At the end of his pamphlet, PF mentions several reasons why a socialist party is necessary. One of the reasons he gives is that there are various ideological tasks that can only be carried out by such an organisation. Two of these ideological tasks stand out: first “socialists straddle the barrier of country”; secondly, the party straddles “the barrier of past and present” (p.90). This is all very fine, but what PF fails to mention in this connection, as indeed anywhere else, is the need for a third such task to be undertaken, that of providing an on-going and up-to-date analysis of what the various classes in society are, so that realistic policies can be formulated that take account of their various standpoints and unite all oppressed classes behind the proletariat.
Does this mean that what the working class needs at this stage is some kind of a giant social survey, or its own version of the Central Statistical Office? No. A class analysis that serves the interests of working class struggle has a totally different character from the productions of bourgeois sociology. The kind of question asked is not the static kind of question asked by a bourgeois social survey (were you breast fed and are you going to vote Tory?, and so on). What we are talking about is questions of a more dynamic kind – questions which demand urgent answers in the course of workers’ struggles: for instance, is such-and-such a social group likely to support the working class, and if so, to what extent, in what circumstances, and how? Or again, is such-and-such a bourgeois social group united, or can it be split, and if so, how? The overall picture that emerges in the course of struggle is what we call a class analysis, and it can be seen from what we have said that such a class analysis can only develop as an inseparable element in the struggle to build a working class party and assert its leading role.
All socialist parties have had to face this task of developing a class analysis of the society in which they operate. Mao Tse-tung expressed the task in these words: “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution... To distinguish real friends from real enemies, we must make an analysis of the various classes in .. . society and of their respective attitudes toward the revolution.” These same questions dominated Lenin’s pioneering studies of Russian capitalism, and of the various strata among the Russian peasantry. A sober and realistic assessment of the balance of Cass forces in a society has always proved crucial for the success or failure of a revolution.
What we must demand of the emerging revolutionary leadership of the working class in Britain today, therefore, is an ever-deepening grasp of the nature and disposition of the various classes and strata that make up our complex, imperialist society, a society characterised by a large middle class, by differentiation among different sections of the working class, etc. The political tasks involved in asserting proletarian leadership over all the working and oppressed sections of British society, each of which has its own characteristic standpoint towards the class struggles in Britain and internationally can only be properly carried out in the light of a correct class analysis.
How can it be that PF shows himself oblivious to the need to undertake this crucial task of analysing the classes in British society? The answer is that he holds to a crude version of what has been termed the ’two class view of society. He is blind to the complexities of British social structure, regarding it all as a simple question of ’them and us.’
By thus spiriting away all the complications, he obviously arrives at a situation where there is not need for class analysis. There is simply “the class with property” on one side, and the “working people” on the other. As for middle ground (potential allies for the working class among the middle class, etc.), that problem simply doesn’t exist; middle class people work, don’t they? – well, they’re workers, then. The whole rich legacy of Marxist-Leninist experience in adopting policies towards the various classes of society is thus thrown out of the window for now PF has come to tell us that we needn’t ever have bothered – it was all perfectly obvious all along!
And how are we to distinguish the amorphous ’them’ from the amorphous ’us’? Well, how do you think? Same way the bourgeoisie itself does of course – owner-statistics! “The richest one per cent of our population, half a million people, own a quarter of personal wealth.” etc., and PF gives all the familiar statistics (p. 18). In other words PF makes what for a would-be Marxist is an elementary blunder: he just classified society according to ownership. We are thus left with the haves (“the class with property”, as he calls them) and the have-nots (the “rest of us”, as we are referred to on p.27), and that seems to be the end of the matter.
Marxism takes the opposite standpoint: it holds that legal ownership etc., do not reveal the realities of class structure – on the contrary they are precisely what conceal it. Law, including legal ownership, is a veil which hides the underlying reality of the relations of the various classes to each other in society.
We shall now go on to illustrate this point, taking the classes in British society one by one. and showing how PF’s simplistic ’them and us’ view, based on ownership statistics, is about as blunt an ideological tool for distinguishing friends from enemies as could be devised by the mind of man.
So far in our pages we have mentioned various contradictions within the bourgeois class. For instance, we have discussed the contradiction between those associated with state monopoly capitalism, who support a greater degree of state intervention and planning, on the one hand, and those associated with ’private’ businesses, who resist state intervention, on the other. And in our discussion of the implications of the Grunwick struggle, we saw the contradiction between the non-monopoly bourgeoisie, represented by Ward and the Tory right, who are antagonistic to unions as such, and the monopoly bourgeoisie, who see the strategic uses to which a pliant union movement could be put, and who are thus prepared to pose as ’protectors’ of unions. Our discussion of fascism and racism, too, will reveal contradictions within the bourgeoisie over tactics for retaining its power (i.e. liberalism versus fascism). Such contradictions as these must be thoroughly understood by a revolutionary party, so that its strategy and tactics can make the fullest use of potential splits in the enemy camp. One will look in vain for such analysis in PF’s pages, which paint a picture of the bourgeoisie that is facile and unrealistic, and thus useless from the point of view of revolutionary strategy. Various infamous names are reeled off as though bourgeois rule was all a question of individuals rather than of a deeply ensconced ruling class, exercising and perpetuating control over the means of production. PF’s pages bristle with names like Slater, Lowson and Frazer (pp.21-22), Playfair, Allen and Sharp (p.26), Robens, McFadzean and Hawkins (p.28), Thomson, Hughes and Nixon (p.41). One gets the impression that PF cannot resist a personalised swipe at any cigar-smoking bogeyman capitalist. This may pass in the world of ’left’ political journalism, but it is fraudulent to attempt to pass it off as some kind of Marxism.
What if the bourgeois takes his cigar out of his mouth, puts on his ’national interest’ expression, mouths support for trade union rights, or campaigns for the Labour Party? PF’s ideological stock-in-trade is obviously not going to be up to the task of exposing the bourgeoisie in that case. With his commitment to the view that the bourgeoisie is self-evidently odious and reactionary (which it often isn’t at all it can be very smooth and sanctimonious), he is ideologically helpless before whole sections of the bourgeoisie. We have seen how he believes the Labour Party to be, not a bourgeois, but a proletarian party, and conversely the bourgeoisie to be (helpfully for identification!) Tory. For instance, he writes that the early Communist Parties “found themselves defending the Russian revolution against the full hysteria of the rest of society: from mealy-mouthed Labourities to Tory newspapers” (pp. 72-73), thus letting it slip out that, apart from a handful of revolutionaries, he regards the whole of society as being contained between the ’extremes’ of the Labour Party and the Tories. In this way, he accepts and confirms capitalism’s frame of reference; he confirms bourgeois ideology’s definition of what a capitalist is and what a worker is.
In order to underline this point, let us turn for a moment to the question of the class nature of the party and state bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Now Marxism holds that the relation of a class to the means of production is, to use Lenin’s words, “in most cases fixed and formulated in law” (our emphasis). In the Soviet Union, due to its socialist past, capitalism does not exist in law, and yet there is clearly an exploitative ruling class basing its rule on control of the means of production. The most powerful capitalist force on earth today is thus a bourgeoisie, namely that of the Soviet Union, whose relation to the means of production is not “fixed and formulated in law”; legally, even Brezhnev himself is not a capitalist. PF, who restricts himself solely to what is “fixed and formulated in law” (property statistics), is ideologically incapable of exposing the class nature of the Labour Party, a ruling party in Britain, which is not only in reality but also in law a capitalist country. So how much less effective will PF be in exposing the class nature of the Soviet New Tsars? His very definition of the enemy as “the class with property” thus actually excludes this No. l enemy!
PF, by restricting himself to property statistics, ends up by drawing Britain’s class map according to the same criteria as those used by the Central Statistical Office. PF is more misleading than this government statistics body, however, for the latter makes no false claims to lay bare the hidden realities of Britain’s class contradictions; it merely dishes up its statistics for what they are, namely a catalogue of what is “fixed and formulated in law”. In Britain today, some more far-sighted sections of the bourgeoisie see the best hope for British capitalism to lie in more planning and greater state regulation of production on Eastern European lines; they should be carefully watched for signs of ’appeasement’ towards the Soviet bourgeoisie. These sections present a greater strategic danger to the working class than the spectre PF and the official statistics raise before us of public school bogeymen who own a quarter of all “furniture, kitchen utensils, fridges, washing machines,” etc. (p. 18). It is of course true that many tactical alliances will have to be formed with, say, elements of the Labour ’left’ to protect democratic rights against the fascist menace, but this does not exonerate socialists from exposing the ’left’ face of the bourgeoisie – rather, it makes that task all the more urgent.
PF has, then, failed to identify who the class enemy in Britain is. Let us now pass on to see how he measures up to what must surely be an easier ideological task – the definition of the middle class and some analysis of what its attitude is to the unfolding class struggles in British society. The British image all over the world is so firmly associated with the middle class that from New York to Tokyo they will tell you that the English have tea at 4 o’clock (not at half six after work, leave alone in the morning after a night shift!). The British ’bulldog’, the rate-payer, the retired resident of marine suburbs on the South coast: the revenues accruing from Britain’s empire have allowed, since Victorian times, the vast growth of the middle strata of society – the petty-bourgeoisie, small businessmen, ’white-collar workers’, professionals, etc. At the same time, student struggles have brought home to many people another aspect of the British middle class, namely its capacity to generate not only conservative outlooks and ways of life, but also progressive elements, who see their future as lying with the working class and socialism; for instance, the 1968 demonstrations against US aggression in Vietnam were widely supported by students and others from the middle strata of society.
So what has PF to say about this most evident of all classes, the British middle class, which, like middle classes everywhere, has a profoundly ambivalent character? The answer is that PF has nothing to say about it. In fact, he never once refers to the middle class by any name at all. It is one of those things he just blots out of existence: they’re just “working people” like the rest of us. This vague, opportunist phrase, “working people”, glosses over all those differences of working conditions, standards of living, career structure, aspirations, etc., which are so important for a revolutionary party to take into account. For probably about a third of “working people” in Britain are to be placed in categories intermediate between the two main contending classes (i.e. the bourgeoisie and the proletariat). One of the key tasks of revolutionary strategy in Britain will be to win the support of these middle strata for workers’ struggles, or at least to neutralise their opposition: the bourgeoisie on its side will of course go all out to win them over to support for capitalism. Success or failure in revolution can often depend very largely on how the revolutionary leadership faces up to this task (we shall later be discussing examples of both success and failure in relation to this task, namely the Russian and Chilean revolutions respectively).
The SWP constantly undermine the policy of winning middle-class support for workers’ struggles. As we have illustrated in the case of PF, some SWP members aren’t even aware of the existence of a middle class, and just include all middle strata into an undifferentiated and amorphous category of “working people”. Even those SWP members who are a little less obtuse, and, when pressed, admit the existence of a middle class still just brush the problem of what to do about them aside. For the SWP approach them in a mechanical, supposedly ’proletarian’ way which fails to relate to middle-class aspirations and outlook in a realistic way and is more likely to antagonise them than win their support for the working class. For instance, people in middle-class jobs are organised by the SWP in ’Rank and File’ organisations and directed into courses of action that indiscriminately equate all progressive activity with the economic struggles of the working class. Such a facile approach may indeed provide a diversion for some middle-class individuals who are duped into playing ’workers’, or who want to become ’workers’ but who wish to do so without changing their real status. What is worse, however, is that it falls to take into account the particular characteristics of the great majority of the middle class, who are mostly incohesive and individualistic in their forms of struggle, organising themselves, if at all, in ’associations’ rather than unions, living in ’residential* areas rather than actual communities, etc. These characteristics of the middle class make it incapable of taking the lead in the struggle against capitalism – only the working class can provide the selflessness, cooperation and practicality that are needed for that. But at the same time most of the middle class does suffer from the capitalist crisis and must be shown, in terms it can understand, that its future under capitalism is bleak – more little businesses going bankrupt, more cutbacks in the civil service bureaucracy, etc. – and that socialism, by contrast, offers a bright future not only for the working class but for all working and oppressed strata.
Marxist-Leninists hold, then, that there are more than just two classes in society. Between the two main contending classes there is much middle ground. It is true that, a century and a quarter ago, Marx and Engels described, in the Communist Manifesto, how the whole complex class structure of feudal Europe was being progressively simplified by the extension of capitalism: all middle sections of society were being forced ’down’ into the huge industrial and rural proletariat (or in a very few cases making their way ’up’ into the bourgeoisie). With our insistence on the existence of a complex ’three-class’ situation in today’s Britain, are we disagreeing with Marx and Engels? No. At the time when they described the increasing polarisation of the whole of society into a ’two-class’ situation, the old feudal order in Europe was breaking up, and in Britain had in fact long been a thing of the past. The two classes of bourgeoisie and proletariat were coming to dominate the class line-up, and the struggles of, say, the Chartist era were indeed characterised by an increasingly ’two-class’ polarisation. (It was this situation that was described by Disraeli in 1845 in his novel entitled Sybil; or The Two Nations.) However, this tendency of the class map to become simplified did not continue during the next phase – the era when capitalism was entering the stage of imperialism. For this era was characterised by the growth of new middle strata, as we have mentioned, and also, as we shall see, by the accentuation of certain differences already existing between various sections of the working class. Marxism moved with the times, and in Lenin’s theory and practice full account was taken of these new developments.
Since Lenin’s day we have seen the emergence of new factors which have further enlarged and diversified the ranks of the middle strata, for example, in industry, the ’technological revolution’, and in administration and government, what might be called a ’bureaucratic revolution’ to cope with economic and social planning – these are some of the factors that have led lo the vast expansion of the middle class during the last sixty years. To adapt PF’s title, why should they be socialists? Well, there are very good reasons, as we have seen, for with the present crisis of imperialism, the whole economic basis of their existence is crumbling. One consequence of this situation is that sections of the middle class, to protect their economic interests, have been adopting forms of struggle increasingly similar to those of the working class (’white collar unions’, etc.). To imply, however, as the SWP does, that such phenomena are lo be identified with the economic struggles of the working class, is to confuse social strata that ought to be differentiated. The appearance of similarity can conceal hidden traps; for if a revolutionary party is to retain a proletarian character, and assert proletarian leadership of all those who are oppressed by monopoly capitalism, then it must be clear where the proletariat ends and the middle class begins. If a party confuses middle class struggles with proletarian struggles, then an inevitable degeneration of its class character will ensure, and it will, like the SWP, end up with the voice, not of the proletariat, but of eloquent middle-class rebels like PF. And at the same time the majority of the middle class will be alienated – they can see through the shallowness of their own rebels!
In the above criticisms of PF and the SWP, we have confined ourselves to the most elementary task of establishing the fact that a middle class does in fact exist. It goes without saying, however, that the tasks of a class analysis do not end there. On the contrary, that is only the beginning. It will be necessary for the leadership of the working class to get to know all the middle strata of society in all their complexity so as to unite all who can be united in support of workers’ struggles. And the task of differentiating the middle strata is indeed complex and as yet inadequately understood. For instance, the small capitalists and entrepreneurs who fit into the classic pattern of the ’petty-bourgeois’ are perhaps the political heart of the middle class. Professional and managerial (bureaucratic) posts can be fairly secure (e.g. in national and local government) and thus generate a stable life-style with the likelihood that their children will achieve similar status; such groups should therefore also be regarded as ’middle class’. On the other hand, some other groups who are often regarded as ’middle class’ should more accurately be seen as middle ’strata’ – a stratum being a rather more unstable category than a class. For instance, students are only students for a few years and come from various class origins (a small percentage – larger in polytechnics than in universities and larger in technical colleges than in polytechnics – come from the working class, a large percentage – perhaps the majority – from the middle class, and a further large percentage from the bourgeoisie and remnants of the aristocracy). Consequently, students are best considered as a ’stratum’ with certain common characteristics but also with much in common with the characteristics of its various class origins. This is more realistic than seeing them simply as a stable component of the middle class. Moving on to the lower middle class’, we find a large number of employees who are increasingly coming to merge their struggles with those of the proletariat – the ’white collar workers’.
These are just a few examples of the complex nature of the strata sandwiched between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, each stratum of which has its own specific characteristics and attitude to the struggles in our society, and the majority of which are potential allies of the working class. They will not, however, be won to the side of the working class by programmes, slogans and demands which fail to take account of the particular conditions of their own life and struggles. PF’s simplistic ’them and us’ view of society thus turns a blind eye to a whole range of pressing problems, to ignore which would mean the danger of leaving almost the entire middle class open to being won over to support for the capitalist class.
Finally we come to the proletariat. The proletariat is the key element in the Marxist analysis of classes in capitalist society. For in the case of the directly productive proletariat, the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society comes to a head; the proletariat creates wealth, but control of that wealth rests with a different class – the capitalist class. Hence the emphasis Marxist-Leninists have always placed on the need for proletarian leadership – the proletariat is the only class in capitalist society that confronts capitalist exploitation so directly. It is. besides, the only exploited class in all history that, by reason of the organised and cooperative nature of its working conditions, has been in a position to seize and retain state power and thus become a ruling class. Previous exploited classes, though rebellious, were unable to retain state power. The slave and peasant rebellions of previous ages, though they attempted to bring about a more just society free from class exploitation, never achieved enduring success. This was due to the ’backsliding’ of their leading elements who always ultimately became the nucleus tor a new exploiting class. This seemed to be an eternal law of history. However, modern industry has brought to the proletariat the cohesion and organisation that all previous exploited classes lacked. Hence, unlike all previous forms of popular uprising, proletarian revolution can at last bring a non-exploitative class to power and prepare the ground for a classless society free from the exploitation of man by man.
So how does PF’s pamphlet shape up to the great task of bringing home to its readers this historical role of the proletariat? Well, as we have seen, in his view of things a proletariat doesn’t really exist. He never once uses the word ’proletariat’, nor does he draw attention to the features which differentiate it from other sections of “working people”. On one occasion he pays lip-service to the proletariat s role in the socialist revolution, with the words “the only people who can create it are the rank and file of the industrial working class” (p.72), but he does not explain why, among the various social classes, the industrial working class is a particularly revolutionary force. In fact the context in which he makes this statement (post-revolutionary Russia) reveals that he is more interested in slamming the peasantry and denying their revolutionary potential than in highlighting any specific positive factors about the proletariat. The very use of the phrase “the industrial working class” by PF on this occasion may thus be taken as an isolated case unconnected with the main drift of his pamphlet, which generally lumps together all “working people” without singling out the industrial working class as more important for the revolution than any other section.
It is impossible to derive from PF’s pamphlet any clear idea about what he considers to be the working class in Britain today. “The bottom eighty per cent, the mass of the population, own a mere 14 per cent” of “all personal wealth,” he says, (p. 18), so presumably the working class is lumped in among this mass of 80% of the population, which is regarded by PF as though it were as homogeneous as well-mixed porridge and is defined in no more specific way than by its relative poverty. He generally avoids using the term “working class”; it doesn’t appear at all until p.33, where he makes an ironical reference (from an imagined capitalist perspective) to “the virtues of working class people in a capitalist dreamland”. He frequently uses the term “working people”, however, and sometimes “workers”; and on one occasion (p.36) he uses the expression “the productive workforce”. His description of certain episodes in “British working class history of the last few years” (pp.82-83) shows that he lumps together miners, nurses and lorry-drivers without reference to any differences between them (as though, for instance, nurses bore the same relation to the means of production as miners, and as though there were no differences in their work situation).
He is equally unsatisfactory in indicating what are supposed to be the upper and lower boundaries of his category “working people”. Above “working people” there presumably exists a statistical point somewhere beyond which all are members of “the class with property”. Similarly, PF fails to draw attention to the existence of any stratum of society below the working class. This is a serious omission, for the run-down of Britain’s crisis-ridden industry is swelling the ranks of the lumpen-proletariat, particularly – and this is a tragedy – from among unemployed youth. The volatile nature of this semi-criminal straum of society makes it important to differentiate it from the industrial proletariat.
Having seen how vague PF is about who is supposed to belong to the working class, it is no surprise to find that he has equally little to say about the existence of different strata within the working class, which is an equally important question from the point of view of revolutionary strategy and tactics in the labour movement. The only time in its history that the British working class has acted largely in unity was during the period of intense class struggle during the 1830s and 1840s that was associated with the Chartist movement. During the decades that followed, however, the temporary stabilisation of capitalism (the Victorian ’heyday’) saw the reemergence and hardening of various strata within the working class. Among skilled workers, for instance, there developed not only a great capacity for organisation in trade unions, but also a tendency to look down on the broad masses of the working class. For this latter reason, Marx and Engels coined the term ’labour aristocracy’ for this stratum of the British working class, and relentlessly criticised its tendency towards petty snobbery. However, the creation of trade unions as we know them must largely be attributed to this stratum of the working class, and that is the positive side of the picture.
As we shall show in more detail below, the ensuing development of capitalism to the stage of imperialism brought about many changes in British society. One such change was the increased leeway that imperialist superprofits gave to the British bourgeoisie in making concessions to the working class in Britain. It thus became part of bourgeois ideology that the working class had an interest in the plundering of foreign countries by ’its’ bourgeoisie. Lenin showed that the main instrument of the bourgeoisie in propagating this reactionary idea was precisely the ’labour aristocracy’ of workers with a position of relative privilege. The petty snobbery that had bedevilled this class could now be developed into chauvinism and support for imperialism. Lenin pointed out that this process was most advanced in Britain.
Today, imperialist superprofits continue to accrue to British capitalism from its vast investments overseas, in south Africa and elsewhere. Conversely, it is clear that the Labour Party and the TUC, whose class base is largely the ’upper’ sections of the working class, are the main forces in British society today inculcating opportunist ideas among the working class. What are the continuities between, say, the skilled workers of Victorian times and the skilled worker ’belt’ today? It is an indication of the relative weakness of the Marxist-Leninist tradition in Britain that there is little clarity on questions such as this. One thing that’s certain is that PF won’t help us to achieve any greater understanding of such problems. He shows himself totally unaware of the insidious ideological influence of reactionary elements from the ’labour aristocracy’ (which is, needless to say, a stratum of society he never mentions by this or by any other name). “The belief,” he says (p.62), “that skilful negotiators will get more for the workers than unskilled negotiators leads to a simple conclusion: that the trade unions need higher-paid, more skilful leaders. So the trade union leaders turn to Oxford and Cambridge for bright young men whom they can train in union researeh departments and convert into trade union officials.” He thus implies that the social base of the labour aristocracy of union officials, etc., lies outside the working class. On the contrary, it is common knowledge that this is not so. Who has not heard such people ’prove’ that they speak on behalf of the working class by resorting to the facile ’argument’ that their origins are working class (’Dad was a miner,’ etc.) – what Marxist-Leninists call ’workerism’. PF’s condemnation of Oxbridge recruits, therefore, falls into workerism and serves to lower our vigilance against the danger of opportunism arising within the working class itself, and principally within its upper stratum. This is the main danger; Oxbridge recruits are a secondary danger – without the existence, of opportunist elements within the working class infiltration by such alien class elements would not succeed anyway.
PF not only fails to alert us even to the existence of a labour aristocracy, but is even liable to fall into reactionary, labour-aristocratic attitudes himself. First listen to the torrent of self-righteousness he lets loose upon the Labour Party: “How can we explain this astonishing difference between what Labour Party people say and hope for when the Party is in opposition, and what Labour governments do? The short answer is in a three-syllable word which appears in the commitment to common ownership in the Party constitution. ’To secure for [PF’s emphasis] the workers by hand or brain the full fruits of their industry’” (P.50). Now compare the following passage, where PF is outlining the aims of the Right to Work Campaign: “Its aim is to establish a network of shop stewards and rank and file representatives dedicated to common action on behalf of [our emphasis] the workers” (p.86). Though it is true that the “three-syllable word” “for” does not occur here, the only difference is that the (ten-syllable?) expression “on behalf of’ has been used instead The basic attitude, that the elite acts while the masses watch, the opportunist attitude of the labour aristocracy, has been left intact. Such are the dangers of indiscriminately identifying shop stewards and so on with the working class as a whole. This is one example of the political degeneration and blundering that can result from calling for revolution without having a clear idea of what the various classes and strata in our society are.
Having failed, then, to define or even identify what is for socialism the key class in society, let alone to indicate the existence of different strata within it, what characteristics does PF see in his amorphous category of “working people”? Do they get a good write-up in his pages? The answer is that PF shows himself to have a rather patronising attitude towards them, and in general portrays them as a pretty benighted lot. And take another look at the cartoons by Phil Evans: about half of them represent “working people” either as complete dunces or at least as perplexed or unable to comprehend what confronts them. As for the text itself, we are told on the very first page that “in factories and offices and council estates all over the country there is insecurity and gloom”, and he goes on to describe the loss by working people of “the small but vital pleasures which kept many a household sane and cheerful”, among which he lists evenings-out, holidays and “conversations on the telephone” (p. 10).(It’s a wonder he didn’t add watching Crossroads and going to bingo.) Now what kind of patronising view of working people is this? What kind of grasp does it show of the revolutionary potentialities of the working class? Is the rising tide of working class resistance we are now witnessing a sign of “insecurity and gloom”? What kind of confidence do PF and Phil Evans have in this class – the class that will overthrow British capitalism, and which must be rallied and given confidence to undertake this historic task? Dunces, perplexed, insecure, gloomy (what about the “insecurity and gloom” of the capitalist class?!), “passive” (p.46), only kept “sane” by “conversations on the telephone”, the odd evening out, etc. After such a beginning, it is doubtful whether the working class will thank PF for the odd bit of patronising flattery he bestows upon it (as for instance on p.39 where he gives some examples of workers’ generosity to show that “human nature” isn’t all bad). It seems that PF is determined to portray the working class as living in abject despair until the SWP comes to deliver it. He should be warned by the words of the Internationale that workers “want no condescending saviours”.
“Socialists,” says PF towards the end of his pamphlet (p.89) “... find immediately that the workers are not uniform.” Some vote Tory, he continues, some are openly racist, some are revolutionaries. “Most are none of these things. In the middle is a wide range of different ideas, often mixed up and confused, always changing and changeable, but nevertheless different.” In spite of these pious words, however, PF throughout his pamphlet glosses over such political unevenness among the working class, and usually just lumps them all together a! one level, and generally a pretty backward level at that. For instance, after referring to the capitalists’ constant calls for “sacrifice”, PF goes on to state that “working people have been quick to respond to this call for sacrifice” (p. 16). What he should have said is that more and more sections of the working class are beginning to reject these calls; he could have picked out, say. the miners and others who have taken the lead in this respect. This is just one example of how PFs vague, all-embracing categories obscure the complexity and unevenness of struggles in society, and thus render him incapable of identifying and spot-lighting those elements that are most progressive. Workers, according to him, have all “been quick to respond”, and that’s that. One sunny day, there will be a sudden, overall change, and they’ll all be slow to respond.
There are many fine fighting traditions in the history of the British working class. PF. for all his lip-service to the necessity of “straddling the barrier of past and present” (p.90), in fact fails to mention any of them apart from the 1926 general strike. The internationalist tradition, for instance, is passed over in silence – after all, that has been a minority trend among the working class, so how much simpler just to ignore it! How much simpler just to cut out such complications and exceptions, and standardise the whole working class down to the level of Coronation Street, where the natives keep themselves “sane and cheerful” by yattering on interminably over the telephone!
PF never once refers to British imperialism throughout his pamphlet. As we shall see when we come to discuss the international question, references to any kind of oppression by the British bourgeoisie of other countries are sparse enough.
As for the effects of British imperialism at home, upon Britain itself, PF is completely silent.
PF has failed to grasp the fact that capitalism has, since the turn of the century, reached a new stage, the stage of imperialism. He refers (p.73) to “capitalism and imperialism” as though they were two different things. They are not! Capitalism in the developed countries today is imperialism. It is not possible to make any sense at all of the balance of class forces in Britain without taking account of the imperialist nature of British society. PF’s discussions range over many different societies without tackling the factor which, in the imperialist stage of capitalism, is crucial – namely, where do those societies stand with regard to the international system of imperialism? With this question firmly in mind, it will be impossible, as PF does, to discuss in the same terms and without discrimination Australia, Hungary, Russia, Britain, south Africa, Germany, Chile, etc. For the standpoint of every class in every society is today very profoundly affected by whether that society is an oppressing or an oppressed country. Britain is the oldest imperialist country – this is what is specific to it, its most outstanding characteristic, and the determining factor behind so many of its social developments; and this is totally ignored by PF.
Looking back, for a moment, to the first half of the last century, we see a situation where British capitalism had no other means of maintaining its rate of profit apart from grinding down the working class of this country. The result was fierce resistance by the working class, often of insurrectionary proportions, a resistance ignored by PF as we have seen. It is their bitter sufferings, and their resistance, in that period, that was described by Engels in his early work The condition of the working class in England, which PF refers to, rather oddly, as a “terrible indictment of homelessness” (p. 12). The culmination of these struggles saw the emergence of Chartism, a militant movement that united the working class as never before or since, and which threatened the overthrow of the capitalist system itself. It was in the context of movements of this kind, which swept right across Europe during the 1840s, that revolutionaries like Marx and Engels began to formulate the strategy and tactics of proletarian revolution, and to put forward the ’dictatorship of the proletariat’ as the strategic objective.
How did capitalism manage to survive the hammer blows it was receiving in that period? The answer is: by extending the scope and intensity of the economic exploitation of overseas colonies and dependant nations. Material resources and local labour power in the colonies were more ruthlessly and more systematically plundered; the most profitable sector, industry, was concentrated more and more exclusively in the imperialist countries, and above all in Britain, which now became known as ’the workshop of the world’. This new stage of capitalist development had a profound effect upon the class struggles inside Britain itself, for the new sources of profit which now began to be tapped by British capitalism in its overseas ventures enabled it to take some of the heat out of the class confrontations at home. Strategic sections of the British working class could now be allowed (when the pressure got too much) to wrest from capitalism a greater share of the value of their product. Particularly in the more advanced industries, a ’labour aristocracy’ developed, which was encouraged to regard itself as having a considerable slake in the stains quo. As this new stratum came to dominate the trade union movement, it became safe for the capitalist state to ease restrictions on the trade unions, which soon became an established feature of capitalist society. It was also in the early imperialist period that the vast ’middle class’ began to emerge and take shape, largely in the bureaucracy and services which expanded in step with the increasing revenue from the oppressed nations of the British Empire.
The ’labour aristocracy’ and the overwhelming majority of the middle class were, then, creations of imperialism. This was reflected in their outlook, which was from the start thoroughly infected with chauvinist prejudices (’jingoism’, the ’white man’s burden’, and so on). What is even more significant from the point of view of the labour movement is that these social groups, particularly the ’labour aristocracy’, have provided the bourgeoisie with a political base from which the bourgeois attitudes of class collaboration, chauvinism, etc., could be inculcated among the working class itself. In Marxist-Leninist terminology, they have enabled ’opportunism’ to dominate in the British labour movement. ’Opportunism’ is the working-class version of imperialist ideology. Imperialism and opportunism came into the world together; they are Siamese twins.
Just as PF fails to indicate the effect of the rise of imperialism on the British labour movement, so also he fails to grasp the significance for the labour movement of imperialism’s decline: the growing successes of the colonial liberation movements, and the increasing assertion by third world countries of their right to control their own resources, have led to a situation where this carpet is now being pulled out from under imperialism’s feet. With its imperialist ’superprofits’ becoming more and more hard-hit, British capitalism has less and less manoeuvrability in its class struggles at home – there are fewer and fewer crumbs to spare for its own workers – and opportunism begins to lose credibility. The crisis of imperialism is therefore bound to lead to renewed intensification of the class struggle in Britain; opportunism, which has held back workers’ struggles for over a century, is becoming increasingly exposed. Bringing to light opportunism’s history as a creature of imperialism is an important ideological weapon for accelerating this welcome trend. One would have thought that this would provide PF with an opportunity to substantiate his statement that “perhaps the most important barrier straddled by the socialists is the barrier of past and present” (p.90). It is regrettable, however, that PF, who expresses so extremely high a regard for the lessons of history, is such a complete flop when it comes to actually learning them. He is sublimely oblivious to the overall historical movement of the imperialist stage of British capitalism (its rise and decline), and is thus a useless guide to the important lessons that the working class urgently needs to draw from that history.
Opportunism is the line of compromise with imperialism. It means throwing in one’s lot with imperialism in return for some ’crumbs’ of relative privilege as compared with the third world peoples. Socialists must counterpose to this the line of proletarian internationalism – throwing in one’s lot with the anti-imperialist forces throughout the world to overthrow the imperialist system. PF consistently avoids every opportunity of exposing this connection between opportunism and imperialism. He has pages of condemnation for the Labour Party and mentions all kinds of things about it that are ’undemocratic’, etc. But there is never a bleep about its international role in serving imperialism. He likewise devotes a whole chapter to describing all kinds of undesirable features of the trade union hierarehies, but again leaves their international stance uncriticised. Our compass for guiding the struggle against opportunism in the labour movement is proletarian internationalism, and PF has thrown this compass out of the window. He blithely carries on as though the class make-up and class struggles of British society have nothing at all to do with the struggles of the people of any other country, an attitude which (besides being weird to say the least for someone who calls himself an ’international* socialist) is particularly ludicrous to adopt in the case of the oldest imperialist country. He forgets the solemn warning issued long ago by Marx and Engels that “no country can be free while it holds another country in chains”. He forgets Lenin’s development of this thesis and his warning that any struggle against capitalism in its imperialist phase is “a sham and a humbug” so long as it is not “inseparably linked” with the struggle against opportunist collaboration with imperialist exploitation. All PF’s apparently ’left’ bleatings about the ’undemocratic* nature of the Labour Party and TUC thus amount merely to beating about the bush. For he avoids placing them in the international context of imperialism, where they stand revealed as instruments for the oppression of whole peoples. He does not “inseparably link” his condemnation of their reactionary features in the British context with condemnation of their international role. Examined with the acid test of proletarian internationalism, PFs ’socialism’ thus turns out to be “a sham and a humbug”.
We have, then, in PF and the SWP, an example of the confusion that results from calling for a ’revolution’ without having any real idea who is supposed to be making the revolution and who the revolution is supposed to be against. Instead, all we are given (and that largely by implication) is a crude view of society in which a “class with property” stands opposed to “the rest of us”. This sounds beautifully neat and clear but is in fact not only false but also tactically harmful. Such a crude oversimplification can only be maintained by presenting a children’s-story ’villain’ on the one hand, and glossing over all the very real differences among “the rest of us” on the other. The middle class is spirited out of existence, along with all differences between various sections of “working people”. The proletariat is not singled out as in any way especially significant. All this contrasts strongly with the sober and realistic analysis of all the classes and strata in society that Marxist-Leninists have always called for; such an analysis is essential for rallying all oppressed sections of society behind the proletariat to confront the task of overthrowing capitalism. In PFs way of thinking, however, you don’t need such a sober and realistic understanding – all you have to do, as we shall be seeing later on, is sit back and wait for a certain ’flame’ which “burns up into a great conflagration at times of revolution or general strike” (p.82). Thus all the complexities of real life are ignored, and PF turns out to be indulging in the idealistic fantasies characteristic of the petty-bourgeois dreamer.
All PF’s remarks about how the IS argued for a party that “had to be a party of working people, which lived and breathed real lives and real aspirations” (p.91), and his incantations to “workers who laugh and love” (p.93) thus turn out to have very little meaning. They are no substitute for a down-to-earth analysis of real conditions in British society today, and this is something PF fails to give. By remaining vague as to what the working class is he manages, by sleight-of-hand, to define himself and his middle-class friends into it – thus students, teachers, lower civil servants, etc., are all meant to be ’workers’.
Interestingly enough, it is among these ’sections of the working class’ that the SWP has most of its support from ’workers’!