Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tickets Please. (1912)

From the November 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

It gives one quite a start when one is thinking of the Derby winner, or speculating on the prospect of a day or two next summer at the sea-side, whilst travelling home from work, to be asked for one’s ticket. What a blessing it would be, I sometimes think, to pay once and for all and have a ticket for a lifetime—just one punch and the trick is done—and then to keep it under a glass case as a proof to the coming race that we lived in ticket-of-leave times.

Tickets for trams, trains, ’busses; tickets for soup, coal, blankets; State Insurance tickets, Labour Exchange tickets. Trade Union tickets, pawn tickets; tickets to stand up in the theatre, tickets to sit down in the park. Tickets for the widow of Jack Thomas, who worked hard all his life, but died and left - what? Nothing of value in this private property system—just nine children!

What a life! At one tune our forebears wore the brass collar to let all and sundry know that they were the property of some overlord. Now we are ticketed and numbered and punched and shelved and stamped and cut and trimmed to a nicety. How old are you? Where were you born? What was your father? How many children have you? How long have you been out of work? Some working men think they are free. Probably they have the childish notion that it is a fine thing to carry tickets and to have people think they are somewhat above Blatchford's bottom dog.

But after all it must be a question of your servile position in society. Even the person who is lucky enough to be able to purchase a season ticket must feel a certain amount of pride in passing the ticket puncher with the noble utterance — "Season.” Now it must be that the more we are ticketed and labelled the more we are chained to the Juggernaut car of capitalism. How would you have it? You want a decent meal, a good suit of clothes, a pretty home for your wife and children. What prevents you having these things? This—you have not the right ticket. You have not the ticket that gives you the power to say to this man "go!” and to that man “come!” Your ticket is the ticket of the slave. And therefore, as might be expected, you work like a slave and live like one.

You have only been concerned up to now with sending the slave owners to Parliament— the place from which are sent all the things that hurt you, because those who control at the seat of government are the masters’ agents. Comical to relate, you got quite excited over placing your enemy where he could injure you without showing his hand. For every movement of troops, every movement of police, are controlled by the dominant class whose power was gained with your help.

But when you are forced to look idly on at blacklegs taxing your ticket of leave to work off the check board, that is the time you tell us you are fighting the masters. How you must hurt them! Perhaps it is you who drive them “out of town”—down to Ascot, to Henley, to the Alps and the Riviera, to Cairo and Khartoum. But when you understand that the Government is only an instrument for conserving the masters’ interests you will not have the cheek to say you are seriously fighting the masters while you elect them to Parliament, to control the political machine, to wield the forces that subdue you while they deliberately starve you and your wife and children. You would realise that you are only playing at war.

No, it is not fighting —it is just suicide. Life is too short to “wait and see.” Just fight them hardest when they coax you most, when they call you sons of the Empire, and so on. That is at election times. Have the right ticket for yourselves then, and back it with all the strength and intelligence at your command. You will be then be on the road to putting all the other tickets on the fire, and bidding adieu to many forms of vice and crime which go to the make-up of getting a living,
S. Ward

Obituaries: Fred Evans and Alex Paterson (1961)

Obituaries from the March 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to inform our readers pf the death of two old members of our companion Parties; Fred Evans of Los Angeles and Alex Paterson of Winnipeg.

Fred Evans died in harness. He had just delivered the Western Socialist to a news stand in Los Angeles when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was a tower of strength to the W.S.P. on the West Coast; an indefatigable speaker and propagandist. He visited England a few years ago and spoke on our platform in Hyde Park. He also gave considerable assistance and hospitality to two of our comrades who visited Los Angeles during speaking tours recently. He will be sadly missed by our companion Party, which already suffered a serious loss through the death of Gordon Coffin, one of the founders of the W.S.P.. a few months ago.

Alex Paterson was one of the oldest Canadian subscribers to the Socialist Standard. Over the years he gave a great deal of financial help to the S.P. of C. He visited England thirty years ago and met some of our older members. He had been ill for many years and lost both his wife and daughter in the last few years.

A full account of these two old comrades will appear in the Western Socialist, but we wish to add our tribute in this brief note.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wage Cuts (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

When capitalism is going through a period of expansion most industries are able to sell all their output at a profit. With unemployment at a low level it is a favourable time for unions to press wage claims. Employers, rather than have the flow of profits interrupted, will make concessions, often without strikes actually taking place. In this phase the workers’ standard of living rises. In a serious depression the position is reversed. The threat by the unions to close the factories loses most of its force because, with sales falling and profits harder to make and often disappearing altogether, employers are cutting production, standing workers off, closing factories down, and in extreme cases going out of business. The big increase of unemployment helps the employers to resist claims for wage increases. In this phase it is normal for the standard of living of workers to fall, quite apart from what happens to the unemployed.


As far as workers in work are concerned, what is going on in a depression is obscured because, at least for a time, wages and salaries continue to rise more than the rise of prices. In the year for May 1980 to May 1981 the average earnings of all workers rose by 13 per cent while prices rose by only 11% per cent. But employers are interested not only in rates of wages but equally in the amount of work they can get out of each worker. There has been a general intensification so that the same output can be got with fewer workers. A survey early in the year showed that this has happened to a marked extent in offices, and the same has gone on in industry generally, often with the introduction of pay related to productivity, as in the coal mines. It is shown too in the reduction of staff by 9,000 in British Airways and in the cuts of Civil Service and local government staffs. And with the deepening of the depression the wage trend is now changing. In the period January to July 1981, while prices rose by 10.8 percent average earnings of all workers rose by only 7.3 per cent.

Of course the unions try to resist this and declare that they will not accept it; just as they have gone on declaring in the past ten years that the level of unemployment, which has doubled and doubled again, was “unacceptable” to them. They are wise to do their best but they cannot escape the consequences of capitalism, any more than can the capitalists.

Different groups of workers come up against the impact of depression in different ways; ranging from private industry where falling profits hit them at once and directly, to nationalised industries in which government subsidies may lessen the impact for a time, to the Civil Service and local government, where government pay policy is the decisive factor.

In manufacturing industry, with many bankruptcies and other companies on the verge, average earnings of all workers and the average earnings of engineering workers have both been falling behind the rise of prices since 1978. Seventeen cases have been reported of companies in which unions have had to agree to pay freezes for varying periods of up to a year (Daily Mail, 21 September 1981). Among these are the British Steel Corporation, British Airways and British Caledonian. In the engineering industry, against a claim by the union for an increase of at least fourteen per cent on the national rate, the employers at first proposed no increase at all, but later offered three per cent which the unions rejected. The unions faced the difficulty that 400.000 jobs have been lost in the year to June 1981 and there are 300,000 workers on short time. In this industry wages are negotiated locally, apart from the national rate, and the employers’ offer leaves the field open for bigger increases in companies still trading profitably.

For the nationalised industries as a whole the government has announced that its 4 per cent guide line is expected to be applied. British Leyland accordingly made an offer of 3.8 per cent and the unions were told it was not negotiable. The company’s reaction was: “We are obviously not in a robust enough situation to withstand any widespread or protracted industrial action. We would not survive. There would be a widespread loss of jobs if they were successful in getting a lot of people out on strike” (The Times, 3/10/81).

Unlike BL, the nationalised coal mines are not losing money, and in the changed energy situation, there is a government approved plan for expanding output in the long term. New mines are due to come into operation. Not wanting a coal strike, the Board offered nine per cent, and then increased it but a strike is still possible.

It is in the Civil Service and local government that the 4 per cent is chiefly intended to operate. In this field the government, directly or indirectly, controls the amount of money it is prepared to spend on wages and government strategy has already been made clear in the determined fight to defeat the 21 weeks of strikes by civil servants. Like Reagan’s ruthless handling of the strike of government-employed Air Traffic Controllers, it aims to set a pattern for wage increases generally. Since 1956 Civil Service pay has, by agreement, been related to movements of pay for comparable work in outside industry. But long before 1956, in a less formal way, governments sought to prevent the pay of its employees getting out of line. A situation similar to the present one arose in 1931. Then, too, in a depression, the government drastically cut expenditure on its departments. Civil Service pay, which from 1920 to 1931 had been reduced periodically in line with the fall of prices, was subjected to a further 10 per cent cut. Unemployment pay was also cut.

Governments enter into agreements with Civil Service unions, but, like employers generally, when it suits them they will suspend, modify, or break agreements, including those permitting claims to be taken to arbitration.

The present government has already prepared the way for this in Civil Service pay this year. The unions are to be allowed to go to arbitration, but the agreement on which the unions recently settled their dispute, contains a significant reservation: The Government will accept recourse to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal but on the understanding that the Government reserves the right, if necessary, to ask the Mouse of Commons to approve setting aside the Tribunal’s award on grounds of over-riding national policy.

Although the government pays a large part of the expenditure of local government it has not in the past been able to prevent local authorities increasing these expenditures and meeting the cost by levying higher rates. The Thatcher government has tried in various ways to get local authorities to hold down wages and reduce the size of their staffs. Finding these measures inadequate new legislation is pending to give the government more direct control.

The declared attitude of the unions concerned threatened a “winter of discontent” comparable with what happened in the winter of 1978-9 when the Labour Government tried to impose a 5 per cent ceiling on wage increases and provoked widespread strike action. On past form we may expect the Thatcher government to be more determined in its resistance.
Edgar Hardcastle

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Scarman—judicial oversight (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since, the riot in the St Pauls area of Bristol in April 1980, there have been disorders on a comparable scale in a number of British cities. The most violent took place over three days in April in the Brixton area of London, but there were also large- scale incidents in Southall, Toxteth (Liverpool) and Moss Side (Manchester), as well as smaller disturbance in other towns. The impact of such events is intensified by live television coverage, which reveals their similarity to civil war and apparently shows a near-total breakdown of law and order. The government were worried, both about what was already happening and about what might happen in the future if the causes of such upheavals went unidentified and unremedied. Two days after the Brixton disorders had ended, Home Secretary William Whitelaw appointed Lord Scarman to conduct an inquiry into the riots. His report was published at the end of November (Cmnd. 8427).

Scarman has a reputation, in staid circles, for being something of a “radical” judge, a supporter of a Bill of Rights, and he is well practised at holding inquiries into social disorders of one kind or another. He has clearly learned (though perhaps it came naturally) how to draw conclusions and make recommendations that will offend no one in authority and yet serve as evidence that not quite all is well and that “something” is being done. For example:
  I find that the direction and policies of the Metroplitan Police are not racist. But racial prejudice does manifest itself occasionally in the behaviour of a few officers on the streets (p. 127).
  There is scope for a more coherent and better directed response by the police to the challenge of policing modern, multi-racial society (p. 128).
His strongest criticism is describing as “a serious mistake” the operation known as Swamp 81, which involved flooding selected areas of Brixton with policemen who were expected to make widespread use of their powers to stop and search people in an attempt to detect and arrest robbers. This operation heightened the impression that it was difficult, especially for the young and black, to walk the streets of Brixton without being harassed by the police.

The report begins by considering the social conditions in which the riots took place. A picture of deprivation and discrimination, the fruits of capitalism, is visible even through Scarman’s studied understatement. In the Borough of Lambeth, which includes Brixton, some twelve thousand households live in overcrowded conditions, and one-fifth of all the housing stock is officially substandard. The unemployment rate in Brixton is thirteen per cent, but among young black males it is estimated to be a staggering fifty-five per cent. The other riot areas have similar environments. In Scarman’s words:
  The common strands in many of the major disorders . . .  are to be found in shared social conditions, in economic insecurity and perceived deprivation, in enforced idleness because of unemployment, and in the hostility of at least a section of young people to the police (p.14).
But these are merely “common strands”: 
  None of these features can perhaps usefully be described as a cause of the disorders, either in Brixton or elsewhere. Indeed, there are, undoubtedly, parts of the country which are equally deprived where disorder did not occur. But taken together, they provide a set of social conditions which create a predisposition towards violent protest (p. 16).
This is a comforting (for the ruling class and their government) piece of illogic.

Reaction to the report has been mixed. The Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality described it as “brilliant”, which is a sad reflection on his aspirations. Ted Knight, lefty leader of Lambeth Council, observed that anyone on the local streets could have said what the report does, and complained that Scarman had not pointed out the new restraints on council spending — as if the past history of Brixton had not included periods of more public spending. The strength of Lambeth Borough Council’s proposals can be seen from their suggestion that the Metropolitan Police would be more answerable for their actions if they were accountable not to the Home Secretary but to a local Police Authority — just as the police in Merseyside are!

Of course, it doesn't matter how the police are controlled. Whatever system is used, they will continue to be the defenders of capitalist order and capitalist property. Imagine that everything the reformers want of the police has been achieved: no racial prejudice among them, black policemen at all levels of the force, local accountability, true consultation, riot equipment surrendered. The essential role of the police will not have been altered. Many of those who see police harassment as the major cause of the disorders are quite content to see the police carry out their duties, so long as they do so in a less objectionable manner. In the words of the leader of one of Brixton’s black organisations: “We do not object to what they the police do so much as to the way they do it.”

What is this essential role of the police? Scarman provides an answer which is eloquent largely for what it leaves unsaid:
   the primary duty of the police is to maintain “the Queen’s Peace”, which has been described as the “normal state of society”, for in a civilised society, normality is a state of public tranquillity. Crime and public disorders are aberrations from “normality” which it is the duty of the police to endeavour first to prevent and then, if need be, to correct (p. 62).
In writing this, Scarman seems to have forgotten that part of his report which describes the “normal state of society" in Brixton, not an area noted for its public tranquillity. Slums, unemployment, insecurity, hopelessness form the Queen’s Peace in nineteen-eighties Britain, which we are supposed to believe is a civilised society! It is a topsy-turvy world in which penury and slums are accepted as normality, but that is the world and the logic of capitalism, and that is the world the police play a part in defending.

And that is the world at whose disposal Scarman has placed his services. The task of his inquiry was to alert the government so that it might tinker with a few things (such as longer training for police) in the hope that these will suffice to prevent such confrontations in the future. Socialists, having held our own inquiry into the nature of capitalist society, recommend that it be not tinkered with but replaced.
Paul Bennett

Monday, June 18, 2018

Drug profits (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The perverse priorities of capitalism are most clearly reflected in the market place; if harmful products can be sold easily, capital will be switched in the hope of realising this potential of larger profits. This often forces the capitalist class to pass legislation in which the interests of the minority of capitalists directly benefitting are sacrificed to the broader well-being of the class as a whole. Certain minimum standards of health and safety are laid down so that the usefulness of the working class to capitalist production is not too greatly impaired by such things as adulterated food, industrial pollution, or the side effects of so-called “wonder” drugs.

Naturally those capitalists profiting by the sale of a harmful product will play down the dangers and try to find a loophole in protective legislation. For when Chemie Gruenenthal, the original German inventor of thalidomide, discovered that they had produced a killer drug they at first tried to continue marketing the drug, while spreading confusion about it. Johann Goden, Gruenenthal’s representative in Cologne took the lead by suggesting that the drug be mixed with other sedatives so that “if it proves impossible to keep things dark . . .  any side effect could then be attributed to the other preparations. But heaven help us if this expedient turns into a boomerang”. Later he visited a clinic and reported back “I took the opportunity to explain our standpoint over the peripheral neuritis problem” [one of the side effects] “and did my best to foster confusion over the subjects [1] Goden was as clear as anyone could be that considerable further harm would result from further sales of thalidomide, yet he continued to work actively to that end. This drug, like so many others, was originally considered to be safe, and the harmful side effects were only discovered later. There is however an industry, operating within the capitalist system but in most countries outside its legal framework, the harmful longterm effects of whose products have been known for a very long time. Yet it is flourishing now as never before, despite the current recession. This is the narcotics industry, which lures the wrecks of capitalism with a transient escape from all its woes, but leaves them evermore desperate for the next dose, and for the money to buy it.

The cultivation of opium from the oriental poppy, concentrated mainly in the so-called Golden Triangle in South Fast Asia, predates capitalism by many centuries. It was discovered that smoking the petals in long pipes, or hookahs, helped to relieve the drudge of the continual struggle for existence. The sensations of dreamlike euphoria, relaxation and the absence of pain are however bought at a price. The development of tolerance by the body means that ever increasing doses are required to excite the same response, and this can lead to dire consequences. This is more particularly the case with the opium derivatives which can be more easily absorbed and therefore work faster. Laudanum and morphine have genuine medical uses in emergency cases but addiction to them, and more particularly to heroin, supplied in a form which can be injected into the veins, does nothing but harm to the victim. The symptoms include lassitude, depression, sallow complexion, jitters, loss of appetite and insomnia. There is also damage to the circulatory system, as veins become useless following repeated injections.

Also of ancient origin is the cultivation of cannabis (Indian hemp) and marijuana. The latter (similar to hashish, long associated with Arabia and the Levant), is a plant which flourishes in North America. Unlike the opium derivatives, this family of drugs are much less habit forming. In consequence there is a strong lobby in many countries in favour of legalising their use. However well meaning the protagonists on either side, this is really no more than an argument about the cheapest way, from the capitalist viewpoint, of controlling the problem. Marijuana and cannabis are usually smoked in tobacco laced with the drug, which can produce a growing intoxication and sense of well being. In the long term there can be vivid colour hallucinations and relaxation of inhibitions, accompanied by a lethargy that acts to prevent the sufferer from becoming violent. Cocaine, in contrast to the opiates, is a stimulant sometimes used by doctors to relieve fatigue. Its use can lead to over-confidence, garrulousness and unnatural euphoria, overdosing to weakness, emaciation and depression.

Drug addiction is a serious problem to the capitalist employers because the addict cannot operate as an efficient cog in the production machine, indeed is often incapable of any work effort at all. Because of this inability to find employment, the confirmed addict will turn to crime in order to pay for “shots”. It was however not until 1909 that the capitalist class were sufficiently concerned to undertake any collaborative international action in this sphere. In that year an Opium Commission met in Shanghai, involving 14 countries led by the USA, the country which had then, and still has now, the most serious addiction problem. The object was to control movement from one country to another. The first Interhational Narcotics Convention met at the Hague in 1912, and five other Conventions up to 1936 were attempts progressively to check the traffic at its source and to control opium production, importation and exportation. This Convention eventually totted up 85 signatories, but all these efforts have been almost totally ineffective. The producing countries did not take the drastic action demanded to license production and collect all the opium produced. They were unwilling for the simple reason that the trade was too profitable and the effect on their own national economics would have been too severe. Consequently cultivation has continued and efforts to illegally smuggle the drug into other countries have been intensified. Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok are the main ports involved, but there is now a growing traffic by air. In the 1950s and 1960s “Communist” China became a major source of smuggled heroin, most of the supply to Hong Kong now arriving by the overland route.

In America, the illegal cultivation of marijuana is flourishing. Both there and in the Golden Triangle record crops have been harvested in 1981. The potential profits in these bonanzas cannot of course be reaped without sales, and efforts to achieve these are now in full swing. The equivalent in the narcotics trade of the orthodox sales representative is the “pusher”. Compared to his respectable counterpart, the pusher has two big problems. The illegality of the business means that most transactions must be conducted in secret, away from the eye of the law, and that there is no legal redress against any payment defaulters. This leads to on-the-spot sanctions. A case was recently reported [2] where a lad unable to pay had his knuckles broken so that he could no longer inject himself. If an addict is unable to get drugs, he or she suffers agonising withdrawal symptom, so that this victim was put in a ghastly dilemma. In a recent court case [3] concerning the smuggling of Columbian cannabis into Britain, the smuggler had bought a £2000 computer to keep account of sales. This compelled even prosecuting counsel to remark that “the way in which the accounting was done leaves one with a degree of admiration.”

Rehabilitation of individual addicts is a long and costly process, and the success rate is low. Thus the process has been depersonalised with the main effort being spent on trying to prevent supplies reaching the country in the first place, or reaching customers if this fails. Consequently, although there are some centres attached to hospitals for the treatment of addicts, there is an inadequate number of these. Another recent court case [4] illustrates this. A Blackpool cannabis pusher who was fined £1,500, had found demand so great that he had to take his phone off the hook. “It was like feeding the 5000”, he commented. The court were told that thousands of young workers in the Fylde area were begging him to supply them with drugs. Yet the nearest treatment centre is at Prestwich Hospital in Manchester, 40 miles away and difficult to reach except by car.

Those commentators who say that the addiction problem “is no respecter of class” [2] are incorrect. They fail to see the common class position of all workers in opposition to the ruling capitalists, being confused by the subdivisions into seeing “upper” and “lower” classes, managerial classes, and so on. What they really mean is that addiction is found among all sections of the working class. If a young capitalist becomes “hooked” that presents only the relatively trivial problem of a bad example being set. The capitalist nowadays takes no part in the productive process, so it matters little whether or not he is capable of doing so. On the other hand, workers who experiment with narcotics can damage only themselves, in more senses than one. For when they come down they find that there are still no diamonds in the sky.
E. C. Edge

References
[1] “Suffer the Children”, The Story of Thalidomide. Sunday Times Insight Team, published 1979. Andre Deutsch.
[2] Nationwide. BBC1 TV, 15.10.81
[3] Daily Telegraph, 1.10.81
[4] Daily Telegraph, 25.9.81

My Life With Nye (1982)

Book Review from the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

My Life With Nye by Jennie Lee. Penguin, £1.75.

This is an account of the lives of Aneurin Bevan and Jennie Lee. Bevan came from a Welsh coal mining family and, at an early age, joined the Labour Party. Jennie Lee came from a Scottish mining family and was, like her father, a member of the ILP.

They were both idealists who threw a great deal of energy into their political lives under the mistaken impression that capitalism could be adjusted to work in the interests of the working class.

The author makes several references to socialism but does not define it and one is left with the impression that, like so many people who regard themselves as revolutionaries, she means “nationalisation”.

Later, we find them helping to win World War II and when Attlee had ousted Churchill, Bevan threw himself into the task of building up the Health Service when he was not charging about the world rubbing shoulders with Tito and various other enemies of the working class.

From the socialist point of view there is very little of value in this book, although it is an interesting document in that it records the strong belief among many young people of the nineteen-thirties that Russia was being formed into a workers’ paradise. They can now see how wrong they were. The so-called Communist Party was strong in numbers and even managed to get two members into Parliament. Now, world events have reduced CP membership and those who are left are disenchanted with recent events in Poland and Afghanistan.

Bevan may have been sincerely anti-capitalist in his early days but it seems that he came to the conclusion it was not so bad after he had ceased to be a wage-slave.

As a personality, Bevan was probably everything that Jennie Lee has said that he was, but he was definitely not a socialist.
Luigi

SDP — moderate magic? (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the SDP was launched last March it was fashionable to say that it couldn’t grow because it had no roots. Its opponents wrote it off as short-term opportunism that was bound to fail. Few people considered it a serious threat to the Labour-Tory see-saw. But it has grown. Now, less than a year later, it’s got almost thirty MPs, about 70.000 members and is way ahead in the opinion polls. No one is writing it off any more - not even Labour left-wingers who, while continuing to revile the Social Democrats as opportunists, have now got to admit that at least they look like being successful ones.

Will the SDP ‘break the mould’ and, as Shirley Williams predicted after her by-election victory at Crosby, ‘sweep on to victory at the next election’ (The Times, 28/11/81)? The old adage of a week being a long time in politics may apply here just as much as it was seen to apply recently to the apparent fervour for nationalism in Scotland. But supposing the SDP did come to power at the next election is it possible to know what would happen to Britain?

Policies
Although the SDP has been widely attacked for having no policies, the criticism isn’t altogether fair. It hasn’t got a manifesto as such but it is possible to piece together the broad lines of what it says it will do as a party of government.

First of all the statement Twelve Tasks for Social Democrats issued at the party’s launch shows a clear commitment to continued British membership of the Common Market and support for active participation in NATO with the aim of multilateral disarmament. And these two platforms have been confirmed on many occasions since. It’s true that many of the other points contained in the launch statement (“consistent economic strategy”, “schemes to conserve energy”, “mixed economy”, “fair distribution of wealth”, “better environment”, “equal rights”, “imaginative generosity”) are, as Ian Bradley, SDP sympathiser and author of the first book to be published on the party, [1] says, “so vague that they border on the platitudinous”.

But they are no more so than many of the proposals that the other parties commonly advance when they are out of office, and the SDP can point out that some of the suggestions in their twelve-point programme (proportional representation, incomes policy, apprenticeship schemes, decentralisation) have been amplified since they were first made and in some cases even ‘costed'. They can point for evidence of this to the discussion papers issued for the SDP's first conference last October, to various pronouncements made by their leading figures, and to the idea advocated by Roy Jenkins, the party’s probable leader, of an ‘inflation tax’ which would fine employers for giving workers pay rises beyond a limit laid down by the government.

What is there to be said about the more concrete of these SDP policies? The Ecology Party has described them as a ‘recycling of politics’, and it is indeed difficult, despite the SDP’s claim that they will ‘change the face of Britain’, to find anything in them that hasn’t appeared in one of the other three parties’ manifestoes before and that could possibly make any fundamental difference to the lives of the majority of people in this country in the future.

If we take as an example membership of the EEC, it would be hard, even for the most ardent ‘Europeanist’, to show that it had been of any particular benefit to British wage and salary earners, and even harder to show that future membership will make much difference either. Then, being in NATO, far from helping to bring about world disarmament as the SDP suggests it would, has so far meant increasing amounts of resources spent on bigger and more lethal weapons and the nightmare of nuclear war as near as ever. Incomes policies which aim to punish employers for paying their workers too much have been tried before too (for example by the last Labour government). As they have the effect of depressing living standards and increasing industrial unrest, they founder on opposition both from workers through their trade unions and from employers.

As for the ‘mixed economy’ (part-private, part-state ownership), it’s precisely what the Labour and Tory parties, despite their lip service to other ‘philosophies’, have always practised when in government and it has done nothing to solve problems such as the financial worries, insecurity, unemployment, boredom and dissatisfaction experienced by the vast majority of workers in both sectors. Finally other proposed SDP measures like decentralisation (or regional assemblies) and proportional representation can only be described as new inasmuch as they’ve never actually been tried in Britain. They’re certainly not new as far as Europe goes. Both have been in operation for many years in, for example, Italy, yet Italians (as this writer can vouch for from personal experience) would not think of claiming that this gives them any superior say in the way decisions arc made about their lives.

Wish Fulfilment
So why are so many people thrilling to the SDP if all it has to offer are these more-of-the-same policies? Well, first of all, the evidence of two MORI polls was that at least 50 per cent of SDP supporters were ignorant or mistaken as to its probable policies. And it’s hard to imagine that even informed supporters are excited about the specific policies on offer. What’s more likely is that the SDP’s support is based not on policies at all; but on the attraction of the individuals offering them.

The so-called Gang of Four have been carefully portrayed, both by their own expensively acquired publicity machine and by a highly sympathetic media, as sane, purposeful, trustworthy personalities who, if only given the chance, will produce a brand new political broom and use it to sweep spotlessly clean. They’ve been expertly projected as the team capable of doing a job that others, through lack of honesty, integrity or ability, have failed to do in the past. The party that these nice, reliable, sincere, intelligent people are trying to get off the ground is one based on honesty, virtue and common sense. How can such a venture be anything but ‘a good thing’?

It all smacks of an exercise in wish fulfilment and is ironically reminiscent of the hopes so many people had in 1964 when they elected the first Labour government for thirteen years with a leader referred to at the time as a ‘political magician’. That leader's name was Harold Wilson.

Realities of Government
Will what happened to Harold Wilson also happen to the magicians of the SDP? Well, to an extent it already has, because all four of them are past failures. They’ve all served as ministers in governments which no impartial observer could describe as successful. Will tilings change for them in the future? Is it ‘all different now’ as Crosby SDP voters kept telling reporters who tried to remind them of Shirley Williams’ record as a Labour minister?

In the past governments have failed to deliver the expected goods because the conditions they found once in office didn’t allow them to. And it couldn’t be any different for the SDP. Put in charge of a system which operates through the market, buying and selling and production for profit, the SDP would find, as the other parties have found, that conditions change continuously and unpredictably. Its plan, for example, to reduce unemployment by apprenticeship and job creation schemes would depend on whether its revenue from taxation allowed such schemes to be funded. And this in turn would depend on whether the world market, over which governments have no control, decreed high or low profits for the employing class which funds the government with taxes from those profits. These schemes in any case would be nothing more than a short-term expedient, would conceal a certain amount of unemployment for a time. They couldn’t possibly cope with the rise in the jobless that, if the present recession goes on, will occur whichever government is in power. Employers will not employ people, not even under an SDP government, unless they can find profitable markets for their goods.

So niceness, sincerity, reliability — these things would have nothing to do with the practical conduct of an SDP government. The professional economic forecasters are always divided among themselves on the future conditions the market is going to create and the politicians of the SDP would be unable to read into the future with any greater clarity. Whoever it is that finally formulates the Social Democrats’ election manifesto the leadership, the MPs or their local ‘policy groups’ — the administration called to put that manifesto into effect will find that many of its best laid plans will have to be delayed, altered or simply abandoned.

Duplicity and Deception
For all their need to play it by ear, however, an SDP government would, we can be quite certain, pursue one policy to the bitter end — the policy, unspoken but fundamental and shared with all the other parties, of perpetuating a system in which the vast majority of a country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small minority of its citizens while the majority of the people — the wage and salary earners — are hoodwinked into believing that this system is run in their interest. The Gang of Four did this when they were members of Labour governments and they will do it as members of an SDP government.

Already they have begun to tarnish their new laundered image, to show the kind of duplicity and deception necessary for running the British profit system. Firstly David Owen, at a public meeting in Swansea attended by this writer (9 July 1981), declared that the two main planks of his party’s foundation were EEC membership and multilateral disarmament but then told a unilateralist questioner that the SDP still welcomed into its ranks those who favoured unilateral disarmament. Then Shirley Williams, in her campaign at Crosby, referred to Graham Page, whose 19,000 Tory majority she needed to overturn, as ‘a healer not a divider of one person from another’ (Sunday Times, 25/10/81). Yet she must have known that this was the man who, three years ago, called for a total three-year ban on all immigration to Britain.

Finally the SDP’s application form for founder membership of the party asked for a £9 subscription and proclaimed: ‘If you really want a party that’s in nobody’s pocket it will mean digging into your own’. It also said that, unlike the Labour and Tory parties, the SDP had ‘no pipeline from big business or trade unions pumping money into its funds. It will belong to its members and no one else.’ Now, articles in the Observer (15 November 1981) and the Sunday Times (6 December 1981) have named a large number of leading industrialists as supporting and making financial contributions to the SDP. The chairman of the SDP’s finance committee is David Sainsbury, finance director of the grocery chain. A trustee is Clive Lindley, millionaire owner of the LCI group and a former longstanding Labour Party supporter. Other supporters include Lord Sainsbury, Sir Claus Moser of Rothschilds, Edmund Dell of Guinness Peat, Cob Stenham, financial director of Unilever, the Rowntree company, John Lambourn of Commercial Union, and John Harvey-Jones, new chairman of ICI. The Sunday Times article also revealed that the party organises lunches for potential donors at its headquarters in Cowley Street, where, according to SDP recruiter Anthony Sampson, ‘the business side is critical’. And this is the party that was to be ‘in nobody’s pocket’.

Quantum Jump
‘Social Democracy’ is a bright new label but the stuff inside the bottle is as unpalatable as ever. Far from taking the ‘quantum jump’ Shirley Williams talks about in her recent book [2], her party can only limp along the same well trodden path as the parties that preceded it. Yet social democracy does have another meaning. For the socialist pioneers of the last century it meant a moneyless, leaderless society of free access, voluntary cooperation and complete democratic control — socialism. And this kind of society not the SDP’s — will be the real ‘quantum jump’, ‘humanity’s leap’, as Frederick Engels put it, ‘from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom’.
Howard Moss

[1] Breaking the Mould? The Birth and Prospects of the Social Democratic Party, Oxford, Martin Robertson, 1981.
[2] Politics is for People, London, Penguin, 1981.

The Birth of Compromise (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

That creaky old monster, the British Labour Party, is in danger of drowning. Even with a Tory government presiding over mass unemployment and endless cuts, Labour’s “alternative” is seen by many workers to be equally unappealing. There are some who may be shocked at the Socialist Party of Great Britain failing to mourn the demise of a political institution which for seventy-five years has claimed to stand for workers’ interests. But the record of Labour governments of strike breaking and cutting workers' living standards in the way the profit system demands, proves their claims to be untrue. To find the root cause of the problem, we must move from the Labour Party’s death throes to its birth pangs.

In the 1870s, after a long history of persecution, British trade unions were legalised, and in 1874 two miners elected to parliament. But by the mid-eighties still only eleven MPs were workers, although the working class formed about three-quarters of the population. After 1867, only a minority had the vote and the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party took it in turns to run capitalism, much as the Conservative and Labour Parties have done since the First World War. There was sometimes little to choose between them, but many workers preferred the Liberals, who made particular efforts to appear more radical than their rivals. The working class lacked unity, but mechanisation and concentration of capital reduced the divisions between skilled and unskilled labour. Large-scale production encouraged workers to recognise their shared class position as one of poverty and dependence, squalor and insecurity.

In the 1880s, small political groups were formed, such as the Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation and its break-away group, the Socialist League. Some of their members, particularly those in the Socialist League, had a very clear view of socialism as a system to replace the world order of capitalism, and of the need for democratic action to set up a system of production for use rather than profit. The majority of workers did not support the socialist proposal of freeing themselves from their wage-slavery, and the eleven MPs referred to above voted in the House of Commons as Liberals. A debate arose as to whether workers should try to get representation in Parliament on the basis of supporting capitalism, or whether the movement for socialism should first work towards majority support and then use Parliament to end the system rather than run it. The former idea, which was to win the day at the turn of the century, was expressed by Hubert Bland in Today, June 1887:
A popular organisation must be created for the express purpose of working existing political machinery (our emphasis).
At the same time, the Liberal Gladstone announced that he was prepared to “back the masses against the classes” (The Times, 29/6/1886), that is, the workers against the capitalist class, although he was so “radical” that he regretted the “leaning of both parties to Socialism, which I radically disapprove” (J. Morley, Life of Gladstone, ii. p.346). In fact, both parties were simply making concessions to workers to win their votes, and Lord Randolph Churchill more cautiously wrote that “we have so to conduct our legislation that we shall give some satisfaction to both classes and masses”.

The boom conditions of the late 1880s helped the formation of the “New Unions”, such as the Gasworkers’ and General Labourers’ Union and the General Railway Workers Union. John Burns and Tom Mann of the Social Democratic Federation organised the famous London Dock Strike of 1889. The new trade unions of this time were less exclusive than their predecessors, with lower subscription dues and more emphasis on industrial action to improve wages and conditions. But the early 1890s saw a return to trade depression, higher unemployment and consequently greater pressure to lower wages. The employers organised something of a counter-offensive on the industrial field, and the high increase in union membership of the previous decade again fell.

In 1890, the Shipping Federation was formed by shipowners to allow jobs only to those prepared to work with non-union men. In 1893. William Collison formed the National Free Labour Association as a supply of blackleg workers. In 1896, the Employers Federation of Engineering Associations was founded, to oppose the Amalgamated Engineers, and the following year the Federation responded to strikes with a six-month lock-out, which slack trade enabled them to afford. In 1898, the Employers Parliamentary Council was established to ensure direct influence at Westminster. The law courts began to reverse the terms of the 1870s statutes and overturned precedents in cases such as Lyons v. Wilkins and Quinn v. Leathern, outlawing picketing. In 1901 the House of Lords confirmed the Taff Vale Railway Company’s demand for damages resulting from industrial action by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, amounting to £23,000, which the union had to pay.

These repressive measures of about ninety years ago renewed the debate about what action workers could take. Many trade unionists supported parliamentary representation to secure legal rights for trade unions. Some argued that the Liberal Party, which many had traditionally supported, would be unable to do this, and this view was justified by the Liberal Party’s difficulties at the time. Many of their capitalist backers were going over to the Tories, partly because they wanted import duties to protect their industries from German and American competition. Liberal support for capitalism had to be blended with “the new aspirations of the labouring masses out of which the party of the future must spring” (Manchester Guardian, 11/5/1894). But there was no reason in principle why Liberal or Tory capitalists in Parliament could not support limited aims like trade union immunities and various social reforms. In any case, the idea of working-class members of Parliament carrying out these measures themselves was hard to implement. Before 1911, MPs were not paid and had to be financed, so workers approached the Liberal Party asking to be nominated as candidates. Again and again, the local Liberal caucuses refused such requests. Among those they refused were Keir Hardie and Ramsay Macdonald, who were later to sit as Labour MPs.

In 1893, the Independent Labour Party was formed. Its aims included tax reform, an eight-hour day, and “collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Exchange implies private property, though, and this contradiction is repeated in the Labour Party’s famous Clause Four. What it means is state ownership, or nationalisation, which is not socialism. The Fabian Society had been trying to “permeate” the Liberal caucuses in order to exert a secret influence. Unlike the Militant Tendency, they eventually admitted that this was a futile waste of time. The attempts of the TUC Parliamentary Committee to get Liberal backing met with little success, and so the idea developed of forming a separate party with the financial backing of the trade unions. Three points in particular are worth noting about what happened. It was not a movement for socialism, it only involved a very small minority of the working class, and it was not democratically organised.

Aside from the question of trade union rights, the reform issues adopted were similar to those of the Liberal Party: opposition to the Boer war, improved workers’ compensation, and that classical capitalist policy, Free Trade. (Later on, the Labour Party sometimes came to support instead that other reputable capitalist policy, Import Controls.) At the turn of the century (as now), very few workers actively stood for socialism. In the 1895 election, not one of the thirty-two ILP candidates was elected, and they merely stood for nationalisation, rather than common ownership. If there were a majority of socialists, millions of them, they could easily have financed some of their number to go to Parliament with a mandate immediately to abolish the profit system. But what there were instead, were trade unionists, many of whom were bitterly opposed to socialism.

In 1899 the TUC voted 546,000 to 434,000 to try to increase the number of workers in Parliament. Hardie secured an ILP majority on the executive of the resulting Labour Representation Committee, with his friend Macdonald as secretary. The same year, Hardie was elected at Merthyr Tydfil with the help of £150 from George Cadbury, the chocolate baron. In 1903, Gladstone made a secret pact with MacDonald that the LRC could have a clear run in thirty constituencies, provided that they demonstrate friendliness to the Liberals where possible. At the same time, the “rank and file” at the LRC Conference were actually voting that its candidates must “strictly abstain from identifying themselves with, or promoting the interests of, any section of the Liberal or Conservative Parties”. In one constituency the LRC wanted to put up a candidate where a Liberal planned to stand. Macdonald wrote to the local secretary threatening: “my executive will even go to the length of publishing a condemnatory resolution in the newspaper”.

From 1900 to 1906, the membership of the trade unions which were affiliated to the LRC increased from about a third of a million to about a million, while the membership of the constituent “socialist” groups remained at about twenty thousand, falling to fourteen thousand from 1901 to 1904. The greatest number of votes polled by the Labour Party before the First World War was about 500,000 in 1910, about one tenth of the electorate. Those workers elected as “Lib-Labs” in the first years of this century were prepared to co-operate in parliament with LRC independents, for the sake of expediency. By the 1906 election, the leaders Hardie, Macdonald and Henderson had organised the skeleton of a national political machine, modelled on the established parties. They devised a programme which only contained reform measures compatible with capitalism. Their glorified trade-union pressure group was preparing to replace the Liberal Party in its role of alternative government of capitalism. The Labour Party was born by the “back door” method of collaboration with the Liberal Party itself. In the Liberal landslide of 1906, twenty-nine out of fifty LRC candidates were elected. The ILP and Fabian Society by then accounted for less than a fiftieth of the affiliated membership.

As the Liberal Party floundered, the Labour Party rose, based on active participation by workers in the system which exploits us. In 1904, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed. In the first issue of the Socialist Standard, in September 1904, there was an editorial opposing the LRC with good reason: the LRC members had no common principles, but only the name “Labour”:
Unity is only possible among those who possess common principles. Unity cannot, therefore, be secured for any length of time by the members of the Labour Representation Committee, but even if it could, the body is not based upon Socialist principles 
which is the reason for the lack of unity in the Labour Party today. That first issue also said of the Independent Labour Party:
Having neither the courage to proclaim themselves Socialists nor to disavow Socialism, they are today coquetting with that working-class wing of the Liberal Party - the Labour Representation Committee. When the question of Socialism was raised on the committee, their chief representative declared that was neither the time nor the place for such discussion.
The victory for compromise marked by the rise of the Labour Party may have seemed complete, but it was not permanent. The Labour governments which have been formed since, have proved the impossibility of trying to legislate against the ugly effects of the profit system. The Labour Party was formed on the basis of popular support for capitalism, and it has become one of the major institutions of that system. Workers need not sorrow for it in its old age, or run to carry the SDP baby which is really its uncle. Now, more than ever, there is a chance, and an urgent need, to build a party to end capitalism, not to run it.
Clifford Slapper

'What are your views on?' (2018)

From the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Answers to questions put by a website in Croatia, 'Il grido del popolo'.
1.         What does your political experience say about the future of socialism?
Because we had always said that it was state capitalism and had nothing to do with socialism, when the USSR collapsed in 1991 perhaps we expected people to say 'Yes, you were right, it did have nothing to do with socialism'. Then the way would be clear to put the case for real socialism as a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, with production to directly meet people's needs not for profit, and distribution on the principle of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs'. But what happened was that people said 'socialism has been tried and failed, it is now irrelevant'. Supporters of capitalism proclaimed the definitive victory of their system and ideology and that capitalism was now the only game in town. This lasted for nearly twenty years. Then came the Great Crash of 2008 and the ensuing slump. 'Capitalism' became a dirty word once more and socialism (however defined) was discussed seriously again. This is still the position today.
2.         Your thoughts on European trade unions? Are they here to help the workers or have they sold out to corporations?
Trade unions were formed by workers to bargain with employers over the price of their labour-power and the conditions under which it is exercised. Over the years they have become huge bureaucratic organisations but still, by and large, continue to be defensive organisations for the working class. They should not just be dismissed as sell-outs. Workers should still join them and work to make them more accountable to their memberships.
3.         What is the UK future after Brexit?
Most of the UK capitalist class want to stay in the EU but their political representatives let them down by organising a referendum that resulted in a 52-48 majority for Brexit. They are probably right to think that the UK outside the EU will not be as good for them as staying in, because they won't be able to get better trade deals than they have been getting as a member. But that's their problem, not ours as socialists and workers. In or out of the EU, and whatever the Brexit terms negotiated, there will still be capitalism and the problems it generates for the majority class of wage and salary worker.
 4.         Your comment on UK foreign policy towards Russia?
That the antagonism between the West and Russia has continued despite the end of 'communism' (in reality, state capitalism) in Russia shows that the conflicts of the Cold War period were not, as presented, based on ideology but were clashes of material interests, mainly over spheres of influence (who dominates Eastern Europe, Russian access to the Mediterranean, etc).
5.         What do you think, is Corbyn a good example for the left?
The Labour Party under Corbyn represents something of a return to what the Labour Party was like in the 1960s, 70s and early 80s – proposing reforms aimed at making capitalism work for 'the many, not the few.' The Labour governments in these periods failed to do this (as it can't be done) and ended up presiding over, and even encouraging, the operation of the capitalist economic system in the only way that it can exist – giving priority to profits and conditions for profit-making over satisfying people's needs. A Corbyn Labour government would fail, and for the same reason that there is no way in which capitalism can be reformed to work in the interest of the majority. So, no, Corbyn is not a good example of what to do.
6.         How can modern left politics answer the challenges of the 21st century, when there is no mainstream socialism as in the 20th century?
It is true that for most of the 20th century the existence of a major country calling itself socialist (even if it wasn't) made socialism a subject of current political debate and that this is no longer the case. On the other hand, not having a state-capitalist regime calling itself socialist is an advantage as socialists no longer have to deal with this as a regular objection to socialism. Socialism can be presented positively as a society of common ownership, democratic control, production directly to meet people's needs and not for profit.
7.         Is socialism today important or has it lost all its 'weight' in political arenas in Europe?
Of course socialism is still relevant and important today – capitalism will never be able to solve the multiple problems it generates by its very nature for humanity in general and the wage and salary working class in particular – even if the word 'socialism' meaning an alternative social system is not a subject of political discussions. Socialism will be relevant as long as capitalism exists as, objectively and not just as a matter of opinion, it is the only framework within which the problems capitalism generates can be solved.
8.         Can you make short comments on political parties like the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist and the New Communist Party?
Neither of them is any good, if only because they both support the North Korean government and defend the state-capitalist system there as somehow socialist or pro working class. Another similar organisation, the CPBML, is as nationalistic over Brexit as the UK Independence Party. 'Marxism-Leninism' is a contradiction in terms as Leninism is a distortion of Marxism, mainly through its theory that the working class on its own can only develop a trade union consciousness and so needs to be led by a self-appointed vanguard party. This was not Marx's view; he favoured the democratic self-organisation of the working class in a mass workers' party.
9.         How to educate today's working class when more and more positions in factories and elsewhere are becoming controlled by technology?
The working class is not composed just of factory workers but of everyone who is forced by economic necessity to try to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer in order to live. This is irrespective of the job they do, whether in a factory, an office, a hospital or an educational institution. Most of the so-called 'middle class' are in fact members of the majority class of wage and salary workers. Artificial Intelligence is now threatening their jobs too.
10.       How do British trade unions today work to protect workers, after all that happened with Thatcher in 80s?
The effectiveness of trade unions is largely governed by the overall economic situation, much more than by legislation. In times of capitalist expansion they can work with the labour market to increase wages; in times of slump the most they can do is slow down the decrease in real wages. The type of trade union has changed since the Thatcher years. Today the coal mines and the once powerful miners' union have gone. The big trade unions today are those in the public sector, in national and local government, the health service and education. Given the unfavourable economic situation they don't do too badly.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Philosophy of Anarchism (1942)

Pamphlet Review from the February 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have been asked by a reader to give our views on a booklet, “The Philosophy of Anarchism,” by Herbert Read, published in 1940 by Freedom Press Distributors (36 pages, 6d.).

To obtain an idea of the general superficiality of the work the reader need not go beyond the two- page introductory chapter. Here in a nutshell Mr. Read displays his failure to understand even the elements of Socialism although his whole case is based on his belief that Socialism has been tried, has failed and must fail. The following extracts from this chapter will suffice to prove the point. Mr. Read writes:
   The characteristic political attitude of to-day is not one of positive belief, but of despair. Nobody seriously believes in the social philosophies of the immediate past. There are a few people, but a diminishing number, who still believe that Marxism, as an economic system, offers a coherent alternative to capitalism, and socialism has, indeed, triumphed in one country. But it has not changed the servile nature of human bondage. Man is everywhere still in chains. The motive of his activity remains economic, and. this economic motive inevitably leads to the social inequalities from which he had hoped to escape. In face of this double failure, of capitalism and of socialism, the desperation of the masses has taken shape as fascism—a revolutionary but wholly negative movement which aims at establishing a selfish organisation of power within the general chaos.
We can be quite brief and positive in repudiating Mr. Read’s errors. Marxists have not given way to despair nor is their number decreasing. Socialism has not triumphed in any country. Russia was never Socialist and could not have become Socialist under the Bolshevist regime, no matter what methods the Bolshevists might have used in order to impose their system on the population. Russia was not and is not ripe for Socialism, and the majority of the population were not and are not ready for Socialism. At no time did the S.P.G.B. accept the baseless claim of the Russian that Socialism had been or could be established. Lastly fascism is not and has never been revolutionary. One further proof of Mr. Read’s lack of knowledge of his subject is his use of the term, “State Socialism'” (p. 19)—a contradiction in terms through which he blindly slips into his assumption that State capitalist Russia is Socialist.

So much for Mr. Read’s initial assumption. His “philosophy” and his remedies are of a like nature. He believes (p. 6) that to realise the new world we must prefer the values of freedom and equality above all other values,” and that “thousands, if not millions, of people . . . instinctively hold these ideas”— as if social evolution were a matter of instinct and of moulding society in accordance with a mental attitude of deciding to prefer certain values against others.

He divides the human race into individuals who seek self-expression and those who are servile and want to be shepherded but explains this “fundamental distinction” by saying that the servile ones "are either economically or psychologically predisposed.” He seemingly does not realise that broadly the distinction depends upon an understanding of capitalism and of the way in which Socialism can be achieved. “The only necessity,” he says, “is to discover the true laws of nature and conduct our lives in accordance with them” (p. 16).

Later on Mr. Read admits that his appeal is “to mystical entities, to idealistic notions which all good materialists reject” (p. 20). Notice the absurd position to which his appeal to mysticism has brought him.

His explanation of what he mistakenly believes to be the failure of Socialism in Russia, brings out another of his fundamental beliefs, that society must have a religion. “It is already clear,” he says, “after 20 years of Socialism in Russia, that if you do not provide your society with a new religion, it will gradually revert to the old one” (p. 22).

Incidentally this hardly seems to square with his view that “Communism has of course its religious aspects.”

Socialism will fail, he says, because it is not the “new religion” which will emerge from the ruins of capitalist civilization (p. 27), and “the natural ally of Socialism was the Church ” (p. 24).

On the question of working class action he believes that “the natural weapon of the working classes is the strike.” “The State" he says, "is just as vulnerable as a human being and can be killed by the cutting of a single artery. But you must see that surgeons do not rush in to save the victim. You must work secretly and act swiftly: the event must be catastrophic” (p. 33). He advocates insurrection—“An insurrection is necessary.”

He ends the booklet in much the same frame of mind as those whom he criticises in the opening paragraph—despair. He is not certain whether we are faced with the final "paroxysm of a doomed system, leaving the world darker and more despairing than ever,” or whether we shall have "a spontaneous and universal insurrection." It all depends on whether we achieve "a swift apprehension of the destiny that is upon us” (p. 36).

Though he believes that such qualities as "faith in the fundamental goodness of man" alone can save us his faith seems to have half deserted him, and he is not sure what will happen.

Altogether, a very superficial piece of work. We wonder if even his fellow anarchists feel happy at his exposition of their views.
Edgar Hardcastle

Notes By The Way: Wages in Russia (1942)

The Notes By The Way column from the January 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wages in Russia
In view of the popular misconceptions about the social system in Russia, the following recent statements are of interest.

The first, relating to the great inequality of wages, was published in the Sunday Dispatch (August 17th, 1941), along with much other information about Russia. It was prefaced by a personal message from the Soviet Ambassador in London, in which he congratulated the Dispatch on publishing the information.
   Wages or salaries are paid according to ability and the type of work. Specialists are highly paid, but lower grades receive what may be termed a subsistence level, corresponding to the social status of their type of labour. . . . Some workers get quite low wages, but, as there are rarely less than three or four wage-earners in a family, discrepancies may be evened out. Average minimum wage is 250 roubles monthly, though specialists may receive an average as high as 2,000 roubles a month.
The second is a news item in the Evening News (December 30th, 1941), stating that a special war tax was to be introduced in Russia. It ended as follows: 
   Persons with specially large incomes will pay double the normal rate.
* * *

The Landworker's £3 Wage
When it was announced that the Central Agricultural Wages Board had agreed unanimously to recommend a £3 minimum wage for men on the land, Mr. A. C. Dann, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Land workers, told a Daily Express reporter how, during the last war, he was sent as a soldier to work on the land in Norfolk and how he was appalled at the horrible conditions under which the farm worker lived. It will doubtless not have escaped Mr. Dann’s notice that the newspapers which under war conditions of food shortage and restricted imports all agreed quite enthusiastically that the landworker ought to have £3, were mostly quite cold and silent in peace-time and not at all disturbed about the horrible conditions. They may be expected to suffer a relapse when peace comes again and when the fight is on between the agricultural interests which want subsidies continued, and the manufacturing interests who will want cheap home produced food and cheap imports because they mean lower wages to factory workers.

Already a start has been made at reducing the value of the £3 minimum. At present the landworker gets his tied cottage at a restricted rent of 1s. or 4s. So the demand is now being made that this restriction of rent should cease, and the landworker be compelled to pay an "economic rent.” Even this pill is sugared with the promise that if he does pay more he will get something better than what the Times (November 18th) describes as his “often slummy " cottage.

A sidelight on the life of freeborn rural Englishmen is provided by a comment in the Times (November 17th) on the difficulty of providing clothes in war-time.
   In ordinary times his wife managed to replenish his working wardrobe economically from the jumble sales, which used to be a regular feature of village life. Now no one turns out clothing that has any virtue. . .
It seems that what, in our urban ignorance, we take for scarecrows on the countryside are the local squirearchy wearing out their own jumble-sale clobber.

* * *

A Bagatelle of £100 Million
In a speech in the House of Commons on October 1st, 1941 (“Hansard," Col. 616) the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Kingsley Wood, explained why it is not expedient to “soak the rich" by lopping off in taxation all incomes in excess of £1,000 a year:—
   It is probably not realised that if we so increased taxation that no one was left with more than £1,000 a year or his present net income after taxation, whichever was the less—the course which would obviously precipitate very acute problems of many kinds—the additional yield would not exceed something of the order of £106,000,000.
The problems referred to are probably the contractual obligations (rent, etc.) which could not be met if incomes were cut to £1,000. Even so, and even if £100 million does not represent many days’ war expenditure, Sir Kingsley Wood failed to give any convincing reason why the people referred to should be treated so differently from the wage-earners getting £3 or £4 a week, who are told that every penny counts if devoted to war savings.

* * *

A Concession to Income Tax Payers
Workers who for the first time have been initiated into the mysteries of income tax will know that no wage may be reduced in any one week through deduction of tax, below 37s. 6d. for a single man or single woman, or below 57s. 6d. for a married man. They will also have noticed that the official announcement informs them that this concession will be made “unless you ask for the full tax to be deducted," and further that it is only a postponement not a permanent relief: you make up the full amount later on.

We wonder if any of the higher officials of the Inland Revenue Department realise what it means at present prices to make ends meet on '37s. 6d. or 57s. 6d. a week. The “very acute problems" that would arise if large incomes were reduced to £1,000 a year are nothing compared with the acute problem of living on 37s. 6d. a week.

* * *

The Decline of Religion
According to the Rev. E. H. Lewis, an Army chaplain, “only five per cent. of the men who join the Army can say the Lord’s Prayer, 15 per cent, have had no connection with the Church, and 85 per cent. have never been in a church in their lives."— (Sunday Express, November 2nd, 1941.)

The Rev. S. C. Thompson, writing to the Daily Telegraph (December 1st) says: “I would submit that the influence of Christ has declined, is declining, and (humanly speaking) will decline in this country, and that the reason is the general and culpable neglect of organised religion."

* * *

The Health of Recruits to the U.S. Army
According to the Times (October 11th, 1941), the calling up of men for the American Army has disclosed "that roughly 1,000,000 young men— about half of those examined—have been rejected as unfit for service on account of physical, mental, or educational defects." President Roosevelt described this as "an indictment of America."

U.S.A. has been held up in the past as an example of capitalism at its best and as a proof that a high standard of living and low unemployment are not impossible under capitalism. The results do not look anything to be proud of. They will give an impetus to the demand for social reforms to repair the damage done by Capitalism.

Whether the standard is comparable with that applied to recruits for the British army is not known, but it has been claimed that official figures show that in this war the proportion of recruits passed as fit has been about 80 per cent, (i.e., in Grades I, II and III together).—(Sunday Express, October 26th, 1941.)

* * *

Holy Russia
Those who remember the kind of abuse hurled at the Bolshevists in former years will rub their eyes to see some of the things being said to-day. On October 30th the Times published a large advertisement adorned with the Hammer and Sickle Emblem, and containing the following :—
   “Hammer and sickle, symbol once of a distant, mysterious and unknown land, symbol to-day of the power and patriotism of Holy Russia.’'

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"The Best Means of Keeping them in Proper Subjection"
The following in a resolution passed in 1768 by the Committee of the Foundling Hospital regarding the purpose of the religious eduction of the foundlings who were to be placed out as apprentices: -
   That when the children of this hospital are placed out each shall have a copy of the prayers they use in this hospital, the same to be printed on small portable twelves on parchment with a thin paste board cover, and that another copy of the same shall be delivered to the master or mistress of the child, with the preamble as follows:
    As it is of the greatest moment to breed up children in the fear of God, as the best means of keeping them in proper subjection to their masters, mistresses, and superiors—and as praying is the most effectual means to promote such fear, and to enforce obedience to the laws of God, you are hereby informed that it is expected of you to take care that this child . . . aged . . . says his or her prayers constantly every morning, as well as every evening, and you are to give him (or her) due sense of what he (or she) is about, and to this end you must be careful that he (or she) repeats prayers in a slow, serious and solemn manner, and you are further to take care that this child do frequent the public worship on the Sabbath Day, in a sober, pious, orderly manner.
—“The History of the Foundling Hospital "
(Nicholas & Wray, 1935), page 190.
Though later developments have produced other means of persuading the workers that capitalism is all for the best, there are still those who hold that religion has its uses in that direction.

Edgar Hardcastle


No Need for More Capitalism (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Yanis Varoufakis, the maverick former Greek finance minister, has written an introduction to a new edition of the Communist Manifesto (published by Vintage Classics), reproduced in the Guardian (20 April). It is actually quite good. Here he is writing about ‘the predicament in which we find ourselves today’:
‘While we owe capitalism for having reduced all class distinctions to the gulf between owners and non-owners, Marx and Engels want us to realise that capitalism is insufficiently evolved to survive the technologies it spawns. It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources. Now, when new technologies are unleashed in societies bound by the primitive labour contract, wholesale misery follows. ... If we continue to subscribe to labour contracts between employer and employee, then private property rights will govern and drive capital to inhuman ends.’
When he was a member of the Greek government Varoufakis defended himself on the grounds that, as capitalism paved the way for socialism but socialism was not an immediate prospect, it was better to help capitalism out of its crisis than let it collapse – to save capitalism so as to be able to end it later in better circumstances.
He still hasn’t entirely escaped from this way of thinking, as he writes here: 
‘Given that it is neither possible nor desirable to annul capitalism’s “energy”, the trick is to help speed up capital’s development (so that it burns up like a meteor rushing through the atmosphere) while, on the other hand, resisting (through rational, collective action) its tendency to steamroller our human spirit. In short, the manifesto’s recommendation is that we push capital to its limits while limiting its consequences and preparing for its socialisation.’
Actually, this is not what the Manifesto recommended (unrealistically, it envisaged that ‘the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution’). But it was what Leninists and Social Democrats tried to do in the 20th century, arguably unnecessarily prolonging the existence of capitalism.
Marx and Engels did hold that capitalism paved the way for socialism, by creating its material basis in the form of a worldwide productive network technologically capable of providing plenty for all. In 1848 Marx did argue in favour of free trade on the grounds that it ‘works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the Social Revolution.' But that was in 1848, some 170 years ago now. At that time capitalism, as an economic system, was confined to parts of  Western Europe. As Varoufakis points out, Marx and Engels predicted in the Manifesto that it would eventually come to dominate the whole world. He sees this as having come about in the 1990s. In fact, however, it had come about a century earlier in the 1890s, as reflected in the discussions about ‘imperialism’ that began at that time. By then capitalism had performed its historical role and had become historically unnecessary in that socialism, as a world system, could have been established in its place at any time since.
Capitalism’s continuation beyond its sell-by date has led to two world wars, countless smaller wars and massacres, and now a threat to the planet’s ecology. Who knows what its further development will bring? So, no, the task today is not to ‘speed up capital’s development’. It is to stop it, by establishing a world of common ownership, democratic control, production to directly satisfy people’s needs and not for profit, and distribution on the principle of ‘from each their ability, to each their needs’.