Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why just land? (2003)

From the February 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Land is a natural resource that existed before mankind walked the earth. Every person on the planet has a right to share in its wealth.”

So declared the winter 2001/2 issue of Land and Liberty but the article then went on to argue that sharing in the benefits of land could be realised through a tax on land. But if we agree that land is a common inheritance of all humanity then surely this must lead to only one conclusion – not that land ownership should be taxed, but that all the land of this Earth should be held in common by all people.

Let us be clear on what is meant by common ownership. We certainly don't mean nationalisation, which is state ownership and control. Nationalisation is a complete distortion of the idea of common ownership. We mean that all people will stand in equal relationship with each other about the land, and that it will be a common resource available to all communities, to be used solely for providing for the needs of people.

This can only happen as part of a general non-market economy in which people co-operate to produce goods and provide services directly for needs without the economic constraints of ownership or buying and selling. A non-market economy is a moneyless, non-exchange economy which operates only with useful labour co-operating to produce useful goods directly for consumption. With the equal relationships of common ownership, not just about land but about all the means of life, people will co-operate to produce food and other necessities which will then be distributed to stores where people will have free access to it without the barriers of buying and selling and without any of the economic constraints of the profit system.

From a common sense view it does seem daft that, whilst people need things and whilst the labour and machinery exists to produce those things, at the same time workers become unemployed, factories are made idle and people go without. However, this assumes that under market system production is able to respond directly to people's needs, but this is the last thing it is able to do. That would only be possible in a production for need system based on common ownership.

Of course, for a thing to be produced there has to be a need, but just because there is a need for something does not mean it will be produced. The market operates with what is now called “effective demand,” which is about ability and willingness to pay. So production stops, not when needs are satisfied but when sales begin to fall.

Throughout history, in previous societies, mostly they produced to their full productive capacity and then distributed what was produced. Distribution was determined by production. But with the development of the capitalist system and its markets, this was reversed. Production came to be limited and therefore determined by what could be distributed on the markets as sales for profit. Production came to be determined by market distribution and this means that there is always less than optimum production and certainly always less than what would be required for needs.

But this constraint on the use of productive powers has got nothing to do with the arrangement of the tax system. It is the operation of the markets that constrains production and we can see this clearly in the present use of land.

Land's greatest use as a productive resource is for the production of food commodities but there are increasing numbers of people in the world who suffer malnutrition. For example, the Food and Agricultural Organisation was set up in 1945 to assist in trying to solve the problem of world hunger. But if we look up its website now we find that during the last quarter of the 20th Century the numbers of starving people doubled. Between 1974 and 2000 the numbers of seriously undernourished people increased from 435 million to 820 million.

Despite the millions of people who are starving, most developed countries operate policies which restrict food production. We all know that it is part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to set tight quotas for most food commodities and that farmers have to adjust their production to these quotas. What is produced under this quota regime is nothing like the amount that could be produced with greater use of land resources in Europe. And the fact remains that what is produced is always much less than what would be required for people's needs.

During the 1980s to deal with the problem of falling cereal prices, the American government negotiated with farmers to take 82 million acres out of cereal production. At the same time newspapers were reporting that “32 million of the (American) population of 233 million are graded as living below the poverty line, but the mayors say that soup kitchens are not keeping pace with the hungry”.

The economic and social history of land ownership is rotten with theft, privilege, cruelty and exploitation but this should not blind us to the fact that the vast fortunes made from the accumulation of industrial and manufacturing capital also tell a nasty story of exploitation that still continues throughout the world in today's global capitalism. Income solely from the ownership of land is in fact only a small percentage of total property income in all its forms. This fact pushes the question of a land value tax even further to the margins of political interest.

The wealth of this world is produced by labour – there is no other way it comes into existence – but it is substantially owned and used by a rich social minority who have never been part of wealth production. These are just as much parasites as are land monopolists. It is their ownership of means of production and resources that has to be dealt with.

It is not only land that is the common inheritance of all people. We depend on the richness of all the Earth's resources, industrial as well as natural. What is vital are all the means of producing and distributing wealth. These means of life are also a common inheritance. They result from the development of productive techniques that began at the dawn of history with flint implements and continued down to the automated systems and electronically controlled robots of today. These are not the products of individuals or of a tiny class. Each new advance rested on the accumulated efforts of many previous generations. This has been a human achievement and that is why it can be said to be the common inheritance of us all.

Surely, therefore, the fact that these means of life are owned and monopolised by a tiny section of society, and used by them for their own enrichment whilst the vast majority of non owners have to struggle to live and countless millions live in desperate poverty and many starve, is an obscenity that cannot be defended in any kind of moral or rational sense? It can only be remedied through their common ownership.
Pieter Lawrence

Socialism and work (1986)

From the October 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Paul Lafargue wrote his well-known pamphlet The Right to be Lazy he chose this title to parody the demand, still current today, for "the right to work", In one sense he was right. The "right" to be employed by a capitalist is not something worth fighting for (quite apart from being unachievable). Given the demeaning and exploitative nature of employment it would indeed be better to demand the right not to work, the right to be lazy. In another sense, however, this title is misleading in that it suggests social life could continue without work, not in the sense of employment but in the sense of productive activity.

The sixties and seventies saw the growth and circulation of the idea of "the abolition of work", of a work-less society in which production would be fully automated leaving human beings free to engage in "play" or "leisure" or "creative activity" as it was variously put. This was reflected not only in the number of books, pamphlets and articles on this theme but also in the extraordinary popularity, mainly on the strength of its title, of Lafargue's pamphlet which went through edition after edition in nearly every West European language.

The spread of the idea of the abolition of work was positive in that it reflected the rejection, in practice also, of the capitalist "work ethic" by an increasing number of people. But it eventually became clear that the idea had not been fully worked out. Was it work as such — the expenditure of human physical and mental energy — that was being objected to, or was not the objection rather to work as employment, to work for an employer, to wage-labour? Was it not possible that the exercise of humans physical and mental faculties might even be a basic human need? Was, in any event, a fully-automated society a desirable objective? Would it be compatible with the need to conserve resources and to maintain a sustainable balance between human society and nature?

These reflections led some to conclude that the objection was indeed to wage-labour rather than to human productive activity as such and that the aim should not be to automate all productive activity but rather to achieve a society in which productive activity would become enjoyable and "creative". This was in fact the position taken up by Lafargue's contemporary, William Morris. And of course Fourier too had argued that work could and should be made attractive and that this was the answer to the questions, aimed at advocates of a free society, "what will be the incentive to work?" and "why would anybody want to work?".

Some of those who came to this conclusion then went to the opposite extreme and rejected not just the aim of full-scale automation but all modern technology, suggesting that the solution was to go back to a "simple life" based on handicraft production. But this is to make a fetish of "machines" and "technology", to attribute to them a consciousness and a will which, as inanimate objects, they don't have. Machines and technology don't and can't do anything on their own. The type of machines that are constructed and the use to which they are put depend on the social context. Machines in a society geared to maximising profits will be used differently (and will tend to be different) than in a society geared to serving human needs, including the need to engage in satisfying, creative activity.

Achieving the goal of turning the necessary task of production into creative, enjoyable activity does not have to involve rejecting all modern machinery and industrial techniques; it will be attained if production, both its aims and its methods, is brought under full human control. This can only be done through the abolition of property (private and state), production for sale and profit, and working for wages. In other words, through the establishment of socialist society, which wiIl not have to abandon industrial production, but adapt it to serving human needs.

A strong case can be made out for seeing satisfying, creative work not just as a desirable aim but as a vital human need. In any event some kind of activity, some physical and mental exercise, is necessary from a purely biological point of view since the chemical energy we acquire in the form of food must be used up in ways other than merely maintaining body temperature. So it is in the nature of humans to expend their physical and mental energies, to exercise their faculties, to work.

There is another reason why humans must expend physical and mental energy and that is to obtain from nature the food, clothing and shelter they need to survive. Since transforming nature to satisfy needs is the definition of production, this activity is productive activity and is a necessary human activity in any system of society, socialist as well as capitalist.

Etymologically, productive and creative should mean the same: the transformation of materials found in nature into something useful to human life. When something is produced by transforming nature something new, that didn't exist before, is created. Productive activity and creative activity should therefore be synonyms but it is a measure of the extent to which productive activity has come to be debased that we should be raising the demand that it be converted from the unsatisfying, externally-imposed burden that it is for the great majority of people into a satisfying, freely-chosen activity, that productive activity should once again become "creative".

The term "once again" is appropriate in this context since the evidence from the anthropologists is that in the original propertyless, classless - communist - condition of humanity productive activity was creative in the sense of being a satisfying, freely-chosen activity. It only became the unsatisfying, externally-imposed burden it has been for most people throughout history with the corning of propertied, class society where it became forced labour, an activity imposed by ruling classes to serve their needs.

In the sense that this original situation with regard to productive activity can be regarded as being the natural human condition then satisfying, freely-chosen productive activity ('creative activity'') can be regarded as being just as much a human need which human society ought to satisfy as food, clothing and shelter are - and the various class societies of history, including existing capitalist society, which denied this need must be regarded as being contrary to human nature and the kind of productive activity they have imposed (slave labour, serf labour, wage-labour) as unnatural, alienated labour.

This means that there cannot be any question of distinguishing in socialist society between a "realm of necessity" (of externally-imposed activity) and a "realm of freedom" (of freely-chosen activity), where the aim would be to reduce supposedly externally-imposed productive activity to a minimum in order to have a maximum of "free" time to engage in other activities. All time must be free, otherwise society will not have escaped from the tyranny of having to economise labour-time — which is precisely the economic logic of capitalism and what is meant by the term "externally-imposed". All productive activity, including the most routine, must become freely-chosen, work in a socialist society must be entirely voluntary.

In a society where humans are free to choose both the pace and the length of time they work, not only would the blind pressure to reduce to a minimum the labour-time needed to produce a product no longer exist, but it would become perfectly meaningless to measure the "value" or the "cost" of a product in terms of the labour-time socially necessary to make it. A society based on voluntary work would be free from such considerations. And if productive activity is enjoyable how can it be regarded as a cost?

Punk was proletarian (2012)

Originally posted on the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

The New York Times reported that Tom Morello, of the metal rap band Rage Against the Machine, described Romney's pit bull, Paul Ryan thus, "He is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lot of rage in him; a rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically, the only thing he is not raging against is the privileged elite he is grovelling in front of for campaign contributions." And metal is not the only type of music to offer meaningful social comment...

Jowe Head and the Demi-Monde (featuring singer and multi-percussionist Catherine Gerbrands) played a short set in July at Club Integral at 'The Grosvenor' in Brixton in London. Jowe, resplendent in an exploding psychedelic tie-dye shirt and a top hat with feather performed a Kevin Coyne song with Gerbrands on theremin, a 12th century ballad beautifully sung by Gerbrands, and a cover of Oscar Brown's 'Rags and Old Iron'. Jowe Head played in the bands Swell Maps, Palookas, TV Personalities, and was one of the pioneers of low-fi DIY music production which represented punk's swipe at corporate and monopoly capitalism.

Punk was proletarian at musician level but the capitalist manufacturers of music were major labels like EMI who also had commercial interests in the defence industry. Punk was critical of capitalism, consumerism and commodity fetishism (X-Ray Spex's 'Oh Bondage Up Yours!'), alienation, and the selling of oneself in wage slavery (The Pop Group 'We Are All Prostitutes' and Vic Godard sang “Everyone is a Prostitute”). Punk was also concerned with a sense of existential authenticity in life criticising “poseurs”, and The Clash sang of “bullshit detectors” to identify inauthenticity.

The first low-fi DIY production was the Buzzcocks 'Spiral Scratch' EP in 1976 whose cover detailed the means of production; recording process, takes, overdubs, and the catalogue number ORG 1 (ORG ONE) was a playful reference to Wilhelm Reich.

Green, a member of the British Young Communist League playing as Scritti Politti also 'appropriated the means of production' for the pressing of the single 'Skank Bloc Bologna' in 1978. The single cover demystified the process of production by listing the complete costs of studio hire, recording, mastering, pressing, and printing. Green made reference to Leninist thinker Gramsci idea of a 'bloc' of classes in opposition to capitalist hegemony. Green was inspired by 'il movimento' in 'la rossa' city of Bologna in 1977 where a cultural revolt and political uprising of autonomists (Marxists and Anarchists) and counter culture radicals took control. There were clashes with the police, protesters killed and eventually the Italian Army went in to suppress the revolt.

The Desperate Bicycles pressed 500 copies of their single 'Smokescreen' in 1977 on their own label Refill Records. The cost of production was £153 (studios, pressing, sleeves), and a profit of £210 was made in 4 months which went to a second pressing of 1,000 and with profit from these sales a further 2,500 copies pressed and capital investment in equipment made.

Jowe Head and the Swell Maps booked Spaceward Studios in Cambridge and pressed 2,000 copies of their single 'Read About Seymour' in 1977. Jowe Head recalled “the thrill of feeling empowered by our realisation that we could seize the means of production”. Low-fi DIY music production was about making your own entertainment and selling it to other creative, autonomous and like-minded souls. It represented authenticity and a purity of intent, and was an exercise in anarcho-capitalism.
Steve Clayton

This article was originally posted on the Socialism or Your Money Back blog on September 12th, 2012. Click on the link for the original article with comments.

Neighbours (1999)

A Short Story from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

I recently went to a party where the hostess, whose eightieth birthday it was, had invited a number of elderly neighbours. As her next-door neighbour I had planned to have a celebration for her in my own house, for my understanding was that none of her close relatives would be visiting her on the day and I felt that her advanced age deserved some recognition. But she would have none of this. "I would rather throw my own little party," she told me, imperiously.

The guests were due to arrive at six o'clock in the evening it being generally accepted that the aged would be content to partake of one or two glasses of wine and a twiglet before retiring from the party and to bed. But it was to be an "assorted bunch" my friend told me. Knowing her partiality for gentility I realised what she meant by this was different accents, different lifestyles, and readers of different newspapers. In this way many of us seek to define those people we think may be interesting to know and those we decide are hardly worth the effort. A mixture of intellectual and social snobbery few of us would care to admit to.

On the night this young thing (me!) answered the door to a little queue of old people and conducted each of them to various comfortable, or at least, supportable, seats and sofas. Several people were suffering the aftermath of operations and one man, who had spent some time in a prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War, came in on crutches. I collected up walking sticks and found a suitable corner to park them in while the hostess, looking svelte in a black dress and pearls, requested the services of a man of sixty-something to take charge of the drinks and refill glasses when they became empty. Knowing this man's capacity for alcohol I worried somewhat for him but even more for the people whose glasses he would be replenishing.

Conversation was a bit slow, the weather being discussed in desultory fashion. We were all neighbours, acquaintances and familiar faces but otherwise we knew little about each other. I disappeared into the garden to refuel my nicotine addiction. Re-entering the house about ten minutes later I was happy to find white heads bobbing up-and-down as neighbour chatted to neighbour. Jokes were being told and there was much laughter. A wartime experience was being recounted. The history of this road we all live in was being revealed by people who have dwelt here for yonks and interesting comparisons being made with how it is today. Politics were discussed but without enthusiasm. It was agreed that politicians couldn't be trusted no matter of what political colour. And six hundred quid demanded for Council Tax and nowt to show for it! Everybody peered into their empty glasses and sighed unanimously. Man in charge of drinks came round again. Then "Speech, speech" someone cried (I think it was me). The hostess was only too eager to oblige but after about fifteen minutes everyone stopped listening to her and talked to each other. Suddenly the opportunity to escape television soaps from behind lace curtains night-after-night seemed an attractive proposition to men and women who no longer got invited to "smart" parties. I know about smart parties I've done the rounds over the years—sitting on hard chairs at dinner tables forced to endure conversations about other people's careers, cars and mortgages, until I wanted to scream "I'm a socialist!" at the top of my voice. Once I did.

Not this time. I revelled in the sociability of people who were grateful to be together, these days perhaps not being seen as party material and so finding the unexpected chance to mingle enjoyable. There can be a dignity in old age, the aged knowing they no longer need to compete (if they ever did) with the young ambitious; having discovered that it is a pretty worthless pursuit anyway.

Ten o'clock. Man in charge of drinks came round for last refill. There were cries of "Whose eightieth birthday is next on the list?"—one or two admitted to having already had theirs. I collected up walking sticks, handing them round, often to the wrong people and it took a bit of time sorting it all out. Down the path they all went talking nineteen-to-the-dozen. The hostess was beaming. "It's been such fun," she said, "we must do it again sometime."
Heather Ball

Planning the road to nowhere (1978)

From the November 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Professor F.A. Hayek, in his recent lecture on "The Market Economy" (published in the Listener, 3, 10 & 17 August), performed one useful service, though it was not intentional. Hayek wants to go back to the open competitive market as envisaged by Adam Smith, with a minimum of government interference. In particular he denounces the vogue for government planning of the economy that came to the fore with the acceptance of Keynesian doctrines thirty years ago. He has no difficulty in showing that the attempt has been a failure. Two examples will suffice to show how great the failure has been. When the Labour Party pledged itself to "plan" jobs for all, did it also plan for over a million and a half unemployed? And when Labour (and Tory) Governments planned the investment of hundreds of millions of pounds to expand the steel industry did they also foresee the current plan, reported in the Sunday Telegraph (24 September 1978)? 
British Steel Corporation & Department of Industry officials are believed to have reached a private agreement to reduce the State-owned concern's work force by 140,000, nearly three-quarters, over the next five years.
This is in addition to the many tens of thousands already made redundant. 

Hayek calls this Keynesian fiasco a failure of "socialist" planning, but does not deal at all with the real concept of planning in a socialist society. He does not notice that his open market doctrine and the Keynesian doctrine are both of them attempts to plan the capitalist market, while Socialism is concerned with a non-market society. 

Hayek's useful contribution is that he spells out the unforeseeable and uncontrollable factors that dominate the market in both sets of circumstances, his own and the Keynesian. 

His argument, the familiar laissez-faire case of Adam Smith, is that if prices are left to find their own level with no government interference or planning, each worker and capitalist will be guided by changing wage levels in each occupation and by changed selling prices to seek new jobs and change production lines, in harmony with the overall total demands of the market, and that this will minimize unemployment and maximise production. But he candidly admits that nobody knows or can know in advance what the overall result of all these separate judgments is going to be: it can at best be only a question of trial and error, or partially informed guess-work. He says, for example, that "all economic problems are caused by the occurrence of unforeseen events". He calls price (and wage) changes arising out of market forces the "guiding signal" but admits: "even the most perfect market prices do not take into account all the circumstances we would wish to be taken into account"; he lamely adds that "a signal that takes account of most of them is better than none". 

So his case for the open market as against the Keynesian planners boils down to the argument that while both of them mean operating largely in ignorance, the government planners, through greater rigidity, are likely to fare worse. His example of the success of the open market is the second half of the 19th century, which included, though he does not mention the fact, the Great Depression of 1875-1895. 

The people, especially the Labour Party, who have thought they could plan capitalism have relied on the big increase of statistical material in recent years and the numerous governmental and private bodies engaged in forecasting. The record has been one of almost consistent error. It was population "experts" who forecast for the government in 1956 that by the end of the century the population of this country would be 53 million; but amended it in 1962 to 68 million. Their short term forecasts were equally wrong. 

It was a commercial Market Survey in 1939 that,in line with current fashion about population trends, forecast a population for Great Britain of 39 million in 1961: it turned out to be 51 million. 

Samuel Brittan in his The Treasury under the Tories 1951-1964 has a chapter headed "Crystal gazers in Chief" in which he describes the dismal record of the government's economic advisers in the field of forecasting. A typical comment is:
Export forecasting has a particularly bad record - even worse than forecasting in general. In the last few years shaking dice might actually have led to better results. 
One outstanding failure of the Labour Government was the National Plan of 1965. It planned for a growth of the National Product of 25 per cent between 1964 and 1970. Apart from the problems of coordinating all the separate industry plans into a comprehensive national plan, it overlooked that the products had to be sold at a profit, which depended on uncontrollable world market factors. The actual increase in those years turned out to be 15 per cent. Of course it is a hopeless endeavour. In order to know how British Companies and the whole economy will fare in future years the government would need to know the secret plans of all companies and governments in the world, to know which harvest would fail, what wars will break out and at what point the world market will lurch into one of its periodic depressions. They can guess but they cannot know. 

Looking ahead 
Professor Hayek gives the impression that while company market planning is not perfect it is nevertheless pretty accurate. This is not borne out by the forward planning of Royal Dutch-Shell. Mr. Frank S. McFadzean, a managing director of the group, in Galbraith & the Planners not only made scathing criticism of the National Plan, but admitted the limitations of planning by his own company. 
Except in the very short period ahead, we are not really impressed by the detailed results shown by our plans. It will be the sheerest fluke if we ever achieve them Looking back to 1962 and what we then prognosticated . . .  we were wrong on many counts. We were wrong on volumes, we were wrong on prices, we were particularly wide of the mark on our estimates of the demand for and price of naphtha, we were wrong on our cost projections, we were wrong on the level of investment we would need to make. We did not fully foresee the increase in the size of tankers; we did not foresee the extent of Libya's crude oil production; we did not foresee the dominant role that natural gas would play in Holland . . . we did not foresee the closure of the Suez Canal."
(Sunday Telegraph 6 April 1969) 
What of planning in a world socialist society? 

Here the problem is quite different because production will be solely for use, not for sale. There will be no market curtailments of production, such as happen under capitalism, because particular industries have over-produced for their market and can no longer make profit. There will be coordinated planning of production and distribution to meet known human needs. It will have to provide safe margins for growth and to allow for harvest failures and other natural disasters. It will have access to all the world's productive resources not, as under capitalism, have many of these resources not used because there is no profit in their use. 

Here also Professor Hayek provides us with the evidence about capitalism, where he condemns "the fatal mistake, frequently made by engineers, to imagine that there are long-lasting, technically determined production methods which are superior to all others". Hayek says that under the guidance of price changes the production method favoured by capitalism may not be the one favoured by the engineers; "This is an academic and not a technological problem", in other words, one determined by profitability. 
Edgar Hardcastle

What is Morality? (1960)

From the February 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Morality is not, as High Court Judges and Humanists would have us believe, a firm base of fixed, immutable rules of behaviour, by which all decent men should lead their lives. Rather it is a quicksand of changing shape, colour and size. Yesterday's moral precept becomes today's flouted rule, and yesterday's music-hall joke can become today's unwritten law. To look upon moral and ethical rules as constants is to ignore social change, which itself changes the content, and sometimes the form, of these rules.

The doctrine " Thou shalt not kill," for instance, is not an eternal ideal thought up by some good holy man. It is the application of a common sense rule of behaviour made necessary by man's very social existence. Even then it is a rule which is subject to numerous qualifications, and in time of war it is almost wholly ignored. Even so, it is an ethic which arises from man's collaboration for social production, and in the absence of this and similar rules, social organisation would be impossible.

To understand why morality and ethics change, we must look at the social organisation which forms their background. For instance, in primitive societies where simple agriculture forms the basis of production and where there is no competition with other tribes for the means of subsistence, one is likely to find that murder and the slaughter of war are almost unknown. On the other hand, in hunting communities where there was population pressure on the hunting grounds available, it was usual to find warlike tendencies in evidence, and also to find that the ability to kill members of rival tribes was a highly respected attribute.

Morality then, is no more than a set of rules, established during the course of time and designed to protect and preserve the productive relationships in operation at any one period. Under capitalism, with its class ownership of the productive forces, one finds a corresponding class morality, with its sacred Ark, private property.

Christians will object that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount provide ethics that are timeless, and which existed long before capitalism. The fact is, however, that these Christian principles do not represent the current moral standards, and as Bernard Shaw pointed out, the literal following of such principles would lead to the collapse of capitalism. What use does a competitive society have for the injunction "Love thy neighbour"? The practical ethics of capitalism are" get on," "keep up with the Joneses" or "may the best man win." Where would capitalism be if people followed Jesus's injunction to share their worldly goods? In actual fact, of course, such ethics have no practical application in modem society at all, and have no chance of becoming generally held in a property society.

Modern society, with its morality, prevents human nature from fulfillment, in the sense that it chains the mind and body with economic and mental fetters. The practical ethics of the modem world are the real fetters, and not the professed morality of the Christian or the traditional " good man."

Take a look at the way in which these practical ethics depart from the so-called fixed moral codes. The prohibition against taking life, as already mentioned, is important in the prevention of civil disobedience and the maintenance of capitalist law and order, but does not extend far enough to prevent the execution of certain classes of murderers, or the slaughter of the troops and civilians of an enemy state. "Thou shalt not steal " is perhaps the most important of the ideal ethics and the one with which the powers of the law are most concerned. The meaning of this one is distorted so as to prevent people taking property from the ruling class (who have the only property worth stealing), but on the other hand, allows the exploitation in the factory and office by which the ruling class acquires its property. It also sanctioned the annexation of land and property from the Colonial native populations. by which the great Christian British Empire was created.

If, then, the form and content of morality is twisted and distorted to fit the social pattern of a particular society, why should its form remain at all? To answer this, one has to look into the basis and origin of morality itself.

Morality is as old as human social organisation. Its origin is in co-operation. The members of a tribe who depended upon each other for their survival, obeyed the social injunction to defend the tribe and to perform their social tasks. The imperative "protect your kin" arose out of the necessity of the situation, and certainly not from idealism or abstract thought. In a situation such as this. members of a tribe recognised their dependence on each other. Thus to perform one's social tasks promptly and efficiently had merit, and to fail to perform them was bad, because it threatened the tribe. In time, injunctions such as these formed the basis of an organised morality.

So society passed from primitive tribal culture with its primitive ethics, through the Judaic tribes and the elaborate rules and doctrines of the Talmud, down to Christianity with its slave ethics of humility and love of one's neighbour. Then, after 1500 years of Christianity, industrial society appeared, and made nonsense of Christian doctrine. Society became a jungle, where the fiercest survived and the weaker perished. Thus terms like " blessed are the meek" were mocked by the reality of the situation. Efforts of well-meaning people to stem the tide were akin to the traveller who tries to placate a tiger by reading biblical texts to it. However, the Churches themselves didn't try too hard to alter the pattern of capitalism, for they were practical people, and they knew that to compromise was the only way to survive.

The Catholic Church, for example, which was the original Christian church, has a mass of impressive dogma which urges the holy to be good, kind, peaceable and so on. Nevertheless, the Church itself was not so foolish as to take these injunctions too literally, and followed the same practical morality as the world outside. This is the explanation of the apparent contradictions between Christian teaching and the Inquisition, and between the ten commandments and the "holy" wars.

Basically, it is the division of mankind in to classes which today creates the split between the kind of morality which most people would consider desirable, and the day-to-day activities of a competitive world. After all, morality is only the form of expected behaviour within the framework of a particular social system. Therefore, morality has relevance only to the practical possibilities of a social situation, and not to ideals. Where the possibilities are, as today, limited by economic circumstances, it is inevitable that morality also becomes limited and one-sided.

In other words, because there is a ruling class, today's morality is of a kind dictated by, and in favour of, that ruling class. This does not mean that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. It merely means that today's morality favours the privileged, and is designed to preserve that privilege. Some examples of this one-sided morality have been given. Another example is that of the tax-dodgers, bilkers, people who avoid paying their fare and so on. This is something that government spokesmen say is undesirable, and yet is, to a considerable extent, regarded as fair game. The man who pays five pence for a sevenpenny fare feels be is gaining a victory at the expense of a vast impersonal organisation, but his gain is hardly worth the trouble involved. On the other hand, practically all business-men conduct a ceaseless war with the Inspector of Taxes, in order to avoid payment of tax, and a vast complicated machinery of Inspectors, Collectors, Commissioners, Accountants, clerks and so on, exists because of this. As everyone else does this, the business-man does not feel that he is doing anything immoral, although it is impossible to reconcile his behaviour with those moral principles that be probably believes in.

Thus, although mankind is neither "naturally" good or evil, the prevailing social circumstances determine to a large extent the way in which they will conduct their lives. It is because man is organised in a social way and because his survival depends on co-operation with others, that most people recognise perfectly well what is the right course in a particular situation and what is the wrong course. The trouble is that the practical circumstances of modem society make it almost impossible for people to behave in away that is to the common good.

In other words, a truly human morality cannot exist in a world where people's bodies and minds are imprisoned by the amoral "morality" of a sick society. Neither can the social circumstances be made more favourable by trying to convert people to a selfless and more human morality, for this is like trying to uproot a tree while resting in the top branches. 

First, man must free himself from economic domination. Then, and only then, will he be able to take the tremendous strides in morality necessary for him to achieve full stature as truly human man.
Albert Ivimey