Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers’ Movement

Why Paul Foot Should Be A Socialist
The case against the Socialist Workers’ Party


I. THE STATE: PF’s failure to grasp the class nature of the state

In Britain today we are all brought up to regard ’the state’ (along with “the law” and so on) as standing in some way ’above’ or outside of the various groups of people that make up our society – as being a kind of neutral arbiter or ’referee’ between them all, in fact. Of course anyone who stops to think about it for a moment will realise that this is a pretty crummy idea. Who has ever seen the British police charge, batons waving, a group of merchant bankers, say, or cabinet ministers, or industry bosses? (And yet these very groups of people are accused, even by each other, of wreaking the most terrible havoc upon British society – and they can’t all be wrong!) Anyone who has ever been in prison and seen the sort of social background practically all prisoners in this country come from would admit that it was hardly a public school old boys’ reunion. And how about the British army, that central pillar of the state? When the conflicts in our society get beyond the control of the police, and the army is called back from its convenient training in northern Ireland to help out, is it going to play the role of ’neutral arbiter’?

Anyone who has participated in, or even seriously thought about, any of the working class struggles that really threaten the bosses” interests knows, even if he hasn’t been aware since childhood, that the state (with its laws, its prisons, its police, its phoney ’democracy’, and above all with its army) does not stand ’above’ or outside the conflicts in our society as our rulers and their media make out. Far from it such talk merely expresses the ideology that the ruling class promotes to disguise what the state really is, namely an instrument of class rule. We begin in this way by spelling out the class nature of the state in simple language that even a five-year-old child could understand. For, incredible as it may seem, PF has failed to grasp this elementary truth.


Perhaps the most glaring example of PF’s failure to grasp the class nature of the state is that whenever he writes about the nationalised industries in Britain he omits to mention that they have been nationalised by a bourgeois state, not a workers’ state, and thus comes up with the conclusion that the nationalised industries, given a bit more determination on the part of their top management, could be made to serve the interests not just of the capitalist class but of the working class as well. Now anyone with even the smallest particle of revolutionary consciousness will realise that the capitalist state is as incapable of running the nationalised industries for any other interests than those of the capitalist class as it is incapable of using any of its component parts – law, army, etc. – for any other interests than those of the capitalist class. Yet PF would have us believe that there is some fundamental contradiction between the nationalised industries and the capitalist class. How can it be that someone who claims to be a Marxist has made such an elementary blunder?

The best way of showing where and how PF has come off the rails is to take a quick look back at some earlier stages of capitalist history and see how and why the nationalised industries in Britain came to be. A hundred years or so ago, capitalism was still based on relatively free competition between capitalist enterprises, and ’non-intervention by the state’ was the most hallowed principle of capitalist ideology. However, by the turn of the century, a new situation had arisen in which the various capitalist enterprises were becoming more and more amalgamated into a small and ever-decreasing number of giants; this was the beginning of a new stage, ’monopoly capitalism’, in which competition was progressively restricted and the whole economic life of Britain and other capitalist societies came to be dominated by the petro-chemical, electrical and other corporations. The economic power wielded by these vast concerns obviously had to be taken into account by the capitalist state, and slowly the principle of ’non-intervention by the state’ had to be abandoned. One of the major reasons for this in Britain was that light industry was more attractive to capitalist investors than heavy industry, because its high rate of turnover meant that profits on investments came in quickly, while heavy industry required a lot of investment and only yielded profits slowly. The maintenance of heavy industry was however essential to light industry and since individual private capitalists could not (or would not) take care of this, the state stepped in in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. This state of affairs was eventually recognised as necessary to the smooth running of the wheels of monopoly capitalism, and a suitable theory (“Keynesian economies’) was knocked together for the purpose. The Keynesian notion of the ’mixed economy’ is now established fact, and the Labour Party’s policy of nationalisation is now supported by the more far-sighted sections of the monopoly capitalist class as the most rational method of running its collective affairs; while those sections which still cling to their outmoded ideal of ’free enterprise’ are more and more coming to appear as anachronistic backwoodsmen.

These new developments constitute quite a break with the previous state of affairs, so that they are often referred to as a new stage of capitalism, ’state monopoly capitalism’. This new form has prolonged the life of capitalism for a few years by preventing the various sections of the bourgeoisie from tearing each other to pieces. At the same time, it has been made to serve bourgeois ideology, for, by presenting nationalisation and other forms of state intervention as ’socialist’, the bourgeoisie has tried to turn people away from socialism by identifying it with the suffocating bureaucracy that characterises the capitalist state machinery that is called into being to cope with the tasks of this stage.

The state remains a bourgeois state, of course, and the rationalisation and centralisation of economic management in its hands has no more to do with working class rule than the North Pole does with the South. But there are always people on the ’left’ who are prepared to go along with the idea that nationalisation and so on are ’socialist’, or even ’Marxist’. The abuse heaped upon this sham left by the reactionary backswoodsmen strengthens the illusion that the nationalisation debate reflects a struggle between capitalist and socialist views, rather than what it actually is, namely an argument between different sections of the bourgeoisie itself over how best to run capitalism. In such a situation the central propaganda task of Marxism is of course to repudiate any suggestion at all that capitalist nationalisation represents a gain for the working class in the struggle for socialism. PF undermines this task by posing a false basic contradiction between the nationalised sectors of the economy and consequently between the capitalist state and the class which it serves.

“When,” says PF (pp.27-28). “the Labour Government, after the war, nationalised a number of industries, people felt that control in those industries would shift towards the working people in them.” (For those not yet used to PF’s world outlook, we should perhaps point out that in his pamphlet “people” are always lumped together in such undifferentiated, amorphous masses as this, so there is nothing surprising in them all having the same “feeling” at the same time in this well-synchronised way; also the novice might be forgiven for asking why PF should use such a mysterious grammatical construction as the “working people in them” instead of “the people working in them’”, but once again there is a simple explanation – “working people” being, as we shall see, a technical term in the PF school of confusion. But to proceed: what happened to “people’s” misguided “feeling”? “That hope was very quickly dashed. Control of the nationalised industries was vested in boards which were (oh, ultimate horror!) “appointed, not elected.” PF here reveals his naive acceptance of the ideology of bourgeois democracy and its elections; he clearly implies that if only these capitalist industries, or rather “the working people in them”, could have elected their managements, then “people’s” hopes could have been realised and these industries could have been wrested from capitalism’s control, to become islands of workers’ power amid the seas of wicked private enterprise. But alas! The management boards were “appointed, not elected”, and (surprise, surprise!) “Very quickly these boards turned the nationalised industries into cheap suppliers and extravagant customers for private industries.” According to the logic of his argument so far, PF is now asking us to believe that if the workers in nationalised industries had elected to the top management posts people dedicated to the ideal of “shifting” control of those industries away from the capitalist class, then the private industries would have responded in the opposite way to how they actually did, i.e. that private industry would have charitably helped to launch these anti-capitalist enterprises on their way by purchasing their products dear and selling them supplies cheap!

If PF had grasped the class nature of the state, then he could never have tied himself in such knots; for if a capitalist state undertakes to nationalise some industries, then it is obvious in the very logic of events that it will be for the purpose of turning them into “cheap suppliers and extravagant customers for private industry” and indeed for the capitalist class as a whole, i.e. that they will become better servants of capitalism – otherwise why would the capitalist state do it? “Men like Lord Robens,” PF continues indignantly. “... behaved like business tycoons. By late 1976, several heads of nationalised industries, like .. . Lord McFadzean .. . and ... Sir Arthur Hawkins, were making speeches attacking the whole idea of ’state intervention in industry’.” PF here reduces the discussion down to the level of personalised attacks on the bad behaviour of certain individual capitalists. (This is, as we shall see, a common feature of his method of argument.) We are therefore forced to reiterate that in a capitalist society like Britain, industry’s big bosses are all equally bound to serve the interests of the capitalist class, whether they want to or not, and whether they serve that class as a whole (in the ’state industries’) or in part (in the ’private’ sector). McFadzean. Hawkins and Co., PF concludes, “want to run their state industries not for the state, but in the interests of their own class.” This last sentence ought to earn PF the first prize for sham ’left’ journalism during 1977. First, it is the clearest possible proof that PF sees a basic contradiction between the interests of the state and the interests of the capitalist class whose state it is. Secondly, by reserving his worst indignation for the ’private’ bosses. PF is lending credence to the reactionary idea that nationalisation by the capitalist state is progressive as compared with leaving industries in the ’private’ sector. He who concedes this argument by even so much as an inch has effectively become an ideological appendage of state monopoly capitalism; for this is all the bourgeoisie needs – from there on: their reactionary ideologues can take over and dub nationalisation ’socialist’, and say that to argue tor socialism is to argue for yet more suffocating bureaucracy, etc. Ideologically, people like PF are thus giving state monopoly capitalism a shot in the arm.

(What we have said above does not mean that nationalisation is always automatically to be opposed in every instance. There are, for example, cases where nationalisation has been successfully put forward as a demand by workers in particular enterprises in order to save jobs. But whether or not to demand nationalisation in such cases is a tactical question to be decided in each case on its merits according to how best to protect workers’ immediate interests. Such tactical questions should not, however, be confused with the overall, long-range, strategic viewpoint, namely that nationalisation in no way represents in itself a gain for the working class. Rather the reverse, for, to take the question of lay-offs, the nationalised industries are precisely those which the capitalist class needs to ’rationalise’, with the result that, in the decade from 1964 to 1974, the mining workforce was virtually halved, the railway workforce out by well over a third, the workforce in the steel industry drastically cut back, and so on.)

In the case of nationalisation, therefore, PF helps to lend credence to the received wisdom of anti-socialist propaganda. There are other cases where he actually goes further and puts the case for new forms of nationalisation and rationalisation by the capitalist state which that state has not yet got round to putting on the agenda! For instance, he points out that in contributing to their firms’ pension funds, workers “hand over their money to a small group of fund managers over whom they have no control, and who then proceed to gamble with their money on the Stock Exchange. If the contributions were paid as extra tax, and the pensions paid out of tax, the pensions would be bigger and the contributions smaller” (p.19). This amounts to nothing more than advice on how best to run capitalism; PF has entered the arena against one current of opinion among the monopoly capitalist class (those who advocate that pensions should be managed by private entrepreneurs “over whom” workers “have no control”), and in support of another current of opinion among that same class (those who advocate greater state intervention, a system which, according to PF’s view that the state stands above classes, is implied to be more open to “control” by workers). “The same goes for insurance policies,” continues PF. “If there was one national insurance scheme . . ., millions would be saved in extravagant advertising, unnecessary competition or repetition.” etc. And PF concludes this little PR job for state monopoly capitalism by having recourse once again to that ultimate arbiter of bourgeois-democratic ideology – elections: “The funds and insurance companies. .. ,” he fulminates, “hand the control over enormous sums of workers’ money to” (wait for it!) “unelected and unaccountable bureaucracies.” Oh, no! What sacrilege to the spirit of bourgeois democracy! Abraham Lincoln must be turning in his grave, muttering a prayer that he be saved from all manner of ills but most especially from that which is unelected!

PF’s determination to put the blame for all the ills of capitalism on the private sector and let the state sector off the hook is once again shown when he comes to discuss the “new monster, called STAGFLATION” (p.24), a monster that is graphically illustrated in an accompanying cartoon. Now throughout most of its history, capitalism has been characterised by alternating stagnation (high unemployment, etc.) and inflation of prices. “Stagflation”, however, means stagnation coinciding with inflation. Stagflation is something relatively new, being as it is a feature of state monopoly capitalism, whose greater ’rationalisation’, etc., enables it to regulate the economy in this way, and thus inflict both these forms of suffering upon the working class simultaneously. This surely is a clear indictment of state monopoly capitalism, and a simple reply to those who see it as to any degree less of an enemy of the working class than the private sector. But even when faced with this clear fact, PF still cannot find it in himself to say anything bad of the state sector, which was itself, and not as PF implies the private sector, the Frankenstein who created this monster. “In 1910,” he writes, “the top hundred firms in Britain controlled only 15 per cent of British manufacturing industry” (and a merrie old England it was!). “By 1950, this had risen to 20 per cent,” (note PF’s “growing wrath”!). “Now they control half. “Surely he has reached the peak of his indignation? No – he now reveals his touching faith in bourgeois futurology and projects ever-increasing indignation into the coming decades: “By 1985 they will control two thirds. By 1990, three quarters of all non-nationalised British industry will be controlled by 21 firms.” Heavens! And just think, they won’t pay their fair share into “the public purse”, and their pension funds will be gambled away on the Stock Exchange, and their top management will be unelected, and . . . Hey, but wait a minute! “Three quarters of all non-nationalised British industry.” he says. But what about nationalised industry? Isn’t the growth of the nationalised sector an even more characteristic development in this period? By the simple trick of omitting to mention this fact, PF has allotted all the blame for stagflation to the private sector, even his presumed stagflation of the 1990’s when at the present rate that sector may well have dwindled down to a pretty small proportion of the whole, and his “21 firms” of 1990 may just be the last few privately-owned ice-cream vans.

The truth is that PF’s conception of what capitalism is derives from the era of free competition, and he hasn’t up-dated it to take into account the emergence of state monopoly capitalism. His definition of capitalism becomes more and more restricted in applicability as the private sector is more and more restricted, and ends by being more of a caricature than a true definition. Even in his prophetic visions of 1990 he can still see no other enemies than those of 1890. Thus, far from exposing the role of the state sector in bolstering capitalist exploitation, he blithely carries on as though the state sector was not capitalist at all.


We have now seen how bourgeois ideology tries to hide the class nature of the state by representing capitalist nationalisation as ’socialist’, and we have also seen how PF and the SWP make this ideological task easier. Another way in which this ideology seeks to mask the state’s class nature is by associating state expenditure in general with the provision of social services which benefit the working class, and here again PF and the SWP come to its aid. For in their campaigns against the ’cuts’, which, like demands for nationalisation, figure largely in SWP activity, they fail to disentangle the various elements in the situation – indeed they get them all tied in knots, and end up by once again helping to lend credence to anti-socialist propaganda.

PF’s belief that the state stands above classes, so clearly seen in his discussion of nationalisation, is immediately made clear in his treatment of taxation. “Corporation tax,” he complains, “which used to take a slice of company profits for the public purse has effectively been abolished over the past two years” (p.18). Now anyone who has realised that the state is a class state will of course know that tax revenue is used by the state both to maintain itself and to regulate the anarchy of capitalist production in the general interests of the capitalist class as a whole. PF, who has not understood the class nature of the state, misses this point and erroneously poses a basic contradiction between “company profits” (revenue accruing to individual capitalist enterprises, i.e. to the capitalist class in part) and what he calls, innocuously, “the public purse” (revenue accruing to the capitalist state, i.e. to the capitalist class as a whole). Once again, by reserving his greatest indignation for the “company profits”, PF is effectively going along with the reactionary idea that calling for greater taxation by the capitalist state is a socialist demand. And once more, from there on the reactionary ideologues can take over and call high taxation ’socialist’, and say that to argue for socialism is to argue for working people to retain an even smaller proportion of their product, etc.

And what happens to the money thus charitably deposited in “the public purse” by capitalist companies and selfishly withheld from it at times of stringency? “During the ’good old days’ of the 1950s and 1960s,” writes PF (p.24), slipping easily into the shoes of the capitalist class, “the people with property were very confident. They allowed the growth of spending on social services.” (As we shall often see, in PF’s world gains by the working class are not achieved through class struggle, through forcing the bourgeoisie to concede them, but are always graciously bestowed upon them in this way by an omnipotent bourgeoisie according to what the latter’s subjective state of mind might be at a given time.) “They believed it when they said they wanted a “free and easy society’.” (Well of course they believed it – it was most obviously true: what does PF suppose they wanted – a revolutionary hurricane?) “As long as it was easy to make profits, they liked things to be easy for everyone. But when the profits became more difficult to make and when the society fell into crisis, the mask slipped. . . Cuts were demanded in every form of public spending which did not produce instant profits.” Faced with the frown of Jehovah, the working class is powerless, for His “demand” is as good as a law of nature – His success in enforcing these cuts of course provided the gloomy contents of PF’s first chapter, as indeed of much SWP literature. (As if it wasn’t working class and popular struggle that determines the level of services, as of wages! But then, as we shall frequently see in PF’s pages, he always stands on his head when it comes lo what determines what in history. According to Marxism, class struggle decides what happens. According to PF, the will-power of the ruling class tends to be the decisive factor.)

Cuts in medical, educational, transport and other services that benefit the working class are of course to be opposed as an essential element in the overall struggle of the working class to defend its standard of living. That is very clear. But does that mean that socialists should demand that state expenditure should not be cut? No. First, there is the obvious point that expenditure on the repressive machinery of the capitalist state (police, prisons, the legal apparatus, etc.) is against the interests of the working class; for state expenditure reflects the dual tactics of the ruling class in general – jam for tea if you appear sufficiently docile, but the big stick if you show signs of rebellion. Secondly, it is the services themselves that should be demanded, not the state expenditure. In some capitalist countries, among them Britain, medical and other welfare services are provided by the state; in others, such as Japan, they are provided largely by individual capitalist enterprises. This distinction is a secondary matter; either way workers have a right to them and are justified in insisting on this right. PF, like the SWP in general, continually complains about cuts in public spending as such (as e.g. on p.30) and thus once again ends up as an ideological appendage of state monopoly capitalism. To those class-conscious workers who, unlike PF, realise that the state is a bosses’ state, that state continually stands revealed as a class institution grudgingly conceding only what it is forced to concede by workers’ struggles. PF and the SWP, on the contrary, do not at all depart from the bourgeois ideology of the neutrality of the state; rather, they reinforce it by basing their campaign against the cuts merely on defending the state apparatus from a mean and evil “wealthy class” pursuing its own sectional interest.

It might perhaps be objected that state control of medicine under the NHS helps restrict profiteering in the medical profession; this is the butt of one of Phil Evans’ cartoons (pp.12-13), which shows someone reading an oculist’s sight-testing chart which says, in ever-diminishing letters, “You are being ripped off by wealthy opticians”. Is this a valid argument for more intervention by the capitalist state? No. Experience has shown that profiteering, far from being curtailed by the NHS, is in fact built into it, the main beneficiaries being of course the pharmaceutical monopolies. As for the medical profession, practising doctors arc part of the middle stratum of society, and are thus potential allies of the working class; it is an essential task of socialists to show them that although capitalism may give a small number of them the chance of a precarious and hazardous career as whizz-kids of the Dr. Barnard variety, their long-term interests lie with the working class and socialism. PF and Phil Evans are thus playing a reactionary role in reserving their worst indignation for private medicine, for this diverts attention from the main enemy, the monopoly capitalist class and its state and monopolies, and serves to antagonise potential allies of the working class. By taking this stance, PF is once again using the signboard of ’socialism’ to support state monopoly capitalism against secondary enemies in the private sector.

By thus failing to distinguish socialism from state monopoly capitalism, PF and the SWP also find themselves incapable of dealing with the question of the state bureaucracy. For by failing, in their campaign against the ’cuts’, to distinguish between the services provided and the state which provides them, they end up in the situation where they are defending the particular state bureaucratic structures which provide the services, and which may be ludicrously top-heavy and inefficient. So mesmerised is the SWP by the day-to-day struggles of trade unions that in its “Rank and File” paper for civil servants. Redder Tape, the interests of the bureaucratic personnel of the state are indiscriminately equated with the interests of the working class. It is of course unjust for the capitalist state to try to shift the burden of its crisis onto any section of the working class, and this includes not only those who lose services through the ’cuts’ but also those state employees threatened with being laid off as a result of the ’cuts’. But that doesn’t mean that socialists should defend the state structure! To repeat, it is not the preservation of the state that should be demanded, but the services; this serves the long-term interests of the working class in general and of the workers in state services. It is true that this will antagonise some of the higher personnel of the top-heavy bureaucracies who are functionally pretty useless as things are now. Many of these are in the long term potential allies of the working class, but that does not mean that, like Redder Tape, one should pander to their short-term interests.

In their campaign against the cuts, then, PF and the SWP reinforce the bourgeois ideology of the neutrality of the state. They fail to distinguish between slate expenditure as a whole (which is designed to prolong capitalist class rule) and the services provided by some sections of it (services which the working class has a right to demand irrespective of where they come from). They show themselves to have a standpoint towards the middle class that swings around from ultra-’left’ to right: for the private sector in medicine, etc., we have ultra-’left’ antagonisalion; for the state bureaucracy, we have ultra-right concessions to their cosy status in the machinery of the capitalist state. They are thus accepting capitalism’s terms of reference, creating all kinds of confusion about how to win over the middle class, and assisting bourgeois ideology in its attempt to equate socialism and workers’ welfare with oppressive taxation and stifling bureaucracy. Socialism could well do without such ’friends’ as PF and the SWP!


PF and the SWP, then, in their line on nationalisation and the ’cuts’, show their failure to appreciate the class nature of the state. It is therefore no surprise to find that PF’s brief critique of the British state apparatus is completely misdirected. It is true that at the very end of his pamphlet (p.90) he proudly proclaims that “more than once in this pamphlet I’ve referred to the ’state machine’, the centralised power of the capitalist corporations, whose armies and newspapers and law are carefully marshalled in their class interest.” This claim is false: PF has never used the term ’state machine’ in his pamphlet, nor has he exposed the class nature of this machine under any name. Indeed, one is tempted to ask whether Chris, Tony, etc., suddenly realised he hadn’t mentioned the corporations, etc.. and got him to tag this bit on at the end. If so, they should have got him to revise the earlier sections as well; for when he does deal with the state (PP.25-28), he reduces his whole argument to personalised questions regarding the class origins and personal outlook of the individuals holding high office in the state. “More than three quarters of the top armed forces commanders in Britain were bred at public schools and those that weren’t spent most of their time trying to prove that they were” (p.25). “The police are also controlled by members of the wealthy class, or by people who would like to be members of it. The first loyalty of police chiefs is a class loyalty” (p.25). “The civil service is controlled exclusively by wealthy men and women whose main loyalty is to their class” (p.26). Such questions of the class background and individual outlook of state bigwigs is no substitute for an exposure of the class nature of the state as such. In fact, it encourages reformist illusions, for it implies that it only people of less privileged social origins could supplant them, then the state would become less “controlled” by capitalism. Marxism holds the opposite view, namely that the state is in itself an instrument of class dictatorship, regardless of who holds office in it. The British state is a capitalist stale, regardless of whether its top personnel are from public schools and Oxbridge, or labourites from comprehensives.

The central pillar of bourgeois democratic ideology is of course the sanctity of bourgeois elections, and it is quite touching to observe PF’s childlike faith in this creed. “Unelected and unaccountable bureaucracies” (p.19) haunt his pages like the Devil, “unelected” apparently being PF’s ultimate term of censure. “There is no way of electing a judge.” PF laments of these “unaccountable and unrepresentative” cogs in the state apparatus (p.27). And, as we have seen, the nationalised industries would have blazed the trail to a socialist Britain had their boards not been of the “appointed, not elected” variety (p.28). Worst of all, PF extends this PR job for bourgeois elections into his discussion of the armed forces: their “generals and officers . . . are never elected by anyone,” he complains (p.25). Well, if that is all that is wrong with the monopoly of violence by the bourgeoisie, then of course there is no need for a revolution: Marx and his successors must have been daft calling for one. In fact, for PF has now come to enlighten us by pointing out that all that is needed after all is a slight extension of bourgeois democracy by making the top brass stand for election. Once again, PF has put forward a view diametrically opposed to that of Marxism, which holds that the state is in itself an instrument of class dictatorship; the British state is a capitalist state regardless of whether particular elements of it have their class nature masked by bourgeois elections or not.

The logic of PF’s arguments about the state is, then, that a more egalitarian personnel policy and an extension of elections could turn the British state into a socialist state. This is a very dangerous illusion to propagate, implying as it does that the working class can take over the machinery of the bourgeois stale intact and use it to build socialism. This goes against all the experience of working class struggles during the last century and more. For the central institutions of the state, its bones, are the repressive apparatus – above all the armed forces. PF shows some awareness that the Civil Service, etc., are manipulated by “the wealthy class”. On the question of the repressive apparatus, however, he does not even get that far in his attempt at a class analysis; in fact he lets the capitalist class off the hook: “Like Dr Frankenstein,” he writes (p.25), “capitalism has built a monster in its own image: a monster which no one can control.” Similarly, he describes the police and intelligence services as “a law unto themselves” (p.26). This is the very opposite of the truth; the repressive organs of the state are not autonomous, as PF here suggests. On the contrary, it is precisely their complete subservience to the interests of the capitalist class as a whole that occasionally makes them appear to ’mutiny’ against a particular capitalist government. For instance, when a government pursues reformist policies on some particularly sensitive issue, the army may resist this. One example of this was the ’Curragh mutiny’, which was staged by British army officers when the government tried to introduce Home Rule for Ireland before the First World War – even the stigma of ’mutiny’ was preferable for these officers to the prospect of fighting against Unionists. Such actions are not mutiny against capitalism. They merely show the army performing its basic function as a safety-catch on behalf of the ruling class.

As a further illustration of this point, let us take PF’s treatment of northern Ireland during the loyalist strike of 1974. He indignantly relates (p.54) how the British army leadership refused to “obey the elected politicians” of the Labour government, and exclaims that “the class interest of the army officers prevailed against the decisions of the government.” By thus reserving his greatest indignation for the army leadership (who, don’t forget, “are never elected by anyone”), he shifts the blame for the situation away from the “elected politicians” of the Labour government, which had sent the army there in the first place, onto certain reactionary senior army officers. By doing so, he helps to mask both the army’s essential nature as an organ of capitalist class dictatorship and the role of the Labour Party as a cat’s-paw of the same class rule. And on the way he helps lend credence to the ideology of bourgeois elections as providing the supreme legitimation for the state’s actions. PF has killed three birds with one stone! (Of course, as we shall see when we come to discuss Ireland in more detail, one of the best examples of the complete failure of the SWP – then IS – to grasp the class nature of the state came in 1969, when it supported the dispatch of the British army to northern Ireland on the grounds that it would protect the Catholic population from the “Orange mobs”. It soon changed its line, but continues to this day to justify the stand it took at that time.)

Being thus unable to see that the army, like the rest of the state apparatus, is by its nature in the service of the capitalist class, PF reduces the question of the armed forces, the police force, etc.” to one of “democracy” – they are, he says, areas where “there is no democracy at all” (p.37), and as we have seen, by this he means largely that their senior personnel are not elected. “Under socialism.” he writes (p.38), “officers are elected and subject to control.” and the same goes for judges and other officials. PF gives no hint of a suggestion here that between the present, capitalist state and that future socialist state one set of armed forces and bureaucratic organs will have been thrown in the dustbin of history and new proletarian stale organs established. PF is more concerned with such matters as the fact that at present army life is undemocratic, that “the structure of power in the armed forces is strictly hierarchical” (p.25). etc., than he is in asking what the armed forces are there for. Thus, by failing to see the class nature of the state, PF ends up by arriving at socialism by wishful thinking, denying the need for a socialist revolution on the way! By contrast, Marxist-Leninists have always pointed out that the final showdown with this ultimate ’safety-catch’ of bourgeois class rule, its armed forces, will be the fundamental issue in the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class and its allies.


Bourgeois ideology seeks to cover up the existence of irreconcilable class contradictions in society and tries to mask the class role of the state by giving it the false appearance of neutrality. We have in PF a would-be ’Marxist’ who has completely, failed to penetrate the veil of this ideology and indeed bandies about the very phrases and concepts it uses (the “public purse”, etc.). One of the principal forms taken by this ideology is the constant appeals to a so-called ’national interest’ which seek to persuade as many as possible to identity their interests with those of the monopoly capitalist class. (In its extreme form, this ’non-class’ ideology is the ideology of fascism. PF, who is taken in by the state’s claims to neutrality, does not of course make that point but deals with fascist ideology only in the context of racism and not in the context of the class ideology of capitalism.) PF shows himself (pp.29-30) dimly aware that there is something that needs refuting in “this ’country’ business”, as he calls it, but he can’t for the life of him manage to say anything coherent on the subject. “The country of course never did anything; it has no ’interests’. Somebody once said, My Country Right or Wrong, but no one” (before PF!) “ever pointed out that the country can’t be right or wrong. The country is a piece of territory .. .” And so he carries on, in much the same vein. What is this piece of desperate waffle all about? The answer is that it is designed to cover up PF’s failure to penetrate the veil of bourgeois ideology on the subject of the state. In the previous few pages he has been arguing for nationalisation under capitalism, falling for the ’neutrality’ of the state hook, line and sinker, in fact: so it is really somewhat ironic that he should find himself having to make such a fuss about the “country business” at all. Anyway, just bluff it out – scrawl down a bit of mumbo-jumbo and then change the subject – it’s all in the SWP school of confusion!

Let us leave PF groping around in the dark for a moment while we turn, for comparison, to the uncompromising clarity with which Marx summed up the lessons of the Paris Commune of 1871, the first seizure of state power by the working class: “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ’the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes’;” on the contrary, the bourgeois state must, he said, be ”smashed”. Now it is true that PF pays some lip-service here and there to the revolutionary road to socialism; for instance on p.59 where he makes the apparently definite statement that “socialist society can only come about by a revolution”. Nevertheless, because of his myopia on the question of the class nature of the state, he fails to realise that the overthrow of the bourgeois state, and in particular the defeat of its ultimate safety-catch, the army, is the central task of the revolution. As we shall see later, this leaves him really very hazy about what a revolution is. He apparently sees the revolution’s central task as being seizure of the means of production and other property. For instance, though he explicitly rejects the parliamentary road to socialism, he does so in the following unfortunate formulation: “There is no prospect whatever of the class with property abandoning that property” (our emphasis) “just because a parliament says so” (p.59). And again, when discussing the rise of fascism in the inter-war period he describes it as a response to “laws which threatened the property” (again our emphasis) “of the wealthy”, while he conveniently forgets the more far-reaching threat to their control of state power posed by the parties of Comintern. Even when defining what a revolution is supposed to be, state power still doesn’t come in for a mention – “the masses, through general strikes and agitation, seize the means of production from their present owners.” Capitalist nationalisation is the clearest proof that capitalists are prepared to concede formal ownership of the means of production to the state provided that it is in what they call ’the national interest’ (i.e. in the interests of their class as a whole, as represented by their state). Ownership is a secondary matter; there are all kinds of private, collective and state forms of ownership - what is important is the class reality which lies behind these legal arrangements, as summed up in the questions ’Is the capitalist class still in power? Is the state still a capitalist state, or has the capitalist state been overthrown, “smashed”, and replaced by a workers’ state?

The truth seems to be that PF generally uses the word ’state’ merely as a synonym for the word ’society’ (as for instance when he complains that the nationalised industry bosses “want to run their state industries not for the state, but in the interests of their own class”, p.28). The whole idea of state power is apparently such a nauseating concept for him (reflecting his syndicalist streak, to which we shall return later) that it must be played down in all circumstances and above all not be associated with “working people”. Consequently he shirks the central task of socialist ideology, that of calling for the overthrow of the capitalist state and its replacement by a workers’ state, and instead represents the state machinery the same way bourgeois ideology does – namely as an administrative framework which is or should be politically neutral and can therefore be taken over, with modifications and reforms, by a revolutionary socialist regime. He thus deflects attention away from the main concentration of bourgeois power – the state – and instead fills his pages with the intrigues of individual capitalists, maverick generals, etc., so that his pamphlet lends to read more like William Hickey’s gossip column in the Daily Express than a serious attempt to explain the contradictions that lie behind what we all see from day to day.

PF’s “revolution”, then, occurs without what for Marxists is revolutions central task – seizure of state power. He does indeed concede that “great, decisive class battles” can be violent affairs, but in general he encourages the opposite view that they are a picnic, that come the revolution the bourgeoisie will just shut up shop and go away. “The extent of violence in the war between classes.” he writes (p.60). “is governed not so much by the instincts of either side as by the relation of forces. This mysterious pronouncement is explained further down on the same page, where he says that “the only guarantee against violence is for the workers to ensure that they have more strength than the employing class, and to be prepared to use it.” He illustrates this “guarantee against violence” by giving a fantasised description of the Saltlev affair in 1972, concluding with the words. “30.000 engineering workers came over the hill to join the miners’ pickets. The police look one look and closed the depot. No one was hurt.” Likewise, the Bolsheviks waited for a similarly favourable “relation of forces”’ and thus, says PF, when they “gave the call for revolution, it was answered immediately by the working masses, who ova threw the capitalist government without any difficulty or violence”’ (p.67). (PF nevertheless perpetrates plenty of “violence” to historical truth by thus conveniently forgetting the period of revolutionary civil wars which lasted until 1921!) PF ridicules those who represent socialist revolution as a “sudden, convulsive burst into the promised land” (p.91), and yet this turns out to be precisely what he himself envisages. (When describing events in Portugal in 1974, he applauds them as an “explosion of popular power” – if he ridicules the “sudden, convulsive burst” theory are we not equally justified in ridiculing his “explosion” theory? Are these not two phrases describing exactly the same thing, or is there some subtle difference between an “explosion” and a “sudden, convulsive burst”?) PF’s basic message boils down to no more than this: let the spontaneous enthusiasm of the masses be released, let workers’ councils be formed – and the best of British luck!

Lenin used to call the standpoint of people like PF “tailism”, because instead of leading mass struggles onward to seizure of state power, they attach themselves to their posteriors. As we shall often see, he fosters the illusion that the enthusiasm and spontaneous organisation generated by any mass movement, and in particular by general strikes, in itself constitutes the crucial transition to revolutionary struggle. By contrast, Marxist-Leninists have always pointed out that putting revolutionary politics in command is essential for the transformation of a spontaneous upsurge into a revolutionary movement, and that the highest task of the working class in struggle is the seizure of state power. By studiously avoiding this central question, PF effectively places a diversion sign across the road to proletarian revolution.

We hope that we have now illustrated the fact that, hidden behind the apparent clarity and simplicity of PF’s arguments, there lies a lot of confusion. But all his misconceptions boil down to his failure to grasp the class nature of the state, so that we could almost have put our whole critique under this first chapter-heading. His fundamental error on the state runs like a yellow thread through all his arguments and it distorts his vision on all major issues. That’s why we have dealt with it first.

In our coming chapters we shall show how his misconception about the state leaves him all at sea on the question of the nature of parliamentary democracy and the role of the Labour Party; it leads him to fall into the trap of ’labourism’, i.e. the mistaken view that the Labour Party (which in general stands for state monopoly capitalism) is somehow less capitalist than the Tory Party (which in general stands for private capitalism). It is because of his failure constantly to raise the question of state power that he fails to differentiate between socialist politics (the politics of seizure of state power by the working class) from trade union politics (the politics of defending the economic interests of the working class from the ravages of the capitalist system while that system still exists). Failing to concentrate on the question of slate power, PF is left completely in the dark as to what socialism actually is, and thus blind to the achievements of the working class in countries where it has seized power: still less does he draw I ho lessons to be learnt from the experience of the Soviet Union that the victorious working class must exercise strict class rule over the overthrown remnants of the capitalist class and newly emergent bourgeois elements if it is to prevent a capitalist comeback (PF has a lot to say about democracy under socialism, but seems to feel that discussion of socialism’s repressive aspects might put people off). Without a clear conception of the question of state power PF is of course left very hazy about what a revolution is supposed to be (in general he seems to favour the antiquated and exploded fallacy that a revolution comes about as a result of a general strike). PF’s failure to grasp the class nature of the state and raise the question of state power thus ensures that throughout the whole gamut of socialist theory and practice he can be relied upon to provide an example of how to get things wrong. This makes his pamphlet a useful compendium of errors – the kind of thing Mao Tse-tung used to call “excellent teaching material by negative example”.

In contrast to PF, Marxism has always insisted that socialism involves the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state and its replacement by a workers’ state, i.e. the replacement of the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the class dictatorship of the working class. Marxist terminology expresses this in the words ’proletarian revolution’ and ’dictatorship of the proletariat’, concepts often referred to as the ’two pillars of Marxism’. Lenin used to call the question of dictatorship of the proletariat the “touchstone” for distinguishing genuine from sham Marxism, and we too must continue to use it to distinguish between the many versions of would-be Marxism that are current today. Judged by this ’touchstone’, PF’s version turns out to be a very poor counterfeit indeed; in fact, as we have seen, the kind of vague and demagogic generalisations which PF substitutes for socialist ideas constitute an obstacle to exposing the class nature of the state.

There are many people who are in general impressed by Marxism, but not by the SWP, and have consequently felt unease at the latter’s claims to be ’Marxist’. We hope that, by catching PF red-handed in the act of attempting to undermine Marxism’s ’pillars’, we may have helped such people to realise the hollowness of the SWP’s claims to be Marxist. We hope they might even take the next step, and realise that, in Lenin’s words, “the struggle for the emancipation of the toiling masses from the influence of the bourgeoisie ... is impossible without a struggle against opportunist prejudices concerning ’the state’.” We hope that, by opening fire on the ”opportunist prejudices concerning ’the state’ that are propagated by PF and the SWP, we are making a small contribution to exposing the role of opportunism and thus hastening the day when the working class in Britain wrests itself free from the stranglehold of bourgeois ideology and takes the revolutionary road.