Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Case for Socialism (1994)

From the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism — real socialism that is, not the state capitalism that collapsed in chaos in eastern Europe and Russia a few years ago — is just as relevant today as it always was. The case for socialism rested on the failure of capitalism to meet human needs properly. And capitalism fails to do this today as much as it ever did in the past.

The evidence is all around, especially on a world scale where hunger, death from preventable disease, and lack of education exist in massive proportions. But no one can claim that even in an industrialized part of the world like Britain all people’s basic material needs are met, let alone the needs that would allow' them to lead a reasonable and comfortable life.

This can be seen just by looking at the government’s own official statistics. The population of Britain is 57 million. Recent government figures show that there are nearly 10 million individuals dependent on Income Support, ie on means tested handouts from the State, to bring them up to the minimum poverty line (Guardian, 27 August). Nearly 700,000 other families are eligible to get (but not all claim) another means tested handout. Family Credit, because their wages are so low (Independent, 8 September). So we are talking about one in six people in Britain being on the poverty line. All of them certainly need more, and better, things to consume. Better food, better clothes and better housing.

Unfit dwellings
Another set of figures produced recently are those for the number of "unfit dwellings" in England. These show that nearly 1.5 million houses or flats have one or more basic defects such as damp and mold, inadequate heating, lighting and washing and cooking facilities (Independent, 10 September). Clearly the five million or so people affected by this need better housing. Which could easily be provided since other figures show that despite the so-called upturn in the housing market there is still a brick mountain of 1.4 billion (Daily Telegraph, 3 May), enough to build 175,000 new houses. At the same time the Building Employers Confederation says that there are about half a million unemployed building workers in the country (Independent, 5 October).

So why are needs not properly met today? The answer is simple and straightforward. It is because meeting needs is not the purpose of production today. The purpose of production today is to make profits. That is admitted even by supporters of the present economic system, only they see it as an incentive to produce things. Socialists see it as a brake on production.

What production for profit means in practice is that before anything is produced those in charge of its production must be convinced that it can be sold profitably. Before a firm opens a business somewhere, a survey is carried out. But this is not a survey of people’s needs. It’s a survey of the prospective market and that’s what it is called — a market survey. In other words, a survey of what people can afford and are willing to pay for. Which is not at all the same as their needs.

If the company was going to open, say, a furniture store somewhere, it would not carry out a survey of what were the needs of the people in the area for good quality, safe furniture. No, it would carry out a survey of the income levels of the people in the area — and would only stock up with good quality, safe furniture if it found it was an area where people had high average incomes. Otherwise it would stock up with the cheap utility furniture that the average consumer can afford. If it found it was in an area where most people were on income support and therefore most in need of new, safe furniture — it would probably decide not to open a store there at all. What would be the point? The people would need the furniture, but as they wouldn't be able to afford to buy it their needs don’t count.

This is a basic economic law of the capitalist economic system. "Can’t Pay, Won’t Produce". "No Profit, No Production".

So, under capitalism, how much and, in extreme cases, whether your needs are satisfied depends on the amount of money you have as your "purchasing power". There are various ways of getting money. You can beg for it. Today, in the centre of big cities, beggars are everywhere. This is something new and, except for winos, didn’t use to exist 20 yearn ago.

Then you can steal it. This too has been on the increase. It’s what they call the crime wave, since 94 percent of recorded crimes are "crimes of property" — that is, people trying to get money illegally or property that they can sell for money.

But if you rule out these options — which you have to be pretty desperate to take — then, for most people, all that remains is to work or try to work for a living. In other words, to go out to the labour market and sell yourself. Well, not exactly yourself but sell a part of you — your mental and physical energies — for a wage or a salary. The wages system is the basis of capitalism. What it reflects is the fact that most people don’t own productive resources and therefore have to work for those who do. It reflects the class division of present-day society: between the majority working class and the minority capitalist employing class. Anybody who has to go out and work for a living is a member of the working class. It doesn’t matter what job you do. Whether you are a doctor or a docker, a teacher or a turner, a lecturer or a labourer — if you have to sell you ability to work for a wage or salary, then you are a member of the working class. So most people — up to 95 percent of the population in fact — are members of the working class. This is wider than most definitions but is in our view the only scientific definition.

What can you sell
How much money you get paid depends on the quality of what you have to sell. Because under capitalism your ability to work is a commodity — something that is bought and sold — its price (which is what your wages or salary is) is fixed like that of all other commodities by what it costs to produce. A doctor gets paid more than a docker because it costs more money to train a doctor. An engineer gets paid more than a labourer for the same reason.

For those workers who can’t or don’t find an employer, existence is pretty bleak. They get made up to the poverty line — now £40 to £50 a week plus housing costs for a single person. Some 20 percent of the population of Britain, an advanced industrial country, are in this position. And this in a world which could provide plenty for all. Plenty of food, good housing, and good health care.

Beg or steal
The second alternative source of income to begging, stealing, or working for an employer is to get an unearned income from owning property. Non-work incomes such as dividends, interest and rents accrue to people purely because they have ownership rights over productive resources. They have property deeds and titles, stocks and shares, which entitle them to draw an income from the use of these resources by the working class, who actually operate them and produce all the wealth of society.

The unpaid labour of the working class — that is the source of all rent, interest and profit. Profit is a tribute levied by Property on Labour. And it is all perfectly legal, created, upheld and. if necessary, enforced by the law of the land.

Of course many workers have some unearned income, as interest on their savings in the bank or building society, for example, but this is never enough to enable them to stop working for an employer for any length of time. But in any event the ownership of assets that provide an unearned property income in the form of Rent. Interest or Profit is very unequal. To start with, two-thirds of the population have virtually no net assets of this sort. At the other end of the social scale the top six percent of the population — those who own capital worth £100,000 or more — own 60 percent of such assets. They own 85 percent of all privately owned shares and 80 percent of all privately owned land.

This inequality of property ownership is the basis of capitalism and these people, they are the capitalist class. Capitalism is the system and it works in their interest. Capitalism is the Profit System and they are the profit takers. The role of the government is to run this system in their interests, and it doesn’t matter whether it is made up of Tory or Labour politicians. Capitalism can only work by putting Profits before People. So what is to be done? This is where the original Socialist accusation against capitalism comes in — that if fails to meet people’s needs properly. But we can say more than this: capitalism can never be made to serve human needs. It can only work as a profit making system in the interest of those who live off profits. Which isn't us.

What must be done is clear. There’s no point in trying to reform capitalism or patch it up. It must be abolished altogether and replaced by socialism.

One good way to understand socialism is to see it as the opposite of capitalism. Capitalism is based on concentration of the ownership of the means of production into the hands of a tiny minority of the population, a small class of rich people who individually own enough wealth to be able to live without having to work for an employer. Socialism will be based on the opposite the common ownership and democratic control of the productive resources by the whole community. This means what it says: that no individual or group of individuals will be able to have property rights, entitling them to draw an unearned income such as rent, interest or profit, from owning land, farms, machinery, mines, warehouses, offices or any other means for producing and distributing wealth.

They will simply be there, to be used under the democratic control of those who work in them.

Naturally, this means they will be used to serve the common good by turning out the things people need. So. while capitalism means production of profit, socialism means production for use. Whereas the basic economic laws of capitalism is "No Profit, No Production", the basic rule of socialism will be "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs". In other words, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control, people will cooperate to produce the goods and services that are needed and everybody can then have free access to these goods and services to satisfy their needs.

Basic needs
We are talking about a society in which everyone can satisfy, not just their basic needs but all their reasonable needs, as a matter of right — just because they are human beings. Why not? Why should we have to pay for food, clothing, services and the other things we need? These should be available for us to take and use, free of charge, as and when we need them. This is what Socialism involves. It would mean no poverty, no bad housing, no collapsing health-service. How could social problems like these exist in a society that was geared to serving human interests? Enough food to feed everybody would be produced. Enough decent houses to house everybody would be built and kept in good repair. Enough hospitals, schools, libraries, museums, parks and other services would be provided.

This is possible but first the artificial scarcity and the organized waste of capitalism must be ended. And this is where you come in — because socialism cannot be established by the handful of socialists who exist today. It can only be established when the majority of workers understand and want it. That’s our purpose as an organized body of socialists holding meetings, contesting elections, bringing out this paper: to spread Socialist ideas and to get more and more workers to join in building up a Socialist movement to end capitalism and usher in Socialism.
Adam Buick

What Socialists want (1994)

From the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our aim is to see established a democratic world community without frontiers — in which the natural and industrial resources of the world have become the heritage of all humanity, and are used in co-operation to produce wealth directly for needs, with free access for all to the available goods and services, according to their own self defined needs.

A moneyless, stateless world commonwealth is the only framework within which current social problems can be permanently solved, since it is only on this basis that production can be oriented towards satisfying human needs. This social revolution can only be carried out when once a majority of wage and salary workers throughout the world want it, fully understand its implications, and organise democratically and politically to achieve it.

English Legal System (1994)

Book Review from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

English Legal System. By Gary Slapper and David Kelly. (Cavendish Publishing. £l3.95.)

This textbook is intended not just for law students but also for the increasing number of other people who in their work or their daily lives find they need to have some knowledge of the legal system in England. This readable and accessible book will meet that need.

As Socialists we know that the capitalist state has been in a financial crisis for the last twenty or so years and has had to cut back its spending in all departments. What has mainly struck us is how this has affected the various services national and local government provide for the population. This book shows (chapters 12 and 13) that the legal system has been affected too. Not only has legal aid been drastically cut back ("in some categories over 10 million people have been made ineligible by recent changes"), but since 1991 magistrates’ courts, which deal with 97 percent of criminal cases, have been forced to operate in accordance with market principles.

The amount of money they get from central government now depends on the number of cases and the speed they deal with them. As they can attract more funds by dealing with a larger number of minor offences (TV licences and motoring) than a smaller number of more serious ones, it is in their financial interest to pursue the former:
  "The clerk is thus under pressure to list more cases of this sort and fewer serious ones resulting from police charges as the latter only generate about £150 income from government funding per case hut take much longer to deal with if there is a not guilty plea and cost the court money.
  One justice's clerk in Hampshire who ’tots up' the points scored each week from the court's caseload said in an interview that he had come to speak of cases as 'earners' and some cases, like motoring matters, make much better profits than others"(p. 331)
So if you have ever wondered why the police pursue motorists rather than burglars, now you know why: it’s more cost effective. Increased recourse to fines (which bring in money) rather than jail sentences (which cost an awful lot of money) and the increased use of cautions by the police are other aspects of this cost-cutting exercise.

The irony is that all this weakening of "the fight against crime’ is happening under the Tories. But it is a measure of the seriousness of the financial crisis of the capitalist state that those in charge of it have been forced to skimp even on its primary role of maintaining Law and Order.
Adam Buick

Letter: National Health Service (1994)

Letter to the Editors from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Your recent articles on the NHS (November 1993) were particularly interesting. To correct one inaccuracy, district health authorities do not become self-governing Trusts. It is Acute and Community hospitals who used to be directly managed by DHAs who are now able to opt out of local health authority control. Health authorities are now required to purchase health care services from a range of hospital and other providers on behalf of their local populations. Providers of health care compete with each other to attract this business through the internal market.

I thought it may be useful to make one or two comments about the internal market and how a number of contradictory effects are now clearly discernible:

1. Competition in the classic sense is rarely a reality. With the exception of large conurbations, many hospital providers, particularly bog-standard district general hospitals, occupy almost a monopoly position. Similarly, the "host” district purchasers are often near monopoly buyers of services. Many of the alleged benefits from free competition like choice, cost efficiency are largely illusory.

2. Large specialist centres of medical excellence, many located in London, are now under threat. A district purchaser will tend to contract with local general hospitals and community units to obtain the basic expected standard services for its local population. To contract with a specialist centre almost on the off chance a very small number of cases may arise needing its services is seen as very risky and expensive, limiting the ability of the purchaser to maximise the benefit to the most number of people within limited resources. Although currently protected by various methods of national and regional funding, the constant push to devolve funds down to districts and to widen the scope of the market will exacerbate this threat.

3. An opposite tendency is where two large general hospitals are forced into competition despite together covering a vast area. The effect of market forces if both survive, is to encourage rationalisation and specialisation. That is, each concentrates on a narrower range of services in which each feels it has an advantage over the other. In addition to the obvious waste of skills and experience associated with "rationalisation", the fundamental principle of local access to the full range of standard services is undermined. Patients and families will need to travel much greater distances to obtain diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. The choice of services available to the purchaser also narrows, reinforcing tendencies to monopoly.

4. The purpose of competition is of course to eliminate competition. This is seen in an increased number of mergers and takeovers on both purchaser and provider sides of the market table. The increased market and bargaining power associated with (say) the creation of a large district purchaser through merger is matched in double quick time by the merger of the local provider units to redress the balance and to prevent one being played off against another. Sooner or later, the internal market will seize up completely and all pretence of choice and competition will vanish. We will be left with a recreated national structure formed through takeover and closure, highly authoritarian, run by autocratic managers and non-elected business representatives, and totally unresponsive or sympathetic to the wishes and aspirations of health workers, patients, their families and the wider community as a whole. Being "successful" products of a market system and ravaged by the ideology of commercialism, the remaining Trusts (self-governing hospitals) will be ripe for privatisation. You can just see it: "support your local hospital — buy shares in the ’public flotation’". One way to raise needed money for cash starved hospitals. The ideological value of getting people to identify with particular methods of capitalist restructurings through privatisation is well known.

Enough of the pessimism. The only point of understanding how and why capitalist institutions change and adapt is to understand that this change whether left to the market or apparently influenced by politicians will never be to the benefit of working people. A world-wide health service (perhaps including a tremendous diversity of models of health care) can only happen when capitalism is replaced on a world-wide basis by socialism, The people’s health and wellbeing will only ever be safe in the hands of the people themselves.
Name and Address Supplied. 

Go for a million update (1994)

Party News from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

We would like to thank all those readers, members and sympathizers, both here and abroad, who have contributed to our Election Fund.

We are well on the way to achieving our target of at least £20,000. At the time of writing (mid-December) the amount paid into or pledged to our Election Fund stood at £17,094. So there is still another £3,000 to go.

If you want to help finance this biggest ever campaign to get Socialist ideas across and have not yet contributed you can do so by sending a cheque or postal order (made payable to the "Socialist Party of Great Britain") to Election Fund, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.

Obituary: Robert Smith (1994)

Obituary from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are saddened to hear of the death of last year of our comrade Robert Smith of Camden Branch.

Bob Smith was born in Hendon in 1915 where his family had lived for generations, back to the time when it was a village in Middlesex and not the north London suburb it is today. He became a socialist through listening to Socialist Party speakers in Hyde Park, joining the old Paddington Branch in 1938. His work as an accounts clerk meant that he was called upon at various times to do all the jobs at branch level involving finance (treasurer, auditor, literature secretary). For a short while he served as the Party’s Treasurer at national level. But he was also an occasional speaker and writer as well as his branch’s delegate to Conference.

He will remembered as a quiet pleasant man who was a dedicated socialist.

50 Years Ago: Working-Class Wives (1994)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent Court of Appeal decided that housekeeping savings belong to the husband. The decision aroused indignation amongst many women: but why? The judge was right. A worker’s wife is little better than a chattel-slave, though it is perhaps true that love enters into marriage more to-day than it did in the past. Yet the economic bondage of women remains fundamentally the same.

We live under a system of society known as Capitalism, which is made up of property relationships, one of which is marriage. In order to live, a working-class woman must either sell her labour-power to an employer, secure a husband or resort to prostitution. If she chooses marriage, as nearly all women do, she will receive in return for her services food, clothing and shelter according to her husband's means.

As the majority of men are propertyless. they are compelled to sell their labour-power to the capitalist class, who in return provide them with the means to keep themselves in a state of efficiency and also to maintain a wife and family. Most work is regarded as unskilled, therefore the means which the majority of men receive are simply for the necessities of life.

So women who marry these men are forced to live in poverty, and the very idea of saving any of their housekeeping money is ludicrous. In view of this we can conclude that for these women to enjoy equality in this state of poverty is impossible, for they are dependent on the goodwill of their husbands. The end of the exploitation of women will only come when they unite with men to abolish capitalism, which enslaves them both, and substitute it by socialism, under which no one will be economically dependent on another and all will enjoy complete freedom and equality.

[From an article by "D.M" in the Socialist Standard, January 1944.]



Sting in the Tail: Tory morality (1994)

The Sting in the Tail column from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tory morality
You would think that any political party which has had so many of its leading lights’ extra-marital activities exposed in the media would think twice about presenting themselves as the guardians of the nation’s morals.

But not the Tories. Having blamed the one-parent family and especially the absent fathers for the decline in "family values", they had to gaze in horror as one more government minister, Tim Yeo, is exposed for his part in creating yet another one-parent family. Yeo’s brazen defence was that his case was different because he is paying towards the child’s upkeep!

So its OK to contribute to this so- called decline in family values so long as you pay for the privilege, and when it comes down to it, money is always what Tory morality, philosophy, and all the rest of that guff, is all about.


Common practice
We’ve heard plenty about gerrymandering in the past in Ulster and more recently in Westminster, but it’s been happening in Scotland too. This piece by "Backbencher" appeared in the Glaswegian (27 January):
GERRYMANDERING IS NOT JUST A
 TORY PLOY
Labour were quick to call it "gerrymandering". But their councillors, up and down the land, appear rather restrained in condemning the peculiar council house sales policy of Westminster City Council.

Not surprising. After all, in the post-war years, Labour activists quickly figured out their own vote-creation formula.

They built new council houses in their 'marginal" wards to strengthen the political control.

Indeed, this explains why some pockets of new homes were created not where Glasgow families actually wanted to live.

But where ambitious local politicians needed extra votes.


Little earners
The Tories’ latest desperate attempt to explain their failure to run British capitalism smoothly has been to blame the parents for almost all of society’s ills. Increased crime? Drug abuse? Poor educational standards? All down to the lack of parental control!

But this pathetic excuse is not exclusive to the British government. BBC’s Newsround Extra (14 January) told how children in Colombia, some only ten years old, are working down coal mines in horrendous conditions. There are shafts with wooden pit-props which frequently collapse, dust-laden air, and access so restricted that even a child can barely squeeze through. Indeed, this was one of the reasons mine-owners gave for employing the children.

A local official justified the government's inaction by claiming that the children did a Lord Lucan whenever rare inspections were made, and added that the blame for this child-labour lay with — guess who? — the parents for allowing their children to go down the mines.

These children, they earn about £10 weekly, are often their families’ sole source of income and, come to think of it, could be held up by the Tories as a shining example to British children.


He’s a scream
That comical Keynesian, Professor J.K. Galbraith, has been wowing his British audiences once again. In his Cardiff gig he was supposedly setting-out conditions for what he called "the good society" (Guardian, 26 January) but this was just a front for his usual laugh-a-minute routine.

And what a routine! The good society, he gagged, would put an end to poverty, unemployment, bad health and poor housing. Then he joked that there would be a "more equitable distribution of income" while "positive government intervention" could end recessions. Hilarious stuff!

For a finale he slayed ’em with "I want to see demilitarisation" plus "an effective curb on the arms trade", and all of this to be achieved within (wait for it) the capitalist system. Stoppit, Prof, you’re killing us!

So maybe it is the same old material, but the Prof knows exactly what his audience wants to hear, and on this form his Vegas debut can’t be far away.


Sheer murder
Anyone who thinks that socialists use over-emotive language in claiming that capitalism murders workers, might like to consider a report which appeared on Scottish Television News (18 January) revealing how the asbestos industry was responsible for the deaths of many workers employed in shipbuilding on Clydeside by deliberately suppressing information about the deadly effect of its product.

According to the report this information became available fifty years ago when experiments carried out in laboratories in America showed how white mice were exposed to asbestos dust with terrifying results. 81.8 percent of mice inhaling long-fibre asbestos develop lung cancer, a figure sixteen times that of other dusts.

Because the consequences of inhaling asbestos dust don’t appear for perhaps twenty years, the industry was able to protest its innocence for a generation. Not only do dead men tell no tales, but even better from the insurers’ point of view, they make no claims for compensation either.


Learning to hate
Did you watch the movie of South Pacific on 9 January? In among all the big hit songs was this little gem:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
you’ve got to be taught from year to year
it's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
you’ve got to be carefully taught 
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
of people whose eyes are oddly made
and people whose skin is a different shade
you've got to be carefully taught 
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
before you are six or seven or eight
to hate all the people your relatives hate
you’ve got to be carefully taught
This song probably explains how racist ideas are learned and not inborn more clearly than all of the speeches and writings on the subject ever could.


Booking his place
This is what Patrick Minford, Professor of Economics at Liverpool University, had to say on Channel Four’s High Interest: Loadsamoney on 16 January:
  "There’s no doubt that in the last decade and a half when we have liberalised this economy and pushed it more towards the free market end of the capitalist system, the distribution of wealth and income has become much more unequal and of course that’s exactly what one "would hope would happen because the whole point of the capitalist economy is that it should throw up enormous inequalities in order to motivate effort and entrepreneurship. It’s now extremely respectable to he a successful entrepreneur. You get invited to the best dinner parties and people pay you the respect that you are due, and that is the visible change in our culture which I think is a tremendously good thing."
If that doesn’t earn this lickspittle his own invitation to "the best dinner parties" then nothing will.

Gatt: Free Trade — or Protectionism? (1994)

From the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last year we dealt with the various factors that were leading to a trade war (Socialist Standard, April 1993). The possibility of a return to the "beggar thy neighbour" policies of the 1930s was discussed in the light of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Area) and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).

Prior to the recent signing of these agreements the Establishment-controlled media argued that the alternative to signing these agreements was a gigantic world slump. Quoting the OECD, the Financial Times (9 November) stated:
   "a successful round would add about 200 billion dollars a year to world trade. . . the increased business would certainly help the international economy from its current recession. If the talks collapse, then these potential gains will be lost. But, worse, a tit for tat trade war would lead to higher tariffs, higher prices, reduced sales, lost export opportunities and lost jobs."
Before the recent signing of GATT, the world was already dividing into trade blocs such as NAFTA, comprising Canada, the United States and Mexico, the EEC (Europe), and the Far East under the domination of Japan.

A similar attempt has been made in Latin America to form a trading sphere made up of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay (MEPOSIL). Currently Brazil and Argentina are in dispute over movement of capital goods between the two countries. Argentina accusing Brazil of dumping.

NAFTA, when signed, was considered a triumph for the diplomacy of President Clinton. It has not, however, resolved the trade rivalries between the member countries. Canada has raised tariffs on farm products since GATT was signed "to make up for the protection its farmers lost in the GATT agreement. Tariffs are expected to be as high as 350 percent on butter. 290 percent on cheese and 270 percent on eggs" (Daily Telegraph, 16 December). The United States is pressing Canada to phase out these tariffs in 10 years instead of 15 as required under GATT’s rules.

The revolt of the Zapatistas in Mexico had their leader denouncing NAFTA from a hotel balcony as "a death sentence for Mexican Indians" (Economist, 22 January). In short, the Indians see no hope for themselves under NAFTA. Unlike the European Community there is no offer of regional aid to the poorer members of this trade bloc.

Export subsidies
One of the claims made by the advocates of these multinational agreements is that freer movement of goods will result in a raising of living standards world wide. Because many of the goods exported by the major industrialized countries have export subsidies the opposite is the case as far as the "lesser developed countries" are concerned. The higher prices of these products, especially agricultural products, are often more than they can afford. With much of their revenue being consumed in paying crushing interest payments on outstanding loans, far from improving, their living standards are worsened.

Similar attempts have been made in the past to reach agreement on a world scale with the object of preventing trade disputes and the economic rivalries that result eventually in world wars and slumps with mass unemployment. The Bretton Woods Agreement was one such example when in 1944 it was proposed along with the IMF and the International Trade Organization. The latter, the ITO, was rejected on the ground that it would provoke hostility from some of the major trading powers. No such considerations apply today. There is now a World Trading Organization replacing GATT.

The problem that capitalist politicians have to solve is how to have world trade without the various powers falling out as they compete for a bigger share of the world market. Bretton Woods, out of which came the IMF, gave rise to a system of fixed exchange rates that could periodically be adjusted where trade imbalances occurred. It appeared to work initially but with the entry of countries such as Japan into the world market and the subsequent erection of trade barriers it finally ended when President Nixon ended the dollar’s convertability. Under this arrangement America provided enough currency to provide a gold exchange rate system.

The violent currency movements that have occurred in recent years is evidence of the developing trade imbalances instead of the convergence of currencies as the enthusiasts for the European Community promised. Currency adjustments cannot overcome the problems of trade rivalries. Tight control of the D-Mark by the Bundesbank has not prevented the deepening recession in Germany.

Erection of trade barriers does not in itself afford protection against rival economic competitors or prevent import penetration. American multinationals were not in fact kept out of Europe by the formation of the EEC for the simple reason they were already established in Europe; Kellogs Cornflakes, Budweiser Beer, Camel Cigarettes, Ford Motors and the inevitable McDonald’s to mention only a few.

The only time anything approaching free trade can occur is when one world power has acquired a dominant position in the world. This was the case in the middle half of the 19th century, when the British Empire was the dominant world power with unlimited access to a large Empire from which it could obtain raw materials at minimal cost. A similar situation existed after the Second World War when America was the predominant world economic power for about two decades. In this sense protectionism has dominated, apart from these two periods in the history of capitalism.

Whilst NAFTA was launched under the auspices of free trade it is in reality protectionist as is the EEC ("Fortress Europe”). The three trade blocs that have emerged have access to cheap labour and raw materials. In the case of NAFTA, America and Canada can increasingly use Mexico for production of labour-intensive goods. This will reduce their interest in the Newly Industrialized countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia which are all heavily export-dependent. The percentage of GDP that comprise exports are 30 percent for South Korea, 44 percent for Taiwan and well-over 90 percent in the case of Hong Kong and Singapore. The main markets for their exports are OECD countries such as the industrialized nations of North America, western Europe, Australasia and Japan. The OECD accounted for an average of 44 percent of the export of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong in 1992. Any failure of GATT will cause serious economic problems in these export-dependent economics.

China has officially admitted that it has over 130 million agricultural workers surplus to the requirements of its industry. Many of them have defied regulations and flocked to the cities in search of work. With surplus labour-power of this size, where wages can amount to less than a dollar an hour, it is not difficult to see what impact this will have on the world market if utilized.

Hardly had the ink dried on the new GATT agreements before the United States and Japan were involved in a dispute over computer copyrights and access for computer hardware, with America alleging that Japan was violating the agreement. On a recent visit to Japan, Jean Spero, US Under-secretary of State for Agricultural and Economic Affairs, accused Japan of foot-dragging. Speaking in Tokyo she said: "Quite frankly progress has been disappointing and when the leaders meet it will be against a backdrop of the largest trade deficit in the history of United States-Japanese relations” (Daily Telegraph, 13 January). Subsequently Lloyd Bentsen, US Treasury Secretary, warned that "his country would have to re-examine the basis of its bilateral trade agreement with Japan if negotiations fail to make sufficient progress by next month" (Daily Telegraph, 24 January). Lloyd Bentsen said "Japan is out of step. It has the lowest penetration of manufactured imports and it has the lowest foreign investment levels among major nations." At the same time the European Community is in trouble with GATT for operating a restrictive quota of bananas while Latin American countries claim discrimination against them" (Daily Telegraph, 24 January).

Last year it was discovered that Germany had signed a secret trading agreement with the United States unbeknown to its European partners leaving them out in the cold (Daily Telegraph, 21 June). With the majority of European countries in recession the likelihood of trade barriers and protectionism increases, particularly as the recession deepens.

There is absolutely no convincing evidence that GATT involving 105 countries can increase free trade when it retains many of the features of protectionism. Its history is one of endless disputes, complaints and alleged violations. Its ultimate effect is the opposite of what its advocates claim. The groupings of NAFTA, the EEC and the Far East are expressions of competing capitalist groupings struggling for access to the world’s markets.
Terry Lawlor

Poland — the old crowd returns (1994)

From the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "In Poland the elections are now over. The old crowd came back into power under a new guise. Despite its leftist leanings the new government has made it clear that it will not in any way harm the repayment of Poland’s debts and will carry on with the economic reform programme" Correspondent from Poland reports
The elections are now over and by all accounts forgotten. The old crowd came back into power under a new guise. The former "Communists” now called "Left Alliance", along with the Farmers Union, received two thirds of the seals in the new' Polish parliament. The Democratic Union of the outgoing Premier did badly, as did Lech Walesa’s centrist group. Walesa today is a played card and few regard him as the statesman he pretends to be. More surprisingly, the Patriotic Coalition supported by the Catholic church did just as poorly.

Despite its leftist leanings the new government has made it clear that it will not in any way harm the repayment of Poland’s debts and will carry on with the economic reform programme. There will be no return to the centrally-planned state capitalist economy.

Since the collapse of the Russian Empire, Poland has become the prime target for overseas investment in the former state capitalist bloc and has experienced the greatest economic growth in Europe. For example, the growth in industrial production was 9.4 percent in the first half of last year. More than one million new businesses have been initiated since 1989 and more than half of Polish workers are now employed by privately-owned firms. Meanwhile the currency has stablized somewhat with annual price rises down from 100 percent three years ago to 35 percent now.

However, all is not rosy. The reforms that privatization have brought have not improved the lot of the working class. A new class has effectively emerged that lives in luxury while the poor are even poorer. The difference between the rich and poor is greater now than ever. Unemployment has grown to over three million, or 15.2 percent of the available working population, and the new economic reforms have brought further social division and an understandable jealousy on the part of some.

Crazy debts
One of the biggest problems which none of the parties have been able to adequately tackle is Poland’s massive indebtedness. Poland has a $30.6 billion debt owed to the Paris Club of Western creditors, and the new Premier Pawlek has so far failed to negotiate a successful debt reduction programme, just as with many other attempts to do so in the last few years. If reform of Poland’s debt comes, the burden of it will no doubt fall on the backs of the workers. There have already been attempts to reduce government expenditure through manipulation of the state pension, which has not risen nearly as much as even the government’s own supporters were demanding.

It is also worth noting on the international front that because of low labour costs, Germany is preparing to invest heavily in Poland at present, and this means that Germany will come to have a greater say in the everyday affairs of Polish polities. Already Germany and Poland have had joint military manoeuvres, in which they have recently been joined by Denmark.

Social dislocation
On the social side, Poland is experiencing all the ills common in Western society — drug addiction, homelessness, organized crime, mugging, pornography and gambling. At the moment it is estimated that 20,000 people are homeless in Warsaw alone, many of whom are unemployed, having come in from the small towns. Shelter is provided by the Church, but many refuse this due to the regimentation of the hostels. People beg in the streets and others rummage through dustbins. The average wage in Poland is four million zlotys; to put this in perspective, the rent on any available single-roomed flat is three million zlotys. Because of this many teenagers have to remain with their families, sleeping as many as four or five to a room. Houses are being lived in that are almost ready to collapse.

The television and the cinema are full of American films and advertising from the multi-nationals. Just about everything one would find in any Western city has come to Poland, from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Burger King. And any rubbish that has not, one can assume soon will. One of the worst things in contemporary Poland is the cult of the skinhead. They tried to disrupt the Warsaw Ghetto commemoration, they have attacked Jews and eighteen months ago beat a German lorry driver to death in Kracow.

Euro Union
Poland is now preparing to join the European Union, and hopes it will be admitted in three or four years’ time. It could be that with a large skilled workforce and a cheap supply of labour, Poland will have an "economic miracle" like Germany and Italy after the Second World War. But a poorly-organized working class can expect to gain relatively little from this, and it is to be expected that the needs or rapid capital accumulation will continue to put a brake on consumption for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that, despite its difficulties, the Polish working class is now in a position to form a Socialist Party and put the case for world socialism in a part of the globe that desperately needs revolutionary change. Without a doubt the courage and tenacity Polish workers have shown in the past should not be put to ending their own wage-slavery.
D. Szczescie,
Warsaw

Raging Hormones (1994)

Book Review from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Raging Hormones, Do They Rule Our Lives? by Gail Vines. Virago, 1993, £6.99.

If Gail Vines is right, "the 1990s seem set to witness a resurgence in ’biological’ explanations of human capabilities and frailties". Her book is a timely attack on a scientific determinism which seemed long dead. Although primarily a feminist critique of the medical profession’s supposed objectivity, her arguments work equally well against all attempts to treat science as a thing unbiased by the perceptions of its time, to "push human agency and the social context of our lives out of the picture".

Thus, we find that men who are dominated by their hormones are "deviant", yet for women it is expected. The "feminine" hormone, oestrogen, even takes its name from the Latin for gadfly, "that which causes a frenzy". Gender roles are socially constructed, so society covered its tracks with the ideology of the hormone, giving an unchangeable basis on which these roles could be justified.

It is an ideology, moreover, well suited to late twentieth century capitalism. The study of hormones betrays a fascination with the uncontrollable within us, a deep psychological anxiety which stems (Vines convincingly argues) from instability in the social and economic spheres.

The Victorian medical profession — male, of course — was obsessed with menstrual bleeding, the fear of obstruction and accumulated waste mirroring the laissez-faire economics of free-marketeers like Herbert Spencer. The fad of today, fatness, symbolises our modern concern with self-control and the "correct" management of desire. Women cope with fears for their role in a consumption-driven society by dieting, men by transposing them on to the unstable "other" woman: woman herself.

The menstrual cycle is seen as defining the essence of womanhood, and its end at the menopause as a loss of allure. Nevertheless, from puberty onwards, girls are conditioned not to let their "private" time encroach on the "public" time of their working environment, whether school, home or workplace. Any conflict between the two is met by attempts to "get the woman regular".

Many accounts of pre-menstrual tension (PMT) stress the loss of mental and physical discipline, the very things which capitalism demands. Another classic symptom, anger, is usually the cue for therapy. Rarely is it hinted that women have anything to be angry about. Vines questions the hormonal basis of PMT (there seems to be no link between its occurrence and hormone levels), and explains its survival in medical folklore partly through casual sexism, but also through a more easily quantifiable reason: the drugs companies enjoy having such a large market for their “cures". The causes of stress, too, come less from within than from the inability to control and predict the environment, most noticeably the working environment. Again, capitalism’s problem becomes a women’s problem in particular, because they are urged to conquer stress not just for their own sake, but for others — boyfriends and husbands (in advertisements), and customers and clients at work (contact work, for example in shops, is done most often by women).

Likewise, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has two faces. Originally introduced to combat the short-term symptoms of the menopause, its pioneer, Robert Wilson, claimed rather more. His 1966 book was entitled Feminine Forever, a ploy followed by modern HRT evangelists such as Teresa Gorman MP, who tells women that "if they want to keep the older man from leaving home for a dolly bird, they too will get smart and use HRT" .

As with PMT, powerful pharmaceutical interests stand to gain from hormone replacement treatments. A mere $1.3m of their money paid for the establishment of the Wilson Foundation in 1963, while by 1991 American women alone bought $730m-worth of oestrogen products every year. Better still, the market is set to expand as the baby boom generation reaches middle age.

Like PMT too, however, the menopause itself is, at least in part, a creation of our society. In Mayan villages, women look forward to it as the end of child-bearing and lack the symptoms found in the West, such as hot flushes. It is only now appearing in Japan, at a time when their gynaecologists’ traditional income from abortions has fallen because of better contraception. In this, the situation is similar to that in the US, the biggest market. In Britain, at least until recently, doctors under the NHS had no need to sell drugs to give them an income, and HRT was consequently much less popular.

Vines maintains that gender and sexuality are the result of upbringing, and no more determined by our hormones than aggression is, or (we might add) greed. There is no "brain sex" which determines, for example, that women have poor spatial awareness, and therefore make bad drivers or bad engineers. In most cultures, boy and girls are treated very differently from their first months, and it is therefore impossible to distinguish biological and cultural factors.

To pretend that people are as they are because of their biological programming, whether by hormones or genes, carries obvious risks of discrimination and worse: it oppresses the individuality of all of us, and takes our sexuality "out of its lived context". This book is designed to give us a better idea of how hormones, and scientists, work. It is designed to put us back in touch with our bodies. "Such empowerment will come only with the knowledge that in reality, collectively and individually, we are continually creating ourselves."
Toby Crowe

Letters: "New World Disorder" (1994)

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

"New World Disorder"

Dear Editors,

The article "New World Disorder" in the January issue seems to imply that it would have been viable to retain the state capitalist systems of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, and that the present mess there is due to the West having forced their abandonment. This concept is in my opinion seriously in error.

It is true that the Reagan SDI initiative finally broke the back of the Soviet Union, but this merely accelerated an inevitable end. The retreat from state capitalism is occurring all over the world, because that form has been undercut by the free (or at least freer) market version. Technological advances such as the rise of the computer coupled with the spread of the multinationals have favoured the free market and counteracted earlier trends in the opposite direction.

"Western economic approaches" have only "clearly failed in capitalist nations" in the sense that every approach within capitalism must "fail" from the working-class viewpoint. From the capitalist viewpoint, they form the best option, albeit from a grim bunch. The fact that capitalism has reached this point, after a period in which it seemed that clamping the market a la USSR was a good thing, strengthens yet further the case for Socialism.

The mess in Russia and eastern Europe Is greatly aggravated because the switch to the free market has been so long delayed. Cuba seems fated to go the same way, but China with a more liberal economy, may yet escape the worst. Any attempt to restore the status quo ante is foredoomed and will simply recreate again the situation which caused the crash in the first place. Significantly it is the Russian fascists who have come closest to advocating such a reactionary policy. Otherwise it has merely been a case of slowing down the pace of reform.

That is not to say that clamping the market cannot temporarily benefit many workers. What is being said is that, in the longer term, such economies are highly likely to be undercut by those who haven't clamped the market, with all the devastation this result may bring with it.
Ted Edge, 
Lytham St. Annes


Corrections

Dear Editors,

Thank you for printing my letter about abortion. May I correct a couple of printing mistakes. I wrote "Not priests, doctors, nor even her partner should have more rights over her body than she has herself." Unfortunately you missed out the word "body".

Also the book I recommended is "The Sceptical Feminist", by Janet Richards, not the "Socialist" Feminist. 
Veronica Clanchy,
Poole

50 Years Ago: Fabian Fallacies (1994)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The early Fabians, the I.L.P. and the Labour Party were wrong, and the S.P.G.B. was right. The problem was not, and is not, one of extending state and municipal capitalism (incidentally the present drift is towards monopolistic public utility corporations under some sort of state supervision, not towards state operated enterprises) — nor is it one of finding experts and superior brains. There is no lack of able and experienced workers in industry, farming and the civil service to carry on, nor was there 60 years ago. All that is lacking is a Socialist working class to give orders to its delegates in Parliament and on the local councils for the ending of the private property basis of society. Socialism is still not here, but that is only because the workers are still not Socialists. What society needs, now, as when the Fabians began their slow march to nowhere, is not Fabian experts to show the capitalists what changes are necessary to keep capitalism going, but a majority who understand Socialism and are determined to achieve it through gaining control of the machinery of government.

[From the editorial in the Socialist Standard, March 1944.]

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Morris and the Problem of Reform or Revolution (1984)

From the February 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is now generally accepted that William Morris, the Victorian poet and designer, was for the last thirteen years of his life (he died in 1896 at the age of 62) an active propagandist for “Revolutionary International Socialism”. It is not so well known that for a part of this period his attitude to socialist tactic—summed up in the phrases “Education for Revolution” and “Make Socialists—was in many respects similar to that adopted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain when it was formed only eight years after his death.

When Morris became convinced that socialism was the only solution to the problems facing society—and particularly, as far as he was concerned, to the disappearance of enjoyable work or “popular art” as he called it—he joined the Democratic Federation which H.M. Hyndman had formed from various radical groups and clubs in London. In 1883, the year Morris joined, the Democratic Federation proclaimed Socialism as its aim and changed its name to Social Democratic Federation. It maintained its programme of immediate demands (public housing, free education, eight-hour day, public works, nationalisation of the land) but labelled them “stepping stones” to socialism.

Education for Revolution
Hyndman was a former Tory and carried over his arrogant and jingoist attitudes into the SDF with the result that conflict developed within the organisation and, at the very end of 1884, a split. Morris found himself a leading light in the new organisation, the Socialist League. Unlike the SDF, the Socialist League had no programme of “stepping stones” but concentrated, by means of lectures, street-corner meetings and sales of its journal Commonweal, on propagating socialism (even if the understanding of some of its members was not always that clear).

The Socialist League’s Manifesto, drafted by Morris, began:
  Fellow Citizens, We come before you as a body advocating the principles of Revolutionary International Socialism; that is, we seek a change in the basis of Society—a change which would destroy the distinctions of classes and nationalities. As the civilised world is at present constituted, there are two classes of Society—the one possessing wealth and the instruments of production, the other producing wealth by means of those instruments but only by leave and for the use of the possessing classes. These two classes are necessarily in antagonism to one another.
It went on to reject state capitalism as a solution to working class problems:
  No better solution would be that State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation: no number of merely administrative changes, until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any real approach to Socialism.
And said of socialism:
  To the realisation of this change the Socialist League addresses itself with all earnestness. As a means thereto it will do all in its power towards the education of the people in the principles of this great cause, and will strive to organise those who will accept this education, so that when the crisis comes, which the march of events is preparing there may be a body of men ready to step into their due places and deal with and direct the irresistible movement.
There are one or two confusions in the statement, not least in the inclusion of “banking” among “all means of production and distribution” which “must be declared and treated as the common property of all” (this is a confusion since Morris was well aware that there would be no banks in socialism), but otherwise is an admirable document considering the early stage of the development of socialist ideas in Britain that it was issued (the Manifesto in full is published as an appendix to E.P. Thompson’s William Morris Romantic to Revolutionary).

This same insistence on “education for revolution” had already been made in a statement issued in January 1885 by the 10 members of the Council of the SDF, including Morris, who had just resigned:
  Our view is that such a body in the present state of things has no function but to educate the people in the principles of socialism, and to organise such as it can get hold of to take their due places, when the crisis shall come which will force action on us. We believe that to hold out as baits hopes of amelioration of the condition of the workers, to be wrung out of the necessities of the rival factions of our privileged rulers, is delusive and mischievous.
In his private letters too Morris made clear this policy of the Socialist League. The League, he wrote in January 1885, “begins at all events with the distinct aim of making Socialists by educating them, and of organizing them to deal with politics in the end” (P. Henderson, The Letters of William Morris to his Family and Friends, 1950, p.229) and in December 1888 he wrote that his Branch, Hammersmith, “tacitly and instinctively tries to keep up the first idea of the League, the making of genuine convinced Socialists without reference to passing exigencies of tactics” (p.304).

In the last article he wrote in Commonweal on 15 November 1890, Morris again defended the policy of making socialists, against both those who wanted a reform programme and the anarchists:
  This time when people are excited about Socialism, and when many who know nothing about it think themselves Socialists, is the time of all others to put forward the simple principles of Socialism regardless of the policy of the passing hour. I say for us to make Socialists is the business at present, and at present I do not think we can have any other useful business. Those who are not really Socialists—who are Trade Unionists, disturbance-breeders, or what no—will do what they are impelled to do, and we cannot help it. At the worst there will be some good in what they do; but we need not and cannot heartily work with them, when we know that their methods are beside the right way. Our business, I repeat, is the making of Socialists, i.e. convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles into practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible. Have we that body of opinion? Surely not. . .
  Therefore, I say, make Socialists. We Socialists can do nothing else that is useful, and preaching and teaching is not out of date for that purpose; but rather for those who, like myself, do not believe in State Socialism, it is the only rational means of attaining to the new Order of Things” (Morris’ emphasis).
So, Morris was quite clear: a socialist organisation should not campaign for reforms or “palliatives” but should concentrate exclusively on socialist propaganda and education. In the beginning, in 1885 and 1886, this was based on a belief that capitalism was soon going to collapse (“when the crisis comes”) and the consequent urgent need to have a strong body of socialists to ensure that socialism would be the outcome. But by 1890 this had developed to a full and clear understanding that the establishment of socialism was impossible without there first being a mass of opinion in favour of it. Morris was later to change his policy on campaigning for reforms, but he never wavered on this point.

The Policy of Abstention
Morris tended to identify campaigning for reforms with campaigning to get elected to Parliament. This was understandable enough since those who were advocating parliamentary action at that time did envisage getting elected on a reform programme which they would then try to get Parliament to implement. Thus Morris’s opposition to campaigning for reforms also took the form of opposition to parliamentary action. It would however be inaccurate to describe him as a pure and simple “anti-Parliamentarist”, and certainly not as an anarchist, since he did not absolutely rule out the use of Parliament by socialists in the course of the socialist revolution.

Among those who left the SDF to found the Socialist League were a group who favoured parliamentary action. These included Marx’s daughter, Eleanor Marx-Aveling, and had the patronage of Engels. When, early in 1885, the Socialist League was discussing its new constitution, a draft had been rejected which had sought to commit it to “striving to conquer political power by promoting the election of Socialists to Local Governments, School Boards, and other administrative bodies”. The “parliamentarists” (as Morris called them), however, continued to press the issue at the League’s Annual Conferences in 1886 and 1887. On both occasions they were defeated and when they persisted in their views, even going so far as to support SDF candidates in elections to a local Board of Guardians, they had finally to be suspended in 1888 and resigned. It was to Morris that the task of presenting the case against parliamentary action fell. It was he who drafted an official statement issued by the Council of the League in 1888 on the subject (in Commonweal, 9 June 1888). But his views are more fully expressed in a lecture he gave in 1887 entitled “The Policy of Abstention”.

Morris’ arguments against parliamentary action can be summed up as (1) that Parliament was a capitalist institution; (2) that reforms obtained through Parliament would strengthen capitalism and would only be passed with this end in view; and (3) that campaigning for reforms would corrupt a socialist party.

In The Policy of Abstention Morris declared:
  The Communists believe that it would be a waste of time for Socialists to expend their energy in furthering reforms which so far from bringing us nearer to Socialism would rather serve to bolster up the present state of things.
The workers, he went on,
  are asked to vote and send representatives to Parliament (if ‘working men’ so much the better) that they may point out what concessions may be necessary for the ruling class to make in order that the slavery of the workers may last on: in a word that to vote for the continuance of their own slavery is all the parliamentary action they will be allowed to take under the present regime: Liberal Associations, Radical Clubs, working men members are at present, and Socialist members will be in the future, looked on with complacency by the governing classes as serving towards the end of propping up the stability of robber society in the safest and least troublesome manner by beguiling them to take part in their own government.
And, in an excellent statement of the case against socialists seeking to get elected to Parliament on a programme of reforms, Morris wrote referring to those he called “the parliamentary socialists”:
  Starting from the same point as the abstentionists they have to preach an electioneering campaign as an absolute necessity, and to set about it as soon as possible: they will then have to put forward a programme of reforms deduced from the principles of Socialism, which we will admit they will always keep to the front as much as possible; they will necessarily have to appeal for support (i.e. votes) to a great number of people who are not convinced Socialists, and their programme of reforms will be the bait to catch these votes: and to the ordinary voter it will be this bait which will be the matter of interest, and not the principle for whose furtherance they will be intended to act as an instrument: when the voting recruit reads the manifesto of a parliamentary body, he will scarcely notice the statement of principles which heads it, but he will eagerly criticise the proposals of measures to be carried which he finds below it: and yet if he is to be honestly dealt with, he will have to be told that these measures are not put forward as a solution to the social question, but are—in short, ground bait for him so that he may be led at last to search into and accept the real principles of Socialism. So that it will be impossible to deal with him honestly, and the Socialist members when they get into Parliament will represent a heterogeneous body of opinion, ultra-radical, democratic, discontented non-politicals, rather than a body of Socialists; and it will be their opinions and prejudices that will sway the action of the members in Parliament. With these fetters on them the Socialist members will have to be a mere instrument of compromise (May Morris, William Morris, Artist, Writer, Socialist, Supplementary Volume II, 1936).
The 1888 League statement which Morris had drafted also opposed reform-mongering:
  The Socialist League has declared over and over again its sense of the futility of Socialists wasting their time in getting such palliative measures passed, which, if desirable to be passed as temporarily useful, will be passed much more readily if they do not mix themselves up in the matter, and which are at least intended by our masters to hinder Socialism and not to further it. Over and over again it has deprecated Socialists mixing themselves up in political intrigues, and it believes no useful purpose can be served by their running after the votes of those who do not understand the principles of Socialism, and who therefore must be attracted by promises which could not be fulfilled by the candidates if by any chance such candidates were returned to Parliament.
These are clearly arguments against the policy of using Parliament to try to get reforms rather than against socialist parliamentary action as such and in fact, even during his “anti-parliamentary” period, Morris was not opposed to socialists entering Parliament in the course of the socialist revolution, on condition that they went there not to try to get reforms but ”as rebels”.

Thus he wrote to J. Bruce Glasier in December 1886:
 I did not mean that at some time or other it might not be necessary for Socialists to go into Parliament in order to break it up; but again, that could only be when we are very much more advanced than we are now; in short, on the verge of a revolution; so that we might either capture the army, or shake their confidence in the legality of their position (Henderson, The Letters of William Morris to his Family and Friends, p.263).
And in two letters in 1887 to Dr. J. Glasse:
 I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so: in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared by passing palliative measures to keep ‘Society’ alive. But I fear that many of them will be drawn into error by the corrupting influence of a body professedly hostile to Socialism (May 23). 
  Of course, it’s clearly no use talking of parliamentary action now. I admit, and always have admitted, that at some future period it may be necessary to use parliament mechanically: what I object to is depending on parliamentary agitation. There must be a great party, a great organisation outside parliament actively engaged in reconstructing society and learning administration whatever goes on in parliament itself. This is in direct opposition to the view of the regular parliamentary section as represented by Shaw, who look upon Parliament as the means; and it seems to me will fall into the error of moving earth and sea to fill the ballot boxes with Socialist votes which will not represent Socialist men (September 23)
(R. Page Arnot, Unpublished Letters of William Morris, 1951, p.5 and p.8).
In his lecture on “The Policy of Abstention” Morris elaborated on this “great organisation outside parliament actively engaged in reconstructing society and learning administration”:
  The organisation I am thinking of would have a serious point of difference from any that could be formed as a part of a parliamentary plan of action; its aim would be to act directly, whatever was done in it would be done by the people themselves: there would consequently be no possibility of compromise, of the association becoming anything else than it was intended to be; nothing could take its place: before all its members would be put one alternative to complete success, complete failure, namely.
  The workers can form an organisation which without heeding Parliament can force from the ruler what concessions may be necessary in the present and whose aim would be the total abolition of the monopolist classes and rule. The action such an organisation would be compelled to take would educate its members in administration, so that on the morrow of the revolution they would be able, from a thorough knowledge of the wants and capacities of the workers, to carry on affairs with the least possible amount of blunders, and would do almost nothing that would have to be undone, and thereby offer no opportunity to the counter-revolution.
and, in a letter in May 1887 to J .L. Mahon, he wrote that “our work” was:
  getting the workmen to organise genuine revolutionary labour bodies not looking to Parliament at all but to their own pressure (legal or illegal as the times may go) on their employers while the latter lasted (R. Page Arnot, William Morris: The Man and the Myth, 1964, p.66).
In the picture of the socialist revolution painted in Chapter XVII “How the Change Came” of his utopian communist novel News From Nowhere (originally published in serial form in Commonweal in 1890) Morris has these “revolutionary labour bodies” come to clash more and more with the government; eventually, after a short civil war involving a general strike and some violence, capitalist rule is overthrown.

This clearly underestimates the power and solidity of the capitalist state and, if tried, would have led to unnecessary bloodshed. Morris was overlooking the vital necessity for the socialist majority to first gain control of the state machine before trying to establish socialism, but he had been greatly influenced by the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune in 1871 and did not expect the capitalist class to surrender peaceably even if socialists were to win a parliamentary majority. Morris was later to see the validity of this criticism but unfortunately tied this, as we shall see, to a withdrawal of his opposition to campaigning for reforms.

The Use of the Vote
Morris’s allies in the struggle against the “parliamentarists” were for the most part out-and-out anarchists who were opposed to all parliamentary action on principle (even to going there ”as rebels”). These anarchists eventually came to dominate the Socialist League and abandoned its policy of patiently making socialists for appeals to individual acts of violence against the state and its representatives. At the end of 1890 Morris and the branch to which he belonged, Hammersmith, left and, as the Hammersmith Socialist Society, continued the original League policy.

But, after a while, Morris came to question whether his opposition to campaigning for reforms (and campaigning to get elected to Parliament and local bodies on a programme of reforms) was justified. Even during his period of activity in the Socialist League he had continued to regard the Social Democratic Federation and even the Fabians as socialists, even though they were certainly pursuing mistaken policies. With the organisation of the unskilled workers in the 1890s and the formation of the ILP in 1892, it seemed to Morris that the working class had definitely opted for the tactics of the “parliamentary socialists”. He knew that the bulk of the workers involved in this agitation were not conscious socialists but merely wanted some improvement of their condition within capitalism. He interpreted this as meaning that it was all the more important that the socialist case be presented to them and that therefore all those who were “socialists” should unite to do this.

Thus Morris was instrumental in getting the Fabians, the SDF and others to issue a joint Manifesto of English Socialists on May Day 1893. Parts of this were not too bad:
  Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, means of manufacture, the mines, and the land. Thus we look to put an end for ever to the wage-system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism.
The Manifesto, however, also contained a list of immediate demands (an Eight Hour Law, Prohibition of all Child Labour, Equal Pay for Equal Work, a Minimum Wage in State Services, Universal Male and Female Suffrage).

In signing this Manifesto Morris supported campaigning for reforms. Thus, interviewed in the SDF journal Justice in January 1894, he repudiated his previous policy:
  Present circumstances go to prove the wisdom of the SDF in drawing up palliative measures. . . Mean and paltry as it seemed to me—and does still as compared with the whole thing—something of the kind is absolutely necessary.
In this same interview he recognised the necessity for socialists to gain control of political power before trying to establish socialism:
  We must try. . . and get at the butt end of the machine gun and rifle, and then force is much less likely to be necessary and much more sure to be successful.
The way to “get at the butt end” was through the ballot box, Morris argued in an unpublished lecture on “Communism”:
  I confess I am no great lover of political tactics, the sordid squabble of an election is unpleasant enough for a straight-forward man to deal in: yet I cannot fail to see that it is necessary somehow to get hold of the machine which has at its back the executive power of the country, however that may be done and that by means of the ballot-box will, to say the least of it, be little indeed compared with what would be necessary to effect it by open revolt; besides that the change effected by peaceful means would be done more completely and with little chance, indeed with no chance of counter-revolution. On the other hand I feel sure that some action is even now demanded by the growth of Socialism, and will be more and more imperatively demanded as time goes on. In short I do not believe in the possible success of revolt until the Socialist party has grown so powerful in numbers that it can gain its end by peaceful means, and that therefore what is called violence will never be needed, unless indeed the reactionaries were to refuse the decision of the ballot-box and try the matter by arms; which after all I am pretty sure they could not attempt by the time things had gone as far as that. As to the attempt of a small minority to terrify a vast majority into accepting something which they do not understand, by spasmodic acts of violence, mostly involving the death or mutilation of non-combatants, I can call that nothing else than sheer madness (May Morris, Supplementary Volume II, pp.350-1).
And, in an article in Labour Prophet in January 1894, Morris commented:
 The workers have started to claim new conditions of life which they can only obtain at the expense of the possessing classes; and they must therefore force their claims on the latter. The means by which they will attempt this are not doubtful. To speak plainly, there are only two methods of bringing the necessary force to bear; open armed insurrection on the one hand; the use of the vote, to get hold of the executive on the other. Of the first method they are not even thinking; but the second they are growing more determined to use day by day; and it is practically the only direct means. And it must be said that, if they are defeated in their attempt, it means the present defeat of Socialism, though its ultimate defeat is impossible.
In a lecture “What we have to look for” given in the spring of 1895 Morris explained his earlier attitude:
  It must be admitted that behind this propaganda of preaching lay the thought that the change we advocated would be brought about by insurrection; and this was supposed even by those who were most averse to violence; no other means seemed conceivable for lifting the intolerable load which lay upon us. We thought that every step towards Socialism would be resisted by the reactionaries who would use against it the legal executive force which was, and is, let me say, wholly in the power of the possessing classes, that the wider the movement grew the more rigorously the authorities would repress it.
  Almost everyone has ceased to believe in the change coming by catastrophe. To state the position shortly, as a means to the realization of the new society Socialists hope so far as to conquer public opinion, that at last a majority of the Parliament shall be sent to sit in the house as avowed Socialists and the delegates of Socialists, and on that should follow what legislation might be necessary; and moreover, though the time for this may be very far ahead, yet most people would now think that the hope of doing it is by no means unreasonable.
And, in the same lecture, returning to his theme of the need for a single, united socialist party, he declared that until such a party is formed:
  We had better confine ourselves to the old teaching and preaching of Socialism pure and simple, which is I fear more or less neglected amidst the said futile attempt to act as a party when we have no party (May Morris, Volume II).
Thus to the end Morris insisted on the need for socialist propaganda to help achieve the socialist majority necessary before socialism could be established but he now believed this should be combined with campaigning for reforms. In other words, he had reached the position held by European Social Democracy, represented in Britain by the SDF. Although he never rejoined the SDF he co-operated closely with it. It is significant that he chose to identify himself with the SDF rather than the Fabians or the ILP, for the SDF proclaimed itself Marxist and was thus nearer to Morris’s general theoretical position as an advocate of “Revolutionary International Socialism”. The SDF, despite its many shortcomings, was at this time the nearest thing in Britain to a Marxian organisation and it was from its ranks that in 1904 was to emerge the Socialist Party of Great Britain whose founding members, like those of the Socialist League twenty years previously, fed up with its opportunism and Hyndman’s authoritarianism, left to found a genuine Socialist Party on sound principles, committed to “making Socialists” rather than campaigning for reforms.

Morris’s Dilemma Solved
The problem which Morris had been grappling with was the problem of reform and revolution. In his Socialist League days he had clearly seen the futility—and dangers—of  campaigning for reforms, but had linked this with a virtual rejection of parliamentary action. This was because in his mind parliamentary action and campaigning for reforms were virtually inseparable. Thus, later, when he came to recognise the need to gain control of political power through the ballot box and Parliament before trying to establish socialism, this was coupled with an acceptance of the policy of campaigning for reforms.

It was left to the Socialist Party of Great Britain to end this dilemma. Our founding members in 1904 agreed both with Morris’s later insistence that “it is necessary somehow to get hold of the machine which has at its back the executive power of the country” (or, more dramatically, to “get at the butt end of the machine gun and rifle”) and that the only sure way to do this was through the ballot box and with his earlier rejection of campaigning for reforms. They adopted the policy of trying to gain control of the machinery of government through the ballot box by campaigning on an exclusively socialist programme without seeking support on a policy of reforms; while supporting parliamentary action they refused to advocate reforms. This has remained our policy to this day and, as the solution to the problem of reform and revolution, represents our specific contribution to socialist theory.

Morris grappled with this problem, but failed to solve it. In the beginning he veered towards anti-parliamentarism and in the end towards reformism, but he can nevertheless be said to have made one original contribution to the discussion (even though he later came to abandon it): the danger for a socialist party of seeking to get elected to Parliament on a programme of reforms. As he explained in the passage we quoted form his 1887 lecture “The Policy of Abstention”, socialists elected to Parliament on such a programme of reforms would be prisoners of the reform-minded non-socialists who had elected them and would inevitably have to compromise any socialist principles they might once have had. The subsequent evolution of the European Social Democratic parties into mere instruments of capitalist administration and reform showed how correct Morris was on this point. It is a pity that he himself did not remember his words of 1887 when, in the 1896 General Election (held the year he died), he helped try to get Hyndman, the SDF leader, elected to Parliament for Burnley on a programme of reforms.
Adam Buick