Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers’ Movement

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

III. THE SOCIALIST WORLD OUTLOOK: Is PF’s world outlook that of the proletariat or of the bourgeoisie?

Every social class that has existed in the history of class society has had its own characteristic outlook on life. Furthermore, each succeeding ruling class has always tried by every means to make its own outlook the dominant one throughout society. This has always been an essential element in the struggle of any ruling class to retain power over the classes it rules. Consequently each new up-and-coming ruling class has had the task of breaking its predecessor’s domination of people’s minds. To take the example of the bourgeoisie during its climb to power, it is easy to see how ideals of individualism were a prominent feature of cultural life from the Renaissance onwards. This was a cultural force which the bourgeoisie wielded to break through the trammels of the declining feudal society, which stifled the individual capabilities of all mankind, but which was particularly obstructive to the political, economic and social advance of the bourgeoisie.

The working class, during its climb to power, is also faced with such a task. It must break the iron grip of the now-decadent bourgeois ideology on the oppressed classes of society. It must grasp the fact that its future lies along the path of revolutionary class struggle, and must reject the individualistic and idealistic diversions which are used by capitalism to retain its control over workers’ minds. A key element in the emergence of a proletarian revolutionary outlook among the working class must be resolute opposition to the divisive ideologies now blatantly peddled by capitalism, including first and foremost opposition to its racist ’theories’. A revolutionary working class cultural life must also be developed, to counter the degenerate culture constantly foisted upon workers by capitalism. In such ways, the great potential the working class has for selfless struggle for the common goal will begin to come into play to an increasing degree.

In terms of these vital tasks of helping to free workers’ minds from domination by capitalism, PF has nothing at all to offer. He has no conception of the role of notable capitalist names, and comments that “the list is endless. Successful capitalists, almost to a man, are not people with any natural ability” (p.41). All this may be marketable journalism these days, but it is no substitute for the analysis of society according to its class structure. On the contrary, it tends precisely to confirm the impression (which he claims to oppose) that the ills of capitalist society are due to individual ’rotten apples’, rather than being inherent in the capitalist system.

Historical episodes are described by PF in a correspondingly Arabian Nights style. Any attempt to lay bare the class struggles underlying the events is avoided, in favour of impressionistic and highly dramatised journalism. For instance, the Australian events of 1975 are, as we have seen, described as a “ludicrous farce” (p.58). And Trotsky’s self-dramatisation is quoted wholesale in PF’s account of the October revolution (p.68). (Dramas on the theme of 1917 seem to be in vogue in the West End these days, with such items as Stoppard’s Travesties and Bolt’s State of Revolution. Perhaps PF should have a go at one himself. With Trotsky falling “off the edge of the roof at the sound” of his “conscious reasoning” and crowds of people “clinging with their dry lips to the nipples of revolution” (p.68), such a drama couldn’t fail to attract bourgeois culture-vultures in large numbers.)

By thus placing all the emphasis on individuals and their dramatic comings and goings, and underestimating the blind force of class interest from which the conflicts in society arise, PF falls into the idealist trap of voluntarism – of attributing the cause of events to the personal whims of individuals (which is, by the way, something the SWP’s Nigel Harris hypocritically, and falsely, accuses the Chinese communists of). “The point is.” he writes, “that the rich parasites control society. They decide what’s produced . . . They decide what services are run. They decide who works . . . They decide how many houses are built. They decide all these things according to whether or not they make a profit” (p.20). “They have fought monstrous wars. .. They have developed production only to satisfy their seemingly endless lust for wealth and power; they have squandered the surplus. . .” (p.33). PF fails to realise that capitalists are not ’free’ in what they “decide”, but are on the contrary impelled, blindly and unconsciously, to follow the laws of profit, etc. With PF’s picture of the bourgeoisie, we are really back with the Renaissance ideal of the princely “will”, intemperate, “bloody, bold and resolute”, overriding all other wills. As Christopher Caudwell pointed out, this ideal inspired some line verse in, for instance, the Elizabethan dramatists. The difference between PF’s vision and that of Shakespeare, however, is that Shakespeare was a great writer and a profound tragedian. He expressed the freedom of bourgeois ’will’ in all its cyclonic force, sweeping away all feudal restrictions on the development of man’s individual capabilities – to realise the human spirit – only to find his spirit a miserable prisoner. (In some plays, for instance Timon of Athens, Shakespeare is even explicit that it is the cash-nexus that imprisons this ’human’ – i.e. bourgeois spirit. PF. however, lacks any awareness of this contradiction. For him, the bourgeois illusion of the capitalist’s omnipotent will remains complete.

After relating some recent scandals involving financial speculators (with all the horrified fascination of a latter-day Milton describing the deeds of Satan), PF writes: “They followed the central rule of the system: go for the biggest profit available” (p.22). Here again he confuses the appearance with the essence, the “rule” with the underlying economic forces which it reflects. He confirms the illusion assiduously cultivated by bourgeois ideology that the will of the capitalist reigns supreme. It doesn’t. It is a miserable prisoner. The capitalist is forced to run like that just to stay where he is. His freedom is an illusion. “But,” he continues, “their central crime is far worse than that. They cause the economic crisis” (p.22, his emphasis). This sentence is merely a ’worse crime’ of PF’s distortion of history. The capitalist class is quite obviously running around in circles trying to avoid a crisis, from which it has immensely more to lose in the long run than the working class. For PF, the word ’crisis’ seems to be restricted in meaning to the sufferings capitalism at times manages to shift onto the working class. This is only one side of the picture. What about the opportunities it provides for the working class by weakening its enemy? Is not the overthrow of this enemy the central task of socialism? Why then is PF indignant that capitalism has (by the inherent contradictions of the system, not, as he thinks, through the bloody-mindedness of some individuals) thrown itself into crisis? Is he, for heavens’ sake, pleased or miserable about the fact that capitalism is in crisis?

When discussing the call by capitalist politicians for “sacrifices” to overcome the economic crisis, PF writes: “Working people have been quick to respond to this call” (p.l6), rather than highlighting the increasing rejection of such appeals. This is indicative of his limited view of class struggle, his failure to grasp that ”where there is oppression, there is resistance” and that a socialist’s task is not to bemoan any supposed slow pace in the class struggle, but to locate, stress and support such resistance as there is. PF has a blind spot for the significance of workers’ class struggle. He thus fails to see the role it has constantly played in limiting the options of the ruling class and thus inexorably moving history forward even while the bourgeoisie remains in power. “They allowed the growth of spending on social services,” PF writes of the bourgeoisie during the post-war period. “Similarly, they promoted ’liberals’ into ... the Tory party. They believed it when they said they wanted a ’free and easy society’. As long as it was easy to make profits, they liked things to be easy for everyone” (p.24, our emphasis). The truth is of course the opposite way round. They were forced to concede social services and so on, for fear of intensifying class antagonisms. The concessions were thus the result of working class resistance, not, as PF makes it appear, of benevolence on the part of the bourgeoisie. The latter are not in the least concerned about how ’free and easy’ things are for workers (as is proved by their actions during the very same period in situations where, unlike in Britain, they could get away with it, e.g. Malaya, etc.). It’s just that if they hadn’t made these concessions to the workers, then things wouldn’t have been ’free and easy’ for themselves! As for the fact that “they believed it when they said they wanted a ’free and easy society’”, that is hardly surprising. What else does PF suppose they might have wanted? A revolution? All ruling class ideologies have always dreamed of an impossible goal of social harmony where the insoluble contradictions of class society melt away, leaving all classes happily playing footsy with each other (always assuming that the current ruling class retains its power, of course! – the fist is always there in case this velvet glove starts to itch).

Corresponding to this picture of the bourgeoisie as omnipotent in its untrammelled freedom, PF presents a picture of “the common people” that is patronising. “The masses,” he writes of Britain today, “remain passive” (p.46). Similarly, he writes of the workers of the Soviet Union that they are “disciplined out of all resistance” (p.67), when their resistance to the ’New Tsars’, like that of their fellows in Poland and other countries subjected to revisionist dictatorship, is in fact growing. Socialists have the internationalist duty of giving maximum publicity to such encouraging developments in the revisionist heartlands. PF’s account of the bourgeoisie’s gradual extension of voting rights in Britain gets off to a better start: “As the workers’ forces grew, they conceded the vote slowly ... as though they were letting off steam.” In other words, it was a defensive tactic forced upon the rulers. But then PF backtracks and lapses once again into his old errors: “The class with property allowed this . . . democracy because they knew that they could contain it, corrupt it, bribe it ... in the directions in winch they wanted it to go” (p.55). He is here back to his voluntaristic image of the bourgeoisie (they “allowed”, “wanted”, etc.) with all the initiative in its hands, hardly hinting at the tremendous struggles for democratic rights waged for a century by the Chartists, the Suffragettes and others. Moving on to the general strike of 1926, PF writes: “The Tory government let them call the strike, and sat back smiling, almost challenging ... .” (p.64). Again this spectre that seems to haunt PF’s mind, of a cynical, individualised capitalist-figure, holding all the initiative in his hands. In fact, of course, the opposite was the case. The desperate preparations made months in advance by the government, and its over-reaction to the strike when it came, show that in fact the ruling class was in a right state of panic.

PF, then, fails to grasp the role of class struggle in history. It is therefore no surprise that like all ’historical idealists’ he is completely stumped when it comes to explaining the present crisis of capitalism. In spite of the fact that his longest chapter (which bears the ambitious title “Capitalism – class and crisis”) is supposed to deal with this very subject, what it boils down to is mostly just description of the sufferings it has inflicted on the working class. He gives very few solid answers to the questions he raises, such as why the crisis began when it did, or why “the hungry and the food do not meet”.

His basic explanation seems to be that the cause of the crisis lies in some way (which he does not explain) with “the profit system” and the fact that “rich parasites control society” and have the ability to manufacture “sterling crises” every time “a labour government starts to get into its stride” (p.52). At the nearest point he reaches to a description of just how crises are manufactured he starts off with the individual “employer” who “wants to keep wages as low as possible” and “prefers to close down his factory” if his profit margin is seriously reduced (p.22). Now it is obviously not a matter of what individual capitalists “prefer” but what they are forced to do. And the economic forces he faces are these: first, the competitive nature of capitalism (even in its imperialistic stage) which tends to even all profits down to the average: secondly, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as automation, etc., reduce the amount of labour involved in production; and thirdly, the cyclical tendency towards overproduction. It is in the main these three factors which reduce a capitalist’s profit margins. The capitalist doesn’t say this, of course. According to him, it’s because his workers demand too much in the way of wages (’after all, there’s only so much cake, you know, and you can’t go on indefinitely demanding better slices’, etc., etc.). In PF’s account, the bourgeoisie is given an ideological walk-over here. He implies that it is indeed wage-demands which account for the reduction of profit and thus totally ignores the service rendered to the working class by Karl Marx who exploded this reactionary fallacy well over a century ago.

PF then suddenly switches from the level of the individual employer to the national economic level to explain the long post-war boom, which, as we have seen, he attributes to state expenditure on armaments as a means of preventing overproduction in other sectors of the economy (a bit of ’original IS theory’ – the “permanent arms economy”). His account is an uneasy marriage of Keynesian ideas and ’left’ phrases. Once again PF lapses into the economic ’cake’ theory: “Less and less of this money went in wages ... So the pumping out of large sums into munitions workers’ pockets slackened and ... the old boom/slump cycle re-emerged” (p.24). But according to PF, the ’arms economy’ was there to absorb surplus productive capacity. The reduction in purchasing power of one section of industrial workers (munitions workers) cannot therefore be blamed for a slump. For the arms economy was still there to soak up surplus production. What was ”saved” on the wages bill could still be satisfactorily ’lost’ in spending “more and more ... in missile technology”.

As we have already seen, PF’s gimmickry and self-contradictory ’theory’ is just one more device for trying to play down the significance of the international dimension. If he’s supposed to be an ’international’ socialist, then why does he always ignore such things? His parochial outlook is particularly absurd in this case, as we are plainly dealing with a crisis that is not a solely British phenomenon but an integral part of a world-wide crisis of imperialism. Had he noticed this he might have seen the connection with the retreat of imperialism and the advance of socialism and national liberation struggles in one part of the world after another since 1945, a process which has had particularly severe effects on secondary imperialist powers like Britain. He is thus as blind to the role of the class struggles of the working and oppressed peoples on a world scale as he is to the role of such struggles within Britain. His summing-up of the crisis (“it is caused by the wealthy class which has the economic power”) is especially ludicrous from this international perspective, where this class, whose economic power over the third world countries is being weakened day by day, is now between the hammer and the anvil!

For the working class, the whole of life is a struggle. Workers’ struggles in society we call class struggle. An outlook whose starting-point is class struggle is consequently going to be far more capable of laying bare the truths of society than the airy creations of the bourgeois mind. A systematic philosophy based on such an outlook has in fact come into being and has developed in strength and scope along with the succeeding stages of workers’ struggles. This philosophy is Marxism. The bourgeoisie obviously tries to prevent Marxism from gaining ground. They caricature it, representing a Marxist as someone who indulges in facile ranting against ’rich parasites’ without having anything constructive to say about an alternative to the present system. According to this caricature, PF is indeed a Marxist! But for anyone who has any conception of the Marxist philosophy of class struggle, derived either from reading the basic Marxist writings so obviously unread by PF, or through direct experience of participating with Marxists in workers’ struggles (preferably both!), will realise that PF’s blindness to the role of class struggle disqualifies him from any claim to be a Marxist. And by extension this also applies to Harman, Cliff and Co., who checked it, and the SWP who obliged the bourgeoisie by publishing for them this handy caricature of Marxism.


PF expresses his own emotional revulsion to racism – calling it “disgusting”, “nonsense”, “dangerous and pernicious poison” (pp. 30-31), and “obscene” (p.89) but there is nevertheless one common thread running through all his discussions of racism, and that is his failure to clarify its roots in the oppression of class by class, above all in capitalism in its imperialist stage. From the socialist point of view his opposition to racism is in other works a fat lot of use. He shows why a middle class liberal should oppose it (it’s “disgusting”, after all), but he has nothing to say about why someone as oppressed as a worker should oppose it. Workers are perfectly used to being regarded as “disgusting” by fastidious snobs, and won’t be deterred from adopting a view because someone who has the time and money for charity threatens them with such verbal ammunition. Socialists must avoid such ’charitable’ attitudes and take on the task of showing workers how racism stands in the way of the emancipation of all workers – that the opposite to proletarian internationalism is continued slavery for the working class as a whole. It is precisely for this reason that Marxism sees in the proletariat the crucial social class in the fight to end oppression – for in freeing itself it will free all mankind from class oppression.

In attacking racism, PF is thus reduced to writing diatribes against such obvious targets as the NF and Powell. He portrays such targets as isolated evils, without any attempt to relate them to those features of our class-divided and imperialist society which gave them birth. For instance, Powell is referred to as “a particularly neurotic hooligan” (p.30). This remark exonerates the capitalist class as such, whose media built him up into a political ’figure’. Without such a class role Powell would indeed just have been an individual “neurotic hooligan” and nobody would have heard him.

Among potential readers of a would-be ’left’ pamphlet such as PF’s, such crude versions of racism as that of Powell are in any case unlikely to have currency. What is a more important task for socialists to take on is to expose the more subtle version of racism put forward by the Labour Party. Above all, socialists should expose the fact that the Labour government’s immigration legislation gives wide currency to the idea that immigration is the root problem with regard to housing, employment, etc. It provides a legalistic basis for debates over the ’quota’ of immigrants to be allowed in, in which the charitable ’left’ argues for a ’generous’ quota (in reality less than the number of those who emigrate from Britain), while the more blatant reactionaries call for a ’halt’ to immigration, even ’repatriation’ of everybody in Britain with skin any shade darker than lily-white. The bourgeoisie enthusiastically splashes headlines about these ’issues’ all over its newspapers. In fact, of course, this is a completely spurious debate. It is merely an excuse for bourgeois propaganda to play up an ’issue’ (immigration) which has nothing to do with the capitalist evils of housing shortages, unemployment and all the rest, simply in order to divert attention from their true cause in the capitalist system itself. Occasionally a section of the bourgeois media will blow the gaff and reveal that this so-called ’debate’ is nothing but a cover for the promotion of Hitlerism. For instance, early last year (1976) the Sun and other bourgeois newspapers openly launched a campaign of terror against some specific immigrant families (the so-called ’case’ of the Malawi Asians’ hotel bills), which led to several deaths and a wave of hysteria lasting for months.

Such is the reactionary ideological atmosphere which has been generated under the aegis of Labour’s racist legislation and veiled racist propaganda. The Labour Party’s ’opposition’ to racism which fitfully pays some lip-service to the idea of countering the NF and their ilk is in the main sheer hypocrisy. Labour’s leadership is afraid of losing votes to the openly racist parties. (That is of course so obvious to most workers that exposure to such tactics, for instance in the TV broadcast by the Labour MP Ashton during December 1977 is in fact more likely to give the racist parties even more vote-catching appeal!) Careerist politicians with such vote-grabbing motives should not be allowed by progressive workers to meddle in anti-racist campaigns. The Labour Party is the main ruling party of British imperialism. Racism is the ideology of imperialism. The struggle against racism that is not inseparably linked to the struggle to expose the imperialist nature of the Labour Party is therefore a complete sham.

PF allows Labour Party racism to pass. He is apparently unaware of the existence of British imperialism, let alone of the fact that that is where the roots of racism in this country lie. How do we undertake tins crucial task, neglected by PF, of linking the anti-racist struggle with anti-imperialism? It is clear that this would enable the struggle to surge ahead. For, as the experience of the Vietnam solidarity movement in this country showed, a very large mobilisation can take place on anti-imperialist issues. What would be the equation ’on the streets’ today if the tens of thousands of people who demonstrated against US imperialism then had remained mobilised to demonstrate against racism now? It is clear that we would be well on the way to building a large-scale internationalist movement that could sink deep roots among the working class and provide the main ideological antidote to racism.

In undertaking this task to link these two complementary struggles, anti-imperialism and anti-racism, a crucial role is played by the nature of the ideology that dominates in them. It will be clearly remembered that the ideology of Trotskyism dominated much of the Vietnam solidarity movement in Britain. Now we have seen PF’s disdain for third world revolution (which, as we have shown, he inherits from Trotsky via the latter’s view of peasants); this ideology is more likely to sabotage the task of linking anti-imperialism with anti-racism than to place it on a solid ideological foundation. Such is the harmful effect of PF’s apparently ’left’ position on international affairs (all proletariat and no peasantry, all class struggles within a given country and no national liberation struggle) on the anti-racist struggle in Britain.

Racists in this country do a lot of propaganda on international affairs, even if PF doesn’t. And where people like PF provide the ’defence’, such racist propaganda gets a walk-over. To take just one instance, racists make much ideological capital out of atrocities perpetrated by the Amin regime in Uganda. They point to these and say that ’communists’ want the same to happen in Zimbabwe. They launch catchy slogans like “Stand by the whites in Rhodesia”. Socialists are duty-bound to counter such imperialist propaganda. Uganda is a mainly peasant country and so is Zimbabwe. Both have been subjected to British imperialism. The Zimbabwean liberation forces are largely recruited from the peasantry and so are Amin’s troops. The difference lies in their relationship to imperialism. The British-trained Amin was installed as a neo-colonial puppet and, although he seeks to give his regime credibility internationally by adopting anti-imperialist’ slogans, he still bears the neo-colonial brand of isolation from the Ugandan masses which gives him little choice but to govern by naked force. His anti-imperialism is an opportunist sham; but even the most oppressive third world regimes are sometimes pushed into opposition to imperialism and should be supported in that stance as far as it goes. At the same time socialists should of course welcome the revolutionary overthrow of such regimes by the oppressed masses (i.e. largely peasants) on which they batten. The Patriotic Front fighters of Zimbabwe, on the other hand, were recruited for a genuinely anti-imperialist cause, namely the liberation of their country from the racist rule of an anachronistic British settler minority. They embody the highest hopes of the masses of Zimbabwe and thus stand in a relationship to them which is diametrically opposite to that of Amin’s armed thugs.

By taking this standpoint of national and of international class struggle socialists can show how the third world, like any other part of the world, is an arena of class struggle which includes progressive potentialities not only among the minority proletariat of these countries but also among non-proletarian strata. PF’s fastidious view that “the only “revolutionary force” is the industrial working class” (p.72) makes this ideological task harder. Racists deny that third world countries (and by extension black and Asian communities in Britain) have the same potential for social development as the imperialist countries. PF’s Trotskyist view amounts to an attempt to import into ’socialist’ theory this same denial of the potentialities of the third world peoples. The idea that they cannot play such a progressive role in history as the more proletarianised oppressed people of the imperialist countries is just another version of racism, this time wearing ’left’ clothes.

The racism that underlies PF’s view of the world is, interestingly enough, revealed by a blunder that the average bourgeois liberal, for instance any trained sociologist, would have guarded against. For when PF lists the areas of the world where he reckons his version of revolution could take place (i.e. the countries where the proletariat is the majority) he lists them as “Europe”, “America” (which is his term for the US) and “Russia” (p.72). These, then, are the countries whose ’development’ has reached the stage where PF will acknowledge them as potential candidates for revolution. (Just as the racists will say that it qualifies their peoples to be called more ’advanced’ than the peoples of the third world.) But wait a minute! Any liberal economic pundit who wants to dissociate himself from the racist view of the world will remember one further country, which he hopes will get him off the hook and ’prove’ that he’s not a racist. For there is one non-white country that at the same time has a highly advanced capitalist system. No pundit worth his salt forgets to make the ritual obeisances to the case of Japan. In PF’s case, however, racist reflexes arc apparently more deeply embedded, and he clean forgets to include Japan in his list!

Imperialist propaganda always seeks to paint a negative, gloomy picture of the third world countries. The sufferings of their peoples are portrayed as their “own fault” (nothing to do with imperialism of course!). Their ’problem’ is that they are ’over-populated’. In order to be adequately fed, they must “cull down their population”. Or alternatively, they could feed their population many times over if only their land was cultivated as efficiently as farms in Holland” (as one of PF’s imperialist sources puts it. p. 18). (But then, of course, the underlying assumption is that you can’t expect them to be as ’efficient’ as the Dutch!) In its more explicitly racist formulations, such ideology takes the form of ’theories’ like those of Eysenck, who says that malnutrition in third world countries results in a lower ’I.Q.’ PF, whose charitable ’concern’ for the people of such countries takes the form of quoting equally ’concerned’ statements by the imperialist US Agency for International Development, and the FAO (p.13), docs nothing to counter such racist ideas. On the contrary, he confirms the basic assumptions on which they rest and reinforces the climate of condescension in which such notions flourish.

Marxist-Leninists counter such reactionary ideas by stressing and supporting the tremendous positive achievements that have been made in the post-war period by the anti-imperialist struggles of the third world peoples. Beside the image of appalling hardship (upheld by Oxfam posters, etc.) Marxist-Leninists hang the image of hope symbolised by the Vietnamese guerilla and his equivalents throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. In spite of PF’s remark that “an eighth of all the people in the world can hardly move their bodies because of hunger” (p.13), the resistance of the third world peoples is now the main force battering the world system of imperialism. They are at present leading the way forward for the workers of the capitalistically developed countries and not the other way round. PF, who turns everything on its head, ends up objectively working to make racism ’respectable’ in yet another sphere – this time the sphere of ’socialism’. For this he deserves an Eysenck prize.

The final defeat of race prejudice can only be achieved when the oppression of whole peoples by imperialism, like the exploitation of man by man in general, is a thing of the past. When new generations have grown up in an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation among all the peoples and countries of the world, then there will no longer be any soil in which racism can grow. At this stage, however, when imperialism still exists, we are all brought up and educated in an imperialist society. Socialists should remember, therefore, that they should always continue to struggle against racist elements in their own flunking as much as in anyone else’s. Any Marxist-Leninist, or any black worker who is at all politically conscious, will continually find himself wincing at the racist assumptions appearing in PF’s pamphlet. It is clear that he is unaware of the need to scrutinise his own outlook as much as other people’s.

For instance, PF blithely begins one of his sentences with the words “if black people were sent home” (p.31). thus allowing a racist assumption to pass unchallenged, and failing to react with indignation to the very concept of ’repatriation’ of sections of the working class of Britain. As we have seen, he bandies about phrases like “banana republic” (p.21) with no attempt to challenge the right of imperialism to coin terms of abuse for the countries it exploits. He remarks that miners, nurses and lorry-drivers are “what people like to call the ’advanced sections’”; and what he means (i.e. that “people like to call” whites more advanced than blacks) becomes clear when he then proceeds to give a condescending account of some struggles by Asian and black people, lie doesn’t pounce on the racist assumption that whites are more ’advanced’. On the contrary, he concedes that it is a reasonable assumption to make, and then invites us to gasp with amazement that blacks have also put up resistance to their oppression. He repeats the process a few sentences later in referring to, of all people, Southall Asians and Soweto school students as “the most so-called ’backward’ sectors of society”. Well, if he concedes that it is a reasonable assumption that they are ’backward’, then isn’t PF standing on his head? And when switching from his discussion of whites to blacks, he subconsciously drops the term “working class” and switches to “human beings”. Of the Soweto school students he remarks “Backward? No doubt. Raw? Absolutely” (pp. 83-84). And so on. Admittedly none of these echoes of a racist outlook in PF’s pamphlet would be clear enough for him to be arraigned before the Race Relations Board, but they do nevertheless represent a pretty scandalous state of affairs for a would-be spokesman of anti-racism. Just because one is spouting about socialism in a vague, generalising way one is not exonerated from constantly examining one’s own thinking to progressively rid it of prejudice. PF has failed to rid his pamphlet of race prejudice. So have Harman, Cliff and Co. who checked through it but left the prejudice in. So has the SWP which published it with this garbage polluting its ’socialist’ message.

We have already pointed out that the ’Marxist’ PF never once uses the concept of ’class’ in any of his discussions of racism (unless by implication in his meaningless assertion that “black people in other words are workers like white people”, p. 30). He is equally obtuse in his remarks on sexism. The idea that public affairs are “a man’s world” is described by PF as a “remarkable proposition” (p.32), and he falls over himself to establish the fact that women have the same abilities as men (a fact which seems to strike him as pretty “remarkable” itself). For Marxists, by contrast, there is nothing “remarkable” about the fact that women are subject to especially severe oppression. Marxists have always taken the lead in pointing out that women were the first exploited group in society, and that their oppression has been a continuing feature, in many different forms, of all stages of class society. The task for socialists is to expose this ruling class nature of sexism, and to show that, like racism and all other divisive ideologies, it stands in the way of the emancipation of working and oppressed people as a whole. The intellectualist arguments about equal ability which PF puts forward may appeal to middle class readers of an intellectual turn of mind. But once again, from the socialist point of view, they are useless as they fail to adopt a class stand and show how sex prejudice stands in the way of revolutionary struggle. (Incidentally, it’s interesting to see how this prejudice operates within the SWP: women members tend to speak for the organisation mostly on specifically ’women’s issues’ – as for all other issues in Britain and the world, then that remains ’a man’s world’, and women are as unlikely to speak for the SWP as black members are on any other topic than racism perhaps one should say it’s a ’white man’s world’.)

Unlike the oppression of women, which has been of fairly constant significance for millennia in class societies, race prejudice, though dating back in some forms to ancient times, has only assumed a major prominence in ruling class ideology since the emergence of modern imperialism. PF sees the need to trace the origin of modern racism, but the lack of any real understanding of imperialism ensures that his potted history of racism hits very wide of the mark and totally fails to make the connection between this reactionary ideology and the situation of imperialist domination which it reflects. Instead, he traces racism back to the mercantile and early industrial phases of capitalism when British capitalists “justified their own barbarism by explaining that black people in those countries were barbarians” (p.30). (African slaves in the West Indies were not. incidentally, set to work on banana plantations in that early period as asserted by PF. who seems to be mesmerised by the concept of ’banana republics’: banana plantations were only developed in the West Indies from the late nineteenth century and especially after the invention of refrigerated transport systems.) Obviously, attitudes of racial prejudice were rife among capitalist adventurers of the pre-imperialist era. But what PF fails to point out is that all the specifically modern features which characterise racism today – the ’white man’s burden’, pseudo-scientific theories of intellectual superiority, the large-scale propagation of the ideas among the working class, clearly these features were developed and institutionalised only from the end of the nineteenth century. This was the crucial turning-point when, from being a prejudice-among a free freebooters, racism began to develop into a full-blown ideology, deeply entrenched among wide sectors of the people of the imperialist countries. This period of ’jingoism’ was also the period when capitalism was entering its imperialist stage. PF’s remarks on the historical origin of racist ideas thus fail to perform what should be their central task – to show the fact that racist ideology has its roots in imperialism.

Bringing the story further up to date, PF writes that “the idea of white superiority was quietly suppressed by businessmen and their Tory government” during 1951-1964, when there was a shortage of labour in Britain and immigration from the Commonwealth was encouraged. But as unemployment returned “the racialists were let out of their cages”. These mysterious pronouncements give a totally inaccurate picture of events. First, the years 1951-1964 were exactly the period of the rise of new, virulent racism, though still on a localised scale. Has PF forgotten the Notting Hill riots of 1959, or the activities of the National Socialist Movement? Secondly, the older breed of British fascists largely remained in oblivion, or in their “cages” as PF puts it (though Mosley took advantage of the Notting Hill riots to attempt a comeback). The revival of racism was associated with new types, such as Jordan, Tyndall, etc. PF goes on to remark that their racist propaganda was “all nonsense of course. There were more unemployed in Britain in the 1930s when there were no black people and almost no immigrants in Britain” (p.30-31). There were of course quite a few black people in Britain then. There were, besides, hundreds of thousands of Irish and Jewish immigrants, the latter in particular drawing the fire of the anti-semitic Mosleyites. His account of twentieth century racism also, of course, ignores the continuing connection of this ideology with imperialism. (Powell, for instance, whom he calls a “neurotic”, did not come up with his reactionary ideology through having fallen on his head in early infancy or in some other way having suffered a brain disorder as this dismissive phrase of PF’s might suggest; on the contrary, his position flows perfectly logically from his loyalty to imperialism, a loyalty revealed in, for instance, his book on the House of Lords, in his stated youthful ambition to become Viceroy of India, in his attraction to the colonial situation existing in Ulster, etc. The imagery of NF propaganda likewise derives in large measure from the colonial situation.)

PF is, then, ideologically unequipped to participate in the urgent task of forging links between the anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles that will enable an internationalist movement to grow that is capable of sinking roots in, and influencing the standpoint of, the working class. It is no wonder that his remarks on tactics in the struggle against racism are useless. We have shown how the SWP tries to reduce any issue, no matter what, down to trade union procedures. They fall into the old error of placing an unjustified and mystical faith in the supposed abilities of the day-to-day economic struggles of the masses somehow to generate progressive politics. And once again, in the case of racism (whose main effect, short of a fascist takeover, is for PF “weaker trade union organisation”, p.31) this process is supposed to come to his aid. In his account (pp. 84-85) of a struggle against racism among the dockers of London, he gives two ingredients for what he sees as a successful outcome of this struggle. One was the signing of a petition by 58 dockers, under the stimulus of visits by SWP sympathisers who carried it around “arguing furiously that it should be signed”. The other ingredient for success was that the dockers meanwhile went through a totally unrelated struggle, namely the strike which freed five of their union representatives from Pentonville Prison in 1972, as a result of which the dockers, says PF, “had gained a bit of confidence”. How this “bit of confidence” in a totally unrelated strike action turned out to be the answer to racism is left unexplained. Logically, there is no more reason for this transformation than, say, increased confidence at golf should make one a better cook. But PF, as we have seen, deserts logic when it comes to social struggles. Instead, the mystical “flame” bums up and copes with all strategic and tactical questions.

It is dangerous to propagate the idea that strikes and other such trade union struggles are in themselves a kind of progressifying force in the way PF and the SWP suggest. The Nazis, for instance, owed their success in 1933 very largely to their skill in making use of trade union and other economic struggles to gain a hearing among workers. PF, by unquestioningly worshipping all economic struggles and by suggesting that they have mystical properties which remove the need for ideological struggle, is once again coming to the aid of reaction. For such a line ’softens up’ anti-racist activists ideologically by giving them unfounded expectations about the potentialities of economic actions and by failing to call for due emphasis to be placed on overall ideological struggle against racism. Plodding along pushing motions through union meetings and collecting signatures for petitions may provide individual activists with satisfaction in feeling they are ’doing something’. But it can still leave both activists and masses powerless in the face of racist demagogy when it comes. (One example of racist demagogy in trade unions is provided by the very militant strike action, which actually culminated in armed clashes, by Johannesburg miners in 1922. Their opportunist leadership launched the slogan “White workers of South Africa, unite!” What ideological armour is one provided with to resist such a line if one looks in PF’s pamphlet? None at all. In fact such an ideology’s validity is confirmed rather than denied by PF, whose version of ’internationalism’ – comprising the workers of “Europe, America and Russia” and excluding those of the equally developed Japan – could itself be expressed in the words ’White workers of the world, unite!’)

We therefore resist the blandishments proffered by PF’s line of ’economic activism to defeat racism’ which thus turns out to be a fraud. Instead, we insist on a political movement of internationalism. Such internationalism has been an ingredient of working class struggles in Britain from an early stage of their history, and to compensate for PF’s silence on this fine tradition we shall now mention some instances. Even before the development of imperialism, spokesmen of the labour movement in Britain consistently supported progressive movements abroad, e.g. the colonial liberation struggles in the Americas, the French revolution in its early, progressive phase, the revolts of black slaves in Haiti and elsewhere, the revolutions on the European continent in 1848, the various national liberation struggles in Europe (Ireland, Greece, Poland, Hungary and Italy), the war against the slave-owning South in the American Civil War, etc. The divisive influence of anti-Irish prejudice among English workers (which Marx was later to call “the secret of the political impotence of the English working class”) was actively countered by the Chartists, who successfully united these two main ingredients of the working class in Britain, and who also agitated against repression in Ireland and other British colonies. During the later Victorian period, when modern imperialism began to develop, the bourgeoisie made all-out attempts to win the support of the politically active sections of the proletariat for its imperialist exploitation of other countries. But in spite of certain temporary successes among the ’labour aristocrats’, support by the labour movement for national liberation against the Tsarist and Ottoman Empires continued throughout this period of ’jingoism’, and by the time of the First World War there once again existed an internationalist trend in the labour movement which opposed British, as well as other, imperialisms – most notable in this respect was the revolutionary internationalism of John Maclean and other labour leaders of the ’Red Clyde’. The salvoes of the October revolution in 1917 in Russia gave new impetus to internationalism in the British labour movement. The ’Hands off Russia’ campaign quickly gathered force and, along with similar movements throughout Europe, played an important contributory role in the failure of the wars of intervention against the young Soviet socialist regime. From this time on, anti-colonialism also became an integral part of the outlook of progressive sections of the British labour movement, with campaigns over Ireland, India, Abyssinia, the ’Hands off China’ campaign, etc. Anti-fascism at home in the 1930s was directly linked with the struggle against fascism in Spain, where the British labour movement contributed two thousand volunteers to the International Brigade. The victorious conclusion of the Second World War, which developed into a rout for fascism, provided a tremendous education in internationalism for the workers of Britain. The post-war years saw support in Britain for the Greek revolutionaries and for colonial liberation struggles in Malaya, Kenya, Egypt (at the time of ’Suez’), Algeria, Cyprus, the Congo, Aden, Ireland, Dhofar, Chile, Iran, etc. Above all it was the Vietnam liberation war which demonstrated most clearly that the road to world peace lies through unremitting struggle against superpower aggression and thus began to free internationalism from the pacifist characteristics of the previous era (CND, etc.), derived largely from the treacherous stand taken by Khruschev revisionism which propagated the imperialist lie that anti-imperialist struggle threatens world peace.

To sum up, then, PF confines his attacks on racism to subjective expressions of disgust without showing any sign that he is aware of its basis in imperialism (or for that matter that he is even aware of imperialism’s existence). He characteristically confines himself to easy targets among notorious individuals and in the process exonerates the capitalist class as a whole. He holds an attitude to third world liberation struggles that is itself based on racist assumptions. He fails even to mention the concept of ’class’ in his discussions of racism, and for that matter of sexism. His remarks on tactics in the struggle against racism are almost a caricature of ’economism’. With his attitude to workers as being all at one level politically, and a backward level at that, he makes quite a to-do about the existence of racism among workers but fails even to mention the existence among them of its opposite – the internationalist trend in the labour movement.

Marxism-Leninism, by contrast, provides an ideology that can build on the internationalist tradition and give it fresh impetus. For it exposes the basis of racist ideology in imperialism, and is thus able to forge the various aspects of internationalism into an ongoing, living movement that will provide the chief ideological antidote to racism. It is clear that the SWP’s standpoint, as peddled by PF, is an obstacle to building such a movement.


PF mentions with disdain (p.62) those “bright young men” from “Oxford and Cambridge” whose outlook and training fit them out as ideal recruits into the trades union bureaucracies of modern Britain, where “the trade union leaders are the doctors of capitalism” (p.64). However, despite PF’s self-righteousness towards them, his own cultural background as revealed in his pamphlet is precisely that of just such a “bright young man” from Oxbridge; references scattered around the book show that he has done much of the trendy reading expected of a fashionable ’lefty’ undergraduate, and laps it all up happily. But in spite of these clever-looking quotations, PF shows himself oblivious of the true heritage of revolutionary culture and as far from the working-class way of life and tastes as he is from working class politics and outlook in general.

To begin with PF’s excursions into history, we have seen that for all his hypocritical big words about the importance of straddling “the barrier of past and present”, he is in fact astonishingly unwilling to draw attention to any of the proud traditions of working class history in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland. The only episode to which he alludes in any detail is the general strike of 1926, on whose significance, as we have seen, he peddles the bourgeois line; apart from the general strike, working class history in Britain and Ireland is a blank. Being, intermittently, a good Trotskyist, however, he is, when he leaves Britain and comes to Russia, a bit more “confident, well-prepared, enthusiastic, ginned up”, etc. (to quote Evans’ cartoon caption on p.89), and shows that he has done a bit of desultory and miscellaneous reading on the subject. Besides the obvious item Ten days that shook the world by John Reed (quoted on p.68), PF also quotes Victor Serge, “a Belgian revolutionary who went to join the revolution – and was later locked up and almost executed by the Russian government” (p.69), it being clearly implied by PF that this dubious biography makes him particularly credible! And when we come to the revolution’s reverberations in Western Europe, PF quotes (p.77) Sebastian Haffner on the mutiny of German sailors at Kiel in 1918; PF is at pains to assure us that Haffner “is not a revolutionary”, once again showing that there is nothing like good capitalist credentials to give a writer credibility with PF! When we come to the Hungarian “revolution” of 1956 (pp.78-79), PF’s chosen source of information, whom we calls “perhaps the finest writer ever to have worked on the Daily Worker”, is Peter Fryer – certainly he must be the only writer for that paper who has to his credit one book on prostitution, one on “prudery” and four on pornography – not quite the best credentials to write on Hungary!

From PF’s grasp of working class history, we pass on to his grounding in revolutionary literature, which turns out to be equally feeble. We have already seen his high regard for a particularly ’blood-and-earth’-ish passage in Clayhanger, the novel by Arnold Bennett (quoted on p.75 and again on p.82). This passage about “that singular flame” does not, however, indicate at all that Bennett had any particular regard for working class struggles; in another novel, The old wives’ tale, he shows himself to have been pretty unsympathetic to the Paris Commune, which provides the historical background to much of the story. Passing on to George Orwell, we find that he is referred to by PF (p.78) as “the British writer who is usually (and wrongly) regarded as an anti-socialist” and who “went to fight for Spain” (though surely according to PF it would make no sense fighting “for Spain” – this “country business”, after all, is “drivel”, isn’t it? See p.29), Now those who saw the televised version of 1984 which was re-broadcast recently will realise that the only difference between Orwell and most anti-socialist writers is that he is a writer of higher calibre, and therefore more pernicious; books like 1984, Animal farm, etc., are straight anti-Soviet propaganda. In fact PF himself elsewhere (p.43) uses this very novel 1984 (along with Aldous Huxley’s Brave new world) as an example of capitalist propaganda against socialism! What accounts for this glaring case of PF trying both to run with the hare (Orwell was “not an anti-socialist”) and with the hounds (quoting Orwell as an example of anti-socialist propaganda)? The answer is that Orwell was, like PF himself, a sham socialist: the main thrust of his work (1984, Animal farm, etc.) was ordinary, straight anti-socialist propaganda: but one of the other assignments taken on by such writers if often to pose as themselves more ’socialist’ than the socialists they attack (as in Homage to Catalonia, etc.). PF cannot avoid having to repudiate the open attacks from the right, but he gives credibility to the more subtle ones from the ’left’. Other novels quoted by PF are the fashionable Grey granite by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (p.87) and Grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck (p.14).

To pass on from novels to poetry, we find PF making the customary ritual obeisance to Shelley, whom he calls (p.45) “the great revolutionary’ poet” – a onesided assessment that is really just a crude attempt to enlist Shelley as a posthumous member of the SWP. The fact is that Shelley’s view of the world was shot through with the contradictions of the bourgeois society of his lime. He in general adopted a progressive standpoint, not only explicitly (for instance praising working class uprisings, etc., which he sometimes did) but also in his dream of a more just society which has inspired revolutionaries of his time and since, both in Britain and the other countries where his poetry has been read. On the other hand, his visions of a better world could be idealistic in the extreme, and this is the other side of the picture. Just to call him “the great revolutionary poet” and leave it at that is no service either to the working class or to an appreciation of Shelley. Passing on from Shelley, via Hugo Dewar, the SWP bard to whose poem on the “world called Arsy Versy” we have already alluded, we find, on p.15, that we have moved from the sublime to the even more ridiculous; here we come across an item from PF’s treasure house of unrecognised masterpieces, namely Poem to man (1945) by Paul Potts, in which the poet sums up the conclusions from his war-time experiences in the following sonorous couplet: “We’re in the ditch, We’re in the ditch – We’ve got to get rid of the rich.” (In order to complete this brief poetic exposition of SWP ideology, we suggest the further couplet: “We own little and they own lots; It’s a ’two-class’ world, say the Trots.”)

In general, PF shows a disdainful ignorance of the legacy of socialist literature in Britain or anywhere else. For instance, there is much to be assessed from the 1930s in Britain (one thinks of Christopher Caudwell, etc.), but all we get in PF’s book by way of acknowledgement of this creative period is brief quotations from John Strachey and Malcolm Muggeridge (both on p.73). (By the way, PF took his title from Strachey’s Why you should be a socialist; though this seems to have been a last minute change, for the running title at the head of each page is “The case for socialism”. Obviously things had to be adapted to give a fanfare for that dampest squib of the year 1977, the launching of the SWP: so there was a compromise – the Strachey title was used, with the added subtitle “The case for a new socialist party” i.e. the SWP of course.)

Out of the thirty cartoons by Phil Evans, sixteen show workers either as dunces or as in some way perplexed or flummoxed by a situation confronting them. There are 7 women represented, and 28 men (counting a row of five Etonians). There is nothing much in the cartoons that would offend the NF – no blacks, no commies. The capitalist class is represented (as on p.82) by the expected SWP convention of a cigar in the mouth, etc. Such a portrayal may be OK from time to time, but to keep on endlessly using a stereotype like this is harmful. It gives the impression that identifying the enemy is as easy as pie. It isn’t. It needs a lot of hard work and sound analysis by a revolutionary party. Further, constantly portraying the bourgeoisie like this backfires, it confirms the image that the capitalist class wants people to have of Marxists they want people to think that Marxists have a facile view of capitalism as being due to cigar-smoking conspiracy-figures (as indeed the capitalist class is constantly portrayed in SWP lore and literature). Well, can’t we take a joke? Yes we can; we got a lot of laughs out of PF’s pamphlet, and almost all of them were on him. Except for one or two quite funny ideas (e.g. on pp. 42, 52 and 74), the cartoons in general confirm one’s impression that PF’s book and its milieu is the petty-bourgeois world of the Oxbridge revue, student pranks and Private Eye, not the world of the working class.

Popular culture, for instance popular music, is never once alluded to in PF’s pamphlet. Presumably PF and his friends aren’t interested in such working class tastes at all. National minority cultures are also passed by, along with the national question in general. The Irish, Scottish and Welsh people have a long tradition of cultural struggle that will provide a vast resource for revolutionary Britain. Queen Elizabeth I ordered her Irish administration to “hang the harpers wherever found”, and Welsh bards were similarly persecuted. Irish republican music is a powerful force in today’s Irish political life, not only in Ireland but among Irish people in Britain. Scottish music from the days of John Maclean and from earlier and later struggles is a similarly important element in the national movement in Scotland. Every area of England itself also has a distinctive regional culture, and of course black, Asian, Mediterranean and other music and ways of life further diversify the cultural picture. A rich and varied working class culture will certainly blossom into new life in this country as socialist politics gather strength and PF, with his clearly middle class tastes, will be left stranded with his desert island discs (Mendelssohn? Chopin?). (Of course in this field as in every other the SWP compensates for falling off one end of the bench by periodically falling off the other. For example, failing to grasp the Marxist principle that the ruling ideas of society are the ideas of the ruling class, they recently decided that ’Punk Rock’ was proletarian and tried to recruit one of its prominent groups – the group, though in fact products of an art college and not of the dole queue, in this case took a correct, proletarian line and told the SWP to fuck off. In such initiatives the SWP usually lags far behind another Trotskyist group, the WRP, who have a more distinguished record going back to their early days when their newspaper once carried the headline “Mods and rockers, unite!”)

A characteristic of all ruling class ideologies has been the claim that the social system dominated by them satisfies certain allegedly innate, or eternal, characteristics of humanity – in other words that it is the system ideally suited to ’human nature’. The actual characteristics of human nature they adduce are in fact those of the particular ruling class itself, only of course they do not say so but make it out to be the only kind of human nature in existence. For instance, the capitalist mode of production arose in conditions of intense competition, and thus individual competiveness became a valued characteristic; capitalism was held to be the first social system that gave full scope to man’s unrestrained competitive nature. In its degenerate, imperialist version, this view of ’human nature’ stresses animal, or pre-human, characteristics – the ’law of the jungle’ and so on. Vulgarised versions of Darwin’s theory of evolution (’social Darwinism’) are still peddled by the bourgeoisie on a pretty wide scale, as for instance in the case of the writers Konrad Lorenz (On aggression, etc.), Desmond Morris (The naked ape. etc.), Robert Ardrey (The territorial imperative, etc.) and so on. PF obviously sees the need to tackle the bourgeois theory of human nature and has a go (pp.30-40); he concludes: “What’s good and what’s bad in human nature is decided by the kind of society people live in. If the main purpose of society is to make a fortune for a few, then the virtues which society extols will be the virtues of the fortune-makers - meanness, competition .... If society is controlled by the people who work, in the interests of the people who work, then society will encourage another side of human nature: co-operation and concern for others . . . .”.etc. (p.40). This formulation is characterised by PF’s usual vagueness and dogged avoidance of the concept of ’class’, but at least, as we have said, he has had a go. Where we think a more significant inadequacy lies is in this: that by concluding with these remarks on capitalism in its competitive stage, he implies that the version of bourgeois human nature theory corresponding to that stage is still the form of such theory that prevails. This is not the case. Capitalism has now largely entered the phase of state monopoly capitalism (nationalisation, planning, ’welfare’ services, etc.), a development which, as we have seen, is not understood by PF, who seems to see these features not as capitalist at all, but as socialist. Corresponding to these changes in capitalism, new versions of human nature theory now prevail. While social Darwinism and so on are still around (largely served up for a middle class audience – BBC 2, Radio 3, the above-mentioned Ardrey, etc.), the prevailing form of bourgeois propaganda has now moved on to promote a rather different version of what human nature is supposed to be. Take, for instance, the deluge of science fiction to which children are subjected these days; the whole universe is represented as peopled by beings of various shapes and descriptions, with the one element in common that they all tend to fit into some or another kind of bourgeois ideological mould – unquestioning obedience, robotism, abject dependance on technical experts, etc. This kind of futuristic vision is surely much more of a formative influence among wider sections of society than the old, ’competitive’ social Darwinism, which corresponded to the previous, competitive stage of capitalism, and which is increasingly being restricted to a drawing-room diversion for a few middle class households. Once again, by failing to appreciate changes in the nature of capitalism, PF has, in his critique of the bourgeois theory of human nature, failed to locate the main force of the enemy and is found to be boldly ’leading’ a rearguard action against a secondary force that is already on the retreat.

The old version of bourgeois human nature theory, then, is dying, though not yet dead. But PF, even given this advantage, is still unable to give it a death-blow. For a start, he opens himself to the charge of raising a caricature of the theory in order to knock it down: “’Human beings’ runs the argument, ’are irrevocably greedy. They are irrevocably anxious to do damage to their fellows. So a system of society based on cooperation can’t possibly succeed. The only way to run society is to allow man’s bestial nature its full scope and hand over the running of society to stock exchange speculators and bankers in the City of London’” (p.39). It is as well to point out that capitalist virtues (thrift, prudence, etc.) can be presented in the most sanctimonious light, and can have a powerful hold over people; it is quite wrong to represent them in such a crude caricature as this description by PF. PF then goes on to give his own view of human nature: “The truth is that some people are all greedy, though only a few. Some are all unselfish, though only a few. Most people are greedy some of the time and unselfish some of the time”. The PF imprint is clearly revealed by two features of this formulation. First, the sweeping generalisations “all greedy” and “all unselfish”. How can anyone be “all unselfish” in class society when class contradictions characterise all human thinking? And what is “all greedy” supposed to mean? It is absurd to describe human characteristics in these sweeping total categories. Secondly, PF as usual totally fails to link what he is saying to the concept of class: “some people” are this, others are that he doesn’t take the Marxist standpoint of trying to nail the class basis of the selfishness so rife in capitalist society. It is true that he goes on to provide some cases of proletarian selflessness, introduced as “a few examples from working class experience”, but he shows no understanding of the historical movement as a whole – that selfishness in our society is rooted in capitalist exploitation, and that capitalism’s overthrow will allow the development of a new level of cooperation among people, rooted in the very nature of the class whose rule will bring this about – the proletariat – its basis in large-scale, cooperative labour, and its nature as a non-exploiting class.

PF’s level of Marxist culture is abysmally low. We have seen how he refers to Engels’ Condition of the working class in England in 1844 as “a stunning indictment of homelessness” (p.12). On one other occasion (p.34) someone seems to have found PF a suitable quotation from Engels. As for later socialist thinkers, “Lenin was painted as a tyrant” (p.68), so obviously PF doesn’t see much point in referring to anything he said. There is one quotation (p.66) which, as we have seen, is given out of context and without comment in such a way as to imply that Lenin held to the views of Trotsky. The general impression given by PF’s pamphlet is that his reading of Marxism has been as good as non-existent and that he does indeed move in circles where Lenin is normally “painted as a tyrant”.

PF seems to be most at home in the world of the bourgeois media. He certainly keeps up to date with the bourgeois press, and his sources of information include such repositories of the truth as The Financial Times (p.22), The Economist (p.36), The New York Times (p.39), Business Week (p.4), The Times, The Sunday Times (p.41), etc. As for these latter two papers, PF cannot restrain his admiration, referring to the “brilliant men and women of letters, skilled printers”, etc. who work on them. Such is PF’s acceptance of bourgeois professionalism that he has forgotten that, in The Times, he is talking about the principal mouthpiece of British imperialism! The SWP in general inhabits a world of press conferences and media limelight. The bourgeois press, as we have seen so clearly these past few months, drools over the opportunity to interview these articulate young men, whose caricature of Marxism is always so eminently quotable.

This world of ’bright young things’ is the polar opposite of the new world of proletarian culture which is corning into being through socialist struggle. We have seen in the case of the Chinese cultural revolution the powerful role that cultural struggle can play in mobilising the masses in their millions to take the centre of the stage of world history and grapple with the corrosive influence of revisionist backsliding (whose egocentric features are so graphically illustrated by PF’s sham socialism). Writers borne out of mass struggles, such as Gorki, Lu Hsun, Brecht and Caudwell, have derived the strength of their inspiration from this hitherto submerged working class, have welcomed its emergence from “the lower depths”, and have depicted workers as giants compared with the petty individualism of the whizz-kids of the bourgeois media, where

There are some men live in darkness
While the rest have light for free
You can spot those in the limelight
Those in darkness you don’t see
–Brecht, from The Threepenny Opera.


Caught between the two main contending classes of capitalist society (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat), the middle class has an inbuilt tendency to vacillate between supporting now one and now the other. People from the middle class can easily get carried away and become over-optimistic about the prospects for revolution, because of their comparative detachment from the harsh realities of material production and class struggle. They suffer corresponding bouts of gloom and pessimism when their fantasising is brought to a halt by reality. These petty-bourgeois characteristics are well illustrated by PF’s pamphlet. Such people are fed up with capitalism and its contradictions, but have not yet discovered the proletariat as a political force, and are consequently unable to make a decisive break with bourgeois thinking. Marxism-Leninism consequently holds that petty-bourgeois intellectuals should take the task of transforming their own class outlook seriously. It is not a matter of learning a few ’revolutionary’ phrases but a long, slow and often painful process of moving oneself over to the standpoint of the working class in the context of participating in its struggles. One’s enemy in the outside world is the bourgeoisie, but in this matter of outlook one takes on a struggle on another front as well – the struggle against those bourgeois attitudes that have been dinned into one’s own mind since infancy. PF’s pamphlet reveals the outlook of someone who has failed to face up to this internal struggle. Consequently he allows his petty-bourgeois attitudes to run riot. It is this deeply-rooted non-proletarian class nature of his outlook that explains the consistency with which PF gets everything wrong.

The gloom and pessimism that prevails throughout so much of PF’s pamphlet reflects his lack of faith in the socialist future. At times he goes further and lets it slip out that he not only has negative attitudes towards socialism but also periodic bouts of positive attitude towards capitalism. His first sentence, for instance, refers to post-war capitalism as “the thirty years dream”. He unashamedly admits where his hopes lay (with capitalism!) without batting an eyelid: “The great hope of the 1950s and 1960s that scientific and industrial progress would bring a better life for the people who do the work is shattered” (p.10). He apparently sees no need to criticise the idea of placing one’s “hope” in capitalism! Similar statements occur throughout the pamphlet, and are clear indications of an outlook that is ideologically and politically imprisoned by the bourgeoisie. Even when PF’s petty-bourgeois brooding reaches an extreme of desperation and he talks of barbarism ... torture chambers... atom bomb ... germ warfare”, etc., he still cannot find any worse epithet for capitalism than “the devil we know” (p.46). If capitalism is “the devil we know”, then the corollary to this is of course that socialism is another devil (the one we don’t know). His use of the phrase “the devil we know” to describe capitalism (which evidently strikes a useful chord for him – he uses it again on p.88) sums up the attitude of a class that has lost faith in one social system but not yet acquired faith in another. Go to any SWP meeting or demonstration, or try to discuss socialism with a hardcore member, or just stay at home and watch PF do his turn on What the papers say on TV, and you’ll see this despondent and grumpy attitude illustrated.

Of course, by way of compensation for the dullness and frustration of this ideological atmosphere, the SWP sometimes bursts out for all the world as though revolution could be identified with temper-tantrums. PF’s pamphlet abounds in images of anger. The first chapter is entitled “The growing wrath” (a phrase taken from the novel The grapes of wrath). He writes of the Right to Work Campaign that it “pulls” unemployed people “out of their angry houses” (p.85) – this apparently being an attempt at poetic imagery, so inspiring does he find the notion of anger. He quotes Frederick Douglass, who uses the words “the awful roar of the ocean’s waters” as a metaphor for “agitation” (p.61). He presents a picture of SWP sympathisers “arguing furiously” that London dockers sign a “petition” (p.84). (This is given as an example of the role of “agitators” – one hopes the dockers of London, used to the gentler tones of Old Father Thames, were on this occasion suitably awe-inspired by being thus confronted with “the awful roar of the ocean’s waters”.) The notion of anger, wrath, fury, the “awful roar”, seems so overwhelmingly important to his political outlook that he gives the impression that he regards those who speak most sharply and stamp their feet most furiously as being the most revolutionary. Once again, subjective states of mind are given greater weight than scientific analysis of objective reality.

Corresponding with this overemphasis on self in SWP attitudes is their underestimation of the masses. PF in general reveals that he sees the masses as “passive” (p.46). When they do rise up, he shows (as in the case of the “so-called ’backward’” Southall Asians and Soweto school students) that he is flabbergasted. He promptly loses balance, swings to the opposite extreme, worships their every move, calls it all a “revolution”, etc. The inexhaustible potential of the masses for struggle is explained in irrational terms, illustrated neatly by PF’s image of the “flame” which flares up on such occasions and which supposedly obviates the need for rational analysis and policy-formation.

(The SWP’s recruitment of new members seems to rely largely on such ’flames’. Each time a popular struggle occurs, it tries to intervene in it and take over control of it. It brings in a lot of outsiders keen to ’help’. Never mind if they damp down the ’flame’ by taking the initiative out of the hands of those directly involved – as long as one or two people are conned into joining the SWP then anything goes. The SWP’s role in much anti-fascist work has followed this pattern. The result is that the SWP and other such mindless fire-worshippers generate a ’high’ of exhilaration that is more than matched by the ’low’ of despair and disillusion that is bound to follow. In the long run they generate more of the latter than the former, as witness their amazingly rapid turnover of membership, as recruit after recruit is burned up, disillusioned, de-politicised and demobilised. Present members are easily outnumbered by ex-members.)

The quotations from Trotsky which we have already discussed show that the Trotskyist variety of rebel, illustrated by PF. is in essence a bourgeois individualist. His rebellion is based on an individualistic irritation with capitalism for thwarting what he feels to be his own individual potential. PF feels strongly that “there is. .. no limit to the individual aspirations of every man and woman” (p.45), and writes with feeling of the “irritation, unfulfilled aspirations and jealousy” that characterise family life in capitalist society (p.32). He doesn’t seem aware that these in fact represent the poles of his own outlook as revealed in his pamphlet. On the one hand, individual aspirations, whose constant thwarting by the pressures of capitalist society constantly generates, on the other hand, renewed individualistic irritation. Such irritation can at times reach the point of frenzy, resulting in the kind of trancelike utterances described by Trotsky (“like a somnambulist, he might fall off the edge of the roof at the sound of his conscious reasoning”, etc. – what might be termed ’psychotropic revolution’).

Such states of mind are, of course, the very opposite of all that Marxism stands for. Marxism-Leninism teaches us to fight ’self and serve the people. The criterion of truth lies outside oneself, in social practice – what is correct and what is incorrect is shown by what succeeds and what fails to advance the interests of the masses. PF, however, follows Trotsky in asserting that “the nature of man” can be found in each individual if only that individual probes deep enough into his own head. This accounts for the unalterable conviction displayed by PF on every page of his pamphlet that regardless of all the accumulated experience of working class struggles, there is always one person – namely a certain flamboyant ’left’ political journalist – who knows best.

It is this intense and histrionic individualism, deeply rooted in the class outlook of the petty-bourgeois, which provides the answer to the question of what motivates Trotskyists to undertake their activities, which are so harmful to the political interests of the working class in ways that are sometimes perfectly plain to see. Is the role they play in the labour movement (of undermining it) played consciously or unconsciously? PF’s pamphlet, illustrating as it does so clearly the atmosphere of hysteria and confusion that prevails among such groups, shows that this question is a complicated one. It is mainly relevant when it comes to weighing up the individual members of these organisations. To the world outside these groups, it is largely irrelevant. They are on the one hand, dedicated to their own self-interest to such an extreme degree that they are prepared to embark on patently anti-working-class activities if such activities serve their own political interests. On the other hand, they are presumably more or less taken in by their own propaganda that it’s all in the interests of realising the Trotskyist vision.

Marxism-Leninism judges would-be spokesmen for socialism by a very harsh criterion – the unity of motive and effect. Through a constant process of criticism and self-criticism, a socialist should become more aware of the effects of his words and actions. It is of course true that a group such as the SWP is anything but self-aware, and anyone is forgiven any number of evident mistakes without being expected to examine his motives. But even in such a case, Marxist-Leninists have the duty of denouncing the harm such groups do by claiming to be ’socialist’, and not pull any punches or spare any feelings. The fact that their motives are confused has a twofold significance: on the one hand, it means that at some level they mean to weaken the working class in the face of its enemies, and that they should thus be mercilessly denounced: on the other hand, it means that at another level they do not mean to harm the working class (they have not, after all, joined the NF or some such openly fascist group), and that if one’s criticisms are clear and plainly well-intentioned one may be able to help some of them to see where they have gone wrong and untie the knots they have tied themselves in. Either way, the attitude to take towards Trotskyism (even of so unorthodox a kind as that of the SWP) is that it is a particularly virulent form of bourgeois ideology that the working class cannot afford to allow to pass.

PF is, then, an example of those who long to desert the bourgeoisie because capitalism thwarts their individual aspirations and yet see their escape-route as lying through intensified assertion of bourgeois individualism. This is, to use a fable quoted by Lu Hsun, like trying to raise oneself into the air by tugging at one’s own forelock – it can’t be done. Now, deserters from the bourgeoisie have included people who have made great contributions to the political advancement of the working class. Wherein lay their success in overcoming the bourgeois outlook which has PF so firmly in its grasp? Marx and Engels, who were themselves political deserters from the bourgeoisie, gave this answer in the Communist Manifesto: such people must face up to the task of “comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole”; armed with such overall comprehension, they can come to discover the proletariat as a political force and enable themselves to “desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat”. PF is someone who clings to his own standpoint and has not come to see the need to desert it.

Instead of using some of his time to study Marxism, and thus to realise that class struggle, besides being daily reality for working people, is also the starting point for interpreting the complexities of human history, PF just projects onto personalised capitalist-figures the unrestrained individuality he feels himself to be denied. Instead of using some of his time to make a realistic assessment of current international affairs, and thus finding in anti-imperialism the antidote to racism, he turns a blind eye to this connection and even allows racist assumptions to survive in his own thinking. Instead of looking around at the rich cultural potentialities of the working class in Britain, let alone the achievements of socialist literature and art around the world, PF just indulges in a few trendy cultural fads deeply-rooted in the class culture of the bourgeoisie. It is clear that such a writer is taking no steps to change his class outlook – his outlook remains that of the bourgeoisie, not of the proletariat.

Let us give the last word to the socialist writer Christopher Caudwell (1907-1937). an intellectual who took the road, untrodden by PF, of working to transform his outlook to that of the proletariat, by studying Marxism and by immersing himself in the progressive mass struggles of his time. Caudwell is discussing, in his work Illusion and reality, an outlook which he calls ’Byronism’: “Byron is an aristocrat – but he is one who is conscious of the break-up of his class as a force, and the necessity to go over to the bourgeoisie” (which was then, like the proletariat today, the rising force in British society). “Hence his mixture of cynicism and romanticism.

“These deserters are in moments of revolution always useful and always dangerous allies. Too often their desertion of their class and their attachment to another, is not so much a “comprehension of the historical movement as a whole’ as a revolt against the cramping circumstances imposed on them by their own class’s dissolution, and in a mood of egoistic anarchy they seize upon the aspirations of the other class as a weapon in their private battle. They are always individualistic, romantic figures with a strong element of the poseur. They will the destruction of their own class but not the rise of the other, and this rise, when it becomes evident and demands that they change their merely destructive enmity to the dying class to a constructive loyalty to the new, may, in act if not in word, throw them back into the arms of the enemy. They become counter-revolutionaries.” Caudwell goes on to point out that Byron’s death occurred before any such complete development took place, and cites Danton and Trotsky as examples of cases where it did.

“On the one hand to be cynical, to mock at the farce of human existence, on the other hand to be sentimental, and complain of the way in which the existing society has tortured one’s magnificent capabilities – that is the essence of Byronism. It represents the demoralisation in the ranks of the aristocracy as much as a rebellion against the aristocracy.”

Caudwell goes on to describe Shelley as “a far more genuinely dynamic force.” He represents those who “voice demands not merely for themselves but for the whole of suffering humanity . .. Shelley believes that he speaks for all men, for all sufferers, calls them all to a brighter future.”

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since the days of Byron and Shelley. But we believe that the contrasts between those two poets of the bourgeois revolutionary period, as described by Caudwell, prefigure some of the contrasts we see between the bourgeois-individualistic outlook dominant in the SWP and the outlook of Marxism-Leninism, which adopts the standpoint of the working and oppressed people of the whole world.