Monday, June 30, 2014

Bacon and Steam Trains: The Serbian Pork War and the Berlin-Baghdad Railway

From the June 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the centenary commemorations of the First World War start to build up, we look at some of the causes of the conflict.
The rivalry between Austria-Hungary and Tsarist Russia for territories and influence in the Balkan region was a fundamental cause of the First World War. The rivalry between the Hapsburg and the Romanov dynasties  manifested itself in the economic rivalry between the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the landlocked Kingdom of Serbia, and this rivalry was prosaically expressed in a customs war about pork. Between 1906-09 the huge Austrian-Hungarian Empire imposed a customs blockade on the importation of  Serbian pigs.
The friendly relations between the German Reich and the Ottoman Empire were seen as a threat by both  Tsarist Russia and the British Empire. Russia feared losing influence in the Balkans (its close ally was Serbia), and German control of the Dardanelles, while the British felt threatened by German access to the Middle East which would affect the Suez Canal, the oil rich Persian Gulf and the vital route to India. These fears for Russia and Britain were manifested in the building of the Berlin to Baghdad Railway.
In 1903 90 percent of Serbia's foreign trade was with the Austrian-Hungarian Empire which was mainly livestock in the form of pigs. This economic arrangement with Austria-Hungary guaranteed trade and revenue for the Kingdom of Serbia but it also impeded Serbia's industrial growth. In 1903 the Austrian-Serb commercial treaty was expiring, and negotiations were foundering because Serbia wanted to reduce its economic dependence on Austria-Hungary. In order to evade the economic control of Austria-Hungary, Serbia started to build economic links with other counties such as Bulgaria and France.
Serbian pork
In January 1904 Serbia arranged a loan through a French businessman who would purchase 150,000 Serbian pigs per year, and then placed a large artillery order with Schnedier, a French munitions firm. Previously, Serbia purchased munitions from the Skoda factories in Bohemia in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
In April 1904 Serbia entered into secret commercial negotiations with Bulgaria which became public in June 1905, and the Serbian-Bulgarian Customs Union became effective in March 1906. Trade negotiations between Serbia and Austria-Hungary came to an end. Tariff-laden Austrian goods became unsellable in Serbia.
In retaliation, Austria-Hungary closed its borders to all trade with Serbia with effect from 1 March 1906. The Imperial authorities claimed there was an outbreak of disease in Serbian pigs which threatened to infect Austrian livestock.  This meant the end of exporting Serbian pigs to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and the beginning of what became known as the Serbian Pork War.
Initially the end of pig exports to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was a shock to the Serbian economy. Serbia framed the issue of its pigs in terms of Serbian nationalism and Balkan independence from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The trade embargo forced Serbia to find alternative export markets. French investment was sought to build new packing plants for international trade, materials were ordered from Germany, construction projects were financed with capital from France, and  trade agreements were signed with Romania, France, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Germany. Serbia also put pressure on the Austria-Hungary protectorate of Bosnia-Herzegovina to allow a rail link  so it could have an economic outlet on the Adriatic Sea. Serbia also made an arrangement with the Ottoman Empire to export livestock from the port of Salonica on the Aegean Sea,  and received  aid for the construction of processing plants, modern slaughterhouses and canning factories for livestock. The net economic result for Serbia was that its foreign trade surpassed what it had been before the embargo and its agricultural industry was thoroughly modernised, pig farming was vertically integrated into a single operation.
Serbia was also interested in expanding its territory to include Bosnia-Herzegovina where many ethnic Serbs lived.  Austria-Hungary, fearing greater Serbian economic power, formally annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina to their empire in October 1908 which angered Russia and Serbia but they were unable to take action because they received no support from Britain or France. The annexation had to be accepted by Russia and Serbia in March 1909.  Austria-Hungary also planned to build a railway line to the Aegean Sea through Austrian occupied former Ottoman territory which would by-pass Serbia and also create a commercial barrier between Serbia and the Adriatic Sea.  The annexation coupled with pork embargo only fanned the flames of Serbian nationalism at home in Serbia and amongst Bosnian Serbs. In fact it was a Bosnian Serb who assassinated  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary  in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo which precipitated the First World War.
German ultimatum
In 1909 the economic war over pigs between Austria-Hungary and Serbia came to an end when tensions over Bosnia-Herzegovina between Austria-Hungary and Russia reached such a level that international war was a possibility. Germany intervened and issued an ultimatum demanding the ending of Russian aid to Serbia. Trade was normalised between Austria-Hungary and Serbia but increased Serbian nationalism was the result of Austria-Hungary's economic war.
The major international issue of the nineteenth century was the 'Eastern Question' or what to do with the 'sick old man of Europe' which was the decaying Ottoman Empire on the European mainland. By the turn of the twentieth century the Ottoman Empire had little territory left in Europe  but it still held vast swathes of territory in Asia Minor, the Levant, Palestine, Mesopotamia and the Arabian peninsula which was all resource-rich with oil, chrome, antimony, lead and zinc, and with effective irrigation had a thriving agricultural industry. What was needed was a railway transportation system to move minerals and resources through the Ottoman Empire to link up with industrialised Europe.
The 'Orient Express' reached Istanbul in 1889, and in 1892 the railway was built from Istanbul to Ankara in Asia Minor by a syndicate of German businesses. The German Reich and  the Porte (Ottoman Empire) were on friendly terms, and both opposed to Russian attempts to control the Dardanelles and yielding influence in the Balkans. The proposed 'Berlin to Baghdad' railway line would link Germany to the oilfields in the Persian Gulf, in striking distance of  British oilfields in Persia, Russian oilfields in the Caucasus, close to British India,  and a railway  from Baghdad to Basra would also be a connection to Germany's African colonies in East and South West Africa and thereby avoid the British-controlled Suez Canal.
In 1903 the Deutsche Bank was awarded the concession to build the railway line from Konya in Anatolia through the Levant (Syria), Mesopotamia (Iraq) to Baghdad and thence to the Persian Gulf at Basra. By 1915 the railway line was 300 miles short of completion. The line was eventually completed in 1940. German advice and support was involved in the building of the Hejaz railway from 1900-08 which linked Damascus through Palestine to Medina in the Arabian peninsula. This line connected with the Berlin to Baghdad railway but was principally for the Ottoman Empire to strengthen its control over the desert tribes of the Arabian peninsula.
Threats to the Empire
The main issue for the British Empire was the economic threat posed by Germany in the competition for oil and trade  by the existence of the Berlin to Baghdad railway. The British believed that the Persian Gulf  with its oil resources and strategic importance was 'their' sphere of economic and political influence; the British Residency of the Persian Gulf was a diplomatic posting from 1763 to 1971.
The British policy in regard to Kuwait is testament to British attempts to exclude Germany from the Persian Gulf.  In 1899 Kuwait signed a treaty with Britain that gave the British control over Kuwait's foreign policy in exchange for British protection and an annual subsidy. The treaty was prompted by British fears about the proposed Berlin to Baghdad railway which with a link to Basra would lead to an expansion of German economic influence in the Persian Gulf. The creation of the artificial state of Kuwait at the head of the Gulf blocks access from Basra to the Gulf. In 1913 Britain signed a convention with the Porte that the Emir of Kuwait was diplomatically recognised by both the Ottoman and British Empires as the ruler of the autonomous city of Kuwait and hinterlands. With the start of the First World War and the Ottoman Empire in alliance with Germany, the British invalidated the convention and declared Kuwait an independent principality under the protection of the British Empire.
In 1901 British capitalists had negotiated a concession to explore for oil in Persia and in 1908 an oilfield was discovered which led to the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) which would later become BP.  Production of Persian oil products started at the Abadan refinery in 1913, and in the same year APOC was awarded a contract with the British government, in the shape of the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, as part of a three year modernisation programme for the Royal Navy to convert from using coal to oil. The British government took a controlling share in APOC.  Earlier in 1912 APOC had taken a 50 percent share in the new Turkish Petroleum Company to explore and develop oil resources in Mesopotamia (Iraq) which would eventually bear fruit with the discovery of a massive oilfield in 1927. 
It is clear British economic interests in the region were vital and the threat posed by Germany and its Berlin to Baghdad/Basra railway was very real. The British war aim in the First World War was to restrict German access to Mesopotamia and its oil, and strategic exclusion from rail access to the Persian Gulf was to be enforced by British military presence, and afterwards by removal of German ownership of the railway. The British Empire fully engaged  in a war against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, capturing Basra in 1914, defending the Suez Canal, supporting the Arab Revolt (Colonel T.E. Lawrence) 1916-18,  capturing Baghdad and  Jerusalem in 1917, and Damascus and Aleppo in the Levant (Syria) in 1918. The armistice of 30 October 1918 ended six hundred years of Ottoman rule in the Middle East and left the British and French in charge of the region.
A book called The War and the Baghdad Railway: The Story of Asia Minor and its relation to the present conflict  by Morris Jastrow was published in 1917. Jastrow wrote that 'Baghdad and the Persian Gulf in the hands of Germany would be a 42-centimetre gun pointed at India.' The contemporary history book  Pollard's Short History of the Great War (1919) notes the importance of the Berlin to Baghdad railway: 'on the 26 October 1918 Aleppo fell, and on 28 October we reached Muslimeh, that junction on the Baghdad railway on which longing eyes had been cast as the nodal point in the conflict of German and other ambitions in the East.'
The 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty accomplished everything that the British Empire wanted.  Germany lost its colonies in Africa which became mandates of the British Empire, Germany lost the ownership of the Berlin to Baghdad railway, the Ottoman Empire was broken up and Britain received as mandates Mesopotamia and Palestine, and  economic influence in Persia and the Gulf continued. But as we said in this magazine after the war, further wars were inevitable within this capitalist set-up:
'While competition between capitalist groups for routes, markets, and control of raw material exists, the cause of war remains' (Socialist Standard August 1919).
Steve Clayton

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Obituary: Sean Doherty (2007)

Obituary from the November 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sean Doherty who died, aged 79 , at the end of July was a committed lifetime Socialist whose belief in a better world never wavered right to the end.

I often was reminded of the line in Roger Whittaker's song "New World in the Morning" which goes "I met a man who had a dream he'd had since he was twenty. I met that man when he was eighty one" when I thought of Sean's continual, innate, deep belief in what he believed was a better, refined and ultimately more intelligent way of life, i.e. Socialism.

I first met Sean in 1994 through a mutual love of hiking and the Great Outdoors. Despite a considerable age difference we got along together terrifically from the start and he became a sort of elder, wise father figure to me through all the years that followed. Sean loved nature and carried his belief in a natural way of living through to never knowingly harming another creature. He became a vegetarian in his youth, when such a way of life invited all kinds of accusations of being a crank and eccentric. He later embraced full veganism, a lifestyle he maintained up until his death. Long before alternative medicine, herbalism and a holistic approach to one's body became popular Sean had embraced them.

Sean was, like us all, a person of many parts and though he held his views with great conviction was a gentle man in every sense of the word. He had, like myself, a great love for the arts. He was a great appreciator of classical music, could quote Shakespeare and had a deep love of both paintings and theatre. He carried his appreciation of the latter discipline and his talent for acting to training as an actor himself and for a few years in the late 1960's appeared in small parts on the stage of the Abbey Theatre, Ireland's National Theatre, at a time when this theatre could be proud of that title. During the time I knew him we often went to a play or spent a few hours in an art gallery.

Sean never married or pursued an elevated career. Despite long term relationships with a number of women and a job in the Civil Service which he carried out professionally, both he felt would interfere with his "freedom" or at least as much of it as Capitalism would allow.

His involvement with the Socialist party stretched back to his youth. His father's involvement in Trade Unionism and the ideas of James Connolly and Jim Larkin, set Sean off on a path which brought him ultimately to the Socialist Party. From the 1940's to the 1990's the World Socialist Movement party had an affiliated Irish party (the Socialist Party of Ireland, later the World Socialist Party of Ireland), whose existence reflected, I suppose, the volume of people who shared an enthusiasm for these type of ideals at that time. Sean was an active member of the party until it disbanded whereupon he became, subsequently, a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

It was Sean's influence that made me a Socialist. I've always felt Socialists are born thus and people like this just need the right nurturing and the logical, guiding hand of an already committed fellow traveller, to make them see the sense of the Socialist argument, and, by default the inherent, jumbled nonsense at the heart of the capitalist system.

People like Sean are special and don't come along every day. I'm just glad we met and I had the privilege of thirteen years of his unique company and personality. He was a good and genuine friend and his legacy to me is both immense and far reaching.
David Marlborough (Dublin)

'The Good Old Days' - Glasgow in the Nineteenth Century (1973)

From the April 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The accommodation in which my family lived up to my teens was a crumbling Glasgow tenement at whose age I will not hazard a guess, though some idea of it can be gained from the knowledge that the lavatories were added many years after its original construction.

I recall my mother telling me that there used to be dry latrines in the back-courts which were emptied by men with leather-lined wicker baskets. This information, even then when I was ignorant of social problems, filled me with disgust: to think that men should find it necessary to take up such employment in order to gain cash sufficient to purchase the bare necessities of life.

Doubtless some of those early sewage workers considered themselves better off than their neighbours, for they had a steady job with little chance of being made redundant. As an added bonus they at least were outside in the streets away from the "dark satanic mills" and the ever-watchful eye of a charge hand ready to threaten with dismissal any lazy workers who fell asleep on the job during their 14-18 hours' shift.

Although it is true that these sewage workers risked contracting some disease in such unhygienic and noisome employment, were they any worse off than their neighbours who worked in a factory where machinery lay unguarded, and a moment's inattention (common among workers fatigued with long hours of labour, and bad diets), could result in their being caught up by the gigantic strength of the machine and "rent asunder, not perhaps for his own good; but, as a sacrifice to the commercial prosperity of Great Britain" — as Henry Morley so satirically puts it in his article Ground in the Mill? Morley tells us of:
The boy whom his stern master, the machine, caught as he stood on a stool wickedly looking out at the sun-light and flying clouds. These were no business of his, and he was fully punished when the machine he served caught him by one arm and whirled him round and around till he was thrown dead.
There were, of course, workers who protested against such conditions. In lots of cases they were marked as trouble-making radicals in some black book, and dismissed at the first opportunity presented to a vengeful employer fearful of workers learning the power of combination and political action. The sacked workers' places would be quickly filled from the ranks of the Irishmen and Highlanders who, forced from the land that their fathers had lived on for hundreds of years, all in the sacred name of improvement, found it necessary to flock in their hordes to the cities like Glasgow in the hope of earning a living from the newly-emerging industries: filling to over-flowing the tenements in that city, making it necessary for the ruling class to erect more because of the epidemics which broke out, threatening the health of the rich in their comfortable mansions.

We must not think that the Glasgow tenements erected in the tremendous boom period that was the Industrial Revolution were built because the capitalists were full of altruism for the working class. In 1840, for example, W. P. Allison in a pamphlet criticizing the Scottish Poor Law, wrote: "The higher ranks in Scotland do much less for the relief of poverty than those of any country in Europe." The tenements were erected firstly to ensure a profitable income in rents and fees to the capitalists, and secondly to have the labour convenient to the large factories or industrial sites. When the "five minutes horn" sounded, the streets would become alive with men and women rushing to clock-in before the gates were closed, and they were either "quartered" or sent home for being late.

Just opposite the tenement in which we lived was a vast piece of waste ground known as "The Foundry". This was formerly owned by the firm of John Neilson & Co., who built the first iron-ship, "Fairy Queen", in 1831. C. A. Oakley in his excellent (but expensive) book The Second City informs us that the ship was "transported through the streets accompanied by great crowds [of unemployed?] and launched by steam-crane at the Broomie Law", on the edge of the River Clyde. 

Since the route from Garscube Foundry to the Clyde led downhill through the new working-class tenement areas, the sight of the ship must have been a mixed blessing, for in Glasgow when a ship was launched large numbers of hands were laid off work till their masters required their skills once more to use in their labour process — only in those days there was no Social Security payment (given out of the surplus-value created by workers) to keep them from dying of hunger if they were unemployed with no cash to buy food, for this was the period when men with no legs were exhorted to stand on their own feet.

Thomas Carlyle in his tract on Chartism made a slashing indictment of this attitude, saying:
The master of horses, when the summer labour is done, has to feed his horses through the winter. If he said to his horses: "Quadrupeds, I have no longer work for you — go and seek cartage" — They finally, under pains of hunger take to leaping fences, eating foreign property, and — we know the rest.
But this was the age in which the theories of Thomas Malthus found favour, who said that population growth tended to exceed food production; and sad though it might be, some would have to suffer deprivation lest the delicate balance of nature be upset.

It is not as if food was scarce in those days. Proof of this can be found in William Cobbett's Rural Rides. In it he tells of folk starving in the 1830s while livestock in abundance fed in the fields for the rich — because insufficient profit could be realized in the markets for meat. Under the capitalist economic system goods are not produced simply to feed, clothe or shelter people. In many countries even today workers who cannot afford the prices asked for goods can tighten their belts on their empty stomachs; lie down in their under a hedge, and die. If they should attempt to seize the food which lies in shops and warehouses, the law-enforcement officers will beat and shoot them down in fulfillment of their job as protectors of property.

It was a great boast of the Church of Scotland that they could provide for the poor out of the offerings placed in the poor-box at the front door. Since the distribution of this charity was in the hands of domineering Elders, doubtless many workers in Glasgow went hungry rather than submit to their will, until sheer desperation drove them into the invidious position of "rice Christians". He who would sneer at such an attitude as "obsequious" should realize that the threat of starvation to a man and his family can make even the most proud humble himself at the feet of him who can relieve the hunger.

One of Glasgow's most famous citizens was Thomas Chalmers, whose name is mentioned by Marx in Capital. He was a preacher with a tremendous gift of oratory (he must have had, for he actually made the rich cry — surely a most difficult task?). He originated a scheme for aiding the poor for which, for some strange reason, he has become famous. He undertook to "relinquish all claim to the fund [for relieving the poor] raised by assessment", and provide for the poor of his own parish by the church-door collection alone. W. Gordon Blaikie in his short Life of Chalmers tells us:
Hitherto the cost of the poor in the parish had been at the rate of £1,400 per annum, whereas the collections amounted to only £480.
Under the diligent hands of Dr. Chalmers the original requirement of £1,400 was reduced to £280. He did this by sending his Elders into the teeming slums, that were a blot on the face of Glasgow before the College was razed to the ground to make way for the railway station that was set up on that site. These Elders used their "spiritual" authority over the relatives of the poor (themselves desperately poor) and exhorted them to face up to their family responsibilities, and support their destitute relatives so as not to make them a burden on the rates or church.

Let u seriously consider this question, putting aside any bias we may feel towards religion and those who imbibe it. Was Chalmers's scheme to relieve the poor a success? Did his efforts really aid the poor materially? No better answer can be given than that supplied by the gigantic Edward Irving, who was Chalmers's assistant in Glasgow during the period before and after the 1820 radical insurrection. In Mrs. Oliphant's Life of Edward Irving, one of Irving letters to a friend says "I have visited in about 300 families - and have seen them in nakedness and starvation." He writes in another letter of
their wants, their misfortunes, their ill-requited labour, their hopes vanishing, their families dispersing in hope of better habitations, the Scottish economy of their homes giving way before encroaching necessity; debt rather than saving their condition; bread and water their scanty fare; hard and ungrateful labour the portion of their house.
It is little wonder that John Galt in his interesting book Annals of the Parish (interesting because it shows the ideas that were commonly held in those times) says in his description of the Glasgow weavers: 
It cut me to the heart to see so many fine young men, in the rising prime of life, already in the arms of pale consumption.
The phrase "the good old days" is used to make the myth of an era when life was good and men happy. Capitalism has never provided, and cannot provide, such a time.
H. Cunningham 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Socialism is the enemy of Nationalism (1980)

Book Review from the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nation et lutte de classe by Otto Strasser and Anton Pannekoek (Union generale d'editions, Paris.)

Before the first world war, Austria was a multi-national empire in which the Emperor and his bureaucracy ruled not only over Germans and Hungarians but also over Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Croats, Slovenes and others. As a result theoretical discussion of "the national question" became a speciality of Austrian Social Democracy. The problem was particularly acute in Bohemia where Germans and Czechs lived side by side and where a language quarrel raged over schools, jobs in civil service, signs in railway stations, and so on. Even the Social Democratic Party was not immune, the Czech party splitting in 1905 into those who wanted a separate Czechoslovakia and those prepared to work with the German-speaking party within the Austrian Empire.

Orthodox Social Democracy found difficulty in arguing against the Czech separatists since they were too nationalists, regarding the nation not only as a legitimate political form but even as the suitable framework for "socialism". However, within the Social Democratic movement, there were people who insisted on the world-wide nature of socialism and on the incompatibility between nationalism and socialism. They called themselves "intransigent internationalists". Among these were the authors of two pamphlets, first published in 1912, recently translated into French and published together as a single book: Otto Strasser, editor of a local German-language Social Democratic paper in Reichenberg (then in Austrian Bohemia, now in Czechoslovakia and called Liberec) and Anton Pannekoek, a native of the Netherlands then active in the Social Democratic Party in North Germany.

In his pamphlet L'Ouvrier et la nation (The Worker and the Nation), Strasser takes the various arguments of the nationalists as to why workers should regard themselves as part of a nation with a common interest (such as language, land of birth, national character) and demolishes them one by one. He also attacks those Social Democrats who argued that the best way to beat the nationalists was to meet them on their own ground by showing how the Social Democratic programme was in the "national interest". This (which was in practice the policy of the Social Democratic Party) was, said Strasser, self-defeating and should be opposed.

Pannekoek's pamphlet Lutte de Classe et Nation (Class Struggle and Nation) is more theoretical. He accepts the definition of nation given by Otto Bauer, the Austrian party's leading theoretician, viz. "a human grouping linked by a common destiny and a common character". He sees, however, nations as the product of the era of the rising bourgeoisie; at that time capitalists and workers did indeed have a "common destiny" against the forces of feudalism. But, with the development of capitalism, the class struggle more and more breaks out between capitalists and workers shattering their "common destiny".

For the workers the nation then comes to be replaced by the class as the "common destiny". Becoming class conscious, therefore, involves rejecting nationalism. He describes the "national conflict' in multi-national States such as Austria as merely an aspect of the competition between the capitalists within such states, with the different sections using language and nationalism to try to win mass support for their vested interests. He advocates that workers speaking the same language finding themselves divided between two different states (he gives as an example Ukrainian-speakers who were then to be found in both Austro-Hungary and Russia) should not form a single cross-frontier party, but should join the Social Democratic party of the state in which they happened to live, in order to help the struggle to win political power in that state.

Pannekoek emphasises the world, rather than inter-national, character of socialism:
The socialist mode of production does not develop opposing interests between nations as is the case with the capitalist mode of production. The economic unit is neither the State nor the nation, but the world. This mode of production is much more than a network of national production units linked with each other by an intelligent communications policy and by international conventions as described by Bauer on page 519. It is an organisation of world production as a unit and the common affair of the whole of humanity (Pannekoek's emphasis).
For him, "nations" will only survive in world socialism as groups speaking the same language and even then a single world language may evolve.

For all their criticism of the national policy of the Social Democratic parties, Strasser and Pannekoek were themselves Social Democrats and (at this time) shared many of their illusions, particularly that a socialist party should have a maximum (socialism) and a minimum (social and democratic reforms within capitalism) programme. This mistaken belief that socialists should try to combine the struggle for socialism with a struggle for reforms comes out occasionally in the text of both pamphlets. But this does not detract from the fact that both pamphlets put essentially the socialist case against nationalism.
Adam Buick

A shining light (and a dim one) (1997)

Theatre Review from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Reduced Shakespeare Company, Criterion Theatre.

A Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill, National Theatre.

Many local theatres can no longer afford to recruit a company of actors and keep them for a season or so. As a result repertory theatre is slowly dying. Visit your local theatre and you are more likely than not to see something played by a touring company: a group of actors performing the same show, week-by-week, across the length and breadth of the country. In the past month I have seen three such shows. Two of them may likely soon appear in your neck of the woods. One I think you might wish to avoid like the proverbial plague; the other will likely enthrall even if it doesn't delight.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company are currently appearing at the Criterion Theatre in London. But their show The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), is so successful that a second company is currently on tour. I caught their show in Bury St. Edmonds; it was an excruciating experience.

I like satire, irony and farce, but not when they are managed as unimaginatively and crudely as here. Shakespeare is ripe for entertaining comment and diverting song as was recently apparent in a charming little show "The Shakespeare Revue" which also toured widely. But The Complete Works is the "cor blimey" humour of the Sun directed savagely at one of the giants of literature. It is someone who can barely play the piano parodying Mozart; a drunken karaoke performer mimicking the Beatles. In the theatre, as in the rest of life, I am ever the optimist. I've thought about leaving before, but always stayed. Three weeks ago was a first: we walked out at half-time.

In contrast A Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, by Caryl Churchill, makes for an illuminating if, finally, a rather melancholy evening. Written in 1976 and currently revived by the National Theatre, and on tour, the play is about those early proto-socialists, the Levellers and the Diggers. The play's title celebrates a Digger pamphlet of the same name, which was circulating at the time of the English Civil War in the late 1640s.

Writing a forward to the text Caryl Churchill talks about the time after Charles I had been defeated when "anything seemed possible". And she goes on: "The play shows the excitement of people taking hold of their own lives, and their gradual betrayal as those who led them realised that freedom could not be had without (the ownership of) property being destroyed."

In nearly two dozen short scenes we are offered a series of cameos of life in England at the time of the Civil War. We see first a hypocritical clergyman patronising his servant; then two cynical JPs sentencing a woman accused of vagrancy to be stripped to the waist and beaten to the bounds of the parish; and then a man joining the army to fight "with Christ's saints for the commonwealth"; and so on. But at the heart of the play is the dramatic realisation of the Putney Debates of 1647, when Cromwell and his generals met representatives of the Levellers.

If this debate grips and excites as it examines ideas about democracy, freedom and the supposed rights of property, the rest of the evening droops somewhat in comparison. This is not entirely Ms Churchill's fault. She has faithfully represented both the fate of the Levellers and the emergence of the anarchic Ranters, and in doing so she seems true to the demands of historical accuracy.

But the imperatives of drama are not the same as those of history, and it is possible to see ways in which the structure of the play might have been altered to give proceedings a stronger narrative line, and to make the key ideas more accessible to a contemporary audience who, as Carly Churchill herself observes, are unlikely to have heard about the Diggers and the Levellers. Moreover, if the play had ended with that classic dramatic device of an epilogue, the struggles of the Levellers could have been given some kind of historical perspective, and we could then have seen evidence of the continuing struggle of the socialist movement for democracy, freedom and the end of private property ownership. But enough of the cavils. This is a play to see.
Michael Gill




Voice of the People (1975)

From the November 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every week the London Broadcasting Company invites listeners to 'phone in suggestions for dealing with various problems.

The other week it was Inflation. The listeners had a ball! Funnily enough, not one listener or the jockey on the receiving end even mentioned Harold Wilson's £6 limit, or his expensive pamphlets. They all had their own ideas - and what ideas! None of that silly Socialist rubbish about the Government which is saying it wants to stop inflation printing the millions of banknotes which cause it; or the articles in the Socialist Standard making out that deflation (before the war) was just as bad.

No, the People's ideas were all solid, practical, down-to-earth: right down! Not one said that the real trouble was the capitalist system - that inflation, deflation or reflation, the working class was always in the same boat. Oh no! Or that rigmarole about the capitalist system working regularly through booms and slumps.

Unfortunately we cannot spare the space to report every brilliant suggestion, but a brief re-cap of the main ones should suffice to show that the spirit of pioneering initiative which made Britain great is not dead but still flourishes. One bright lady kicked off with the suggestion that everybody should buy secondhand clothes at jumble sales: "I haven't bought a new coat for years." (How everybody could be second without any firsts, she did not say.)

Another had discovered that although football-pool promoters ask for 14p a go, it is possible to get a coupon accepted for 8p. He'd had quite a bundle with them over this, and they had finally succumbed. We commend this to Denis Healey; after all, it's no sillier than his Budget proposals. One other suggestion was that everybody should refuse to pay their rates - although when this is to start he did not say.

The only point which was argued about was a proposal for a 100 per cent tax on all foreign goods - in fact, this listener said "no foreign goods at all". Even the simple-naive disc-jockey had to point out that inflation worked in favour of exporting countries, of which Britain has always been one.

Someone else weighed in with a master-stroke. He had observed that most voluntary societies - anglers, cyclists, bird-watchers, etc. - have, in addition to an annual subscription, a "life" one. He had worked out that quite a sum could be saved here (if you live long enough). Them of course, we were bound to get the old wartime chestnut: "Dig for Victory!" Why don't we all grow our own spuds, etc? Very good! Thank you for calling! Call again! Another wanted the Government to subsidize mortgages. A real heart-cry, this one: poor devil!

But the cream was reserved to the last. Even the imperturbable "public ear" got aerated over this one. One listener had discovered that if you write "OHMS" on letters you get away with it, because the Post Office can't collect on them. As was pointed out, what happens of it costs the Post Office 50p or £1 to collect a few pence from the Ministry of Power or the War Office?

And so it went on and on for an hour. What finally emerged was that most of those 'phoning in were so desperately anxious to save a penny or two somewhere that they had no time to think about inflation. They were all too concerned with their own dire poverty, and literally beating their brains out to try and save a couple of coppers somewhere by doing without something or other. Still, it's nice to know that the London Broadcasting Company is giving "the People" the opportunity to have their say and make their proposals.

As Harold Wilson says in his pamphlet: "Democracy works best when it relies on persuasion and consent". Armed with suggestions like these to add to the appalling mess it is already in, Wilson's Labour Government can now march confidently forward to further disaster - as they always have done.
Harry Young

That's the stuff! (1997)

Book Review from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Long Johns by John Bird and John Fortune, Hutchinson, London, 1996, £9.99.

John Bird and John Fortune have been performing hilarious sketches on the Rory Bremner show for over six years now, and this is a transcribed collection of the best of them. They honed their comic talents and eye for the ridiculous in the 1960s at Soho's Establishment club, which they co-founded with Peter Cook. Bird, before he moved to London, had been a member of the Socialist Party. It is not clear from this book how much Bird's political views have changed since those days, though the indications are that they haven't shifted a great deal, while the influence of Cook's own particular brand of irony and satire is evident throughout.

The main targets of Bird and Fortune are the market economy's peculiar idiocies and contradictions, together with the hypocrisy of the ruling class. Trotskyist Paul Foot has claimed that "Bird and Fortune have done more to undermine this government than all the speeches of the opposition put together", and for once he might not be too wide of the mark. It is only to be hoped that they will not spare the Labour Party if and when Blair and company achieve office.

Several of the sketches included in this book are superb, and the famous one about the NHS internal market is arguably the best of all. In this Bird plays a Chief Executive of an NHS Trust. He is interviewed about his Trust's decision to operate a market system for all NHS equipment, and elaborately explains the new procedure whereby, when a surgeon finds that he needs a scalpel during an operation, a message is sent to the Trust's Scalpel Resource Manager who then puts in bids to other hospitals across Britain for a scalpel until the cheapest is found. "If that happens to be in Barrow-in-Furness, that is where he will get it from," Bird says, only to be asked by interviewer Fortune "He will personally go and get it will he?". "He will get it," replies Bird, " . . . we are talking about emergencies here."

Beautiful stuff, and certainly worth a tenner of you have it.
Dave Perrin

Oh! What a Lovely Centenary (2013)

From the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last October David Cameron delivered a speech at the Imperial War Museum detailing the government’s plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
Also known as the Great War this was to have been ‘the war to end all wars’. There will be commemorative events to mark the outbreak of the war in August 1914, various battles such as the naval battle of Jutland, the disastrous Churchill-inspired Gallipoli campaign, the 'bloody' first day of the Somme, the Third Battle of Ypres popularly known as Passchendaele, and the Armistice of 11 November 1918. This is quite a number of events that will be commemorated between 2014 and 2018. It could be like the Royal Wedding, Diamond Jubilee, Olympics, Princess Diana's funeral and the première of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse for four long years as the capitalist class endeavours to bolster British nationalism and militarism.
It is interesting to note that in 1964 for the fiftieth anniversary there were no commemorative events apart from the 26 episodes BBC documentary series The Great War, and in the same year film director Joseph Losey made King and Country set in the Great war with a marked anti-war sentiment.
Nationalist propaganda
Cameron's speech was a great example of capitalist class propaganda to induce that false solidarity of ‘we're all in it together’, to make ‘us’, the working class, identify ‘our’ interest not with our own class but with that of the interests of the ruling capitalist class through identification with the ‘we’ of the nation state. Words like ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘our’ are used all the way through Cameron's speech.
Celebrations such as the Royal Wedding, Olympics, and Diamond Jubilee are all part of making the working class identify with the nation state, and the normality and routine nature of donations to Help For Heroes or the Poppy Day Appeal all combine to create a powerful consensus in the nation state with its strong links to the military. It helps soften up the working class to accept the need for military action, as recently in Iraq or Afghanistan or Iran.
Cameron said in his speech ‘the Diamond Jubilee celebrated this year, says something about who we are as a people’. Actually, what it says is that we, the working class are subjects to a relic from feudalism, and that if we can be made to accept the inherited privilege of the Royal Family we can almost certainly accept the inequalities and exploitation of capitalism.
Cameron described a visit he made to Gallipoli in the following way: ‘the beaches we were meant to land at, the beaches we did land at’. It is as if you and I, the working class are private soldiers landing with subaltern Cameron in the Dardanelles.
Millions of pounds will be spent on events and educating school children in the capitalist history of the Great War, another generation will grow up not questioning capitalism or war and the links between them. Cameron emphasised that the Coalition Government would continue to maintain free access to museums despite Gradgrind and austere economic policies which shows how important the capitalists view the centenary of the Great War.
Cameron mentioned Rudyard Kipling, the Poet of Empire (‘send forth the best ye breed’) in the context of the War Graves Commission which is apt as he shares responsibility for the slaughter of the European working class in the Great War.
The Great War was a major disaster that befell ‘us‘, the working class in Britain and Europe. Millions were slaughtered or ‘sacrificed’ in the trenches. Cameron used the word ‘sacrifice’ seven times during his speech to refer to all this slaughter. They ‘gave their lives for us’, that is we, the working class did. Cameron talks about ‘us’, the working class of 1914 in the following terms;
‘for many going off to war was a rite of passage. Many of them were excited; they would eat better than they had when they were down the mines or in the textile mills. They would have access to better medical care’. Here Cameron distanced himself and by extension ‘us’ from the Great War with the use of ‘they’, the working class young men from the South Yorkshire coalfields or the Lancashire cotton towns. There is an acceptance from Cameron that in 1914, ‘they’, the working class, had it very hard, but with the implication that it's different today. But it isn't. Capitalism and the exploitation of the working class for their surplus value continues.
There are no veterans left alive today. Which is just as well for Cameron. Harry Patch, ‘the last fighting Tommy’ died in 2009 aged 111 years. He fought and was wounded at Passchendaele and is on record as saying things like: ‘War is a licence to go out and murder for the British government’ and ‘War isn't worth one life. It is the calculated and condoned slaughter of human beings’.
The working class were ‘sacrificed’ for the interests of the capitalist class in the Great War.
Economic causes
The Socialist Standard of November 1914 pointed out that theSunday Chronicle of 30August 1914 let the cat out of the bag when they wrote the following; ‘the men in the trenches are fighting on behalf of the manufacturer, the mill owner, and the shopkeeper’.
Cameron does not question why there was war in 1914. The capitalist media and historians would have us believe that the Great War was caused by a combination of things like Prussian militarism, the 'German character' (whatever that is), blood feuds in the Balkans, diplomatic alliances that got out of control, and even idiosyncrasies in the Kaiser's personality.
Economic causes are the fundamental reason for the outbreak of the Great War. Even Keynes in 1936 identified ‘the competitive struggle for markets’ as the predominant factor in ‘the economic causes of war’. Fundamentally, the causes of the Great War lie with ‘bacon and steam trains’, or the Serbian Pork war with Austria where an Austrian trade embargo on Serbian livestock fanned the flames of Serbian nationalism, and the German building of the Berlin to Baghdad railway whose ultimate aim was Basra on the Persian Gulf which so terrified British commercial interests in the Middle East and threatened the route to India.
Cameron believes that the Great War is important for the ‘origins of a number of very significant advances’, which is all very calculating. Firstly, he cites the execution of Edith Cavell as important in ‘advancing the emancipation of women’ which ignores the war work women engaged in, the ‘middle class’ women of the Suffragette Movement, and the working class women who always had to work and their involvement in trade unionism. Secondly, he sees the death of the first black army officer, as the ‘beginnings of ethnic minorities getting recognition, respect and equality’ which is quite baffling. It would be more apt to point to Arthur Wharton, the first black professional football player who played for Preston North End in the 1880s. Thirdly, advances in medicine, and finally ‘advances in technology transformed the nature of war’ which Cameron will be glad about as he travels as the capitalist sales rep for arms manufacturers. He visited the Middle East and North Africa trying to sell the latest military hardware in February 2011 at the height of the ‘Arab Spring’, and he was in the Gulf in November trying to sell the same stuff to autocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia.
Cameron proposed ‘friendly football matches to mark the famous 1914 Christmas Day truce’ which is rather ironic considering national rivalries in football are just displacement activities for war, witness the rivalries between England and Germany (two world wars), England and Argentina (Falklands War), and the most bitter of all that between Holland and Germany.
Cameron feels that ‘to us, today, it seems so inexplicable that countries which had many things binding them together could indulge in such a never-ending slaughter, but they did’. He adds that in Europe ‘we sort out our differences through dialogue and meetings around conference tables’. This is all rather disingenuous considering that war takes place outside Europe because that is where the resources are located. We have wars In North Africa and the Middle East, in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. And is Iran next?
In August 1919 the Socialist Standard wrote ‘while competition between capitalist groups for routes, markets, and control of raw materials exists, the cause of war remains’.
As socialists ‘we’ recognise the truth of what Marx wrote in 1848 that we, that is, the working class, ‘have no fatherland’. It is about our identity. We should use terms like ‘we’ and ‘our’ in relation to our class not the nation state and the capitalist class.
Steve Clayton

Is capitalism crumbling? (2009)

From the March 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

Leftwingers are calling for the nationalisation of the banks. They may get their way. And then?
The severe economic crisis has dominated newspaper headlines – day after day for at least the past six months – like no other story in recent history. The massive layoffs, losses and bankruptcies have grown as familiar as the daily death-count in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ranks of the unemployed are overflowing and no job seems secure.

Not only is the situation spinning out of control, but workers are being reminded how little control they have over their lives. Their own futures are in the hands of business leaders and politicians, who themselves can do nothing more than follow the inhuman impulses of capital.

One bright spot, however, is the market for solution-peddlers and doom-prophesiers, which is booming. On the one hand, there are the experts claiming to know the secret for getting capitalism back on its feet and curing the system of its manic-depressive tendencies; while on the other hand, there is the minority that views the crisis as the beginning of the final collapse of capitalism.

The pages of this magazine, in contrast to that commotion, might seem calm, or even complacent. As in the quieter days before the crisis, we continue to advocate socialism in much the same tone and with the same arguments. Some readers might be wondering how this crisis affects socialists and how we are responding to it. How do we differ from those offering to solve the crisis or from those who say we are witnessing the end of capitalism?

Reformist solutions
As workers, socialists do not necessarily relish an economic crisis, as we face unemployment or wage cuts like everyone else. Being a socialist does not equip a person with a protective force-field to block the harmful consequences of capitalism. There’s no question that the working class, including socialists, will suffer the most from this crisis.

It is in this atmosphere of anxiety that reformists of all kinds step up to offer sure-fire ways to relieve capitalism of its hangover and keep it sober forever more. Most on the Left remain confident that greater intervention and regulation on the part of the state will pretty much do the trick, pointing to how well it apparently worked back in the 1930s. That is certainly debatable, but these ideas will probably be tested by reality soon enough. Even if such measures are more or less effective, the crisis still may drag on for several years – although no one is really in a position to make clear predictions.

The clear aim of reformists is to get capitalism back on its feet again, yet many on the Left like to spice up their own Keynesian reformism with revolutionary rhetoric. They are able to get away with this thanks to the widespread misconception that any involvement by the state in the economy is “socialistic.”

The more imaginative reformists have viewed bank nationalization, for instance, as an integral part of measures to both overcome the crisis and put in place a new system of socialist production – rather than being a temporary measure to prop up the crumbling financial system. Their brand of “socialism” may be very attractive as it offers something for everyone, but they are in fact peddling a form of state capitalism under a false label.

Take the Socialist Equality Party in the US, for instance, which back in September, at the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, confidently issued the following demand as part of a “socialist program”:
“The entire financial system must be taken out of private hands and nationalized in the form of a public utility under the democratic control of the working class, with provisions taken to safeguard the holdings of small depositors and share-holders. It must be subordinated to the social needs of the people and dedicated to developing and expanding the productive forces in order to eliminate poverty and unemployment and vastly improve the living standards and cultural level of the entire population.” (“The Wall Street Crisis and the Failure of American Capitalism”)

The author, Barry Grey, presents this demand as one part of a “socialist program that places the needs of the people before the profits and personal fortunes of the ruling elite,” necessary because “there is no solution within the framework of the profit system” to the “crisis of the American economic and political system.” So we can only suppose his nationalized financial system is operating in a “socialist” society (or a society that follows a “socialist program”).

But with socialism like this, who needs capitalism! There will still be a financial system, so one would have to assume that goods are paid for with money and thus produced for the market. There would be no need for any of that in a society where things are produced to directly meet people’s needs, as democratically determined by them. It may sound nice to say that the financial system will take the “form of a public utility under the democratic control of the working class” and be “subordinated to the social needs of the people”, but what would that mean in practice? (Even that “socialist program” sounds a bit dodgy, with its promise to “place the needs of the people before the profits and personal fortunes of the ruling elite,” as it assumes the continued existence of a wealthy ruling elite.)

Perhaps we should compliment the Socialist Equality Party for being “ahead of the curve” on this nationalization issue, as any good “vanguard party” should be, now that many capitalist governments are thinking about implementing that measure. And we might compliment them further if bank nationalization succeeds in stabilizing the financial system. But this organization and so many like it deserve our contempt for dressing up reformist measures to look revolutionary. Their sweet-sounding promises only block the path to revolution by utterly distorting the meaning of socialism.

A collapsing theory
On the other extreme from the reformists, or at least it would seem, are those who argue the final collapse of capitalism has begun and that efforts to prop up the system are doomed to fail.

The reasons given for this inevitable collapse vary quite a bit, however. Some argue, as many Marxists did back in the 1930s, that it is the result of capitalism’s internal contradictions, such as the tendency towards a declining rate of profit. But many more, including the adherents of peak oil theory, view the collapse as the result of capitalism colliding with some outside force that prevents the further accumulation and expansion that is the lifeblood of the system. 

Not only are there a myriad of reasons offered to explain the inevitable collapse, but there are starkly different conclusions reached about what will replace capitalism. There are those who see the collapse as radicalising the population and bringing workers around to a revolutionary standpoint; while others depict a prolonged period of social anarchy or even a return to a pre-industrial life, and advise people to head to the hills after stocking up on gold, guns and vegetable seeds.

Regardless of those particular differences, however, the idea of an inevitable collapse of capitalism clearly implies that a great historical change could take place regardless of our actions. Instead of socialism replacing capitalism, based on the conscious decisions and actions of workers, we would have capitalism ending at some point, and that collapse then stimulating a great social change – for better or worse.

One might wonder, though, what sort of society would exist in the interim, however brief it might be, between the collapse of the old and the emergence of the new. It would be “non-capitalist,” one would assume, but what would be the dividing line between the two? Is it possible for a society to not be capitalist, but still not be anything else either?

The reason for much of the confusion among the “catastrophists,” as they are sometimes called, is that – just like the reformists who confuse nationalization with socialism – they do not have a clear understanding of what capitalism is, exactly. That is to say, instead of understanding capitalism on the most essential level, as a system of commodity production in the pursuit of profit, they get caught up in the various forms of capitalism, and imagine that some are more capitalistic than others.

It is certainly true that forms of capitalism or particular governments can collapse, but this should not be viewed as the collapse of capitalism itself. There are many examples of collapses to choose from, most notably the fall of the Weimer government in Germany that was followed by a fascist regime. For over a decade, Germany went through economic crisis, political upheaval, and a catastrophic war. With no exaggeration, one can speak of that period as a collapse of civilization. Yet throughout it all the capitalist system remained intact.

It is easier to speak of the “collapse of capitalism” if a person has no clear idea of what capitalism means. And if its meaning is unclear, then the understanding of socialism will also be a muddle (just like those reformists who mistake state capitalism for socialism). It is important, therefore, to distinguish between an economic or political collapse, and the end of capitalism itself, which only workers can bring about by replacing it with socialism.

Optimism in depression
The criticism of those two tendencies might lead some to believe that we offer no solution to the crisis, or that we ignore the objective factors of reality and overemphasize the subjective ones.

We do in fact have a solution to this crisis and to economic crisis in general. But our approach to the problem is similar to how we approach other problems, such as the destruction of the environment or war, in that we do not propose a separate solution for each problem. This isn’t because we are indifferent to the problems, but because we recognize the relation between individual problems and the capitalist system.

In a sense, to solve one problem requires the solution of all of them. The fundamental solution to the problem of crisis, for instance, requires the introduction of a new system of production and consumption no longer mediated by the market, where there would no longer be any basis for crises. In other words, socialism is the solution to this particular crisis and the problem of crisis itself, along with every other social problem that is specific to capitalism.

As for objective versus subjective elements, we would certainly recognize that the objective reality of the crisis will have an impact on how people view capitalism. This new situation may create a more favourable environment for explaining socialism.

Already, in the past six months, there has been a tremendous shift in “public opinion”, so that now it is almost fashionable to rebuke bankers for their greed and ignorance. There is no question that more people than ever are wondering whether capitalism is indeed the best of all possible worlds.

Of course, even while the changing reality has stimulated thought and debate, the conclusions people are reaching vary. Many see the crisis as the bankruptcy of “neo-liberalism”, rather than capitalism itself, while the religious minded might even say it is punishment from God. No matter how much the objective reality may influence ideas and test theories, it will not directly deposit the concept of socialism in a person’s mind.

So we still have the task of explaining socialism, and it is more important than ever as workers suffer under the crisis. That explanation, as always, is based on the recognition of the fundamental contradictions and limitations of capitalism, and the realization that this (obsolete) system cannot be reformed beyond a certain point. It is during a crisis that those contradictions and limitations are most evident. Marx describes how the “contradictions and antagonisms of bourgeois production are strikingly revealed” during a crisis of the world market, which is a moment when there is a “real concentration and forcible adjustment” of those contradictions (Theories of Surplus Value).

With the problems so plain to see, and the limitations of capitalism so palpable, the explanation of socialism as the solution may very well begin to seem more concrete and practical – and urgent – than before.
Michael Schauerte

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sociology or socialism? (1978)

From the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the era of the social worker. Over the last twenty years in Britain the number of welfare workers, probation officers, and social workers has quadrupled. In addition to these 20,000 fieldworkers there are now about 87,000 home helps and a similar number of residential workers in homes for old people, children, the disabled and the mentally disordered. All of these are employed by the state and local authorities.

In industry too, there has been a steady growth in personnel departments, while in the voluntary field there has been the growth of what might be called the new charities. Organisations like Shelter, The Samaritans, Child Poverty Action Group, Help the Aged, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, refuges for battered wives, groups to help alcoholics and drug addicts agoraphobics, organisations to give advice on marriage problems, legal problems, sexual problems. They have all grown up to try to deal with the casualties of capitalism.

When the post-war economic boom finished and the amount of money available for social work began to dry up, social workers in particular found themselves in a very different position. While the needs, as they saw them, were increasing on every side, their numbers and the funds at their disposal were cut or held ruthlessly in check. For those who had entered social work full of idealism it was a considerable shock. They were sandwiched between pressure from their bosses above and the clamour from their 'clients' below. In addition, they found that there was still a pressure from outside: a large number of people with idealism like their own, wanted to do social work and get paid for it.

Like the craft unions of the past, like doctors and teachers and psychologists, social workers have begun to defend their position with qualifications. With these they have started to set themselves above and apart from those people forced to go to them for help. and to warn amateurs like friends and neighbours and relations against offering 'inexpert' help. They are the experts because they have studied the social sciences especially psychology and sociology, and they think they know how society works and how people should be treated.

When we look at the social sciences, however, it becomes clear that they are unscientific in a number of ways. As mental training for social workers, modern sociology and psychology serve the purpose very well, because they provide an ideology which persuades a large number of idealists to work hard at the interminable task of patching up and supporting capitalism. But as objective studies of what goes on in modern society they are in many senses worse than nothing because they promulgate fictions and obscure the facts.

Social scientists have responded to the criticism that they are unscientific over the years in two ways. Some have striven to make their work as similar to the natural sciences as possible in trying to construct experiments in which every factor is controlled and only the variable being studied is altered. The trouble with this approach is that it too often confines itself to the trivial. In the first volume of the European Journal of Behavioural Analysis and Modification, April, 1975, is a seven page article which gives an account of an experiment in which twenty homosexual men were shown slides of erotic pictures while the changes in volume of their penises were measured with a "mercury-in-rubber strain gauge'. In following pages, a critic observes that the five researchers were really measuring the change in the diameter of the penis, not the volume, and so their results were not very reliable. He also goes into detail about the experimental methods he used with 'unco-operative subjects'. The silliness of it all does not obscure the sinister implications in the title of the journal.

The other stance taken up by social scientists (notably sociologists) is to admit that a human study like theirs cannot be scientific in the same way as physics and chemistry because of the complexity of the phenomena. But there is a very strong tendency for sociologists to use this as an excuse for being less scientific than they could be. What really causes them to be unscientific is something quite different, something not related to the inherent difficulties of the study at all. And this is simply that they avoid studying any aspect of capitalism that would bring out radical criticism of it. Superficial criticism occurs in abundance. They discuss crime, job dissatisfaction, aspects of poverty, aspects of alienation, and many of the pointless ways in which workers try to make their lives tolerable and meaningful in this society.

Such sociologists only ever examine the working class and various groupings and strata within it. When they talk of class they mean sub-divisions of the working class. What they never study is the capitalist, the member of this society who, because he owns and invests wealth employing workers, has no need to work, and can be unconcerned about all the sociologists' fetishes of role and status because his wealth ensures these things. The capitalist class form roughly 10 per cent of the population. Their interests lie in direct opposition to the people the sociologist studies. And yet it is their ideas and attitudes that are the dominant ones in this society and are fed down to the workers, including the sociologists. It is even a capitalist idea that there is no such thing as a capitalist, that we are all workers: some of us work hard in factory machine shops or offices or mines; others work hard at fox-hunting or polo or yacht racing. And sociologists behave as though capitalists do not exist. The consequence of this is that, if we have a grouse about our own living standards, or if we make a more calculated criticism of the pollution, repression or destruction that are part and parcel of the modern capitalist world, the social scientist will explain that we are simply reacting against 'society', an aggregation of individuals like ourselves. Under the guise of an objective science, sociology, together with its related disciplines, is really a system of apologetics for capitalism. From Auguste Comte down to Talcott Parsons, sociologists and social psychologists have obscured the irreconcilable conflict of interests between the working class and the capitalist class. They have diverted attention away from what really makes like boring, stressful, frustrating and dangerous for the majority of the population. Even 'left wing' sociologists, who dimly perceive that they serve this purpose, and criticise the superficialities of life in capitalist society even more bitterly, serve capitalism all the more faithfully. Their function is to sound the warning bells about its weak points.

It is perhaps a sweeping generalisation to say that all sociology is a reaction against Marxism, but the number of times that Marx is mentioned and then 'brought up to date' or 'corrected' is uncountable. Talcott Parsons, in his essay "Social Classes and Class Conflict in the Light of Recent Sociological Theory" (Essays in Sociological Theory, Free Press, 1964) puts it like this:
Thus class conflict and its structural bases are seen in a somewhat different perspective. Conflict does not have same order of inevitability, but is led back to the interrelations of a series of more particular factors, the combinations of which may vary. Exactly how serious the element of conflict is becomes a matter of empirical investigation. Similarly, the Marxian utopianism about the classlessness of communist society is brought into serious question. There is a sense in which the Marxian view of the inevitability of class conflict is the obverse of the utopian factor in Marxian thought.
It should, however, be clearly noted how important Marx was in the development of modern sociological thought. All three of the writers who may be regarded as its most important theoretical founders—Vifredo Pareto, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber—were profoundly concerned with the problems raised by Marx. Each of them took the Marxian view with great seriousness as compared with its utilitarian background, but none of them ended up as a Marxian. Each pushed on to a further development in a distinctive direction which in spite of the diversity of their backgrounds contains a striking common element. 
That common element, of course, is support for capitalism to which Parsons also devotes himself. And when Parsons talks of 'empirical investigation' to see 'exactly how serious the element of conflict is' it is plain that he is indulging in pseudoscientific talk, or else he has never properly understood what Marx was saying.

It is quite true that Marxism, the approach of the revolutionary socialist, looks at societies, past, present and future in all their aspects from the point of view of one class — 90 per cent of the population of the industrialised world. The Marxist declares: 'These are facts; deny them if you can: the privations and frustrations and dangers suffered by so many thousands of people — all of the working class — cannot be talked away. They are necessary features of a class dominated, exploiting society'.

But the socialist goes further and says it is not enough merely to study capitalist society. Any member of the working class (and that includes most sociologists these days) should want to replace it with a better society as soon as possible, and so should be politically active towards this end. It is not enough, either, to be a social worker, because the task of trying to care for the casualties is hopeless in the long run. Capitalism will continue to cripple far more than can ever be coped with.
Ron Cook

Has Money Gone? (2012)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

In an article “The decline of money” (Weekly Worker, 9 March) Hillel Ticktin argues that money did not exist in the USSR, does not exist in China and that fiat money issued by governments even in the West isn’t really money.

Marx saw money as having two basic functions: (1) a medium of exchange or circulation, i.e. the means through which articles produced for sale get bought and sold; and (2) a measure of value, i.e. a common unit in which the value of articles produced for sale can be expressed as a price, and is thus a standard by which they can be compared.

“The natural form of money”, Ticktin writes, “would be a commodity that could itself be produced with labour-power and would therefore have its own value.” This was certainly the typical form of money in Marx’s day and the form he discussed the most. This money-commodity (usually gold or silver) does not have to circulate itself and be used for payments. It can be replaced in circulation by tokens, including paper ones issued by the government.

Marx identified two kinds of paper token money: tokens that were convertible on demand into a fixed amount of the money-commodity and tokens which were not. The former created no problem. The latter, however, could create a problem if they were issued in a greater amount than the amount of the money-commodity that would otherwise circulate. In this case, if they circulated alongside gold or silver, the value of the tokens would depreciate, i.e. they would buy less than their face-value. If they were the only currency (as is the case today) this would result in a rise in the general price level, i.e. in a change in the standard of price.

An inconvertible paper currency has to be managed by the government or some state institution such as a central bank which, to avoid depreciation or inflation, has to calculate the correct amount to issue. In Marx’s day the case where the only currency was paper token money was a hypothetical one which he only discussed in passing. He was rather sceptical that it would work, on the grounds that it would not be possible in practice for a government to get the amount right and so there would be no stable standard of price.

Marx scepticism proved to be misplaced. He was right that there was likely to be a changing standard of price, but not that capitalism would be unable to cope with this. It has, and in fact this has become the norm, with most governments aiming at a price level rising at 2-3 percent a year.

The difference between a money-commodity and paper money, says Ticktin, is “that paper money is issued by governments and controlled by governments. It is effectively a nationalised form of money. It is not a spontaneous form, as with gold.” That is so, but Ticktin goes on to claim that “this nationalised form means that money is not really money as we understood it. One cannot say that £1 is equal to so much abstract labour. It is decided by governments and whomsoever is actually dealing with the money supply.”

It may not be the form of money Marx knew, but it is still money. It is still the medium of exchange and still a measure of value and standard of price even if a changing one. Ticktin is concerned that this “nationalised money” is controlled by ruling class technocrats instead of democratically in the interests of the working class. As if it could be.

We want, like Marx, a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources and production directly to meet people’s needs instead of for sale and profit and where money would therefore be redundant.