revolution'.

One striking feature of the Essays is the rejection at least in words of the narrow and provincial view of old Fabians who confined themselves to Britain and British problems and ignored world developments. At a time when even capitalist politicians have been forced by the realities of economic evolution to recognise the interdependence of the world, and when events have brought home crushingly the urgency of international problems even from the point of view of day to day policies, it is no longer possible to maintain such a provincial outlook. At the same time, on home problems too, Fabian pace, snail's pace, has been discredited as a method of obtaining the socialist objective. Without a drastic overhaul of social relations reaction is bound to set in.

Leadership Holds Back

Richard Crossman perhaps unwittingly gives the key to the solution of the dilemma facing the workers in the labour movement when he says 'At that time (first months of Labour rule) the British people were ready to accept the peaceful socialist revolution; and if what it got was merely welfare capitalism, the fault lay with the politicians and not with the public.' Thus a golden opportunity of transforming Britain into a workers' democracy and shaking the world by her example was lost by the cowardice and shortsightedness of the leadership. A bold and radical nationalisation of all industry with, perhaps, compensation on the basis of a means test, an appeal to the workers of Europe and Asia to join and set up a United Socialist States of Europe and Asia would have changed world history and begun the transition to socialism for the people and states of the whole world.

The people of Britain, and of the world, will have to pay in agony and suffering for the failure to accomplish the overthrow of capitalism which lay within the grasp of the Labour government in Britain. The rearmament race, and the undermining of the reforms of the Labour government, even in the latter period of Labour's rule, indicate that 'welfare capitalism' cannot maintain itself for any extended period of time. In the situation of British and world capitalism reforms are inevitably undermined by the impasse of the system itself. Only a fundamental change, economically and politically, can stabilise reforms and steadily prepare the way for a new socialist society.

The new Fabians are haunted by the experience of Stalinism in Russia, China and Eastern Europe. This leads them to stress the dangers of the 'concentration of power in the hands of either industrial management or the state bureaucracy'. Says Crossman:

"This task was not even begun by the Labour government. On the contrary, in the nationalised industries old managements were preserved almost untouched, and appointments to the national, regional and consultative boards were made as if with the express intention of reaffirming that no change was intended. The government's attitude to central planning was simple. Up to 1947, no serious attempt was made to construct even a central mechanism for assessing resources and requirements of wealth and labour, and allocating them to the various needsNor was an effort made to encourage popular participation in the new Welfare Statethe impression was given that socialism was an affair for the Cabinet, acting through the existing Civil Service."

Crossman and the other Fabians might have added that the power of the capitalists remained largely as it was. Over the period of Labour's rule the profits of the capitalists actually increased, while the state machine: army, police, civil bureaucracy, in its topmost strata remained the preserve of faithful members and supporters of the ruling class. In the structure of rule the power of the ruling class thus remained virtually intact. It is this, at least in part, which the new Fabians are compelled to recognise and to call for the active and direct Participation of the masses in industry and, we might add, in the direct administration of the state from top to bottom, if enthusiasm and activity are to be engendered.

Has Capitalism Been Transformed?

Nevertheless, as a result of full employment in Britain consequent on the post-war boom, the mirage appears of a change in capitalist economy which has transformed it into a post-capitalist 'managerial', 'controlled' economy, in which the laws of capitalist economy no longer operate, thus eliminating slumps and booms. This receives its finished expression in the essay of Anthony Crosland.

He starts with a complete distortion of the Marxist analysis mainly because, to put it mildly, of his ignorance of the economic and philosophical doctrines of Marx. It is a pity he did not take Engels' advice 'a man who undertakes to discuss scientific questions should learn above all to read the works of the author whom he wishes to study, just as they have been written, and especially not to find anything in them which they do not contain'. For example, the idea theat 'capitalism would collapse of its own accord'. An idea more foreign to the method of Marxism would be more difficult to conceive. And a few paragraphs after the assertion that the Marxist prognosis is false (how explain the revolutions in China, Russia and Eastern Europe on this basis?) he asserts 'The resistance to change, moreover, has been weakened by the fact that the capitalist bourgeoisie is no longer as self-confident as in its hey-day.' And again 'Savage taxation of income and property and the nationalisation of private industries have aroused scarcely more opposition than measures to limit child labour a hundred years ago.'

It never occurs to him that it is the twilight of capitalism nationally and internationally which has undermined the confidence of the capitalists; the development of capitalism beyond the framework of private ownership which forces the capitalist class to swallow limited measures of statification to keep the economy going. It is the industries ruined by capitalism, too expensive to regenerate by old methods, in which the capitalists swallow nationalisation as a necessary evil. But, as soon as a favourable opportunity occurs, profitable industries like steel and road transport are handed back, at a handsome discount, to big business.

This it is which makes so dangerous the complacency of Crosland and others in the Labour Party who think as he does that the capitalists will inevitably swallow other reforms as tamely as in the last period of office of Labour. Shortsightedness could not go further in analysing the reaction to reforms by the capitalists. You can trim the claws of a tiger but its dangerous strength remains, especially when its teeth are untouched. Woe betide the unwary who place their bodies at the mercy of the wild animals of big finance.

After the first world war capitalism in Western Europe, especially in Germany, accepted many reforms to ride the revolutionary tide and save the system from complete overthrow. It did not prevent them later, in desperation, from financing and supporting Hitler. In 1936 the French capitalists acquiesced in many reforms for fear of the masses, following the stay-in strikes. This did not prevent them from returning to the attack and whittling away the reforms as soon as the mass upsurge was spent. After 1918 in Britain many reforms were achieved which did not prevent Baldwin later from launching an all out attack which precipitated the general strike of 1926.

Under Crosland's nose and as he wrote, the Conservative government of Churchill is cautiously whittling away the gains made by the workers in 1945-9. And this while 'full employment' remains!

In what would undoubtedly have been written in humorous vein if Crosland had even a nodding acquaintance with Marxist doctrine, he says 'The propertied class has lost its traditional capitalist function -the exploitation with its own capital of the technique of production - and as the function disappears so the power slips away.' Leaving aside the error in the last few words, Marx had already observed the process and predicted the result a century or so ago. The 'modern' Crosland is a little behind! And as if the necessity of change from one social system to another is not signalised by the loss of function in production (as Marx explained a thousand times) of the old ruling class! Thus the loss of function of the feudal lords who became parasites before the Cromwellian and especially the French revolutions, as even Carlyle observed. And as if the socialisation of labour under capitalism, the centralisation of capital, the creation of joint stock companies - had not been analysed by both Marx and Engels. Also the consequent transformation of the entrepreneurs from a necessary function in production to complete parasites and drones has been shown as an inevitable result of the process of capitalist production:

"Stock companies in general, developed with the credit system, have a tendency to separate this labour of management as a function more and more from the ownership of capital, whether it be self-owned or borrowed. In the same way the development of bourgeois society separates the functions of judges and administrators from feudal property, whose prerogatives they were in feudal times. Since the mere owner of capital, the money-capitalist, has to face the investing capitalist, whilst the money capital itself assumes a social character with the advance of credit, being concentrated in banks and loaned by them instead of by its original owners, and since, on the other hand, the mere manager, who has no title whatever to the capital, whether by borrowing or otherwise, performs all real functions pertaining to the investment capitalist as such, only the functionary remains and the capitalist disappears from the process of production as a superfluous person." (Capital, volume 3, page 387) [source (translation differs)]

Ironically enough it is precisely Crosland and his colleagues who believe that capitalism collapses automatically by transforming itself into something else once the function of the entrepreneurs has disappeared! Marx, on the contrary, pointed out the necessity under these conditions for the proletariat, organised in the labour movement, consciously to overthrow the dying system of capitalism. The reaction to these conditions would produce the party and leadership, despite many errors and lost opportunities, which would ultimately destroy capitalism. The existence of such conditions, to a Marxist, would merely prove the extreme decay of capitalism and the ripeness of the social system for the socialist revolution.

Crisis Ended?

Crosland, however, excels himself in his analysis of the economic plight of capitalism. Airily dismissing the Marxist thesis on the contradictions of capitalism he observes that 'The 1931 depression, although unusually severe, was not the first depression of such severity - the famous slump of 1873-7 was at least as bad.' This is to compare the effects of a cold in youth to pneumonia in old age. The slump of 1873-7 marked a great economic convulsion of capitalism. It succeeded in escaping its effects by the intensive expansion of the Californian gold fields, the opening-up of Africa and Asia, the development of imperialism. These were some of the reasons why, after the slump of 1873 there was a relative ascent of capitalism. Says Schumpeter:[2]

"The broad fact of great steadiness in long term increaseremains, both in the sense of rough constancy of the gradient of the trend and in the sense of what, merely by way of formulating a visual impression, we may term the general dominance of trend over fluctuationsIn no country does 1873 look very catastrophic. In America 1844 produced almost no fall at all. The crises of the early nineties shows, for Germany, only a considerable dent. In the long English series it happens only twice that absolute fall outlasts two years. In the case of Germany, this occurred only in 1868, 1869 and 1870; in America also but once." (Business Cycles, McGraw-Hill Volume 2, page 494, our emphasis)

But every authoritative capitalist economist and observer was profoundly dismayed at the spectacle of the slump of 1931-3. The period of rising capitalism came to an end in 1914. After 1873-7 there were depressions but not such as to shake the economy from top to bottom. After the 1929-33 collapse had been painfully overcome only the rearmament boom and the war prevented an even more shattering recurrence of the slump. It was this in economic terms which precipitated the second world war of 1939-45. This is hardly a symptom of the health of the economic system. Periodic wars of destruction which threaten to annihilate the cities man has built and technical conquests achieved, are hardly an inspiring alternative for capitalism to offer to periodic crises of over-production. But here Crosland, Strachey and others deny or half deny that over-production or slump will occur. They think the full employment which obtained in Britain under the Labour government (and to a slightly less extent obtains also under Churchill's government) was a consequence of the policies of the Labour government.

This was so only to a secondary extent. Full employment obtains in America, the last stronghold of capitalism, also since 1945. In both cases this is due to the boom which usually follows every war. War has the same effect as a slump, where the ruin, destruction and wearing out of capital and consumer goods paves the way for recovery, but in an enormously intensified form. The capitalist crisis is overcome in war by the destruction of consumer and capital goods, by the production of fictitious capital in the shape of arms and arms production, which has, after the war, to be made good by economy. But despite measures of 'regulation' and 'control', despite the enormously increased role of state and of militarism (incidentally forecast by Marx and Engels) the problems of capitalism are not overcome, neither is the elimination of capitalism achieved thereby. Where, as in Britain, 80 per cent of the economy is privately owned, the laws of capitalism basically continue as before. The capitalists continue to operate for profit not for the sake of keeping the economy on a high level. Any spending by the state by so-called 'Keynesian techniques' can only aggravate economic crisis once the crisis of over-production begins.

A simple point which even the orthodox capitalist economists can understand is that 'money' or 'credit' is not created in the void. It has to be obtained by taxes ie by cutting into the profits of the capitalists, or the subsistence standards of the workers, or by 'deficit financing, which in a roundabout way comes to the same thing. This is because by artificially increasing the note issues, it decreases the purchasing power of money by inflation and thus in the long run has the same effect as the above. Either way a fall in the rate of profit is inevitable. Purchasing power is cut and endeavours of this sort can only aggravate the outbreak of mass unemployment and crisis.

Effect of Rearmament

In a certain sense rearmament on a world scale is having this effect in the capitalist countries. The expenditure on arms creates an enormous amount of fictitious capital which gets its share of the total wealth, of the surplus created by the working class. It has as a consequence a rise in prices, and usually a decrease in the standard of living of the workers. While injecting a further element of disease in the already decaying organism of capitalism, it cannot prevent but only delay the outbreak of crisis.

It is true that many in the Labour Party, particularly some of the Bevanites, think that rearmament can be replaced and slump avoided by an extended 'point 4' programme. But even a 'plan' (if it were to be agreed upon by the European powers and the USA) greater in scope than point 4 would, despite the ballyhoo, be microscopic in relation to the needs of Asia and Africa. It would be even less able to absorb the production and potential over-production in the capitalist world and would not succeed in preventing crisis.

In particular Crosland and others of like mind are living in a fool's paradise when the problems of the world market are taken into account. A minor economic recession or fall in production of a few per cent, which would hardly provoke a ripple in America, will mean major economic convulsions in Britain and Western Europe. It can be imagined then what would be the effect of a big fall in production. This is recognised fearfully even by such journals as the Observer and The Economist.

Nationally and internationally the market economy still dominates in Britain. In his muddled way even Crosland has glimmerings of the problem. He says 'Under the post-war Labour administration the tempo of change was enormously accelerated and by 1951 Britain had in all essentials ceased to be a capitalist country' (my emphasis). And on the very next page he unconsciously contradicts himself. 'It ('Welfare State', 'Mixed Economy') is capitalist to the extent that private ownership of industry predominates, that most production is for the market, and that many of the old class divisions persist.' To what extent? Where 80 per cent of the economy is privately owned, capitalism, its economy and its laws are predominant. The public sectors, like the post office in the past, will operate for the benefit of the private sector. No amount of financial juggling can overcome that decisive fact. Until the dominating heights and the dominating proportion of industry is nationalised the laws of capitalist economy will dictate to the government, whether Labour or Conservative.

It is from this fundamental error that flow the mistakes and dreams of Crosland and other Fabians. No more Jarrows and Ebbw Vales. 'Both the area, and the bitterness, of social conflict are much reducedno uniquely delineated ruling class, nor clearly defined class struggle.'

Class Antagonisms Intensified

In reality, however, the rumblings of the coming storm are faintly foreshadowed in the strike of steel workers and miners in America and the wage demands of the engineers, miners and other workers in Britain, in the face of the steadily increasing cost of living. The capitalists are cautiously preparing for the struggle. If in the post-war period in Britain and America (not on the Continent be it noted) a relative period of quiet has ensued, that has been because of international relations, the class relations within the countries themselves, the mighty strength of organised labour, the fear of the ruling class, but above all because the ruling class could afford crumbs of concessions from the feast of profits in the post-war boom.

But this period is now drawing to a close. Far from the fond dream of class reconciliation, a period of bitter, more implacable class conflict looms ahead in all its stark horror. The 'new' Fabians may think their themes are really 'modern', 'realistic' and 'new'. In fact in one form or another every boom has seen the dissemination of these panaceas and utopias, of a change in capitalism, of a new stage, of sedate, kind and tolerant amelioration of class antagonisms, of a rosy period of gradual change for the better, of great reforms which all ended in disaster. On the basis of the new Fabians' themes the labour movement could only find catastrophe.

Two Moralities Counterpoised

The second main thread in all the New Fabian Essays is a criticism of the totalitarian regimes in Russia, China and Eastern Europe, and the identification of Marxism with Stalinism. Here it is necessary to steer between two fatal mistakes. The one typified by the mixed group of fellow travellers and miscellaneous pro-Stalinists who are active in the Labour Party and who maintained long and discreet silences about the crimes of Stalinism, with only the faintest trace of 'criticism' (criticism which sounds like an apology); and those who fail to make a distinction between the political regimes of Stalinism and the basic economic revolution on which the Stalinist bureaucracy and its satellites base themselves. Either mistake can be fatal for the developing left wing in the Labour Party.

The attitude of the new Fabians is expressed in its sharpest form by the essay of Crossman. Events have forced him (and the new Fabians) to reject the cosy optimism of the Victorian Fabians, with their illusion of gradual development, of an inevitable progression slowly towards a better and better world. A 50-year epoch of wars, crises, upheavals, fascism and Stalinism has brutally crushed this dream of peaceful development. (Marx, by the way, forecast precisely such an epoch of turbulence for capitalism). The possibilities of frightful reaction and even a plunge into barbarism through atomic war, have forced their way into the consciousness of everyone who tries to think out the future course of the evolution of society.

Crossman and the other new Fabians recognise that the lack of theory within the movement has driven it into its present impasse and crisis. But, while rejecting the former empiricism of the old Fabians and of those who are the present leaders of our movement, they do not replace it by any coherent and worked out philosophy. The prejudice against Marxism after all is only a prejudice of ignorance and lack of study. Theory is the summing up of the experience of society and the labour movement past and present, in order to uncover the laws of its development and so provide a guide for the policies of the movement; as far as possible avoiding the mistakes of the past, and preparing an easier transition to the future society.

The philosophy of the new Fabians, summed up by Crossman, is in no way superior to that of the old and present day leaders of the labour movement in Britain. Bits and pieces of ideas borrowed from everywhere, a pious adaptation of Christian morality mixed up with some socialist ideas, a borrowing from the shades of Liberalism and to cap it all the pessimism of the philosophers of decadent capitalism. This is the half-cooked stew of ideas which is presented as an alternative to 'outmoded' Marxism.

Mechanism Confused with Materialism

Instead of thinking things out, Crossman takes a step backwards even in comparison with the Victorian Fabians when he says:

"This materialist conception of progress was based on assumptions about human behaviour which psychological research has shown to have no basis in reality, and on a theory of democratic politics which has been confused by the facts of the last thirty years. There is neither a natural identity of interests nor yet an inherent contradiction in the economic system. The growth of science and popular education does not automatically produce an 'upward' evolution in society, if by 'upward' is meant from servile to democratic forms; and the apocalyptic assumption that, after a period of dictatorship, a proletarian revolution must achieve a free and equal society is equally invalid. The evolutionary and revolutionary philosophies of progress have both proved false. Judging by the facts, there is far more to be said for the Christian doctrine of original sin than for Rousseau's fantasy of the noble savage, or Marx's vision of classless society." (emphasis in original)

He tries to find consolation in a supra-historical morality, beyond time, class or space, for the cruel and savage world of conflict which faces us. But this explains nothing and solves nothing. Marx was, to put it gently, a little too familiar with the differing currents of social relations, to put forward the naive views attributed to him by the new Fabians. First, as far as capitalist reaction is concerned, Marx had already analysed Bonapartism, the forerunner of fascism, in many works. (A pity Crossman and other denigrators do not take the trouble to read Marx in order to refute him). In them, he showed the power vested in the state machine used even against the class which it represents under given conditions.

Then again Marx did not at all believe that the overthrow of capitalism in one country would automatically solve all problems for the working class. On the contrary he explicitly repudiated the theory of 'Socialism in One Country' which was later to be developed by Stalin. The developments of the Russian revolution are not at all to be explained by the 'morality' or lack of 'morality' of the Stalinist bureaucratic rulers of Russia. On the contrary the opposite is the case, the morality of the bureaucracy can only be explained by the developments in Russia. And this is precisely in accordance with Marxist doctrine. Says Crossman:

"The Soviet Union is the most extreme example of managerialism because its Stalinist rulers consciously repudiate the primacy of morality over expedience, and so destroy the possibility of an active social conscience, which could save them from the corruption of power. The capitalist class never did that, and this is why capitalist development did not fulfil the prophecies of Marx. No capitalist country was ever so theoretically and methodically capitalist as Russia is Stalinite today. This is also the reason why, judged by European standards, the USA is a better form of society than the USSR. In America, a liberal and Christian morality and a constitution and political tradition derived from it, have frustrated the full development of capitalism and still put up strong resistance against totalitarian tendencies. To reject America as a capitalist country and to treat the Soviet Empire as an example of socialist planning is to make a nonsense of every one of our ideals. In reality they are two great examples of the modern managerial state, the one consciously and systematically managerial, the other moving towards the same end under the pressure of the Cold War."

In every line of this paragraph there is an error, sometimes two or three. However, let us try and disentangle the main threads. The Russian revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky was begun with Marx's ideas and Marx's methods. The idea behind it was to establish the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' (another name for the democracy of the working class). It should be noted incidentally that even the freest capitalist democracy remains a veiled dictatorship of the capitalist class, because the capitalists, apart from the ownership of the means of production, in Crossman's words, 'control the media of mass communication and the means of destruction (propaganda and the armed forces)'. According to the Marxist ideas of the leaders of the Russian revolution, Russia was to begin, Germany, France and England were to finish the job. However, for many reasons which cannot be entered into here, the Russian revolution remained isolated. But Russia being one of the most backward countries in Europe, the material basis for socialism had not been prepared within its borders. The revolution can only be understood as part of the international revolution. The isolation and gross material factors it embraced, not the subjective wickedness and the amorality of Stalin and his parasitic caste (however revolting this may be) explain the development of the Stalinist bureaucracy, including its vile morality.

But such is in accordance with the Marxist theory and not with that of theology. Engels explains the rise of classes in society by the low development of the productive forces and the needs of the division of labour.

Marxists insist on democracy - real democracy - in the transition to socialism and the full participation of the masses in industry and the state, precisely because 'conditions determine consciousness', because when art, science and government remain in the hands of the few, they will inevitably use and abuse their position (and incidentally create a morality and psychology to justify it) to further their own interests against those of the class they are supposed to represent.

In a cloudy way Crossman and the other essayists recognise this in drawing the balance of the experience of the nationalised industries - in their criticism of bureaucracy and the demand for participation in management and control by the workers.

But this does not clear up the puzzle. Crossman criticises those who maintain that Russia remains a workers' state. He looks only to the 'primacy of morality over expediency'. Poor fellow! Churchill and the capitalists of Britain (together with the churchmen - conscience and all) yesterday supported Franco, Mussolini and Hitler as saviours from Bolshevism and looked the other way from the concentration camps, where their opponents were being 're-educated'. The day after that they sighed (at least in public) in an ecstasy of admiration for the 'Great Warrior Stalin' and overlooked such trifles as slave camps and other horrors. The American capitalists and government despite 'liberal and Christian morality' did the same thing under the liberal Roosevelt. Christian morality did not prevent Hiroshima, or the vile treatment of the negroes in the South.

Definition of Morals

Crossman expatiates: 'The socialist measures this progress of social morality by the degree of equality and respect for individual personality expressed in the distribution of power and in the institutions of law and property within a state. This standard indeed, is what we mean by the socialist ideal.' He does not see that all these ideas are the reflection of the development of society, in its turn the result of the development of the productive forces in the past. The 'Christian morality' to which Crossman appeals, as against the amorality of Stalinism, did not at all find itself in conflict with but on the contrary justified the institution of slavery under the Roman empire. Under the feudal regime it found nothing immoral in the centuries of serfdom of the peasantry. It justified and continues to justify the veiled slavery of capitalism. Doctor Malan[3] finds it not at all in conflict with his Christian conscience to support the 'God-ordained' oppression of the South African blacks by the whites. The Christian Franco with the blessing of the Pope, finds it not at all incompatible with the doctrines of the Church to maintain his totalitarian regime in Spain.

Christian ethics therefore cannot provide a reliable standard of morality for the socialist movement. Nor does Crossman's particular 'definition' fare any better.

From the point of view of Marxism, whatever conduces to the material, social and intellectual development of the masses is moral; whatever assists this process in the direction of socialism is moral; whatever assists towards the organised and conscious activity of the masses for the overthrow of capitalism is moral. Contrarily whatever hinders or hampers this process is bad and immoral. These are the rules of conduct for those striving for socialism. But in and of itself such a definition must have a material basis. The class position and the interests of the proletariat within capitalist society and in the transition to a classless society are the material base for such a morality. This will disappear with the dissolution of class society into socialism. Capitalist morality or amorality in its various grades and manifestations is also a reflection of the class interest of the capitalist class in a class society. Stalinist morality or amorality reflects the interest of a particular caste within the given society.

Although Crossman is not aware of this the morality which he puts forward also has its class roots. It is the morality not at all of eternal verities, but of a variant of middle-class morality and a reflection of the position of the intellectual and professional elite within the labour movement.

Marxist socialists, beginning with Marx and Engels have always supported democracy as against any form of despotism. Thus they have supported republicanism against monarchism, capitalist democracy against capitalist dictatorship. But they always recognise the limitations of the above. Crossman contradicts himself when he points out that the very democracy which he extols so much is the fruit of revolution in Britain and of the civil war in America in the past. He says, 'Even in Western Europe, the destruction of feudalism did not take place under the forms of representative government.'

However, it is true that all the forces of capitalism-imperialism in all its stark reaction never achieved full fruition except perhaps in nazi Germany. But that is in the tradition of Marxism, not at all against it. The crude mechanical materialism or economic determinism which Crossman and the others assail have not the slightest resemblance to the real doctrines of Marx.

The reason why capitalism in America has taken the particular form it has, lies in the history of the country - its richness and resources, its origins and beginnings, its traditions, the War of Independence, the Civil War and the way it developed, the rise of the trade-union movement - and all the conflicting forces struggling against each other in the given society.

Crossman thinks nothing through to the end. Some correct ideas are mixed with utter balderdash but never linked with a clear conception of the historic process or the role of the conscious socialist within it. He can say correctly, 'Living in an age not of steady progress towards a world welfare capitalism but of world revolution' He wishes to fight the forces of Stalinism on the one side and the forces of American imperialism on the other, mightily armed like a modern Don Quixote witha socialist ethic!

Possibilities of capitalist totalitarianism or of socialist democracy are vested in the forces at present latent in American capitalism. In the conflict which looms ahead, the liberal Christian mask will be dropped by its masters as it was in Germany, in an endeavour to save the capitalist system. Christian morality will not prevent the massacre of the negroes, as it did not that of the Jews by nazis in Europe, if the forces of reaction gain the ascendancy in America. The Constitution and the political tradition deriving from it, no more than that of Weimar Germany, are obstacles in themselves to such a development. In America, as in Britain and the world, only the working class is the guardian of democracy and freedom, because these are the vital conditions for its development - for the achievement of economic and political emancipation. In this gross material fact is rooted proletarian morality.

Social Morality

According to Crossman, 'Social morality, freedom and equality do not grow by any law of economics or politics, but only with the most careful cultivation. So far, therefore, from viewing history as a steady advance towards freedom, we should regard exploitation and slavery as the normal state of man and view the brief epochs of liberty as tremendous achievements.' From whence do they spring then? Do they drop from the skies or from the magnanimity of intellectuals such as Crossman, who apparently have a mission as the keepers of the public conscience? Are these eternal laws of morality which curiously enough are found to obtain different meanings in different epochs by different classes at different times? Religious people at least maintain that their morality is given by divine providence beyond time and space. Crossman tells us that his 'morality', 'freedom' and 'equality', like that of Christians, does not grow by any law of economics or politics, but only by the most careful cultivation. The only question is, who cultivates and how? And what do they cultivate? Any farmer will tell him that seed cast on stony ground will not sprout. The conditions must be there before these ideas can receive powerful support. But unless the economic and political conditions have been developed, ie the material conditions prepared, the most careful cultivation will produce no result.

There is nothing mysterious about the fact that slavery and exploitation of man have been the 'normal' condition and the epochs of 'liberty' been brief. It arises neither out of the absence nor the need for a supra-morality but out of the class structure of society. This despite the fact that at certain periods an equilibrium could be maintained between the classes (without open oppression and force) because of temporary sufficiency and the relationship of class forces at a given time.

This constant harping on an amorphous social conscience which seems to exist in the stratosphere, leads Crossman precisely into the error for which he condemns Stalinism. After strong moral condemnation of Stalinist elite society he finds the cultivators of his moralityonly in an 'elite'!

Society, Crossman says, must be '...policed (our emphasis) by the social morality which can only reside in a minority of citizens'. Here we have confusion of mind developed to an extreme. Crossman makes this worse by declaring that 'The school, the press, the radio, the party machine, the army, the factory, are all instruments through which man (what kind of man?), unless checked by social conscience armed with sanctions, will exert power over the minds of his fellow men.' What sanction and what man? What morality and how and by whom is it determined?

Amorality is not something new in history. It takes shape usually in a period of breakdown of the old social system, and the transition to a new social system. With the loss of function of the old ruling class, the moral codes pertaining to its rule also break down. And similarly in a period of transition, the new morality based on new relations of production also takes time to emerge.

Thus abominations similar to that of Hitler and Stalin took place in the period of decline of the Roman slave system and the transition to feudalism. Who has not heard of Nero and his court? Again in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, despite the glories of the Renaissance we have the spectacle of the Borgias.[4] Thus we have no need of mystical theories to explain these events but can only explain them on a materialist basis.

But understanding them does not justify either the Borgias or the modern Borgias in the court of the Kremlin. It does not mean that they are not to be condemned. History, said Marx, is a cruel goddess to whose chariot are tied hecatombs of human skulls. Stalin, the modern Genghis Khan, has surpassed all his predecessors. Notwithstanding all this and in spite of Stalinism there has been an unprecedented development of the productive forces in Russia. This in its turn, due to the contradictions it develops, prepares inevitably for the time when this excrescence will be cast off in a mighty movement of the Russian proletariat and all the ugly and repulsive features which disfigure the regime will disappear with the regime itself and be replaced by a regime of workers' democracy, this time on firm economic foundations due to the material progress that has been made.

Similarly despite all the wars, massacres, conspiracies, blood and cruelties, the Renaissance was a period of preparation of advance in all fields of human endeavour - in industry, art, science, technique andin morals! After all, the nineteenth century advance of which Crossman speaks, and its attitudes towards democracy and freedom, were predicated on the tremendous upsurge of the productive forces in capitalism's period of ascent. This it was that gave the illusion of illimitable progress under the regime of private enterprise.

Despite Crossman's lumping of America and Russia together he says 'We can co-operate with the Americans as allies, influencing their policies despite their superior strength. It would be folly to expect such a relationship with the Soviet Union. Co-existence, yes. Mutually beneficial agreements, yes. But never co-operation.' Where does Crossman find the reason for this? In his socialist morality or in the Christian ethic of America? He forgets that both Britain and America did not find it impossible to co-operate with Stalinist Russia during the war - when it suited the interests of those countries. Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia co-operated also for a while in the Nazi-Soviet Pact, when it suited the bureaucracy in Russia and the nazi imperialists in Germany. In reality none of the agreements had anything to do with 'morality' or 'freedom', but everything to do with the interests, at various stages, of the classes and castes involved. No different is the co-operation between capitalist Britain and capitalist America at the present time. It is the interests of Wall Street, not Christian morality, which are paramount in the deciding of American imperialist policy.

The interesting question arises as to who Crossman has in mind when he refers to 'we'. Who is this 'we'? Is it the capitalist class or the working class? Is it some mythical national interest separate and apart from these classes? It is precisely this lack of precision which is typical of all this mish-mash (Christian ethic and all) which Crossman wants to palm off in place of the clear ideas of Marxism.

He says that the managerial society (he includes in this both America and Russia) can be civilised into democratic socialism. How? By the might of his 'socialist ethic' perhaps? Like his ethic the question is left hanging in mid air without a material base.

America - a Contrast

In America, despite the freedoms, in reality the productive forces have stagnated since 1929 in the contradictions of private ownership. Temporarily, only on the basis of war, war production and preparation for war, has there been an important development of the productive forces.

But sooner or later crisis will intervene and we will see the Christian morality (of the capitalists) cast off as a thin veneer and the ugly inner essence of imperialism reveal itself. Then either the workers will recognise the problem and take power, nationalising the means of production, or face a new slavery, and a new barbarism, on the part of capitalism.

In returning to the problem of Russia we recognise the case as somewhat different. Notwithstanding the waste, chaos and inefficiency of bureaucratic dictatorship, nevertheless, on the basis of state ownership and planning of the means of production, we have a continuous development of the means of production. This despite the setbacks occasioned by war, and the mistakes and crimes of the leadership, such as forced collectivisation and the great purges. Notwithstanding the existence of slave labour (also a feature of transition of society in the past) and the other depraved features of Stalinist society, we have a steady rhythm and development of the productive forces. The contradictions are the opposite of those under capitalism. The bureaucracy is compelled to maintain a totalitarian terror, with its amorality etc, not by accident but because its privileges can only be maintained thereby.

Under capitalism, the capitalists were necessary and had a necessary function, with the private ownership of the means of production, acting as the repositories of the means of production, or in the words of Marx as 'the trustees of bourgeois society'.

In Russia the state acts as the repository of the means of production, and like managers and technicians under capitalism from the viewpoint of their economic function in production and the state, all the bureaucracy is entitled to, is the wages of superintendence and management. But they consume far more than this and in order to do so act as economic parasites on production. It is this which explains their role and their morality.

The cynicism, hypocrisy and lies with which the bureaucracy rules on the one hand, while maintaining a totalitarian terror on the other, are an expression of its role in society. If under 'democratic' capitalism while the hypocrisy, cynicism and lies are just as evident, the methods are different because of the checks and balances provided by the forces contending within it. Remove the organisations and the rights won by generations of struggle by the working class and the result is seen in nazi Germany. The morality of the capitalists under Weimar, the nazi regime and today, were not really fundamentally different, only the conditions under which the regime functioned. Repression and lies are merely different sides of the need to maintain exploitation and domination over the masses. They are symptoms of a society shot through and through with contradictions. This explains the inconsistency and hypocrisy of Christian morality in a society based on class antagonism. Similarly, the morality of Stalinism is based on the contradictions within Russian society, which have not been solved merely by the destruction of capitalism. Its bestial morality is conditioned by the uneasy hold which they have in Russian and satellite society and the fear which springs from their insecure and artificially maintained vested interests - in their privileged hold on Russian society.

The mistake of Crossman and the other Fabians is not to recognise this contradiction and all that flows from it. A new revolution will be necessary in Russia, but a political not a social revolution, before there can be any steps taken anew in the direction of socialism.

From the Marxist view of the development of world history this should not at all disconcert us. Marx never declared that to one system of production only one form of superstructure or state pertained. The most superficial acquaintance with history would show that this was incorrect. To every system, a large number of political forms is possible, depending on a whole series of fundamental and secondary factors.

In modern times (with all the extremely important if secondary results) differing forms of dictatorship and democracy, but all on a capitalist basis, have revealed themselves. Fascism, military dictatorship, democracy, monarchy, republic and other variants. They were all the same type of society from the viewpoint of the economic foundations despite the extreme, sharp and striking differences, 'morally' and in every other way.

A real workers' democracy would have the same relationship to Stalinist Russia as Hitler's Germany to the Weimar Republic or to democratic capitalist Britain. Thus under all conditions the socialist workers should defend the state ownership of the means of production and the planned economy in Russia, while conducting an implacable struggle against the clique which has usurped control and transformed a workers' democracy (despite its limitations and shortcomings) into a totalitarian Stalinist state.

The Far East

The attitude towards the colonial revolution of the East is also somewhat different. Recognising the progressive character of the undermining of imperialism in the East, the new Fabians extend half-hearted support to this movement.

Undoubtedly in its potential for the future, the Chinese Revolution is the greatest event in history since the October 1917 transformation in Russia. It will result in the modernisation and industrialisation of China, which was stagnating under the capitalist-landlord regime of Chiang Kai Shek. However Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Stalinists have taken the regime of Stalin, not that of Lenin, as their model. Given the backwardness of China, a similar regime in the long run will be installed.

If the democracy and freedom of the West are to be maintained, heightened and extended it can only be accomplished by the social revolution at home and internationalism abroad.

In the past internationalism seemed a utopian ideal. Now for the workers of Britain, Europe and the colonial world it is a vital economic necessity. Especially is this so in the case of Britain. With the loss of her imperialist overlordship of the world only decay and decline of her standards and rights open up before the working class on a capitalist and nationalist basis. Only a socialist United States of Europe and the world can guarantee culture, democracy, freedom and a rising standard of living, preparing the way for socialism. Crossman says correctly that the Cold War is the dominating factor in world relations at the present time. But socialism, revolutionary democratic socialism, can only find a way out in supporting the extension of the revolution and state ownership, while opposing the deformation of Stalinism.

Neither Washington nor Moscow has a way out for the working class. Only a militant socialist programme and policy can provide an answer to both. Not by rejecting Marxism but by basing itself on its fundamental tenets can the labour movement in Britain solve the problems of our time.


[1] Daniel F Malan was leader of the right wing Afrikaaner Nationalist Party. On becoming Prime Minister in 1948, he began the systematic introduction of apartheid as the basis of the South African state.

[2] A powerful Italian noble family from which several popes were elected during the 15th and 16th centuries. Their involvement in Italian and papal politics has become a by-word for intrigue and ruthlessness in the struggle for power.

[3] In Place of Fear by Aneurin Bevan, was published in 1952 in the aftermath of the 1951 election defeat.

[4] Joseph Schumpeter was a member of the 'Austrian School' of economists, who put forward an alternative theory of business cycles to that of Marx, emphasising the innovative role of small businesses.

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