Friday, November 6, 2015

After the Sugar Rush (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why, when the news has recently been dominated by foreign wars, refugees, China's revolting charm offensive in the UK and the popular new sport Kick-a-Corbyn, has sugar been making the headlines? Well, the immediate cause is that Public Health England produced a long-anticipated report saying that the public is eating too much sugar and that this is leading to obesity and health and dental problems.
Er, this is not exactly news, is it? We've been hearing this for years. The Food and Agricultural Organisation estimated back in 2009 that by 2015 each person in the world would consume 55 lbs of sugar per year, though this looks decidedly spartan next to the US, where per capita consumption stands at 150 lbs. That's about the weight of a moped or a small horse. The problem is that people don't even realise, because the near-ubiquity of the stuff in food products and soft drinks means it's nearly impossible to avoid. You wouldn't eat five straight teaspoons of sugar in a row, but nobody thinks twice about a low-fat yoghurt.
There isn't much doubt in anyone's mind – anyone outside the food industry, that is – that this has got to be a bad thing. But unlike smoking, where the link to cancer and heart disease were firmly established for a long period, sugar studies have been complicated by a lot of variables. For a start, the three different sugars come from different sources and are metabolised by the body in different ways, leading to different problems. Secondly, large-scale health studies were inconclusive because of the difficulty of finding non-sugar-consuming populations to use as control groups. Meanwhile some studies did the unexpected and went against conventional wisdom, for example debunking the popular belief that sugar leads to hyperactivity in children. But in general the links between sugar, obesity, heart disease and diabetes are now beyond contention, and sugar is fast overtaking fat as the main dietary concern among health professionals.
By 2050, 60 percent of men, 50 percent of women and 25 percent of children in the UK are expected to be obese. Epidemiologist Professor Simon Capewell was surely not overstating the case said last year when he said: 'Sugar is the new tobacco. Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focussed on profit not health' (Telegraph, 9 January 2014).
So what has the 'cynical' food industry been doing about it? Wriggling and writhing like the nest of snakes they are, and finding ways to disguise the sugar content of foods by listing it under different headings. A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists in June last year stated that 'sugar interests use every tool at their disposal to obstruct science-based policy on added sugar'. These tools, they say, include intimidating study authors, threatening to suspend funds, using front organisations for the purposes of deception, spreading misinformation, 'blinding with science' in product promotion, concealing industry links, hijacking science communication and blogs, bribing academics, lobbying state policy bodies and funding pro-food industry  politicians (ucsusa.org).
So, nothing unusual there, and you can probably find some or all of the same tactics at work in many other spheres of capitalist industry. But the spectacular success of smoking bans across the world  - against many expectations – has given a fillip to campaigners seeking to ban, tax, restrict or demonise other guilty pleasures, and nobody was surprised when sugar campaigners were next to go on the warpath.
But with a politician's forensic x-ray vision for what's hot in the public sympathies and what's not, the pro-fracking, pro-millionaire David Cameron has so far been resolutely against the idea of a sugar tax, notwithstanding the much-publicised campaigning of our favourite TV chef Jamie Oliver. The reasons for his opposition seem to be a) that Tories don't like nanny-statism and don't wish to interfere in people's personal choices and b) that Denmark and Finland have both tried and abandoned a sugar tax, as everybody drove across to Sweden and bought their naughty treats there by the truckload.
The Tories couldn't care less about 'nanny-statism' versus free choice (they're happy to be super-nannies when it comes to drug prohibition laws), they're just spineless in the face of the food industry's money and political clout. And they're not really afraid that the tax won't work, they're afraid it will.
What gets overlooked because most commentators are self-appointed campaigners drawn from the chattering classes is that, as with tobacco, junk food, meat, recycling, Fair Trade, regional accent, clothes made in Pakistan, Lottery funding and many social 'isms' there is a seedy class aspect to all this. Sweet is cheap and wholesome costs wholly too much. The wealthier educated and professional income groups have the money to avoid unhealthy diets, which is why excessive sugar consumption and hence sugar-related diseases have become a badge of the lower orders within the cultural strata of the working class.
So the war on sugar ends up as a condescending war on the poor who don't have the resources to treat their children to ballet classes or holidays to Thailand but who do have votes, and who – astounding but true fact - very often use those votes to vote Tory.
Even so, the government are likely to be backed into a corner over this issue, particularly as campaigners are pointing to the estimated £4bn annual cost of obesity to the NHS. Socialists don't take a position on questions like whether or not to impose a sugar tax, because they're internal to the workings of capitalism and don't have a direct bearing on the case for revolution. But we certainly do have an opinion on whether it's right for an industry which exists to feed us instead to be deliberately adulterating food and slowly poisoning us in order to give their profits a quick sugar rush. Whether sugar ends up being taxed or not, or other measures brought in to restrict those notorious buy-one-get-one-free deals, the lesson is as plain as the icing on the cake. Capitalism is not interested in your health, only in accumulating wealth at your expense.
Paddy Shannon

History in the Making (1946)

From the June 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Karl Marx helped to found the International Working Men's Association, in 1864, the era of capitalist revolutions in Europe had come to a temporary close. The hopes which Marx and Engels had cherished of a working-class revolution following closely upon the political victories of the capitalist class had been abandoned as premature, and the founders of scientific Socialism set about the task of building up an international organisation of workers. Never did Marx and Engels conceive the workers' challenge to capitalism as a movement that should be divided by national frontiers. In the famous "Communist Manifesto," published in 1848, they had already proclaimed the need for the unity of the workers everywhere; despite the setbacks inevitable at that stage of world conditions, they held fast to this view to the end.

Before the death of Engels, in 1895, the Socialist movement appeared to have made gigantic strides. Particularly in Germany, the movement known as "Social-Democracy" raised the hopes of revolutionary-minded workers, and it is undeniable that the early leaders of the German party were able exponents of Marxism. But this knowledge was merely confined to the top. The mass membership was recruited on issues far removed from the principles of Socialism. Nevertheless, the leadership of the german party was acknowledged by many workers in all countries, and the debates at the conferences of the Second International (founded in 1889 to carry on the work of the defunct First International) reached a high level. Here the leaders felt themselves at liberty to theorise about revolution whilst back in the confines of their national movements they were constrained to bow to the demands of day-to-day politics.

The First World War shattered all illusions. It is reported that when Lenin first heard of the support of German Social-Democracy for the war, he refused to believe it. He thought it a trick of capitalist propaganda. More bitter was his hatred for his former idols, such as Kautsky, when the truth became known. He had not grasped what was already obvious to members of the S.P.G.B., namely, that the apparent militancy of the German movement was not based upon the will for Socialism, but was largely incited by the semi-feudal character of the German State-power and the hindrance it caused to German capitalist development. It is, in fact, a principle of modern reformist working-class parties that their militancy varies in proportion to the existence of feudal remnants.

The Russian Revolution is a clear illustration of this. After their success the Bolsheviks claimed the world leadership of the proletariat as their due. But it soon became clear that what had seemingly originated in the sphere of working-class struggle was more nor less than the Russian National Revolution, designed to bring the backward Russian economy into line with Western capitalism. That, in the absence of a strong capitalist class, this task had to be accomplished by a group of "intellectuals" hitherto associated with Marxism, is not an accident of history, it is a significant fact proving the growing power of Socialist ideas. However, ideas in the heads of a few cannot withstand the pressure of historical needs. As with German Social-Democracy, achievement of their real, as contrasted with their proclaimed objective, has shorn the Bolsheviks of much of their working-class appeal, as well, let it be remembered, of the men who provided them with the reputation of a Marxist party.

The real objective of German Social-Democracy in 1918 was the establishment of the democratic capitalist republic. Having achieved this, they wanted to sit back upon the haunches of German capitalist economy waiting for working-class approval. But the post-war difficulties of the German economy did not permit this luxury. Enjoying the confidence of large masses of workers for propagandising its objections to the hardships of capitalism is a pleasant experience common to all so-called Labour parties. It is quite a different matter when these parties are thrust into power and called upon to "deliver the goods." The British Labour Party is in the process of finding this out for itself. It is apparent that the experience of its fellow-party in Germany has not been a deterrent.

It should have been. The fate of German Social-Democracy was shattering. When the democratic republic, their present to the German workers, failed to capture popular support, the morale of German Labour was smashed. They had not the will and zest for a violent struggle against Hitler, and so, to the astonishment of the world, a movement numbering millions disappeared almost without a trace. Here is the answer to those who look to the big battalions for success and ignore the strength only to be found where there is understanding.

With the rise of the Nazi Party a profound change overtook working-class politics. From being nurtured in the belief that workers' organisations, whether "Labour" or "Communist," must inevitably take the offensive against the ruling class, the new menace threw everyone, excepting Socialists, on the defensive. Not the winning of a new world, but the maintaining of the old, was the order of the day. Few realised that the clash of ideologies masked the capitalist world-rivalry for economic gain. To comprehend this preliminary to World-War Number Two, even now, after the event, is of decisive importance. The capitalists' need for working-class support for war is now so great that to achieve it the ruling-class groups must prove that the major causes for the conflict spring from ideas held by "working-class" parties. Thus the growing quarrel between Russia and the Western Powers has immediate consequences of a grave character for the workers. Already certain quarters are posing the new line-up as a clash between "Social-Democracy" and "Totalitarian Communism." The result could be that the workers may be divided into pro- and anti-Russian factions. This would be disastrous. Forgetting working-class aims, they will be just as divided as if their rulers were already at war. And this division of the workers will facilitate war. All the reactionaries, from Mr. Churchill to the Pope, as well as Fascists, would, of course, claim to be on the side of "Social-Democracy." This factor alone should put workers on their guard.

For the time being, world capitalism has to make good the ravages of war. A large part of Europe is in ruins; millions of people are shunted back and forth over the continent like cattle. In such a situation the attempt to extricate capitalism from the mess is pathetic. Indeed, the attempt is being made, largely by so-called working-class parties, and is camouflaged as "Socialism." Not, mind you, the theoretical Socialism of Karl Marx! This is the phase of "Practical Socialism," when "things are done, not talked about!" We will not have long to wait before the bluff is called. There will no longer be the "settled" periods of capitalism, when the system could recover its equilibrium. The momentum of economic development throughout the world has now become tremendous. It is accompanied by a rapid change in the backward countries of India and China. Together with the discovery of atomic energy, these changes cannot be absorbed by world capitalism without throwing the whole social mechanism out of gear. Against this social background the efforts of reformers can be compared to the throwing of pails of water into an erupting volcano.

The Class-Struggle of the workers versus capitalists can therefore be divided into distinct stages. During a century of capitalism the working-class movement first took up positions for organised battle under the guiding ideas of Karl Marx. Then came the period of "Gradualism," when the mass-parties of Labour and Social-Democracy held sway with their theories of "nibbling" at the walls in order to make the "breach." The Russian Revolution appeared to indicate the "short cut" to Socialism and managed to win a large proportion of workers away from the Gradualists. Now, in the world emerging from the Second World-War, these two forces hold political power over a large part of the world. The "Practical" Socialism, which in reality means a "Planned" capitalism, is being put to the test in Russia under Communists and in Britain under Labourites. During these coming years working-class opposition to both these camps must inevitably grow. To-day, the party of Socialism appears as the only working-class force free from political ties with those who hold the state-power for capitalism. This is our opportunity. Admittedly, the problem is vast, the difficulties immense. Our resources are at present, by comparison small. But the magnificent work of Marx and Engels proves that when history is the teacher and survival is the stake, the human race is a quick and ready pupil. The Communist Manifesto and the First Workers' International were the labour of only a few, but they shook the world of capitalism at the very beginning.

Utilising the knowledge of Scientific Socialism, not as a theoretical shelter to hide from a world in trouble, but as a spur to action, the workers can now change the world.
Sid Rubin

The Enemy on the Left! (1973)

The Enemy on the Left Column from the January 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

A regular column dealing with the antics of those who call themselves socialist but in practice do  nothing but harm to the cause.

First, a  look at the title of this series. We all know what an enemy is, but what is "the left"? The matter is not as simple as it sounds. Was Nazi Germany "left" and Stalinist Russia "right"? How absurd, most people would say. Just the opposite. Yet the similarities between the two régimes were most marked. In particular, both countries were wage-slave societies where the wage-slave had practically no rights and where the concentration camp and the death penalty were the answer for those who dared question the actions of the rulers. And, as is well enough known, their differences were so unimportant that in 1939, the Hitler-Stalin pact gave the green light for the start of the holocaust.

So perhaps we will have to deal only with those people and parties who pretend to be socialist (maybe closing our eyes, for convenience, to the fact that the very word Nazi was only shortened for National Socialist; while as to the communists — who, in Marxian terms, are but synonymous with socialists, the term "red-fascist" is really nearer the mark.) Some readers may recall that the French writer and pseudo-socialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, once coined the slogan "No enemies on the left" in an endeavour to produce a "united front" of French pseudosocialists. The reality is, however. that it is precisely these leftists. all these people who masquerade as socialists, the Wilsons, the Foots in this country, the supporters of Brandt or Brezhnev, of Mao or Castro et al, who are the real villains of the piece. The reason is simple. In order to achieve Socialism, in a world such as we live in now where the objective conditions, the power to produce abundance to satisfy all human needs, have long been established, the only real obstacle is the subjective one of convincing the working class of the world that Socialism is the answer. It therefore follows that all these people who lead false trails merely produce the confusion as to what Socialism is all about, which, sadly, characterises almost the whole electorate over one hundred years after Marx and Engels had pointed the way ahead. And it is even worse that that. For not only do these people sow confusion, they also have the effect of producing revulsion against the very thought of Socialism among such elements of the working class who are prepared to think (or who have the time and energy to think after they have been through their day's rations of exploitation). Who would wish to be socialist who believes that Wilson's government was an example? Who would not be sick of the very idea of a communist (or socialist) society if that means anything like the vicious tyranny which exists for to see in places like Russia or China?

It is hoped that this brief introduction will have set the scene. In future issues we can deal with some of the activities of these leftist enemies of Socialism and of any progress towards a sane and humane society.
L. E. Weidberg 

Iron Fist (1985)

Book Review from the October 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Jim Coulter, Susan Miller, Martin Walker, State of Siege — Miners' Strike 1984: Politics and Policing in the Coal Fields (1984). Canary Press.

Moira Abdel-Rahim, Strike Breaking in Essex: The policing of Wivenhoe and the Essex ports during the 1984 miners' strike. Canary Press

The 1984/85 coal strike met with a massive response from the state, most notably the drafting into the coalfields of thousands of policemen from other areas under the mutual aid arrangements. But this was not the only part of the state machinery mobilised against the striking miners: the criminal justice system was used to restrict the activities of trade unionists through the imposition of bail conditions and bind over orders; the civil courts used injunctions to sequestrate union funds; other nationalised industries took action that severely limited the effects of the miners' action (for example the CEGB burned oil instead of coal in power stations); and the DHSS tried to starve miners back to work by withholding benefit from their families. But it was the police who were the state's front line in its attack on striking miners. Their activities caused widespread outcry among those concerned about civil liberties and led to a number of instant books commenting on the policing of the dispute, some published before the strike had ended.

State of Siege originally appeared in the form of three pamphlets, the first appearing just weeks after the start of the dispute. This book is a compilation of those earlier publications and it documents, in essentially anecdotal form, the most outrageous activities of the police over the period of the first five months of the strike. Because it was written as the events happened, the material is often unsystematic and lacking in coherence (which the authors themselves admit). This type of approach means that their arguments are frequently unpersuasive since they lack hard evidence to back them up. Anecdotal accounts of ill treatment by the police, for example, can be too easily dismissed as isolated occurrences not representative of the policing operation as a whole.

Similarly the authors' allegations that the police are being turned into a "paramilitary Third Force", although they carry some weight in view of the widespread use of riot trained police during the strike, can begin to sound like an hysterical over-reaction. One of the central problems with the book's approach is that the authors seem to want to argue that the growth of the "strong state" is both a feature of Thatcher's Britain and also nothing new. So although they place the events of this dispute in the broader context of a long history of brutal state reactions to working-class militancy, at times they also imply that there was something unique about this particular struggle. They write:
The miners' strike has come about because of the brutal economic policies of a Conservative government (p. 3).
This is not true: the events leading up to the strike were the result of the internal logic of capitalism—that production takes place only for the purpose of making a profit, and any industry that is not deemed sufficiently profitable will be closed—and this is the case no matter what shade of capitalist political party happens to be in government.

The authors' admiration for the efforts of miners to organise themselves during the strike and their justifiable sense of outrage at the treatment repeatedly meted out to them is tinged with the tendency to depict miners as proto-revolutionaries, which they clearly were not. While the strike may have challenged the employers inevitably it was on their own ground, namely that of capitalism; no strike can attempt to move the struggle to different ground — a political struggle for socialism. Despite the rhetoric this was, after all, yet another manifestation of the daily class struggle between worker and capitalists, albeit a particularly long and bitter one.

Despite its shortcomings, State of Siege does graphically illustrate a whole range of state activities during the strike: the use of the National Reporting centre to centralise control of the police and co-ordinate their operations; the use of the criminal rather than the civil law against pickets in an attempt to criminalise and discredit them; the setting up of police road blocks that made a nonsense of the notion of "freedom of movement"; the collecting by police and the Special Branch of political intelligence on strikers and trade union leaders; and physical and verbal abuse by police to harass and intimidate miners and their families.

Looking to the future the authors identify the following causes for concern: the inadequacy of the police complaints system; the extension of police powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 and the proposed changes in the law relating to Public Order. Underlying their recommendations and observations seems to be the idea that humanitarian policing is possible—"policing by consent" as it is usually called. This misses the point about the role of the police, and the coercive state machinery in general, in upholding and protecting the interests of the capitalist class; the idea of impartial policing or "policing by consent" is absurd. The consent of the workers is obtained while the system twists one of their arms up behind them; it is the consent of people who believe that they have no option but to consent.

Strike Breaking in Essex is written in a somewhat similar style to State of Siege although its particular focus is the picketing of the five small ports in Essex which were used to import coal. Because its subject is narrower it offers a more detailed and comprehensive account than State of Siege and is more systematic in approach. It deals firstly with the background to the events that occurred at the five Essex ports, then goes on to give a detailed account of the policing operation in the Essex area and finally discusses the wider implications of the way in which the dispute was policed for the Essex community. But despite this more systematic approach again there is evidence of a lack of political understanding, as for example when the author writes:
The miners have been fighting for their jobs, their communities and a voice in their future. They are now the vanguard of the British working class. If they are to be crushed, trade unionism and the labour movement will have suffered a serious blow.
Again, the author is confusing a trade union struggle over industrial and economic issues with revolutionary political action.

Both of these books draw attention in graphic style to the use of state power by the capitalist class to protect its own interests in the face of a perceived threat from the working class. The coercive nature of state power is generally kept reasonably well hidden — it is far more effective for workers to believe that they are "consenting" to a given situation rather than being coerced into accepting it. But it should nevertheless be remembered that coercive power — the "iron fist" — can and will be used if necessary. Both books rightly draw attention to this use of coercion, apparently understand its function in protecting class interests, and yet still persist in the naive and mistaken view that policing can be reformed in such a way as to make it in some way less coercive. State of Siege at the end of the first section (p. 59) recommends the setting up of committees of enquiry to look into the use of the criminal law; the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers; and covert employment of paramilitary strategies during the strike. After the catalogue of abuses by the state which they present us with, are we really supposed to believe that a series of committees of enquiry (themselves a part of the state machinery) are going to recommend reforming the police in such a way that such abuses will never occur again? This is precisely the sort of recommendation that one expects from politicians who wish to avoid capitalism's realities and is at best naive and at worst politically dangerous.
Janie Percy-Smith

World-economy (1981)

Book Review from the March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Capitalist World-economy by I. Wallerstein, Cambridge University Press, £4.95

This book, first published in 1979, brings out well an essential feature of capitalism: it is a single world system, a single world economy. There is no such thing as the "British economy", the "American economy" or the "Russian economy"; there is only one economy, world capitalism. What is more, capitalism has been a world-economy—embracing a number of states with varying divisions of labour—ever since its origin in Western Europe in the 16th century, even though it did not dominate the whole globe until the end of the 19th.

This view—which is one we ourselves hold—has various important implications. First, that there are no national solutions to today's social problems. The various states into which the world is divided are political, but not social units. The state does not define the boundaries of the present social system, which is worldwide and capitalist. Since capitalism is the cause of today's social problems and is a single world-wide social system, it clearly follows that the solution to these problems can only be a world-wide social change (from world capitalism to world socialism).

States do, however, have an important economic role to play in the capitalist world-economy: to try to distort the market for the benefit of the group of capitalists they represent. As Wallerstein puts it:
Within a world economy, the state structures function as ways for particular groups to affect and distort the functioning of the market. The stronger the state machinery, the more its ability to distort the world market in favour of the interests it represents (p.61).
It is this that explains the militarisation of the world (and, by implication, the futility of expecting disarmament while world capitalism lasts):
State machineries have interfered with the workings of the world market from the inception of capitalism. Moreover, the states have formed, developed and militarised themselves each in relation to the others, seeking thus to channel the division of surplus value. In consequence, all state structures have grown progressively stronger over time absolutely, although the relative differences between core and peripheral areas have probably remained the same or even increased (p. 274).
It also explains why all states, not just certain of them, are "imperialist" in the sense of being potentially expansionist and being prepared to use violence as a last resort. War is in fact just one of the ways states use to seek to distort the world market (others being mercantilism, protectionism, colonialism, tariffs, subsidies). War is a political means of pursuing economic ends.

Second, that there are not, nor could there be, any "socialist" states or countries in the world today. Wallerstein, despite his own personal sympathy (which we don't share) for some of the states calling themselves "socialist", is clear enough on this point:
The fact that all enterprises are nationalised in these countries does not make the participation of these enterprises in the world-economy one that does not conform to the mode of operation of a capitalist market system: seeking increased efficiency of production in order to realise a maximum price on sales, thus achieving a more favourable allocation of the surplus of the world-economy.
There are today no socialist systems in the world-economy any more than there are feudal systems because there is only one world system. It is a world-economy and it is by definition capitalist in form (pp.34-5).
The capitalist system is composed of owner who sell for profit. The fact that an owner is a group of individuals rather than a single person makes no essential difference. This has long been recognised for joint-stock companies. It must now also be recognised for sovereign states. A state which collectively owns all the means of production is merely a collective capitalist firm as long as it remains—as all such states are, in fact, presently compelled to remain—a participant in the market of the capitalist world-economy. No doubt such a "firm" may have different modalities of internal division of profit, but this does not change its essential role vis-a-vis others operating in the world-market (pp. 68-9).
Third, that virtually the whole of the world's population, whether or not they are yet propertyless wage earners, are victims of capitalism in one way or another. (Wallerstein would add a fourth point, namely, that there is a world-wide division of labour between developed ("core") and underdeveloped ("periphery") countries such that the latter are condemned to permanent underdevelopment for as long as capitalism lasts. Whatever may be the validity of this proposition—which is not discussed here—it is not a necessary implication of the "world-system perspective".

The logical conclusion to be drawn from all this is that it is all or nothing—world socialism or the continuation of capitalism in one form or another—in the sense that no single state or country on its own, no matter what policy it adopts, can escape from the logic of the world capitalist system. This is why we say that the only solution to the problems of all the population of the world, those in the underdeveloped countries as well as those in the advanced capitalist countries, is the replacement of the capitalist world-economy by world socialism.

Wallerstein, however, is not logical and does not draw this conclusion. As a Maoist fellow-traveller (even if he has now, rather belatedly, come to recognise that China is just as state capitalist as Russia—which was obvious to us even when Mao was in power) he supports Third World "national liberation" movements as a supposed aspect of the world's population's struggle against world capitalism, whereas his own analysis shows that they are in fact just part of the struggle among the various states of the world for a share of the surplus value produced by the workers and peasants of the world.
Adam Buick 


The ultimate migrants (1997)

Editorial from the March 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a naturally expansive system which has migrated to the four corners of the Earth, pushing aside every obstacle in its way. Whether it be the classical nineteenth-century imperialism which built many empires and destroyed the lives and cultures of many indigenous people, or the latter-day domination of the world market by a handful of corporations—capitalism has recognised no boundaries in its search for profit.

With this in mind it has always been ironic that capitalist politicians complain about immigration or the "influx of foreigners" coming into "our country". The workers of the world have no country—we are global. All of the countries are owned by a tiny fraction of the world's population—the capitalist class, who are international. The logic of the profit system is that the capitalists will invest wherever they can get the best return on their capital. One of the major factors has always been low labour costs combined with potential access to a particular market. Hence, capital flows travel the world over, and suddenly patriotism is no longer a factor!

Just recently, we heard the outcry among the ruling class when a leading Japanese industrialist said that his corporation would have to think twice about any further investment in Britain if it failed to join the single currency in Europe. Amongst other things this led to John Major claiming that Britain's record on attracting inward investment was second-to-none in Europe. Indeed, one of the more attractive features was Britain's "flexible" labour market. At the same time there was the dual discussion going on about possible immigration from Hong Kong and the question of "false" asylum-seekers.

Basically, as usual, it's one rule for capital and another for the working class. Obviously, in the case of a labour shortage the rules may be suspended or even reversed, but the normal practice for the ruling class is to warn about the dangers of immigration thus setting worker against worker whilst, at the same time, being the ultimate immigrants and migrants themselves.


'Song of the Wage-Slaves' (1919)

From the June 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard
We grow in might and numbers as we mix from every clime,
And march beneath our Standard scorning fear or blows of Time:
     Our cause is universal, and to burst Man's bonds we meet:
     The Workers' war for freedom can n'er end in their defeat? 
We fill the world with riches by our work of mind and hands,
Yet we are ground in bondage by the Lords of Wealth and Lands.
    Our pay is but a pittance: we're machines to grind out wealth
    To make the rich men richer while we're robbed of peace and health. 
Life's best gifts are denied us; from our wage-slave's hell we rise,
To smash the bloody system built on greed and fraud and lies!
      'Mid great wealth some are starving who can't sell themselves for bread;
      Their days are dumb with darkness, while their hearts to joy are dead.
          We'll cease to bear some burdens that have weighed us down for years—
          The manacles of slavery ever wet with blood and tears;
              Nor wage wars for our masters when they lust for power and gold:
              We'll end it all for ever! And the world in peace we'll hold.

           The earth shall be for workers!—not for thieves and parasites!
           Who turn it to Inferno by their strife for spurious rights.
               We'll trample down all fetters; we shall wing to heights unknown
               And attain to Life Resplendent when we make the world our own!
Graham May

Soldiering On (2015)

The Proper Gander Column from the November 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

DIY SOS – Homes For Veterans (BBC1) is the makeover show’s ‘biggest ever challenge’. Cheeky chappie presenter Nick Knowles and his team of builders, technicians and volunteers have 12 days to renovate a dilapidated terrace street in Manchester. This is to create a therapeutic and accessible community for ex-armed forces personnel with physical and mental health conditions.

It’s striking that people choose to go into a profession that they’re likely to leave with life-changing injuries and trauma. Presumably, filling your head with enough nationalism to kill for ‘your’ country, and living in a regimented bubble makes you accept the risks of being a soldier. Adapting from the army mindset back into civvy street can be enough of a struggle, even without additional problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, brain damage or the loss of a limb, as suffered by tens of thousands of armed forces personnel. If their mobility has been affected, then the home they move back to needs to be made more accessible. The houses being renovated on DIY SOS are purpose-built around the  veterans’ needs, almost uniquely. Ex-soldier John has anxiety and flashbacks triggered by loud noises, which have put pressures on his family life. In his new home, the front room has been designed to make him feel more settled, and his bedroom has been soundproofed to improve his sleep.

Perhaps there has always been an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among ex-service personnel, and now it’s just recognised more. This doesn’t mean that everyone suffering from PTSD gets treatment and support for it, or even any kind of housing. Around 9,000 ex-soldiers are homeless, having been abandoned by the state they fought for. So, only a few of the people in need will benefit from DIY SOS’s community.

The cornerstones of any programme like this are the snappily-edited race against time to get the work done, the blokey builders’ banter, and the emotional reveal of the new homes. The ‘blitz spirit’ is evoked more than once, although not in the context of it being another military slaughter. The only break from the formula is a visit by princes William and Harry, figureheads of the society which creates the wars these veterans have been victims of.  We shouldn’t be too  cynical, though. Projects like this remind us that people are happy to co-operate and volunteer to help others. But it would still be better to work towards a society which doesn’t create the need for wars, nor institutions like the armed forces.
Mike Foster