Friday, November 20, 2009

1789: France’s bourgeois revolution

From the Socialist Standard, July 1989.

Up until 1789 France was an Absolutist state ruled by a king who claimed that his total power to rule had been granted him by god. All the top posts in the army, the government, the civil service, the church and the judiciary were reserved for the members of a hereditary nobility. The population was in fact divided into three "orders" or "estates": the clergy, the nobility and the rest – over 95 per cent of course – known simply as the Third Estate.

Relics of Feudalism

The vast majority of the population – some 22 or 23 million out of a total population of 25 million – were peasants who worked and lived on the land. Very few were serfs actually tied to the land or a master. It has in fact been estimated that between 30 and 40 per cent of the land in pre-1789 France belonged to peasants. But all peasants, whether landowners, tenants or share-croppers, had to pay feudal dues in money and in kind to the lord of the manor as well as tithes, payable in kind, to the church. They were obliged to use the lord’s mill, bread oven and wine press rather than have their own and to allow him to hunt freely on their land. And they were tried and judged in a court presided over by him or his appointee for minor offences and all disputes with him or among themselves concerning land matters.

These were all survivals from feudalism, though it would be inaccurate to describe French society on the eve of the revolution as feudalism. Capitalism had long been developing there and in fact many of the lordships of the manor had been bought by rich non-nobles from the towns as an investment for the income this procured them.

Nor was the nobility any longer really feudal. By this time they had become transformed into an exclusive group which, by virtue of their noble status, enjoyed various tax exemptions and a privileged access to the top posts in the state, a fact that was particularly resented by rich people of non-noble origin – the bourgeoisie – who were to provide the leadership of the French Revolution.

This – the upper echelons of the Third Estate, or non-noble rich people – is the easiest definition that can be given of the bourgeoisie. Some were merchants, others manufacturers, still others professional people, in particular lawyers of various sorts. Below them, in the towns, were the sort of people who in Paris were known as the sansculottes, literally ""those without breeches", or people who wore trousers rather than the knee-breeches and stockings then worn by the rich and those who aped them. These were the small shopkeepers and providers of various services, the master artisans and their journeymen who one day hoped to become masters themselves. Those who were condemned to a life-time of dependence on selling their labour power for a wage to a manufacturing employer were relatively few and were concentrated in certain industries and towns. One estimate puts their number at as low as 600,000.

Obstacles to Capitalist Development

Pre-1789 France is best described as a country in which capitalism had been developing within a framework of political and social institutions inherited from feudalism, which had become an obstacle to its further development. The question that then arose was: how were these obstacles to be removed? By reform from above or by revolution from below? Some of the king’s advisers and administrators were aware of what was required. The conscious economic aims of the revolution (see inset) had in fact been worked out by a group of French Rationalist Philosophers who called themselves économistes or physiocrates. They held that there were natural laws governing the production and distribution of wealth just as there were other laws of nature and that governments should let these economic laws operate spontaneously. Hence their slogan laissez-faire which strongly influenced the similar idea put forward by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations that appeared in 1776. A number of royal officials, including ministers, had been Physiocrats, but had come up against all sorts of resistance in trying to carry out reform from above.

Aims of the 1789 Revolution

POLITICAL: To establish equality between all property-owners by abolishing the privileges enjoyed by a section only of them, the nobility. To establish a constitutional government responsible to an assembly of property-owners elected on a restricted, property franchise.

ECONOMIC: To abolish internal customs duties and establish a national market. To abolish guild and government restrictions on entry into particular trades and businesses and establish freedom of enterprise and laissez-faire. To end feudal dues and tithes levied on agricultural property; rent, interest and profit to be the only legitimate forms of non work income.

Largely as a result of its failure to reform itself, by the 1780s the royal government had got into such financial difficulties that bankruptcy threatened. To raise more taxes it was obliged to call a meeting of a feudal institution that had last met in 1614, the States General in which representatives of the three estates into which society was legally divided met to discuss the king’s demand for further taxes. In August 1788 the government announced the calling of a meeting of this States General for May 1789. In the intervening period the members of the various estates were to meet all over France to draw up a list of their grievances and demands to submit to the king. The rich members of the Third Estate of the towns used the opportunity not just to complain about the tax exemptions accorded to the clergy and the nobles and to call for a fairer sharing of the burden of taxation among the rich, noble as well as non-noble. They also demanded a Constitution that would allow the representatives of the Third Estate to dominate the States General and turn it into an assembly representing the whole "nation". This aim was openly expressed in an immensely influential pamphlet that appeared in 1789 called What is the Third Estate?, written by Abbé Sieyès. Sieyès answered the question by arguing that the Third Estate was everything; it, and it alone, constituted the nation, the nobility being nothing but useless and privileged parasites:

"The nobility truly a nation apart, but a bogus one which, lacking organs to keep it alive, clings to a real nation like those vegetable parasites which can live only on the sap of the plants that they impoverish and blight. The Church, the law, the army and the bureaucracy are four classes of public agents necessary everywhere. Why are they accused of aristocratism in France? Because the caste of nobles has usurped all the best posts, and takes them as its hereditary property. Thus it exploits them, not in the spirit of the laws of society, but to its own profit."

Thus spoke the bourgeoisie when it had a revolution to carry out.

The session of the States General was opened by the King, Louis XVI, in May 1789. The representatives of the Third Estate soon showed themselves to be in a militant mood, in June turning the States General, as planned, into a National Assembly and later into a Constituent Assembly, or a body charged with drawing up a constitution for France.

The Bourgeois Revolution

This wasn’t quite what Louis XVI and some of his advisers had intended and they began to think in terms of dissolving the Assembly. The king dismissed his reforming chief minister and troops were sent to surround Paris. Popular reaction was not long in coming. The bourgeoisie formed themselves into an armed "National Guard" while, on 14 July, the sansculotte crowds stormed the Bastille. Power in Paris passed into the hands of the armed, revolutionary bourgeoisie.

July 14 has traditionally been regarded as the date that the French Revolution, as the seizure of power by the bourgeoisie, took place. Another, perhaps better, case can be made out for 6 October of the same year. This was the date when, following a march of women, accompanied by members of the National Guard, from Paris to the royal palace at Versailles to demand bread, the king was forced to recognise the power and legitimacy of the National Assembly by accompanying it back to Paris. The old royal administration then collapsed throughout France and power at regional and local level also passed into the hands of the bourgeoisie.

In October the Constituent Assembly abolished all internal customs duties. In fact all indirect taxes were abolished. This presented the new regime with a financial problem – how to raise money to finance its activities? – that was solved by the confiscation and sale of the estates belonging to the church. Most church lands fell into the hands, not of the peasants who had been working them, but of rich bourgeois from the towns. The church was not in fact opposed to this measure as, in return, the clergy were to be maintained by the state as civil servants. But the Constituent Assembly went on to insist, not only that the priests should swear like all other civil servants an oath of allegiance to the constitution, but also that bishops should be elected in the same way that mayors and judges were going to be. This proved too much for the Pope who, in May 1791, put an anathema on the French Revolution which still influences the attitude of Catholic historians to the revolution to this day. But its importance at the time was that it meant that the bulk of the Catholic Church went over to the counter-revolution.

Representative Government for Property Owners

The Constitution was finally promulgated in 1791. It provided for France to be a constitutional monarchy, with the king as the hereditary head of the executive having the same sort of powers as the President of the USA. Although it did not remain in force for long it was a model constitution for the rule of the bourgeoisie, as the non-noble section of the property-owning class in society. Its preamble proclaimed in revolutionary terms the complete abolition of the aristocracy:

"There is no longer any nobility, nor peerage, nor hereditary distinction, nor distinctions between orders, nor feudal regime, nor hereditary justices, nor any order of knighthood …"

The Constitution also incorporated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen that had been adopted by the National Assembly in August 1789. Despite the declaration that "men are born and remain free and equal in rights", the Constitution went on to draw a distinction between "active" and "passive" citizens based on property as measured by the amount of tax paid. To be a simple voter, this was set at a relatively low level but some 40 per cent of the adult male population found themselves without the right to vote (as did all women). But this was not the only property qualification. The members of the legislative assembly were not elected directly by the voters; these latter voted for "electors" who in turn elected the deputies. There was a higher qualification to be chosen as an elector and an even higher one to be allowed to sit in the assembly.

The abolition of the distinction between noble and non-noble property owners and provision for a constitutional government responsible to an assembly of property owners elected on a restricted franchise was in fact the openly declared aim of the French Revolution from the start. It was proclaimed in the Constitution of 1791 and emerged again in 1795 to survive until Napoleon seized power in 1799. Between 1792 and 1794, however, the revolution, under the impact of both an external war and an internal civil war, was to take a more radical turn but one which turned out to be no more than a detour.

The Jacobin Dictatorship

War was declared on Austria, which had taken the side of the overthrown aristocracy, in April 1792 and in July Prussia declared war on France, leading to the invasion of the country by Austrian and Prussian troops. The King, however, continued to maintain contacts with Austria and Prussia. As the invading armies advanced on Paris popular discontent over the economic and political situation broke out, leading to the storming of the royal palace and overthrow of the king on 10 August 1792. France was not declared a Republic until September, after the defeat of the invading armies at Valmy on the road to Paris, but this date marked the effective end of the monarchy. In December Louis XVI was put on trial for treason, found guilty and executed in January 1793. Thus, as in England in 1649, a king claiming to rule by divine right found out the hard way that this was not so.

A new Constitution was drawn up putting power into the hands of a national assembly elected on the basis of universal manhood suffrage. This democratic aspect, however, remained a dead letter as the new assembly allowed one of its subcommittees, the Committee of Public Safety, to assume full powers to organise and mobilise the war effort. After another uprising in Paris at the end of May power passed into the hands of the Jacobins, the most militant section of the revolutionary bourgeoisie whose best-known leader was Maximilien Robespierre.

One of the first things that was done under the new regime was to settle the land question. A law – that of 17 July 1793 – decreed the abolition of all feudal dues without compensation. The principle of the abolition of feudal dues had been proclaimed as long ago as August 1789, but had provided for this to be done by the peasants buying these rights from the lords of the manor. Naturally the peasants were not satisfied and peasant unrest, in the form of refusal to pay and the burning of chateaux and feudal title deeds, continued. The Committee on Feudalism of the various national assemblies was in an embarrassing position because the beneficiaries of feudal rights were not all nobles but included many rich members of the Third Estate.

It was never the intention of those who carried out the French Revolution to abolish the private ownership of land or to break up the big estates of the rich and divide them among the peasants. That would have been a flagrant violation of the "rights of property" which the revolution proclaimed and, under a law passed on 18 March 1793, advocating it was in fact made an offence punishable by death. As far as the land question was concerned, the aim was to abolish the burden of feudal dues on agricultural property. This meant that ground rent was considered to be a perfectly legitimate form of income and the Committee on Feudalism tried to pass off many feudal dues as being a form of ground rent. The peasants, however, would have none of this and, through keeping up the pressure, eventually obtained the abolition of feudal dues in a revolutionary way: by their pure and simple abolition without compensation and the public burning of the title deeds which had granted them. The anarchist Kropotkin in his book on The Great French Revolution regarded this as the revolution’s main achievement.

The rule of the Jacobins is generally remembered for the Terror, though in fact its main action was the prosecution of the war and the successful repulsion of the invading armies. The two were connected since the Jacobin government had to deal with counter-revolutionaries at home working in league with the invading powers. The Terror soon developed, however, into a suppression of all opposition on the grounds of the need for absolute unity to "save the nation".

It was not just royalists, priests and other avowed counter-revolutionaries who were guillotined as traitors, but also all others who, for one reason or another, opposed the Jacobin government on some issue, from leftwing sansculotte groups like the Enragés to moderate but still revolutionary republicans like Danton. Suspicion grew that Robespierre was working to establish his own dictatorship. There was probably some truth in this as Robespierre and his supporters did believe in the necessity of a dictatorship to purge the people of aristocratic ideas and attitudes and to lead them to the Republic of small-scale property owners that they saw as the ideal society, and they did toy with the idea of the dictatorship of a single person to achieve this.

The Jacobins were in fact the Bolsheviks of the French Revolution just as the Bolsheviks were the Jacobins of the Russian Revolution. This affinity was consciously recognised by Lenin and Trotsky and is to this day by their followers, as the following from an SWP publication shows:

"The Jacobins were the only possible leadership capable of successfully defending the revolution. We should defend them against both revisionists and ‘left’ utopian critics" (Socialist Worker Review, May 1989)

A similar position is taken up by the so-called "Marxist" school of historians of the French Revolution, including their doyen Albert Soboul. Their books, and his in particular, remain worth reading but in so far as they "defend" the Jacobins are not a proper nor an adequate application of the materialist conception of history. Applied to the French Revolution, this would seek to analyse the economic factors that determined it rather than to defend or attack the political role played by some or other group or person in the course of it.

Whatever may have been Robespierre’s reasons for justifying the dictatorship of the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety, the bulk of the members of the national assembly (and indeed some members of the Committee itself) supported it as a necessity to win the war, both external and internal, and were ready to relax it once this had been achieved, as it had been by the summer of 1794. This was fatal for Robespierre who was overthrown on 27 July (9 Thermidor, according to the revolutionary calendar) and guillotined with his immediate followers the next day.

The Right to Unequal Property Ownership Re-asserted

The overthrow of Robespierre and the Jacobins marked the end of the radicalisation of the French Revolution and a return to its original aim of establishing a constitutional government by and for property owners. The only difference with 1791 was that this was now to be achieved within the framework of a Republic rather than of a constitutional monarchy. The Republican Constitution of 1795 reintroduced the property qualifications for being an "active" citizen, an "elector" and a deputy.

The Jacobins too had been defenders of the "sacred right of property". Where they differed from the Thermidorians (as those who overthrew them were called) was that they were not prepared to defend the existing degree of inequality of property ownership. For them property ought to be based on work and their ideal was a France in which every Frenchman would own his own farm or workshop and be able to maintain himself and his family out of the results of his own work without having to go out and work for wages for someone else. This ideal, which can only be described (using the term correctly for once) as "petty bourgeois", was an impossible one in the context of the capitalist society that had been developing in France, as was neatly revealed by an exchange that took place in the national assembly in September 1794, at a time when the Jacobins were still in power. After a Jacobin deputy had expounded the ideal of every Frenchman owning his own plot of land and working for himself, another deputy got up to speak on, according to the Minutes, "the material impossibility of transforming all Frenchmen into landholders and on the unfortunate consequences which in any event this transformation would bring". The deputy explained: "Because, on this hypothesis, everybody being obliged to cultivate his own field or vineyard in order to live, commerce, crafts and industry would soon be annihilated". In other words, a non-owning section of the population was needed to supply people to work for wages in capitalist commerce and industry.

But a Bourgeois Republic based on inequality and a Petty Bourgeois Republic based on equal property ownership were not the only two ideals thrown up in the course of the French Revolution. In 1795 and 1796 with Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals another ideal was put forward: common ownership and the abolition of all property, buying and selling and money. The conspiracy never really had much chance of success as it was infiltrated from the start by government spies and probably most of those involved in it favoured the Jacobin ideal of a Republic of small property owners (as well as the Jacobin policy of a dictatorship, which Babeuf favoured too) rather than common ownership and the abolition of all property, but the Conspiracy has left us with a magnificent document, written by Sylvain Maréchal, which we reproduce in this issue.

Political Failure, Social Success

Those who overthrew the Jacobins – the partisans of an unashamed Bourgeois Republic based on inequality of property ownership – were unable to establish a stable regime, mainly because most property owners turned out to favour a restoration of the monarchy and, in the end, a large number of bourgeois revolutionaries, including the Abbé Sieyès who had played such a prominent propagandistic role in preparing the seizure of power by the bourgeoisie in 1789, accepted the military dictatorship of General Napoleon Bonaparte as the only way of ensuring a stable government and preventing a royalist come-back. The seizure of power by Napoleon in 1799, and his subsequent self-proclamation as Emperor in 1804, meant that from a political point of view the French Revolution was a failure: it did not succeed in establishing a "representative government" along the lines of what had been achieved in America and which had been its original declared aim. It did, however, succeed in radically transforming the social structure of France in that all the remnants of feudalism (division of society into orders, feudal rights owed to lords of the manor) and all aristocratic privilege (tax exemptions, exclusive access for nobles to the top jobs in the government, civil service, army and church) were swept away without trace, never to return.

This was a real social revolution which emancipated the peasants from feudal exactions and which freed industry from the shackles of the guild system and created a national market for its goods by removing all internal customs posts and establishing a uniform system of weights and measures. And it opened careers in the government, army and civil servants to new men, of non-noble origin.

The achievement of the French Revolution was to abolish aristocratic privilege but it maintained, and consolidated, plutocratic privilege. After the revolution it was wealth as such and no longer noble status that constituted privilege. In short, it established a capitalist state in which the only distinction between people was the purely economic class distinction between those who owned property and those who did not. It paved the way for the last class struggle in history, which can only be ended by the victory of the propertyless class and the establishment of a classless, socialist society based on the common ownership of the means of production, as envisaged before their time by Babeuf, Maréchal, Buonarotti and others involved in the Conspiracy of the Equals of 1795-6.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Whose president is Barack Obama?

He would have us believe that he is president of “all Americans.” But how is that possible when there are such sharp conflicts of interest in American society? Does the business owner have the same interests as the workers he hires at or below the minimum wage? Or consider the health insurance company assessor whose pay and prospects depend on how many claims she denies. Does she have the same interests as those whose survival depends on her decisions?

Is Obama president of the millions of “black” Americans who voted for him with such pride in their hearts? He has not addressed the specific problems that face “black” people. True, he has raised their status simply by being president. By the same token, he provides a pretext for pretending that the issue of racism no longer exists. If he can make it, why can’t they?

Is Obama president of the millions of working people of all colors who voted for him because they hoped he would make their lives easier and more secure? Because they hoped he would stop layoffs, foreclosures, military adventures?

Look at the military budget. Look at Afghanistan. Look at the huge bank bailouts – with no relief for mortgage holders.

Obama’s bosses

This is not to say that nothing he does will be of any benefit to working people. But of one thing you can be sure. Obama’s bosses will not allow him to push through any far-reaching reform. That is, any reform that threatens important corporate interests.

Excuse me, what was that you just said? Obama’s bosses? Does the U.S. president have bosses? Isn’t he the boss?

Well, yes, formally he’s the boss. But – like every ambitious politician with his eye on the Oval Office – he went through a long process of vetting by potential wealthy sponsors. Without the backing of such individuals, he could not have got the money and media coverage he needed to run for president. (For a fuller explanation, see the article “Selecting a U.S. President: The Invisible Primaries” at

Even now he is beholden to his sponsors. In the (admittedly unlikely) event that they decide they have made a mistake, they have the means to undermine or even destroy him.

For example, one of Obama’s biggest backers was the commodity trader – that is, financial speculator – Paul Tudor Jones, whose fortune is estimated at $3.3 billion. He was instrumental in mobilizing the hedge fund business behind Obama.

Naturally, that has absolutely no connection with those unconditional bank bailouts.

Like all his predecessors, Obama is president of the U.S. capitalist class.

Are they all the same?

Does that mean that all American politicians are the same? That there is no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans, “liberals” and “conservatives”?
Not at all.

Different politicians rely on different sponsors. Each represents a specific mix of big business interests. In general, for instance, Republicans have closer connections with the oil corporations, Democrats with Wall Street.

Different politicians also use different kinds of rhetoric and have different approaches to government. Conservative Republicans ignore popular grievances and try to distract people by exploiting their fears (of “communism,” “socialism,” “radicalism,” terrorism, Islam, foreigners, etc.) and by waving the U.S. flag. Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, convey the impression that they understand and care deeply about the daily troubles of ordinary people – perhaps even deeply enough to do something about them (that’s where things start to get fuzzy). Some of them maintain links with trade unions. For them too, however, business connections are more important.

Escaping from the trap

Where does this leave us? It is tempting to support liberal Democrats because they seem to be – and to some small extent really may be – the lesser of two evils. But that offers us no hope of ever escaping from the trap. Politicians who promise change inevitably fail to deliver most of what they promise. Then their disappointed supporters relapse into apathy and the Republicans come back. And so on and on.

It makes more sense to work toward a fundamental change in the social system. To build up media and organizations independent of capitalist control, and eventually use our votes as part of a strategy to introduce the fuller democracy of socialism. It’s a long and uphill struggle. But what real alternative is there?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Workers State?

How could anyone have seriously argued that the workers ruled in Russia?

Incredible as it might seem millions believed that Russia under Stalin and his successors was some sort of “Workers State”. Most – those in and around the official “Communist” parties – thought it was a workers’ paradise, socialism even. A minority – the Trotskyists – wanted to have their cake and eat it: to claim credit for what they saw as Russia’s achievements but to repudiate the things they didn’t like. They called it a “degenerate Workers State”. One of these was the Belgian journalist and academic, Ernest Mandel (1923-1995), a biography of whom by Jan Willem Stutje Ernest Mandel, A Rebel’s Dream Deferred has just been published in English translation by Verso.

“Workers State” is a bit of a contradiction in terms, but if it is to mean anything it would have to mean that the workers controlled the state; which could only be done through some democratic mechanism. But the workers never controlled the state in Russia. Within a few years of the Bolsheviks seizing power in November 1917 they had suppressed all other parties and established a one-party dictatorship. While he was a member of the government Trotsky justified the description “Workers State” by arguing that the Bolshevik Party, which controlled the state, was the party of the workers who therefore controlled the state through it. When, however, he and his followers were banned too he could no longer use that argument. So, in the Revolution Betrayed (1936) he came up with another: that Russia was still a “Workers State” because most industry was nationalised, there was central planning and a state monopoly of foreign trade. This, despite his admission that state power was actually controlled by a privileged “bureaucracy” and his producing statistics to show that the workers were badly off and oppressed

This argument was so absurd that it soon aroused criticism within the ranks of his own followers. Some refused to described a state in which the workers were oppressed and powerless as a “Workers State”. They disagreed about what to call it – some saw it as a new exploitative class society, others as “state capitalism” – but agreed that it wasn’t any kind of “Workers State”, not even a degenerate one. Trotsky stuck to his “degenerate Workers State” theory till one of its agents assassinated him in 1940.

Mandel had become a Trotskyist while still a teenager and during the war took part in underground Trotskyist activity in Belgium where his family lived. He was caught in 1944 and spent the remainder of the war in labour camps in Germany. After the war he emerged as one of the leaders of the Trotskyist “Fourth International”. One of the photos in this book is of a meeting of six leaders of this organisation in Paris in 1948. Of the six two had or came to regard Russia as state-capitalist. But not Mandel. He stuck to Trotsky’s dogma, and even extended it, describing the puppet regimes Russia set up in eastern Europe as “deformed Workers States”.


In 1969, in a polemic against Michael Kidron, of the International Socialism group of Trotskyists (later the SWP) who argued that Russia was state capitalist, Mandel wrote:

“Ever since social-democratic opponents of the Russian October revolution hatched the theory of ‘capitalism’ continuing to exist in the Soviet Union, supporters of that theory have been faced with a difficult choice. Either they consider that Russian ‘capitalism’ has all the basic features of classic capitalism as analysed by Marx, to start with generalized commodity production, and that it also shows all the basic contradictions of capitalism, including capitalist crisis of overproduction— and then they have a hard time discovering evidence for this. Or they admit the obvious fact that most of these features are absent from the Soviet economy, and they then have to contend that these features are not ‘basic’ to capitalism anyhow, which in the last analysis only means exploitation of wage-labour by ‘accumulators’.” (The Inconsistencies of State Capitalism, p. 11).

As a matter of fact the social and economic system in Russia did exhibit the basic features of capitalism: minority control of the means of production (via nationalisation); generalised commodity production (i.e. generalised production for sale and the use of money); the accumulated of capital valued in money out of profits; and, in particular, yes, the exploitation of wage-labour by those who monopolised the means of production. Of course there were differences from what Mandel called here “classic” capitalism, due to the specific circumstances under which the system had come into being and developed which had resulted in a hugely increased economic role for the state. Hence state capitalism. In any event, even if Mandel’s narrow definition of capitalism as private enterprise is accepted, that would not make Russia into any kind of “Workers State”, only some new form of exploitative class society.


After discussing the “increasing rights for factory managers” then being granted as part of economic reforms introduced by the Russian government, Mandel declared:

“We are therefore convinced that capitalism could be restored in the Soviet Union or in any Eastern European country only after breaking the fierce resistance of the working class. ( …) Given the present constellation of social forces, both nationally and internationally, we think it very unlikely that this resistance could actually be broken under these conditions, and that capitalism could be restored either in the Soviet Union, or in Yugoslavia, or in any other bureaucratically degenerated or deformed workers’ state.” (p. 16)

When this happened (and we, neither, saw this happening within twenty years) the working class put up no resistance to the transition from state capitalism to a more “classic” type of capitalism. Clearly, they did not share the same illusion as Mandel about Russia and its satellites being some sort of workers’ regime and so worth defending. Because Mandel and his Fourth International did believe the workers would resist, they placed great hope in the outcome of events in eastern Europe in the 1980s, trying to establish Trotskyist cells there. According to Stutje, they had some rather limited success in Poland and Czechoslovakia. But the outcome – a full return to “classic” capitalism rather than a regenerated “Workers State” – must have been a great disappointment. In fact, reading between the lines of this biography, Mandel never seems to have recovered from it.

Earlier Mandel had offered his expert advice as an economists to one of the “deformed Workers States” – Cuba when Che Guevara was Minister of Industry between 1961 and 1964. He visited Cuba a number of times and supported Guevara’s view that enterprises should be financed by direct grants from the central government and not be instructed to balance the books from their own activities. In other words, he was in favour of a much more centralised form of state capitalism than existed (or was eventually adopted).

Having said this, when it came to writing about “classic” capitalism Mandel was not too bad. In his Marxist Economic Theory (1962 in French, 1968 in English translation) he set out to show, on the basis of contemporary facts (and not just on the facts from the 1850s and 1860s that Marx had used), how Marx’s analysis of capitalism was still valid. The English hardback edition was divided into two volumes, the first of which, dealing with Marx’s theories, can still be recommended (the second part, dealing with the theories of Lenin and Trotsky and the nature of Russian society relapsed into Trotskyist scholasticism). His introductions to the Penguin edition of the three volumes of Capital are also good, as is his short pamphlet An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, even though it introduces the dubious concept of “neo-capitalism”, which he later called “late capitalism”.


Politically, Mandel was a dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyist, explaining every working class failure by a lack of the right leadership, i.e. of a Trotskyist vanguard. He also practised the dishonest Trotskyist tactic of “entryism”, joining the reformist Belgian “Socialist” Party in 1951, with a view to winning a leftwing following which he hoped to lead out of the party to form an open Trotskyist vanguard party. He achieved some success, even rising to be for a short while the editor of the BSP’s daily paper, Le Peuple. He lost this post when another paper he helped edit, La Gauche, criticised the party’s leadership. La Gauche advocated “structural reforms” of capitalism, basically the nationalisation of the holding companies which dominated the Belgian economy. This was popular amongst many workers in the coal, steel and manufacturing industries of the French-speaking part of Belgium, and Mandel managed to get the support of some of the union leaders and local politicians there.

According to Stutje, it was not until 1961 that Mandel told one of the trade union leaders that he was a Trotskyist:

“Until now Mandel had always kept quiet about his membership of the Fourth International. Now it was time to break the silence. He went to Yerna’s office and confessed to his bewildered friend, ‘I need to tell you the truth. I am a member of the Fourth International.’ Yerna was disappointed that his comrade had not trusted him sooner” (pp. 80-1).

In the end, as later with Militant in Britain, the inevitable happened. In 1964 Mandel and his followers were booted out of the BSP. In a letter to Ken Coates (then a fellow Trotskyist, later a Labour MEP) that year he told him: “A left wing had been built in the Socialist Party from 1961 on, accompanied by an autonomous, clandestine Trotskyist core group” (emphasis added).

According to Stutje,

“The question of when, where and how to leave the SP was clearly on the agenda from the early 1960s. Mandel had only wanted to make sure they left with a substantial group – and by that he meant thousands” (p. 85).

In the event, the main trade union leader he had relied on went off at a tangent and embraced Walloon (i.e. French-speaker) nationalism and Mandel left with a few hundred only. But a new bandwagon soon came along – student unrest – and he was able to jump on that, influencing student leaders such as Alain Krivine in France, Tariq Ali in Britain (both of whom became Trotskyists) and, to a lesser extent, Rudi Dutschke in Germany (who didn’t but, like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, eventually joined the Greens). Tariq Ali, though no longer a Trotskyist but still an admirer of Mandel, has written the foreword to Stutje’s biography.

Mandel was perfectly aware of what socialism really was as he had written in his polemic with Kidron:

“[S]ocialism means a classless society. It therefore presupposes not only the suppression of private property of the means of production, henceforth managed in a planned way by the associate producers themselves, but it also calls for a level of development of the productive forces which makes possible the withering away of commodity production, of money, and of the state.” (p. 17)

According to him, however, the productive forces had not yet reached the necessary level of development, so socialism was not an immediate possibility. Only a new society – based on nationalisation, planning and a state monopoly of foreign trade – was. He called it “transitional society” but it would only have been a form of state capitalism and state capitalism is not, as the experience of Russia in the last century showed, a step towards socialism. It turned out to be, in the joke circulating towards the end of the regime, “the longest route between capitalism and capitalism”.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 2009 Socialist Standard: Free at last . . . Twenty years beyond the Berlin Wall.

November 2009 Socialist Standard


  • Socialism was never tried
  • Regular Columns

  • Pathfinders Gullibility Travels
  • Cooking the Books 1 Out of control
  • Cooking the Books 2 Free is cheaper?
  • Material World Malawi: Children of the Tobacco Fields
  • Greasy Pole TV Debates - much ado about nothing
  • Pieces Together Warren's Wallet; Silent Tornado; Bombs Wa-Hey!
  • 50 Years Ago The Darwin Centenary
  • Main Articles

  • The fall of “communism”: Why so peaceful? Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came down, symbolising the collapse of state capitalism in Eastern Europe.
  • The Myth of Soviet “Socialism” Vladimir Sirotin from Russia explains how that country was never socialist.
  • Workers State? Pull the other one How could anyone have seriously argued that the workers ruled in Russia?
  • Joining the killing machine The campaign to win the young to war has come a long way from the ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster with the pointing finger of Kitchener used in the ‘First Great War’.
  • Afghanistan – lying about dying The pressure to misinterpret the deaths, as the bodies come back, as nobly purifying is a cynically orchestrated propaganda exercise intended to justify the war.
  • Billion dollar bribery The duplicity, fraud and criminality that lies at the heart of world capitalism.
  • Ire of the Irate Itinerant Cartoon Strip
  • Letters, Book Reviews, & Meetings

  • Letters To The Editors: Getting from here.
  • Book Reviews: Che Guevara and the Economic Debate in Cuba. By Luiz Bernardo Pericás; Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. By David Aaronovitch; The Trouble with Capitalism. By Harry Shutt; Enough. By John Naish.
  • Socialist Party Meetings: Glasgow; Manchester, Clapham, Chiswick & Norwich:
  • Voice From The Back

  • Too much Month at the end of the Money; Famine and Feast; Up in smoke; Onward Christian Bankers
  • Monday, November 9, 2009

    Afghanistan – lying about dying

    The pressure to misinterpret the deaths, as the bodies come back, as nobly purifying is a cynically orchestrated propaganda exercise intended to justify the war.

    Among the rituals so consoling to our Servants of the People in Westminster is the solemn roll call of the names of recently fatal casualties of the Afghanistan war proceeding to formulaic assurances of grief, of sympathy for family and friends and an assertion, defiant of a mass of disruptive facts, that from the dead will blossom a victory to bring a happier, freer Afghanistan and a safer Britain. All of this will happen, argue the MPs, through some process so far undefined. Meanwhile it is notable that the casualties’ names are exclusively those of members of the British armed forces; the fighters on the other side and the hapless Afghan people who die terrified in their homes from the blast of the missiles do not get a mention. It is all very satisfactory for the Honourable Members on the green benches, dreaming of their expense claims while scheming of how most effectively to avoid any too probing questions from their constituents about the policy of satisfying the appetite of that voracious war.

    This is reflected in the style of the heavily publicised repatriation of the dead soldiers, brought in flag-draped coffins to a military airfield and, after a ceremonial unloading, paraded through the streets of the nearby town – all carefully orchestrated and recorded by the TV news cameras. It would be a very brave person who defied this official smothering of doubts about the reasons for the troops being in Afghanistan. Part of this disreputable process is the eulogising of the dead who, one after another, are remembered, each in their own way, as a rare combination of courage, good humour, compassion, intellectual power…An example of this receptive attitude was a full page article by Audrey Gillan – who has some direct experience of Afghanistan – in the Guardian of 23 September about the late Corporal Michael Lockett: “…one of the most affable and funniest…one of the most courageous…handsome face and bright blue eyes flickering…Each time I met him I admired (him) more…” In another case – which did not have the advantage of being written up by a doting journalist – a dead soldier was praised because he had “loved” being a sniper – loved, in other words, practising his craft of abruptly and clinically killing people as if there can be no higher human talent.

    Two Friends

    But among the hysteria a more sombre and realistic event intruded – a young man by the name of Barry Delaney in a woman’s dress weeping for his best friend Kevin Elliott who was killed in an ambush in August. Three years ago the two agreed that if Elliott was killed Delaney would attend his funeral dressed like a woman. On his last leave Elliott told Delaney that he was terrified to go back to Afghanistan and could see no proper reason for the British army being there. Delaney is chronically unemployed, living in Dundee where there is a persistent problem – which Elliott avoided by joining the army when he left school at 16. In this context it is particularly pertinent that the Ministry of Defence report a 25 per cent rise in army recruits in this year of the recession – more than at any other time since 2005.

    Delaney and Elliott do not conform to the stereotype so lovingly fostered onto us by media hacks. Elliott told of many ingloriously gruesome episodes, such as while trying to leave the battle under fire having to scoop up from the dust the body parts and internal organs of another soldier. Experiences like that are likely, in every case except the most hardened or resistant, to devastate a person’s morale so as to insert unforeseen, unwelcome and unmanageable aspects into their personality so damaging as to make the effect endure for a long time after the immediate experience has expired. The Guardian quotes Professor Tim Robbins, former head of trauma and stress services at St. George’s Hospital: “If we are asking people to do appalling things, to take part in regular firefights and hand-to-hand combat, you get to the stage where it de-sensitises them to violence”.


    The durability of these effects was illustrated by a recent survey by NAPO, the Probation Officers’ trade union, which estimated that there are over 20,000 ex-service personnel – over twice as many as are in Afghanistan – being processed by the criminal justice system such as police, courts, prisons and the like. Of these 8,500 have committed offences serious enough to get them sent to prison, making a tenth of the total prison population and the largest singe identifiable occupational group there. In many cases their offences were the immediate result of excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs, or both. The most common offence was for domestic violence, usually by men on their wives as an anarchic response to the stress of the discipline required by a close living relationship. Typical examples are, firstly, by a man who went through two spells in active war zones: “Hard to reconcile the devastation, horror and distress of the war with the comfortable life” and, secondly, a man who in his first few days in the Iraq war saw a friend blown up; he now has nine previous convictions beginning in 2005, of which two were for domestic violence and he is known by his ex-partners as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character. Facts like these throw serious doubt on the official propaganda, abetted by the media weasels, that the British forces in Afghanistan are unique in being impeccably mannered and humane. In addition they raise the question of whether Kevin Elliott was driven to join up when he left school because the army offered him better prospects than a life on the bread-line.


    An example of how soldiers, of whatever nationality, are liable to respond to the everyday stress of militarism was the case of Baha Mousa, who was working as a receptionist in a Basra hotel until the day in September 2003 when 120 British soldiers (from a group known as “The Grim Reapers”) raided the hotel and took him, with nine others, into detention at the Battle Group Main camp. It was there that Baha Mousa – called “fat boy” or “fat bastard” by the soldiers – was subjected to a process of “conditioning” – or more accurately torture – until he died with 93 separate injuries to his body including a broken nose and fractured ribs. A video recording shows Baha Mousa, with other detainees, hooded and forced into stress positions, being screamed at, abused and threatened. At the subsequent enquiry there was evidence suggesting that Baha Mousa was arrested and tortured because he had complained after seeing some of the soldiers breaking open a safe in the hotel and stealing money. One of the soldiers admitted to this but probably did not help his case by saying he wanted the money “to make a collage”. There was a court martial but, in what looked suspiciously like a closing of ranks, the blame was focussed on only one of the soldiers, who then had to plead guilty to inhumane treatment while the others were acquitted. Counsel for the Ministry of Defence did his best for his majestic client by apologising for the “brutal violence” and “appalling behaviour” of the soldiers. Which left just the government and the media to do their best to plaster over such an embarrassing episode and insist that things are different now, as the soldiers go about the business of killing and of being killed in Afghanistan.


    The pressure on us to misinterpret the deaths, as the bodies come back, as nobly purifying is a cynically orchestrated propaganda exercise intended to justify the war, to obscure the fact that the great powers’ interest in Afghanistan does not arise from any concern for the people of that country but from its position in an area vital to the interests of those powers, rather like the situation when it was an unwilling participant in the “Great Game” of Victorian imperialism. It is almost as a grisly tradition, that those same powers should readily support any Afghan tribal ruler no matter how corrupt and repressive – and that so many of the attempts to control the place through conquest have failed. It is hardly surprising that some of the soldiers should begin to ask why they are there and what the end will be for it all. The official response is to promote a massive lie with insidious propaganda fashioned to strait-jacket any tendency to dissent from the popular delusions. The killing goes on as the government gambles that their lies will be more acceptable than the distress of facing reality.


    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Socialism was never tried

    Editorial from the November 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

    Twenty years ago this month the Berlin Wall came down, symbolising the end of the division of Europe into Western and Russian spheres of influence. Russia had lost the Cold War and its rulers under Gorbachev had decided they would no longer prop up the puppet regimes Russia had set up in Eastern Europe in accordance with the carve-up that Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had agreed when they had met in Yalta in February 1945.

    From this point of view, it symbolised a shift in imperialist power politics. Worse was to come for Russia when, two years later, the so-called “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” broke up into its constituent republics, reducing the size of Russia to the smallest it had been for centuries.

    There was some benefit for the people of the countries concerned. The limited political democracy which had existed in Western Europe was extended to them, allowing workers to organise in trade unions that were not part of the state machine as they had been and people to get together to express and disseminate differing political views, including socialist ones. The ending of the one-party dictatorships there was clearly a welcome development.

    We had hoped for more. After all, we had long denounced the claim that these countries were “the socialist countries” in which the working class ruled, and we had been proved right. With them out of the way it should have been easier to propagate socialist ideas. Unfortunately, the opposite conclusion prevailed: that they had in fact been socialist countries and that their collapse represented the failure of socialism.

    Socialism, it was said, had been tried and failed and was now out-dated and irrelevant. Pro-capitalist intellectuals such as Francis Fukuyama even triumphantly proclaimed the “end of history” – that human evolution had come to a peaceful and harmonious end with the universal establishment of a market economy and governments deriving their legitimacy from elections.

    A hard time followed for socialists, and for anyone calling themselves socialist. In fact many of these dropped the pretence and argued that now the only choice was between different “models” of capitalism. We denied this and asserted that socialism was still relevant. What had failed in Russia and Eastern Europe was not socialism, but a form of capitalism where it was the state that had presided over the exploitation of the wage-working class and the accumulation of capital out of profits. It was this state-capitalist system that had failed, not socialism.

    The fall of the Wall did not bring peace and harmony. Capitalism has continued to produce wars and economic crises, compounded by the threat of global warming. The general deprivation and alienation it creates has continued. The common ownership and democratic control of productive forces, with production directly for use and distribution on the principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”, remains the only framework within which can be solved the problems facing the working class in particular and humanity in general.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    Leo Tolstoy: author and anarchist

    Leo Tolstoy is famous not only for his novels but for his moral and political beliefs which have inspired, and continue to inspire, both anarchists and pacifists.

    He was born on 9th September, 1828 into a family of rural aristocrats at their estate at Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula in Russia. His mother, a princess, died when he was barely eighteen months old and his father, a count, died when he was nine. A distant relative, Tatyana Yergolskava, brought up Tolstoy, his sister Maria and his three brothers.

    From 1844 to 1847 Tolstoy studied oriental languages and law at the university of Kazan but failed to take a degree. He returned to his estate, his health in decline because of dissipation, where he stayed until 1851 when he went to live with a brother in the Caucasus who persuaded him to join the army.

    In 1852 Tolstoy's first story, Childhood, met with considerable success and was followed by Boyhood in 1854 and Youth in 1857. His account of the fighting at Sebastopol made him a national celebrity and on the orders of the Czar he was sent back from the front to St Petersburg where his literary fame enabled him to meet the most distinguished writers and poets of that period.

    From 1857 to 1861 Tolstoy traveled abroad, visiting Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland and England. During his travels he met the anarchist Proudhon, the author Auerbach (known for his stories of peasant life) and the Russian revolutionary Alexander Herzen.

    His return home in February 1861 saw the emancipation of the serfs and, encouraged by the reforms of the times, he attempted to carry out educational experiments on his estate which ended in failure after two years.

    On this day in 1862 Tolstoy married Sophia Andreyevna Behrs and for nearly twenty years he lived a settled life on his estate, raising thirteen children and writing some of his best known novels such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

    During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, until the end of his life, Tolstoy became preoccupied with moral and ethical questions and much of his later works such as My Confession (1879); The Gospel in Brief (1880); What I Believe (1884) What Shall We Do Then? (1885); On Life (1887); The Kingdom of God is Within You (1889); What is Religion? (1902) increasingly concentrated on putting across his idiosyncratic theological views.

    His last long novel, Resurrection (1899), written on behalf of the religious sect, the Doukhobres, was instrumental in ending their persecution and gaining permission for them to emigrate to Canada, but its hostile and outspoken criticisms of Church and State led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901. But even during this period of his Iife when Tolstoy the propagandist had largely taken over from Tolstoy the novelist, he was still able to produce such masterpieces as The Death of Ivan Ilyitch (1886); The Power of Darkness (1886); Master and Man (1895); Father Sergius (1898); Nedji Murat (1904); The False Coupon (1905.

    Finally, on 28th October 1910, in a dramatic flight from his home, Tolstoy went to the convent of Shamardino near Kaluga, where his sister Maria was a nun. He then traveled towards Novo-Cherkask but developed pneumonia and died at Ostapovo railway station on 7th November, 1910.

    Toistoy's political and ethical views developed partly as a result of his experiences in the Crimean war, his later pacifism resulting from his participation in the siege of Sebastopol. But it was the witnessing of a public execution in Paris in 1857 that led to his opposition to organised state rule. Woodcock states:

    "The cold, inhuman efficiency of the operation aroused in him a horror far greater than any scenes of war had done, and the guillotine became for him a frightful symbol of the state that used it. From that day he began to speak politically - or anti-politically - in the voice of an anarchist." (Woodcock, G. 'Anarchism' 1963, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.)

    Tolstoy was influenced by the French anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and his ideal of the free peasant life; on a trip to Western Europe he made a detour to visit him in Brussels. They talked mainly about education, a subject which had interested Tolstoy from an assiduous reading of his childhood hero, Rousseau. He was also impressed by Proudhon's book 'La Guerre et la Paix' which was nearing completion, the title of which he was to borrow for his longest and best known novel.

    The years of Tolstoy's youth coincided with the economic and political changes arising from the ending of serfdom and the development of capitalism in Russia, which threatened to change the way of life for the landed gentry who found themselves dependent on hired labour in competition with industry.

    Besides the economic threat to the landed gentry Tolstoy saw encroaching industrialisation as a threat to the simple life, close to nature, which he loved and which is described in The Cossacks, written in 1852 but not published until ten years later:

    "Oleninm had entered into the life of the Cossack village so fully that his past seemed quite foreign to him. As to the future, especially a future outside the world in which he was now living, it did not interest him at all. When he received letters from home, from re1atives and friends, he was offended by the evident distress with which they regarded him as a lost man, while he in his village considered those as did not live as he was living."

    But even though the simple life is eulogised in 'The Cossacks', Tolstoy's natural exuberence breaks through the narrative:

    "It's all nonsense what I have been thinking about - love and self-sacrifice and Lukaska. Happiness is the one thing. He who is happy is right", flashed through Olenin's mind, and with a strength unexpected to himself he seized and kissed. tbe beautiful Maryanka on her ternple and her cheek."

    These two opposing tendencies were to plague Tolstoy for the greater part of his adult life. On he one hand was the sensualist; the lover of life; the dissipated youth who failed to obtain a degree at university; the father of thirteen children, with a strong sexual appetite. On other hand was the brooding moralist; the relentless critic of organised religion; the puritanical advocate of celibacy; the anarchist, castigating the rule of law, privilege and power.

    Tolstoy put his own moral doubts into his characters in 'Anna Karenina' which was completed in 1877. The country-loving, goodhearted Levin, after a Titanic struggle to find meaning and purpose to life, eventually finds happiness and contentment with Kitty, whilst the lovers Anna Karenina and Vronsky are crushed by their adulterous relationship, which ends in despair and disaster with Anna's suicide.

    In 'Anna Karenina' Tolstoy put political opinions into the mouths of his characters in addition to his moral views, in the character of Levin:

    "You know that capitalism oppresses the workers. Our workmen the peasants bear the whole burden of labour, but are so placed that, work as they may, they cannot escape from their degrading condition. All the profits on their labour, by which they might better their condition, give themselves some leisure, and consequently gain some education, all this surplus value is taken away by the capitalists. And our society has so shaped itself that the more the people work the richer the merchants and landowners will become, while the people will remain beasts of burden for ever. And this system must be changed."

    His views on education are also voiced by Levin:

    "Schools are no remedy, but the remedy would be an economic organisation under which the people would be better off and have more leisure. Then schools would come."

    But although 'Anna Karenina', 'The Cossacks' and also 'War and Peace' portray Toistoy's love of the countryside. a life' close to nature, his distrust of industrialisation and an occasional attack on capitalism they are not anarchist novels or propagandist novels in the same way that most of his later books were.

    In 'What Shall We Do Then?' published in 1885, he attacked money:

    "Money is the new form of slavery, distinguished from the old solely by its impersonality, by the lack of any human relation between the master and the slave.

    ..the essence of all slavery consists in drawing the benefit of another's labour force by compulsion, and it is founded upon property in the slave or upon property in money which is indispensable to the other man."

    In his last long novel Tolstoy enlarged upon moral attacks under capitalism:

    "People usually imagine a theief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, knowing their occupation to be evil, must be ashamed of it. But the very opposite is true. Men who have been placed by fate and their own sins in a certain position, however irregular that position may be, adopt a view of life as a whole which makes their position appear to them good and respectable. In order to back up their view of life they instinctively mix only with those who accept their ideas of life and their place in it. This surprises us when it is a case of thieves bragging of their skill, prostitutes flaunting their depravity or murderers boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because their numbers are limited and - this is the point - we live in a different atmosphere. But can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth, i.e. of robbery; when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories, i.e. on murder; and when those in high places vaunt their power - their brute force? We do not see that their ideas of life and of good and evil are corrupt and inspired by a necessity to justify their position, only because the circle of people with such corrupt ideas is a larger one and we belong to it ourselves."

    In 'The Kingdom of God is Within You' Tolstoy's anarchist ideas and his opposition to organised religion is clearly stated:

    "Christianity in its true significance abolishes the state, annililates all governments.

    Revolutionary enemies fight the government from outside; Christianity does not fight at all, but wrecks its foundation from within."

    He attacked power in the same book:

    "All men find themselves in power assert that their power is necessary in order that the wicked may not do violence to the good, and regard it as self-evident that they are the good and are giving the rest of the good protection against the bad. But in reality those who grasp and hold the power cannot possibly do the better.

    In order to obtain and retain power, one must love it. But the effort after power is not apt to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities, pride, craft and cruelty. Without exalting self and abasing others, without hypocrisy, lying, prisons, fortresses, penalties, killing, no power can arise or hold its own."

    In response to the inequalities of wealth and the injustices of the capitalist system Tolstoy proposed that the remedy should be:

    "If you are a landlord, to give your land at once to the poor, and, if you are a capitalist, to give your money and your factory to the working-man; if you are a prince, a cabinet minister, an official, a judge or a general, you ought at once to resign your position, and, if you are a soldier, you ought to refuse obedience without regard to any danger." ('The Kingdom of God is Within You')

    Three years earlier, in 1890, Tolstoy had tried to put his principles into practice by renouncing his property, although he continued to live in comfort on his estate, the management of which passed to his wife. In the following year he gave up the posthumous rights on his books written after 1881.

    To the end of his life Tolstoy continued to propagate his views regardless of his personal safety, for it must be remembered that the Czarist government frequently imprisoned political opponents without trial for periods of twenty years more. The reason why Tolstoy remained unscathed is unclear but it is possible that the police did not wish to make a martyr of a writer of such international fame. Whatever the reason, Tolstoy took advantage of the situation to attack the government at every opportunity.

    In 'Christianity and Patriotism'(1894)he stated:

    "Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable mneaning is nothing but an instrument for the attainment of the government's ambitious and mercenary, aims, and a renunciation of. human dignity. common sense. and conscience by!the governed, and a slavish submission to those who hold-power, That is what is really preached wherever patriotism is championed. Patriotism is slavery."

    And in his 'Address to the Swedish Peace Congress' in 1909 when he was turned eighty, he was still able (despite the emotional turmoil of his domestic life) to write eloquently in support of his views:

    "...the military profession and calling, not withstanding all the efforts to hide its real meaning, is as shameful a business as an executioner's and even more so. For the executioner only holds himself in readiness to kill those who have been adjudged harmful and criminal, while a soldier promises to kill all whom he is told to kill, even though they be dearest to him or the best of men."

    Tolstoy's influence is difficult to sum up: he advocated giving up one's personal wealth to help the poor in spite of having realised that it is the exploitation of workers' labour power which is the cause of poverty; he was a pacifist, but in practising non-violence his supporters were slaughtered and imprisoned by the Bolsheviks in the years following the Russian revolution; he wrote of "Christian love" but had a chauvinistic attitude to women and advocated celibacy which would lead to the extinction of the human race instead of its advancement; his simple, rural existence may be to the taste of some people but it avoids the problems of capitalism instead of solving them.

    The most enduring Tolstoyan community has been the Catholic Worker group which was established in the USA in the 1930s. And in Britain the Christian anarchists who held meetings at St. Paul's Church, Bow, in East London in 1967 all belonged to established churches. And though this may seem surprising in view of Tolstoy's hostility towards organised religion, his own rationalist religious beliefs were so individualistic that they have been accepted less readily than his other teachings.

    Socialists wish to end capitalism, only it will not be done by individuals withdrawing from society, but by the mass of workers understanding, wanting, and working for socialism.

    Socialists reject religious beliefs because they postpone the struggle to achieve a better life in the hope of finding rewards in a mythical after-life. Such practices stop workers from questioning their exploitation, hence their enthusiastic endorsement by the state.

    The literary gifts of Tolstoy have assured him of a place in history. His work is rightfully admired by all who appreciate good literature, and will continue to do so for generations to come. But Tolstoy, the pamphleteer. is rapidly being forgotten and already many of his religious and political tracts are unobtainable.

    Towards the end of his life Tolstoy said to Gorky:

    "I write a lot and that's not right because I do it from senile vanity, from the desire to make everyone think as I do."

    Perhaps that is why his pamphlets are being forgotten, because the imperious aristocrat in Tolstoy's personality dominated how he would have wished to be, and people do not like being bullied.

    Nearly·eighty years after his death we can admire the moral courage of Tolstoy and his literary genius, and continue to do so long after Tolstoy the prophet has been forgotten.

    (CARL PINEL, Socialist Standard, May 1987)

    Democracy as a way of life

    From the Socialist Standard, September 2004.

    Unfortunately, democracy is one of those carelessly uttered words (like freedom, peace, love, justice etc.) that is constantly misused and prone to expedient adaptation. HL Mencken, for instance, mischievously declared: “Adultery is democracy applied to marriage.” Politically, however, its misuse is contemptuously cynical and rarely funny, so it is especially important for socialists to be as precise as possible when explaining it. For us it is the heartbeat of every activity and has been so ever since the party was founded in 1904.

    Perhaps the best conventional definition is to be found in Chambers: “A form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people collectively, and is administered by them or officers appointed by them.” Replace the word government with society, or better still community – a word without what the Austrian philosopher, Martin Buber described as “the attendant structural poverty of society” – and, give or take a semantic quibble or two, it moves some way towards a basic definition that even socialists would find acceptable.

    William Morris wrote very well about democracy and every place visited in his book about a future society (News From Nowhere) is veritably imbued with the democratic spirit. Points of view are exchanged in a charming, tough, frequently highly opinionated manner. Yet every discussion, as it should, displaying a deep and mutual regard for the right to differ. Here is a passage in which he explains the mechanism of democracy most beautifully:

    “Said I ‘So you settle these differences, great and small, by the will of the majority, I suppose?’
    ‘Certainly,’ said he; ‘How else could we settle them? You see in matters which are merely personal which do not affect the welfare of the community – how a man shall dress, what he shall eat and drink, what he shall write and read, and so forth – there can be no difference of opinion, and everybody does as he pleases. But when the matter is of interest to the whole community, and the doing or not doing something affects everybody, the majority must have their way . . . in a society of men who are free and equal – the apparent majority is the real majority, and the others, as I have hinted before, know too well to obstruct from mere pigheadedness; especially as they have had plenty of opportunity of putting forward their side of the question.’”

    Morris was well aware that democracy could not be left to mature on its own like a good wine but needs to breathe out of the bottle, kept fresh by continual practice. This is something we endeavour to do in the Socialist Party but we cannot honestly claim that it is easy to get everything right. Since we assert that a stateless society is a viable proposition and recognise democracy as essential to its function, we are obliged to pursue it now to better understand its complexities and the difficulties that can arise. Unquestionably, even in the most enlightened community, because it would depend upon the co-operation of free (and potentially awkward) individuals, minorities would sometimes experience dissatisfaction and frustration. Giving rise to what most anarchists darkly refer to as “the tyranny of the majority”. To deny the possibility, indeed, probably the likelihood of this problem, would be absurdly complacent and Socialists do not do so.

    In a letter to Commonweal (the journal of the Socialist League) on 5 May 1889, Morris wryly observed: “. . . experience shows us that wherever a dozen thoughtful men shall meet together there will be twelve different opinions on any subject, which is not a dry matter of fact . . . and often on that too . . .”; an observation the accuracy of which may be swiftly confirmed whenever Socialists repair to the pub.

    Anarchists, of course, might contend that in democracy the majority actually constitutes authority and Morris concedes that, for all it is worth, it might be so defined. But when free, uncoerced human beings voluntarily enter into a process where inclusive, open and (if necessary) prolonged debate concludes with a majority decision – to describe it as authoritative is the logic of the absurd. To call it tyranny, a word redolent with connotations of oppression and cruelty, makes a mockery of language. Later, in the same letter, a dagger thrust is delivered: “For if freedom means the assertion of the advisability or possibility of an individual man doing what he pleases in all circumstances, this is an absolute negation of society . . .”

    Morris readily acknowledges that a number of anarchists might well add a qualification: that in pursuing their own freedom they would feel obliged to consider the effect of their actions upon the freedom of others. Such an acknowledgement clearly recognises that it is not sufficient to regard democracy as a purely administrative, decision making, regulatory mechanism. Crucially, its very essence of principled and graceful conciliation needs to pervade the everyday interaction between members of any community aspiring to live co-operatively. One day, perhaps, it may no longer be considered necessary to use any. One day, perhaps, it may no longer be considered important to use any particular word to describe such eminently reasonable behaviour.

    In another splendidly succinct passage in News From Nowhere, Morris explains that leaders have no role in a democratic society: “. . . a man no more needs an elaborate system of government, with its army, navy and police, to force him to give way to the will of his equals, that he wants a similar machinery to make him understand that his head and a stone wall cannot occupy the same space at the same moment.” Sadly, the idea that homo sapiens might co-exist harmoniously, without any kind of government or leaders – not to be confused with the essential administration of things – is dismissed by most people as impossible.

    When Socialists speak of a community based upon co-operation, of free access, of democratic administration but the absence of government; a society where the fundamental needs of every human being could be met; often the listener will nod sagely and sigh: “Yes, that would be very nice but it’s impossible – it’s against human nature.” Yet such an exchange though seemingly fruitless is frequently redeemed when, oddly enough, the sage immediately excludes himself from this gloomy conclusion, protesting: “It’s not me, it’s the other people who would fail.”

    A famous piece of graffiti states “Democracy is too good to share with just anybody.” It makes us smile but makes a sinister assumption which is all to prevalent – an elitist assumption – that most human beings are congenitally incapable of becoming free enough to co-exist without coercion. That only a select few will ever be able to develop their potential to the required level. This pernicious notion has been carefully nurtured by all those who control the system, whatever name they choose to call themselves. For capitalist ‘democracy’ depends on containing that potential.

    In order to do so they rigorously maintain a callous, exploitative and hierarchical system based on domination and privilege. By means of increasing propaganda and economic control, the self-belief of most of the population is seriously undermined. Reluctant to assert themselves, the subservient majority seek security through conformity, mistakenly assuming that they lack the power to change things. An unhealthy situation largely accepted not only as ‘normal’ but also immutable and inducing a condition of political acquiescence; for which the ruling powers are extremely grateful.

    Since the only possible basis for creating an enduring, truly democratic, community is through the conscious choice of strong, independent, politically aware individuals, it might seem to be, at best, a distant prospect; but it need not be. Thankfully, though, the shared capacity of human beings to develop their conscious potential may become dormant but it can never be eradicated. Our present predicament was perfectly expressed by Thoreau, who wrote: “millions are awake . . . but only one in a million is awake enough . . . We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake . . . by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep.”

    Like all Socialists Morris was confident that this reawakening was within our grasp, once the last great illusion of our powerlessness had been overcome. In his lecture The Society of the Future, he said: “Therefore my ideal of the society of the future is first of all freedom . . ., the shaking off the slavish dependence, not on other men, but on artificial systems . . .” And later: “First you must be free, and next you must learn to take pleasure in all details of life; which, indeed, will be necessary for you, because, since others will be free you will have to do your own work.”

    One of the most pernicious untruths ever perpetrated is that there is some kind of unbridgeable chasm between independence and co-operation. Socialists are right to emphasise the significant determining factors of our social and political environment but also to reject the discredited notion of absolute determinism. Democracy, far from being an impossible concept, is something – unconsciously – we frequently exercise. In the relationship we have with our families, friends and colleagues; in the common courtesies we regularly show to one another; in the underlying decency of the behaviour of most human beings. A concept far more practical and sensible than the lunatic world of market manipulation and state control that presently masquerades as reality.

    Socialism and democracy are complementary; more than complementary – indivisible. In the sense that a democratic society can only result from free, conscious choice, it is a by-product of freedom. But in both a social and a political context freedom can only exist as a by-product of democracy. Whichever way round it is will not matter, when it is thriving in that community yet to be established, where though it still rains, we still quarrel and new problems confront us every day – we have learned to accept that, just occasionally, we may be wrong but rejoice in the fact that tomorrow we retain the incontrovertible right to be wrong again.


    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Oil or democracy, what do you think?

    Our rulers tell us they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for democracy. Not true.

    I n June 2009 in Afghanistan a group of heavily armed (with US weaponry) and masked Afghan thugs forced their way into the office of a Provincial Prosecutor and demanded that a detained prisoner be handed over to them. The Prosecutor refused and as the thugs became more threatening he called for the police. When the Provincial Police Chief along with the head of CID and other police arrived there was an escalation in the confrontation that culminated in the deaths of the chief of police, the head of CID and a number of others. The assailants fled the building and “vanished”.

    Investigations led the police to a US Special Forces camp outside the town where US officers initially denied any knowledge of the incident or the perpetrators. Following several days of intense and very public pressure from the US installed puppet president, and former vice-president of Unocal (Union Oil Company), Hamid Kharzai, some 40 so-called “contractors” were eventually handed over to Afghani custody. (Kharzai, accused by the US of failing to run a tight enough ship, is not currently “flavour of the month”). The US Army and Special Forces washed their hands and denied any responsibility for these “civilians”.

    Were these rogue elements outside of US control? History as well as current practice in Iraq make this unlikely. The US (and UK to a lesser extent) has a real penchant for creating, training and fully equipping foreign “special units”. From Nicaragua, where they called them “Contras”, to Colombia and most other Central and South American countries whose military officers were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia and who then went on to direct regular or irregular units that waged war against the supposed enemies of freedom and democracy; in Iraq they are called the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. In every case local people call them Death Squads.

    As the occupation of Afghanistan drags on and the body count climbs inexorably the pressure on President Obama to stick with his oft stated plans of increased reliance on Special Forces, and to get results, will mount; the recent appointment of General Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan is a clear signpost in this direction. McChrystal was head of Joint Special Operations Command 2003-2008, he was also commander of US Special Operations Forces in Iraq for 5 years.

    So, with Obama offering “Change we can believe in”, how does the future bode for Afghanis as the US and NATO bring peace, stability and good governance to their poor, benighted country? The occupation of Iraq offers a likely blueprint:

    As Baghdad fell in early 2003 US Green Berets began a project at a facility in Jordan. There they trained young Iraqis with no prior military experience and moulded them into a Special Forces soldier's wet dream; a covert, deadly, elite brigade, fully kitted out with state of the art equipment, a brigade that could operate indefinitely under US command and unaccountable to any Iraqi ministry.

    The head of the ISOF project is US General Trombitas, a 30-year veteran of Special Forces training teams in Colombia, El Salvador and Guatemala. Trombitas claims to be “very proud of what was done in El Salvador” where special forces/death squads trained by him and others killed more than 50,000 civilians. In Guatemala some US trained special forces took part in the killing of around 140,000 people. In Colombia special forces/death squads now form the backbone of the country's para-military police.

    The ISOF, or the “Dirty Brigade” as they refer to themselves is, in reality, a covert all-Iraqi brigade of 9 battalions that is an integral part of the US military with US personnel embedded at every level of the command structure. It weeds out “unsympathetic” or “suspect” elements from wherever its own fully integrated intelligence units fingers them and that includes the Iraqi military, police, civil service and governing and opposition political parties. No one in Iraq is off-limits to them:

    “All these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day. These guys are shit-hot. They are just as good as we are. We trained 'em. They are just like us. They use the same weapons. They walk like Americans.” - Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, at the time a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, quoted by Shane Bauer, “Iraq’s New Death Squad”, The Nation, 3 June).

    ISOF operations usually take place without any coordination with local security forces whose members are considered suspect. When police or army units show up in response to gunfire they are often targeted. Local commanders admit to turning away because if they intervene, report abuses or serious crimes by ISOF personnel they and their families are targeted. This US-created monster operates above and beyond any law. At present it answers to its master in the same way that the Taliban once answered to the ISS in Pakistan, Hamas was once supported by Israel and the Afghan war-lords once danced to the tune of the US dollar. How long beyond the supposed draw down of US forces will it be before the Iraqis at the head of this modern day SS assert their ruthless power and assassinate all in their path to seizing total control?

    Iraq has something the US wants – oil and long-term strategic bases; what about Afghanistan? A suppressed and cooperative Afghanistan is strategically vital to the US goal of bypassing Russia by piping gas and oil from the Caspian region through Pakistan to the sea. Originally they were very happy to do business with the Taliban government, it was considered stable and pragmatic; then came 9-11 and even the grasping, venal oil barons baulked at the probable public back-lash from doing business with those who were “with the terrorists”.

    So, today – Iraq; tomorrow – Afghanistan; and the day after tomorrow? If I were a Pakistani I'd be afraid, I'd be very afraid.

    Policy has changed little, the means of achieving policy goals has changed little but it has become much more sophisticated.

    Corporate state politician

    Obama has delivered speeches around the world extolling the virtues of his new US policy of respect and tolerance for others – former enemies stand and cheer his every word. The contrast between words and deeds is plain to see for those who will take the trouble to look beyond the rhetoric. “Fine words butter no parsnips!” As the front-man of Corporate America, and in recognition of how thinly stretched its forces are, Obama is presently speaking of friendship, trust, respect, tolerance and cooperation whilst at the same time clearly wielding the big stick of consequences should anyone fail to recognise or respect the US's manifest Divine Destiny. US foreign policy is not about furthering US interests to benefit its citizens it is about furthering US corporate interests to benefit its elite – very different from its publicly stated objective. To say that Obama came to “power” in the US is a misnomer, power is bedded within the “Corporate State” yet his electoral propaganda of “Change we can believe in”, his apparent charm and chalk and cheese difference from Bush has millions around the world believing that the universe is a better place for his being elected – it is no different.

    Despite the world economic crisis capitalism is not weakened, it can still fund its institutions and fulfil the fantasies of the elite, it can still fund its imperialist wars and it can still fund its formidable forces. We moan that we are not being paid enough to forge the chains and then cooperate in putting the shackles on our own ankles by voting for the myth that is the latest slick marketing ploy coming from the mouth of the newest political product of Corporate State Inc (or Plc). There has been no change!

    Obama wrote a best-selling book called Audacity of Hope. I, for one, dare to hope but my hope lies not in some charismatic, middle-of-the-road corporate state politician. My hope lies in the set of principles that defines socialism and guides my vision of a future world. My hope lies in my belief in basic human decency and our shared humanity. We are the ancestors of those unborn – believing in false dreams will not bring about change for them. Shuffling paper or our feet will not further our objectives. Doing nothing or having a “they got us into this mess, they can get us out” attitude is, quite simply, not an option. Change will come when enough people decide that enough is enough. When enough people have done enough of the right things.

    We need the world to be free of hunger, discrimination and fear. We need it to be free of thugs and mercenaries acting in the name of unrepresentative regimes. Should we wait for socialism or should we each do what we can as individuals? I know what my gut tells me. But until enough of “us” do enough of the one thing of which each of us is capable – sharing our vision and what we believe in; until we make a lot more socialists - any difference will be transitory. To bring real and lasting change for the benefit of all, the world needs socialism. Is that too audacious to hope for?


    Sources: Shane Bauer “Iraq’s New Death Squad”, The Nation, 3 June (. Dahr Jamail, “The Dirty War”, Mideast Dispatches, 9 July (

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    The power behind the shame

    From this month’s Socialist Standard

    It was the political power that the Catholic Church once exercised in Ireland that allowed it to cover up for so long the child abuse exposed in the recent Ryan Report.

    I travelled to Dublin in the early 1950s as a member of a delegation from a Northern Ireland Labour group. Our purpose was to discuss with the leaders of the Irish Labour Party the desirability and feasibility of extending this party into Northern Ireland.

    The Irish Labour Party was then part of the coalition government which abandoned the constitutional ties with Great Britain and declared the state of Eire “The Republic of Ireland”. Its leader was William Norton who was the Coalition’s Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste) and Minister of Labour. He was the Leader of the delegation we were meeting on the Sunday morning. The rest of its delegates were Senator Luke Duffy, the Party’s General Secretary, James Larkin (son of the courageous Labour Leader of 1912 fame) and Roddy Connolly,(the son of James Connolly, the erstwhile socialist who was executed by the British for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising).

    We met in the Tanaiste’s office, a very grand location in, if I remember correctly, Merrion Square. Connolly had met our delegation the previous evening and he and three of our delegates were nursing the consequences of the hospitality. Norton sat in grandeur behind a massive desk that would have silenced the impoverished; he looked and sounded unctuous, distracting from his excellent delivery with a continuous ’washing’ action of his hands.

    I threw a bomb into the pleasantries when I asked him if it was true that he had told journalists during the elections just passed that Labour’s policy was not only compatible with Catholic social doctrine but was actually based on Rerum Novarum, a Papal Encyclical “on the Condition of the working classes”, from the prolific pen of Pope Leo XIII released some 59 years earlier in May 1891.

    Norton prefaced his politician’s reply with a sloppy compliment to my youth and what he perceived to be the intensity of my idealism. but I had to learn that politics was the art of the possible. Another member of our delegation, Michael Callaghan – the only one who, like me, was not a Catholic – equated the remark I had attributed to Norton with the comment of a North of Ireland Prime Minister that his was a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people.

    Larkin stood by the window, silent, sullen; Connolly, too, despite pledges of the previous evening, when he’d quipped about bishop’s with invisible Ministerial portfolios, was silent. On being pressed to answer Norton agreed that he might have made the remark. Rerum Novarum was an old document…he couldn’t exactly remember the detail of its main thrust – but Russian ‘communism’ had made things awkward for Labour in a Catholic country.

    The rest of our delegation were untroubled by the implications of the suggestion that the Leader of the Irish Labour Party who held the Labour portfolio in the Irish government overtly agreed with the bitterly anti-socialist, anti-democratic Papal bigot whose conception of freedom was naked corporative capitalism under the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church. They were there to make history and, anyway, we had to show courtesy.

    Callaghan and I knew we had been rebuked by serious aspirants to professionalism – and political ambition in a country where the Church was an invisible upper chamber had frightening portents. The reality of these were corruptive of the democratic process in an allegedly democratic country.

    The Unfree State

    When the British withdrew from the greater part of Ireland, henceforth to be called the Irish Free State, the IRA split on the terms of the settlement with Britain, and a bloody civil war ensued. Under these warring conditions administrative structures had to be developed. The war with Britain was for faith and fatherland; those who were killing one another in an internecine war over the nature of the fatherland were at least united in faith and there was no discernable concern about the Catholic Church becoming almost wholly responsible for the general ‘education’ of the young, including places of care and security like orphanages and juvenile penal institutions.

    The approximately 27 percent of the population of Ireland who were not Catholics and might have acted as a counterweight to the arrogant authoritarianism of the Catholic bishops were now largely concentrated in Northern Ireland. Only some 9 percent of the population of the Free State was non-Catholic, mainly Protestant. These latter had been identified with the enemy during the three years of fierce guerrilla war that preceded the new constitutional arrangements and they were not anxious to be involved in controversy, especially controversy pertaining to the power of the church.

    There were from time to time minor scandals involving clerics but journalists ‘blessed’ themselves in the presence of a priest and ‘housewives’ brought out the china cup and saucer for his visit and, of course, everybody knew that the pleasant-looking young ladies that frequently wined or dined with them in the local hotels were their sisters. The State maintained a censor and an Index of banned books on which appeared the titles of any Irish writer who ever wrote an honest word. Nothing of significance happened without the attendance of a priest.

    In 1926 the republican rebels who had been defeated in the civil war reformed politically under the aegis of Fianna Fail and achieved control of government in 1932.The new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) was Eamon De Valera, the main architect of the civil war; an austere, well-informed Catholic. In 1937 his government changed the name of the state to Eire and introduced a new constitution in which was mentioned the favoured place of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

    The New Republic

    In 1948 the political inertia of the years of official neutrality during the second World War to end all wars came to an end with the spawning of yet another incarnation of republicanism in the shape of the Clann na Poblachta. The new Party was led by Sean McBride who had been chief-of-staff of the IRA before the war and had resigned his position when the IRA’s Army Council agreed to the planting of bombs in England. McBride was a French-educated lawyer and senior counsel who, incidentally, was later involved in the founding of Amnesty International.

    The new Party was optimistic about it chances of winning a majority in the Dail (Irish Parliament).In the event they won a credible ten seats and went into a coalition with the Irish Labour Party, Fine Gael, National Labour and a Farmers’ Party – the latter two now demised – under the leadership of John A Costello. The coalition contained some figures regarded as radical within an Irish context; it made Eire “the Republic of Ireland” , it flirted with notions of changes in education and health but it surrendered before the power of the bishops and their priestocracy.

    The Coalition’s Minister of Health, Dr Noel Browne, was a young medical doctor who was in remission from tuberculosis – a poverty-promoted pulmonary illness rife in Ireland. I had met Browne at an early meeting of the Clann na Poblachta; he claimed he was a socialist but his sole political preoccupation seemed to be a well-intentioned obsession with the need for a system of state-structured health care and it was no surprise when he introduced a Bill to provide free health care for pregnant women and children up to the age of sixteen.


    Unfortunately, health, like education, was deemed by the bishops to be a vital part of the Church’s constituency. Governance over education was clearly prescribed under the Church’s Code of Canon Law cc. 1381, 1382. Control of the minds of the young was vital to the adult acceptance of the outrageous basis of religious belief while control of the ramshackle health provision was an important instrument of social control and evidence of a ‘caring’ church.

    The threat of even a very limited secularised health service enraged the bishops. They were, of course entitled, like any other interested party, to offer their opinion but they were not ‘any other interested party’. The then Archbishop of Dublin. John Charles McQuaid issued an instruction for Dr Browne to meet him and a coterie of his arrogant colleagues at the Archbishopric at 24 hours’ notice. The proposed health service was abandoned and the Minister of Health replaced; the puny mercies of the proposed service would have to wait for another day when material conditions would clear away some of the cobwebs of ignorant and superstition that history had imposed on the people.

    Just as electricity had played a major role in banishing the fairies new material conditions in the Republic were putting the myths under strain. Those who knew from their awful experiences – and there were thousands of them – that many of the Church’s educational and ‘care’ institutions were cesspits of sexual, physical and emotional depravity were terrorised into silence but there were whisperings now; the Index, as the banned books listings was called was no longer tenable and the bishops could not ban the airwaves. Even more pertinently, Ireland was strategically placed on the western flank of an expanding Common Market. New technologies were leading to much greater mobility of capital which, in turn demanded vastly expanded educational and training facility.

    All the sexual taboos which Popes railed about, while the Church manoeuvred its clerics around the world to escape child abuse charges, were increasingly unenforceable in the Republic. New living standards needed two incomes and the ‘rhythm method’, the Church’s absurd means of contraception, was not only emotionally sordid and restrictive but often ineffective. Wits in Ireland were known to question where they would get a ceili band in the middle of the night and when an Irish-American beauty revealed that the father of her teenage son was the stringent Bishop Casey of Galway it was legitimate to ask why he was not using the rhythm method.

    The church’s dirty washing was becoming public. Early offerings were decent priests who had abandoned the holy pretence to identify with their sexual partners and provide for their children. They were not the ‘bad apples’ the very devout perceived them to be; the real bad apples, whole orchards of them, priests, nuns and Christian Brothers remained in the fold to torture and rape innocent children whose care they had been charged with all sorts of power-lusting, creative abuse was waiting to be revealed by tens of thousands of victims against a thousand members of religious orders.

    Eventually public disquiet became so clamorous that the Irish government, fearful of legal action by victims for dereliction of the State’s duty of care had to do something about it. Given the abundance of proven cases not only in Ireland but in other countries throughout the world where paedophile Irish priests had been moved by church authorities in order to escape the opprobrium that their public conviction would bring on the Church, it was reasonable to expect swift and intensive action into sources of information that would help the Authorities to get details of the identity of the criminals and their current location. But the Garda did not bring their battering rams to the doors of Bishoprics where such information might be found. Not a single officer of the Church who was complicit in withholding information into these utterly heinous crimes appeared in the dock.

    Instead the state went into negotiations with the church authorities about setting up a Commission of Enquiry into the disgustingly unsavoury affair and the church authorities – presumably the cardinal and the bishops – agreed to co-operate with the Enquiry on the basis of an undertaking from the State that it (the church authorities) would not have to reveal the identity of its miscreants and that the Church’s liability for financial compensation to victims should be capped at some 128 million euro. This latter is currently estimated at 1.3 billion euros which leaves the Irish taxpayer liable for some one billion euros for the crimes of the clergy.

    The Ryan Commission heard evidence from literally thousands of victims into rape, buggery and brutality in Catholic institutions where children and young people had been placed by the State for care and protection over a period of some four decades. The Enquiry took ten years and its conclusion was that these utterly depraved practices were ’endemic’ in such institutions.

    It is hard to imagine the magnitude of suffering inflicted on children of all ages over decades by brutal priests and nuns numerously permeated into a grossly arrogant and sanctimonious church whose maintained code of silence must surely have equalled the evil of its utterly debauched clerics.

    T here is no suggestion that the church promoted or encouraged this depravity but it must be obvious that the offenders, especially paedophiles, recognised the opportunities the Church with its regime of power and unquestioned obedience offered for the pursuit of their foul practices.

    The guilt of the Church was, and is, in the appalling fact that in order to preserve its awesome power over its credulous membership it was prepared to protect those engaged in the most vile practices against children. Those who rape, sodomise, and physically abuse defenceless children have deep and intractable problems; this writer does not pretend to understand the causes of such behaviour but assumes their mental condition is a factor in their guilt. There is no such subtlety in the behaviour of an organisation that conceals such depravity in order to preserve its power and privilege.