Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sinking Pound (2016)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

‘Hard Brexit fears push sterling to a fresh low’ read the headline in the Times (7 October) reporting that the pound had fallen to its lowest level against the dollar for 31 years. Others are suggesting that it could eventually fall, ironically, to £1 = 1 Euro.

Until 1973 most of the world’s currencies were tied to a fixed rate with the US dollar and so also to each other. If a country wanted to change this it had to get the agreement of the IMF. Governments tried to avoid such a formal devaluation as this was regarded as a recognition that they could not control the part of the capitalist economy they presided over as they had claimed in order to get elected.

Such devaluations reflected a situation where a country’s exports were doing badly, generally because their prices were uncompetitive due to a higher than average rate of inflation. This resulted in more capitalist firms wanting to sell the country’s currency than to buy it (to pay for its exports). Governments tried to hold the fixed rate by using their reserves of other currencies to buy their own currency. When this couldn’t be kept up, they had no alternative but to seek the permission of the IMF to devalue, i.e., to lower its exchange rate with the US dollar and so with other currencies too.

When the Labour government was forced to devalue the pound in November 1967 the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, famously declared that ‘it does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or your purse or in the bank, has been devalued.’

This was technically true but disingenuous as, while a pound would still buy a pound’s worth of goods in Britain, one effect of devaluation is to raise the price of imported goods. As many of these are consumer goods or enter into their production, the effect is that ‘the pound in your pocket’ will eventually come to buy less than before the devaluation.

Nowadays, with floating exchange rates, governments don’t need to formally change the exchange rate of their currency. They can just let market forces decide what the exchange rate is by the demand for it. Because a falling exchange rate increases the price of imported goods governments do not necessarily always want this, so they still intervene in the currency market to try to keep the rate from falling.

On the other hand, when they want to try to increase exports, they let it fall. In fact, now that under WTO rules tariffs can’t be used as a weapon of economic competition, letting a country’s exchange rate fall has become a replacement. The euro, which in effect established a fixed rate of exchange between the currencies of the member-countries all renamed “euro”, is in part an attempt to prevent this kind of economic competition. One reason Britain stayed out was to be able to continue to use this weapon.

The current fall in the value of the pound was exacerbated  by a rousing patriotic declaration by the Prime Minister at the Tory Party Conference that, with Brexit, Britain was to become an independent, sovereign nation again. To which the currency markets gave a decisive ‘that’s what you think’, illustrating yet again that no country can escape from the operation of the economic laws of world capitalism as well as reflecting the speculators’  assumption that, if Britain leaves the single market as well as the EU, British exports are likely to suffer.

Malady and Cure (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The advances made by medical science in the last hundred years are enormous. Whole classifications of diseases have been eliminated, and people are living longer. But medical progress has to fight against the same barrier that hinders all other attempts at advancement: capitalist society causes health conditions that medical science finds impossible to combat. Even schoolchildren are being affected. In a survey of the London area it was found that 25.4% were suffering from psychiatric disorder (see the Sunday Times 20th July 1975).

One of the most rapidly increasing threats to life in the UK is the heart attack, now killing more people than any other “disease”. The figures are now over 300,000 per year. Doctors of course have been grappling with the problem in the traditional ways known to them by prescribing more drugs, less butter, more rest etc.

But increasingly medical opinion is coming to the conclusion that the heart attack is not a "disease” in the commonly accepted term at all. On 10th July 1975 the Guardian published a report on the present attitude of the medical profession to heart attacks. The survey shows that the medical profession is changing to the opinion that it is caused by the very nature of capitalist society itself.

Indeed, if you were to come across certain extracts from the report at random, you would be forgiven for thinking that the survey was written by the Socialist Standard. Take the following extracts as an example:
  In an office situation a row with the boss, the anxiety of losing your job, the humiliation of not getting promoted, the exhaustion of too much success — these are the factors that raise the cholesterol level in the blood.
  For too long the coronary patient has been rested and then sent straight into the same environment that caused the first one.
  The heart attack can be seen as a glaring symbol of all that is wrong with the way men have been socially conditioned.
To be accurate, the report does say that these ideas are still causing controversy in the medical world. But any layman who sees the sort of pressures many workers face could tell that it cannot do them any good and that health must suffer. Who can doubt, as unemployment soars, that the worry over keeping or getting a job can cause many health problems, only one of which is the possibility of the failure of the heart.

Capitalism as a society built on production for sale has crises of what is callously called "over production” by economists and politicians. What they mean is that the recurring results of the boom/
slump cycle which is as inevitable to capitalism as gravity to earth, have struck again. Those in the growing dole queues know it. And if they have families to support, mortgages to pay, h.p. commitments to keep up etc. etc. it is small wonder that more and more hearts are refusing to co-operate.

Even in “normal times,” the problems that capitalism brings of conflicts, pressures, rush-hour etc. must seriously damage that most adaptable of organisms, the human being. Competition between worker and worker (for jobs, scarce houses, schools etc.) must bring in its wake damage to the human body.

So as you dash off on Monday to the office, the factory or the college, and spend your day in frustration, ponder this: Socialism is a different way of life, where human beings will organize their society harmoniously and co-operatively for the good of all. As all wealth will be owned in common, there will be no competition, stress, or strife between human beings. The aim of all will be the satisfaction of the needs of all. And as science has produced the possibility of production in abundance to the very highest standard, the needs of all, in a Socialist society will be satisfied. Man will be freed from the degrading task of “making a living” and free to explore possibilities in human development and social relations hitherto unthought of.

The alternative is to continue with capitalism and all its attendant problems and heart attacks. Let the Guardian remind you of what this means:
The coronary spiral follows the curve of economic crises and anxiety over jobs, money and investment in a way of life that is resting on a tightrope.
Ronnie Warrington

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Pushed Around (2016)

Book Review from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Cut Out: Living Without Welfare', by Jeremy Seabrook. Pluto Press/Left Book Club £12.99.

This volume combines two elements. One consists of interviews Seabrook conducted in the West Midlands, mainly Wolverhampton, with people who were at or near the bottom of the social pyramid. These are interspersed with his comments on the ‘welfare’ system and government attacks on it. 

Some of the experiences revealed in the interview accounts are just appalling, and many go back years, well beyond the current austerity policies. One woman is nearly sixty but has only ever had one holiday in her life; she is lucky if, after everything else has been paid, she has £10 a week for food. Another woman is paying off a loan at £43 a fortnight, has rent arrears of nearly £400 and owes £1400 on water bills. One man has been paying back £7.20 a week to the Department for Work and Pensions for thirteen years, after he misunderstood the rules for working while claiming benefits. He is illiterate and could make no sense of the various letters he received. Older immigrants from South Asia (especially the women) often speak little English, and this affects their ability to cope with the benefits system.

The bedroom tax is often mentioned as a big contributor to people’s problems. One woman with hereditary neurofibromatosis keeps her electric wheelchair in one room, but it is counted as a bedroom for purposes of the tax. Many people live in permanently cold homes because of the cost of heating, and they buy the very cheapest food (such as twenty pieces of chicken for £2 from a supermarket). In addition, the difficulties of living on benefits are not just financial: there is the loneliness and isolation, and the disrespectful (to put it mildly) treatment from Jobcentre staff. Many who had dreadful experiences  as children, whether from sexual or other abuse or the early death of a parent, are still suffering in later life, but the welfare system pays little attention to such past histories.

Seabrook’s main claim is that poverty (in the sense of destitution) has to remain because, from the view point of capitalism, it represents a deterrent aimed at those who are living somewhat above this level. The poor must be punished but should not be eliminated; they can be used to frighten others into conformity. The welfare state might appear to be redundant, given the wealth of advanced industrial countries, but it is in fact still needed, as misfortune, such as ill health, an accident or redundancy, can strike almost anyone.

Seabrook believes there is little chance of overthrowing capitalism, but his book provides plenty of evidence of why this needs to be done as soon as possible.
Paul Bennett

The Last Trump? (2016)

From the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The recent competition to decide who is the best person to front the American capitalist system for the next four years has led to a lot of soul-searching in the newspapers. Articles have poured out to explain why Donald Trump won. The first point to make is that he didn’t actually win. Hilary Clinton got more votes than he did. They still haven’t finished adding it all up yet (the U.S. is a big country) but it’s certain that Clinton got more votes - very narrowly, true, but still more votes. They got over sixty million votes each, but the latest estimate is that Clinton could have over a million more than Trump. The Americans have a strange system: each state sends a varied number of members to an ‘electoral college’, which elects a new president. If one candidate in a state has one more vote from the public than anyone else, he or she automatically gets all that state’s electoral votes (except in Maine and Nebraska where the votes can be split). This means that one candidate can get more votes across the country, and still lose – or can get fewer popular votes, and still win. At the 2012 election, when it seemed at one point that the Republican candidate would lose out under this system, a certain Donald Trump denounced the system as being ‘a disaster for democracy’. Now that the same Donald Trump is gaining by this odd arrangement, it turns out that the system is just fine.
Executive power
The American president, to all outward appearance, is the most powerful man in the world. An article in the Washington Post (11 November) was full of foreboding about the man who is shortly going to be able to wield that power. ‘Trump will command not only a massive nuclear arsenal and the most robust military in history; but also the ability to wage numerous wars in secret and without congressional authorization; a ubiquitous system of electronic surveillance that can reach most forms of human communication and activity; and countless methods for shielding himself from judicial accountability, congressional oversight and the rule of law.’
This power has been built up steadily over recent years. The process was constantly and bitterly attacked by Barack Obama while George Bush was president. In 2007 Obama said: ‘This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.’ But as soon as he became president, ‘Obama not only continued many of the most extreme executive-power policies he once condemned, but in many cases strengthened and extended them. His administration detained terrorism suspects without due process, proposed new frameworks to keep them locked up without trial, targeted thousands of individuals (including a U.S. citizen) for execution by drone, invoked secrecy doctrines to shield torture and eavesdropping programs from judicial review, and covertly expanded the nation’s mass electronic surveillance.’ It’s amazing how something which is evidently quite wrong when someone else is doing it becomes evidently quite right when you are doing it yourself.
Now this enormous power has been handed over to a man who boasts that he can assault women with impunity – which means that an individual who brags about committing criminal acts is now (ultimately) in charge of enforcing the criminal law. So someone who almost glories in the reputation of being a loose cannon is going to be in charge of the nuclear codes which could unleash American nuclear bombs upon some ‘enemy’ population. The man who has the power to start the third world war is on record as saying that if Japan had nuclear bombs, then in a showdown with North Korea ‘they’d probably wipe them out pretty quick’, ignoring the obvious corollary that such a nuclear clash would inevitably involve the rest of the world as well, almost certainly leading to the human race being wiped out ‘pretty quick’. Trump’s declared or evident positions on gun-control, on abortion, on torture (he favours re-introducing waterboarding), on race (he was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan), and on international politics (he has no objection to the blood-soaked dictator Assad of Syria, nor to Russia’s Putin – ‘so highly respected in his own country and beyond’) are enough to send shivers up the spines of those who believe that the capitalist system can be progressively ameliorated to the point where the workers will have nothing left to wish for. Then his fierce declared hostility to immigration (though his opinions veer wildly from day to day – e.g. he himself married an immigrant – in fact two immigrants) his declared hostility is a sad headache to those members of the capitalist class who rely on immigration (from lower-wage countries) to keep down US rates of pay.
Like some other prominent people who appear to be keen on wars as a general proposition, he was unfortunately not able to give the Vietnam War his personal attendance – he got four student deferments and then a medical deferment. And Trump has praised the usefulness of American bankruptcy laws. Half a dozen casino or hotel businesses of his went bankrupt between 1991 and 2009, but while others may have lost money, these regrettable episodes do not appear to have impacted upon Trump’s own prosperity (he has never been personally bankrupt). Altogether he is no stranger to the American courts. Apparently more than seventy lawsuits against him are pending, some connected with the so-called ‘Trump University’, some of whose students felt they had been short-changed.
Not so smart
Some members of the working class are so humbled by the capitalist system that they come to believe that the upper class are simply smarter than the rest of us. One theory is that if all the money in the world were shared out equally among everybody today, in six months the present upper class would have grabbed it all again. But others believe that the rich, so far from being smarter than everyone else, are in fact less smart. And if the two contenders for the job of the immensely powerful American president – Trump and Clinton – were anything to go by, that seems much more likely. When Clinton was in charge of American foreign affairs, she used a personal e-mail account to deal with some affairs of national importance. She apparently was oblivious to the danger – almost the certainty – that political opponents would leap gratefully upon such naivety. And there were other occasions when (to say the least) she did not maintain a clear division between important national affairs on the one hand and various Clinton funds on the other, despite the obvious fact that such dealings would later give valuable ammunition to her political opponents. As for Trump, foolishness must be his middle name. Even if you felt a personal pride in your ability to assault women, would you openly boast about it, in circumstances where (in these electronic days) your words might well be recorded for posterity? And where if you ever fulfilled your ambition of standing for the presidency, your words (no longer deniable) would probably antagonize more than half the voters? It is tempting to believe that members of the upper class have so many people working for them that they never have to undertake the planning, the decisions, the careful consideration which members of the working class have to exercise constantly merely in order to operate their daily lives.
Be that as it may, the thought of the immense powers shortly to be exercised by someone as unpredictable as Trump has caused deep cogitation even among those who most fervently support our present system. Recently the London Times, not the most revolutionary of newspapers, carried an article lamenting recent events in America, where, among other things, ‘the rich have got much, much richer’ (10 November). As for the ordinary people, ‘no one prioritized their loss and anguish until a billionaire channelled their voice. The system is rigged, Trump told them, and the truth is that it is, although not perhaps in the sense that he meant. Since the 1970s American society has grown radically more unequal, as union power has collapsed, competition increased and shareholders and managers awarded themselves the lion’s share of income. Workers’ pay has risen by eleven per cent in real terms in that time, while CEO’s pay has risen by almost 1000 percent. Workers no longer get the rewards from increased productivity. The top one per cent are taking 95 cents in every dollar, compared to 50 cents just twenty years ago.’
So the world waits, with bated breath, for the Trump presidency. But the almost meaningless slogan ‘Make America great again’ can only evoke the obvious retort that America has always been great – for those who own it.
Alwyn Edgar

Friday, December 2, 2016

Cashless but Not Profitless (2016)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Apple’s latest ambition is to rid the world of cash’ reads the headline in the Times (20 October), reporting Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, saying ‘we would like to be a catalyst for taking cash out of the system.’ The prospect of a ‘cashless society’ has been held out before. Apple’s plan is that people should use its smartphones to pay for things instead of cash or a cheque or even a debit or credit card.
A cashless society is not the same as a moneyless society, for a reason hinted at in a turn of phrase used by Christopher Burniske, described as ‘an analyst of digital currency’:
‘Apple’s is building a payment structure where you can use all kinds of digital means to transfer value.’
Actually, transferring value is not a bad way of describing one of the functions of money, that of being a means of exchanging values.
When something is bought (and therefore sold) what is happening is that the ownership of something that has ‘value’ is being transferred from one person to another. Money is the means through which this is done. In this transaction money represents a value that is transferred from the buyer to the seller in exchange for something in principle of equal value. The buyer will normally have acquired the money by themselves having exchanged something for it.
Things that are bought and sold (Marx called them ‘commodities’) have value because they have been produced by work, their value being the amount of necessary labour embodied in them through the work of the series of workers involved in their production from start to finish. At one time money had intrinsic value itself as a product of labour, that involved in mining, transporting and refining the gold or silver and then of minting these into coins. So exchange really was an exchange of real things of equal value. This time is long past. For over a hundred years now, ‘money’ has been paper (and with the new £5 note plastic) and metal tokens for value. These still represent value even though they have no, or not much, value themselves.
Now that the electronic technology exists there is no reason why cash could not be replaced by digital money. In fact it already is to an increasing extent. It is doubtful, though, that it will ever completely replace cash. In theory it could, but a cashless society would be not be a moneyless society.  It would be a society in which cash had merely been replaced by a digital currency. It would still be a buying and selling society where goods and services were produced for sale on a market with a view to profit. It would still be a society based on the ownership of the means of wealth production by a tiny minority with the non-owning majority being forced to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary. It would still be capitalism.
But what a waste of human ingenuity and IT that could be more usefully employed to help organise the production and distribution of wealth to meet human needs in the non-market, money-free society that socialism will be. Apple’s real aim of course is not so much to help a cashless society emerge as to make a profit from selling the devices it makes and the apps to use them.

Obituary: W. Craske (1967)

Obituary from the March 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to record the passing away of another old member of the Party, W. Craske, who was in his middle sixties.

Our late comrade Craske had been ill for some time and died of a heart attack. He was buried in Brighton Crematorium on the 19th January. A number of members and friends attended the funeral, including his wife and brother who are also members of the Party and two members from London representing the Executive Committee.

W. Craske had been a member of the Party practically all his life, and will be remembered as a regular attender at Party Conferences, coming up to London from the country for the purpose. In fact he grew up in the Party. His father and mother, members of the old Battersea Branch, took part in its founding of our Party in 1904.

Craske was a conscientious objector during the first war and helped a number of members in difficulty during the second war. In the slump after the first war he was out of work and left London to go down to Sussex for a temporary job. The job became permanent and be settled in Wivelsfield Green, opening a little grocery shop as a side-line. Whilst there be did what he could to stir up interest in the Party and helped to form a group in Brighton. He and his wife also gave hospitality to visiting members. Visitors will remember his wonderful garden, for he was a keen gardener in his spare time.

It is always sad to have to record the passing of an old and staunch member. The present writer will always remember his warmth and comradely inquiries. Now all we can do is remember, and extend to his wife and relatives our sincere sympathy for their, and our, loss.

Capitalism in the Peak District (1986)

From 'The Place Where I Live' series from the August 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Peak District in Derbyshire is an area of great scenic beauty, extending from the 2.000ft high bleak, gritstone plateau of Kinder Scout in the north to the softer, mellow limestone hills of the south. The combination of wooded countryside, meandering rivers winding through beautiful dales, and picturesque stone-built cottages in the scattered villages makes the National Park a ramblers paradise.

The accessibility of the area (it is within 50 miles of Leeds. Manchester. Stoke-on-Trent and Nottingham, and less than 20 miles from Sheffield), the attraction of the "spa-towns" of Buxton and Matlock, and the quaint custom of well-dressing draw large numbers of tourists in the summer months and it may be possible to forget, momentarily, the impoverishment of our lives that capitalism causes. But capitalism is never far away: huge quarries scar the landscape in the search of fluospar and other minerals which are used for making products as diverse as cement and jewellery.

Bakewell, often considered the capital of the Peak District, contains a high proportion of retired people. This is a reminder that the commercial interests of the surrounding industrial areas have overridden environmental and social needs, causing migration from these areas when the 40-50 years stint of wage slavery which workers have to endure is finished.

The wealthiest man in the area is the Duke of Devonshire, who owns Chatsworth House, probably the most elegant property in Britain, which is regularly invaded by tourists who pay for the privilege of seeing the luxury enjoyed by those who profit from the workers’ labour. The present Duke of Devonshire has been in the news in the last two years for selling a small part of his art collection for £6 million and for giving money to prostitutes - a slight set-back for the "pillars of society" who "safeguard the nation's morals". But the power such people have over the lives of workers, because of their wealth and the protection the state gives to them under capitalism, was demonstrated by the moving of Edensor village in 1839 by the 6th Duke of Devonshire because it spoilt his view across the east ridge of Chatsworth Park.

The Peak District and neighbouring towns feature quite prominently in classical literature: Hathersage is the Morton of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Bakewell is mentioned briefly as Lambton in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Hayfield became Clough End in Mrs. Humphrey Ward's novel David Grieve; George Eliot had local connections, her father came from Roston. near Ashbourne, and the quaint town of Wirksworth, defaced by leadmining, is the Snowfield of Adam Bede while Ashbourne is Oakbourne in the same novel.

Edward Carpenter, social reformer, writer and poet lived in Millthorpe for many years, where he wrote Towards Democracy and My Days and Dreams. His love of the simple life profoundly influenced William Morris who modelled his utopian romance News from Nowhere on Carpenter's cottage and the hospitality he received on his visits there.

The need to make a profit under capitalism has led to the cancellation of a number of bus services in the area. A number of villages have no bus services at all and others are threatened with the same fate. Some of the schools are also under threat of closure because they are too small to be run economically; the priorities of capitalism involve running an education service as cheaply as possible, particularly as trained workers are not needed in such large numbers during a recession.

The village shop is also under threat from the concentration of capital in the hands of the big chains of supermarkets and the attempts to extend trading hours, if successful, would probably be the final straw for small shopkeepers who would not be able to offer an out of hours service free from competition. Without schools, buses and shops the villages would be in danger of dying or become commuter villages, lived in by people whose work, and roots, remained in the industrial towns. The tourist trade manages to make substantial profits from the popularity of the area; Bakewell puddings, Ashbourne ginger bread, bottled spa water, postcards, books dealing with local walks, history, flora, wildlife, well-dressing and mining have all managed to separate the holiday makers from their money.

However much the Peak District manages (relatively) to be an oasis from the ugliness of industry it is never far away; Bolsover, a few miles outside of Chesterfield, has the largest smokeless fuel works in the world; Cromford had the earliest English cotton mill, established by Richard Arkwright in 1771; South Normanton, near Alfreton, was the birthplace in 1726 of Jedediah Strutt, inventor of the ribbed stocking machine.

The area has historical interest too; 1,500 Scottish soldiers were imprisoned in 1648 in St. Thomas’ church at Chapel-En-Le-Frith and many of them died from suffocation. The barbarity of the Black Hole of Calcutta incident perpetrated by Indians on British soldiers is well known but English barbarity has led to a more discreet spread of information. In 1817 the Pentrich Revolution (often incorrectly referred to as the Pentridge Revolution) was brutally put down by the state. Both incidents remind us of the cruelty that the state will resort to when protecting its interests.

Recently the area has had Liberal hearts fluttering because they were only 100 votes behind the Conservative candidate in West Derbyshire's by-election. But when I get a day off from work and walk through the dales in my walking boots bought from a chain store, eat my sandwiches bought from a profitable bakery, or stop at a pub owned by a giant brewery, I realise that whichever capitalist party wins an election it is business as usual.
Carl Pinel

The Popular Front: A FALSE ISSUE (1937)

Editorial from the February 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three small organisations which yap at the heels of the Labour Party, the I.L.P., the Socialist League and the Communist Party have got together in a Left Wing United Front. They propose, in their manifesto, to fight for “unity within the framework of the Labour Party and the trade unions" and “a campaign to revitalize the activity and transform the policy of the Labour Movement." Their professed object is Socialism and opposition to Fascism and War. Their method is based upon the doctrine that, in order “to advance in the fight for Socialism, we must mobilise for immediate objectives, clear in their appeal and vital in the battle against reaction and Fascism." Their immediate objectives are a very modest list of reforms and wage advances, including the 40-hour week, non-contributory pensions of £1 at 60, nationalisation of the mines, paid holidays for all workers.

In the past 40 years there have been many similar efforts for unity, at least a dozen such movements could be listed. They have all been alike in their belief that unity and action for Socialism can be based upon a programme of non-Socialist “immediate objectives." They have all failed, buried alive under the double blanket of trade union officialdom and the non-Socialist outlook of the working class. This one will go the same way, and its passing should occasion no regret, for those who promote it are not doing something which will help to bring about Socialism.

They pretend that the difference between them and the Labour Party leadership is that between Socialists and reformists, but their every action shows that this is not the case. Does the Labour Party fight merely for reforms ?—so do they. Does each of the Labour M.P.s owe his seat in Parliament to his success in obtaining the votes of non-Socialists who support those reforms?—so do all the Left Wingers, Maxton, Gallacher, Cripps and the rest. Are the Labour leaders believers in the possibility of controlling capitalism as against abolishing it?—so are their rivals for office. Both groups reject the only practical policy for dealing with the problem of a non-Socialist working class, which is to preach Socialism instead of preaching immediate objectives and the reform of capitalism. In default of adopting the only sound Socialist policy, the choice before both groups narrows down to the problem of capturing the votes of a non-Socialist electorate. Whether the most hopeful method is a Lib.-Lab. alliance, a Popular Front, or a Lab.-I.L.P.-Communist Party alliance is a question of no concern to us. We judge all such methods of administering capitalism by their inevitable consequence, which is that the workers are led to believe that their miseries are no longer due to capitalism but to Socialism. For capitalism to be administered by people calling themselves Socialists, in the name of Socialism, is a crime against the Socialist movement. When Socalists take over the machinery of Government it must be for the purpose of achieving Socialism, not, as The Times (January 5th, 1937) truthfully says of Blum's Popular Front Government in France, for the purpose of reforming capitalism. Blum “ has held to his declared intention not to translate into action the doctrines of his own Socialist Party, but loyally to carry out the agreed programme of the Popular Front, for which the country had given an impressive majority."

The Labour Party in Great Britain wants to administer capitalism on the lines of its own reform programme. The new Left Wing United Front wants to follow Blum's example of a coalition because it sees there a better chance of an electoral victory. As Socialists are against the administration of capitalism in the name of Socialism, Socialists are against the Labour Party and the United Front.

Job centred (1988)

Editorial from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism hates waste but can't do without it. Given the chance it would recycle its own grandmother and sell the by-products to her next of kin; in practice it erects steel barriers against the fulfilment of need and calmly dispenses with all flesh and blood surplus to requirements. It would rather sell, exploit and accumulate capital without interruption but is obliged periodically to bow in the direction of its market Mecca, a gambling place with unlimited liability for human suffering.

Employment is a prison occupation, a strict regime of routine and rationing to which most inmates have adjusted at severe personal cost. Fear of freedom, the pressure of financial commitments and three weeks' annual parole successfully dull the imagination and ensure that a break-out does not cross the collective mind. Those suddenly released from confinement soon discover that solitary life over the wall is even more constricting, that competition for swift readmission is fierce. It is then that capitalism's much-vaunted freedom to choose is at its most obvious - if we do not like subsisting on the margins of society, it's always our privilege to lump it.

Numbers out of work rise and fall as the industrial cycle goes through its normal phases of crisis, slump, recovery and boom. In the competitive struggle which gives markets to the cheaper producer, each capitalist is trying to accumulate capital and expand his scale of operations, not just to meet a known demand but as an end in itself. Inevitably "overproduction" develops in some big markets and crisis occurs, sales decline, investment ceases to be profitable, production is cut and workers are laid off. The declining industries and falling wages bills drag down other sectors of the economy and there is depression. No policy devised by the reformist mind can affect the course of the cycle, no measure avoid the resulting suffering and insecurity.

It is the old fear of redundancy which is responsible for the new industrial discipline. While the contraction of the labour market has created a leaner, more pliant workforce, the government itself has gone to great lengths to see that those without jobs remain equally supple and on their toes. When not massaging their figures or coaxing them into chic saunas called sweatshops, it is extolling the virtue of vigorous exercise on bicycle or YTS treadmills.

Contrary to tabloid myth, the dole is not a home for overweight wideboys with "nice little earners" in the black economy (try your local Conservative Party branch) but a veritable obstacle course of stringent tests, interviews and training schemes which belie the notion that those who lose their jobs are entitled to unemployment benefit as of right. Knitting our own safety nets in mid-fall may yet appear an attractive option.

Pricing yourself back into a job can mean accepting work less stimulating and marginally more rewarding than counting dots on the living room wallpaper. "I see from your file. Mr Smith, that you had thirty years' experience in sheet metal welding. Have you ever considered a career as a fast food operative? Remuneration is fairly modest initially, but there are plenty of compensations and quite a smart uniform." Remember, too. to be flexible. "How did the interview in John O'Groats go, Mr Jones? Well, yes. but Inter-City is very much quicker these days. Beggars can't be choosers, you know. What really is the lowest wage you could consider, then?" Try always to look on the bright side. "I know there were two hundred applicants. Miss Brown, but I get the distinct impression that you're not really available for work at all. I wish I could watch Jackanory instead of sitting in this hole day in. day out." Above all. never look as old as you are. "It's unfortunate that you're not twenty years younger. Mr Green. Look, why don't you just apply for sickness benefit instead? You don't look too good anyway."

Working for wages and salaries is not living but what has to be done to live: the real thing begins outside the office or factory gate. When the means to pursue what makes the difference is further reduced by the poverty of the dole, what exactly is left? When the claimant's major decision of the week is whether to buy secondhand shoes from Oxfam or treat the children to an orange each, who dares whisper that we live in a classless and free society? If life at the bottom of the pile makes the majority quietly thankful for their lot. imagine the revulsion with which the owning class views our limited lifestyles and aspirations. For those who can afford to be idle, employment and unemployment must be indistinguishable gradations on a single dung heap. Their dole is what the majority is presently willing to accept.

When Ideologies Run Out of Ideas (2016)

From the December 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The “establishment” candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush had money and media backing, but their bankrupt ideas doomed their campaigns.
The 2016 US presidential election revealed the splits within the Democratic and the Republican Parties. We witnessed the breakdown of the coalitions that each party had relied upon in past elections. As the political tendencies within both coalitions grew estranged from each other, the conventional ideology and slogans of each party became increasingly hollow and unconvincing. This new reality was revealed over the course of the primaries and the general election, as the ordinary tactics of the ‘establishment’ candidates proved not only ineffective and often completely counterproductive.
Identity crisis
At the outset of the presidential primaries, however, it seemed that only the Republican Party was facing a true identity crisis. The first sign of trouble was that well over a dozen Republican politicians declared their candidacy for the Party’s presidential nomination, reflecting the perceived weakness of the supposed frontrunner Jeb Bush. Moreover, some of these candidates had risen to prominence on the back of the so-called Tea Party movement, which rewarded politicians who aggressively challenged the ‘moderate’ Party leadership.
Yet, despite the breakdown in Party discipline and open criticism of Republican leaders, nearly all of those seeking the nomination imagined, on the basis of past primaries, that a viable candidate would have to pledge loyalty to the sacred principles of the Republican Party, such as Christian values, a belief in small government (i.e., welfare and tax cuts), faith in corporate deregulation and the free market, and blind support for overseas military adventures. Those core principles roughly correspond to some key factions within the Republican coalition: the pious Christian right, the small-government “libertarians” (‘free market’ capitalists), and the hawkish Neocons.
Those factions were already coming into severe conflict with each other years before the 2016 election. For instance, the obsession of the Christian right with issues like abortion or gay marriage, was alienating Republicans (particularly those in urban areas) who were less interested in serving God’s will than in rendering unto Caesar as little as humanly possible. The Libertarians and other true believers in small government were, in turn, vehemently opposed to the massive spending on the military and foreign wars, bringing them into sharp opposition with the Neocons and the foreign-policy establishment. And the Neocons themselves already had one foot planted in the Democratic Party, which had continued under the Obama administration the Bush-era policy of aggressive ‘regime change.’ 
Yet even while the Republican coalition was splitting along such lines, the Republican candidates stuck to the idea that it was necessary to come across as a Bible-thumping, corporation-loving Christian warmonger in order to win the nomination. The one candidate who ignored that outdated common sense was of course Donald Trump, himself a Tweet-wielding, corporation-running, Capitalist a-hole. 
Trump refused to genuflect at the altar of orthodoxy, it can be imagined, simply because it did not suit his brash showbiz persona. Whatever the case, his approach turned out to perfectly suit the public mood. And, with surprising eagerness, the rank-and-file abandoned supposedly cherished Republican beliefs in order to back a two-time divorcee from that ‘den of sin’ New York City who called for economic protectionism and stimulus spending (along with his tax cuts) and declared that the invasion of Iraq was a colossal blunder.
The willingness of Republicans to turn their backs on Party dogma in favour of the ‘straight-shooter’ Trump was a sign that the public mood was shifting dramatically. But the Democratic leadership looked on complacently, confident that the Republican primary was unfolding in a way that would benefit Clinton.
In April 2015, Democratic strategist and Clinton confidant Sydney Blumenthal suggested in an email (later released by Wikileaks) that the Clinton campaign should elevate what he called the ‘Pied Piper candidates’ (like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and Donald Trump) ‘so that they are “leaders of the pack and tell the press to take [them] seriously” as a way of moving “established candidates further to the right” and making the “more extreme candidates . . . actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party.’
Under normal circumstances this may have been an astute strategy. But this time around the Democratic leaders were badly misreading the situation in concluding that only a moderate from either party was a viable candidate. The Republican leaders shared that common sense,’ but fortunately for them (in the end) they lacked the tools that the Democrats had to crush an insurgent campaign.
Thanks to the Democrats’ ‘super delegates’ and frontloaded southern primaries, not to mention a Democratic National Committee crawling with Clinton operatives, the nomination of Hillary was all but a foregone conclusion more than a year before the primaries even began.
Even the participation of Bernie Sanders in the primary seemed, at first, to play right into the typical election strategy of the Democrats. His assigned role, like Dennis Kucinich and other ‘radical’ candidates in the past, was to generate just enough interest in the election among youth, trade unionists, and others on the ‘Left’ to prevent them from deserting the Democrats for a third-party candidate. Bernie himself seemed to have no greater ambition initially than to ‘push the Party to the left,’ but to his surprise, no doubt, a powerful movement began to gather around him.
Despite all the careful preparations to keep the rabble from being roused in the election, the split between rank-and-file Democrats and the Party leaders was laid bare over the course of what became a bitter primary battle between Sanders and Clinton. As in the case of the Republicans, the election campaign was not the cause of the split, but it did make very clear to the public the deep divisions that had been papered over during the Bush and Obama years.
In fact, the fraying of the Democratic coalition was already well underway back in the 1990s under the Bill Clinton administration. The coalition had once centred on the strength of the labor unions, who could mobilize campaign workers and funds to back Democratic candidates. The steady decline of organized labor (accelerated thanks to Clinton-era policies) altered the balance of forces within the Party. Moreover, the Democratic leadership were able to take labor-union support for granted, since organized workers were hardly likely to defect to the rabidly anti-union Republican Party. Another group whose unconditional support was assumed were African Americans, who had been almost uniformly opposed to the Republicans ever since President Nixon implemented his ‘southern strategy’ of appealing to white southern workers.
This election, the Democrats also thought the Hispanic vote was in the bag, thanks to Trump’s vilification of Mexicans and obsession with building a border wall. But Obama has deported well over two million illegal immigrants during his terms in office, breaking the record of George W. Bush, which may account for why Hillary only won just over 60 percent of the Hispanic vote.
In any case, taking the votes of so many of the rank-and-file Party members and supporters for granted was premised on the singular awfulness of the Republican Party — and for a time the strategy seemed to work well enough. But an ideology that is largely negative or defensive offering few positive principles or goal — seems doomed to failure.
And the end did come in November 2016 with the defeat of the ideologically bankrupt Clinton campaign, which had smeared supporters of Trump (and Sanders!) as misogynists and racists, and even dabbled in laughable conspiracy theories suggesting sinister links between Trump and Putin.
Granted, the central ideas of the Sanders and Trump campaigns were based on a nostalgia for the good old days (that never were) — whether returning the Democratic Party to its role as the supposed party of the working class or bringing ‘greatness’ back to American somehow — but at least their slogans did challenge the status quo and create the impression of having some positive content.
It might seem that the Trump and Sanders insurgencies offer the two parties a way out of their ideological and organizational impasses. But is that the case?
Trump, certainly has taken a broad axe to the rotten planks of the old Republican platform. But his own incipient platform looks to be very shaky. For instance, how is he going to balance tax cuts with expanding the military budget and increasing spending on infrastructure as a stimulus measure? His surprising victory has brought a temporary unity (or truce) among warring factions within the Party, but no fundamental compromise is on the cards.
Meanwhile, Bernie’s supporters hope to win Party leadership from the Clintonites to implement ‘progressive’ policies. Much of their criticism of the Party establishment is on the mark, but they overlook the very basic fact that capitalism is a system of production for profit. This reality shapes policy and leaves only a limited space for the sort of reformist policies the ‘Berniecrats’ are advocating. The supporters of Sanders may be right about a strategy to win voters to the Democratic Party, but the role of the Party is not simply to win elections but to administer capitalism effectively, which is to say, ‘profitably.’ 
It is impossible to predict exactly where the Republican or Democratic Party might be headed, but if either party were to undergo a decisive split it would not be too surprising. Then again, both may very well manage to more peacefully realign themselves along different lines, in altered coalitions.
Fascinating fiasco
In any case, the 2016 election has revealed the current fault lines within those two parties and also taught us (or at least reconfirmed) a number of valuable lessons. It has become clear, for instance, that the ‘faithful’ of each party may not be as blinded by loyalty as their opponents imagine. Ultimately, each party has to gain and maintain the support of its members and of voters on the basis of ideas. Even a campaign backed by the power of money and the media can fall flat without any coherent ideology at its basis.
The obvious case example is the Clinton campaign, which enjoyed a formidable fundraising apparatus and network of media lackeys. But the mixed message of the campaign, reflecting the gap between Clinton’s words and deeds, left her vulnerable to Sanders and vanquished by Trump. The weapons the Clinton campaign wielded ended up harming her more than her opponents by exposing to the public, without much room for doubt, that she was the establishment candidate. The more money Clinton raised from her donors and the more articles published to praise her or attack her opponents, only ended up underscoring that status as the champion of the status quo.
This fascinating fiasco is highly encouraging to a socialist party. One can expect the ruling class to launch ferocious attacks against the socialist movement, starting with the media, once the movement has grown too powerful to ignore. But there is every likelihood that the effort to attack and discredit the socialist rebellion, will only contribute to its strength. It is already rather astounding that in a US presidential election, of all places, a Democratic candidate and his supporters would embrace terms like ‘socialist’ or ‘revolutionary,’ which are ordinarily used to smear a leftwing opponent. We have come a long way from the 1990s, when Democratic politicians lived in fear of being labelled ‘liberals’ by their Republican opponents.
The 2016 election campaign suggests that now is an ideal moment for socialists to boldly attack the thread-bare ideologies of bourgeois political parties and present our alternative to capitalism.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Taking up William Morris (1994)

Book Review from the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Political Writings: Contributions to Justice and Commonweal 1883-1890. by William Morris (Thoemmes £16.75).

When the Socialist Party was formed, in June 1904, William Morris, arguably the greatest of British socialists, had died only eight years earlier. It is little wonder, then, that the early issues of the Socialist Standard serialised Morris’s political writings; that in the 1940s quotations from Morris appeared on the Socialist Standard covers; and that the Socialist Party decided to publish Morris's Art Under Plutocracy (under the title Art, Labour and Socialism) with an appreciative introduction. Like Marx himself. Morris is not to be taken up as a political guru, and where he was at odds with our positions we have not failed to say so.

The British Left was slow to take much from Morris, and this was hardly to be surprised at. After all. left-reformism and its statist recipe for social change was entirely at odds with Morris's revolutionary outlook. Leftists and would-be intellectuals chided Morris with being a utopian poet, an idealistic dreamer and an eccentric marginal force, at best to be remembered for his utopian-socialist novel News From Nowhere, but no more.

When Morris was taken up, largely after the publication of the book about him by the Leninist Page Arnot. followed by the first, highly Leninist edition of the biography of Morris by E. P. Thompson (later to be admirably revised and de-Leninised). there was an attempt to claim him as an embryonic statist and reformist: a misreading of the historical record easy enough for those who have never read Morris’s political writings, but surely dishonest on the part of others.

For many years it was. indeed, difficult to read Morris’s political writings, but A. L. Morton’s edited selection of Morris’s Political Writings (mainly the transcripts of speeches, in fact) was a major step forward. The present writer still regards those writings, read and re-read with enthusiasm, as amongst the simplest prose written originally in English (and not for this journal) to state the case for socialism. Now we are fortunate to have Nicholas Salmon’s paperback collection which includes all of Morris’s main articles. The book is a treat to read (including its useful introduction) and is a landmark in the record of the real revolutionary movement in Britain.

In so many ways Morris could have been writing in this journal. For example, in May 1886 he explains that "in a few words our function is to educate the people by criticising all attempts at so-called reforms". Again, in June 1888, explaining the principles of the Socialist League. Morris writes:
"The Socialist League has declared over and over again its sense of the futility of Socialists wasting their time in getting . . . palliative measures passed, which, if desirable to be passed as temporarily useful, will be passed much more readily if they do not mix themselves up in the matter, and which are at least intended by our masters to hinder Socialism and not further it. Over and over again it has deprecated Socialists mixing themselves up in political intrigues; and it believes no useful purpose can be served by their running after the votes of those who do not understand the principles of Socialism."
Morris understood the global nature of capitalism and the folly of trying to establish socialism in one country: "capitalism is international", he explained in an article against the anti-socialist Bradlaugh in August 1887, and therefore "the foe that threatens it, the system which is put forward to take its place, must be international also". Most importantly. Morris refused to confuse socialism with state-run capitalism, declaring in May 1890:
"State Socialism? I don't agree with it; in fact. I think the two words contradict one another, and that it is the business of Socialism to destroy the State and put Free Society in its place.”
Shortly after that the League was taken over by anarchists who assumed foolishly that the state could be destroyed straightaway, rather than as a necessary and immediate consequence of social revolution and the abolition of class rule. Morris then left the League, but continued his efforts (not recorded in this collection) with a good deal of clarity and occasional confusion as to the way ahead.

The purpose of this review is not to claim the bones of William Morris for the Socialist Party. Who knows where Morris might have stood had he lived another decade and been forced to choose between the apparent short-cut to socialism offered by the Labour Party and the uncompromising revolutionism of the SPGB? (After all, Marx's closest collaborator, Engels, went the way of the reformist ILP rather than the smaller Marxist movement at the end of his life.)

No, Morris’s position must stand on what he might have said and done, but we who live now promoting unadulterated socialist principles have much to learn from Morris's writings (the style as well as the content) and could obtain few better books in 1994 than this one. 
Steve Coleman

Abolition of the Wages . . . for Housework Campaign (1994)

Book Review from the December 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and Feminism. By Selma James. Centrepiece. £1.50.

Marx, according to Selma James in this reprint with an update of a talk originally given in 1983, has been useful to the Wages for Housework Campaign. It is difficult to see how though, since Marx campaigned for the abolition not the extension of the wages system.

Actually, what theWages for Housework Campaign is demanding is not that women should be paid a wage for housework, but that all women should be paid a specific Woman’s Benefit by the State. Turning into a single issue reformist group may not have been how James (who had previously been in various radical groups that regarded themselves as Marxist) saw the Campaign developing when she helped set it up in 1972. But this is what has happened, with her and the others rushing around lobbying the UN and governments to bring in this reform.

Not that it will ever be enacted. The State is not going to pay out money to people who, by its criteria, don’t need it even if it did have the enormous sum that would be involved, which it doesn’t and couldn’t get without over-taxing profits. Capitalism doesn’t work like that. It can’t be reformed so as to work in people's interests. Profits always come first and people second.

This being so, the energies of those who are, quite rightly, concerned about the economic dependence of women on men would be much better directed to campaigning for Socialism, where the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" will apply. This will end once and for all women’s economic dependence on men since everyone would have free access, as a matter of individual right and without needing to pay money, to what they required to satisfy their needs.

As Marx might have put it, instead of raising the conservative slogan "Wages for Housework” they should raise the revolutionary one of "Abolition of the Wages Systen".
Adam Buick

Squaring the Circle (1971)

Book Review from the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Society of the Future, by August Bebel. Progress Publishers. Moscow.

To mark their government’s false claim to be in the process of establishing “Communism” in Russia by the 1980s a Russian State publishing house has brought out under this title an edited version of Bebel’s Woman under Socialism.

Bebel speculates on the possibilities of Socialism (which he sees as an international, Stateless, moneyless society based on the common ownership of the means of production) and produces evidence to show that the productive forces were sufficiently developed, even in 1910, to go over to Socialism.

Bebel was a Social Democrat and the Russian editor is forced to disown precisely those of his views which we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain endorse, namely, his refusal to distinguish between "Socialism” and “Communism”; his conclusion that the abolition of capitalism necessarily involves the immediate disappearance of the State and of money; and his belief in the “more or less simultaneous triumph of the socialist revolution in all or most capitalist countries”. The Preface where the editor tries to explain away the undeniable fact that Bebel, unlike Lenin but like Marx, understood Socialism to be a moneyless, Stateless world society rather than the kind of national state capitalism that exists in Russia has to be read to be believed.

Our criticisms of Bebel, apart from his role as one of the leaders of the German Social Democratic Party who tried to disguise its reformist practice with revolutionary phrases, would be somewhat different. He here follows Marx and speaks of labour-time vouchers as the substitute for money and some of his ideas on education and sex now seem dated. All the same, this work is a useful addition to the range of old pamphlets now available.
Adam Buick

Spectacle out of focus (1975)

Book Review from the April 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Leaving the 20th Century : The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International. Translated and edited by Christopher Gray. Free Fall Publications, 80p.

Of the 167 pages in this book, 148 are extracts from Situationist pamphlets and articles. Christopher Gray adds only short linkages: the Situationists’ history and antecedents, their breaking-up, and some brief final comments. Was there more, or is that all?

From inside an exclusive, fanatical group the view is inevitably distorted. Gray was himself a Situationist, and attributes a far greater resonance to the members and activities than they actually had. He uses the word “famous” repeatedly, and in no instance is it applicable. There are unsupported presumptions of a wide influence, and a claim that: “The censorship of the Situationist International has probably been the most blatant case of cultural repression since before the war.” Really?

The aim of the Situationists is said to have been “a new revolutionary critique of society”. More accurately, they tried to make artistic-cum-political doctrines from a collection of phenomena—new technology, the spread of dropping-out, the vogue for condemning “consumer-orientated society”. They added one phrase to the vocabulary of social criticism: “the society of the spectacle” for the mass culture of alienation.

In art and politics, Situationist practice was simply the making of rude or violent gestures against the rest of society. Their centre remained in Paris, and according to Gray they faded out after the student revolts of 1968. One version is that they went underground. However, their name remains as a synonym for intellectualized subversion, and small groups of people in that frame of mind have tried—and no doubt will try again—to revive it. It has been considered, and Gray hints, that Situationists either assisted or egged-on the Angry Brigade; certainly the Angry Brigade communiques incorporated the Situationist language.

Christopher Gray thinks the Situationists “made the same mistake as all left-wing intellectuals: they thought that everyone else was plain thick.” The book has, despite its perfunctoriness, a good deal of interest. The message which comes through clearly is that to try to stand outside society, and try to justify it from a rag-bag of political and sociological half-ideas, means being pernicious or futile or both.

The ending tells it all: the author feels in a mess, divided between the needs for social analysis and for self-analysis. So it was not society at all that the Situationists viewed, but a model made of matchboxes on somebody’s shelf.
Robert Barltrop

A Land Within (2016)

Book Review from the November 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Negroland: A Memoir'. By Margo Jefferson. Granta £12.99.

Jefferson was born in Chicago in 1947, and her father was a doctor. Negroland is her term for ‘a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty’. The name includes ‘Negro’ because of this word’s historical importance (in posters relating to runaway slaves, for instance), though she usually refers to herself as black, with ‘African American’ being for official contexts only. This volume is not exactly an autobiography but a series of anecdotes and reflections on life as a (relatively well-off) black woman in the US; Jefferson herself became a writer and journalist.

There is some brief history, such as on black slave-owners, and the segregation of the US Army in the Second World War. There are examples of discrimination from the 1950s, affecting even the inhabitants of ‘Negroland’: Jefferson’s family were given inferior rooms in a hotel, and in their fairly select Chicago neighbourhood her father was stopped by police who asked if he had drugs in his bag (it contained medical equipment).       

One point which emerges more than once is the extent to which ‘race’ is in the eye of the beholder. The author describes herself as being of African, Irish, English and Indian (Native American) descent. Her own skin is ‘cream-brown’, and a shop worker with black-brown skin asks her what her ethnic ancestry is. Many of her relatives could pass as white, and she refers to an uncle who worked as a travelling salesman and then ‘stopped being white’ when he retired.

In the US the fight for ‘black rights’ was dominated by men, and that for ‘women’s rights’ by white women. She quotes one black feminist who argued that black women had spent years copying bad ideas from white women but then decided they wanted nothing to do with the one good idea of feminism. Jefferson will not say which of race, gender and class matters more, since all are ‘basic elements of one’s living’. Note, though, that this is not the Socialist analysis of class but one which sees the inhabitants of ‘Negroland’ as middle or even upper class.

But an insightful and often moving account.
Paul Bennett