Monday, July 27, 2015

Is there a crash coming? (1988)

From the September 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is an inherently unstable system of society. Changes are continuously taking place, most of them unforeseen by workers and capitalists alike. Workers suddenly find that their supposedly safe jobs have disappeared; capitalists' markets and profits fade out. Something like 100,000 British companies have been wound up in the past ten years.

Every day something goes wrong for some group or other, and out of this uncertainty many observers over the past 200 years have concluded that capitalism will, or may, fall into chaos from which it cannot recover. Some have been capitalist spokesmen who feared what was apparently taking place. In 1829 William Huskisson, former President of the Board of Trade, wrote: "I consider the country to be in a most unsatisfactory state, that some great convulsion must soon take place". In 1884 Lord Randolph Churchill, describing the difficulties in which most industries found themselves because of the current depression, said: "Turn your eyes where you will, survey any branch of British industry you like, you will find signs of mortal disease". And in 1876 a Board of Trade official, Sidney Bourne, issued a warning about the dire consequences that would follow if the nation failed to tackle a problem that all the economists and politicians were talking about in June of this year — the adverse balance of trade, the excess of imports over exports.

While those people feared the "great convulsion", there were other observers who welcomed the possibility of a "collapse of capitalism" because they supposed that it would force the workers to introduce socialism. So in every depression there were forecasts of that kind. Typical of them is the statement by H.M. Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation in 1884: "It is quite possible that during this very crisis ... an attempt will be made to substitute collective for capitalist control". In 1919 Herman Cahn published his The Collapse of Capitalism in which he said that it could not be postponed any longer and was "imminent". In 1922 W. Paul, a prominent member of the Communist Party, wrote: "There is the greatest possibility that the social revolution may take place in the immediate future:, and in 1931 James Maxton of the Independent Labour Party said that it was only a matter of months: "collapse is sure and certain".

There have been several different theories about the way the supposed collapse would be brought about. Herman Cahn's bogey was the 1914-1918 wartime inflation and consequent depreciation of the currencies of many countries in terms of gold. It was no more difficult to restore stable currencies after that war than it had been after the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War. Lots of banks did go broke and depositors and shareholders lost money, but "bad debts" are a normal feature of capitalism. In recent years some prophets of collapse have concentrated on the huge debts owed to American and European banks by Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and other borrowers who now want to default on repayment. It has all happened before, repeatedly in the nineteenth century and between the wars. A century ago, when British capitalists were the big world lenders, a large proportion of loans were never repaid.

Then there is the "adverse balance of trade". It is possible for a country to have its imports and exports tidily balanced, but actually there are always some countries with an adverse balance, that is, imports greater than exports and other countries with exports greater than imports. (For the world as a whole, of course, total imports and exports are identical, one country's exports being another country's imports.) The country with a favourable balance is one whose products are cheapest and which therefore predominate in world markets. For some time it has been Japan; earlier it had been Britain (in the nineteenth century), Germany and America. In due course it will be some other country or countries underselling Japan. It is a situation which largely repeats itself. If Japanese exporters capture markets the importers have to pay in Japanese yen, which they acquire by selling their pounds, dollars and so forth. This has the effect of putting up the exchange rate of the yen and depressing the exchange rates of pounds and dollars . . . which in turn takes away the relative cheapness of Japanese goods and makes the American or British goods more competitive. Fifty years ago Professor Edwin Cannan, when asked what governments should do about the "problem", told them to stop publishing import/export figures and just forget all about it.

Like Herman Cahn, many later politicians and economists have seen in inflation the great threat to the continuance of capitalism, Mrs Thatcher among them. She says that inflation causes unemployment and trade depressions, and has proposed to end it and get a stable price level. The Tory Election Programme 1987 had this:
Our success in the battle against inflation has been the key to Britain's economic revival. We will not be content until we have stable prices, with inflation eradicated altogether.
The Labour Party, on the other hand, has always been favourably disposed to inflation. The 1974-79 Labour government more than doubled the cost of living in five years, and during the depression between the wars their leading economist, Pethick Lawrence proclaimed the very opposite of the Thatcher theory. He wrote: "I regard it as indisputable that unemployment, as it has existed in the world in recent years, is due to falling prices". The Labour Party's remedy at that time was to get prices up again.

If the Tories and the Labour Party looked at the history of capitalism they would find that unemployment and depression exist whether prices are falling, rising or stationary.

Probably the most widely accepted "collapse" theory centres around the belief that unemployment is bound to get larger and larger. Karl Marx's colleague Frederick Engels put it forward in 1886, three years after Marx's death. He wrote:
Meanwhile, each succeeding winter brings up afresh the great question "what to do with the unemployed"; but while the numbers of unemployed keep swelling from year to year, there is nobody to answer that question; and we can almost calculate the moment when the unemployed, losing patience, will take their own fate into their own hands.
The same theory was advanced again in the depression which began in 1979 and it has met the same fate. Within a short time Engels saw unemployment falling and he abandoned the theory. And unemployment in the 1930s, which reached 23 per cent in Britain and 25 per cent in the United States was nearly double the unemployment rates'of recent years. British unemployment is now slowly falling again; and American unemployment is at an all-time low.

When Engels put forward the theory he recognised that it was not a view held by Marx. It was Marx who put the whole question in perspective, showing that it is a continuous cycle, the recovery from the depression being as inevitable as the depression itself:
Capitalist production. . . moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crisis and stagnation.
Britain is now in the phase of "growing animation" with production, real wages, profits and employment all rising in the past few years.

Events since Marx wrote have fully confirmed the accuracy of his description, and all of the attempts by governments to promote permanent boom and full employment have failed. But we have something further to say about it. It needs more than capitalism's crises to produce socialism. It needs a predominantly socialist working class. As it was phrased in our pamphlet Why capitalism will not collapse, published in 1932:
So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

War (1980)

A chapter from Samuel Leight's 1980 book, World Without Wages (Money, Poverty & War)

It is never in the interests of the working class to support war.

Wars are fought over private property and related issues and as long as we live under capitalism the conditions that give rise to war will always exist.

Capitalism is the cause of modern war.

If we were living within a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole, war would be non-existent. For socialism is a system which would be world-wide, with no trading, buying and selling, but goods and services would be produced solely for use and not for profit. People would give to society according to their individual ability and take from society according to their needs. Such a society would unite the human race as a social unit, with no economic classes or divisions, or national barriers. The material objective would be: to produce and distribute goods and services in sufficient quantity, and of the finest quality that can be practically obtained, to satisfy the needs of all. In complete contra-distinction to this, capitalism produces international rivalries that are the basic cause of modern war,

War in the modern world has the potential for the destruction of the human race. It could be argued that this will never happen, but it cannot be denied that capitalism has produced atomic warfare, and the potential for total human annihilation does exist. This ever-constant threat of total human destruction, with which we all have to live, is sufficient reason unto itself for the workers of the world to organize for socialism and abolish capitalism—and to acquire the education, knowledge and desire to effect this change as quickly as possible.

The World Socialist Party has a most clear and positive attitude to war. We are opposed to all wars, whether they be major and world-wide, or minor and localized. Our opposition to all war has been consistent from the time of our origins with the establishment of our companion party in England, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, in 1904. We do not oppose war in so ­called peacetime and then change our position when war is declared,jumping on the Band Wagon or flag waving, patriotism, and jingoism. The World Socialist Party, and its companion parties, state that all wars in the modern world are fought over private property issues, markets, trade routes, boundaries, territorial rights, and spheres of influence. Modern war is really an extension of "business under capitalism" carried to an extreme of ultimate violence, when the economic rivalries between the various national sections of the capitalist class can no longer be peacefully resolved or controlled. War is business as usual, but with the added ingredients of the insane and mad slaughter of humanity fighting over the material interests and properties of a minority. The working class, as that section of society that is propertyless in the means of wealth production and distribution, has no interests at stake in supporting any war, at any time, for any reason.

The socialist opposition to war is an opposition distinct from all others. It is not an opposition based upon religious beliefs; and although we are opposed to war on social and humanitarian grounds, our opposition is not limited to a humanitarian approach—it goes much further. The socialist opposition to war results from our analysis and opposition to capitalism; the realization that this system is the cause of war; further, that the working class are living under a system that can never be made to operate in their interests; and that war is inevitable under capitalism, and that the two go hand in hand and should be completely opposed by the workers at all times until they are both finally eliminated, one with the other. 

Wars can be opposed from the wrong political standpoint as far as the working class are concerned. For example, an opposition to the recent Vietnam war can be an opposition which states that it was not in the interests of the United States to have participated. But this is not a socialist opposition to the Vietnam war. For when we talk about the interests of the U.S.A. what does this really mean? The United States, like all capitalist countries, Russia and China included of course, is divided into two main classes - the working class who are the majority, and who are the non-owners of the means of wealth production, and the capitalist class who are the minority that own and control the means of production and distribution. So when one talks about the interests of the United States this is not a true, scientific statement. The United States is a geographic entity classified as such by man. The Government of the United States administrates the capitalist system within the United States, protecting the interests of its own ruling class at home and abroad. Other governments throughout the world, Russia and China included, operate in similar fashion. The people in the United States who were in opposition to the Vietnam war, and who were not socialists, or who did not take a moral, humane, or religious opposition to the war, were in effect stating that the prosecution of the war was not in the interests of the American capitalist class, and this could or could not be an arguable case from the American capitalist class standpoint. But it is not the socialist case in opposition to the Vietnam war. Most of the people that opposed the Vietnam war would not hesitate to support a different war if they considered that there was justification for their support. Because the unfortunate fact remains that the working class do not properly understand how capitalism works and therefore do not appreciate that it is the system itself that breeds and causes war. 

Vietnam, from the United States capitalist viewpoint, had a strategic value as a base of operations for the eastern trade—it was a gateway to Southeast Asia. Furthermore, from an American business standpoint it was a market place, a source for raw materials. Another tragic aspect of the Vietnam conflict was that it afforded United States capitalism an opportunity to test its military technology. This resulted in the wholesale killing of Vietnam workers, peasants, women and children who were destroyed by mass bombing, napalm bombing, and were the victims of chemical spraying of rice fields, and other atrocities. The greatest atrocity became the war itself.

The Mid-East, which for decades has always been either on the verge of conflict or involved in war, is a veritable powder-keg of comparatively small nations spawning opposing interests, with the major powers aligned behind them in positions of antagonisms. The issues at stake are boundary lines, economic conflicts, trade, and oil. 

The Arab/Israeli situation has produced war, perpetual strife, and killing. And the Arab and Israeli working class, just like workers elsewhere, do not understand their true position in society. While socialists have deep and genuine sympathy for all minorities that have been persecuted, and of course much worse, the conditions that give rise to Hitlers, Mussolinis, and let us not forget Franco and Stalin, always exist under capitalism. The so ­called Jewish problem has not been solved with the establishment of Israel. In fact a good case could be made to show that Jews living in Israel are in far greater danger of total elimination than they have ever been before. Atomic warfare, limited to a strike against Israel, could eliminate this small territory with all its population. If this sounds far fetched, remember the horror that was perpetrated against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This crime against humanity was later rationalized and justified under the humbug of expediency. The Jewish people live in constant fear of war, and the horrible possibility of mass annihilation of the Jews in Israel, through atomic warfare, exists. As far as a home for the Jews is concerned, a Jew living in Israel, in a home with a mortgage on it, can be turned out of his home, should he miss some mortgage payments, in just the same fashion as an American Jew who also is in similar default. And of course this applies to workers the whole world over. 

In 1914 our companion party in England, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, opposed World War I, and in 1939 the World Socialist Party of the United States and all our companion parties opposed World War Il. The World Socialist Party reiterated the message given in 1914 by the S.P.G.B. in its War Manifesto. I quote these words which were given to guide the working class attitude to war and to inspire action to achieve socialism. They were applicable in 1914, in 1939, and they are just as true today:—
"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our Fellow Workers of All Lands the expression of our Good Will and Socialist Fraternity, and Pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the Triumph of Socialism." 
World War II was caused by the clash of economic interests between the German ruling class and their partners and the various European, English, and American ruling and capitalist class. It was not a fight over ideals, freedoms, or democracy. It was a war fought over material and property issues. The real cause of the war, as is always the case, was camouflaged with high-sounding phrases in order to gain the support of the workers. If the British and American governments were concerned with matters of principle, such as Democracy and Freedom, why would they have had as an ally Russia that harbored a dictatorship equally as harsh and as cruel as the one in Nazi Germany? As a matter of fact, Churchill, in an open letter to the London Times in 1938, praised Hitler, saying:
"Were England to suffer a national disaster I should pray to God to send a man of the strength of mind and will of an Adolf Hitler."
The governments of capitalist countries do not declare and support wars over idealistic stands on questions of democracy or dictatorships, but wars are declared and fought over private property issues. Fascist Spain, under the despotic dictatorship of Franco, was always supported and helped by the Government of the United States. Of course, the United States bases in Spain were very much responsible for this alliance. Where were the ideals of Democracy and Freedom displayed here with the support that Franco Spain for years received from the United States? This support was probably responsible for the long life of the Franco fascist dictatorship. 

When wars are ready to erupt lies, humbug, and hypocrisy are the order of the day. The workers are called on to sacrifice themselves on the false pretext of fighting for freedoms, or for "right" against "wrong," or because the aggressor is at the doorstep. And at that time it is too late to examine the cause of war because the workers are already enmeshed in it—killing and maiming at the behest of their leaders. 

War is not a method that can be used to preserve democracy. Take political inventory today and you will find just as many, perhaps more, countries under military juntas, dictatorships, and countries with little or no democracy, as we had in 1939, when World War Il erupted, supposedly as a fight for Democracy against Dictatorship. 

If the working class can be persuaded to support capitalism in peacetime then they can be persuaded to support their respective ruling classes when war is declared. The time that is ripe for the working class to become socialist is now, when there is no worldwide war. In fact, the working class should have become socialist, abolished capitalism and wars, decades ago, and millions of lives would have been saved. But once a war is declared, the declaration itself presupposes that the capitalist class and their governments know that they will have the support of the workers. Without this support this system could not continue for one second—wars would be impossible to prosecute—they would, of course, be non-existent. The working class are responsible for the production of all wealth under capitalism, and when they are called on to defend the wealth that they have produced, but do not own, they are ready for the supreme sacrifice, under the mistaken belief that they are fighting for ideals. 

For who in his right mind would be prepared to go out and die, or be maimed, for such material things as private property that belongs to a small group in society that function as parasites in peacetime and provocateurs in war? Fellow workers we urge you to wake up while you are still in the land of the living.

I quote from a very famous man who was not a socialist:
"I feel only contempt for those who can take pleasure marching in rank and file to the strains of a band. Surely, such men were given their great brain by mistake; the spinal cord would have amply sufficed. This shameful stain on civilization should be wiped out as soon as possible. Heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loath­some nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism—how passionately I despise them!"
This statement was made by Albert Einstein and was reported March 14, 1962, in the New York Post.

Whenever war is fought, for whatever superficial and false reasons, and whichever side is declared the victor, one side is always, invariably the loser—the world working class.
Samuel Leight

Immigration (1965)

Book Review from the December 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Immigration and Race in British Politics by Paul Foot, Penguin Special

Paul Foot, a journalist for the Sunday telegraph and also the editor of the semi-trotskyist Labour Worker, has written a very useful account of immigration and race in British politics. In this book can be found facts on Griffiths' campaign in Smethwick, on reactions to the past Irish and Jewish immigration control, on the campaign and final success of those pressing for immigration control in the Conservative and Labour Parties, on anti-immigrant organisations like the British National Party, the New Liberals of Islington and the various Immigration Control Associations in the Birmingham area. The reaction of the so-called Communist Party to the influx of Polish refugees after the war is recalled. Incidentally, a similar attitude was adopted towards the later Hungarian refugees with the Daily Worker using the old technique of over-reporting crimes committed by Hungarians. One striking omission is any reference to the black racialist organisations which try to channel the frustration of coloured people caused by capitalism against "the White man."

As Paul Foot has elsewhere declared himself in favour of "international socialism" we are perhaps justified in criticising his solutions severely from this point of view.

Socialists hold that the many social problems which people face today arise from the fact that they own nothing but their ability to work which they must sell for wages in order to live. Capitalism, based as it is on wage-labour and production for profit, is the root cause of the problems which arise over housing, education, work and health. Colour and other kinds of prejudice result mainly from the competition and general insecurity of wage and salary workers under Capitalism which makes conspicuous minorities obvious scapegoats for social frustrations and ills.

In this book Paul Foot tends to blame these social problems not on the economic system but on what the government does or does not do. He speaks of the slander of those who blame
"the immigrant himself for the social problems resulting from Government neglect."
The answer to government neglect, says Mr. Foot, is obviously government action. So, after pointing out that colour prejudice arises from the frustration of modern life, he says,
"The main task of government us to remove the root cause of this 'displaced aggression': to end the shortages which so cramp the lives of working people."
It is difficult to work out if Paul Foot really believes this as in the no doubt less inhibiting pages of the magazine International Socialism (No.22) he writes that such shortages are
"entirely due to an economic system which produces wealth for the benefit and superiority of a class."
In other words they are not due to "Government neglect" and if the economic system is the cause then the only solution can be to remove it an not to appeal to the government. Paul Foot is deluding himself if he really believes that action by the capitalist State, whether managed by Labour or Conservative, can solve the problem of colour prejudice. Even if we accept that government action could have some marginal effect this would only be tinkering with the problem.
Adam Buick

Mind in a Cul-de-Sac: Laing (1972)

From the August 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

If one considers the family in its genealogical image as a tree, today lumberjacks are out. The tree, by various allegations, is blighted and corrupt, the leaves malnourished while society still praises its luxuriance. In the nineteen-fifties Dr. Kinsey showed statistically that monogamy was a stale pretence; in the 'seventies Women's Liberation proclaims it to be a cage. The most trenchant attacks on the family, however, have come from the psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Laing. In a series of writings on the condition of schizophrenia, Laing has shown family groups as circles bent on mental violence, selecting this and that member as victims for destruction. Only the mad are sane, says Laing.

A psychiatric theory may not, in itself, be thought to matter much outside the world of attempted therapy where—as with more palpable physical disorders—­the patients are patched to be sent back to the environment where their troubles grew. But Laing's has been popularised as material for social and political dissenters. Contributing to the New Left Review, Peace News and New Society automatically connected him with the cultural Left; in 1967 he was one of the speakers in the "Dialectics of Liberation" seminar at the Round House, London, with Marcuse, Stokely Car­michael and others. The film Family Life is a representation of his view of everyday relationships: an onslaught against the stupidity, unfairness and general motivation of the conventional and a vindication of the young dubbed insane, with the implication that the latter had better run from the former as fast as they can.

It is also a representation of the nature of Laing's popularity. The appearance of cheap editions of his books coincided with the emergence of the "underground", the movement for dropping-out and psychedelia. The first Penguin by Laing, The Politics of Experience, came out within weeks of the first issue of International Times. In a recent symposium, Laing and Anti-Psychiatry, Jan B. Gordon says: ". . . Laing's popularity among political activists, particularly those of New Left persuasion, is more easily understandable. He wages an incessant argument against history and sees any suggestion of scientific objectivity as an excuse for psychological colonialism . . . altering the maps unfairly." The writer is probably identifying "New Left persuasion" with the large anarcho-hippy fringe of those years, possessed by the idea that an aggregate of drop-outs was itself an "alternative society". The intellectual demigod of an earlier generation, Freud, held that the anarchist rebel was simply someone who rejected his father. Laing has gone further and supplied the rebel with a whole case-history against his father.

The Politics of Experience is an argument on the nature of personal experience, and the effects of relationships on it. For Laing, we are what we experience. Each individual's experience is unique:
I cannot experience your experience. You cannot exper­ience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man's invisibility to man. Experience used to be called The Soul. Experience as invisibility of man to man is at the same time more evident than anything. Only experience is evident. Experience is the only evidence.
Though there are references in the same book to structures of experience being shared, and to the attempted communication of experience, what Laing reiterates many times is its personal nature. He says: "Our be­haviour is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things . . . If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves."

The sentence between the two in that quotation is a key one in Laing's thesis. Put in italics by him to em­phasise its importance, it is: "If our experience is destroyed, our behaviour will be destructive." This is the springboard of Laing's other social-psychological works, Self and Others and Sanity, Madness and the Family. Man's failing is the mental violence he persists in doing to others. Its nature is attack upon and intended invalidation of others' experience, the effect to cause them to "lose their own selves". Nowhere in society is this more precisely practised than by the members of families, one upon another:
. . . the frightened, cowed, abject creature that we are admonished to be, if we are to be normal—offering each other mutual protection from our own violence. The family as a 'protection racket'. Behind this language lurks the terror that is behind all this mutual back-scratching, this esteem-, status-, support-, protection-, security-giving and getting. Through its bland urbanity the cracks still show.
We are, says Laing, "effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love". 

In this light, the form of insanity called schizophrenia is examined intensively in the books. For Laing, normality is hardly desirable. "Normal" men are alienated, sleep-walking, have killed one another by the million in wars, do frightful violence mentally in their family circles. The Politics of Experience quote descriptions of a teacher-and-pupils session to show the extension of coerced adaptation into school. Is madness a fact, or is it a label devised by the normal, who are insane anyway, for those who won't join their game? Laing believes it is:
In over 100 cases where we have studied the actual circumstances round the social event when one person comes to be regarded as schizophrenic, it seems to us that without exception the experience and behaviour that gets labelled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation. (our emphasis)
Thus, Sanity, Madness and the Family is a collection of case-histories including recordings of the patients' discussions with their families. The Family Life film is a dramatized view of the same terrain—dunder­head factory-foreman father, thin-lipped always-right mother, reactionary doctors, and nice young people with a hip flavour who could have made things all right for the girl if she'd been left alone. The point recurs: the sane are hopeless and destructive, the alleged insane are simply running blind to escape their intentions.

Where does all this take us? Has Laing a clue to remedying the disorders of our society? Obviously much in his writings appeals to anyone dissatisfied with the conventions and the spurious wisdom of the social order. The thought that the world is mad has occurred to most of us at some time, and cultural schools like Surrealism and Dada have been formed to make appropriate gestures in kind. It is easy to relish, too, the description of the pressures brought to bear in the family for social conformity: the induced anxiety and emotional blackmail—"My concern, my concern for your concern, your concern, and your concern for my concern, etc." Likewise the comments on the established functions of psychiatry: "But social adaptation to a dysfunctional society may be very dangerous. The perfectly adjusted bomber pilot may be a greater threat to species survival than the hospitalised schizophrenic deluded that the Bomb is inside him."

Beyond these attractions on the surface, however, Laing is offering nothing but a great deal of confusing of issues. What needs considering at once is the basic idea of experience from which his theory is developed: "All men are invisible to one another." Despite the qualifying and extending remarks which are at times contradictory tangles, the central point on which Laing insists is a Berkeleyan belief that experience, and therefore reality, are subjective. Indeed, the contradictions are inevitable. If it were true that "the experience of the other is not evident to me, as it is not and never can be an experience of mine"—if, in fact, all men were invisible to one another—communication would be impossible. Society depends on the certainty of common experience.

To say that only personal experience is evidence is as meaningless in social practicality as was Berkeley's theory of matter when the stone fell into the pond. True, Laing says he rejects the categories "subjective and objective", "inner and outer", "process and praxis", and many more, but the rejection will not do. In each case, he is really seeking to reject one of a pair of opposites by naming both of them. In the description of experience, it is objectiveness that is disclaimed and subjectivity left by every inference. (If any doubt remains, the penultimate chapter of The Politics of Experience, titled "Transcendental Experience", asserts not only the subjectivity of experience but the desirability of its being so.)

The meaninglessness is demonstrated when one looks at examples of what Laing calls mental violence, the denial of another person's subjective experience. What is being denied usually is physical or social fact: the violence consists not in the denial but in the blocking of avenues to verification. In the Orwellian example where the inquisitor demoralises his victim by insisting that two and two make five, and in Laing's examples where Jack tells Jill her perception is wrong, the attack is simply on social axioms. There are, of course, realms where values and preferences rather than facts are attacked: a person's liking for this or that music and art, his relationships and aspirations, may bring hostility and denigration from those round him. Again, however, there is nothing subjective about the experiences involved—the person's misfortune is to have displayed them in the wrong social milieu. But in any case it is absurd to claim all criticism or dispute to be mental violence. There is bullying and pressure to conform, and much of it takes place in families; but rebuttal and challenge are essential to personal as well as social development.

The studies of family groups show a person's experience—i.e. the core of his or her individuality—under attack from other members of the family, and the label "schizophrenic" affixed. What is pointed out, implicitly or explicitly, is that it is not he or she but they who are insane. It has already been remarked that this is gratifying to people at odds with, disapproved or condemned, by their parents; but where does it lead? One is bound to ask who, in turn, made the parents mad. Laing has recognised the question by saying (in a 1967 article) that the web may stretch back three generations, but that does not answer it. As a reductio ad absurdum there could be postulated an insane God as the first cause, the spider who created the web. Nor is it suggested what happens to the children of the schizo­phrenic-sane. Do they grow up free from the pressure of mental violence; or does the schizophrenic experience make new norms and new demands that others should conform to them?

In the 1965 preface to an earlier work, The Divided Self, Laing speaks of his theories as condemning not only family relationships but the social order at large, because it "represses not only 'the instincts', not only sexuality, but any form of transcendence". The preface was withdrawn from the 1970 edition, and he is now reported to have retreated into mysticism. The dilemma of Laing is that a subjective view of human existence is a blindfold to consideration of the social order. The results, inevitably, are negative: Jan B. Gordon sees Laing as having accomplished "the construction of a system which makes nihilism functional". In his diagnosis of schizophrenia the idea of a cure cannot have a place; the schizophrenic embarks on a journey closely resembling a drug-taker's "trip", but we are not told about the return.

The general effect of work like this is to obscure the answers to social problems of relationships. On one hand, Laing is saying to many young people that there is no answer: hide, drop out, escape the lethal insanity of the world. On the other, the nature of what is going on in society is made to appear a complex of attitudes and behavioural algebra. At no point does Laing—or any of the commentators in the Anti-Psy­chiatry book—distinguish between the family as a human grouping and the family under capitalism. Yet the distinction contains the explanation of the mental violence and the pressures which provide so much material for psychologists and liberationists together.

For capitalism, the family is vital because in it we work the social roles required of us economically. Stability and organisation are provided; experience is communicated to make social life continuous and coherent. What Laing sees as the facade of family life was real enough in the past because acceptance of the roles was not questioned (insofar as they conflicted with instinct, half-recognised arrangements were made). However, as capitalism has extended and intensified the division of labour, the experience of one generation has ceased to mean much to another. Hence the roles themselves become doubtful: why should women wait on men, sons defer to fathers, children strive for respectability which means a damned-awful life? At this point violence is immanent. Laing observes rightly enough that it disguises itself as love and concern, but has no word as to why the situation is there in the first place. It is the channel for the compulsions of capitalism, through which hopes of good relationships are continually destroyed.

The answer is therefore not at all obscure. Laing's ultimate cry is wholly negative: "If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know." Tell you what, except introspection and despair? At both the personal and the social levels, relief from futility can be achieved by positive engagement: specifically, in creating a society where experience has meaning, and human personality is able to live.
Robert Barltrop

'I don't understand those socialists . . . ' (1975)

From the February 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard


From the January 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have recently in this journal published a series of articles on economics from the socialist point of view. We think it would now be useful to go a little more carefully into this question of labour power. First of all, what is it? It is the mental and physical energy of the worker which he sells to the capitalist for a wage. Labour power is a commodity like any other commodity and exchanges at its value. It is unlike other commodities in that it can produce more value than it contains itself. For this reason it is the most treasured commodity for the capitalist class. Labour power is the sole creator of value. Other commodities merely transfer their own values into the commodities produced. This is made obvious by the effort of the capitalists in a world of competition to cheapen their commodities by reducing the time taken to produce them. Thus speeding up, labour saving machinery and the like.

We are sometimes asked why if labour power is sold at its value there should be such wide differences in the wages paid to various members of the working-class. The answer is that the value of the labour power differs. The value of the labour power of a skilled engineer is higher than that of a day labourer. Therefore the skilled workers get say £8 per week, and the day labourer say £5 10s. 0d. per week. Now remember that not only has a worker to reproduce his own energy, but also the capitalists hope that he will reproduce his kind, and ensure that the ranks of the working-class will always be filled. And so Henry Dubb gets enough for his labour power to keep alive Harry and Bill, Betty and Freda. Do not think that capitalists pay high wages to some through any generous feelings on their part. Rather it is due to qualitative differences in the labour power they purchase. These qualitative differences lead to quantitative differences in the amount they pay.

And then there are others who ask why, if labour power sells at its value, should it be necessary for the workers to struggle with the capitalists over questions of wages. Surely they will get the value of their labour power automatically. But all of working history shows us that the capitalists will pay as little as they can for labour power. If the workers do not struggle they will be plunged to the depths of destitution. True with the worker in that condition capitalism would run far from smoothly. But the capitalists are not so long sighted. They want profits now, and as much of them as they can get. While capitalism lasts the workers must struggle all the time. If they do not struggle for all they can get out of capitalism, they will certainly never struggle for socialism.

And then of course there are those who say that it is useless for the workers to obtain higher wages, because it merely leads to higher prices. This argument was adequately dealt with by Karl Marx in the pamphlet "Value Price and Profit" which we urged you to read. Marx points out that a rise in wages will increase the demand for a limited range of commodities. That is the commodities the workers consume. On these commodities there might be a temporary increase in prices. But soon capital will come from those industries producing commodities for the capitalists, and the increasing competition will force down the prices of the commodities produced for workers' use.

The tragedy of the wage struggle recently has of course been the attitude of the working class during the war. Then they were strong. labour power was scarce and badly needed by our masters. But workers obeyed the injunctions of their Trade Union leaders and the Government and soft pedalled on wage demands. At this time they could have obtained big increases in wage rates if they had concerned themselves not with a country which does not belong to them, but with a class of which they are members.

As a consequence many workers are in a worse position than they were before the war. Take for example the London 'bus men. Before the war 'bus drivers got £4 10s. 0d. per week, and conductors £4 4s. 0d. To-day drivers get £6 16s. 0d. and conductors £6 13s. 0d. According to "Locals Government Service" the cost of living in March 1951, was 190 as compared with 100 in 1938. This means that drivers and conductors are now getting about £4 0s 0d. per week on the cost of living to-day compared with 1938. This is the result of their failure to struggle.

Lloyd George, the Welsh wizard and arch enemy of the working class, said just after the 1914-18 war,
The whole state of society is more or less molten and you can stamp upon that molten mass almost anything as long as you do so with firmness and determination . . .
I believe the settlement after the war will succeed in proportion to its audacity . . . If I could have presumed to have been the adviser of the working class, I should say to them: audacity is the thing for you. Don't be thinking of getting back to where you were before the war: get a really new world."
(Quoted by Maurice Dobb in "Trade Union experience and Policy 1914-18, An Outline," p.25 Labour Research pamphlet.)
It would appear from this that Lloyd George had a much clearer conception of the class struggle than Trade Union leaders then and now. Perhaps however Trade Union leaders in the past few years have been mainly concerned with not embarrassing the capitalist Labour Government in which they have such faith. One message to the workers on the industrial field is this. On this field you have only one weapon, and that is the strike. If during the war you had gone on strike, or threatened to strike, it would have paid you handsome dividends.

But a final message. While capitalism lasts struggle with your masters all the time, but more importantly join us in the struggle for socialism. Capitalism can never give you more than poverty and misery. Socialism will give you a full free life and happiness.
Clifford Groves

Is a third world war inevitable? (1996)

From the April 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The threat of immediate nuclear annihilation appears to have receded but war itself, and the threat of a future nuclear nightmare, is still as real as ever. 

During the 1980s the anti-bomb reformers were everywhere. We were on the edge of a nuclear holocaust, they warned. And like reformists everywhere and at all times, they urged us to shelve the aim of abolishing the profit system, because unless we banned the bomb we would be left with no society at all. The 1990s has witnessed the end of the so-called Cold War, and with it the demise of CND. The number of reformers calling for bombs to be banned is very small This is curious, for as any observer can see, we now live in a world in which horrific wars are killing vast numbers of people. In the old Yugoslavia the death toll is incalculable; the killing is being done with "good old" conventional weapons of the kind which CND did not seek to abolish. Now that these reformists whose limited aim was to remove one kind of bomb from the arena of capitalist profit-killing are less fearful of a coming nuclear war might we expect them to attend to the big issue of abolishing the very social system which necessitates warfare? We note with regret that as the numbers of CND's membership has fallen there has been no transfer of its ex-activists' energies to the cause of social revolution, Indeed, many of them have settled into the avowedly pro-market (and pro-nuclear) ranks of New Labour. 

The cause of war remains. We said during the 1980s that the root of the conflict was not which side had which weapons or whether one side pretended to be communist while the other pretended to be democratic. As in the 1960s when CND had its first burst of support and in the 1930s when war was supposed to be between "bad" dictators and "good" democrats (including Stalin), the root of militarism lies within the drive for profit which is inherent to world capitalism. Sections of the capitalist class will inevitably fight - or, more accurately, send their hired or conscripted workers to fight and die—in their struggle to conquer markets, control trade routes and win for themselves exploitable populations or territories. Every war in the history of capitalism is ultimately rooted in that struggle, whatever ideological rhetoric may be used to cover up the sordid cause of war, The threat and existence of periodic warfare is endemic to capitalism. There will never be peace under this system. 

Selling arms 
As the Berlin Wall came down and naive fools were rushing around screaming about a New World Order and peace dividends arising from the end of the arms industry there was a build-up to what could have become a third world war commencing in the Gulf states. It is easy now to forget just how close the Gulf war was to becoming a bloodbath for both sides, involving nuclear weapons had Israel been hit by Iraqi chemical weapons. The dangers have far from gone away since then, British and US ministers are rushing around the world right now like psychopathic maniacs, offering weapons to every stinking dictator with the money to buy them. The tedious soul-searching following the arms-to-Iraq scandal serves to conceal the fact that even if the British had not sold arms for use against their own army in the Gulf war, they most certainly have armed fascistic dictators ranging from the Saudi Royal Family (which hangs its critics in public) to the genocidal Indonesian regime (which killed one-in-three of the people in East Timor) to the Chinese state-capitalist dictators (who massacred workers in Tiananman Square, just as the British had done before at Peterloo). Meanwhile military dealers from the ex-Soviet states are on the prowl, flogging nuclear technology and expertise to every tin-pot dictator with a taste for global expansion. And this is capitalism at peace; in reality it is the system gearing up for the prospect of its next world war. 

Now that war is off the reformists' agenda of "immediate issues" we are expected to ignore the fact that we are living in a world ruled by a minority which has interests which are fundamentally antagonistic to the majority of us and that we are surrounded by enough nuclear weapons to blow us all up not once, but many times over. Home Office figures have been published which state that a single blast from a 200-megaton nuclear attack on just one city would kill 26 million people. "It could be you," as the slogan says—in fact—when the capitalist thieves fall out and start to press military buttons you have several million times more chance of dying for capitalism than winning the lottery so that you can live it up under capitalism. Which odds will your money be on? 

Workers may be urged to forget about the possibility of war and distract themselves with lottery numbers and royal divorces, but those who rule this system know that future war is far from improbable. That is why they continue to plan for how to deal with civilians in the event of a nuclear bomb; for example, the advice sent to Local Health Authorities from the No.2 Home Defence Regional Committee of the Home Office addresses itself to the problem of how to find enough drugs to provide for the possible lack of the availability of sufficient anti-depressants after the next war, suggesting that "marijuana is an effective substitute and can be cultivated in Britain. It may therefore be worthwhile to suggest to your local Chief Constable that the cultivation of marijuana is a desirable activity and in order to maintain proper legal control it should be grown in the back gardens of police stations." (Next time the cops want to know what that illegal plant is doing in your greenhouse perhaps you could tell them that you were only trying to help the war effort.) Like so much to do with capitalism, it would be funny were innocent and defenceless people not the victims of what is an essentially sick joke. 

But are workers who vote for capitalism so innocent? Well, yes, for in the majority of cases they do so out of ignorance. Few people would knowingly place themselves and their children and friends at such an awful risk. There will certainly be no referendum before the next world war cornmences. It will occur, as has every war before it, when the business of making profits runs out of control and those with power can see no way forward for themselves than to try to re-carve the market in accordance with their own profit hunger. If they fight with nuclear weapons the benefit will be that it will all be over relatively quickly, with those left living probably envying the dead. If the next world war is fought with those "friendly" conventional bombs, which CND always went of its way to exclude from its reform demands, the prospect of ongoing brutalities of the kind witnessed painfully for ten years in Iran and Iraq and for five years in the old Yugoslavia could engulf the whole planet with rival armies of bombers, snipers and medal-bearing thugs making the IRA at its most reckless look like a primary school gang. 

Reformists must answer not only for raising demands which can never be obtained within capitalism, but for dropping any interest in raising consciousness connected with those demands when a new, more attractive reform issue becomes more popular. CND had no chance of ever ridding capitalism of nuclear weapons. It has been years since their last major rally or demonstration, yet still the bombs lie waiting to be used. What CND could be credited with, as reformers of various kinds could be over the years, is raising the alarm about a serious problem within society. But whatever credit socialists might have been tempted to give CND for its warnings about war turn into contempt when it becomes clear that CND served merely as a popular reform distraction when governments could not conceal the fact that nuclear war was on the agenda, only to disappear and turn their attention to other futile activities, such as the "greening" of capitalism, once the government propagandists decided that the war alert was off. 

It is not the honest socialist way to sound the alarm only when workers are hearing it. Our warning stands, regardless of fashion. We make clear with whatever energy we can to whoever will listen: If you support capitalism, however tacitly, whatever its form may be, you are supporting a social (dis)order which will not only exploit you, but will kill you and your children if commercial needs so dictate. A vote for capitalism, whoever rules it, is to hand over the matches to your class enemies so that they may, should they think it in their interest to do so, set fire to your homes, your lives and your families. Expecting the profit-mongers to act with responsible respect for human life is like electing the Mafia to run the streets and then complaining about violence and corruption. 

Is it inevitable that we must drift towards more wars? Under capitalism, the answer is unequivocally yes. But it is far from inevitable that capitalism must continue. It has not been here for ever, any more than private property relationships have, and as soon as a majority of the working class choose to end it we can remove simultaneously the inherent threat to our future which the profit system poses. Will you commit yourself to building the movement to end production for profit and establish production solely for need? Don't spend too long thinking about it, for it is quite literally a question of life and death. 
Steve Coleman