Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sir Keith Joseph meets the SPGB (1975)

From the June 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

Philippa Fawcett College 24th April 1975

Speakers: E. Hardy, SPGB, v Sir Keith Joseph, Conservative


The Philippa Fawcett is a teachers' training college. The debate was held during the afternoon and was attended by about 250 people, mainly students. Two south London newspapers and The Times had reporters and photographers present, but only the briefest of reports appeared. The following précis is from a tape recording.

Each speaker made a twenty-minute contribution. This was followed by a period for questions, to which both speakers were invited to reply. There was a final winding-up of five minutes for each speaker. The debate was attentively listened to and fairly conducted throughout.

Sir K. Joseph
Sir Keith Joseph spoke first. He devoted the first minutes to reading a statement to the press, condemning the proposal of Wedgwood Benn to use pension funds for investment purposes. Turning then to the subject of the debate he continued as follows:

There are broadly three different forms of organizing society. One, the mutual-agreement family arrangement suitable to a Kibbutz size community, but not relevant to a nation of 55 million people. Two, the Market system in which goods and services are produced and supplied according to demand by the price mechanism and profit and loss. Profit within the law under competition. Profit is a signal mechanism for moving men, women and resources from goods and services that are not required to goods and services that are required.

Three, the Command system where goods and services are laid down by a central bureaucracy. Mr. Hardy is as much against the Command mechanism as I. He is in favour of the first mechanism. The question before us is, which system provides the best guarantee of prosperity, freedom, choice and humanity. The optimum combination of all four?

In a small system of simple needs, perhaps a mass meeting could make its decisions. This could not apply to a society of 55 million people. The simple life would rule out such things as anaesthetics. How do producers decide what people want to use?

The Central Committee in a Command Society cannot make decisions that satisfy people. Are we going to spend more money on fighting pollution, for example?

The Market system is based on the proposition you only make a profit if you make and sell what people want. If you don not make what people want, you do not make a profit. This means widespread decision-making, decentralized control spread among thousands of small, medium and large firms. Central government lays down the laws for everyone in the Market system, regulates the degree of pollution.

It is perfectly compatible with humane society. Inventor, critic, reformer, writer, artist — five most crucial people — are free within the market economy.

Marx has changed history more than any individual in the past hundred and fifty years. He was supported by Engels, a Manchester business man.

How do we justify the vast profits of property? Somebody had to take the risk. The only justification for profit is risk.

Civil servants' decisions do not have to be right, they do not stand to lose. The Market system leaves decision-making to those who stand to gain if the decision is right and stand to lose if the decision is wrong. Look at Switzerland: we could be as prosperous and humane.

E. Hardy
The chairman then announced the next speaker, E. Hardy for the SPGB.

He began by drawing attention to the fact that the Market economy as described does not behave as planned.

We must remind you what capitalism is. Wealth is produced by the working class who keep society going, but they do not own the means of production, they do not own the wealth they produce. When no profit can be made, capitalism curtails production. Workers become unemployed. The normal phases of capitalism are expansion, boom, stagnation and crisis. There were twelve crises during the nineteenth century, including a crisis lasting nearly twenty years towards the end of the century.

When there is a crisis it does not mean that capitalism has gone wrong; capitalism has always behaved like this. The Conservatives have been protectionists and then free traders and turned back to protection again. In recent years they have gone in for all the variations of income policy. None of it makes any difference. Nothing can be done about it; capitalism is always the same.

There had been a growing recognition that perhaps Marx was right. Then in the years between the wars a blight fell on the world. Its name was Keynes: an undiluted tragedy from the standpoint of the working class.

Tories, Liberals and the Labour Party all believed in Keynes. Keynes said Marx was wrong. Capitalism can be controlled. You can have full employment, no more crises or wars.

The Market economy is unregenerate capitalism given a new name. They have not got capitalism under control. They have not solved unemployment. We are now in a crisis. They should go back and recognize Marx was right. Keynes was wrong. All past policies including incomes policies have failed.

The SPGB never supported nationalization, which is state capitalism. Private or state makes no difference. We are Marxist. Marx's conception of Socialism is a society where you do not have a wages system. There would no prices or profits. Production would be solely for use, and free access on a world scale. People will co-operate to produce and take out of what is produced that which they need. You cannot do anything with capitalism. It creates class conflict, industrial strife, and war. You must look for an alternative.

What is there to prevent the world becoming Socialist? What obstacle? People won't cooperate? — why can people on a large scale not cooperate?

E. Hardy put a question to Sir Keith Joseph: Do you feel incapable of co-operating for your own advantage? Sir Keith he did feel incapable. E. Hardy continued. What has Benn got to do with Marxism? Nothing. He does not claim to be a Marxist. Sir Keith had claimed the contest in the world was between Marxism and democracy. We are the only democratic party in this country.

The Tory Party has a long list of nationalization projects in its history. Rolls Royce, UCS, Post, Telegraphs, BBC, London Passenger Transport, Harland and Wolff. When Benn nationalized Court Line, he gleefully reminded the Tories it was done under an act passed by a Tory government. Nationalization has nothing to do with Socialism.

Heath had said "no rescue for lame ducks". Mrs. Thatcher advocated rescue on a temporary basis — like going in for drug addiction on a temporary basis. We do not say civil servants can run capitalism better than the whiz-kids. Nothing can be done with capitalism; if you will not go in for Socialism, you will be stuck with capitalism. It will be the same in the future as it always has been in the past.

Questions from the floor
The chairman invited questions.
Q. Under the market economy why are goods destroyed if they cannot be sold at a profit? Education is the first to be hit in a crisis.
A. Sir Keith Joseph.
Surplus food in America rescued Russia, Many poor countries neglect their own agriculture. We have crippled capitalism in this country. Negative income tax is needed to bring people to a minimum level of income to be able to buy what they need.

A. E. Hardy.
Capitalism has never produced enough for the people of the world. Capitalism has enormously increased potential. The largest industry under capitalism is the killing industry. Socialism will get rid of the killing industry.

Q. How does capitalism cause war?
A. E. Hardy.
Looking for markets. Stalin said it was necessary for Russian industry to find outside markets. Nigeria — oil discoveries were the main factor in sparking the civil war. All capitalist powers are expansionists. The bigger ones are simply stronger than the smaller ones. Capitalism and war are inseparable. Socialism will have no market economy. Capitalism not only destroys world resources in wartime, it also destroys them in peacetime. Russia and China behave like capitalist powers threatening each other with armed forces, because they are capitalist powers.

A. Sir Keith Joseph.
The war between Arab and Jew had nothing to do with capitalism. It was a war about national and ethnic identities, and possession of territories. Mr. Hardy had no world to defend.

Summing up
The chairman asked each speaker to make a brief closing statement.

Sir Keith Joseph.
How simple it is to argue for a system that is purely emotional. Mr. Hardy is arguing for pie in the sky. You cannot get all people in the world  to agree. Marx left no room for the owner, who is part of the productive mechanism, because of his willingness to take risks to ensure supply in the Market system. The investment occurs to give people what they need.

E. Hardy.
Sir Keith Joseph has to defend the shocking system of capitalism. Capitalism was only a notion when it began. All the reformers have tried to be practical and improve capitalism. They have solved nothing. The utopians are the ones who think they can do something with capitalism. You can't, you have to go in for Socialism.

This is an abridged report of the debate. You can hear the tape recording of the debate at the following link.

The Philanthropists (1960)

From the November 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell; edited text published by Grant Richards in 1914. Complete text published by Lawrence & Wishart in 1951

This novel may come to be recognised as one of the masterpieces of this century. A novel, after all, is a piece of fiction which tells us something of life and of society. Hazlitt said about the novel: "We find here a close imitation of man and manners: we see the very web and texture of society as it really exists, and as we meet it when we come into the world." And Sir Desmond McCarthy wrote: "It is extremely doubtful whether the aim of the novel is to make an aesthetic appeal. Passages in it may do so: but it aims also at satisfying our curiosity about life as much as satisfying the aesthetic sense." If there are the criteria by which we are to judge novels, then The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists must stand very high indeed. It tells us more about "society as it really exists," and about human beings and their relations with each other—"man and manners"—than you wind in many well-stocked libraries.

For the great central relationship in our society is that between employer and worker: by it, to a greater or less degree, almost all the other relationships in society are affected. And that is Tressell's theme. In a sparse, direct style (all the more remarkable when one remembers the level of popular writing in the pre-Great War era out of which his book came) Tressell tells the story of a group of men, painters and labourers who are re-decorating a house. He follows several of them (in particular the central figure, Frank Owen) to their homes, and shows how they live. Partly through the arguments among the men at work, partly through their experiences in their daily lives, Tressell lays bare the real nature of society.

One can marvel how apposite (despite changes in inessentials) the book's picture of society is today. You may get the flavour of the book from a random quotation:
"But money in itself is not wealth," returned Owen;—"It's of no use whatever."
At this there was another outburst of jeering laughter.
"Supposing, for example, that you and Harlow were shipwrecked on a desolate island, and you had nothing from the wreck but a bag containing a thousand sovereigns, and he had a tin of biscuits and a bottle of water."
"Make it beer!" cried Harlow appealingly.
"Who would be the richer man, you or Harlow?"
"But then you see we ain't shipwrecked on no dissolute island at all," sneered Crass. "That's the worse of your arguments. You can't never get very far without supposing some bloody ridiculous thing or other. Never mind about supposing things wot ain't true; let's 'ave facts and common sense.
"'Ear, 'ear," said old Linden. "That's wot we want—a little common sense."
What do you mean by poverty, then?" asked Easton.
"What I call poverty is when people are not able to secure for themselves al' the benefits of civilisation—the necessaries, comforts, pleasures and refinements of life: leisure, books, theatres, pictures, music, holidays, travel, good and beautiful homes, good clothes, good and pleasant food . . . If a man is only able to provide himself and his family with the bare necessaries of existence, that man's family is living in poverty. Since he cannot enjoy the advantages of civilisation he might just as well be a savage; better, in fact, for a savage does not know what he is deprived of . . ."
But one would have to quote the whole book to do it justice. It makes you laugh, it saddens you, but most of all it makes you angry. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by it. If you have read it already, you will not need to be told how good it is. If you haven't, then buy or borrow a copy as soon as possible.
Alwyn Edgar

Post-election Blues (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russia has been claiming since late last year that the Scottish referendum on independence was rigged by Westminster in favour of a ‘no’ vote (Guardian, 19 September 2014). Following up this exercise in pots calling kettles black, they have hailed the landslide victory of the SNP in the general election as proof positive that they were right. How, their propagandists want to know, could Scotland be split down the middle on independence one minute, and then vote unanimously for the Scottish National Party the next, if there wasn’t substantial monkey business going on? Many confused UK voters may be wondering the same thing.

Let’s put aside the obvious retort that if Westminster was going to rig the independence referendum why didn’t they rig the Scottish vote in the general election as well? The real answer to this conundrum is not nearly so cloak-and-dagger, though it does remain puzzling to many. Greens and especially UKIP voters woke up wide-eyed with shock and cries of ‘We wuz robbed’ on post-election day upon finding that their votes had gone en-masse down the toilet while only Tory votes had the magical power to produce MPs.

People just don’t seem to get how first-past-the-post works, despite having the whole business out at tedious length in a special referendum in 2011. If your vote isn’t for the winner, it’s the same as if you hadn’t bothered voting at all. The 2014 Scottish referendum was a close-run thing, with a 55.3 percent No vote against a 44.7 percent Yes vote on an 84.59 percent turnout. In the General Election, assuming just a two-horse race between the SNP and Labour and assuming the same voting ratio in each seat, the result would still have been a SNP landslide. That’s not how it was, of course, because there were several horses in the field to split the anti-SNP vote. In the event, Labour had just under 25 percent of the vote, Cons had 15 percent and Lib Dems had 7.5 percent. When you add this lot up and throw in the dreg Other votes it comes to about 50 percent. So the SNP landslide of 56 out of 59 seats was derived from just 50 percent of the votes. Which represents just 5 percent more nationalist fervour (or dislike of Miliband’s pink Tories) than we saw in the referendum.

No need for Kremlin Konspiracies then. But it is still surprising how surprised people are about this FPTP system. It’s as if nobody can remember the debate anymore. Matters seemed clear enough back in 2011. Aside from a lot of guff about fair representation and the hallowed ideals of democracy, the choice was between a political system that was forever locked into a swinging pendulum between two identikit parties which spent their entire decade-long terms undoing each other’s works, and a Euro-style consensus politics where political horse-trading, coalitions and compromises were the order of the day. In the one system you get a periodic rollercoaster of drama and convulsion ultimately culminating in no change, while in the other you get a lot of humdrum sameness culminating in no change. Around 70 percent of British voters chose the drama. And now they act surprised when they get it.

Socialists have varying opinions on this matter. Ultimately though, for socialism to be established across the world, and for it to work, support for it would have to be so massive that it wouldn’t make any difference what voting system was in place. There is the more vexing question of how to do voting in a socialist society, given that mathematically-speaking there is no voting system which can be ‘fair’ to everyone. This sobering fact was first established in 1950 by Nobel prize-winning economist Kenneth Arrow, whose ‘impossibility theorem’ surveyed all the possible voting systems then known and found that none could meet all his proposed criteria for fairness. Since then new contenders have come forward, or at least old ones in new livery. One of these is ‘range-voting’, a style of voting used in medieval Venice and more recently to rate YouTube videos, where you give candidates a score out of 10, or give them no score, or the same score, with the highest aggregate score giving the winner (New Scientist, 12 April 2008). But there are downsides to every system. In many, a candidate can win even if they were not most people’s first choice. Plus the systems can be gamed by strategic voting, a tactic quite likely in capitalist elections if not in socialism.

Still, this is not a question for socialists to get bogged down in. People in socialism would choose the system which delivered the greatest fairness to the greatest number. If it turned out not to work, they’d try something else. Formal voting might not even be a large factor in socialist society, since for all we know people might devise more informal ways of operating society which did not require it. How often do you see hands-in-the-air voting systems employed in groups organising a party or a picnic or a volunteer building project, after all? It might be that voting would only occur, on the whole, on the rare occasions when disputes arose, or things went wrong, rather than as a regular and ritualised social institution. How this might work, and work transparently, is not for us to guess. What is true is that we can’t make assumptions about democratic structures in socialism based on structures which exist in today’s capitalist world, where an elaborate apparatus exists mainly for show. Opponents like to caricature socialism as endless meetings getting in the way of real work. Socialists who are accustomed to today’s procedural complexities have sometimes projected similar procedures into the future, scaling them up to the level of global super-conferences and the like and thus inadvertently lending support to the caricaturists. What gets forgotten in all this is the issue of trust. As we have learned to trust scientists to do a good job, and the scientific method to expose those who don’t, so we might learn to trust other socialists to do a good job, and the socialist political method to uncover bad jobs where necessary, rather than set ourselves the impossible task of personally scrutinising every decision, every resource budget and every policy document for signs of weakness. The emancipation of humanity from wage-servitude doesn’t have to mean we all become full-time nit-pickers and bureaucrats. It could just as easily mean a welcome release from obsessing about the democratic process itself.
Paddy Shannon