Sunday, August 28, 2016

To all our overseas readers (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Maybe you bought this copy of the Socialist Standard from one of our members at an outdoor meeting or maybe you bought it at a bookshop. But do not think that because you bought it in Britain and we call ourselves the “Socialist Party of Great Britain” our concern is only with national affairs. Far from it. We know that it is only on a world scale that the problems facing wage and salary earners in all countries can be solved. If most of the contents of the Socialist Standard concern events in Britain, this is because you have bought the journal of the British part of a movement which exists in other countries too and which publishes journals in German, French and Swedish as well as others in English (by our companion parties in the United States, Canada and New Zealand).

Our message, then, is equally addressed to you as it is to our fellow workers in Britain: world socialism is the only solution to the problems of wage and salary earners in the country you come from, problems which are basically the same—unemployment, struggles to keep wages up with prices, bad housing, schools and hospitals, racism, insecurity and so on — precisely because they have a common cause — the capitalist system of class monopoly of the means of existence and consequently production for profit.

Capitalism is international. Economically, it operates as a single system dominating the whole world (including countries like Russia, China and Cuba where it takes the form of state capitalism), but, politically, it is divided into a hundred or so artificial “nation-states”. Each of these states seeks to ensure the loyalty of its subjects by inculcating into them, from the cradle to the grave, the idea that they are members of a “nation” with a common interest against those of other “nations”. Socialists reject this mistaken and dangerous idea, regarding themselves not as British, Irish, French, American or whatever but as members of the human race, as citizens of the world.

The real division in the world is not between people of supposedly different “nationalities” but between two social classes both of which are international: a class of capitalists and state capitalists who own and control all that is in and on the Earth and a class of people who, excluded from such ownership and control, are obliged to work for an employer (private or state) in order to live. Wage and salary earners everywhere, whatever their language, legal nationality, skin colour, have a common interest.

The world capitalist class are continually competing against each other to sell their goods profitably on world markets, to obtain cheap and secure sources of essential raw materials; to find fields in which to invest their capital more profitably. They also compete for strategic areas in order to protect the markets, trade routes, raw material sources and investment fields they have got or want. The various armed states into which the world is divided are used by rival groups of capitalists to protect and further their interests in these clashes. They represent, in other words, not the interest of the majority of their subjects, but that of the dominant section of the capitalist class established within their borders.

In these clashes of interest between the various national capitalist groups success greatly depends on the military might of the states involved. States, and the capitalists they represent, do not deliberately seek war; for them this is often the last resort, when negotiations failed. But all states are obliged to maintain as powerful an army as they can afford, not necessarily to be used on every occasion, but to threaten and to be taken into account in the negotiations and manoeuvrings that continually arise from the underlying clashes of economic interest that are built in to capitalism.

Capitalism, in other words, is a permanent powder-keg or rather, these days, a permanently-primed nuclear bomb. Its very structure as a competitive profit-seeking system generates preparations for war (and the waste this involves), the threat of war (which is ever-present) and actual wars (which are always going on somewhere in the world).

But there is an alternative way of organising the world. There already exists a global network of productive units (farms, mines, factories, railways, warehouses) capable of turning out sufficient wealth to more than adequately feed, clothe, house and educate every single man, woman and child on this planet. Technologically, this is possible, but it will only become possible socially when the resources of the world have become the common property of all the people of the world. In other words, after the abolition of private and state ownership everywhere. Or, what amounts to the same thing, the abolition of all ownership and property since in a socialist world the resources, natural and man-made, of the planet will belong to nobody; they will not be owned at all, but will simply be there to be used. Naturally, the people of the world will have to organise themselves to use these means of production and this is the second feature of socialism: democratic organisation.

On the basis of this common ownership and democratic control production will be directed solely towards satisfying human needs. The restriction of the profit motive will be removed and as much will be produced as people will democratically decide will satisfy their needs, both as individuals and as a community. The waste of capitalism, such as on armaments and wars, will be eliminated, thus making doubly sure that ah abundance of wealth can be produced, an abundance to which every member of socialist society can have free access, without payment of any kind, according to what they judge to be their need.

Socialism will see the abolition of frontiers too and the dismantling of the various armed states into which the world is now divided. As classes will have been abolished, people really will become citizens of a united world.

If this alternative of a classless, moneyless, stateless world community, without frontiers interests you and you would like to know more or would like to help us, we invite you to get in touch:
  • If you are German-speaking: BDS, Gussriegelstrasse 50, A-100 WIEN.
  • If you are French-speaking: BP 26, 6700 Arlon, BELGIQUE.
  • If you are from Scandinavia: Bergsbrunna Villav├Ąg 58, S-75256, UPPSALA.

We also have leaflets explaining our point of view in Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Esperanto, available from any of the above addresses or from 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Letters to the Editors: "True' Socialism from France (1980)

Letters to the Editors from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

"True' Socialism from France

To the Editors

I read with pleasure that the Socialist Standard had discovered our untiring efforts to show how socialism could be created and live. But I think it is good that all readers learn that ALB’s article, published in February, contains some serious mistakes or misunderstandings.

“Consumption vouchers” and, far more, “labour vouchers” are inapt words to describe the social income, as they contain an idea of scarcity. They have been used in war conditions, when you were given vouchers to get only 100g of bread a day; but they are not appropriate to Jacques Duboin’s consumption money, which has to be proportional to an abundant production. As there is no better word than the capitalist word of “money”, we keep this notion for other reasons: it shows that your income gives you the complete choice of what you think you need. The dealers have to keep accounts to allow the consumers to decide whether production has to be increased or not. (Do not forget that without profit there is no more advertising and ail its consequent misleading choices.) The necessity of keeping pseudo-prices, at least at the beginning, results not only from the desire to avoid wastage (a danger that will decrease as the sense of individual responsibility increases) but also from the fact that the consumer must be informed about the remaining difficulty to achieve what he wishes — about the raw material this production requires, its effect on the environment and the pollution it involves. No good choice may be made unless you have the most complete information and price is a good and rapid means to supply it. The most important thing you must emphasize about consumption money is that it cannot carry an interest, cannot be hoarded or loaned, and that it loses its value when it has been used once. This pseudo-money, then, has nothing to do with capitalist money in that it puts an end to that awful law which tells that “money goes to money”, widening the gap between rich and poor. This is the absolute condition without which socialism cannot live. He who calls himself a socialist and does not realise this necessity is a dreamer (remember Allende).

Free access to goods as well as worldwide socialism are our final aims, but we claim that a period of adaptation is necessary during which people’s mentalities will progress more and more rapidly as they will be free from the “prices-wages-profits” economy. Do not forget that J.Duboin was a convinced world citizen, as I and many of his followers. But if we could convince our neighbours and set up the true socialism in France, why not try? Is it not the best way to convince the others and achieve world-wide socialism?

ALB blames my father (he uses the word “mistake”) for exaggerating the impact of mechanisation and automation on employment under capitalism. This impact, nevertheless, appears easily when you look at the official data: in any western country and for several decades it has appeared obvious that production increases while employment decreases. This is the reason why he stated that income must become independent of labour. And production can now be realised with fewer and fewer workers. Evidence of this is given by the drift of labour from the first to the second sector, then from the second to the third, while the production of each sector has kept increasing. Productivity in the third sector is about to be boosted in the coming years as a result of computerization. It must overall be kept in mind that official statistics will take into account all useless, nay harmful jobs that the capitalist consumption society has created.

The most surprising criticism published by the Socialist Standard is that Duboin made a mistake in “accepting the myth that banks can create credit”. It is no longer possible, for socialists, to ignore a fact of so important consequences. May one forget where the power is? If there were some naive readers who had to be convinced, let the answer come from the House of Commons, that had appointed a committee to report on this affair; this gave Mr.McKenna. Chairman of the Midland Bank, the opportunity to declare: “Banks create deposits, but I am afraid that the man in the street should not be happy to learn that banks create and destroy money, yet this is the truth”. Let now the Governor of the National Bank of Canada state during an official inquiry: “It is the very office of banks to make money, exactly as steelmills make steel”. Colin Clark, an Australian economist and financial adviser to the Queensland government wrote: “In business circles, one could still find people trying to deny that banks create or destroy credits; I doubt however that those people could find one single genuine economist to share in this strange point of view”. If all this were not sufficient, just have a look at the Encyclopedia Brittanica (1954 edition volume III, p50) where you will read that: “Banks do not lend their money, nor their customers money: they create credits as deposits on which their customers may draw checks”. Do not forget that J. Duboin had been a junior Minister, in charge of the French Treasury; this gave him the opportunity to measure the power of banks. From this knowledge he could predict how dangerous this power would be if socialism ignored or tolerated it. World-wide Socialists cannot afford to make such a mistake.

As our aims seem really to be much the same, I would sincerely be happy if this could help to achieve our common purpose. As I have endeavoured to continue, chiefly through the publication of his newspaper, my father’s fight since his death (which occurred not in 1973 but in March 1976 at nearly 98), I do wish there will be the best mutual understanding between writers and readers of the Socialist Standard and those of La Grande Releve
Marie-Louise Duboin
Le Vesinet, France

M-L Duboin’s letter unintentionally confirms the point we were trying to make in the article she criticises: that, in the movement inspired by the ideas of her father, mixed up with the correct insight that the “prices-wages-profits” system must be abolished are all sorts of confused views, often bordering on currency crankism.

1. She objects to us saying that what her father called “consumption money” would better have been called “consumption vouchers”. She feels that this latter term suggests too much the ration cards of the war and immediate postwar period. Not necessarily. Even the “labour-time vouchers” Marx mentioned would have been “proportional to an abundant production” and would have allowed the individual a free choice of the various goods available for personal consumption. But this is not the real point. Under both the system mentioned by Marx and that proposed by Duboin, individual consumption would still be rationed, being restricted by the number of vouchers a person had. Our point is that today, given the tremendous development of the means of production since Marx’s time, society could, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control, apply the long-standing socialist principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”; in other words, institute free access to goods and services according to individual need.

2. M-L Duboin argues against the immediate introduction of free access on the ground that people are not yet ready for it. “A period of adaption is necessary”, she claims, “during which people’s mentalities will progress”. What exactly does she mean here? Can this be the old objection that, if goods were free, people would grab more than they needed so that shortages would soon re-appear? If so, it is a peculiar objection from someone claiming to stand for a society of abundance. We don’t think this problem would arise because, if people can be assured (as they will be able to be) that the stores will always be adequately stocked with what they need, then there is no point in grabbing or hoarding. To do so would be to behave in a quite abnormal way. Grabbing is a product of scarcity and insecurity, not of abundance. In any event, socialism is not something that will be introduced from above for a population which will not know what to expect; it is something that will have been introduced by a majority which wants it and understands its implications. A “sense of individual responsibility” will thus already have developed before socialism is established.

3. We don’t really see the relevance of the reference to Allende. Perhaps M-L Duboin is trying to say that his fate is a warning as to what awaits anyone who tries to introduce “socialism” while retaining the present monetary system. But Allende was not a socialist, nor was he trying to introduce socialism. He was a reformist trying to extend State capitalism in Chile. His experience is thus irrelevant as far as the establishment of socialism is concerned, though of course we agree that socialism cannot be established without abolishing money.

4. Socialism cannot be established just in France or just in Britain or in any one country alone for the simple reason that capitalism, the system socialism will replace, is already a world system. The developed means of production which make possible a society of abundance only exist on a world scale and as an integrated world-wide network. A society of abundance in one country is therefore just not possible.

5. We did not say that the trend referred to by Jacques Duboin for machines to replace living labour does not exist, but only that he tended to exaggerate it. When he says, for instance, in his Economie distributive de l'abondance that “hundreds of examples could be given of a machine replacing 10, 50, 100 and often more workers” (3rd edition, 1946, p.16), this is misleading. If you just look, as Duboin is doing here, at the labour displaced at the last stage of the production of a particular commodity by the introduction of a new machine, then you get a one-sided picture. For the labour displaced at this stage will have only been made possible by the extra labour employed in earlier stages to design, construct, install and maintain the new machine. There is of course an overall displacement of living labour but of the order of a few percent and not of the fantastic figures sometimes found in Duboinist literature (and, to be quite frank, sometimes too in our own!). A further reason why overall productivity only increases at a relatively slow rate is that a new invention is never applied in one fell swoop in all the workplaces producing a particular commodity, but only slowly as competition gradually forces all the producers to adopt it. We hasten to add that we fully accept that in socialism, where the profit and labour-cost considerations that apply under capitalism will no longer exist, mechanisation and automation will really come into their own as means, not only of producing abundance, but of eliminating dull, boring, repetitive and dirty jobs.

6. Duboin thinks that her belief about the banks’ supposed power to “create deposits” must be regarded as proved because certain individuals she names have said so, notably the members of the MacMillan Committee 1931 (Committee on Finance and Industry). What she fails to realise is that, for every “authority” she quotes supporting her belief, there is another denying it.

Thus she quotes the Governor of the National Bank of Canada. But Mr. Jackson Dodds, the General Manager of the Bank of Montreal, retorted: “Now, banks are given well defined powers under the Bank Act, but the power to create something out of nothing is not one of them.” She quotes Colin Clark as saying that he knew of “no genuine economist” who denied it. Edwin Cannan, Emeritus Professor of Political Economy in the University of London provided an argued case against the belief. (An Economist’s Protest by Edwin Cannan, pages 256-266). As also did Professor Gregory, who was a member of the MacMillan Committee. Then there was Mr. Walter Leaf, Chairman of the Westminster Bank and President of the Institute of Bankers:
“The banks can lend no more than they can borrow—in fact not nearly so much. If anyone in the deposit banking system can be called a ‘creator of credit’ it is the depositor; for the banks are strictly limited in their lending operations by the amount which the depositor thinks fit to leave with them."
Duboin quotes in support of her belief Reginald McKenna, who was a member of the MacMillan Committee. When Major Douglas, founder of the Social Credit movement drew from that Committee’s report the quite logical conclusion that it meant that “new money has been created by a stroke of the pen”, McKenna wrote: “There is nothing to justify the claim by Major Douglas that I agree with his view on the creation of credit”.

What Duboin should do is to examine critically the astonishing case put by the MacMillan Report on para. 74. It was blatantly rigged. It worked out a series of ten successive loans to depositors, extending over a considerable period, but while it assumed the deposit of cash by a depositor, no depositor or borrower in their Alice in Wonderland bank ever withdrew cash. Duboin really should not go on believing that the fact that a committee is government appointed is a guarantee that it won’t utter nonsense. Incidentally, when members of the Committee were approached about para. 74, several of them disowned it.

M-L Duboin can rest assured. Socialism will neither “ignore” nor “tolerate” the banks. Together with the rest of the paraphernalia of buying and selling, they will quite simply not exist in Socialism. We combat mistaken ideas about mythical powers supposedly possessed by banks because they lead people to imagine that the solution to social problems lies in monetary reform rather than a change in the basis of society.
Editorial Committee

E.P. Thompson and CND
A well-known historical figure, with whom I am sure the Marxist historian E. P. Thompson is acquainted, once said that when history repeats itself the first time it is tragedy, but when it does so a second time it is farce. Thompson, in calling for a “campaign for a bomb-free Europe” (Guardian, 28.1.80), lecturing under the title “Protest and Survive” and supporting demonstrations against American Cruise Missiles in Britain, is attempting another farcical repetition of events, fated to follow the same path as did the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Bertrand Russell's Committee of 100.

We must ask ourselves if these utopian popular movements have helped to bring about nuclear disarmament, or even decelerated nuclear stockpiling. The answer must be “no”. Indeed, despite the existence of such groups, hideous wars have continued throughout the world, using not “the Bomb”, but the more conventional instruments of torture and disablement. Do Thompson and his followers wish to reenact past “peace” movements; to initiate yet another naive grass roots campaign?

Alas, it is the same old story. Thompson is seeking to eradicate one particular instrument of war, while ignoring the reason for such instruments; indeed, the very cause of war. Surely war is the inevitable outcome of individual nations striving to protect or extend their respective markets and spheres of influence, to the benefit of their economic and political rulers; that is, the product of capitalism and its inherent rivalries. The pressing need is to extirpate the cause of war, not its tools.

I am sure many would agree that E. P. Thompson is a very talented writer of history: learning its lessons, however, demands a different sort of talent.
Rob Bishop

Poverty and housing (1980)

The Briefing Column from the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Successive governments have taken it upon themselves to tackle the problem of “sub-standard” accommodation for the working class. In 1868, 1875, 1879 and 1882 local authorities were given powers to deal with insanitary property and in the twentieth century, an official housing shortage has been designated. Pious politicians tell us that decent housing is a basic human requirement, but exactly what constitutes “decent housing” is left open to interpretation. We are bombarded with figures telling us that there has been a change in the pattern of occupancy, from 90 per cent rented accommodation in 1914, to 52 per cent owner occupation in 1974. (In that year 17 per cent of homes were privately rented and 31 per cent publicly rented.) Such figures do not take into account that, according to government figures (Social Trends 9), 33,720 people were homeless in 1976; and even these figures only refer to those registered as such with a local authority.

While there is such homelessness, there is much property standing empty — for the only reason that those who are homeless cannot afford access to it. Such people are the victims of the property society in which human needs are subservient to profit-making. For them the 1975 Housing Rents and Subsidies Act offers little comfort, for they do not have the luxury of a rent to pay. They are homeless because of rent arrears incurred, mortgage default, the fact that a landlord has repossessed the property, the loss of a tied property.

But it does not end there, for the accommodation that is occupied, although fulfilling the basic requirement of shelter, offers little more. According to Peter Townsend’s Poverty in the United Kingdom: a Survey of Household Resources and Standards of Living, 22 per cent of accommodation suffers from some form of structural defect. 16 per cent of households have no sole use of a toilet and 3 per cent do not have sole use of a sink or wash basin.

His study also points out that 17 per cent of households do not have sole use of a fixed bath or shower and that 4 per cent do not have sole use of a gas or electric cooker. Governments may pay lip service to the problems of poor housing, but the poverty in which capitalism forces the majority of society’s members to live still allows 44 per cent of households to have only one (or even no) room heated in winter, and for 2 per cent to have no electricity for either power or lights. John Wheatley, the Minister for Health in the 1924 Labour Government, dreamed of a garden city in which the working class might live in council accommodation. But in practice council accommodation has offered no more a solution to housing deprivation than the possibility of “home ownership”. Council housing estates are now graded according to their stress factor and those members of society who have least choice of accommodation are often placed in high stress areas.

Absurdly, the working class are prepared to live in the accommodation that capitalism provides, and even go so far as to invent a mythology whereby they can stand proud in the midst of their squalor. The inhabitants of “high status” suburbs look down on the council estates; the inner cities have been deserted by those climbing the social ladder and those inner cities, once “high status” districts themselves, have become areas of multi-occupancy, with their privately rented furnished and unfurnished accommodation. Rather than seeing a common interest between themselves and the other victims of capitalism, they see each other as threats to the standards of living they have achieved.

The only way we can gauge the actual conditions in which we live is to examine the potential that society can offer. The apologist claims that the standard of living has risen, but that does not mean that our position as members of the working class has changed. The property relationships that exist within capitalism deny the working class access to the potential society is capable of creating, and it is only by recognising this fact that we can begin to understand the extent of the poverty in which all members of the working class exist.
Philip Bentley

Has CND learnt nothing? (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The eminent historian, Professor E. P. Thompson, is not a very foolish man, although the eminent Catholic preacher, Monsignor Bruce Kent, undoubtedly is. Yet both of them have combined their energies to lead the re-enactment of what must be the most pious and futile reformist campaign of the twentieth century: the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. At its peak, in the mid-sixties, 100,000 marchers could be rallied by CND to express their opposition to nuclear arms. The result of the marching and the songs of protest and the moral cries for peace had all the potency of Canute before the waves: governments went on stockpiling arms of ever-increasing ferocity in their effort to expand and protect their areas of capitalist domination.

Leading Labour politicians were among the ranks of CND in the sixties, but what became of their pacifist sentimentalities when in office? The Labour Party, just like their Tory rivals, is forced to run the squalid military operations of the system it presides over when in power. While in opposition, opportunists like Joan Lestor and Michael Foot commit the next Labour government to all kinds of futile, but vote-catching reforms: they promise to remove Cruise missiles and to spend no more than at present on nuclear bombs. Even if the hypocrites break with tradition and do what they have promised, the world will be no closer to peace and security. Opposition to certain kinds of militarism is not enough. The widespread loss of civilian lives at Dresden in 1945 was no less atrocious because it was carried out by “conventional”, rather than nuclear, warfare; the military threat in Ireland is not diffused because only bricks and bullets are commonly used; all wars are damaging to the health and safety of the working class, whether they are based upon nuclear warheads or bows and arrows. Instead of attempting to eradicate militarism, CND merely seek to limit it.

The pleas of workers to their governments to stop nuclear armaments failed on the last occasion and they will fail this time. In 1960 the first issue of the journal, International Socialism claimed
The Campaign (for Nuclear Disarmament) has been successful in two ways. It has been outstanding in that, year by year, it has brought more people into the anti-Bomb protest, doing today what the slump did between the two World Wars in the matter of baptising (sic) a new generation with political realities. Less successfully but of at least equal importance, it has edged, be it ever so cautiously and suspiciously, towards the centre of alternative power in our Bomb-ridden society.
Naive idealism of this sort was harshly exposed in the years to come. For the Aldermarston marchers of the sixties strode on to the complacent reformism of the Labour Party, the pro-Russian unilateralism of the Communist Party, the adventurism of anarchism, the sentimentality of “flower power”, or mere cynical respectability. Most of the participants in CND learned little about what causes war: they did not go on to challenge the centre of social power (or even know where it was); they did not stop a single working class life from being lost in a war. Indeed, many of those whose moral pacifism took them into CND in the early sixties found themselves supporting one of the armies in the Vietnam war a few years later. There are currently 5,000 paid-up members of CND (Guardian, 23.6.80) and recruitment may be expected to rise rapidly in the months ahead. The recruits will generally be quite sincere workers whose attitude to socialism is that it sounds like a good idea, but that it is hopelessly Utopian. But their hope for a capitalist system without war is the real Utopia and as Karl Marx wisely observed in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, when historical events happen twice they happen “the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.”

A leading player in the CND farce Act II will be the Communist Party, the historical role of which has been to defend the turns and somersaults in Kremlin foreign policy. In 1945, when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Communist parties of Europe unequivocally condoned that mass destruction of working class life as a means of defeating one of the national adversaries of Russia. L'Unita, the paper of the Italian CP, observed at the time, in an article entitled In The Service Of Civilisation,
The news that an atomic bomb was dropped by the American Air Force has made an enormous impression throughout the whole world, and has been received on all sides with a sense of panic and condemnation. This shows, it seems to us, a curious psychological perversion and a doctrinaire obedience to a form of abstract humanitarianism.
Earlier in 1945 The Daily Worker, paper of the British CP, was blatantly suggesting that
The employment of the new weapon on a substantial scale should expedite the surrender of Japan. Valuable lives in the Allied nations will have been saved by the new discovery.
No member of the Communist Party is entitled to cry in moral indignation about the callous murder of millions of Japanese workers in 1945, for their party had been the cynical advocates of such action.
It was only after 1945 that the CP changed its mind about the Bomb, but not because of any “abstract humanitarianism”. The reason was that once the Cold War commenced, the echoers of the Kremlin feared American superiority in military technology. Fear of Russian disadvantage in a war against America is why the Communist Party of Great Britain supported CND and the policy of unilateral disarmament. Those who oppose war have a duty to expose the grotesque expenditure of resources on arms by the Warsaw Pact no less than NATO.

Even some members of the CP have recently been forced to take up a more critical attitude towards Russian state capitalism. But such occasional criticism (however mild) has alienated many of the hard-line CP Stalinists, who split from the party in 1978 to form the New Communist Party. This new party is also pledged to support the revived CND, although one detects from their pamphlet, Anti-Sovietism—How To Tight It And Why, that their concern for disarmament is somewhat one-sided. The pamphlet tells us that the urgent task of the world working class is to defend the USSR from attack (p. 3), that the Russian tanks which invaded the streets of Prague in 1968 were merely intended to defeat “counterrevolutionary attempts to turn back the clock and reinstate capitalism” (p. 6) and that Russian workers “will never be drawn irresponsibly into war, or used as pawns in the interests of imperialism” (p. 11). The NCP is just the pro-Russian equivalent of the Tory party; all patriots, be they of the Left, Right or Centre, are betrayers of the working class interest.

Socialists oppose all war
It is a creditable boast that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is the sole political organisation in this country to have consistently opposed every war thrown up by capitalism. This is not because we are moral pacifists, but because as Marxist materialists we ask one question about all wars: In whose interest are we being asked to fight? In the wars of the profit system, we are urged — often compelled by law — to risk death and mutilation in a battle between rival capitalist interests over the ownership and control of raw materials, markets and strategic locations. As the working class does not stand to gain from the expansion of their masters' power, the one policy for class conscious workers is to refuse to fight in any capitalist war. The socialist objective goes beyond the negative refusal to fight: we stand for the removal of the root cause of war—the system of capitalism which is the cause of all modern social problems.

Socialists share the fears expressed by many members of CND that sophisticated means of killing may be used to wipe out whole sections of the human race. Who can think without fear of the
fact that the British government — a relatively small military power — is currently spending £1.3 million an hour on so-called defence? Who can read the HMSO Civil Defence leaflet, Protect and Survive, and feel anything but hatred for a “civilisation” which can soberly contemplate such brutal destruction? In the section of the leaflet entitled Challenge to Survival we are informed that
Everything within a certain distance of a nuclear explosion will be totally destroyed. Even people living outside the area will be in danger from heat and blast and fall-out.
As for the “lucky” survivors:
After a nuclear attack there will be a short period before fall-out starts to descend. Go around the house and put out any small fires. If anyone’s clothing catches fire, lay them on the floor and roll them in a blanket . . .  If a death occurs while you are confined in the Fall-Out room, place the body in another room and confine it as securely as possible. Attach an identification.
Those workers who join CND want a future without nuclear fall-out. But they are hopelessly wrong if they believe that CND or any other peace campaign will avert the threat which they fear. The fight against warfare can only be practical if linked to the democratic political fight for a new social order in which the means of living are owned and controlled by the whole community. To die for capitalism would be tragic; to live in the belief that capitalism can be humanised is pathetic; to organise for socialism is our only hope.
Steve Coleman

Saving capitalism (1999)

Book Review from the December 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Lugano Report. On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century by Susan George. Pluto Press.

A warning of the frustration to come is given on the cover: an endorsement by John Pilger. He claims that the book is a kind of Catch-22 of capitalism'. It is nothing of the sort. The brilliance of Catch-22 is that it points clearly to the absurdities of capitalism and its wars. The dryness of The Lugano Report points only to the bankruptcy of the ideas of the Left. Although the contradictions of capitalism are painted well, the effect is spoilt by the proposal of absurd solutions. Like Pilger, George offers a useful analysis of the state of things. Like Pilger. she stops short of logical conclusions. The frustration will be familiar to any reader of the New Internationalist.

The book's title refers to the conceit that a Working Party has been commissioned to prepare a report on the future of the global capitalist system. The commissioning parties have assumed that the system is an unlikely candidate for long-term survival, and so the Working Party is charged with “providing guidance in order to maintain, develop and deepen the scope of the liberal, free-market economy”.

The report is based on solid enough premises, but the drift of the conclusions takes the book into the lunacy of conspiracy theory. The report opens by stating that the capitalist system cannot support present or future population levels, nor can it, nor should it. There are more losers than winners in capitalism, and the numbers of losers is increasing. The discontent of the losers will threaten the stability that capitalism needs to flourish. Therefore, the losers must be eliminated. That's her basic story. and the report goes on to describe various ingenious ways of how this mass murder might be achieved. This is the most entertaining section of the book: the report's authors call on the four horsemen of the apocalypse to conquer and to spread famines, wars and pestilence. What George doesn't realise is that there is no need for horsemen or conspiracies. Wars and famines are just the logical outcome of a system that cares not a jot for human needs. You don't need a conspiracy theory to explain what is perfectly legal anyway. Wars are fought in our own interests. Exploitation is not only legal, it is good for us. Governments act in secret for “security reasons”. Famines and pestilence are unfortunate acts of god.

But this is not to take away from the power of some of the pictures she paints. I couldn't help thinking of the grisly news pictures of Blair in Kosovo when the report suggests that “saving 50 people, preferably on camera, can be a convenient curtain behind which 50,000 may be eliminated”. She also echoes Oscar Wilde's explanation of why we do not yet have socialism (“it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought”) when she says:”Post-colonial pity for the downtrodden and mercy for the afflicted . . .  have all but supplanted politics of every stripe . . .  [and] yet no one can oppose humanitarian aid without appearing utterly heartless”.

After the conclusion of The Lugano Report, which we are to see as too horrific to really contemplate, Susan George offers her own alternatives. It is a classic New Internationalist line that she takes when she furiously denounces the notion that “there is no alternative”, before showing us clearly, in the alternatives she offers, that she implicitly accepts the very ideas she thinks she is attacking. She starts off on the right track: “the goals of economic activity are profit and accumulation” and “all other values must be sacrificed to them'. She goes on to claim that “this economic philosophy is championed especially by the very large transnational corporations”, but that small-and medium-sized businesses “do not generally function according to the same impersonal and remorseless rules”. Small business good, big business bad. Great news for the owners and wage-slaves of small-and medium-sized businesses: apparently they do not have to follow the rules of capitalism!

It is perfectly clear what is to be done, she says: “find out who is responsible, and how we can make them stop”. If only we could get rid of all the evil people in charge of multinationals! The limit of Susan George's vision is of small companies serving their communities and being run nicely. What she fails to understand is that all this would mean is that we would end up being exploited by hippies and yuppies instead of by the current class of capitalists.

Her view of the state is equally laughable: “Unless we can make sure that the state retains its prerogatives, I can't see who will stand between the person on the ground and transnational tyranny”. The idea that the state. the executive committee of the ruling class, would want to do any such thing is in direct conflict with the analysis presented in the rest of the book.

Susan George places her hope for the future in “fair trade” coffee and tea, in unions working to bring wages and working conditions up to “decent levels”, and in a government that will tax the evil multinationals and steal from the financial markets to fund health and education for all. This, she says. is the “only way to pay for everything that needs doing”. In other words, what we need is a different, kinder ruling class.

The book is worth reading for the same reason that the New Internationalist is worth reading. They understand capitalism and its horrors pretty well, but not well enough to understand that it must be abolished.
Stuart Watkins

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Leninist State vs. World Socialism (1987)

From the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

What can one say about the Socialist Workers Party except that they do quite rightly respond with indignation to the iniquities of capitalism and they do understand that there is a class struggle going on—even if their idea of the working-class is hopelessly narrow, including mainly manual workers rather than all people dependent upon selling their labour power in order to survive. The SWP is a radical party, in the old sense of not liking society as it is and wanting something to be done. This "something" they call socialism but despite their claim to be a socialist party, their speakers are conspicuously silent on, and their literature notably empty of any definition of socialism.

The Socialist Party has a clear definition of socialism; it will be a society of common, not state or private, ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution; there will be democratic and not minority control of social affairs; production will be solely for use rather than for sale or profit; there will be free access by all people to all goods and services, without the fetters of the money economy. All of that is clear and anyone who cares to go back to 1904 will find all of our literature advocating the same principled and unequivocal socialist aim.

What sort of society is the SWP aiming for?

The so-called socialist aim of the SWP has always been obscure. They regard the Bolshevik coup d’├ętat in Russia as an example of a successful socialist revolution, yet they argue that after ten years of its happening Russia had become a state capitalist country which should be opposed by socialists. They have told workers to elect Labour governments whenever elections have taken place but they argue that Labour governments are anti-socialist. They have tried the opportunist policy of supporting courses of action and then dissociating themselves from the inevitably unpopular consequences. But now, after years of refusing to tell anyone what socialism means to them, the SWP has published a pamphlet The Future Socialist Society in which all is explained. They would have done themselves a favour to have kept their confusion a secret. They have done us a favour, for now we can see quite clearly that the SWP does not stand for socialism, but for a Leninist state—which should be resisted by all workers.

The Socialist State
There will be no state in a socialist society. The state is the body which has existed for as long as property society has existed, in order to defend the propertied ruling class against the propertyless majority. Socialism will be a classless society, without exploiters and exploited, rulers and ruled, coercion and submission. Not so, according to the SWP:
. . . the working class will have to create its own state. This state, like any other, will be a centralised organisation exercising ultimate authority in society and having at its disposal decisive armed force (p.8).
There is no point in having a state unless there are people to be bullied and coerced. According to the SWP, the new state will be bullying and coercing the capitalists—the exploiters who live by robbing the working class. But if the workers can dominate the capitalists with a state, why allow them to continue exploiting and robbing the workers? Why not immediately dispossess the parasite minority? Once the capitalists have been stripped of their power to exploit workers economically there will be no need to control them with a state: there will be a classless society without the need for a body of class rule. The SWP argue the absurd case that this all-powerful workers' state will "exercise ultimate authority in society" but for the authority over the most crucial aspect of society in which the capitalists will still be having power. In order to have authority over the exploiters on behalf of the exploited—it is like a proposal for the prisoners to be given control over the screws—there will need to be a new "socialist army":
The old capitalist armed forces . . . will be replaced with organisations of armed workers—workers’ militias (p.8).
Conscription will be re-introduced:
. . . service in the militia will be on a rota basis so as to train and involve the maximum number of workers in the armed defence of their power . . . (p.9).
We do not know whether the SWP would allow conscientious objectors to refuse military service under the new state or whether such dangerous subversives would be sent to "socialist prisons". The new militia will not only be an army but a police force also—a military police, in fact:
The militia will also be in charge of everyday law and order . . . they will perform far more effectively than the capitalist police (p.9).
No more getting away with breaking state-imposed laws under the new state: the crime detection rate of the "socialist police" is already guaranteed to be better than at present. There will be officers in the militia—no doubt they will have little red stripes on their uniforms to show us that they are "socialist" super-thugs, and
All officers in the militia will be elected . . . (p.9).
So, there you have it: establish SWP-style socialism and you get to vote for the Chief Inspector at your local nick.

The new state will have a "socialist government" which will probably be run by "the party which has led the revolution"(p.9). But not everyone will be allowed to vote for the government:
There will not be complete universal suffrage because the nature of the system will exclude the old bourgeoisie and its main associates from the electoral process (p. 10).
So capitalists will not have the vote. If there are still capitalists in the SWP's "socialist society" they would not need to vote, for capitalists have economic power already and the only use which voting performs is to get hold of that power. If the capitalists are abolished as a class, then firstly there is no need for a state—because there will be no contest between classes—and secondly it would be stupidly anti-socialist to deny votes to ex-capitalists who are now equal members of a classless society. Worse still, the SWP proposes to deny votes to the "main associates" of the old capitalists. Does that mean that all previous supporters of capitalism will have no right to vote? Or will the right to vote be denied to active anti-SWPers—including The Socialist Party, which would be working actively to democratically overthrow the new state? The Socialist Party need be in no doubt about our place in this horrific new state, for we are told that political parties will only be allowed to operate freely "providing they accept the basic framework of the revolution" (p.9). Quite simply, the new state will be undemocratic—and once there is a state of such power anyone can be placed in the role of one of the enemies of the state, denied the right to vote or to oppose the regime. All too often the first people to be persecuted by new states are the ones who helped to created them. Take the example of the SWP "promise" about the freedom of artists:
There will be no repetition of the disastrous Stalinist policy of proscribing particular artistic forms or proclaiming that only one style of art . . . has validity. Apart from reserving the right to prohibit direct counter-revolutionary propaganda, the revolutionary government will promote the maximum freedom in this area (pp.33-4).
Let us consider a practical case. Suppose there is a socialist film-maker under the new state who makes a good movie about the way in which life under a militia is not freedom but just another form of oppression. At the end of the film there is a scene in which a socialist makes a speech against the new regime, pointing out that wherever the state exists there is an absence of freedom. The new state bosses might conclude—quite rightly—that such a film could turn workers against the state, make them feel unfree, make them ungrateful to the government which had led them to supposed freedom, incite revolutionary activity which the state would regard as counter-revolutionary. The film would have to be banned, or parts of it censored. These are the inevitable requirements of running a coercive state. As the SWP tell us now, before we could be foolish enough to grant them such power.
. . . it has to be frankly stated that some repression, some use of direct force, will be necessary not only to overthrow the capitalist state but also after the revolution to maintain workers’ power (p.11).
As they say of their heroes, who established a previous "socialist state": "The Bolsheviks had no choice but to introduce a highly authoritarian regime" (p.12).

All of these absurd ideas about socialism are based upon three basic errors. Firstly, that "The class struggle does not come to an end with the victory of the revolution" (p.11). For the SWP, socialism is a class society in which one class rules over another. In fact, once workers gain control of the state our one simple task will be to abolish both classes and the state by means of the immediate dispossession of the capitalist minority. This will put an end to the class struggle forever. 

Secondly, that workers can take power in one country alone. The only action a socialist majority in one country can do is to use all its might to hasten the process of developing class consciousness of workers across the world. It is not possible to do that by setting up a so-called workers' state which would be forced to run capitalism in one country—state capitalism—and in doing so would set back the development of socialist ideas in other countries as workers looked on to see the failures of the "new socialist state". The SWP states that ". . . a workers' state cannot survive indefinitely in one country" (p.17). In fact, it would be fatal for workers ever to take responsibility for running a state in any country. The sole task of the workers against whom the state is used is to use the state for one purpose and then get rid of it.

Thirdly, the SWP accepts the ideas of Lenin about revolution as an act of leaders taking the majority who are led to a new social order: such an authoritarian revolution could only be like all previous revolutions in history, ending in the domination of the leaders, forming a new state over the led. So it was that the Bolsheviks promised to set up a dictatorship of the proletariat but in fact constructed a dictatorship over the proletariat. The SWP aim to do the same thing, with their own pathetic band of leaders in the 1980s role of the Lenins, Trotskys and probably plenty of Stalins. This is not a socialist vision, but a nightmare of Leninist state dictatorship which workers should not be tempted by but should resist.

The New Economy
Most of the SWP's pamphlet is devoted to describing the role of the new state. Conspicuously little is said about the economic arrangements under "the workers' state". It is admitted that "Socialism cannot be built in one country" (p.17). But the new state will exist in one country. So we must assume that it will be running capitalism—state capitalism. There is plenty of evidence in the pamphlet to suggest that this is what the SWP has in mind. We are told that "The formal mechanism through which economic power will be established is a familiar one, namely nationalisation" (p.14). Indeed, it is all too familiar: nationalisation can be simply translated as state-run capitalism. Not all of the means of wealth production will be nationalised: ". . . the working class will immediately . . . take into its hands all the major means of production in society" (p.14). Only the major ones, included among which will be
. . . nationalisation of the banks and the imposition of strict exchange controls backed by other revolutionary measures to prevent the inevitable attempt at a flight of capital abroad (p.14).
So, there will still be banks and capital under the SWP's "socialism". But some capitalists will be spared from being taken over by the new state capitalist: "Small businesses employing only one or two workers can mostly be left to later" (p.14).

Take note of that if you are currently working in a shop or sweatshop. Workers will continue to be in the working class, selling their labour power. Therefore they will need trade unions 
and the trade unions will also retain the right to strike, since even under a workers' state sections of the working class may need to defend their interests against abuse and should keep this ultimate weapon (p.13).
Incidentally, after the so-called workers' state was formed in Russia Trotsky told the workers that their trade unions could only be used to make the state-run industries more profitable and we have no guarantees that the new state rulers would not do the same if they had power.

If you are a "technical expert" who does not support the new state the SWP has some bad news for you:
. . . they will simply work for and under the direction of the factory or industrial council just as today they work for the bosses . . . If absolutely necessary they will have to perform with workers' guns at their heads . . . (pp.15-6).
We are referring here to scientists, auditors, architects, surgeons—all  of whom are now workers—people forced to sell their labour power in order to live. They are being told that life for them will be “Just as today", working for bosses and possibly having to do so with guns pointed at their heads. Workers will still be wage slaves, dependent on wages or salaries:
. . . the supply of goods will remain limited and workers will still work for money wages which in turn they will use to purchase these goods  (p.21).
So the workers under the new state will still have to buy the goods and services which they produce. From whom will they buy them? From the state which, like any other capitalist, produces nothing and sells what the workers produce to the workers.

A socialist society, based on the common ownership of all resources by all the people, would have no resemblance to what the SWP describes. There will be no classes, no banks or exchange controls or capital, and no money—for what use could money have in a society where everything belongs to everyone? The SWP simply do not understand this conception of a moneyless society of common ownership. Instead they offer confusing notions, such as that
in order to move, people will either transfer to vacant accommodation or exchange houses instead of buying and selling them (p.22).
The SWP is proposing the establishment of a system of barter to replace the buying and selling system. But it gets worse. Rather than the abolition of wages and money, which Marx pointed out is essential to socialism, they propose the gradual abolition of wages and money:
Buying and selling will fade away. Money . . . will steadily lose its usefulness to the point where it can be dispensed with altogether (p.22).
Now, either society is based on property in which there is buying and selling and a need for money or on propertyless common ownership. The two conditions are mutually exclusive: you can no more have a bit of both than you can be a bit pregnant. The SWP pamphlet writers know, because of their reading of Marx and their knowledge of The Socialist Party, that it would be a major mistake for them to try to describe a socialist society without mentioning the abolition of money and buying and selling. But they are petrified by the thought that this would make them appear utopian. After all, they are always telling The Socialist Party that although they know we are right in stating that socialism will be a moneyless, wageless, classless society it is folly to tell the workers that because they will reject socialism. That is Leninist arrogance: only some people—the leaders who monopolise theory—can be told the truth: for the workers it is better to offer palatable nonsense. That is why the SWP , in a confused and embarrassed manner, have inserted a few words alluding to the abolition of money, buying and selling—but only the gradual abolition, with money fading away—presumably one tenpenny piece at a time.

The SWP's picture of socialism would be a joke if the future of humanity was something to laugh about. In fact, given the supreme urgency of the need for socialist transformation of society, the nonsense being sold as socialism by the SWP is an insult to the intelligence of those who read it and a sinister picture of a Leninist state under which no worker should want to live.
Steve Coleman

Leninism v Anarchism (2012)

Book Review from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anarchism. A Marxist Criticism. by John Molyneux. Bookmarks. £4.

John Molyneux is the SWPer who wrote their 1987 pamphlet on The Future Socialist Society in which he stated that the first thing that would happen on the establishment of such a society would be that wages would be increased and also that engineers would be forced, if they refused to co-operate, to work with a gun at their head. Obviously, he was talking about a future state capitalist society.

His earlier pamphlet is still listed as ‘further reading’ in his new, 80-page booklet in which he criticises anarchists from an SWP viewpoint. His basic argument is that ‘through its rejection of parties in general and the Leninist party in particular anarchism merely contributes to the organisational and political disarmament of the working class’ (p. 29).

We can agree with his criticism of anarchists for their refusal to participate in elections and for their theory that it is the existence of the state rather than of capitalism that is the cause of working-class problems. But that’s about it. On the other hand, we can agree with the anarchist emphasis on the need to establish a stateless society and with their criticism of Leninism as the theory and practice of a would-be new ruling class.

Having said this – and Molyneux notes this too – some anarchists are themselves in effect vanguardists in that they seek as an ‘active minority’ to lead the working class in an assault on capitalism and the state. Molyneux appeals to such anarchists to be consistent and join a properly-structured leadership organisation.

Our appeal is to those anarchists who are committed to the concept of a self-organised majority revolution without leaders to be consistent and abandon their dogmatic opposition to the working class forming a political party to contest elections and eventually win control of political power, not to form a government but to immediately abolish capitalism and usher in the classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society that real socialism will be.
Adam Buick

The SUS Vagrancy Act (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently there has been a series of wrathful protests by various black-community pressure groups and capitalism’s left-wingers about the police abuse of the so-called “Sus” charge. “Sus” is the offence under s.4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 which provides for the arrest and punishment of “suspected persons” who “frequent or loiter in” a public place “with intent to commit an arrestable offence”, usually an alleged intention to steal.

Several features of this charge make it particularly susceptible to police abuse: “loiter” can refer to any presence except a direct expeditious passage through the place in question; it only requires two policemen to testify (on a book of archaic anecdotes from the Middle East) that they saw the accused “acting suspiciously” on two occasions which need only be minutes apart—first establishes the alleged offender as a “suspected person” the second constitutes his offence; conveniently for the police the accused has no right to trial by jury. Most of capitalism’s exasperated reformers and apologists were even more indignant to learn from Home Office statistics that 42 per cent of those arrested under this charge were “coloured” although this pigmentation-group only accounts for about 3 per cent of the population.

Somewhere in England a man is arrested and incarcerated by a blue-hatted member of his own species for being suspected of intending to take some food from a market stall and . . .  eat it. The hand-cuffs snap shut in the shadows cast by Europe’s huge food mountains. This fleeting moment typifies a social system fraught with contradictions: poverty alongside prosperity, prisons alongside palaces. Modern capitalism has produced tension between human development and political restraint: a man with a twenty-function, battery-operated, liquid-crystal display watch on one wrist and a handcuff on the other, linking him to a policeman leading him to a cell. The digital wrist watch evidences a level of technological advancement and, because it is produced in a factory, our capacity to provide for social needs. Our technology and productive capacity is, however, manifestly NOT being used to maximise the health and welfare of humanity. This global system with its motto of “no ’profit, no production” draws reins on the existing manufactural potential. This tension was explained by Karl Marx:
At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations, within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into fetters. (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Preface)
For capitalism to continue the notion of property must stand unassailed, but as the system works on minority ownership of the means of life (the land, factories, mills, mines and offices) a factory owner or state will need more than scrolled title deeds to defend a use of the factory which serves the interest of the owner at the expense of the non-owning working class. As the interests of the owner and the non-owner are necessarily at loggerheads — the non-owner is given a wage or salary which has to be worth less than what he has produced in order for the owner to make a profit — capitalism requires constant enforcement of its property ideology. With the advent of industrial production in the early nineteenth century an increasingly comprehensive force was required to maintain the private ownership of society’s means of production.

Since the days of the Bow Street Runners, organised by Henry Fielding after his appointment as a magistrate in 1749, the principal function of the police has been the protection of property. From the cradle we are fed the idea, often in unwritten, unspoken axioms, that the protection of property is in the best interests of everyone. Yet, while for a member of the working class “property” relates to such things as an inquest at school when a pair of plimsolls goes missing; savings he must declare as a supplicant at the Social Security Office, or the semi-detached house for which his mortgage demands a lifetime of payment, “property” for a member of the capitalist class means the enforceable right to use his land, factory or office for optimum profit irrespective of human need.

Every time an arrest is made on “sus”, a number of points should be apparent. First, that the daily enforcement of the laws of ownership in the arena of personal chattels in cases of pickpocketing, shoplifting or mugging is remote from the real focal point of property: the fact that the property of some is society’s means of life. Second, that “crimes" which at first sight have no connection with property—like crimes of violence—are an upshoot of this society which aches with splendour amidst squalor, glorified butchery in war, the shackle of institutionalised monogamy and where, perhaps anaesthetised with alcohol or drugs, sporadic violence is wrought by many of those ditched by capitalism’s competitive chaos.

If the Vagrancy Act which affords the “sus” charge were to be repealed tomorrow, what would be the result? It would be of scant relief to the hundreds of people, mostly black youths, who were likely to be seized by the police every week while the Act was in force. Capitalism would continue as normal. The need for the Accounts Book to always aim for profit would keep nigh on two million people unemployed, and racism would continue to simmer as scapegoats are sought. Blame would still be cast on the “coloured immigrant” despite the fact that areas most blighted with unemployment like Glasgow and Belfast house virtually no such “immigrants”. Coloured people would still find employment harder to obtain than “whites”, would still be left to do about the most anyone can, with no work and the dole-pittance—loiter; would still be bullied by the police who would then resort to a whole range of Statutes and common law precedents to authorise street searches and arrests. Wage-slave policemen eager for promotion or simply to taste the “action” glamourised in recruitment commercials would still abuse their powers.

Policemen with softer truncheons, or reduced powers, will solve no working class problem. While the idea of property reigns the police will remain to protect the minority ownership of the means of life and to maintain the morality and discipline in the working class which is necessary if the majority is to abide the system which offers them employment, unemployment and sometimes conscription while dividends, rents and profits are pushed through the letter-boxes of the capitalist class.
Gary Jay

Roy Jenkins and his “new” Centre Party (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rise of the Labour Party towards the status of the Other Government of British Capitalism has been marked in many disreputable ways—among them their nurturing of an alternative aristocracy. Alternative, that is, to those High Tories who grew up in the comfortable assumption that they are fitted to rule through a superiority which cannot be made or bought or imitated because it is inborn. The components of this superiority typically include an education at Eton, followed by one of the more select colleges at Oxbridge like Balliol or Kings and perhaps what is known as service as an officer in a Guards regiment. Backed up by the ownership of a few thousand acres and a lucrative share portfolio, this is what raises the Tory aristocrats above upstarts like Peter Walker and Ted Heath who, although they are both rich and cunning, plainly lack the uncommon touch.

The Labour version of aristocrats have similar assumptions about their fitness to rule but the components are somewhat different. For them, it is advantageous to have been born in some humble Welsh mining village, to have gone to the local grammar school and won a place at university perhaps after a couple of trade union-sponsored years at Ruskin College. Then they are fitted to move into Parliament, and the government, and to set about organising the more efficient exploitation of the workers they have left behind in the valleys.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Occasionally some hard-handed worker from the docks or the gas works will embarrass the Tories by believing what they say about this being a classless society and insisting on becoming one of their propagandists. When the opposite happens, when a member of the landed gentry or some effete lover of the high life joins the Labour Party, the embarrassment is less acute—which says a lot about what Labour is in business for.

One exception who has caused the Labour Party considerable anguish is Roy Jenkins, who is now threatening to inflict upon the British working class yet another political party to compete for their vote on a programme compounded of platitudes, evasions and lies. Jenkins, we are told, is someone we should all be grateful for; his name can hardly be penned by Fleet Street hacks without being preceded by adjectives like urbane, elegant, cultivated . . . He is said to like duchesses and fine food and wine and was once derided by his arch rival on the Tory benches, Iain Macleod, as one whose “. . .  disdain for his political opponents is only matched by his contempt for his political friends”. But not all his friends; when Hugh Gaitskell was Labour leader, it was said that Jenkins was a regular guest at his Hampstead home where, with people like Crosland, Douglas Jay and Gordon Walker, policy was settled over generous drafts of wine.

Jenkins is one who was born into the alternative aristocracy, a Welshman whose father was a miners’ MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Clement Attlee. Unlike some Labour Members — for example Neil Kinnock — he has never made a profession (or should it be religion?) of his Welshness. For one thing, if he ever had a Welsh accent he must have worked hard at eliminating it. (Perhaps that is why he has trouble with his Rs; his supporters must tremble at the prospect that one day he will claim that his Centre Party is ‘‘wesponsbile, wadical, weforming”.)

From Abersychan Grammar School Jenkins went first to University College Cardiff and then to Oxford, where he was a very receptive scholar and became chairman of the Labour Club. His first government post of any weight was as Minister of Air, in 1964, followed by Home Secretary and then, when Callaghan resigned in 1967 over devaluation, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In all these jobs, he proved himself to have the qualities necessary to an administrator of capitalism.

First, flexibility: in a broadcast two days before the March 1966 election he commended Labour’s way of planning:
This government has not yet got the problem fully under control but George Brown’s constructive and determined approach offers much the biggest hope.
He then advised the electors:
In our short period of Labour government I believe we have earned a renewal of your support. I ask you to give us that support . . .  and to give it this time, by a clear and decisive majority.
Well the workers took this advice but very soon Jenkins seemed to think that it had been misguided, saying tartly to Crossman at the end of a Cabinet meeting in December 1966, “I’d give anything for evidence that we have a long term plan for any part of this Government’s policy, thank you very much Dick.” (Richard Crossman, Diary of a Cabinet Minister.)

Second, rigidity. As Chancellor, Jenkins won a reputation as the unbending advocate of the familiar, discredited proposition that the problems of the British capitalist class could best be solved by a drastic cut in working class living standards. Thus he was in favour of compulsory wage restraint and agreed to abandon the idea only on condition that the union-restricting laws set out in the infamous White Paper In Place of Strife would be introduced instead. In Cabinet in January 1968 Jenkins insisted on the reimposition of prescription charges, the abolition of which was an article of Labour Party faith, “. . . because the issue had become a matter of confidence with the bankers.” (Crossman). His performance in pushing through, in elegant speeches, Labour’s 1968 programme of public spending cuts, which embraced other historically cherished Labour objects like raising the school leaving age and publicly financed housing, was so valuable to the capitalist class that Harold Wilson felt moved to pay him this tribute: “My greatest asset was the firmness and determination of the Chancellor in the presentation of the balanced package.” (The Labour Government, 1964/70).

No doubt Jenkins carried out his hatchet job with all the civilised manners for which he is famous. Indeed, such was the nonchalance of this dedicated servant of British capitalism that he was suspected of being lazy. "I find it a little strange”, grumbled Crossman, “That on a Monday he can sit in his cottage and that he always finds time to dine out and take life easy. Moreover, he doesn’t know his Treasury briefs as well as Callaghan did.” It was just as well that Crossman kept this to himself for a while; by 1970 the Labour government, and Jenkins’ policies, were unpopular enough without the working class being additionally enraged by this lack of attention to Treasury write-ups.

After Labour’s defeat in 1970 there were signs that Jenkins was getting restless with his party. His friends may have been alarmed at further symptoms of a serious disturbance in his political balance. He began, even in his guarded moments, to do the unthinkable to admit that he was a failure, although he deftly converted this admission into a reason for giving him and his party another chance, on the grounds that they may have learned from his mistakes. In a typical speech to a Labour gathering in March 1972 he made these admissions:
. . .  the poverty and wretchedness in this country are a greater reproach to Mr. Heath, or indeed to myself, as a Minister in a recent Government . . .  In spite of half a century (sic) of effort, our society—and still more our world—is still disfigured by gross unfairness . . .
The poor are still poor. Property speculators—and others—are as relatively rich as were those with an accepted position at the top of the social structure.
(Observer, 12.3.72).
This sudden revelation that Labour government, and he also, had flopped did not persuade Jenkins to abandon his candidature. Nor did it stop him, when Labour came back in 1974, imposing another dose of his failure on the working class by again accepting the job of Home Secretary. It seemed however that he was unsettled in that job, feeling that his svelte talents should have been more gratefully rewarded. He did not applaud Callaghan’s election to the leadership. Callaghan did not go to university, was breezy and avuncular and shows little knowledge of wine or table napery. And Labour’s new leader also showed scant regard for Jenkins; according to Alan Watkins (Observer 15.6.80), “Mr. Callaghan made it clear . . . that in his opinion Jenkins’s career in British politics was over.” This warring, it should be remembered, happened in a party whose grass roots members delude themselves that it stands for working class unity for socialism.

In 1976, Jenkins showed what he thought of unity and of Labour’s crisis-ridden attempts to run capitalism. With the government reeling and listing in heavy waters, he was one of the first rats over the side, striking out for the calmer (and better paid) waters of the Presidency of the EEC. Labour’s irritation at this well-publicised evacuation was aggravated when they lost Jenkins's seat at the subsequent by-election. Some politicians fail. Others lose a fight. Some make mistakes. Jenkins proved that he is indeed someone special: he did all three.

Should he then be trusted? From the ashes he rises and invites the working class to degrade themselves under yet another style of capitalism. His 1979 Dimbleby Lecture, in which he spelt out the case for a Centre Party—and for himself as leader—listed the objects which could be “assisted” by such a party: to control the scope of the state; to offer consumers more say; to make the “nation” more “confident” and “outward looking”; to have class divisions “fade” and that same “nation” achieve a “renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose”. These stale platitudes spouted from a man who is supposed to be one of capitalism’s great political thinkers. It is difficult to imagine how anyone, no matter how ignorant, could offer anything less original or efficacious.

Jenkins’ temerity in putting himself, and his proposed Centre Party, forward illuminates one of the persistent fallacies which help to keep capitalism in being. The working class are at present convinced that leadership is necessary. This belief sometimes demands one style of leader blunt, abrasive, overwhelming like Ernie Bevin. And sometimes it demands another type — suave, smooth, underwhelming like Jenkins. It is time the workers rid themselves of this baseless, debilitating theory; the style and the personality of a leader is of no consequence. All of them are powerless to control capitalism, which means that, whoever thinks they are in charge of the system, it will continue to have its dehumanising way with the people who support it and who are deceived by the wheedling of its leaders.

So choosing between Jenkins and his Centre Party and the rest is meaningless; it is like stating a preference for your own executioner. We would do better to keep our heads—and to trust ourselves.

The future of oil (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

North Sea oil and gas once—seen as the saviours of British capitalism—should be seen in relation to British and world capitalism, and to long-term energy requirements. In essence none of the economic and social problems is new, not even the environmental ones. For example, when wood was the domestic and industrial fuel in Britain the government, belatedly, had to step in to prevent the woodlands being entirely destroyed.

The history of this century has seen several big change-overs in the predominant source of energy. Coal, which had been mined on a small scale by the Romans but was then neglected for centuries, came into its own as wood supplies dwindled. Output rose from 5 million tons in 1750 to 60 million a hundred years later, and reached its peak of 287 million tons in 1913. Then rapid decline set in and current production is about 125 million. Now, in the words of a report by the world’s seven leading oil companies: “Oil, which once ousted coal as the dominant energy source, can do little more than meet the current level of demand over the next twenty years. After that it will be down hill all the way.” (Financial Times, 22 April 1980.)

Oil became dominant with the motor age. Imports of oil products into Britain, only 200,000 tons in 1913, were 100 million tons in 1973. Since then the fast development of North Sea oil has nearly reached self-sufficiency and there is the prospect of a surplus for export during the 1980s. Now a new phase opens, following the agreement reached in June at the Venice meeting of seven industrial nations (USA, Japan, Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Italy) to reduce their dependence on oil by 1990 and to cover the gap by developing coal production and making increased use of nuclear energy, solar energy and other resources.

In view of what has happened in the past to many plans and declarations of intent, this one should be regarded with caution. Indeed, within days, Margaret Thatcher was explaining that the agreement did not mean what it seemed. If, however, British coal production was doubled, it would bring total output to the level of 1922—but with one big difference. It would not increase the number of miners, now under 300,000, to over a million as it was in 1922. With the revolution in mining techniques, the main increase in the number of jobs would not be in the pits but in the industries producing the sophisticated and costly mining machinery and equipment, and the resulting total would be nothing like a million. One result of the coal revival is that all the big oil companies are now making massive investments in coal mining and in the use of coal to make oil and chemicals.

While British oil production has been soaring, in the USA it has fallen. In 1961 American oil output was by far the largest in the world, double that of Russia, which enabled America to be self-sufficient up to 1970. Now, consuming a third of all world oil production, America is the world’s biggest importer, at a cost in 1980 of about £45,000 million. In home output they now rank third, with Saudi Arabia and Russia well ahead; though increased exploration under the stimulus of high world oil prices will result in an increase of production for some time.

According to Western observers (where widely different conclusions must however be accepted with reserve) Russian capitalism also has its energy problems. Mark Frankland (Observer, 22 June 1980), after discounting the wilder forecasts, considers that Russian oil production and exports may soon reach a peak and begin to decline. On the other hand, Russia has one-third of world gas reserves, the largest coal reserves, considerable unused hydro-electrical potential, and fast-growing nuclear power.

In Frankland’s view, Russia’s difficulty is that, owing to location, it is becoming “monstrously expensive” to develop new oilfields. Other observers believe that the wasteful use of energy in past years has made it increasingly difficult for Russia to expand its manufacturing and agricultural output. The Financial Times (1 April 1980) says that Russia and her East European dependencies “use twice or three times the amount of energy used in the West for a comparable output”.

Major disruption to all the oil importing countries was caused in 1973 when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) enormously increased their prices. Dominating oil production, and with 80 per cent of all known resources outside Russia, they were able to band together, threaten to withhold supplies and force the importers to pay more. In 1973 they put prices up from $3 to $8 a barrel, and have since raised it to $35. Some forecasters expect $65 by 1990.

After years of weak, competitive marketing, during which the OPEC countries had been accepting payment in fast depreciating dollars and pounds (while having to pay constantly rising prices for the industrial goods they imported), they have learned the old capitalist principle of selling at the highest price the market will bear. Their action was met with sanctimonious accusations of “greed” and “irresponsibility” and with threats of armed force to take over Middle East oil.

As happens with all monopolies, OPEC itself is temporarily in some trouble. High world oil prices, and the depression, have reduced sales and current production is in excess of demand. But OPEC still commands the situation, and the American Department of Energy takes an alarmist view of the chaos that could be created if output by some of the main suppliers declines (as in Iran) or is deliberately cut to raise prices further. Later on in the 1980s it may be, as suggested in the Sunday Telegraph (15 June 1980) that “OPEC’s domination of world oil supplies is likely to be eroded . . .  by the build-up of production in non-OPEC areas, notably Mexico, the North Sea and the Far East”.

Dr. Hammer, Chairman of Occidental Petroleum (Sunday Telegraph 29 June 1980) looks to two big additions to world oil production; first China and, more importantly, the commercial working of shale-oil. According to him, shale-oil reserves in America are two and a half times greater than all the Western world's known oil reserves. In the past extraction has been too costly, but this is changing with the spectacular rise of world oil prices.

New panic broke out when Russia invaded Afghanistan, with the implication, in the eyes of Western observers, that it was the prelude to a drive towards Middle East oil. Exceptionally, The Times (24 June 1980) suggested that the Western Powers should “seriously consider selling equipment to the Soviet Union to expand its oil production, Afghanistan or no Afghanistan".

As regards the problem of world reserves of oil, past experience has been that, in spite of constantly growing consumption, each decade has shown an increase in estimates of total untapped reserves. A survey quoted in the Financial Times (3 June 1980) shows that proved world reserves rose from 554 billion barrels in 1970 to 655 billion in 1979. Other estimates put the ultimate peak of reserves at a very much higher figure before decline sets in.

The real problem is a different one. In oil, as in coal, when the easily accessible sources are worked out, the tendency is for each ton produced to need an increasing amount of labour, showing itself in the enormous investments of capital required for North Sea oil and for the expansion of coal output. Investment in North Sea oil in 1979 was £2,000 million.

One aspect of the current situation is the odd belief of many economists and politicians that because North Sea oil is under British control and does not have to be imported, this spells prosperity for the working class. They forget that they are dealing with capitalism, which does not produce for use but for sale at a profit. They should look at the history of coal production; for decades before 1913, when coal was king, British capitalism had huge coal reserves under its control and a big export market, but this did not prevent miners suffering long spells of heavy unemployment and being forced to accept wage reductions in periodical depressions.

While the Venice conference was in session, the Daily Mail (24 June 1980) announced that doubling of coal production meant “a rosy new future for the miners”. But in the House of Commons the same day Thatcher explained that the increase of output was to take place in America, Canada and elsewhere with lower production costs, and said: “I do not expect what happened at the Venice summit to have any impact on coal in this country unless we have sharply increased productivity and thereby competitive prices” (The Times, 25 June 1980).

For miners it spells, not a rosy future, but having to meet cheap coal imports.
Edgar Hardcastle