Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What the paper said (1990)

From the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why on earth aren't there more socialists about? It surely can't be because the daily newspapers (at least, those that are referred to as the quality papers since they are supposed to provide news rather than gossip) don't reveal all about the society we live in, namely capitalism, a class-divided society with the rich and privileged on the one side and the deprived and struggling on the other. This writer happened to have had a little extra time to go thoroughly through a recent issue of The Times.

You can choose any issue you like and you'll nearly always find something along the lines of the following. Casually turn over a page and there's a picture . . .  47, Grosvenor Sq. in Mayfair described as “having a discreet facade" harbouring “an opulent interior. . . hiding one of the most expensive homes in London". In case of visitors or a large family "there are 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, six reception rooms, swimming pool, gym and sauna, all decorated in the style of an Arabian palace, including tented ceilings, huge chandeliers and ornate mouldings picked out in gold." Not bad, eh? and we're told “it's a snip at £15 million".

Well, we heard that the East Germans had a fit of apoplexy when they learnt of the high-style living and larks of Honecker & Co. but dear Erich, even if he could have monopolised half his comrades' privileges, could not have matched this, so how are the East German workers going to react now that they have the blessings of the free market bestowed upon them, and with those in the upper spheres above them enjoying the aforementioned trappings?

Leaving this for the future to work out, one would have thought that the Editor would have been careful about where to place the above item, but no! Right underneath, as if to lend point and contrast, we find a report which tells us that the National Audit Office (a money-saving watchdog committee acting conscientiously on behalf of the capitalist class) is deploring the fact that £11 million is spent "needlessly" because doctors are too liberal in giving out sick notes to workers for benefit claims. That means that if you're not feeling quite yourself one morning and not inclined to join the scrum to get to work and then having to face those dreary hours till knocking off time, and then the bustle of the return journey, think twice before rushing off to the doctor. We're told that even a 1 per cent drop in these untaxed (shame!) benefits would save £11 million but, just think, even this sum wouldn't be enough to buy that two by two in Grosvenor Sq. We're also told that the basic rate of Invalidity Benefit is £43.60 a week although (heaven be praised for the generosity of the capitalist class) in certain cases this can rise to £60 or (wonders will never cease) to £100 per week. One small point, though: these sums would not be sufficient for the upkeep of the premises mentioned above.

Tarred with same brush
Not to labour the point (does it need labouring?) let's turn to another page. Now, we've heard recently, over and over again from all directions, about the end and demise of Communism or, as one BBC programme had it, "The flight from Communism". It so happens that this programme was dealing with the events in Poland, and it also happens that in this issue of The Times a correspondent in Poland informed us that a lot of former secret police of the Interior Ministry are turning to making an honest living by acting as private tecs, but who and what for? “It is to protect rich businessmen who feel nervous in the classless(!) society". Amongst other things their brief:
is to protect private villas, private shops and warehouses, transport valuables, etc. Crime is rising quickly everywhere. A particular target for thieves are houses with expensive satellite dishes—in Poland a sign of substance and wealth. Millionaires abound . . . there are jewellers, perfumers, cake wholesalers, sunglass manufacturers, computer importers and money changers who have become de facto private bankers. One detective agency assured us that 'when the Western capitalist comes here we can provide the finest bodyguards' (Times. 12 January).
Turning to another page we find the story of John Smith, the Shadow Labour Chancellor being piqued by the suggestion that Labour's policies would impose huge burdens on business and spending "huge amounts of time in boardrooms and at City dining tables explaining how a Labour government would get manufacturing industry on its feet again". Now did you think these industries were flat on their faces? You wouldn't think so looking at some of their profit and loss accounts in the financial pages.

On another page, there's Maggie going on something awful about the workers asking for more money in their wage packets . . .“very disturbing”, "jobs at risk”, “Britain's wage costs higher than main competitors”. "wage costs must be kept down", but at the same time “it was essential to keep higher interest rates going for the foreseeable future".

As we socialists say, they're all tarred with the same brush and, as Mercutio put it in his last moments (and we hope fervently that the working class will not wait until such an eventuality), "A plague on both your houses".
Max Judd

Strange ways (1990)

From the June 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Was the Strangeways Riot the work of the Devil? According to the prison governor, Brendan O'Friel, there is a very simple explanation: the riot was "something of a battle between good and evil" (The Observer, 6 May). The cause for this battle had to do, it seems, with the alleged success last year of a Christian mission within the prison. Later on, during the protest, the god-fearing Governor "became increasingly alarmed by the signs that something was going to happen on Good Friday. The omens were pretty bad. Good Friday was also the thirteenth, and we were getting some signals from the roof that sounded pretty ominous".

As an explanation for the riot, this is absolute moonshine. O'Friel claims that the "success" of the 1989 Christian mission led to a riot. But was this mission a success? Out of 1600 prisoners (some very distressed, possibly suicidal), only 200 made "a commitment to Christ", This is only 1 in 8: the majority rejected the message. To claim this as a success is as silly as Kenneth Baker's attempt to claim the result of the local council elections as a massive Tory victory. Another improbability about this "success of the mission" theory is the timescale. Why did the "forces of evil" wait so many months before mounting this alleged counter-offensive? Then there's the Governor's view of what happened on Friday 13th—Good Friday. As a result of his forebodings, he enlisted the prayerful support of his fellow-believers. Down on their knees they went.

History relates that nothing very dreadful happened that day. Two more of the prisoners surrendered and the siege continued as before, without any "diabolical" incidents. This, to the devout Governor, was evidence of the success of "the spiritual outpourings . . .  (of) the Christian community". In other words, bending the ear of the Almighty produces better results than appeals to the Home Office for reinforcements.

It is characteristic of true believers that they claim events as supporting their beliefs whatever the outcome. In this case, if, as he predicted, a “holocaust" had happened. that would have supported his belief in the activity of these supposed "forces of evil”.

This was a naive attempt by Governor O'Friel to persuade the outside world that there were no commonsense, material circumstances which could be expected to have triggered this and other jail protests. He would have us believe that this riot had more to do with the saving of souls than with slopping out. He apparently said nothing in his press conference of the conditions which the prisoners had to put up with in the jail: of the unhygienic and inhuman overcrowding in claustrophobic conditions; of the understaffing, which renders ineffective any attempts to make conditions less unbearable; or of the righteous fervour which inspires Manchester's god-fearing police and magistrates with a zealous determination that even those awaiting trial for motoring offences must be locked up.

One of the young rooftop protesters was a teenage boy on remand, waiting month after month for his trial for taking a car without consent and drunk-driving. The jails of this country are overcrowded because people like him are locked up in cells, waiting for months for their cases to be heard. Mounting frustration and exasperation may well have been one of the factors that contributed to the protest.

Strangeways—a good name for a system which treats live people like dead sardines.
Charmian Skelton

The Lies That Kill (1990)

From the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bandsmen, and even, now, in deference to the times, bandswomen, sit around waiting against a discordant cacophony of banging drums and snatches of pop tunes, or “party" airs, played inexpertly on fifes or accordians. Even in waiting, the pipe bands are disciplined, more expert, better turned out and better at planning their waiting time.

But a pipe band can cost an Orange Lodge a lot of money. Economics have, thus, created a niche in the market for the gather-up, four or five tune outfits that will swagger aggressively behind the well-suited Orangemen. The four or five tunes will synopsize a version of history; remind Fenians that they were given a bloody good hiding at Derry, Aughrim and. on the 1st July 1690 (before Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar) at the Boyne. Especially when passing a Roman Catholic chapel or an area inhabited by catholics, an aggressive increase in volume will taunt and threaten latter-day enemies.

Festival of bigotry
Hail. rain, sunshine or snow, the bands will march on the Twelfth. The serried ranks of marching Orangemen will tramp their way to “The Field” to be regaled yet again with the pure fiction that represents history— for, if ever a people were kidded and cajoled by what Marx called “the tradition of all the dead generations", it is both the protestants and the catholics of Northern Ireland.

This day, the Twelfth, is the epitome of protestant culture, folklore and tradition. It is about this that Unionist and Orange leaders have hyped ordinary decent protestants to the anger that maims and kills—maims, kills and divides both themselves and those whom they have been rigidly conditioned to hate and fear. What we know about this festival of bigotry should be enough to cause protestants to look upon it with the same distaste as catholics: not simply because it is one of the elements that creates—300 years after the event—the material conditions for the bloody, futile violence that hurts protestant and catholic alike but because the great majority of those partaking in this orgy of ignorance, those who are Presbyterians, have no reason to celebrate the regime that emerged from William's victory at the famous Battle of the Boyne.

Almost always a ruling class (or, as in the case of Irish catholics, an aspiring ruling class) will suitably distort and fictionalize history to serve its purpose. Usually a substantial historical truth can be "adjusted" sufficiently to convince a lot of ordinary, propertyless workers that their past, and, more importantly, their present, is tied up with the interests of their real or potential exploiters. In the case of the events commemorated by so many decent working class protestants on the Twelfth of July, history has not simply been adjusted—it has been stood on its head.

According to the Orange Order, which uses religion to obfuscate historical reality and confuse and divide the working class, William, Prince of Orange, led a revolution against the Stuart king James II in 1688. James, a sickly pious, but cautious, convert to Roman Catholicism (and the father of William's wife, Mary) was according to Orange legend, an enemy of protestantism and, by defeating him at the battle of the Boyne in July 1690, King Billy won the day for those of the Protestant faith in Ireland. "He gave us our freedom, religion and laws", the Orange demagogue will declaim; "He saved us from popery, brass money and wooden shoes", some other historical expert will assure his listeners.

We are referring here to events which took place, not as irrelevantly far back as 1960, but 300 years ago in 1690. Whatever the facts, the first question that must be put to the Orange Order, and the clerical tub-thumpers who so frequently vomit hatred of their fellow human beings at Orange binges, is why they continue to organise an event which helps to fan violence and hatred and which has no bearing whatsoever on the lives of people today—other than those who may suffer hurt, abuse, or even death from the anger and hatred it generates? Surely, men and women who genuinely wanted peace in Northern Ireland would be prepared to sacrifice the, literally, thousands of annual marches and coat-trailing exercises that feed division and hatred?

That is a question for the holy hypocrites who pose as peace-mongers in Northern Ireland. It is a reasonable question and one that workers who support Orangeism but want peace should be concerned with.

The Pope backs King Billy
But what about the wider question? Was the conflict between King Billy and King James about protestants and catholics? Was Billy's victory one in the eye for the pope? Did his defeat of James at the Boyne make life better for the people of Ireland, or Ulster—or even for all the protestants of Ulster? The answer to all these questions is an unequivocal “No". Before dealing with the consequences of King Billy's victory, however, we should look at the background to the conflict between him and James and the separate interests they each represented.

After the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy there was a marked decline in the the political persecution of Irish catholics. Freedom of the Irish catholics to practise their religion was established and, on the other side, in 1672 Charles II won favour with the Presbyterian settlers in Ulster by granting a Regium Donam, or Royal bounty, to their clergy.

When James the Second became king in 1685 the emerging middle class in England, anxious to promote legislation that would facilitate its growing commercial interests, was striving for political power. Conflict centred around parliament and the king. Religion, the complex in-fighting between the various denominations and especially the broader conflict between the Church of England and Roman Catholicism, was used to disguise this class struggle and marshal the "lower orders" behind the contending factions. James resisted parliament's attempts to restrict his authority and parliament used this and his covert attempts to bring England back into the mainstream of European Catholicism to attack the king.

In 1688 seven members of the English government invited the Dutchman, William, the Prince of Orange, who was married to James's protestant daughter, to become king of England. James, the catholic, sought the assistance of the French king, Louis XIV. Though nominally catholic insofar as kings and members of the ruling class accept religion, Louis was the bitter enemy of Pope Innocent XI. Both leaders were in conflict over the spoils of Europe and both went to considerable extremes to humiliate each other. Louis had seized areas where the papal writ ran and had sent an army against the papal citadel, Rome itself.

The Pope had retaliated by calling together, in 1688, the German Emperor, the King of Spain and William Prince of Orange. Together they entered into the Treaty of Augsberg, the nominal head of which was the Pope. It was the Treaty (or League) powers, of which the Pope was the head, that armed, provisioned and financed King Billy when he landed in Ireland, to where James had retreated, to contend for the throne of England.

So the popular version of events that inflames considerable Orange passion, even now, 300 years after the event, is pure rubbish. It was the catholic king James who was opposing the Pope's interest and it was King Billy who championed the papal cause! Whatever Orangemen—and catholics—may think to-day, there was no doubt about the matter three hundred years ago when, at the behest of the Pope, a Te Deum was sung in St. Peter’s, and special masses said in other European capitals, in celebration of King Billy's victory over James at the Battle of the Boyne.

Presbyterians persecuted
What about the freedom of religion and the victory for protestantism that William's victory is supposed to represent? History attests to the fact that William was largely untainted with the religious bigotry then a political factor in Europe but, in accepting the call of the English parliament, he had to respond to the authority of that parliament which saw catholicism as treasonous and presbyterian dissenters as too independent and lacking in loyalty to England. Ironically, it was the twisted, devious and bigoted catholic King James who unwillingly presided over the abolition of the penal laws against religion in Ireland. After his arrival in Ireland, he summoned a special sitting of the Dublin parliament (in 1689) and that body abolished legal strictures against all religious denominations, making all religions equal before the law. The “patriot parliament", as it was called, also established the right of the people to pay tithes to the clergy of their own church.

After the final defeat of the Jacobite army, at Aughrim in July 1691, what had become known as "the war of the two kings " was formally ended by the signing of the Treaty of Limerick, in October 1691. William agreed to accept, as the first of the Treaty's thirteen “civil" articles, the law on religious freedoms which the "patriot parliament" had introduced. Back in England after his victory in Ireland, however. King Billy agreed, or had to agree, to the establishment of the Episcopalian Church in Ireland, effectively making not only Catholicism illegal but, also, the faith of the majority protestant community in Ulster, then, as now, Presbyterianism.

Immediately following William's victory, and as a result of that victory and the establishment of the Anglican church, Presbyterian ministers were refused the right to administer to their flocks. Delivering a sermon could result, on conviction, in a fine of £100 or three months in jail. They were not allowed to perform a marriage service, so Presbyterians were forced to submit to an alien church or carry the stigma of unlawfully and sinfully co-habitating, with their off-spring denied right of inheritance because legally they were bastards. Ordinary Presbyterians, like Roman Catholics, were denied entry to offices of the Crown, including the law, the army, the navy and the revenue services.

Little wonder then that during the decades that followed into the next century, some 250,000 Ulster protestants. the great bulk of them Presbyterians, left for the new world where their hatred of the regime established by King Billy made them foremost among those American colonists who defeated England in the American War of Independence.

The bosses change their tune
Like their fellow workers who are catholics, the protestant workers have been cheated with historical fairy tales. Once, in the early part of this century, these fabrications were used to marshal them behind those northern capitalist industrialists who feared the introduction of Irish Home Rule and the establishment of Irish trade protectionism. Today, there is not even that justification; free trade is no longer an issue and 1992 and the reality of a Europe united in trade and, increasingly, legislatively beckons the people of property, whether catholic or protestant—the bosses and the business fraternity.

Ironically, it was the political forces that represented these interests which fabricated history to con both the protestant and the catholic poor, before and after the turn of the present century. Today the business community, north and south, are happily united—both in contempt for the working class and in shock at the continuing results of their fabricated history. Academics are busily engaged re-writing history, trying to lie their way out of earlier fictions. Men and women of little talent have forged political careers on the ignorance of those, protestants and catholics, who make up our class, the working class. Sadly, only among our class do the lies prevail—the lies that make loyalists and the lies that make republicans. Lies that kill.
Richard Montague

Monday, July 24, 2017

Food, Hunger and Politics (1990)

From the August 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the present way of organising society cannot ensure that everyone has enough to eat. Millions go hungry in what the Times (10 June 1985) admitted is “a world which is awash with food surpluses”.

High-powered conferences of experts have failed to solve the problem. Reports and resolutions provide empty words for empty bellies. The objective proclaimed in 1974 by Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger that “within a decade no child will go to bed hungry, that no family will fear for its next days bread" (London Evening Standard, 5 November 1974) has been a mockery. There are now. both in absolute and relative terms, a greater number of hungry people in the world than there were then.

The efforts of voluntary relief agencies have fared no better. They face what they have called "donation fatigue' and openly admit that they have to rely on the actions of governments—of those in charge of the system that produces the problem in the first place.

Hiroshima every three days
People are dying in their millions from entirely preventable causes. The side-effects of hunger and malnutrition kill 15 million children a year. Fifteen million completely unnecessary deaths. Poverty killing more than war ever did. And yet the means of ending hunger are to hand. Susan George, Associate Director of the Transnational Institute and writer and broadcaster on world poverty, claims that providing for the needs of 15 million could be done by 3.6 millions tons of grain. World harvests of grain in 1980 were 1.556 million tons. To feed the 450 million estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to be malnourished would only take 128 million tons of cereals—8 percent of world harvests, less than the United States feeds to its livestock (world-wide, half the grain crop is fed to animals). In 1984 the FAO estimated global cereal carry-over stocks as 294 million tons (State of Food and Agriculture, 1984. p. 47).

That people are hungry because they are poor is a theme which runs through a series of essays written in the 1980s by Susan George and now published in a revised form as Ill Fares the Land (Penguin Books. £5.99). The book is written with a deep concern for the victims of a world where "the toll of hunger on human life is equal to a Hiroshima explosion every three days" (p. 223).

She catalogues in detail some of the seemingly endless contradictions of a world where profit is the driving force behind the production of the means of life. “Higher productivity—and higher profits— actually mean more hungry people . . . " Even a so-called success such as the "green revolution" brings in its wake a loss of land and employment for millions because it was "a means of increasing food production without upsetting entrenched interests (as well as a means of providing increased revenues to the Western firms supplying industrial inputs)" (p.184).

This has resulted in a situation where poor peasants now die of exposure in the Indian province of Bihar. Straw was formerly free for bedding, but the new breeds of cereals have shorter straws which now command a price as a raw material used in paper-making (to replace wood which is in short supply due to deforestation). At the same time, "substantial grain reserves exist partly because half the population is too poor to buy them" (p. 184).

However, while the descriptions of the scale and effect of the profit system are written with a humanitarian concern for the poor and the destitute. George's prescriptions for actions are deeply flawed. Having recognised that the economic power of the more industrially and economically advanced nations is used for the furtherance of profit, and that to this end the privileged elites of the "Third World" are willingly enlisted as allies, she fails to draw the obvious conclusion: if ensuring that all have enough to eat is not a technical problem but a political one, then the techniques and means of life must cease to be the property of a tiny privileged minority. They must be made the common property of the whole of humanity. Production must be directly for use and not for sale on a market where “the poor cannot express their needs in terms of money, the only language the market economy understands" (P. 6).

Third world elites
What George is doing is to decry the effects without removing the causes of those effects. Having, consciously or unconsciously, rejected a complete change in society she is forced back into attempts at reforming the present system. This results in her appealing to the self-interest of nationalists in less developed countries, to the economic self-interest of European capitalists (she has given up on the USA and Russia), and, most futile of all, for "justice".

She appeals to those elites in the Third World (short-hand for those areas of the world where capitalism is still in the process of being developed at the expense of the increasingly landless peasants) who are perceived to be "working for the betterment of their countries". These she calls "true nationalists". But, if as she argues, the system that dominates the world is increasingly global then the solutions to the problems it creates must also be global.

Capital must of its nature expand at the expense of other capitals. To advocate the implementation of schemes that are deliberately labour intensive (so as to provide work for the jobless peasant/worker in the making) is to invite disappointment when the system follows its own immutable laws. She is not unaware of these laws, describing the “trans national corporations" (TNCs) as operating as follows:
In a world of rising costs and diminishing profits, it becomes more important than ever for the industrialised countries and the TNCs to maintain and to reinforce their hegemony over the global economy. They must, from their point of view, increase their control over world production, and world markets . . . Those who believe that these companies have any object besides the enhancement of their own profits are making a serious mistake. (pp. 93-4).
If banks and international lenders see these firms as more reliable and more profitable than local Third World ones, and so give them better credit terms and loan facilities, it is unrealistic to expect them to act otherwise—they exist, after all, in the same profit-seeking economic environment. If in acting this way they "thereby indirectly prevent the creation and expansion of national firms which are short of working capital" (p. 102), nothing can be done about it; this is the way the capitalist system works.

What should be noted here is that we are being asked to take sides with the emergent capitalists in the less developed world—with the very group who control the state and have no compunction in using the military and police to "control" the desperate and hungry when they revolt (as Kaunda recently did in Zambia). Nationalists everywhere have always acted this way when they come to power and are strong enough to implement the rule of the class they represent, using the state "to extract as much wealth as possible from the countryside" (p. 215) (actually, from the labour-power of the people living there).

Giving this parasitic class in the making a sympathetic leg-up to join the first division of robbers will not solve the problems of the poor. George's dream of an improvement in the lot of the Third World poor through economic developmemt "independent" of the more developed capitalist countries is a non-starter. Not that the full development of a successful and prosperous capitalist system is a guarantee against hunger, as the existence of 20 million hungry Americans testifies (Scientific American, February 1987)

Who’s aiding who?
If her appeals for "independent" development in the Third world are unrealistic, her appeals to the power structures of the European Community are unnecessary. She tempts them with the following;
By espousing the cause of three-quarters of humanity. Europe would also, in the fullness of time, reap the more traditional commercial and financial benefits. (p. 68. emphasis added).
She need not worry. This kind of self-interested approach to aid has already been eagerly adopted by both the major British political parties. In a debate a few years ago on famine and debt in developing countries, Timothy Raison, Tory Minister for Overseas Development, told the House of Commons:
I believe that our approach to debt is sound. We have to work constructively in the world that exists. . . .  At the same time of course, we are concerned with British interests. We want to develop good relations and see stability increase and see potential markets grow . . . The aid trade provision enables us to respond flexibly to commercial opportunities . . . Over the last few years some £350 million of aid trade provision has resulted in British firms winning contracts overseas valued at more than £1,400 million. (Hansard. 11 June 1985. Vol 80. colls 779-780).
While in power the Labour Party also embrace "the world that exists" and the "commercial approach". Aid to the Third World is regarded as being in line with "British interests". Judith Hart. Labour Minister for Overseas Development, claimed an even better return than Raison's. This indirect subsidy to British capitalists cost £400m but resulted in £2,400 million's worth of exports—"growth for them means imports from us" (Times. 14 July. 1976).

The other main remedy Susan George relies on is a case for "justice"—an appeal to give the rapidly disappearing peasants a “fair" chance to help themselves. This amounts to trying to make the market system, which is driving them out of existence, work other than the way it must. To complain that TNCs "underpay" for Third World commodities is to ignore the fact that in any market buyers press for the lowest price while sellers press for the highest. Crying foul when the powerful exploit their advantage is no cure. The establishment of an "independent" enclave which would somehow circumvent the weak position of Third World producers is a chimera. The food producers of the EC and the USA, for example, can always as part of a potential trade war dump food on the world markets at prices which Third World peasants cannot compete with.

The only real hope for the hungry and exploited of the Third World lies in their realisation of the potential power they collectively have and organising consciously and politically with their fellow workers in the developed capitalist countries to democratically abolish capitalism and establish socialism. This entails the pursuit not of "justice" but of interest. Free men and women have no need of justice.
Gwynn Thomas

Green Scenario (1990)

Book Review from the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Getting There. Steps to a Green Society. By Derek Wall. Green Print. £4.99

During the Euro-elections last year Derek Wall was one of the Green Party's three national spokespersons. He wasn't heard of much as the media ignored him in favour of Sara Parkin. This probably pleased some Green Party strategists who feared his leftwing views might put off the muddle-in-the-middle voters they were targetting.

For example, while one platform speaker at the Green Party Conference last September proclaimed “we come not to bury the market economy, but to use it” (Independent, 22 September). Wall writes that "ecology is incompatible with the market".

He is undoubtedly right here. Where wealth is produced by separate firms competing to make profits out of supplying a market, it is considerations of cost-saving and profit-making that will determine the materials and methods of production used: the short term will prevail over the long term and the cheaper over the ecologically appropriate.

Wall sees the solution as lying in the establishment of a decentralized society where much less would be produced and consumed than today and where these reduced needs would be mainly met locally. Money would not disappear completely but its role and influence would diminish drastically since peoples needs would be met directly (growing their own food, making their own clothes, etc) or on a barter, mutual aid or gift basis.

This might not be capitalism but it wouldn't be socialism either. In any event Wall doesn't call it socialism but a "Green society" and sees it as coming into being in embryo within capitalism (indeed as already having come into being in the form of "picnics and parties, collective allotments. co-operative buying, shared meals, local community news sheets, learning exchanges, tithing, ecological transport") and eventually growing to be strong enough to dissolve capitalism into a network of “local economies". This, according to him. is the way to "smash capitalism gently".

It couldn’t work of course. People can't just opt out of capitalism and begin satisfying their needs on a non-market basis. To launch and sustain this, money would be required (to hire or purchase land, premises and machinery, for instance) and, as long as capitalism exists, there is essentially only one way most people can obtain this: by going out and working for an employer for a wage or a salary. It is true that another possible source of income does exist in payments from the state. However, these are never generous and are in fact deliberately kept as low as practicable so as to offer a very miserable existence to those unable or unwilling to work for an employer.

Nor is the capitalist state going to allow state payments to be used to try to undermine capitalism in the way Wall suggests. But replies Wall, this time echoing official Green Party policy, a Green government would introduce a Basic Income Scheme under which everybody would receive a payment from the state, as of right and without means-testing, of an amount sufficient to satisfy at least their basic needs without having to go and work for an employer. The theory is that people could use this income to finance an "alternative economy".

It's a nice theory, but where's the state going to get the money from? It could only come from taxing the profits of capitalist firms, but any attempt to raise the massive amount that would be required to finance such a scheme would provoke an immediate and widespread economic slump. Wall, however, believes that "bankers create money out of thin air" and seems to be advocating that the state should do the same and simply create the money it needs, just printing pound notes and handing them out! Unlike banks, the state could do this but as the amount of real wealth in existence would remain unchanged this would result in a massive inflation that would rival that in Germany after the first world war.

Actually. Wall is not quite that naive. He does realise what would happen should a Green government committed to such a programme ever come into office:
A Green government will be controlled by the economy rather than being in control. On coming to office through coalition or more absolute electoral success, it would be met by an instant collapse of sterling as ‘hot money' and entrepreneurial capital went elsewhere. The exchange rate would fall and industrialists would move their factories to countries with more relaxed environmental controls and workplace regulation. Sources of finance would dry up as unemployment rocketed, slashing the revenue from taxation and pushing up the social security bills. The money for ecological reconstruction—the building of railways, the closing of motorways and construction of a proper sewage system—would run out.
But if this is the case, as it would be, a Green government would clearly be unable to help an embryonic green economy to develop by introducing a Basic Income scheme to allow people to escape from the wages system. In admitting this Wall is also admitting the non-viability of his scheme to “smash capitalism gently".
Adam Buick

Obituary: Walter Kobus (1990)

Obituary from the October 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death earlier this year of our Comrade Walter J. Kobus of the World Socialist Party of the United States. He lived in Detroit, the centre of the American car industry, and until his retirement had been an active member of the United Autoworkers Union. For a short while the headquarters of the WSPUS, before it was moved to Boston, was in Detroit and comrade Kobus was active in the party local there. Some members will recall his visit to Britain a fair number of years ago. His generous bequests to us and the other Companion Parties will be used as he would wish: the furtherance of our common aim to foster knowledge of and the desire for the establishment of world socialism.

Morris and Socialism (1990)

1907 SPGB Pamphlet.
From the November 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Morris was an unlikely recruit to Socialism. A wealthy romantic poet—"the idle singer of an empty day”—whose love of art and architecture led him to become an interior designer, his friends were poets and Pre-Raphaelite artists, not economists or politicians.

Morris who was born in 1834 became involved in politics in his forties through his opposition to British support for Turkey in the Balkans. From then on, he spoke in public regularly, his lectures had as their central theme work and art, with titles such as 'Art, Wealth and Riches', 'Useful Work versus Useless Toil’ and 'How We Live and How We Might Live'.

In 1883 he joined the new (Social) Democratic Federation, where he came in contact with Marxism. In opposition to H.M.Hyndman's 'absolutism", jingoism and opportunism, he resigned from the SDF with the Avelings, Bax and others, and, in 1884. founded the Socialist League. He was as active in this as humanly possible: editing and writing for Commonweal, selling the paper on the streets, speaking at open-air meetings, and travelling the length and breadth of the country for public lectures. He also wrote A Dream of John Ball (1886) and News from Nowhere (1890).

But anarchist influence on the League developed till in 1890 Morris was ousted from the editorship of Commonweal and left. Illness led him to be less active politically, though no less committed to socialism as a member of the Hammersmith Socialist Society.

What is Socialism?
In 1893 he was promoting socialist unity and succeeded in getting the SDF and the Fabians to endorse the Manifesto of English Socialists, with its uncompromising statement of what socialism meant to the socialists of that period.
On this point all Socialists agree. Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the 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.
Morris argued for the establishment of a socialist party "with tactics as clear as their aims”, whose test of membership should be “explicitly declared agreement." Ten years later, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed, emphasizing from the start that agreement on its aims and clearly stated principles was the sole test of membership. By contrast, the SDF, the ILP and others have all been swallowed up by the omnivorous, reformist Labour Party.

Only the Socialist Party has worked to achieve the sort of socialism described in that 1893 Manifesto as the united aim of all Socialists. It is also a measure of Morris’s influence that the larger part of one of his lectures 'Art under Plutocracy' was published among the Socialist Party's earliest pamphlets, under the title Art, Labour and Socialism (1907, with a new edition in 1962).

The Right to Enjoy Work
Central to Morris's argument was his claim that art matters to everyone: art is the expression of pleasure in work. He claimed that work cannot be a source of pleasure under capitalism's conditions. We need variety in our work, the chance to exercise skill and dexterity, working in pleasant surroundings, with the knowledge that our work is of real usefulness.

Morris spoke forcibly of the horror of factory monotony:
for a man to be the whole of his life hopelessly engaged in performing one repulsive and never-ending task is an arrangement fit enough for the hell imagined by theologians, but scarcely fit for any other form of society. ( 'Useful Work versus Useless Toil ').
The result of the use of machinery for mass production, and the division of labour, meant as Marx and Engels wrote, that:
the work of the proletarian has lost all individual character, and consequently all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous and most easily acquired knack that is required of him (Communist Manifesto).
Morris, like Marx, pointed out that 'labour-saving” machinery had never lived up to its name. In Marx's view, "machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overworking it”. Morris has been thought, mistakenly, to be hostile to the use of machinery. Actually, he welcomed its potential: “in a true society these miracles of ingenuity would be for the first time used for minimizing the amount of time spent in unattractive labour". (’Useful Work versus Useless Toil'). Given the choice, he thought people would prefer to do many things by hand, where they could get more enjoyment from this than from machine work.

1962 SPGB Pamphlet.
“In a true society". Morris's words were carefully chosen. Modern Capitalism is not a society in the true sense: "I hold that the condition of competition between man and man is bestial only, and that of association human". He loathed "the system of unlimited competition where the best campaigning luggage a man can carry is a hard heart and no scruples". He described capitalism as "a state of perpetual war”, characterised by appalling waste.

Waste is obvious enough in war and preparations for war. To Morris waste was also blatantly obvious in the everyday competition between capitalists for markets, leading to overproduction when markets become glutted "and all that fury of manufacture has to sink into cold ashes . . . Can't you see the waste of it—waste of labour, skill, cunning, waste of life in short?" ('How We Live and How We Might Live').

Morris contrasted this with the advantages of a socialist system. A socialist society would be free from the need to produce armaments, to maintain a class of parasites, to compete. The burden of this waste of labour gone, people could enjoy the pleasure of working at an unhurried pace, not chasing the clock the way we do to-day.

Where there’s muck
Morns had strong objections to the filth and ugliness created by Victorian capitalism. In an early lecture, before he became a socialist, he protested:
Is money to be gathered? Cut down the pleasant trees among the houses, pull down ancient and venerable buildings for the money that a few square yards of London dirt will fetch: blacken rivers, hide the sun and poison the air with smoke and worse. ('The Lesser Arts').
But there was more to be said, later, by Morris as a socialist:
It is profit which draws men into enormous unmanageable aggregations called towns . . .  profit which won't take the most ordinary precautions against wrapping a whole district in a cloud of sulphurous smoke: which turns beautiful rivers into filthy sewers: which condemns all but the rich to live in houses idiotically cramped and confined, at the best, and at the worst in houses for whose wretchedness there is no name. ('How We Live and How We Might Live').
Unfortunately, the environmental lobby do not recognize this simple and obvious fact. They do not attack the system of production for profit as the cause of pollution: they believe it is enough merely to regulate the system so as to curb its worst excesses.

Morris had contempt for this view. In his article ‘How I Became a Socialist' he wrote of his ‘‘hatred of modern civilisation"; it was intolerable to someone "with a deep love of the earth, and the life on it, and a passion for the history of the past of mankind". What alternatives were there suggested by Liberals, Fabians, “gas and water socialists"?
Think of it! Was it all to end in a counting house on the top of a cinder-heap, with Podsnap's drawing-room in the offing, and a Whig committee dealing out champagne to the rich and margarine to the poor in such convenient proportions as would make all men content together?
To those who argued for piecemeal reforms, he insisted that this would still be a system of slavery and misery. Reforming it would not bring freedom and happiness:
It is to stir you up not to be contented with a little that I am here tonight: you will not get the little if you are contented with it: you must be either slaves or free: you are slaves at present: bear that always in mmd. think of what it means: try to think of the life you might live and would naturally live if you were not forced into misery by your masters, and then I do not think that you can help combining together to tell the world that you must be free and happy . . .(‘Misery and the Way Out')
Charmian Skelton

Nation or class? (1990)

From the December 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. But, as is so often the case, this famous saying is usually taken out of context. Dr. Johnson was not opposed to patriotism. On the contrary, for him the problem was opportunist politicians who drape themselves in the flag of the nation. For socialists, however, patriotism is the problem. Being the zealous support for what one believes to be one’s own nation, patriotism is a snare and a delusion for the working class. Across the world, from Lithuania to Scotland, from Ireland to Israel, workers are embroiled in nationalist struggles which are none of their concern.

A nation has been defined as a collection of people with their own culture in a specific territory. A nationalist then is someone who emphasises the distinctiveness of a nation, and usually strives for it to become a nation-state. The trouble with this, as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out, is that it presupposes a community of interests with the nation:
In a class society, the nation' as a homogeneous socio-political entity does not exist. Rather, there exist within each nation, classes with antagonistic interests.
Moreover, since the nation is not necessarily the same thing as the state and its machinery of government, and since there are few (if any) genuine examples in the world of the nation and state exactly coinciding to form a nation-state, there has been plenty of scope and motivation for struggles for “national self-determination"

Nationalist myth-making
Accept the premise about the nation and you have an excuse for armed conflict. Nationalists, of course, will offer the defence that the nation is a set of cultural traditions worth preserving; it is said that there is a shared history, with a common language and institutions. The nation, in some versions, is the spirit of the people embodied in the church, monarch and empire. There interpretations of the past, however, are an exercise in myth-making. Many people would be surprised at how many of the "immemorial" national traditions go no further back then the nineteenth century. The "traditional’’ Scottish kilt, for example, was invented by an Englishman (see The Invention of Tradition. 1983, edited by E.J.Hobsbawm and T.Ranger).

Our rulers take great care and go to some expense to try and imbue us with a sense of “our" nation, even though the geographical limits of the nation have changed and will change as international capitalism re-aligns itself. Meanwhile, no matter what the colour of the rag at the top of the mast-head, poverty remains a working class issue. An affection for where we live is understandable, but nevertheless, when we do not possess the means of livelihood we will always be a tenant with an opposing interest to that of the landlord

The medieval aristocracy tried to inculcate a sense of obligation to the land in the lower orders, as part of the master and serf relationship. In some places this outlook still persists, and capitalists have used it to their own advantage. But nationalist movements arose with the development of capitalism and the state. In the 19th century, Karl Marx supported some nationalist movements on the grounds that they were historically progressive because they served the class interests of the rising bourgeoisie in its opposition to the traditional aristocracy. Marx had made demands, in 1848 and 1880, for Polish independence from Tsarist Russia. Rosa Luxemburg, at one time a member of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPL), described Marx's demands as ‘‘obsolete and mistaken". Obsolete because no longer relevant, mistaken because the demands were never relevant to the working class.

The name of the party, SDKPL, was deliberate since the "Kingdom of Poland" was the official name of Russian Poland; the party's name therefore proclaimed that it was a party operating only in that part of Poland; because states are organised on a territorial basis each Social Democratic party had the task of getting political power in the country where it operated. Luxemburg was aware that this was an organisational convenience, and that working class interests transcend national boundaries. For this reason, at the turn of the century, the SDKPL was the section in Russian Poland of the Russian Social Democratic Party. Luxemburg argued that the demand for an independent Poland was a demand for the establishment of another capitalist— and inevitably expansionist and oppressive—state. Experience of national liberation struggles in the twentieth century fully confirm the accuracy of this theory.

No meaningful democracy
Poland has been in and out of the Russian empire a number of times. The SDKPL at the turn of the century included Lithuania in its name and organisation, which was also then part of Russia. Lithuania had been part of Poland since 1361 and part of Russia since 1801. Along with the other Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia. Lithuania was independent only from 1919 to 1940. Ironically, they were given independence by Gorbachevs hero, Lenin, though Gorbachev seems reluctant to emulate him in this respect. Lenin declared that socialists should support "the right of nations to self-determination", arguing that nationalist struggles were simultaneously struggles for democracy. (The SWP, being a true Leninist organisation, supported Lithuania in its recent battles with Gorbachev for much this reason).

The theory of national self-determination, however, failed to show how antagonistic classes have a common "national interest", and there is not a single example of a meaningful democracy being established anywhere in the world. Now that workers in eastern Europe have some limited political democracy they will find, as workers in the West have found, just how limited that democracy is (in effect, electing governments). How can capitalism, both East and West, be compatible with real democracy? When was there ever a vote as to who shall live in poverty? Who elected the rich? Where has there been a referendum on instituting homelessness? Who was consulted over the numbers to be unemployed? How often has there been a ballot on whether to declare war? Merely to pose these questions is to show the futility of nationalist struggles for democracy. The profit system has its own priorities and these are not susceptible to democratic control.

To-day nationalism rears its ugly head in eastern Europe and elsewhere. It is an ideology which conceals and distorts the exploitative social relationships of capitalism. As such, socialists are hostile to it and oppose it with the class interests of workers everywhere. It is as workers we are oppressed, not as a national grouping. It will be as workers we get our emancipation, not in national liberation. And as capitalism is the predominant world system, so the social revolution must be a world revolution.
Lew Higgins

Socialist and trade unionist (2015)

Book Review from the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'A Rebel’s Guide to Eleanor Marx', by Siobhan Brown. Bookmarks. 2015

Although marred by the littering of ‘fightbacks’ and ‘downturns’ characteristic of SWP publications, this is not fundamentally a bad booklet. The contribution of Eleanor Marx to the class struggle is satisfactorily documented, both intellectually through her work on women – identifying  socialism as the way to ‘woman’s emancipation’ solution – and practically through her role as a firebrand activist in the New Unionism of the 1880s. Eleanor was not just the daughter of her father but a player in her own right – indeed her union interventions put his own ineffective fumblings in the First International to shame. The boring intricacies of her personal life are, in the main, sensibly avoided.

Little potted biographies of this nature have a valuable educative function regardless of the dubious politics of the issuing organisation. It is a little jarring, however, to be lectured on the undoubted usefulness of trade union organisation, the inefficacy of reformism and the patronising leadership attitude (of Hyndman) by a party characterised by non-industrial, primarily student, recruitment, hugely reformist sensibilities and a thoroughly authoritarian constitution. In the wake of the Comrade Delta scandal, perhaps the most notable thing about the ‘Rebel’s Guide’ series is the attention paid to ‘The Woman Question’. Four of the six in the range have female authors and half are about famous women or women’s issues. Whether there really was any truth behind the allegations or no, there is nothing like putting up a smoke screen.
Kaz.

Scarcity and Infinite Wants: The Founding Myths of Economics (2016)

From the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

If you open any textbook on economics you will find the definition at the beginning as to what economics is will include the concept of ‘scarcity’. On the one side, it is taught, there are scarce resources and, on the other side, unlimited wants, and that economics is the study of the choices people make (as individuals and societies) to deal with this.

However, the concept of ‘scarcity’ used in these definitions is an abnormal and circular one and human wants are not unlimited. The relationship between scarce resources and unlimited wants is not what economics actually studies. The definition above is an ideological construct to justify one particular way of organising the production and distribution of goods and services – the capitalist system of production for profit, involving markets, money, prices, profits, wages, interest, banks, etc. That’s what economics really studies.

What is scarcity?
When someone says that something is scarce what comes to your mind? Probably you think that there’s not enough of it, that it’s in short supply. That’s the normal usage, but for modern academic economics it’s something rather different. In his widely used textbook Economics Paul Samuelson writes of ‘the law of scarcity’. Actually, it’s not a law but a definition. In setting it down Samuelson contrasts scarcity to a situation where ‘an infinite amount of every good could be produced’. The opening chapter of another American textbook, with the same title, by Ralph T. Byrns and Gerard W. Stone is entitled ‘Economics: The Study of Scarcity and Choice’. One paragraph, headed ‘Scarcity’, starts: ‘A world in which all human wants are instantly fulfilled is hard to imagine.’ Yes, it is. In fact it’s preposterous.

But that’s what’s behind what economics means by ‘scarcity’ – it’s the absence of an infinite amount of every resource and every good, the absence of a state of affairs in which everything would be provided free by nature, in which, as in the mediaeval legend of the Land of Cockayne, geese would fly around ready-cooked saying ‘eat me!’ And we’re supposed to take their definition seriously.

It’s the same with what economics means by what is normally regarded as the opposite of scarcity – abundance. The normal definition of this is, to quote a few dictionaries, ‘plenty’, ‘more than enough’, and even ‘ample sufficiency’. It does not mean everything being what economics calls ‘free goods’. ‘Free goods’, in fact, is the last trace in economics of the Labour Theory of Value, which was embraced by Adam Smith and David Ricardo as well as by Karl Marx, since they are goods that are available without having to be the product of human labour. They are ‘free’ because no labour has to be expended to produce them.

So, economics is defining ‘scarcity’ is such a way that it exists by definition and irrespective of human needs; that it’s part of the human condition. In a way it is, though this is a strange way of putting it. A much more straightforward way would be to say that humans have to produce by their own work what they need. But that of course leads back to the dreaded Labour Theory of Value as it would bring out that the only sort of goods that economics is interested in are those that are the products of human labour, past and present.

But this definition of scarcity is still not adequate for the ideological aim of justifying a system where people’s consumption is rationed by money. The imagined killer argument here is that productive resources, however abundant (in the normal sense), will never be enough to satisfy human needs and wants as these are ‘unlimited’. So there will always be a need to ration what people can consume.

This view is stated very clearly in the Byrns and Stone textbook in its definition of economics:
‘Economics is the study of how individuals and societies allocate limited resources to try to satisfy their unlimited wants.’
On the same page there’s ‘Figure 1: The Origins of Scarcity’ which aims to illustrate this. On the left side there’s ‘Limited Resources and Time’ and on the right side there’s a list of ‘Virtually Unlimited Human Wants’. This is introduced by a statement which already begs the question of the existence of a system with monetary incomes and spending:
‘Scarcity occurs because our limited resources and time can only yield limited production and income, but people’s needs are virtually unlimited. Output is produced by using knowledge (technology) to apply energy to a blend of resources. Production, in turn, generates the income people spend on the limited goods and services available.’
What are human needs?
Philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists. sociologists, nutritionists and others have argued over the definition of both ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ but clearly there is, to coin a phrase, a ‘hierarchy of needs’ based on, first of all, physiological/biological needs, primarily food. But ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ as humans are social animals and have other needs beyond this level, basically to be members of a community and to have social recognition and esteem within it. This is not purely social but has a material aspect to it as what a person consumes affects how they are socially regarded, how they regard themselves, and what their aspirations are. In other words, ‘wants’ are socially-determined, not just a matter of individual whim. They are determined by society, not by biology in the way that basic human needs are (though even how these too are met is socially-determined).

So we’ve got: (1) Basic, physiological needs; (2) Non-material, social/psychological needs; and (3) Material needs and wants arising out of both of these. These categories can be applied to the textbook’s list of ‘Virtually Unlimited Human Wants’.

The list contains what can be regarded as basic needs: food, clothing, housing, etc.

It also contains some goods to meet people’s survival needs over and above the minimum to stay alive, e.g: transportation, comfort, good health but also useful objects such as microwaves, telephones, washing machines, computers, CDs, CD players, VCRs. But there is no problem in producing enough of these for everyone. In fact most people have already got them now. (It’s not certain, though, that people still want CD players and video recorders but the book came out in 1992 – another example of how wants are socially determined and depend on what’s available).

And then there’s non-material, social needs: recognition, sense of personal worth, peace of mind, success in life.

And finally, and this is where it becomes revealing, the material goods to satisfy these non-material needs: jewellery, three-car garage, golf lessons, plastic surgery, swimming pool, Hawaiian vacations, fancy automobiles, ski boats, yachts, designer wardrobes, country estate.

Non-material needs (such as the listed recognition, sense of personal worth, and success in life) can be met in a number of ways depending on what kind of society people have been brought up in and live in. The textbook’s list of ways to meet them today clearly reflects a society divided into rich and non-rich where to be rich is a measure of success in life and a way of gaining recognition.

The dogma of unlimited human wants which economics preaches assumes such a society and that wants are infinite because the non-rich aspire to be rich and the rich want to be richer. This latter itself is an internalisation by the rich of the fact that capitalism is a system of endless capital accumulation.

The ‘wants’ that capitalist society generates may well be ‘virtually unlimited’ but capitalism is not the only way of producing and distributing wealth nor of satisfying people’s need for recognition, sense of personal worth, and success in life. These needs can be met in other ways in a different society and have been in past and would be in a socialist society of social equals producing to satisfy people’s needs rather than for sale with a view to profits and their accumulation as capital.
Adam Buick

Not Half (2017)

Book Review from the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Why the Dalai Lama Is a Socialist: Buddhism and the Compassionate Society'. By Terry Gibbs, (Zed Books £12.99)

He isn’t, of course, but that does not mean this book is without value. The eye-catching title aside, there is relatively little here about the Dalai Lama, and the book is really about how some forms of Buddhism (which is often described as a philosophy rather than a religion) make similar-seeming claims to Marxism.

The Dalai Lama has in fact described himself as ‘half-Marxist, half-Buddhist’, but all the ‘Marxist’ part of this seems to mean is being concerned with equality and the condition of the majority. Some Buddhist views, it is claimed, deal with topics such as alienation and ideology that are important topics within Marxism too. Buddhism argues that people experience themselves as alienated and see nature and other people as things to be manipulated. Alienation, Gibbs suggests, is an inevitable result of living in a class society and, among other things, it motivates people’s consumption habits, such as always wanting the best and latest version of some gadget. Workers are deluded, in Buddhist terms, and have a false consciousness in Marxist terms (though Gibbs seems unaware that Marx never used the term ‘false consciousness’). But it is not clear that the Buddhist perspective adds anything, or that Marxism and Buddhism are really that similar, other than superficially.

There is a brief acknowledgement that Buddhist movements have contributed to suffering, but no reference to, for instance, the slaughter of muslim Rohingyas in Burma. A useful discussion deals with coltan, a mineral found in smartphones, which is produced in appalling conditions in Central Africa.

As for the kind of society that should replace capitalism, Gibbs is not at all clear, though a reference to ‘socialist Cuba’ is hardly reassuring. She also advocates a sustainable social system: ‘Such a global society would be marked by democratic processes that affirm mutuality, horizontality and respect as well as recognize our interdependence as the various cultures, races, religions, species and ecosystems sharing this planet.’ A guiding principle of this system would be ‘big C compassion’, which seems to mean being engaged with other humans, non-human animals and the rest of nature; perhaps this is what described also as a ‘sense of universal responsibility’.

As this last point suggests, this book is all a bit vague, and it is clear that Buddhism involves a number of different versions, many of them extremely mystical. Moreover, there is more to creating a truly democratic and sustainable society than showing compassion, whether with a big or little ‘c’.     
Paul Bennett

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The I.L.P. Peace Motion (1941)

Editorial from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

On December 5th, 1940, the I.L.P. group of M.P.s (Messrs. Maxton, McGovern and Campbell Stephen) put forward a motion calling for a peace conference. They condemned the Government because it has failed to set forth the terms upon which peace could be made, and
has failed to propose that a conference should be called to bring this conflict to an early conclusion, on the basis of the restoration of freedom in each country, and the pledge of all the contending governments to put at the disposal of the conference all their resources, at present being massed for producing the instruments of destruction and death, for the production of all instruments of well-being for rebuilding the homes in Europe and the establishment of a new social order which would mean the end of German, British, and other imperialism and provide a decent home and standard of life for each family in every country of the world.
The motion was rejected by 341 votes to 6. The six who supported were the three I.L.P. M.P.s, together with two Labour M.P.s (Dr. Salter and Mr. Kirkwood), and also Mr. W. Gallacher, the one Communist M.P. (Hansard, December 5th, 1940, col. 763).

Mr. Gallacher explained to the Daily Worker (December 7th) that he voted for the motion but did not agree with it: —
    William Gallacher was unable to speak in the debate, but commenting on it afterwards, he pointed out that his vote for the motion was in order to demonstrate his opposition to the Government.
   “The I.L.P. amendment,” he declared, "is typical of a loyal, orthodox opposition. It raises no question of class. It does not present the question of ending the war as a task of the people in the warring countries, but proposes a peace conference of the Imperialist Powers to end war and imperialism.’
   “I went into the lobby against the Government,” said Mr. Gallacher, “in order to express the determination of the Communist Party to organise the fight of the people against the war and to achieve a People’s Government and a People’s peace.”
The Daily Worker's editorial attitude was summed up in the words, “Peace through an appeal to Hitler! The proposal is farcical. . . .”

The Labour Party officially opposed the motion, and Mr. Attlee devoted some time to showing the impossible position in which the I.L.P. put themselves. They ask for a conference of Governments and make it a condition that they shall not only restore the position of August, 1939 (i.e., German and Russian evacuation of occupied territories), but also that they shall pledge themselves to establish “a new social order” which would mean the end of all imperialism and provide a decent standard of life for all. What happens if one side or the other refuses to accept the conditions?

Mr. Attlee pressed the question on Mr. Maxton:—
    “Mr. Maxton is suggesting that this Government should put forward certain terms of peace. If the Government does, will he support them? If it comes to a conference and Herr Hitler refuses to listen to the so-called voice of reason and rejects Mr. Maxton’s idea of liberty and social justice, what will Mr. Maxton do then? Will he fight, or will he give way? ”
Mr. Maxton’s answer, after first seeking to avoid it by saying that it was a hypothetical question was : —
     “If he and His Majesty’s Government accept my suggestion, I and my hon. friends will not be found wanting.”—(Col. 758.)
This was, in fact, precisely the same situation that arose during the last great war, when Macdonald and Snowden, for the I.L.P., proposed peace negotiations. When pressed to say what they would do if the terms were rejected by the German Government, they replied that they would go on with the war.

No other answer was logically possible, then or now. If Mr. Maxton were to say that his present answer does not mean going on with the war but some action not directed to capitalist Governments but directed to the workers, he only shows up still more clearly the illogical nature of the I.L.P. motion with its call for a conference of Governments.

That, of course, is a difficulty inherent in the situation. Effective control is in the hands of Governments, none of which will or could pledge themselves to introduce Socialism (if the motion does not mean a pledge to introduce Socialism then it is meaningless altogether, for it assumes that wars and poverty can be abolished without Socialism). Mr. Gallacher points this out, but is in no better case than Mr. Maxton. How does Mr. Gallacher imagine that the Russian workers can represent their views at a Conference, over and above the heads of their own dictatorship? What does he think would happen to Russian workers who, for example, had sought to end the Russo-Finnish war by seeking direct contact with Finnish workers against the will of the Russian Government bent on capturing territory and controlling resources that happened to be inside the Finnish frontiers?

It is, as the Daily Worker says, farcical to appeal to Hitler, but it happens to be Russian Government policy to enter into friendly relations with the Hitler gang, both for the purpose of providing materials required by the German forces and for sharing the spoils of conquest. (What has happened to that onetime popular slogan of the Bolsheviks, “no secret diplomacy” ?)

The question of appealing to workers over the heads of Governments, either to end war or for the purpose of helping Socialism, has a double aspect. No workers are going to be influenced by appeals to oppose the Government in their own country, no matter how much they are opposed to it or its policy, if the appeal comes from quarters associated with the Government of some other capitalist country. Those who could address an appeal to the workers of all countries without their own bona-fides being suspected are those whose every word and every action demonstrates their single-minded concern for the establishment of Socialism.



The Post-War Mirage (1941)

From the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

Turning aside from the horrors of the present, people are thinking about the world that is to be when the war is over; or, more accurately, a few people are telling the others what kind of world is being prepared for them. Socialists welcome this interest, but are alive to its dangers. It is so easy for those workers who are not experienced in political and economic questions to be taken in by proposals that are useless or worse than useless, and what is at once obvious to the Socialist in all these proposals is that none of them are even fresh—all have been tried before and found wanting.

The inquirer may, however, reply to this criticism by pointing out that many of the public men who support these various schemes claim to be Socialists. This claim need not detain us for more than a moment. Don’t stop to study what the salesman says about himself; look rather at the article he is trying to sell. Is it the genuine thing or is it a cheap and nasty substitute? And just give a thought to the question, whether you have been caught once before by buying the same spurious product from this man or another.

Is it true that capitalism, with its private ownership of the means of life, its rent, interest and profit, its buying and selling, and its system of wage-labour has been abundantly proved to be a wasteful, callous, and out-of-date form of social organisation? Is it not true that only Socialism can meet the needs of our age and abolish once and for all poverty and war and the other products of capitalism? If this is true, and it is, then anything other than Socialism is not what is needed. There is no half-way house. If the world does not go over to socialism it will remain under capitalism.

The Politicians Who Run Away
Judged by this test, all of the social reform proposals, pledges and promises filling the speeches of Liberal, Labour and Conservative leaders, bold as they are claimed to be, may be only ways of evading the plain issue1: “Shall socialism be introduced or shall capitalism remain in being?” The position of the Conservative who says that capitalism is on the whole satisfactory, and is certainly necessary, but that legislation about unemployment, housing, old-age pensions, etc., must be made more comprehensive, is understandable. We know that he is wrong, but we have the satisfaction of knowing as well exactly where he stands. The same cannot be said of those who profess to agree that socialism alone will solve the problem, but who go on to rely upon everything except socialism.

In this group is the Labour Party. “Socialism comes to the City,” says the retiring City Editor of the Daily Herald (December 31st, 1940), but when we read his article it is only to find that what came to the City was “Government control of foreign exchanges, of the new investment market, and of almost all the commodity markets.” Very interesting to those who are concerned with the financial apparatus of capitalism but nothing whatever to do with socialism.

“We are never going to move back to pre-war 1939,” says Mr. Attlee (Daily Herald, January 16th, 1941). “We have got to move forward into a new world.” “Never again must we have unemployment and poverty in the distressed areas.” 

Again very interesting, but those who know that socialism alone can solve these problems are entitled to ask Mr. Attlee to state plainly whether his new world is to be socialism or not. After all, Mr. Attlee claimed in his speech to be speaking for “the British Socialist movement.” The answer he gave was not a very plain one, but its meaning cannot be mistaken. The Daily Telegraph, in its report of the same speech, contains a passage omitted from the report in the Daily Herald: —
    Mr. Attlee, Lord Privy Seal and leader of the Socialist party, speaking at a luncheon of the Labour Book Service and the Fabian Society in London yesterday, said: “We are never going back to pre-1939. We have got to move forward into a new world.”
    He and his colleagues were working with people who disagreed with their Socialist ideas, and “we disagree with many of their ideas.” They had to work together. National unity was not attained by one lot of people putting all their ideas aside and accepting somebody else’s. (Daily Telegraph, January 16th, 1941.)
It is as certain as the rising of the sun that after Mr. Attlee has come to an agreement with people who disagree with socialism, the product of their joint labours will not be socialism.

Look, too, at Mr. Bevin’s declaration that social security and not profit should be the motive of our national life. Some Conservative newspapers attacked Mr. Bevin for his speech, and the Daily Herald, official organ of the Labour Party, came to his defence. The Herald did not show any of the boldness it is always urging upon other people, but hastily repudiated all idea that Mr. Bevin was proposing to abolish the capitalist system of society. Here is an extract from the Herald's editorial (November 25th, 1940):—
     . . . Mr. Bevin is sharply rebuked by a Tory newspaper. He is told, in a patronising tone, that profit must go on playing a part in our lives and that social security is already one of the great objectives of political effort.
     But in that case why quarrel with Mr. Bevin, who admitted that all profit could not be abolished?
Now, why cannot the timid leader-writer of the Daily Herald show some courage and sense of responsibility and say outright that he does not believe that the introduction of socialism is practical politics? Why cannot he quit shuffling and say in a way his readers will understand that the Labour Party believes the only possible new world after the war is a world based on capitalism, shorn of some larger degree of its worst evils?

We, as Socialists, are all for honesty and clarity in politics, and would be interested to hear from the Daily Herald why the profit-making system must be retained, how it is to be curbed, and what results are expected to flow from curbing it. Nazi Germany claims to have restricted capitalist profit to 6 per cent., and Fascist Italy to 7 per cent., while Bolshevik Russia has suppressed profit, while retaining the wages system (with vast inequality of incomes), and a growing burden of bondholding and interest payments to bondholders. Socialists are not at all impressed with any of the three forms of State capitalism or State-controlled capitalism.

Tho Soldier Who is Not Afraid
While the so-called “Socialists” in the Labour Party are busy repudiating any belief in the practicability of socialism, a touch of boldness sneaks into the columns of the Daily Herald from another quarter in an article by Captain Liddell Hart, described as “the world-famous writer on military affairs."

At the end of an article on winning the war, he writes: — 
       . . . Our new order should combine a guarantee of economic security, based on the free provision to everyone of the material necessities of life, with the largest possible measure of individual freedom outside the economic sphere. (Daily Herald, January 7th, 1941.)
Captain Liddell Hart may or may not have considered what would be the consequences of his proposal. It would at one stroke end the profit system. It could only be carried out by instituting socialism, the system of society based on common ownership, advocated for 36 years by the S.P.G.B.

Apart from a letter written to the Daily Herald by Mr. F. Montague, M.P. (January 11th, 1941), the implication of Captain Liddell Hart’s proposal appears to have passed unnoticed by the Labour Party and its organ, the Daily Herald. (It would have been appropriate if Mr. Montague, when he claimed that he had advocated this "for years, without much support,” had added that the S.P.G.B. had consistently preached socialism throughout its existence.)

So much for the bold planners and reformers and builders of new worlds. The new world will be socialism, or it will be remarkably like the old one in all essentials.
Edgar Hardcastle