Thursday, February 20, 2020

Seriously pretending (1994)

From the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

For a very serious reason, we would ask you to pretend for a moment. Just allow your invagination to take a short journey from where you are now and look at how your life would change if what you are pretending actually happened.

You are living in a world where money does not exist. When you want something you go to the store and take it. There isn’t someone to tell you what you can take or when you can take it; that decision is yours. And everybody else has the same right to avail themselves of what they need as you — so there are no criminals wanting to rob you.

Of course, all the things that people freely avail themselves of have to be produced. Food has to be grown and processed; things have got to be made and houses and other buildings have to be built; a thorough and efficient health service has to be run as well as emergency and other services. In the world where you are pretending to be there is plenty of work to do.

But because money and all other forms of ration tokens do not exist, millions of jobs that used to use the skills and energies of people no longer exist. There is no need for banks, insurance offices, advertising and promotion services, sales people of all the different sorts, mortgage services, dole clerks, security personnel, judges, lawyers and criminals. The list is a very long one and includes armed forces and all those munition workers, scientists and others employed in the killing industry — as the competition for markets, trade routes and other material interests that cause wars and conflicts would have disappeared. All in all, it would be safe to say that, in the world in which you are pretending to be now, there would be at least three times as many people to do the necessary work as there are in the world you are pretending to have left.

In the pretend world there is no government because there are no conflicting interests and no need for people to be controlled by a coercive state. Instead, there are democratically-elected bodies at local, regional and world level whose function is to organize production and distribution. You may be elected to one of these bodies. If you are you will not receive any special favours — of course, you won’t need to for, like everybody else, the things you need are freely available to you. Those elected to carry on public administration can be recalled by those who elected them and no-one is coerced into fulfilling any task.

In this pretend world, neither you nor any other person will ever endure poverty or insecurity; you will never be homeless or badly housed; you will not die in warfare or civil conflict for the basis of these evils will have been abolished and, since there is no need to steal, crime and offences against the person do not now exist. Automation and new productive processes, instead of creating unemployment, simply make necessary work easier for all and, like the fact that all the wasteful occupations of the old world have been abolished, give more leisure to those who wish to travel in a world where frontiers do not exist or to pursue other work, hobbies or interests.

Back to reality
Let’s stop the pretending there and deal with "reality”! Because reality is a world where everything carries a price tag, where millions die annually of hunger, millions more simply "get by" and only a relatively few people are wealthy or enormously rich, we think of this terrible and frightening reality as the natural order of things, as natural as the seasons.

In fact, we are told that this awful reality reflects our "human nature" and that this nature would not permit us to live in a world such as you were just now pretending to live in. In other words, that because we are human we cannot all have free and equal access to the abundance of everything that it is now possible to produce. On the other hand, despite us being human, we can accept a reality where the members of a minority class can freely avail themselves of their needs from the wealth we produce. It is not too difficult to see why the ruling class, who control our "education" and our social conditioning, tell us that our "nature" would not allow us to cooperate in the sane organization of society.

There exists now the economic potential to create a world where everyone has free access to their needs without wages, money or any other form of rationing. Unfortunately, the political will to establish such a world is absent largely because we have been conditioned to believe that the present capitalist system is, as we have observed, the natural order of things, despite its endemic problems and that there is no alternative to capitalism.

The world we asked you to pretend to be living in at the outset was the world envisaged by the early socialists. Unfortunately, that vision was deliberately corrupted by politicians acting in ignorance or in the interests of the ruling class. Thus, state capitalism, a brutal and anti-democratic form of capitalism operating in so-called communist countries, was claimed to represent the ideas of socialism as were the failed reformist policies of Labour parties.

But socialism has not failed; on the contrary, it has never been tried and the growth of a genuine movement to bring it about has been deliberately frustrated by Establishment lies and misrepresentation. It is because the case for socialism is so overwhelmingly logical that those who oppose it out of narrow self-interest use their wealth, their power and their privilege to distort its meaning and to deny valid arguments about its nature and its feasibility a place on the political agenda. These are interests that have successfully pretended to you that you have to put up with capitalism and its disgusting abuse of humanity because there is no alternative to that system.

Because socialism and democracy are indivisible, the task of the Socialist Party is to build the political means of convincing a majority to opt for Socialism. We do not pretend that it is an easy task but, confronted with capitalist reality, it is an urgent and essential one.
Richard Montague

Go for a million (1994)

Party News from the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationwide, the Socialist Party is putting up four candidates in the European Elections in May and June. This is unprecedented. Not many have heard of us; fewer will know what we stand for.

What we aim for is a practical — and ecologically viable — alternative to the market and the state, a new way of living in which we can all give according to our abilities, and take according to our needs. The means to achieve this must be in harmony with the end itself: democratic, peaceful and without leaders trying to run society on our behalf.

The fact is present-day society cannot be run in the interest of the great majority. It does not matter what government we choose, they must dance to the tune of capitalism. The problems they grapple with are self-evidently endemic to the system itself. They are normal and necessary features of how it operates. Why else are people homeless while, in this country alone, over 600,000 homes remain empty? Why else do people starve in shadows of the global food mountain?

Present-day society is massively wasteful and inherently destructive — not just of our environment and resources but of our hopes and aspirations. It is time to organize for a real alternative. Why not join with us to make this a reality?

The amount in our Election Fund is now £19,084. If you have not yet contributed please send your cheque (made payable to "The Socialist Party of Great Britain") to: Election Fund, The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Letters: Profound Disequilibrium (1993)

Letters to the Editors from the December 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Profound Disequilibrium

Dear Editors.

The article “World Recession Closes in Quickly” (October) makes the undeniable point that "the capitalist economy is in a period of profound disequilibrium". However, I feel that coupling this with the statement that it would get better may suggest to some readers that the Socialist Party holds the mistaken view that equilibrium is the normal state of a healthy capitalism, that is, one of boom.

Traditional bourgeois economic theory leans heavily on the concept that production serves consumption, and that equilibrium is achieved as all factors of production receive their just recompense in the market, which is supposed to regulate technical/organisational decisions necessary for this alleged balance.

Marx’s value theory demonstrates that capitalism's normal state is, in fact, disequilibrium. Quite apart from the anarchy of production, this arises from the fact that on the level of the whole economy capital accumulation can proceed only through the realisation of surplus value by reinvestment in new means of production, capitalists' and workers’ personal consumption being met out of the remainder of surplus value and by wages respectively.

This reinvestment is made by individual businesses under competitive pressure, and in anticipation of a market demand over and above that currently existing. It must bear a favourable relationship to the mass of capital already accumulated if the economy is to expand and they are to stay in business. Whether the rate of profit is maintained, and slump deferred, depends firstly on whether this new investment enables a corresponding increase in surplus value production. But this competitively-compelled investment in new means of production is a permanent feature of disequilibrium normal to capitalism, driving it forward beyond current market bounds and ultimately to a period of over-investment, declining profits and slump. Incidentally. I believe that it is only in this sense that Marx’s contentious reference to crises being ultimately caused by the restricted consumption of the masses can be seen as relevant.

As capitalist production is essentially production of and for capital, it is enabled to proceed only when it can produce enough surplus value to satisfy its accumulation needs, and ceases when it cannot. No equilibrium state is involved.
W. Robertson,
Brighton

Reply:
We didn't really suggest that equilibrium is the normal slate of the capitalist economy, did we?
Editors.


LBC

Dear Editors,

As a great fan of "free" radio stations. I read your "Death of a radio station" article in the October issue with great interest.

What great news it was to hear that LBC has lost their broadcasting licence. I’m overjoyed.

The moronic prattlers at LBC and other licensed radio stations have a damned cheek to start shouting "unfair — disgraceful" when they have found out that the Tory Party they have grovelled round have had happen to them what happens to most of us working-class people — being shit upon (when they lose their licence).

What really annoyed me was when I read in your article that LBC groaned that the Government has no right to say who. and who may not, broadcast. LBC and the "others" didn’t have this view when on Saturday August 19 1989, somewhere in the international waters of the North Sea. Radio Caroline, from the MV Ross Revenge w'as being wrecked — not by gale-force winds but by Dutch and UK government officials, with no doubt the likes of LBC gleefully hearing about the events where DJs on board were assaulted, transmitters violently smashed with sledgehammers and the ship’s record library confiscated. Everything on board that ship was either "stolen" by UK officials or smashed to pieces. We are talking about a vessel being in international waters where the UK authorities had no jurisdiction over.

The likes of LBC were responsible for this raid. They protested (since 1983) that Caroline had no right to broadcast etc etc.

Now LBC — poor dears — are “in the same boat" so-to-speak. Well isn’t that tough.

The ILRs wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for the likes of Caroline and the ’60s stations that broadcast offshore. Surely everybody has the right to broadcast. The airwaves are just that — air isn’t that free?

"We live in a democratic free society". So says Johnnie and his boys. Well, you could’ve fooled me!

Thanks again for the excellent article. Steve Coleman is certainly on my "wavelength".

Best wishes and thanks for an excellent journal.
Doug Sharrard,
Leicester


“Emotional Man"

Dear Editors.

The October editorial headed "Cure for the fascist cancer" while expounding some fundamental truth, also contained the persistent and basic flaw that is always present in the advocation of your arguments. Your editorial stated: "Do those who seek to ban them (BNP) believe that workers are so stupid as to fall for fascist nonsense when it is countered in public by clear and logical opposition?"

The answer unfortunately is yes they can. There is sufficient evidence to show that millions of people are incapable of rational thinking.

The cause is not because people are “stupid" but because they are subject to early emotional experiences that can thwart mature development of their objective capabilities to fully overcome repressed and infantile fears in later adult life.

If this were not the case, the countless numbers who have, over many years, heard the Socialist Party, with its "clear and logical" position, would have not only rejected their own previous views but, at least most, would have joined the SPGB.

On the contrary, the observations are that millions not only flock to and vigorously support reactionary political philosophies, but in addition millions more become obsessively addicted to religious rantings of the most primitive and irrational kind.

While I am in agreement with the Socialist Party in its desire for a truly democratic world community, based on common ownership, I find that its lack of a deeper and more positive understanding of “Emotional Man", as opposed to its fixation on purely "Economic Man", is its weakest essential link.

Human beings — this should be self-evident — are not robots and mechanical, but living organisms of much complexity in their inner emotional life.

Political reactionaries (including fascists) and religious advocates always make their appeal to the irrational in "Emotional Man" that repeatedly and successfully recruits millions in each generation to their ranks. Despite the fact that those millions, as a result, act contrary to their own rational interests.

This constant seeking after substitute strong symbolic parental images, in the form of Gods, leaders and powerful nation states of "Motherland" and "Fatherland", should give a conclusive indication of the infantile and "lack of confidence" evident in the human psyche.

The source is not in his "nature" but in the "nurtured" early emotional experience. "Fascism" is not merely a political attitude but the outward expression of inner conflicts that we are all capable of living under certain anxiety conditions.

The increasing demand for Sado-Masochistic style movies and violent horror "comics" by vast numbers of young people worldwide, as some attempt at release from inner conflict, should be of great concern.

Trends are also observed in the presentation style, over the last twenty years, in the music of the young, behaviour at football events, drug-taking and drinking habits. All are symptomatic of outward and inward drives of destructive aggressive behaviour.

The development of new religious cults shows an increase in the infestation of mysticism, particularly in the young.

The danger is that these tensions can be projected onto reality with "fascist" values. As a guide to the difficulties Socialists face, if we are ever to secure a genuine and lasting democratic society, may I recommend two two works: The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud. Until Socialists fully understand and tackle these deep matters, little progress, if any, can be made for a sane society. Failure to recognise this could have the most serious consequences, in this technological age, for the future of our planet.
Lionel M Rich,
London NW6


Reply:
Who says we are fixated on "economic man"? Socialism is about improving all aspects of human life. We even have members who like the ideas of Freud and Reich (though others reject them as unsubstantiated speculations, not to say unscientific nonsense). The point is we all agree that the task of Socialists today is to make more Socialists, by reasoned argument and democratic persuasion. What are you suggesting we do in addition? Organise a campaign of mass psychoanalysis? 
Editors.


Religion and Birth Control

Dear Editors,

Termination of pregnancy and contraception are very difficult. It is misleading to link the two as the article on religion and birth control did in the October issue.

Contraception enables an individual to control family size and fertility if they wish to make this choice. Termination ends the life of another, although very small, individual.

If people stopped linking termination and contraception then maybe religious leaders would stop linking the two and hopefully realize that contraception is a good thing and that by more people having access to it without all the guilt there would be less terminations, less women dying in back-street clinics, less women becoming worn out at an early age from having many children, less deaths of infants, etc, etc.

The only religious people who will not be convinced by separating the two issues are idiots like the Pope who do not care about the unborn child, because once it is born it is then condemned to a life of poverty and even early death. The Pope and his cronies want to control the sexuality of worshippers and keep women uneducated and producing kids until they wear out.

Most Catholics I know do not agree with termination as the life of a baby is ended, however they nearly all use contraception, thinking that if the Pope cared about babies he would stop condemning contraception and positively encourage it.

It will surprise many with stereotyped views on pro-lifers that most of my religious friends support abortion and my humanist atheist friends are mostly against it.

The only way to stop termination is to make contraception easily available, give all kids a good sex education with an emphasis on equality, relationships, love, safety and respect for each other, an end to poverty, equality and choices regarding jobs and education for girls and women all over the world.

Also it is not just religious cultures that oppress women. Secular Western cultures have sick attitudes to women, on the whole we are just sex objects who must be slim and available for the use of men whenever they demand it. Women in the West are still lumbered with child care, have little choice about careers or staying at home. Capitalism forces us into crappy, underpaid jobs and at the same time we have to hold a family together. We can’t even choose not to go out to work because of capitalism. (And who wants to work for this system anyway?)

So it is not just the fundamentalists of the Vatican, Iran and the American Bible Belt who oppress women.
Ali Browning,
Bradford

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Is this the end of Socialism? (1994)

From the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
The demise of national 
state capitalism as a 
credible political
 programme doesn’t affect 
the case for genuine
 socialism.
When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the American political thinker Francis Fukuyama proclaimed "the end of history". History, he argued, had now come to an end with the establishment over most of the world of a society based on a free market and liberal democracy. Apparently, this was the goal towards which we humans had been travelling ever since we first came down from the trees.

That a money-grubbing rat race run by businessmen and career politicians was the rational society to which some 19th century philosophers had thought History (with a capital H) was heading was never really a serious proposition. How could a society where some are privileged while others are deprived, and geared to making profits rather than meeting needs, even be considered as a possible rational society?

Deepest slump
Unfortunately for Fukuyama, at about the same time that the Berlin Wall came down the world capitalist economy entered its third, and deepest, slump in the relatively short twenty-year period since the long post-war boom came to an end in the early 1970s. Factories were closed, machinery was scrapped, food was dumped, millions more workers joined the ranks of the unemployed. Not because people’s needs for what these workers could produce had been met. but because the rate of profit had fallen. The supposedly rational market economy had once again created the irrational situation of poverty amidst potential plenty, of idle factories and workers alongside unmet needs even for basics like housing, food and health care.

In Russia the achievement of Fukuyama’s "end of history" has brought about the emergence as a serious contender for political power of a Hitler-type demagogue. As in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s the aggravated failure of the market economy to deliver what it promised has led to people blaming not capitalism but the liberal democracy that Fukuyama sees as its ideal political framework.

Apologists
Fukuyama’s "end of history" claim was an expression of the triumphalism of capitalism's intellectual apologists over what they saw as the defeat of socialism, their main ideological enemy. But it wasn’t. What had been defeated was not real socialism but a version of capitalism in which the state was all-powerful. Totalitarian state capitalism not socialism. Unfortunately, two generations of propaganda, by opponents and supporters alike, has misled many into identifying socialism with the old regime in Russia. As a result there is a widespread popular misconception that the collapse of totalitarian state capitalism in Russia represented the collapse of socialism.

The mistaken idea that socialism had collapsed was reinforced by parties in the West such as the Labour Party abandoning their paper commitment to achieving a state-run economy by democratic and constitutional means rather than the dictatorial ones used in Russia. They gave up proposing this even in theory as an alternative to the market economy and in fact accept the Fukuyama thesis that there is no rational alternative to the market. With the collapse of totalitarian "socialism" in Russia and of democratic ’’socialism" in the West no wonder the ideologists of capitalism felt so self satisfied and triumphalist.

There has indeed been a shift of opinion but the shift has been against the project of a state-run national economy as a solution to the problems created by capitalism. Which, if it had not been perceived as the rejection of socialism, we could wholeheartedly welcome. Since, for us, a state-run economy has never been the goal, has never been what we meant by socialism nor what we have seen as the alternative to capitalism. In fact, far from being an alternative to capitalism it was in our view merely a different, and not particularly desirable, way of running capitalism.

We have always held that socialism could not be established just within the framework of a single state, but only on a world basis. This was not because "socialism in one country" was necessarily a bad aim in itself, but because the development of a world economy under capitalism had made it a practical impossibility. Once capitalism had become an economic system dominating the whole world — as it did in the age of imperialism that culminated in the significantly named first world war — then the only kind of socialism that was possible was a world socialism.

Even within the context of world socialism we did not see a role for states, certainly not as coercive political institutions but not in the economic sphere either. There would indeed be a need for administrative and decision-making bodies at what today is called the national level, but these would not be "states” in the sense of a body exerting coercive political authority over a territory and its inhabitants. They would not be institutions ruling over people with the coercive force to impose their own will, but would be part of the institutional structure that would allow people to participate on an equal basis in the democratic running of their common affairs including the production and distribution of wealth. In short, genuine democratic control would replace rule by states.

The association of a state-run national economy with the idea of socialism has been one of the greatest illusions of the 20th century. Despite the protests of genuine Socialists like ourselves the word socialism came to be used to describe what was a real enough development in the capitalist economy: the increasing role of states in its operation at national level. The correct term for this would have been "state capitalism".

Now further developments within the world capitalist economy (the emergence since the last world war of a global manufacturing system dependent on the world market both for its inputs and its sales) are to a certain extent reversing this trend by limiting the scope for the state direction of the economy, and people are talking about the "end” or the “decline” or the "irrelevance” of socialism.

Genuine Socialism
But this demise of national state capitalism as a credible political programme doesn’t affect the case for genuine socialism. It does not mean that all we are left with, as the way of organizing the production and distribution of goods and services, is private enterprise, free market capitalism. Socialism — real socialism — is still on the agenda and, as a classless community of free and equal men and women cooperating to produce what they need on the basis of the common ownership and democratic control of the world’s productive resources, has a much better claim to being the rational society the 19th century philosophers hoped would be the goal which human history was moving towards.
Adam Buick

Letters: After Bulger (1994)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

"After Bulger"

Dear Editors,

A lot of what you say nukes sense. However, I’m afraid I disagree strongly with Steve Coleman in his article "After Bulger" (Socialist Standard, January), when he says that the British tabloid press are worse than James Bulger’s killers. As far as I know, the Daily Mirror and Daily Star have never abducted or killed anyone.

Steve Coleman writes "The boys played video games for hours.” Well, so did I when 1 was ten, but I’m not a murderer.

Don’t get me wrong, what you say about the capitalist system is quite true, but I think you’re wrong to try and make excuses for those two bastards. Being "confused and anti-social" is no excuse for murder.

And finally, I don’t understand why, under socialism, you would abolish the police, courts and jails. Surely, that would lead to lawlessness and anarchy?
Ivan Peters, 
Stockport


Reply:
In saying that we cannot endorse punishing those whose foul actions are a direct result of being brought up under this system, we are not making excuses, as if to suggest that it was acceptable for two boys to murder a smaller boy. In fact, our article stated clearly that we refuse either to blame or to excuse.

What we are saying is that these awful kinds of behaviour will inevitably happen in a social system which glorifies violence, gives medals to killers, corrupts the social environment in which young people grow up and denies us the right to be innocent by dragging us at an early age into the sordid priorities of an oppressively anti-social system. Attacking the effects might satisfy the anger which our correspondent is not alone in feeling, but only by eradicating the cause will we prevent it from happening again . . . and again

Police, courts and prisons are products of an oppressive social order which regards punishment as being the only response to wrongdoing. The problem is that the very laws which our correspondent is concerned about are only there to defend property relationships. Abolish property and we will not need laws; we can live co operatively as equals in a lawless society.

What about anti social behaviour which is not property based? In fact, much of that is really property related when it comes down to it: for example, rape is essentially about the right to take for free what is not yours; many murders occur in possessive relationships.

But even in those cases of inexplicable viciousness and sadism, what evidence is there that prisons do anything to cure such behaviour? Surely it would be far better for such people, should they exist in a socialist society, to be given help to understand their anti-social behaviour and to feel remorse for any harm that they caused others. Police and prison screw's don’t help that process.

Rather than put the pictures of these two boys on the front pages of the tabloids and call them names, would it not be more sensible for society to devote its efforts to teaching them to behave co-operatively? Of course, people need to be protected from those who are anti-social, but prisons only make the prisoners more resentful and anti-social.

In a capitalist society punishment is the cheapest response. Only in a socialist society can we not only remove the cause of gratuitously violent behaviour, but deal with the effects of it if it occurs in a way that is humane. 
Editors.


"When I was very young . . ."

Dear Editors,

When I was very young, I overheard the owner of an apple orchard say, "I’m letting them rot on the trees, it doesn't pay to pick them”. The year was 1922. I was bewildered, all those acres of luscious apples . . .

When I reached the age of 16 my father sat me down and tried to explain something that was apparently bothering me. He told me that he worked eight hours a day and only got paid for two hours. Once again 1 was bewildered. I could not understand why people agreed to do such a thing. I was told, of course, that they were not aware of the robbery.

In 1929 there was another event that was puzzling. The stock market crashed. Rich folks lost all their wealth overnight and some solved their problems by jumping out of windows located on the 10th floor.

Today, we read about millions of people dying of starvation because they cannot buy food. The owner of the apple orchard goes broke because he cannot sell his apples, at a profit.

Today there are mini-wars springing up all over the globe. In Russia they have not yet decided who is going to be top dog. It may end up in a civil war ... then there would probably be intervention by other nations?

There are people who have extreme wealth. They own private jets, fabulous homes all over the world and perhaps a large yacht in some secluded cove . . . Other folks are hunkered under an overpass for the night.

The culprit of course is the profit system, capitalism. The reason that it still exists is that folks just don't realize that the solution is Socialism.
Have a nice day. 
H.W.


Fascism

Dear Editors,

May I be allowed to respond to your reply to my letter, published in the December issue, on the subject of the emotional plague of fascism.

Confirmation of your fixation on "Economic Man” is verified (as with your general approach to other matters) by your vulgar interpretation of Marxism that purely socio-economic factors are responsible for fascism.

It is essential to repudiate that fascism is the ideology or action of a single individual or nationality or of any ethnic or political group and to strongly deny that it as an exclusively socio-economic foundation. But to understand that fascism is the expression of the irrational character structure of the average human being whose primary biological needs and impulses have been suppressed for thousands of years.

The social function of this suppression and the crucial role played in it by the authoritarian family and the church should be carefully analysed. Every form of organised mysticism, including fascism, relies on the unsatisfied orgastic longing of the masses.

The human character structure that creates organised fascist movements exists, dominating our present social conflicts. "Fascism" is not a political party but a specific concept of life and attitude towards man, love and work. Who has not met the black, Jewish, Indian or Oriental fascist and racist? Who has not met the materially comfortable and financially secure racist? Or the “red fascist"?

Who docs not remember the scenes of the 1930s of countless millions of workers overwhelmed with fanatical zeal with racist and fascist madness?

Who can ignore the mindless adoration of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin?

Once again we are witnessing that fast growing onslaught of the "fascist" emotional plague — worldwide.

The previously mentioned work by Dr Wilhelm Reich of The Mass Psychology of Fascism will help to reinforce the facing of the tasks, to combat these dangers, for today’s Marxists. We must all understand the emotional plague.
Lionel Rich, 
London NW6

Reply:
You keep saying we are "vulgar Marxists" and partisans of "economic man”, but what about our articles that take into account Marx’s theory of alienation (see previous reply and last month’s article)? 
Editors


Abortion

Dear Editors,

Unlike Ali Browning (Letters, December), I don’t think that abortion and contraception are completely separate issues. How about the IUD which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus? What about the ‘morning after"pill? Are these contraceptives or early forms of abortion, or both?

Also, for the women facing an unwanted pregnancy, when contraception has failed, or simply wasn’t used, abortion is one important option.

Ideally, there would not be any unwanted pregnancies, but there are, and I think that there will be, even in a Socialist world, with all the best sex education, access to contraception etc.

In the case of an unwanted pregnancy (distinct from "unplanned"), the woman should take into account the wishes of her partner and the advice of her doctors, but in the end the woman herself should have the final say. Not priests, doctors, nor even her partner should have more rights over her than she has herself.

As medical technology gets more and more sophisticated, and younger and smaller babies can be saved, are we to say that abortion should only be performed earlier and earlier in the foetus’s development?

I think that abortion should be performed ‘as early as possible and as late as necessary". I believe, as most Socialists do, that people should have a choice whether they want children or not. Thus I condemn the system in China, which limits family-size to one child and tries to force women expecting a second child to have an abortion, as much as I condemn LIFE and SPUC for trying to prevent women from having an abortion.

Perhaps it is best summed by by saying that I believe in choice. For Socialists still pondering the rights and wrongs of abortion, I found The Socialist Feminist by Janet Richards very helpful.
Veronica Clanchy, 
Poole

Between the Lines: A Question of Thought (1994)

The Between the Lines Column from the February 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Question of Thought

1994 brought the news that the BBC has decided on a replacement for Peter Sissons as host of its flagship current affairs programme Question Time. The job has gone to David Dimbleby, the BBC's Election Night host and brother of Jonathan, chair of Radio 4’s Any Questions'? There’s nothing like keeping it in the family.

Though Sissons finished his stint on Question Time in a more assured style than when he started, he proved to be a rather tetchy host at times, bringing all the elan one would expect of a dour newsreader. He was certainly different from Sir Robin Day, though not necessarily better. Day himself was a generally rude and bad-tempered chairman who was saved on TV by his many idiosyncracies which made him appear to be more interesting than the politicians, something that shouldn’t have been too difficult. Sissons had little such advantage and tended to blend into the set rather than create his own distinctive style of chairmanship. Dimbleby could go the same way, though his previous experience of the format and his performances on Election Nights suggest he won’t.

The real key — as with Dimbleby’s producers — will be not just how he treats the politicians, but how he interacts with the audience. If the mood took them both Day and Sissons could stop the audience from questioning the politicians and their motives too closely, as some Socialist Party members found out. "Yes, that’s enough of that . . . now to the lady in the blue rinse" was not an uncommon reaction, particularly when dangerous words like capitalism and socialism were mentioned.

Intimidating a TV audience is not difficult for an experienced host, and as Ben Elton would say, it’s not big or clever. Day and Sissons both seemed far too satisfied to be up on the big table with the assorted "statesmen" to be seen to give the underlings much of a say. At times, the audience participation in Question Time has been reduced to the level where members of the public are invited not so much to think for themselves but simply to agree with the pronouncements of the various politicians: yea or nay. Conversely, the best editions of the programme have been those occasions when the studio audience has been able to get on the back of a particular politician and then pepper him or her with focused comments, questions and suggestions that the chair has been powerless to stop.


A Licence to Kill 

Sadly, the candidate for the Question Time post who would have proved the most interesting of all didn’t get the job — namely Jeremy Paxman, from BBC2’s Newsnight. Paxman is foremost among the rottweiler school of political interviewing, and his "yes, but isn’t that just complete bollocks" line of questioning has brought him a certain degree of admiration from those who consider themselves "anti-system" and a fair amount of disdain from those who are very much a part of it. With Paxman, politicians get away with relatively little. The big question mark would be over whether he could restrain his aggressive style with an audience. Paxman can sometimes resort to sneering, and that would be no use at all on a programme like Question Time. Indeed, it has been noticeable that when Newsnight has involved an audience panel the laid-back Francine Stock or Peter Snow usually make a better job of it than Paxman. who seems less effective when unable to directly bait politicians.

For whatever reason, viewers of Question Time are stuck with Dimbleby, but never fear, socialists can point him in the right direction. For one thing that would definitely improve the programme would be the actual presence of socialists. Given the BBC’s past record, a socialist member of the panel might be too much to hope for (though we note that the confusion-mongers of the SWP have had members on more than once). So "Between the Lines" recommends that readers of this column write in to the BBC for tickets to the new series of Question Time so as to make the genuine Socialist case heard on TV. You never know, we might at the same time be able to help turn Question Time from being a forum for posturing and prattle into a Programme for public information.
Dave Perrin

A Look Round. (1904)

From the November 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

The article upon the "Futility of Reform," which occupied the leader columns of our last issue, has not met with the complete approval of all our readers, and several have expressed their disagreement with our contention that the capitalist class will introduce reforms when the exigencies of commercialism demand them. But we would recommend our critics to read the correspondence which has passed between Kenric B. Murray, writing on behalf of the manufacturers' section of the London Chamber of Commerce, and the Board of Education. If a word to the wise is sufficient, then those who possess the necessary wisdom will appreciate the position of The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

* * *

In his letter Mr. Murray states that the manufacturers have passed the following resolution :—
  "That, in order to retain our industrial position and to introduce into this country such further industries as may be profitably developed, this section is of opinion that it is absolutely necessary to raise the standard, and, if possible, cheapen the cost of technical and higher technical education, and that representations be made to the Board of Education in this sense."
Note, that the object in view is the "profitable" development of industries, not the education of workers for education's sake.

The letter further illustrates two points—the readiness when "profitable" to the capitalist class to invoke the aid of the State in industrial matters and the admission that British manufacturers have lost ground in the struggle for the World's Market, not simply because of fiscal conditions but because
  "up to the present time manufacturers in this country have not in many cases sufficiently realised that there is a scientific aspect to every branch of manufacture requiring study and attention in order to attain the highest results."
If for "highest results" is substituted "greatest profits," one can easily understand why
  "manufacturers, therefore, would welcome the support of the Board of Education and of the existing institutions engaged in teaching work in developing this valuable branch of education on lines which will place British manufacturers and their employees on an equality with their foreign competitors."
* * *

In the reply of the Board of Education present day capitalist methods are condemned :— 
  "The Board recognise the great advantage accruing from the concentration of interest, which is possible only when the student is in a position to make study his single aim —to devote his whole time to education."
It is of course possible that the student could do this under capitalism, but very improbable, except for the privileged few. Under Socialism it will be the rule.

* * *

Conferences may come and conferences may go, but the unemployed stay on for ever—as long as competition prevails. It was not to be expected that Mr. Walter Long, who draws £40 a week as salary for the services he is supposed to render the people, with the right to claim a pension when he loses his job, would consider that things were sufficiently serious to demand serious measures. The hardy annuals of relief works, afforestation, emigration, labour bureaux, "back to the land" via small holdings, and the like are being discussed. One of our correspondents somewhat sarcastically writes :— 
  "If the unemployed want to get 'back to the land' here are acres and acres out of cultivation needing their labour—only the owner may object. From where I sit I look over a large farm and see nothing but grass fields, and poor ones at that. In the foreground is a cottage where, if the inhabitants wish to descend to the kitchen, they can drop through the holes in the ceiling, and so save the wear and tear of a staircase ! Yet the man ought to be contented. In a very good week he sometimes get 17s. ! Certainly often in winter he gets nothing, but he can save during the prosperity of summer ! Besides, he has only seven children, and two of these (boys of 14 and 16) leave home at 5 a.m. and return at about 8 p.m., and get 4s. and 6s. a week. He ought to be a drunkard, but instead of that he is a teetotaller and very industrious, working hard all day, and at night returning to slave in his bit of garden which supports them occasionally in nothing-a-week times. He's going to be kicked out soon, and there's no house for him to go to, save a model dwelling at 6s. a week, his average wage being 12s. And then he'll lose his garden, too, but no compensation for him. Oh ! the joys of a country life ! Come back, ray friends, to the land !"
* * *

When we go back it must be upon a basis not yet thought of by those who pose as "Social Reformers." Not to ''labour at a loss for the profit of a boss" but to produce for ourselves the things which we need. "Advanced" politicians like Mr. George Lansbury (who left the Radicals to join the Social Democratic Federation), W. Crooks, and others have sent to the Press a "Note of Warning," in which they urge that whatever work is provided by municipalities for the unemployed it should not
'' release workers from the stimulus of having to satisfy an employer." 
Send your victims to labour colonies, place over them some well-hardened taskmasters, credit them with 6d. per day, give them plenty of sermons and prayers, and all will be well.

* * *

The editor of Reynolds's Newspaper, who has for some months patted the S.D.F. on the back, because it has suited his purposes to do so, writes the following respecting that body's "demand" for an autumn session:
  "It is equally comical to hear suggestions about an autumn session of Parliament to consider the question coming, too, from Socialist organisations, who are always saying that Parliament is 'no good.' Such amateurish fooling makes one despair."
* * *

The annual report of the Asylums' Committee of the London County Council for the year ending 31st March last has just been issued and shews that there are 23,948 certified lunatics in London alone, an increase of 996 over last year. This is the largest annual increase ever recorded and, according to the report, the prospect of any diminution in the increase appears to be most problematical. The average weekly cost of each patient in London County Asylums is 11s. 4½d. If as much as that were spent each week in maintaining those out of asylums there would be less need to celebrate our "progress" periodically by providing further accommodation for our lunatics.

* * *

There exists in Holland a Union of Socialist Teachers, founded ten years ago. Its program
states:—
  "That the popular school, called into existence by the possessing class under the cry 'cultivation of the people by teaching the people,' has proved to be in their hands only the means of doling out to the children of the people that minimum of knowledge which has become necessary to supply the capitalist want of more or less educated labourers, besides being the means of impressing upon them so-called Christian and social virtues, which, in reality, are nothing but notions conducive to the maintenance of capitalism; that the non-possessing class, too, being insufficiently taught themselves, deprived of all influence on school education and therefore not inspired with genuine interest in it, see in the popular school only the way that enables their children to earn their bread afterwards ; that, moreover—partly in consequence of the causes given above all education which rises above the level of what capitalism demands, is doomed to sterility for the young proletarian because of the bad conditions."
That this is just as true of Britain as of Holland, or, for that matter, of every other country, is only another proof of the international character of the social problem. As the principles of the Union declare :
  "The social vocation of the popular school is to educate the growing generation in such a way as to develope body and mind harmoniously," but ''only the political and economic emancipation of the people will fully secure the emancipation of the mind." 
Those who really desire that economic emancipation must enrol in the Army of International Socialism, the British Section of which is The Socialist Party of Great Britain.
J. Kay

An Open Letter to Mr. George Lansbury (1904)

From the November 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir,

On Sept. 13th last at Toynbee Hall you delivered an address on the question of the unemployed. At the conclusion of your address I expressed my opposition to the proposals suggested by you, but the time at my disposal was not sufficient to enable me to fully demonstrate that not only were your suggestions worthless but that the policy advocated would ultimately result in effects disastrous from the point of view of the organisation of the working-class.

The whole tone of your address was pessimistic. You commented on the ignorance, apathy, and indifference of the working-class. You even went so far as to express a feeling of being tired of talking to them, attending conferences to discuss questions, while at the same time the people outside those conferences gave no thought to their own condition. Unfortunately, a good many others by adopting the process of reasoning employed by you have also been made tired, and the wonder is that more have not grown weary and fallen by the wayside, taking into consideration the fact that the working-class has never been taught to act consistently and logically in the political field in accordance with their industrial and social position in society.

I have not space enough to enter into all the inconsistencies and contradictions to which you gave utterance on that occasion; but certainly some of your observations if pursued to their logical conclusion, would place you in a position far different from that which you occupy at the present time. For instance, you stated in relation to the problem of working-class unemployment, that if anything is to be done only the workers themselves can do it. Assuming you mean that whatever action they take should be political, I cannot but agree with you. Where, however, you did not express yourself clearly, and where we differ is that any effort, either for the immediate alleviation of suffering and distress arising out of the present constitution of society, or in the direction of the total abolition of these evils, must be the conscious action of those who are suffering, viz., the working-class.

Posing as a Socialist as you do, you are of necessity forced to fall back on the Marxian explanation of the cause of unemployment. This you substantially did by showing that the application of science to production, the invention, development and speeding up of machinery, used for the sole purpose of creating profits for the possessing class, must inevitably result in the displacement of hand labour and the throwing on the labour market of increasing numbers of unemployed workers. You further pointed out that the evil of unemployment, arising as a consequence of this process, is growing to such an extent that thousands of workmen are forced to eke a precarious existence by either cadging or living on their friends, a condition in which they lose their manhood and drift into mental and moral degeneracy. In all this I am in agreement with you, and could, if space permitted, go further into this aspect of the Social question; but, Sir, what I wish to call your attention to is the fundamental constitution of society itself, and to indicate how all efforts at changing the effects of a system must be abortive as long as the system itself remains unaltered.

Throughout civilisation to-day, notwithstanding national and political differences, the basis of the social system in every country be it a republic or a limited or unlimited monarchy, is the ownership by a class of the means whereby the people live. As long as class ownership exists the people will be confronted not only with the unemployed problem but with the thousand-and-one evils that afflict the social existence of the working-class at the present time.

While the workers possess nothing but their physical and mental energy ; while that energy is bought and sold in the Labour Market, subject to laws which dominate alike the capitalist and the worker; while the operation of these laws involves a continual decline in wages, the price of labour power, so long will the working-class suffer from poverty accentuated at intervals by sickness and unemployment.

The Capitalist form of society, that is, Capitalism, does and can only exist to the detriment, degradation, and demoralisation of the working-class. The capitalist-class has its representatives in the Government, local and national, and uses the legislative and administrative boards as pliant tools for the protection and promotion of its class interests, for the maintenance and extension of class domination, and for the further robbery and enslavement of the working-class. If, then, this is the economic function and political role of the capitalist class, what have the workers to expect from the present-day rulers of society ?

You, Sir, and those who think with you, in directing the attention of the working-class to the political representatives of the master-class for relief from the misery which is crushing them, in holding out to them the prospect or possibility of amelioration through the good grace of the ruling faction, are incurring a serious responsibility. Promising the working-class something that must inevitably fail is the fruitful source of that apathy and indifference in which the workers are sunk to-day ; telling the workers they have gained victory when it is only a victory for the capitalist-class, entrenches the ignorance of which you complain; and calling upon the capitalist governments to undermine their own position, which must be the case if any measure of material value to the working-class is put into operation, creates that pessimism in the minds of the workers that you so much deplore.

Now, Sir, The Socialist Party, of which by the the way you are not a member although calling yourself a Socialist, exists to teach the workers their true position in society, and to create the political weapon whereby alone that position can be altered. The mission of The Socialist Party is to show the workers that Capitalism lives on their wretchedness and prostitution, and that, if their emancipation is to be accomplished, they must adopt a political attitude necessarily hostile to all other political parties. Outside The Socialist Party, the Party of unqualified Socialism, the Party of the Working-Class, all other political parties uphold and safeguard the interests of the capitalist-class and the continuance of the wage system which is responsible for not only the unemployed but the other evils that afflict society. The Socialist Party is the political expression of the material interests of the working-class for whom there can be only one policy and one programme, that is the control through public ownership of the tools and machinery for producing the necessaries and comforts of life, to be achieved by the political action of the working-class, cognisant of of the causes of its suffering and wretchedness and conscious of its material interest and historic mission.

The time is fast approaching when the working-class of Great Britain will recognise the value of the political machine as an instrument of offence and defence in class warfare, and when that time arrives the working-class will use that weapon conscious of its power and conscious of its use. The working-class will no longer be humbugged as The Socialist Party is spreading the enlightenment which will dispel the confusion existing in the minds of the workers, and its fearless advocacy of the cause of the disinherited will succeed in stimulating the intelligence and arousing the enthusiasm cf these who are apathetic and indifferent to-day. Any other policy, that, for instance, pursued by you, can have only one result, the division of the working-class into two sections, one of which,, like yourself, saturated with pessimism, is driven into the camp of Liberal reaction, and the other possessing only an inkling of the truth, gravitates in the direction of anarchism, a result in either case disastrous to the organisation of the working-class.

In conclusion, Sir, let me say that I give you credit for being honest, an opinion which I would hesitate to express regarding most men known as "Labour Leaders." But honesty without correct thinking, is of no use to the working-class, and if you can see no policy other than that which you are advocating at the present time, I say in all sincerity, lay down your arms, and acknowledge defeat, for in my humble opinion you will be doing more by remaining silent than by carrying on the conflicting and confusing propaganda your discourse of 13th September.

I am, Sir, 
William Woodhouse
East London.

Since writing the above I have seen the report of the conference held with Mr. Walter Long from which, as might be anticipated, it does not appear that the promise held out by the President of the Local Government Board is very encouraging to you and those who went with you. I see that Will Crooks, who in the House of Commons advocated reafforestation and reclamation of waste coast line to teach the unemployed a sort of agriculture and to fit them for subsequent deportation to Canada, could only express his gratitude to his capitalist masters by moving a vote of thanks to Mr. Walter Long for condescending to come and confer with the public bodies represented at the meeting. What occurred at this conference will occur at any others that take place, and the only result will be that you and others will get tired of attending them. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick"
 —W. W.

Women Workers in Japan. (1904)

From the November 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

(From Le Socialiste. Translated by P. J. Tobin.)

It is quite a common thing to ask Socialists : "Are you for Russia or Japan?" To this question, as to many others which usually crop up when two cut-throat thieves attack each other under our modern social system, we have only one reply : "Above all, we are for the proletariat of every country." This does not, however, prevent us from stating objectively in the case of the Russo-Japanese war, that the victory of the Japanese forces would mean as an inevitable consequence the political emancipation of Russia: it's almost certain deliverance from the home enemy—we speak of Czarism, hangman, and knout-beater.

In the meantime, let us study the situation of those who interest us most in both countries— the proletariat. We begin with that of Japan, the least known and most exploited. Take, for instance, the Japanese working woman.

The development of the great industries has gone on increasing and aggravating the economic slavery of woman.

In modern Japan we find as many workwomen as workmen. The cotton spinning mills employ more women than men : in the mills of Kanegafendji, they number 2,700 as against 300 men; in those of Boseki, 3,000 against 500—that is, six, and even nine, women for every man. In the extensive Mourai tobacco factories of Kyoto, they are 2,500, forming five-sixths of the entire staff. The match industry employs almost exclusively women and children. Even in the Imperial Printing Works the women are much more numerous than the men.

Under the preceding social system they were put to work at the roughest employments. Today under the capitalist regime they are employed in the most trying industries.

In the linen spinning mills of Hokkaido they live during entire weeks at a time in a stuffy atmosphere. In the paper mills of Odji they carry heavy baskets, filled with stinking rags, into smoky rooms. At the mines of Muke they not only work at the surface, removing earth or dragging coal, but even in the very bottom : mothers often descending into the pits with children on their backs.

Capitalism in Japan gives a better example than another countries of the tendency to replace male labour by female and child labour; a tendency so well analysed in the first volume of "Capital" by Marx. The proportion of women employed in the great industries, according to the statements of Wenlersse, continues on the increase, and we find it stated in the official report presented at the Chicago Exhibition that in the little town of Souva there are more than 40 silk manufactories employing hundreds of women. The women earn more working in this manner than if they were employed as domestic servants. It is, moreover, very difficult to obtain them for domestic purposes anywhere in the neighbourhood of a factory.

In the cotton spinning mills the average proportion of women to men was in 1880 only two to one; in 1897 it had increased to more than three while to-day it has attained a figure of five, six, and even more.

The Japanese woman is considered much more able at certain work than the man. Wenlersse says that in the Imperial Printing Works women are employed in counting bank notes, in stippling sheets of stamps, and gumming the backs ; and with what rapidity do they not make their fingers travel; how they run from one machine to another, making their wooden sandals clatter on the stone flags—quite little people, like,white mice, in their great large linen robes !

The nimbleness of the tobacco factory girls is surprising. They wrap up as many as 100 packets of cigarettes in tin paper per hour—1,000 in a day. Those who fold up the large boxes are still more dexterous; the girls employed in the match factories paste 60 labels per minute on the little boxes, and continue thus for nine consecutive hours; while, in the spinning mills, they re-knot the broken threads with a rapidity and daintiness not to be equalled by a man.

The reasons for which the capitalist in Japan prefers female to male labour are the same as in Europe. In the first place, the woman is docile, and in order to get her better under his thumb, he has her brought from the most distant provinces.

The poor country-people make scarcely any opposition to delivering up their daughters to the recruiting agents of the great manufacturers. In order to get the children and parents to make up their minds these agents have recourse to falsehood. Here is what Saito Kashiro, an official employed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, says :—
"I have been speaking with an old workwoman in the cotton spinning mills of Kanegafendji at Tokio. She has told me that the company's agent said to her, before the engagement, that the work was very easy, the pay considerable, and that before settling down to her duties, she could visit all parts of Tokio, see the theatres, listen to the concerts, all that she wished ; eating and drinking the best to be had in the finest restaurants."
As the greater part of these women are peasants, completely ignorant of the world and its ways, they easily consent to any proposals which will give them the pleasure of seeing the many novelties abounding in the great city. So off goes our little peasant girl without more ado. However, the day following her departure with the agent, she is limited to a plate of vegetables and rice both for breakfast and dinner ; and all such expenses are put down to her, as also the cost of travelling. On arriving at Tokio she was certainly conducted to the principal places of interest in the town, not forgetting the restaurants, as had been promised, but everything was duly chalked down to her account. Not having sufficient money to defray those outlays, a certain proportion was each month deducted from her wages. Now, the work was hard and the wage small: 6d. per day. Consequently, she could not support this intolerable condition and left the factory one fine day on the pretext of taking a walk—such a trick being possible only in the most exceptional cases, while the swindle just recounted is quite the rule.

Women allow themselves to be very easily exploited by the employers ; they are the complete dupes and victims of the capitalist system. Their most elementary interests demand that they should wake up to this fact and organise— in Japan as well as in Europe.

Moreover, female labour is preferred above all, for the reason that it is more profitable. Eleven hours of solid work per day is exacted and obtained from the Japanese workwomen— sometimes even eleven and a half. If an hour is granted to them during the day for eating, it is on condition that the machines are kept going; they must make an arrangement among themselves whereby they go to meals in such order that the factory always has its complement of workers. Sunday is unheard of; two days' rest only are allowed each month, and even such "days" consist of but a few hours. During the entire year they have scarcely five holidays, and those for the purpose of repairing—the machines, more precious to the capitalist than that other human machine which can always be readily replaced in the event of a breakdown !

No law has so far been passed on the limitation of the women's working hours ; just as the men, they work night and day indifferently. Their wage is beneath contempt. In Japan we are still in the stages of "primitive accumulation" thus styled by Karl Marx, the Dante of the regime under which we live. 

The more dexterous weavers of Osaka earn only about 10d. daily, which is the maximum, the minimum amounting to but 4 1/2d. The women who gum the labels on matchboxes receive 3 1/2d. in a working day. In the cotton spinning mills the adult women get from 6 1/2d. to 1s., while where men and women are employed at the same work, the latter are paid from a third to a half less than the men.

How do those "galley slaves" of the Japanese factory bear such conditions of labour? It opens sometimes with an idyll such as would make the aesthetic Pierre Loti (author of "Madame Chrysanthemum") and his fair readers rub their hands with joy, but it closes in quite another fashion—here is a picture :
  "The spectacle give a in the port of Nagasaki is still more singular and interesting. There you see the women coalporters with their sugar loaf hats of brown straw adorned with white and blue cambric, below which peeps out bunches of jet black hair. To see their sparkling eyes, their cheeks all rosy and tanned from the sun's rays, that air of sweetness spread over their features, is quite a pleasure. With what an unembarrassed step, without the impediment of skirts and not fearing to allow their legs to be seen, do they not carry the large bamboo cane to which are attached heavy black baskets . . . .
  They laugh, push, and tickle one another as they pass, and offer no objection whatever to being encircled round the waist by some young men working in the same gang . . . But these pretty white legs soon waver, and on the planks which stretch trembling from the quay to the ship, a little fright and very much fatigue close those lips in pain, which, but a short time since, expanded in a dazzling smile . . ." 
And all this for a few pence a day! Among every eight Japanese workwomen we find one prostitute. Under the conditions which she lives her "erring sister " is not the least intelligent nor the most to complain. She is but a rebel anyhow, an escaped slave of the capitalist compound.

And this they call "Civilisation !"

News in Review: Cunarder on the Clyde (1965)

The News in Review column from the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cunarder on the Clyde

Both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were built in the Clydeside shipyard of John Brown.

When it was confirmed, on the eve of Hogmanay, that the same shipyard had won the contract to make the replacement for the Queen Mary, both God and Commercial Television celebrated.

Church bells rang out in the Clydebank parish of Kilbowie. Scottish Television look huge press adverts, which crowed that the right yard had won the contract. Perhaps they are hoping that their blatant appeal to ignorance and patriotism will persuade some of the five thousand who will be employed on the new Cunarder to spend some of their wages on television sets.

No bells rang on the Tyne and in Belfast, homes of the other two firms competing for the contract, Swan, Hunter, Vickers-Armstrong and Harland and Wolff are probably hoping that John Brown’s preoccupation with the new Cunarder over the next three years or so will leave a more open market for them.

But this is by no means certain, British ship-building is still struggling, pushed hard by the Japanese and the Swedes and some Continental yards. The Cunard affair underlines the fact that in such competition there can be only one winner. There could be gloomy times ahead for the shipyard workers in Belfast and on Tyneside. Perhaps Scottish Television will make a small donation to their soup kitchens.

The profitability of the new Cunarder is doubtful. More and more people are crossing the Atlantic by air, and fewer and fewer by sea. The shipping lines have largely given up the struggle to compete in cheap travel, and now concentrate on selling the sea voyage as a more gracious and rejuvenating way of travelling than a clamourous jet flight.

The new liner is designed to accept these conditions. It will be a flexible ship, with accommodation which can be rearranged into two classes and a draught shallow enough to permit cruising, if this seems more profitable. Meanwhile the ageing Queens have to face competition from more modern, faster ships; next year Sweden and Italy enter the race.

This uncertain world, into which the new liner will be launched, does not resemble the leisured and gracious image which Cunard once built for themselves.

The reality of capitalism is grim, and never grimmer than when a proud example of craftsmanship and ingenuity is pushed out into the rough seas of commercial anarchy.


Agin' the Guinea

Next month, at Largs in Scotland, the Labour women will hold their annual national conference.

There they will discuss the customary sheaf of meaningless and hypocritical resolutions.

Consider, for example, the motion which condemns the practice of pricing goods in guineas and which calls on the government to abolish the guinea system.

On the face of it, this may seem a genuine expression of a desire to protect the consumer interests of the working class. But let us look at it a little deeper.

We are all familiar with the ruse of pricing in guineas. Perhaps some people are actually taken in by it, and think that a suit costing fifteen guineas is no more expensive than one costing fifteen pounds.

But such people are obviously beyond the help of pious resolutions. They would be just as easily deceived by another, equally transparent, trick if the Labour women got their way over the guinea.

So what will the conference be worrying about? Do the Labour women think that abolishing the guinea will do something to stop prices rising? Are they looking for an excuse for their government’s failure to keep that part of their election programme?

Let us get down to basic facts. The Labour Party supports capitalism, which is a system of production of goods for sale and therefore a system in which there are buyers and sellers and prices at which they buy and sell.

The interests of buyer and seller are directly opposed. One wants the price to be as low as possible, the other wants it as high as possible. These opposing interests are mostly asserted in ways which are within capitalism’s laws.

Sometimes they are asserted by illegal methods. And sometimes they are asserted by methods which, while not illegal, are not exactly honest. These methods include monopoly control and such diddles as pricing something worth half a crown at two shillings elevenpence halfpenny and the use of guineas instead of pounds.

Whatever method is used, it must be the forces of the market which finally control the fluctuations of a price, however it is expressed. All of this is very proper and necessary to capitalism, even if it sometimes means that prices rise sharply, or come crashing down in a slump.

Sly ruses, by buyer or seller, have no effect upon that. They are only a part of capitalism's competitive scramble. Individual members of the Labour Party may not like some of the effects of the scramble, but they ardently support the social system which produces it.

It is that basic issue, and nothing else, that they should be discussing at Largs.


Prices: up, up, up

“We was robbed!” has always been a favourite complaint of the Labour Party when contemplating the frustrations and the failures of their governments.

In 1931, they said they were beaten by a Bankers’ Ramp. After the war it was the unmanageable dollar gap. Last November the Gnomes of Zurich were said to be busily undermining the finances of Labour Britain. Now the grocers are on the rampage.

Rising prices are proving to be one of the government's big problems, especially in the grocery trade, where items like frozen foods, biscuits and sausages have recently gone up. This is not the end of it: during four weeks spanning the turn of the year, nearly one thousand retail prices were increased.

All of this makes Labour's promises in their election programme, New Britain, to introduce “ . . . new and more relevant policies to check the persistent rise in prices” look pretty sick. So the squeal —"We was robbed!” can be heard" again.

This time it is Mr. Frank Cousins, at one of his Nuneaton by-election meetings, who squealed:
  The 15 per cent surcharge does not apply to foodstuffs, so there is no excuse there (for price increases). . . to pretend that an extra 6d on fuel justifies an extra 1d or 2d on a particular tin, packet, or bcttle . . . is just plain nonsense.
Now what does this amount to? Mr. Cousins also complained; ”. . . some of the firms . . . are already making record profits.” What that means is that the Labour government are being given the run-around by the grocers; it means that they cannot control the mechanisms of capitalist society.

In the same way, if we accept the excuse that there was a Bankers’ Ramp in 1931, it follows that Labour could not control the international financiers. On the same argument the Attlee government could not control its financial crises and now Mr. Wilson’s lot cannot control its own retailers.

But the Labour party, like every other capitalist party, has always claimed that they can control capitalism. Hence their optimistic election talk of plans, control, priorities, all of which evaporates in face of reality.

The reality of prices is that they do not depend on the level of import duty and taxes. In the short run, the fluctuations of a price are governed by the forces of supply and demand, which means that the seller will charge as much as the market allows.

This is exactly what the grocery trade is doing, and what Mr. Cousins is complaining about. But nobody who supports capitalism can complain when the system takes its logical course.

Mr. Cousins cannot complain and the Labour government cannot complain. Neither can the millions of people who put them into power.


African turmoil

“Malawi,” said Dr. Hastings Banda recently, “is at war.” He is not the first of the leaders of the new States on the African continent to-make such a declaration.

Egypt, we have been told, is at war. So is Zambia. Nigeria and the Congo are immersed in internal conflicts of varying intensity. And so on.

There have been, of course, no formal declarations of war. But that is not what Dr. Banda and his counterparts mean when they use the word.

The new states are struggling to establish themselves against pressures both external and internal. One of their governments’ problems is to break down the old tribal allegiances and substitute a wider ranging patriotism.

Africans who once thought of themselves as belonging to this or that tribe, under this or that chief, must now be persuaded that it is better to belong to a developing capitalist nation, under this or that leader or dictator.

And how is this achieved? The techniques are wearyingly familiar. There are the patriotic declarations, the empty mysticism over the new flag, the dark warnings of impending danger from outside, the calls to arms. There is also the synthetic worship of the new nation’s leader—the personality cults of men like Nkrumah and Banda.

Part of this process is the “discovery” of alleged plots against the security of the state. Dr. Banda said that his former Foreign Minister, Mr. Chiume, is combining with the Zanzibar rebel Mr. Okello in a scheme to invade Malawi. Neighbouring Zambia is to spend £7 million on “defence and internal security,” double its border posts and step up its naval forces on the boundary rivers and lakes.

Dr. Banda appealed to the Malawi people to arrest any strangers and report them to the Congress Party; “ Investigate every strange face,” he said.

This is like a small-scale re-enactment of Europe in the Thirties. It is also reminiscent of the spy-scares which helped to keep war fever up to pitch during the two world wars.

But the African nationalists always claimed, when they were struggling for power, that they would be above the tricks and subterfuges of the old colonialist powers.

There need be no surprise that they have turned out to be different. Tricks and lies are always used in the fights between capitalist powers. As the new, African states enter these fights, it is inevitable that they should use the time honoured methods.

Perhaps Dr. Banda is right; perhaps Malawi is at war, for in war the first casualty has always been the truth.