Thursday, July 9, 2015

Not Leaders — Delegates! (1976)

From the June 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

"But somebody will have to lead," say our opponents when told there will be no leaders in Socialism. What in fact they usually mean is that there will have to be administrators. Of course there will have to be administrators—who will obviously be people with a flair for organizing, and their job will be to help a Socialist world to run smoothly, ensuring that production and free distribution of the good things of life take place to the benefit of all. But they will not have power to dictate to, "manage", or give promises to the rest of the population as leaders do at present. They will be the agents—not the masters—of the people.

How can this be guaranteed? Simply through the knowledge and understanding of the majority of the world's inhabitants.

Under the present capitalist system different groups of owners and their hirelings with vested interests, select from their numbers their representatives (whom they consider will appear through the media the most sincere, altruistic and to have the interests of those they intend to exploit at heart) to go before the electorate. The latter returns some of them to power as leaders from where they perpetuate the capitalist system in a way which most effectively serves the financial interest of the group or groups they represent.

But they can only get away with this for as long as the working class—who make up the vast majority of the voters—do not understand what their game is and the social system which could replace it.

Even if such leaders wanted to introduce a socialist system after being elected—they couldn't; they haven't the mandate and the electorate would think they had gone mad if they tried to.

In Socialism there will be not leaders but delegates—the difference being that delegates carry out the instructions of—not give orders to—the people who voted for them. The moment a delegate fails to voice the wishes of a knowledgeable electorate but starts talking about something else—he's out!

And so, despite the frustrated cravings of those wanting the "quick way" to Socialism by the "right leaders", there is still no safeguard except the working class knowledge and understanding which makes them superfluous.

At present—nearly everyone prays for "good" leaders, but there is no such animal. Leaders just do what they are put there for by those business interests which nominated them.

There are no leaders in the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties in various parts of the world—there couldn't be and doesn't need to be, because all the members understand what they want and how to go about getting it. Any member could therefore serve as a delegate. And what we want is clearly published (see "Object and Principles") on every copy of our party literature.
R. B. Gill

Obituary: Edward Littler (1963)

Obituary from the April 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are sorry to record the death of Edward Littler who some older members will remember. "Ted", a Lancashire collier, emigrated to New Zealand where he first had contact with the Party during the first world war. (Party members working in the Merchant Navy frequently held meetings in New Zealand and it was at these meetings that he first heard the case for Socialism.) Whilst there he met Moses Baritz and helped him at his propaganda meetings. Later Ted Littler returned to England and for some years worked in the pits around Doncaster. Ill health, due to the atmosphere in the mines caused him to become a chronic invalid for some years. But always he put the Party case in his discussions with people with whom he came in contact. Also, he wrote lengthy letters to comrades, arguing and clarifying various aspects of the Socialist attitude to capitalism.

Comrade Littler died in hospital at Wigan on March 1st.

Blacklisted (2015)

Book Review from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists'. By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain. New Internationalist Publications Ltd, 2015, £9.99.

This is about the industrial, mostly building construction, struggles between workers and the bosses, and their use of spies to inform on union representatives, thus resulting in their victimisation and unemployment.

It is a story of bitter class conflicts in which the employers were, and are, supported by the police special branches and MI5. Hundreds of building workers, and others, have been blacklisted just for highlighting dangerous conditions on building sites.

Some of the worst companies, listed by the authors, victimising union members, all in the interest of maximising profits, include the Kier Group, Balfour Beatty, Tarmac, Taylor Woodrow and probably the most notorious of them all, Sir Robert McAlpine, largely responsible for using, and encouraging, such spy outfits as the former Economic League and The Consulting Association (TCA).

The strength of this book lies in exposing the largely secret war of the bosses; the weakness, however, is the demand by the authors for a public enquiry. And all the TUC demands is that the employers compensate the blacklisted and victimised workers under the rubric: ‘Own Up! Clean Up! Pay Up!’.

Nowhere is it suggested that the workers should abolish the system of wage slavery, and the profit motive altogether, which gave rise and gives rise to the blacklisting and victimising in the first place. More’s the pity.
Peter E. Newell

An Apostle of Public Ownership (1932)

From the January 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Right Hon. Herbert Morrison, the late Minister of Transport in the Labour Government, has been invited by the Soviet Government of Russia to go there and reorganise the passenger transport system. The Daily Herald, in reporting the matter, did not mention whether he accepted the offer. It is a curious commentary, however, on the fact that the Moscow International has for years denounced Ramsay MacDonald and his supporters, while the Russian Government seeks the assistance of one of the most notorious worshippers of MacDonald in Labour Party history.

Herbert Morrison has been very useful here in the Labour Party work of repairing capitalism for the capitalists. Transport is one of the most essential things in the life of great cities. The investing class leave no stone unturned to make it efficient as a profit-making business, whether it is owned privately by shareholders in a company or by stockholders in a municipal or public utility corporation. Political action is one of the methods used by the investors to aid their schemes.

The transport strike under the Labour Government of 1924 was "settled" by the Labour Government passing a Bill asked for by the London Traffic Combine. This London Traffic Act of 1924 enabled the Combine to drive competition out of the field. Even Herbert Morrison (not Right Honourable then) described it as one of the worst Acts ever introduced. In the next Labour Government the critic (Mr. Morrison) was silenced. Mr. Morrison had then become the Minister of Transport.

He took charge of the "nefarious" Act of 1924 and worked it so that capitalist organs praised him for his business capacity in smoothing the path of the traffic companies. Before the Labour Government resigned, he brought forward a London Passenger Transport Bill to combine all concerns working London traffic under a so-called public utility Board. Lord Ashfield, of the Combine, told his shareholders that their stock and interest would be more secure under the Labour Bill than their present shares and dividends. The Bill was a part of the usual work of "Labour" in making the present system more efficient and strengthening it—not abolishing it, as Socialists desire.

The Right Honourable ex-Labour Minister gave a lecture at the Workers' Circle, Aldgate, on December 18th, to explain the wonderful scheme of traffic unification. It was a typical company chairman's speech to shareholders. He deplored the number of empty seats in 'buses, and wished to save the waste of perfectly good empty seats and arrange just enough 'buses for the riders. He also explained that the companies could not spend money on improvements while there any possibility of competition. The solution was not Socialism or even Nationalisation. Modern Socialists, he claimed, did not favour State operation of services, but business control through public utility boards. The shareholders of the companies were to be given stock, the directors compensated, and interest would be paid.

The idea was similar to the Port of London Authority, so prominent in opposing dock workers and using machinery to supplant them.

The writer asked Mr. Morrison if he did not describe the "publicly owned" Port of London Authority as a Capitalist Soviet. He was further asked to justify his statement that the workers are to be considered, seeing that out of 34 members of the Advisory Board under his Bill, only three would represent the organised workers.  The capitalist character of the scheme was exposed, but the Right Honourable "Labourer," in reply, "justified" himself by talking about Russia's need for development and capitalist assistance.

The writer never mentioned Russia or the Communists, but this leading light of capitalist reform thought it sufficient to call him a Communist and ignore the subject of his own address.
Adolph Kohn

Between the Lines: Dispatches, News Priorities and GBH (1991)

The Between the Lines column from the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Men with baseball bats threatening their political opponents; whispering campaigns and smears leaked to the press in order to discredit certain MPs; statements to the police about physical intimidation. Dispatches (C4, 8pm, 12 June) has shown what life is really like inside the Tory party. And there we were thinking it was all tea parties with fairy cakes made by the W.I. and orgasmic rallies in Blackpool. Not so, it seems. Where there is power to be fought for these louts fight dirty.

One Tory referred to the infiltration of his party by a "sinister brotherhood of extreme right-wingers". These are known within Tory ranks as The Movement and comprise of a number of free-market ideologues who dream of a utopia where the fire brigade is privatised and every beggar has the freedom to become a self-employed rent boy.

We have debated against some of these jerks (in fact, your reviewer recognised quite a few of the faces in the Soho room where the camera caught them plotting) and they are the sort of people whose main crime is that they are open enough to admit in public just how stupid and nasty their social dreams really are. Their opponents, including the current Tory chairman, Patten, are despised as "wets" who hold "unsound" sympathies for such evils as the NHS and income support payments. The Movement kids await the second coming of Thatcher and write documents about the threat to democracy in South Africa.

As targets for a pre-election documentary they are easy to attack and worthy of all the contempt intended by the programme-makers. Underlying the programme is an assumption that these sinister extremists have brought politics into disrepute — if only it could be left to the good guys like  . . . ?

As if we would believe for one minute that the likes of Major and Lamont are any less cynical and machiavellian in their sordid struggle to run British capitalism on behalf of the exploiting class. The fact is that capitalist politics is a dirty, dishonest business. These people can only win by deceit and false promises. That certain younger Tories have introduced filthy smears and baseball bats into the equation is just accentuating the constant.


NEWS PRIORITIES
On the day that the National Childrens Home report stated that one in ten children in Britain on Income Support are not fed at least once a month because their parents are too poor to buy food, what do you think was the first item on The News at Ten (ITV, 10pm, 6 June)?

Prince William had been hit on the head at school. Shock! Horror! The cameras were on the scene at an instant. Look at the tears in the eyes of that compassionate millionairess, Princess Di. Her son suffered no brain damage, a neurologist reported, although even if he was so brain-damaged that he could never lift a finger it would make not a scrap of difference because wee Willy is in the class which never does need to lift a finger. The kids in Britain who are starving because of poverty do not have or need the tears of rich princesses. What they need is a society of production for use, not profit. What they need is action by you, dear reader.


GBH - PART ONE
We shall wait for the completion of the Channel Four series, GBH, before commenting extensively next month. To be sure, the series went off to a very promising start. The scene between the corrupt Labour leader and the headmaster of the Special School, in which the latter is filled with amusement and indignation at the former's audacity in calling himself a socialist, is one of those brilliant televisual moments that are shown all too rarely. We look forward to seeing how the plot develops and concludes. Here are two predictions (written in early June):
  1. As the series goes on it will become harder and harder to tell the difference between the left-wing gangsters on GBH and the right-wingers shown on Dispatches.
  2. There will be reference made to the real Socialist Party.
Steve Coleman

A CAUTION (1918)

From the April 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

According to the "Manchester Evening News" for Jan. 1st last, Mr. John Hodge, the new Minister of Labour, in the course of a speech at Gorton, blabbed out that "employers have begun to realise that welfare becomes a valuable asset in the productivity of the worker, and that it pays as well to treat men, women, and children kindly as it pays to treat cattle kindly."

Mr. John Hodge will really have to be more careful. Weak and long-suffering though the working have-nots are they decidedly don't like being likened to cattle, however apt and true that comparison may be. We know, of course, that Varro of old Rome divided agricultural implements into three groups—the talking variety, or slaves; the semi-talking variety, like oxen; non-talking, such as waggons; but the day has long gone when the real status of the working class could be openly stated as John has stated it, especially after the pints of slop which have been poured out during the war, on our glorious heritage of freedom and equality, and the tosh that we are "all one in the hour of our nation's trial."

Hodge's function is to bluff and fool our class—we know that. But gee! he had better learn his job or he'll lose it. If we are to have our welfare seen to by getting better managers, and the like, it is folly from the Hodge point of view to tell us that it is to add to our "productivity," or in the vulgar vernacular, to make us grind harder for our grub. "Our" Minister is going the right way to get invested with the ignoble order of the boot, which my be awkward if overweening confidence in the devil's reputation for looking after his own has led him to part with all his 30 inch waistcoats.
PLEB.

A COMMUNIST VIEW OF THE S.P.G.B. (1943)

From the August 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few years ago a trade union known as the National Passenger Workers' Union was formed by busmen who had been members of the Transport and General Workers' Union, but were dissatisfied with the working of that organisation. The Communist Party has now decided that "no member of the N.P.W.U. is eligible for membership of the Communist Party." This declaration is contained in a leaflet headed "For Unity!—The C.P.G.B. and the N.P.W.U.," issued by the Communist Party. With the issues involved in the dispute between the rival unions we need not here concern ourselves except to say that members of the S.P.G.B. are to be found in both unions. The Communist leaflet, however, contains the following:—
The N.P.W.U. is itself a hotbed of every kind of anti-working class politics—S.P.G.B. members (who believe the fight for Socialism is hopeless until every worker is a Marxist) I.L.P.-ers and Trotskyists. . . . 
This is, of course, a gross distortion of the attitude of the S.P.G.B. In saying that the S.P.G.B. believes the fight for Socialism is hopeless until every worker is a "Marxist," the Communists imply that the S.P.G.B. is resigned to waiting until such time as every worker is deeply learned in the economic and other voluminous writings of Marx. This is a complete misunderstanding of the position. What the S.P.G.B. does hold is that the achievement of Socialism is hopeless until there are a majority of workers who understand that Socialism, not reformism, is the only solution of their problems. This is a very different proposition, and one the Communists invariably evade. What is the alternative to the S.P.G.B.'s attitude? The only alternative is that Socialism can be achieved by non-Socialists, by Liberals, Tories and others, under the leadership of what the Communists used to call an "intelligent minority." It is on this theory that the Communist Party tries to build up a mass movement by associating itself with all kinds of reforms of capitalism—at present it is demanding the Beveridge Scheme. Wherever this may lead, it does not lead to Socialism; it does not even lead to a Communist-directed mass organisation. The Tories, the Liberals, and the Labour Party have shown themselves infinitely more successful at attracting to themselves the support of the non-Socialist workers.
Editorial Committee.

The Passing Show: Scientology nonsense (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the January 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scientology nonsense
It's a far cry from the day when the American L. Ron Hubbard set down his early psychological theories in a slim book under the name Dianetics. Since then his organisation has opened centres in many parts of the world and the general body of his ideas is now called Scientology (The "Science of Wisdom" whatever that may mean), but the proposition of the Engram (harmful mental impression gained during extreme pain, exhaustion or other crisis) remains the basis of his methods. He claims. and perhaps in some cases has achieved, great success for his mental "processing" as it is called, although as far as I know, no independent assessment of Scientology has yet been made, and we have to accept Hubbard's word for it. However, to say that is one thing, but quite another to hear it said that the engram is at the bottom of all our problems, from illness to war and back again. Even a fall on the ice has an engram lurking around somewhere to explain it, I was once told. That the night was dark and the ice slippery, just would not satisfy scientologists.

Over the years the Hubbard organisation has tacked onto other and wilder concepts. There was for instance the "Church of Scientology" in support of the God idea, and attempts to prove the theory or reincarnation by discovering engrams carried over from a previous life. One of their spokesmen even assured me once that we can take on different forms in different lives if we wish it—so think of this the next time you are tempted to envy your cat stretched lazily by the fire without a care in the world.

In the political sphere, Hubbard has remained implacably "anti-communist." We don't know just how much engrams Stalin or Khrushchev are supposed to have had—the Scientology people were never allowed behind the iron curtain to find out. Apart from this, Hubbard's ventures into politics seem to have been rare, which is just as well, because on these occasions he doesn't add anything useful to our knowledge . . . quite the reverse if the Nov. 1964 issue of his journal Certainty is any guide.

Three of its four pages are given over to an essay in nonsense called "Socialism and Scientology" dedicated to "our friend the late Hugh Gaitskell." It contains various gems of unwisdom, such as:
The primary danger of Socialism . . . is that it seeks to remove all dangers from the environment, which it cannot do without a huge bureaucracy . . .
The degrees of Socialism are measured by the extent to which they arrange to deny reward for individual or group contribution . . .
And how's this for a bit of double-think:
So we have no quarrel with charity, we wave no quarrel with a state devoted to it. We quarrel only with the end product . . .
There are plenty more where these came from, but they are enough to show how little Mr. Hubbard really knows about Socialism. He equates it with just about everything except what it really is, and says really so little that we wonder why he bothered at all. But the last few lines may give us a clue.
Can the great dream of Socialism succeed this time? It can if it itself accepts the help of Scientology . . . 
Can it then be a thinly veiled attempt to "sell" Scientology to the Labour Party? Just think of the fillip to his organisation if he could claim the support of such a massive body. Good for Scientology; good perhaps for the Labour Party, but absolutely useless for Socialism.


The lunatic fringe
Perhaps we are better known than you'd think. What I mean to say is, we get all sorts of letters from all sorts of people and places. Some of them (the letters I mean) are sympathetic, some are hostile and some are frankly baffling, like those we used to get from one God-fearing old lady in Canada who hated all the Royal Family except Prince Phillip, and who never used a dot or comma, probably because she was unaware of their existence. "Why doesn't he come and live amongst us Canadians who would know how to look after him not like that lot back at Buckingham Palace from yours Mrs. A M."

Well we never did work out an answer to that one and perhaps the lady got tired of waiting, because she hasn't written for some time now. Or perhaps she managed to work out for herself the answers to the posers she set us with such vigour and regularity, and decided to save the postage. But at least she was not afraid to tell us her name and address, which is more than can be said for some of the other not-so-harmless nut cases.

A package was handed to me the other day. Attached to a variety of cuttings from such high quality newspapers as the News of the World and The People was a brief unsigned message, noteworthy again for its lack of punctuation: "HERES THE ANSWER TO THE COLOURED GUYS LET THEM GET INTO BATTLE AS BRITAINS GLORIOUS HEROES DID AND WE'LL HEAR NO MORE NONSENSE FROM THEM." So look no further for the solution to the racial problem—our correspondent has found it for us, and the heroes he has in mind are the boys who disappeared by the million in the 1914-18 trenches.

He's a bit out of date in his choice of wars, of course. Few people try to pretend now that the heroism of those days did any good or solved any problems. Since then, we have had another world war and some smaller ones too, with no shortage of workers—including "coloured guys"—to fight and die. Does our nut case think that the problems of capitalism are any less pressing because of this second lot of senseless heroism? If he does, he had better think again.

In the future, capitalism will develop the African states and they will have their own armies, coloured workers trained to kill in the interests of their ruling classes. The Congo is only a foretaste of what is to come, and it will not be a very pretty story. What is needed is a great deal less heroism and a great deal more hard thinking about the Socialist answer.


Jumble sales
A recent small article in The Guardian about the decline of jumble sales took me back a few years to my schooldays. It was the period just before the outbreak of the second world war when unemployment was much greater and every penny was precious; and so it was considered particularly daring of our headmaster to decide on a jumble sale as a means of raising funds for a new radio for the school. Useless to try and squeeze the money out of the education authorities in those days, anyway.

The sale was, I remember, a great success and the school got its radio; but wandering around the building seeing the heaps of accumulated junk, I can remember wondering just where it all came from and where it would all go to. At the end of the evening the helpers tried to give away the remains of their stalls, but with limited success—nobody wanted the stuff even as a gift—and eventually it was bought by a job lot dealer.

The jumble sale is perhaps symbolic not only of working class poverty—for who would buy but those unable to afford better—but of another horror of capitalism, the veritable mountain of rubbish which it throws up. Most of it is of poor quality even when new and even the jumble sale often does not mark the end of its life. Since the end of the war, production has increased in many fields and with it the incidence of trash ("built in obsolescence" is the modern euphemism for it); ironically this has assisted in the decline in the jumble sales because the stuff is so poor after a short life that it wouldn't grace even a rickety trellis table in a musty church hall. So the faint chance of a bargain buy is even fainter now, and workers are looking elsewhere.

In this little snippet of news is a lesson we should never forget. Trash is one of the many objectionable facets of capitalist society, and even the best it can give workers is not worthy of human beings. In fact it is trash for most of us, and a trashy existence to match. 
E. T. C.

Enema of the People (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the July 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Something funny is going on with the current craze for faecal transplants. For those not already in the know, this is the decorous practice of shoving someone else’s poo up your behind, an unlikely but ancient stratagem which is delivering an astonishing 90 percent clear-up rate for clostridium difficile and some other potentially fatal infections not treatable by any antibiotic.
Faecal matter transplanting (FMT) definitely seems to be the business, and because there are no issues with immune rejection nor, up to now, any clinical oversight, anybody can do it with a home-made enema, and anybody’s poo will do, provided the donor is fit and healthy.
Clearly the ‘yuk factor’ has been trumped by the statistical ‘Wow factor’ as clinical trials through the last two years have largely confirmed FMT’s efficacy in treating certain bacterial conditions and people have stampeded to get the treatment. In 2012 a group of MIT researchers opened the world’s first stool bank. Oral forms are being investigated for wider pill dissemination. For once, it seems, there’s a cure for something that’s natural, freely available, and out of which the drug companies simply cannot make any money.
But after the first flush of success, worries are now emerging. For one thing, the DIY nature of FMT makes it unregulatable, so there are no controls over who is donating what to whom, or in what circumstances, meaning that far from curing infections FMT might be promoting them. For another, the claims have got wilder. FMT doesn’t just cure c.diff, it cures everything from Parkinson’s to asthma to cancer to MS to mental disorders to obesity, according to unverified reports. Yet counter-signs have emerged. In February this year, a woman with a history of being thin became clinically obese after a FMT procedure in which the donor was obese (Link). In a recent New Scientist survey, 15 of 52 responses from practitioners reported ‘unexpected symptoms’ following treatment.
The US and Canada are now imposing regulatory guidelines (New Scientist, 6 June), after ludicrous efforts to have poo classified as a drug for regulatory purposes provoked an outcry. The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is following suit. But such measures are unlikely to achieve much, as the nature and seriousness of any ‘side-effects’ remain unknown while the FMT craze continues to run away with itself.
It would be a shame if the current ‘poo-rush’ mentality ultimately ruined the credibility of this useful form of treatment and demoted it to snake-oil status, as happened in the west in the 1920s with bacteriophage therapies. But it’s interesting how people can change their minds so rapidly over such unlikely things. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have put money on this treatment ever becoming acceptable. Social prejudice, you would have thought, would have been too strong.
Considering that people routinely shove other people’s shit into their heads on a daily basis through the news media business, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. Yet people seem alarmingly resistant to changing their ideas when it is in their urgent interest to do so. In a recent study, 2,000 parents were divided into 4 groups and given different leaflets designed to determine whether pro-vaccination campaigns could change their attitudes towards vaccinations. One leaflet focussed on the lack of evidence linking the MMR jab with autism, the second emphasised the dangers of measles, mumps and rubella, the third carried photos of children with the diseases and the fourth was a case study of a child who almost died. A control group were not sent any of the leaflets. What was the outcome? Nothing. No change at all. ‘It’s depressing’, said one of the researchers, ‘we were definitely depressed’ (New Yorker, 16 May 2014).
Other studies show that people’s ingrained biases can be heavily resistant to change even when the facts are known to the subjects, suggesting that people resolve cases of cognitive dissonance by ditching the facts and sticking to their beliefs.
Well, not in the case of poo, apparently. And not if one takes a larger view either. The fact is, if people were as resistant to changing their ideas as some depressed researchers would have us believe, the human race would still be living in caves doing finger-paintings on the walls for amusement. Of course people don’t like being contradicted, or having their precious beliefs scrutinised, picked apart or mocked. Of course they feel threatened, and so of course they’ll resort to irrational defences like ignoring reality. Is the answer to this some sort of self-affirmative mollycoddling, as some researchers think, where you bathe the subject in a warm glow of self-admiration before gently encouraging them to think again about their assumptions? No, it’s not. The answer to people who won’t face reality is to slap them in the face with reality, very hard, and as often as possible.
A case in point arose just last month, when a Nobel laureate who should have known better was excoriated in the press for making jokes about women in the science lab being cry-babies who were always falling in love and, therefore by implication, not being very at science. The professor, no doubt thinking he was making a hilarious joke, was astonished to find himself forced to resign by his university. TV’s wonder boy of physics Brian Cox immediately leapt into the fray to describe the forced resignation as ‘disproportionate’, implying that the remarks while ‘serious’ were effectively a minor peccadillo and not worth making a fuss about.
But was the public reaction disproportionate? Was it a collective failure to appreciate a humorous moment of professional bonhomie? No, it wasn’t. Prejudice and bigotry never use their own names, they always pass themselves off as harmless jokes, trying to sneak under the radar of social disapprobation. That’s why, periodically, some out-of-touch lecturer thinks he can stand up and tell us that women are no good at science and get away with it, even though there’s nothing scientific about this statement and even though the treatment of women in science has historically been and continues to be a disgrace to the discipline.
Ideas like sexism, racism and all the other isms which get in the way of social progress are certainly resistant to change, but change they must, and not by being softly-softly or touchy-feely. The only way to do it is to expose these ideas for the shit they are, and then invite their exponents to shove them somewhere the sun doesn’t shine, preferably with a home enema kit. In the long run, it will certainly be good for them.
PJS

Making and owning (1983)

From the May 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

They've built a new block of flats near where I live. "Fairview" is what they call them, although the view is actually over the North Circular Road, which for five to six hours a day is far from fair.

They started building the flats last summer. It used to be a small area of waste land where boys played football with tennis balls and teenaged girls stood around pretending not to be teenaged girls. Then last summer a lorry load of men, wearing clothes that had not been purchased in the Harrod's sale, turned up and started doing things.

It's funny, isn't it? You always read in the papers about how lazy British workers are. All those car workers sleeping at British Leyland while the cars build themselves and all those miners having a kip while the coal extracts itself from the ground. So, when I saw these builders turn up I expected to see them pull a few Slumberlands out of their lorry and pull on the continental quilt. Funnily enough, these builders had building equipment with them and before long the local streets were filled, not with the sound of heavy snoring, but hammering, drilling and demolishing.

At the end of June I went away on a working holiday and returned five weeks later. I went to have a look at the wasteland, but it was no longer there. It was a partially-completed building. These so-called lazy workers had been working hard. I wondered what the directors of ICI and Unilever had made during the same month.

In the centre of the building site was a hut. Quite often I would pop in there to have a chat with the builders. They took their jobs seriously — not least because there was a long queue of unemployed building workers to replace those who did not. An old carpenter called George told me that he was getting too old for this open-air lark, but what else could he do to keep his family surviving? I showed George a copy of Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and he said that he liked a read, so he borrowed it. One or two of the men bought copies of the Socialist Standard, but one stopped buying it because he voted Labour like his old man and wouldn't hear a word said against them.

By November the flats were almost completed. George said he was trying to make the job last a little longer because he needed the money for Christmas. Paddy, the plumber, told me that he agreed with everything in the Standard, but couldn't we put it more simply? I told him that he joined us he might be able to show us a simpler way of expressing our ideas and he promised to have a serious think about it. After Christmas most of the work was being done on the inside of the flats. Terry, a painter who spent his spare time listening to Motorhead tapes on the cassette stereo in his van, told me that he was getting married but there was no chance of finding anywhere suitable to live. He had answered all the advertisements in the local rag, but they were all either taken or too costly. He was going to sell his van and use the money as a deposit on a cheap flat—but he would only get a few hundred for that, even with his precious stereo.

At the time of writing, Terry still does not have a place to live with the girl he wants to marry. He has listened carefully to Thatcher's advice about the need for strong family life, but that does not seem to provide him with a flat. Terry is sick of the whole bloody system. Last week he asked me to let him have some more of that socialist literature — and could he borrow the book that George had read. Comrade Capitalism is doing a good job in recruiting Terry to the socialist cause; I just have to stand there and agree with him.

Produce to satisfy human needs
The flats are now completed. Last month they stuck "For Sale" notices all over the windows of the flats. At only £29,000 for a two-bedroomed home the flats are not very expensive. After all, they were built on the cheap—and with all that rush-hour traffic going past your window you're not going to pay a fortune.

Terry would like one of those flats. He worked for months building them. The owner of the building firm did not come on the site once while building was in progress. Now Terry has even sold the van that took him to work but those flats are not for him. George told me he would love to retire in a flat like that. For ten years George and his family have lived in the upstairs part of a terraced house in Kilburn that was originally built for one family. If George saved £10 of his wages from now until the day he died he could not even afford the deposit on one of the flats.

Under capitalism production is not for use, but for sale with a view to profit. Some of those flats could stand empty for months, but Terry and his girl could not have one.

In a socialist society production will be solely for human need. If people require houses, then builders will work to create them. And they will be the best houses that human beings can build. In socialism the world will belong to the people and those who produce the wealth will not be regarded as the inferiors, while those who possess but do not produce live in comfort and privilege.

But socialism will only be built like the Fairview flats were built: by human beings who know what they are doing. As builders of flats George, Terry, Paddy and the rest were experts. The working class are the experts because we, between us, create all the wealth of society. Most workers have ideas of how production and distribution could be organised, if only the barriers of the present system were removed.

Production for use instead of profit offers the only sensible alternative to the waste and anarchy and poverty of the capitalist system. Upon the huge wasteland of capitalist society we need to build a world which caters for human beings — where the best is produced not just for the few, but for all — where technology is converted from destructive to positively productive use. It is there for the taking.
Steve Coleman