Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Scotch Broth of Peculiar Composition (1944)

From the August 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard

As the war nears its climax, the capitalist political representatives—and their sidekicks—are doing a lot of jockeying for place and power in what they consider will be the political set-up. In Scotland, as in England, recent events in Parliamentary by-elections have indicated clearly that the working-class electorate are not whole-heartedly enamoured of the National-cum-Labour Government. A definite swing of the pendulum "leftwards" has been observed, and a post-war continuation of that process has been envisaged. The "Commonwealth" movement has had some measure of success in stealing the thunder of the Labour and Communist Parties. This organisation, which receives the financial backing of Sir Richard Acland and other rich men, has made attempts—with varying degrees of success—to take united Parliamentary action with the other reformist organisations, the Labour Party, Communist Party and I.L.P. "Commonwealth" spokesmen have, of course, demonstrated their confusion and invincible ignorance of what the term "commonwealth" means. To them it means anything and everything, from State ownership to public utility corporations—in a word, anything but the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life.

Enchanted, apparently, by the measure of success which has attended the efforts of Acland and Co. yet again to beguile the workers, a "Scotch broth" of various "lairds," "literary men, Communist gents and Labour politicians have arisen in Scotland in the form of a "Declaration on Scottish Affairs," in which various problems are discussed and palliatives set forth. The ancient slogan, "Scottish Home Rule," is revived from its centuries-old semi-torpor, and blazoned forth to an —as yet—incredulous working class. This specious document contends initially that "Scottish conditions are not identical with English conditions," a masterly and illuminating observation! In support of this, various evidence is adduced: "Hill farming, forestry and fishing are more important than in the South"; "depopulation of the Highlands is an entirely Scottish question"; "The Scottish housing question is different in scale." The solution to these perplexing anomalies is modestly claimed to be: "A Scottish legislature and Government should be established to deal with Scottish affairs, and that Scottish representation in the Parliament of the United Kingdom should be retained."

We have heard all this before, in varying guises. Yes, my Lords and Ladies and inspired Commoners, your "fresh" Scottish fish stinks of crumbling antiquity! It was also claimed by the Irish Nationalists over long years, that the problems of the Irish workers were uniquely different from the other workers of the world. After years of bloody struggle the Irish Nationalists—to some extent—had their way, with what results? Are not poverty and unemployment inevitable accompaniments of wealth and leisure in the "Emerald Isle"? Are slums, poorhouses, pawnshops, diseases, malnutrition and the other horrible characteristics of modern society the exclusive product of Scotland, Ireland or any other country in the world?

An amusing reflection that strikes me on examining the "Home Rule" claims is the one that arises when they claim that Home Rule for Scotland will result in more work. More work for whom?—for the Lords, Dukes, ladies, authors and Labour politicians who modestly sign the declaration? No! As is usual, for the already over-worked working class of Scotland! It could be thought that, at least, it had occurred to John S. Clarke (one of the signatories) that what is wrong with the working class is not lack of work, but their divorcement from the means of wealth-production. To talk of Scottish, as opposed to English, interests is to gloss over, to ignore the basic conflict of interests that inevitably arises from the structure of capitalism. The defenders of capitalism adopt sundry devices to hide this fundamental class-antagonism, and one of the handiest ones has been for years to play on the difference of nationality and seat of government. The defence against this stratagem is, as always. the re-statement of the Socialist case and an iron confidence in the working-class ability eventually to solve their own problems without the assistance of Lairds and Lords, or leaders.
Thomas Anthony.

Plight of the old (1980)

From the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once we reach the age of 65 (if we are a man) or 60 (if we are a women), we are officially classified as being "old". Old means no longer considered able to contribute brain power or physical power to enable our employers to make a profit out of us. When a horse is past its best, it is retired or "put out to grass", where it spends the rest of its days sleeping, eating and, presumably, having an enjoyable time. But this picture of retirement is far from accurate where workers are concerned.

Many people of retirement age are still capable of doing full-time work—but they are usually not allowed to continue in the work for which they were trained. The excuses for this are obvious—supposedly failing health and strength, the need to make way for younger men because of high unemployment and that we have "earned" a rest after a lifetime of working. But what if the "right to rest" is not wanted? In capitalist society we are trained and conditioned to use our time for working, with little or no education on how to use our leisure time, with the result that many retired people do not know what to do with all that time on their hands.

However, it is much more likely that the "right to rest" is not possible. People need to continue working in order to survive, or to try and maintain the already very low standard of living they have had all their working lives. Unfortunately, even though someone in their sixties may have as much to give in the way of experience or knowledge as a younger person, they will have to settle, if they can find any, for low paid, boring work. An "old age pensioner" or, as the Americans coyly put it, a "senior citizen", falls into the same category as a school leaver or an unqualified woman with children—dirt cheap labour. So, in order to supplement the pittance the government or our ex-employers kindly give us a reward for a lifetime of wage slavery, a pensioner has to spend more years, sometimes literally until they die, doing badly paid, tedious work. On top of this any money earned will be added to the pension, and tax will be taken off if the resultant amount exceeds the personal allowance.

These, however, are the lucky ones. Some people, through ill-health or the ability to find even the most badly paid employment, cannot work and have to live on their old age pension. Out of this miserly sum people still have to pay for food, rent, rates, heating, lighting and all the other expenses of modern living. This is particularly difficult in winter, when many old people die of hypothermia (literally die of cold) because they cannot afford to turn on a fire.

Even if people have planned for their retirement and have managed to save a small amount of money, this is soon eaten away by depreciation and bills and, if they have the misfortune to live longer than their savings, they are then as badly off as the rest.

At present a single person on a state pension receives £23.30 a week. For a married couple, the man receives this £23.30 and is given an extra £14.00 for his wife, making a grand (or not so very grand) total of £37.30 a week. The state obviously believe that two can live very much cheaper than one. Before November 1979 these figures were £19.50 for a single person and £31.20 for a married couple, the wife receiving just £11.70 a week. Obviously a woman is considered to have less needs that a man. If her husband were to die, she would receive the single's person's pension plus a widow's pension and would be much better off.

The November 1979 increase in pensions amounted to 19.87 per cent. As inflation at the time was running at something like 17 per cent, for a short time they didn't get any poorer. However since then inflation has risen to over 20 per cent, so old age pensioners are significantly worse off than six months ago, To add insult to injury, the November 1980 increase in pensions is to be a derisory 16.5 per cent, being an increase to £27.15 for a single person and £43.45 for a married couple. This time the lucky wife of our old age pensioner receives £16.30 a week.

Peter Townsend in his book Poverty in the UK states that 14 million people in Britain are living on or below the poverty line. By far the largest proportion of these people are made up of the disabled, the long-term unemployed and, of course, the old. Some reward for a lifetime of working.

Capitalism's nuclear family—with one man, one woman and their children—isolates people into small, tight-knit groups. When a person becomes old, if they have no children, or children who are not prepared or not able to take care of them, they are obviously very vulnerable. If they have no partner and no family they will be totally isolated, having to fend for themselves, which becomes increasingly difficult as age takes its toll on their health and mobility.

An old person who loses their partner, usually someone they have spent the major part of their adult life with, obviously has to face not only that loss but the fact that they will very likely either be a burden on their families or have to go into strange surroundings in an old people's home or a hospital. To lose a partner is hard to bear at the best of times, but when a person is old and faces these options they are often driven to despair. Left on their own they will neglect themselves and not eat properly. The press constantly carries stories of old people dying of hypothermia, malnutrition and other treatable conditions and not being discovered for weeks; or an old person who is no longer able to look after himself can be put into an old people's home, where he is fed, kept clean and warm and left to vegetate. The only pleasure he has to look forward to is a possible visit from a family member—if he has a family.

Many, more unlucky (if lucky is a word that can be used in this context) old people end up in hospital wards or in mental homes where they lie in bed all day with no stimulation to keep them in any way active or interested in life, just waiting to die.

It is typical of capitalism, that as we reach old age we do not have a great deal to look forward to. A system whose purpose is profit can have no place for anyone unable to contribute towards this aim.
Lynne Homan

All That Glistens (2001)

Book Review from the June 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession . By Peter L. Bernstein. John Wiley & Sons, New York.

The author is president of his own economic consulting firm and author of seven books on economics and finance. He is also well-connected with powerful establishment figures, citing for example in his foreword the "significant assistance" of such as Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman. In addition he also acknowledges the assistance of half-a-dozen researchers. So what is the outcome of such an undertaking into a fascinating subject? There is an astounding collection of stories, anecdotes and speculations on the subject of gold that embraces Biblical legends, Greek mythology, medieval nonsense and modern received wisdom, but nowhere will you find an explanation of what determines the value of gold.

The researchers have obviously been assiduous in their set tasks of tracking down just about every reference to gold they could find in Ancient and Modern History. No expense has been spared in tracing what Moses, Job, Herodotus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pizzo or Newton had to say on the subject. But nowhere a mention of what determines the value of gold. We can understand that Bernstein and his team of researchers would ignore the ideas of Karl Marx, because of their background and aspirations, but it is a pity one of them hadn't taken a day off from his research and spent an afternoon in a local cinema watching a rerun of The Treasure of Sierra Madre.

He would have seen the Humphrey Bogart character bemoan to the old prospector in the flophouse about how it was a pity gold was so difficult to find, and the Walter Houston character reply, "Many men search for gold, very few find it. Therein is the value of gold." It's as simple as that. The value of gold is determined, like all other commodities, by the amount of socially-necessary labour time spent in its production.

If you want a lot of colourful anecdotes about some of the crazy things people have said and done about gold, then this is the book for you. If you want to know something about the value of gold, and how is determined you would be much better employed reading the 100 or so pages of Part 1 of Marx's Capital, Volume 1. Alternatively look out for the next TV rerun of The Treasure of Sierra Madre.
Richard Donnelly

Socialist activity in New Zealand (1970)

From the May 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Auckland Branch of the Socialist Party of New Zealand are active selling the Socialist Standard and distributing leaflets as well as holding regular Sunday afternoon meetings in the local Albert Park. Some of these meetings have been disrupted by members of the Progressive Youth Movement, a Maoist group which gained some publicity recently be threatening to stage anti-royalist incidents during the recent visit of Mrs. Elizabeth Wettin. Somewhat inconsistently the PYM complain of police brutality while at the same time using physical force to try to prevent the Socialist case, including criticism of state capitalist China from being heard.

A comrade from the Socialist Party of Great Britain, visiting Auckland on a ship, was interviewed on NZTV about outdoor speaking during which we managed to explain that the world socialist movement stood for the abolition of the wages system and production for use with free access.

Finally, we regret to report the death of our comrade Tom Jackson at the age of 80. Tom Jackson joined the NZ Marxian Association in 1918 when he was working as a miner of the west coast of South Island. He later joined the SPNZ after it was formed in the 1930s and remained a staunch Socialist devoting his efforts, as comrades put it, "to help hasten the abolition of the profit system and establish a system fit for human beings".

Lenin and the 'Socialist Standard' (1970)

From the April 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

On February 14, 1915, a Conference of so-called "Allied Socialists" opened in London. At this conference Maxim Litvinov (Maximovitch), the Bolshevik representative to the International Bureau of the Second International attempted to read a declaration sent by his section of Russian Social Democracy.

The conference chairman, Keir Hardie, twice prevented the reading of this declaration, whereupon Litvinov left the conference. This London Conference became an important landmark for the Bolsheviks who considered that they had made clear the differences between their anti-war stand and the "social chauvinist" approach of the Second International. At the time the conference was held the actions and resolutions of the participants were reported and commented on in the Zurich organ of the Bolsheviks, the Sotsial-Demokrat.

Later the conference was dealt with in detail in a number of works such as Lenin's Collected Works Vol. XVIII, Lenin on Britain and A. U. Pope's Maxim Litvinoff. But nowhere is it recorded that the declaration supplied to Litvinov and refused a hearing at the conference was in fact printed under his name in the March 1915 issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD and the whole of the front page was given over to its presentation.

Since the declaration was in fact written by Lenin himself (and more than likely translated into English by him) this is indeed strange, for in Leninist circles even a doodle by the late master would be sought after and noted! In fact this seems to be the first known article by Lenin to have been published in English.

Is there an explanation for this odd silence? Let us look a little closer at the events of 1915.

After making a verbal and written protest Litvinov left the conference hall in disgust. For some days afterwards he attempted to get his Party's declaration printed in the "Labour" and "Socialist" press but every journal approached refused to print it. He then asked the Socialist Party of Great Britain to publish it. The Minutes of our Executive Committee for February 23, 1915 read:
“Russian Letter on War: M. Maximovitch stating that certain Russian Political Parties had been excluded from the arrangements made by Socialist Bureau although members of the Bureau, and also protesting against the action of the European Socialists in the supporting the War.
Lobb and Anderson moved "That the letter of M. Maximovitch be inserted in the next issue of the S.S. as a front page article". Cd.”
If we compare this declaration (also reproduced in our pamphlet Russia Since 1917) printed exactly as received, with the version later published in the Sotsial-Demokrat (March 29, 1915), we find that the Russian version differs from the English printing. The Russian version concludes with two sentences not found in the copy submitted to us by Litvinov. These sentences read
“the workers of Russia extend their comradely hand to the Socialists who act like Karl Leibknecht, like the Socialists of Serbia and Italy, like the British comrades from the Independent Labour Party and some members of the British Socialist Party, like our imprisoned comrades of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.
It is to this road that we call you the road of Socialism. Down with chauvinism which destroys the proletarian cause! Long live International Socialism.”
And here we have the solution to the mystery. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had for long held the traditional Social-Democratic illusions concerning the strength of the anti-war forces. Before the war they believed that the anti-war resolutions of the International, would lead, in the event of a crisis, to antiwar action, even though the reform-minded masses were clearly patriotic, and the German Party itself had repeatedly in the Reichstag and in its press, sworn itself to stand by the Fatherland. After the war began they still continued to see pockets of socialist internationalism in places where they did not exist and never had existed. For the Bolshevik theories were based on a belief in the need to manipulate socialistically-ignorant masses, therefore they could not reject the mass-based reformist labour parties but tried to find allies within them, Lenin up to the date of the London Conference was quite ignorant of the real activities of the ILP for example. Since he relied on Litvinov for his information about English political affairs it is clear that Litvinov was playing the old opportunist game of concealing the defects of those he wished to ally himself with. The extent of Lenin's illusion can be gauged from his comments on the London Conference:
“On the other hand, the Journal de Débats laid the cards on the table in declaring that the major achievement was the vote of the English Socialists with Keir Hardie at their head, who had hitherto been against the war and against recruiting, and who at the conference cast their vote in favour of the war until victory is won over Germany.” (Sotsial-Demokrat March 29, 1915.)
Litvinov on the other hand, living in England, knew the real nature of the so-called anti-war forces. He knew that the ILP leaders though regretting the outbreak of war (in common with many Tories and Liberals) had not in fact opposed it. He knew that Keir Hardie, MacDonald and the others had in fact supported the war long before the London Conference. He knew that these gentlemen had in fact boosted recruitment to the forces even if they opposed the official recruiting platforms. So he deleted the final part of the declaration knowing that part to be riddled with illusions and knowing the Socialists Party had consistently exposed these illusions. After the date of publication he presumably regretted his action since it reflected on the accuracy of the information he had supplied to Lenin. The fact that Lenin's statement had been published and distributed widely in this country was never mentioned by Litvinov in any of his writings on the London Conference.
Melvin Harris

Making Capitalism History (2005)

Editorial from the March 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Staggering numbers of the world’s people live lives of abject poverty, on one dollar a day or less. They lack access to housing, health care, education, even to clean water, things taken for granted in the ‘developed’ world. Their lives are nasty, brutish and short, brought down by malnutrition and diseases which could be easily treated with simple medicines were these available. They may be victims of wars and expulsions, living in refugee camps or prey to thuggery and violence from governments and other rulers.

It’s not as if nobody knows or cares about their plight. Charities and international aid organisations devote their considerable resources and expertise to valiant efforts to improve the lot of the world’s poorest. Workers in developed capitalist countries willingly make donations to such as Oxfam, believing that they are doing some good in alleviating destitution. Celebrity concerts and fund-raising activities further provide opportunities for collecting money for such good causes.

Yet it all seems to have little effect. Despite the efforts of both the poor themselves and of the aid and charity workers, the conditions of people at rock bottom hardly improve. Indeed more join them as violence, disruptions and natural disasters add to the stock of people with little of their own except their lives. Whole generations are doomed to hunger and squalor until premature death cuts short their misery.

All this is unconscionable. That our fellow human beings are forced to survive in this state is an affront to us all, a vivid demonstration that all is not right with a world where such things happen, alongside billionaires and vastly-expensive military programmes. Nobody surveying the extent of poverty and inequality can be content with such a set-up.

And it is made worse by the fact that it is utterly unnecessary. The world can produce enough food, water and housing materials to provide the basic needs (and more) of all the Earth’s people. The poor simply do not constitute a market — there is no profit to be made out of selling food to the destitute, or from growing food for them. If the one dollar a day will not stretch to buying food, then too bad. Countries supposedly in the grip of famine hardly ever have an absolute food shortage, it’s just that the food available is sold to those who can afford to buy it or exported for consumption elsewhere.

So the solution is not more charity, more fund-raising, more flag days in the local high street. The solution is a world where food —  like all goods — is produced to satisfy need, not to make a profit. Starvation amid plenty would be quite impossible in a socialist society run along the lines of production for use, where there are no poor people and everyone has free access to what has been produced. The knowledge and commitment of farmers, scientists and others would be put towards producing enough food for all. This is technically possible now, but capitalism’s profit motive, its wars and rivalries, do not permit abundance to be realised. A society where all work together will have no problem in achieving the potential that humanity has brought about.

Coroner's Court (1960)

From the February 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Court Room was small and unimpressive, rather like the old type of school class room, with varnished pine wood and green paint. One hears continually about officialdom being impersonal and flinty in its dealings. That was not apparent here, however. The atmosphere was kindly and unruffled, but the business was conducted with an air of efficient deliberation.

This day was one of the many normal routine sessions. No ghastly murder to attract the press, nor mysterious death of a famous personality to pack the small room with prominent names. In that room the unknown personal tragedies of our society for a brief while became picked out of the mass and enlarged as on a screen. It soon became clear that this kind of thing went on session after session, year upon year. The accidents, the suicides, the medical evidence, the autopsy reports couched in precise medical terms. made the mind reel at the variety and immensity of the social problems they revealed.

On leaving the Court Room and coming into the bustle of everyday life, one's thoughts dwelt over and over again on what had been heard. There was the down-and-out misfit, practically unknown in life, who at death had acquired a dossier that would be the envy of a pop singer's publicity manager. The tramp was one of those unhappy few who have somehow locked themselves away from society, defying all the meagre efforts of the welfare workers to become "rehabilitated." Yes, meagre. After all, why should our Capitalist society spend large sums on reclaiming odd members of the working class? There are always plenty of active, healthy ones available for exploitation.

Then there was the teen-age boy and his pillion passenger girl friend out for a trial run on a new motor-bike. It took days to get the list of injuries and causes of death out of the mind. One of the lad's friends gave evidence (he was following behind on another bike). His statements were delivered in a seemingly disinterested fashion, as though everyone expected youth to sacrifice themselves for speed because life had nothing else to offer except to "knock up a ton (100 m.p.h.) on the by-pass."

Other cases followed. There was the small child who unthinkingly dashed into the road and was killed by a passing car. A common enough accident, so common in fact that we now almost accept it as a necessary evil. The elderly woman subject to falls, but who had nobody to watch over her in her lonely back room.

On reflection one realised that all of these personal problems were bound up with our social pattern of living. What is wrong with our society that has its children condemned to play alongside lethal metal juggernauts? That cannot look after its old ones, or find a place for its misfits? Just think about these problems that continually confront us, and observe that—no matter how varied—they are all linked to our basic social system. A society based on property, with profits, wars, poverty and privilege, will always throw up its human wrecks. The coroner's court is only one of the many places where they are inspected.
Jack Law

IF MAN FRIDAY— (1920)

From the January 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard

If Man Friday could be suddenly introduced to our industrial life, taken into the factories and shown the wonderful processes by which we pour out society's dazzling stream of wealth, have explained to him the astonishing contrivances by which we have conquered space and time and the forces of nature, what would surprise him most? Would it be the wonderful looms reeling off miles of fine cloth, or the carpet looms weaving a double fabric to be split into two as it is woven, or the railway trains flying over the land at a mile a minute, or the 50,000 horse power engines of the giant ships, or the mighty mills grinding a nations' corn, or the newspaper machines turning out their scores of thousands of papers per hour, or the airmen climbing up into the clouds, or what?

No, it would not be any of these things that would give Robinson Crusoe's batman his greatest or most lasting surprise. When he had seen all our technical marvels he would naturally ask to be shown the results, and then he would get a jolt. He would find that in spite of the prodigious wealth that could be produced, people were in want; then he would discover that, contrary to all his previous experience, people were most in want when there was most wealth in the land, and finally he would see that it was not those who did not produce the wealth that were in want, but those who did, and—the knockout—the more they produced the deeper their want. And then he would laugh!

He would laugh because he had tumbled to the secret of the whole thing. His mind would go back to the time when he lay on the beach, the prospective joint of his hungry brethren, before Robinson robbed them of their dinner. He would recognise in our productive system only another form of cannibalism. All our marvels of science and ingenuity he would recognise only as adjuncts of an elaborate scheme of cannibalism, in which men ate other men piecemeal, instead of at a sitting.

Yes, he would see men's and women's sinews being, through these wonderful instruments of labour, worn into wealth for their masters appropriation, their flesh ground into profit for their master's pocketing; and he would marvel not so much at the development of our industrial devices as at the surprising way in which cannibalism has been elaborated through ages of development, to convert the unconscious victim of an hour's feast into sentient flesh quivering for a lifetime under wheels that pinch and peel.
A. E. Jacomb