Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Interview (1982)

From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

I trudge off to my weekly rendezvous with the man at the Buroo, who had sent me a letter saying “we are concerned, as no doubt you are, about your continued unemployment . . I mull over some of the things he has been saying over the past few weeks: the concern for my well-being, the “helpful suggestions” on how to find employment and how I should “have no difficulty with interviews”.

It occurs to me that the blame for my predicament is being put on me. The letters I now receive when I miss one of those meetings contain blunt, as well as subtle, threats. I feel that some vile crescendo is being worked up against me by this Causa Nostra of officialdom: a terrible Day of Reckoning. I have always had this feeling, even when in employment. Yet I am not paranoid. My fears are based on experience: one can be sacked from jobs and benefit can be stopped when one does not attend interrogation—I mean interview sessions—at the DHSS. However I digress, as what I feel or how I think is of no importance to these official Mafiosi. I then think that I am taking things too personally; to them it is probably “purely business, nothing personal”.

This man I must speak with today is probably just as bored as I am with our little “chats”. He does try to be an affable character, and like me is a victim of his poverty. Just another worker—except that his house probably does not leak and doesn't have a bedroom in which the fungi flourish. Furthermore, if he wants to keep living in his house, he has to keep doing this dull, dull job. (He too has the fear of the sack.)

He can be extremely delicate in his selection of words, but notwithstanding this, I must stop being “nice” to him. For too long have I quietly listened to his naive interpretation of events. Today I will tell him what I really think. (I had thought of telling him that 1 was terminally ill to get him off my back, but after a decent interval had elapsed, he would be sending me letters demanding to know why I was not dead and, worst of all, why I was still claiming “Benefit”.) He usually asks me why I thought it was difficult to find work, and he phrased the question differently each time. He seemed to be obsessed by this question, and always returned to it. There is no doubt he saw it as one of life’s great mysteries and no doubt he would return to this theme today.

I rehearsed in my mind how I would answer him. I would inform him of the millions of other workers on the dole, as though this knowledge had only just come to my attention. I would, in a casual fashion, introduce him to the fact that capitalism is in a slump and that when this happens workers are thrown on the dole because the commodities they have been producing cannot be sold profitably in the same quantities as before; and, as the capitalists need to change their commodities into money to realise the surplus value (unpaid labour) contained in them, this unfortunate turn of events means that production must be curtailed.

When this happens in fairly large sections of industry, other sectors are similarly affected. A fall in demand for motor cars affects tyre manufacturers and the steel industry, which in turn affects the coal and petrochemical industries which, in any case, are already affected due to less demand for PVC and other polymer plastics used extensively in producing motor cars. The list of causes and effects, and effects becoming new causes of other effects, is endless.

However, in returning to my particular problem, I decided that I would inform this SS interrogator that the difficulty in obtaining employment is not resolved simply by making greater efforts to find work. (He has suggested ways of improving my “interview technique” and has given other unsolicited advice such as “getting to know something about the company involved” before interviews. Such suggestions could, at best, only help to secure a job already in existence, but could not create one which is not already there.)

This idea presupposes that employment is available if only the unemployed would look for and find it. This is an idea propagated by certain capitalist politicians such as Tebbit who urges us on to the streets—not to the barricades, but onto bikes. This simplistic notion in which Tebbit and his SS men believe (or at least pretend to believe) is not true.

The unemployed are not allowed to work at the present time. It is the capitalist class who decide whether or not, and in what circumstances, workers will work and in the present slump they have in effect told certain workers: “Go home! We don’t need you. Wait there until we need you again”.

The important fact in relation to unemployment, I will tell him, is that we live in a world in which it is now possible to satisfy everybody’s needs but the present (capitalist) mode of production prevents this potential super-abundance being realised. Unemployment is therefore only one example of capitalism’s inability to use its resources for the benefit of the whole community. The wealth that could be produced by the world’s unemployed would be very useful to the millions of impoverished people were it to be used to satisfy human needs.

But capitalism does not, and cannot, work that way.

I will tell him that, having made all these discoveries and having realised that a potential for super-abundance exists, it follows that the way to make this abundance a reality is to get rid of that which stands in its way: the capitalist system itself. In answer to his question, I will inform my interrogator that capitalism with its periodic and inherent crises is what makes it “difficult to find work” and that my unemployment (and that of everyone else) can be abolished by the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. This will involve also the abolition of employment, as there will no longer be a capitalist class and a working class. The people will still be there, but they will not belong to a particular class, as socialism will necessarily involve the abolition of classes and with it the exploitation of one class by another. Socialism, I will explain, will be:
A community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. (Capital, Vol. l, Ch. 1.)
Socialism means a world without wages, prices and profits; a world without P45s, UBL18s, UB40s, A14Ns, U12s and all the other paraphernalia.of capitalism. Socialism will enable human beings to live in a society in which production will be carried on in accordance with the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

While trying to organise in my mind an exposition of the Labour Theory of Value, I arrived at the office. After exchanging the usual meaningless pleasantries, the question horribly arose: “What difficulties have you found recently in looking for work”, I gave him the answer I had prepared. He said I had “an alarming attitude”
Johnny Cadillac

Limits to Capitalism (1977)

From the April 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the barriers to the spread of our ideas is “the media”. This is not just because the media consciously sets out to put forward the prevailing ideas of capitalism but because, as the saying goes, “bad news is good news” and sells newspapers. An example of this is the preoccupation of the media with “doom merchants” such as The Club of Rome. Who instigated a research programme resulting in a book called The Limits of Growth, in 1972. This became world-famous for its forecast of overpopulation and exhaustion of resources, especially food.

That was the bad news. The good news, however, was completely ignored by the media. This was the subsequent report made in connection with a project on “problems of population doubling and food supply” also instigated by the Club of Rome. In this report the authors compute the “upper limit of what can be grown on all suitable agricultural land” and in so doing contradict the “Limits to Growth”.
Taking into account the possibilities of irrigation and the limitations in crop production caused by local soil and climatic conditions, the absolute maximum production . . .  of a standard cereal crop is computed as . . . almost 40 times the present cereal crop production.
(“Computation of the absolute maximum food production of the world.” Agricultural university, Wageningen, The Netherlands. P. Buringh, H. D. van Heemst and G. J. Staring, 1975.) (our emphasis)
The reason why this potential cannot be realized is purely because of “economic, social or political limitations”. Capitalism in short! The limitations of capitalism, therefore, are every reason for you to be a Socialist.
Paul Moody


Open letter to Dick Taverne, MP (1964)

From the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sir,

You may remember me as the Socialist who had the difference of opinion with you at a Marylebone meeting recently (or rather, I was one of a number). I hope you will not mind my writing to you. I have been engaged fairly actively in Socialist politics for many years and this is the first time I have felt prompted to do so.

I asked you a question about South Africa and you gave two replies (you will appreciate, I am sure, that a witness who gives one reply to a question and when that does not go down very well comes up with another answer, is always calculated to make the judge look over his glasses). Your first reply was that I had got my facts wrong. The second was that you were at school at the material time. And it is the latter answer which impels me to try and continue your education by means of this letter. I trust you are not already offended and that I do not appear too patronising. You must remember that it was you who pleaded youth in extenuation of ignorance; I am merely answering your implied cry for help.

Obviously, if you are too young to know one aspect of politics it is unlikely that you will be bristling with a sound knowledge of the facts on other matters; however, in this letter I propose to deal mainly with the South African question which started things off at the meeting. You were asked how you could reconcile your criticism of the British Tory Government record at UNO on the question of apartheid with the fact that when your own party was last in power they followed an identical policy at UNO. As mentioned above, your first shot to the effect that my friends and I had got our facts wrong, was wide of the mark. It is true that we had not brought any dossiers of evidence along but the vehemence of our reaction caused you to change course immediately. 

Now I am sure that an intelligent young man like you who only recently hit the headlines as one of the late Hugh Gaitskell's new crop of MP.’s, if you felt you were in the right, would not be put off his stroke by a handful of irate questioners' amongst a hundred of bis own supporters. Perhaps you realised that you really did not know the facts and that it was therefore simply not possible for you to maintain your stand. Of course, when you grow older and more experienced you will realise that it is possible to maintain even downright lies as long as your questioners are few and your supporters are both numerous and uncritical. At present you have not yet reached this stage.

Your next line, though, was really rather breathtaking. You were still at school, you said. This is no doubt true. But it will hardly do, will it? After all, if you are on a platform as a representative of a party you must surely be presumed to know what it did yesterday and even the day before. I was speaking on public platforms for the Socialist Party (and against the Labour Party) before I was twenty. But I would not have been able to do so had I not satisfied my comrades that I know all about my party's activities from the time it was formed (which was not when I was at school but long before I was born). Yes, and all about your party, too, and about all the other parties which seek power on a programme of reform of capitalism some of whom, like yours, claim to be Socialist (or at least used to; I noticed that neither you nor any of your colleagues on the platform so much as mentioned the word Socialism). In fact, I was ready to answer questions about the economic and social causes of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire as well as the change from primitive communism to property society; both of which, you will realise, happened well before I started school, let alone left it

You see, we hold that those who are not possessed of the necessary knowledge, either through their youth or for any other reason, should not presume, too, to instruct others from platforms; a proposition which you must agree is eminently reasonable. And my colleagues and I are only amateurs; we are none of us full-time paid politicians like you.

At any rate, I am sure you would like to know the facts so that next time you come up against others who know them, you will not feel at such a grave disadvantage. The government, when run by the party that you represent and which you may one day even lead (you seem to have all the advantages which Harold Wilson had and more; you are just as young, you are better looking, and equally you know nothing about Socialism), did all the things at UNO when the South African question was on the agenda that you now accuse the present government of doing. Not being a full-time politician and not having the staff at Transport House to wade through the records I cannot cite some of the choicest examples, but the following two or three, taken from a five-minute glance through Keesing's in the local library should do.

Nov. 29 '49: Resolution proposed by Scandinavian countries calling on South Africa to submit the question of the mandate to S.W. Africa to the International Court of Justice was carried 30-7. Your government abstained from supporting what it called the rule of law in international affairs.

Dec. 5 '50: A resolution condemning Apartheid defeated by, amongst others, the vote of your party’s government.

Nov. 28 '49: This was the occasion when the Rev. Michael Scott made a speech about the appalling sufferings of the Herero tribe. India moved a resolution condemning S. Africa. Carried 31-10. This time your lot did not abstain. It was one of the ten who voted against. You can imagine who tbe other nine were; if you can't, I suggest you look it up and see what kind of company your government was keeping while you were at school. Even the United States (not a Socialist country even by your notions) could not bring itself to associate with them and abstained.

Of course, all this was some years ago. But your party had the biggest majority of any party this century. And you must admit that it is rather less than honest to accuse your opponents of actions while hiding or denying the fact that you did likewise the last time you had the chance to do anything at all. And although some of the actors have passed on to higher things, some of them are your leading colleagues today who were not unknown school children in those days. For example you are no doubt acquainted with Barbara Castle who leads your anti-apartheid wing now. Well, she was old enough to know all about it.

I’m afraid I may have been a little too facetious in my letter. Things are really not funny at all. And the saddest thing is to see young people like you, able, intelligent and with the gift of tongues, swimming comfortably with the tide: the tide of capitalism that has for so long drowned all the hopes of a decent world for the human race to live in.

If you would like me to send you a pamphlet about Socialism, please let me know. I am sure you will find it a revelation. Then next time you are on a platform and a Socialist asks you a question, perhaps you will not feel so badly out of your depth.
                                                                                                                         Yours truly,
      L. E. Weidberg



Does class matter? (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

You are a member of the working class. Forget all the pretensions about being "middle class" or the put-downs about being "lower class" or the evasions about being "just an ordinary person". If you depend on a wage or a salary in order to live, as most people do, you are a worker. As a worker you have a human commodity, to be bought on the labour market by an employer. To the capitalists who use your labour power you are just an item on the list of production costs: if they can pump more value out of you than they pay you they will use you, if not you will be thrown on to the scrapheap of the unemployed. Your function in life, as a worker, is to be exploited. You are a human machine for creating profit.

You like to think you are free. A wage slave is never free. Without selling yourself you will face huge problems, leaving you dependent on state or private charity in order to survive. As an unemployed worker your chances of premature death are greatly increased. So you are free to do what your employer dictates. Your liberty must be trimmed to fit in with the profit requirements of the bosses. Do you have access to whatever you need? You will spend your life saving up for things because they are not free but must be bought on the market. Are you free to live where you like? Can you travel wherever you want to go? Are the best health facilities available to you? Can you provide for the ones you love? Don't even bother to try and answer. We know that as a worker you cannot afford to do these things. Your home will never be as pleasant as the bosses' residences. You will never be as free to travel the world as are the rich who need have no work to get in the way of their travelling. If you are ill you will queue up for the cheap, lower-class NHS treatment because as a worker you are replaceable. The ones you love and care for will always be deprived of some of the good things you want to give them because, unlike the boss who is legally robbing you for profit, you can only afford to be as generous as your wage packet or salary cheque allows you to be.

If you were free you would not have to jump up like a trained circus animal every time the alarm clock tells you that it is time to go and sell the best part of each day to the boss. You are a wage slave. Don't like the label? Then try giving up working for a wage or salary for a few months and living like a lord. You'll soon find out how compelled you are to return to the task of making profits for the capitalists. And don't kid yourself with that line about being free to become a boss yourself. A mass of new companies over the past few years have gone broke within a year or so.

They tell you that you are British. How much of Britain do you own? Little or none. Maybe you possess a few shares. Possibly you own a house, although you more likely own a mortgage or a rent book. You are asked to get excited about "your" country, "our" trade. Will "we" get the order to make aeroplanes for the USA? Why should you care? You will not be profiting from the deals which the British capitalists make. They whip you up into a frenzy of excitement about “our" Queen You are urged to regard yourself as a subject. But if you are broke and can't pay the rent or feed the kids you can forget about any prospect of the two-billion-pound parasite in Buckingham Palace giving you a hand-out. The capitalists, including their crowned figureheads, treat you as a worker, with contempt. Your role is to cheer the British gang of thieving bosses in their quest to become rich, but profits for them has nothing to do with a good life for you.

Not only are you conned into believing that you have a country. You are told that you must die for it. You are so unfree that if a war is declared tomorrow you will stand a high chance of being blown to pieces. They will not consult you before they push the button. Not only you but your children, who are considered too young to vote but not too young to be murdered in the cause of market competition. You might console yourself that the bomb will never drop. You're safe. And ignorance is bliss but it does not protect you from the hard fact that you are now living in a world which is more full of armaments and more capable of mass annihilation than at any time in human history. If you think that war is not on the agenda you are fooling yourself into being a candidate for the post-holocaust pile of corpses and you are leaving those around you unsafe as well.

You could pray that life will improve. Religion used to be popular in this country — these days fewer workers believe it. Prayer will solve nothing. There is no almighty power up in the sky who will put things right. The only powers worth thinking about are those down here on earth. Maybe you are one of those who believe in the afterlife. A comforting thought: after a life of wage slavery down here there's going to be pie in the sky up there. But it's a pretty miserable and pathetic ambition: suffer now and have a good time up on Cloud Nine when you're dead. Intelligent workers will want something now, not promises for when they're six foot under. Then they tell you about "human nature", that disease we are all supposed to be born with. Do you really believe that humans are naturally anti-social? Or do you accept that our behaviour is determined by the social conditions we find ourselves in? In a jungle society of rat-race competition people act like rats. But we are adaptable in our behaviour, as you will know from the many examples of co-operative behaviour you have experienced. As a worker you want to be decent but under the profit system decency pays no dividends.

You have read this far. You agree that you are a worker and that you are not free and that nationalism is a joke and war is a danger and religion offers no answers and humans are not natural aggressors. When you think about these points they make sense to you because they are in line with your experience — that's always the best way to decide whether a point is right or wrong. You agree that the way we are living now needs changing. what is the alternative?

Socialism. You've heard that one before. We have had eight Labour governments and we are no closer to a new system of society than we were when the first one was elected. All that Labour governments do is run capitalism in much the same way as the Tories. Most workers do not believe that Kinnock and his gang will change much. Those who are planning to vote for him are doing so usually to get rid of Thatcher, not because they believe in Kinnock's promises. You are right not to trust the Labour Party. They are simply another capitalist party. They do the dirty work for the bosses whenever they are given the chance by the votes of the workers. Yes, they have nationalised industries but that has nothing to do with socialism. That is state capitalism. That's why the miners had to fight just as hard against their state exploiters as ever workers have against private exploiters. Don 't allow yourself to be conned by nationalisation or "social ownership" or any other schemes for running the same old system of wage slavery. What about Russia. China. Cuba — the countries which claim to have established socialism? You know very well that there is no basic difference between them and the other capitalist countries.

Socialism does not mean capitalism run by nice chaps. It does not mean more crumbs, higher wages, bigger pensions. A socialist society will be one where class ownership of the major resources of the world will be replaced by common ownership. The world and everything in it will belong to everyone. The factories, farms, offices, media, transport — all the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution will no longer be the property of capitalists but will belong to us all. We will all run these things in common, without being led or dictated to. We will govern ourselves, sharing ideas and information and respecting different points of view. In a propertyless world society there will be no exchange relations, because you cannot exchange what you already own. So money will not exist. There will be free access to goods and services. Why waste time and resources on the business of buying and selling when we can all just take what we need from the common store, using modern computer technology to express our demands? Just as socialism will do away with money, so it will abolish the wages system. Instead of selling your labour power to an exploiter you will contribute it in accordance with your abilities. This will only work if people cooperate to give according to ability and take according to need. Socialists think that our fellow workers are that sensible. If you know that you are. then why doubt the co-operative potential of those around you?

It will certainly be a very different way of living from the poverty and insecurity of the present, when we establish socialism. You would be odd if you did not find it an appealing prospect. But there are still questions to answer. How soon can this new system be set up? How do we go about establishing socialism? How much detail about socialism can we give? These are the important questions facing you today.



Rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen Part 2 (1993)

From the March 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard


This month France goes to the polls to elect a new National Assembly. The French National Front, the biggest far-right party in Europe since the war, is expected to do well in terms of votes if not seats. We conclude our two-part article on the rise of its leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

In 1987 Jean-Marie Le Pen caused quite a stir by suggesting that the Nazi gas chambers were “a small point in the history of the Second World War”. Not surprisingly he was condemned by both the Left and some on the Right, and in 1990 was to be fined one franc for this remark. For many years, he managed to cover up his antisemitism; but now the mask had slipped.

When the French presidential election came round on 24 April 1988, Le Pen stood on behalf of the Front National (seven years previously he had not been able to get enough nominations to stand). He called for the immediate denial of jobs or social security to immigrant workers, stiffer “law and order” legislation (blandly ignoring the considerable number of Front supporters involved in violent attacks on immigrants, particularly in the south of the country), and for “an Aids-free France”.

In the first round, he received 4,367,926 votes, an unprecedented 14.5 percent. As previously, the Front obtained the highest percentage in the south—28.4 percent in Marseille, for example. But, significantly, as with the fascist Parti Populaire Français before the war, the FN made dramatic inroads into the traditional working class votes of the Communist Party. In the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint Denis for instance the FN polled 107,702 against the PCF’s 73,625. The two leading right-wing candidates. Jacques Chirac and Raymond Barre, were particularly concerned, and made strenuous efforts to attract the Front’s support in the second round. In the event, the “socialist” Francois Mitterrand was re-elected.
But all was not well within the Front National. One of their members in the National Assembly left the party to join the Gaullists. as he considered their views on immigration to be similar to those of the Front. Furthermore, despite Le Pen’s wealth, and that of a number of his supporters, the FN had been troubled with financial problems during the presidential election, and had reportedly been pressing the Rev Moon’s Unification Church for funds. Nevertheless. Le Pen was able to parade more than 50,000 FN members and supporters through Paris on May Day.

As is usual in France, the presidential election was followed, in June, by new elections to the National Assembly. This time proportional representation had been abolished and the previous two-round system restored. The results were something of a set-back for Le Pen and the FN. In the first round, the Front National received 2,359,228 votes, 5 percent less than in April. The level of abstentions was a massive 34.3 percent. Only 12 FN candidates got through to the second round and, although they won over 40 percent of the vote, only one was elected to the National Assembly.

Although of less interest, the European elections of 18 June 1989 resulted in the Front National again winning 10 seats in the European Parliament, with 2,125,077 votes—almost 12 percent of those who voted. Le Pen was said to be jubilant.

Attacks continue
During 1990 attacks mainly on North Africans continued. After one incident, where a Moroccan was attacked and left clinically dead, another left paralysed and a third killed, the Moroccan government officially protested to the French government. In the Department of the Loire, an Arab worker was deliberately killed by two men in a car; and in Saint-FIorentine, south of Paris, one Arab was killed and his brother left paralysed by a gunman. In Nice, a skinhead gang of six went on trial for kicking to death a Tunisian building worker. Asked in court why they attacked and killed the man, one of the gang laughed and replied: "We hate all Arabs, and we had to do something". While the court was in session, another group of skinheads, in the same city, set upon a black man in the main railway station, severely beating him and blinding him in one eye.

Throughout 1989 and 1990 there was a wave of anti-Jewish vandalism similar to that perpetrated in Germany and elsewhere. Scores of Jewish graves in a number of cemeteries were desecrated, mainly by having swastikas daubed on them. And so on.

In April 1990 the Front National held a congress, also in Nice. The hall was decorated with posters proclaiming that "One million immigrants equals one million jobless”. Le Pen accused the Gaullists and Giscardians of stealing the Front’s policies (which to some extent was true); and claimed that the only way of stopping violence against immigrant workers was to expel “four million of them” from the country. “France is being turned into an Islamic country”, said Le Pen. At the same time he talked of France being "dominated by Jewish power" and of the "activities of international Jewish cabals hostile to the interests of the Nation”. All old-style Nazi rhetoric. Speaking "for the little people”, and for "real Frenchmen", he said that "France was in great danger”—presumably from "four million Muslims and 700,000 Jews” (the population of France is nearly 57 million).

By the end of 1991, Jean-Marie Le Pen and his Front National, as well as various fringe Fascist and racist groups, were more than pleased with their progress. An opinion poll, published in November, showed that the FN had the biggest support of any single party on the right, with 17 percent. And according to a survey in Le Monde, more than 32 percent of the French people were in agreement with Le Pen on defence, immigration and law and order. But 60 percent felt that Le Pen and the Front National were "a danger for democracy". Moreover, the Front's support of the Ba'ath Party régime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq was not popular with many.

In December, Le Pen visited London. He did not receive a particularly warm welcome. Indeed, no MPs met him. He accused his opponents of "intellectual terrorism". And he walked out of a World in Action TV interview when asked about his anti-semitism. It is doubtful if 2 percent of the British population knew that Le Pen was in England. The British working-class may not be particularly class-conscious, but they are not likely to fall for a far-right political con-man such as Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Roots of racism
So what of the future? It is far from bright. Indeed:
Behind France's façade of high living standards and grand works lies a nation in crisis. Mass immigration has given credibility to an extreme right-wing politician while mainstream figures like President Mitterand are held in widespread contempt; financial scandal has further undermined the major parties; farmers are in revolt as their livelihoods are destroyed. (Sunday Times Magazine, 23 March 1992).
Officially, unemployment is three million. But, as in Britain, it is probably nearer four million, and still rising. As in Britain and elsewhere in the world, capitalism in France is going through one of its inevitable crises. In such a situation, racism, xenophobia and fascism increase, particularly when workers, employed or unemployed, are still nationalistic and do not understand their class position in society; when they identify with their national exploiters and oppressors rather than with their fellow workers and their families who may have a different coloured skin, or perhaps speak a different language, or practise a different religion or come from another country or continent. In such conditions power-hungry demagogues such as Jean-Marie Le Pen flourish.

At the present level of support the Front National would be able to win more than 70 seats in this month's election—if there was proportional representation, but there isn't and some commentators in France are suggesting that the Front's support has peaked and could decline. Recently, at least at national level, the orthodox right-wing parties of Jacques Chirac and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing have been refusing to co-operate with Le Pen; and without such co-operation, under the two-round system, many of the Front's first-round votes could go to them in the second round and the Front only get a handful of seats if any.

Whatever happens, Le Pen's Front National is the largest far-right party in Europe, with 130,000 members—about the same as Jacques Doriot's PPF was in 1937. It's a sobering thought.
Peter E. Newell



Does Heath want a general strike? (1970)

Editorial from the December 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is the government trying to provoke a general strike in which the unions would be defeated and weakened for years to come? Have they decided that in the long run this might be the best way to hold wages in check?

For most of the time since the war unemployment has been relatively low and has not exerted its normal restraining influence on wages. The bargaining position of workers, in other words, and particularly of those organised in trade unions, has been strengthened. Employers, and hence governments, have had to face the problem of finding an alternative way to prevent wages eating into profits, the lifeblood of capitalism.

On paper governments have had a wide choice of policies. They could impose a wage freeze. .They could encourage employers to resist workers’ demands. They could try, by persuasion or threats, to get union leaders to restrain wage claims. They could pass or enforce anti-union laws. They could undermine real wages by depreciating the currency. This last has been the easiest, at least in the short run, and governments have been especially tempted to adopt it in elections years. But it only postpones the problem.

There are signs that the Conservative government may have calculated that the time has now come to stand up to the unions. Heath’s repeated rejection, both before and after the election, of any government-imposed wage freeze leaves him no alternative but to use the law against the unions if profits are to be protected. He has already openly declared that his government is ready to face even a general strike to make its Industrial Relations Bill law. This Bill, as we show elsewhere in this issue, is designed to weaken the bargaining position of workers and so to strengthen that of their employers.

This puts the TUC and the other unions in a difficult position. There is really nothing they can do to prevent the Bill becoming law if Heath is determined to do this, since the government has the necessary parliamentary majority. All they can do is to protest and perhaps call a one-day token strike to demonstrate their opposition. A prolonged political strike, given the level of political consciousness amongst workers generally, would be a, very risky enterprise. Even though nearly all the workers in the key industries are in unions, more than half of all workers in Britain are still unorganised and few even of those who are would be willing to take part in a strike over an issue which did not directly affect their wages or immediate working conditions. Many workers in fact mistakenly believe that trade unions are to blame for rising prices and would support a law to curb their power.

An attempted political strike against the Bill might play into Heath’s hands: he could cry “anti-democratic”, go to the polls and perhaps be returned with a bigger majority in an election fought specifically over the anti-union issue.

As for those who dream of using a general strike to overthrow the government and the whole capitalist system, they ought to ask themselves what it is that is going to make workers who have supported capitalism on the political field suddenly become ready to challenge it on the industrial field. The idea is absurd.

Let it not be forgotten that the 1926 General Strike was a failure. It led to the betrayal and defeat of the locked-out miners—even now the underground miner has to work longer hours than he did before 1926—and to the passing of the 1927 Trades Disputes Act, which severely hampered trade union activity.

In the end, this is a question of working class understanding. Capitalism is a class society where the means of production belong to a privileged few and where the rest have to work for them as factory and office workers. Built into capitalism is an irreconcilable conflict between these two classes over the ownership of society’s wealth, a conflict which can only be ended by the triumph of the working class and the establishment of Socialism. Strikes, wage freezes and anti-union laws are all aspects of this struggle.

Very few trade unionists are fully conscious of this. They are against low wages, but not the wages system. They condemn profiteering, hut not production for profit. They criticise governments, but do not realise that governments have to run capitalism in the interests of the capitalist class. Even the most militant of them are not free from sectionalism. In short they accept capitalism and try to work within it to better conditions.

This is the great weakness of trade unionism. Its role can only be defensive and its effectiveness even in this is limited not only by the advantages possessed by the employers and governments but also by the lack of understanding of its members.

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always pointed out, even to wage effectively the industrial struggle under capitalism a degree of Socialist understanding is required. Helping the growth of this understanding will be our contribution, as a party.

The Game (1986)

A Short Story from the March 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

At least the last bus hadn’t gone. Sue could see at least four people waiting for it as she hurried round the comer into St. James’s Street. They stood back in shop doorways out of the cold night wind and waited patiently.

But the girl was different. She almost skipped from one lighted shop window to the next with what seemed like an excess of youthful energy and eager curiosity as she scanned the displays. She was dressed only in a loose-fitting sweater, narrow, faded blue jeans and scuffed training shoes. Her brown hair was straight, and the only visible make-up she wore was mascara all round her eyes, making them look large in her small, pretty face. Once or twice, she glanced round at people walking past. Sue could see that her hands were red with cold. She caught Sue watching her and frowned.

She turned away as though looking for her bus, embarrassed by the mixture of emotions she felt. About an hour earlier, the girl had come into the cafe with a young Asian lad. Sue had served them cheeseburgers and coffee. She might look like an eighteen-year-old from across the street, but Sue knew that she was not far short of thirty, like herself.

A few people began to queue behind Sue at the bus stop. A man paused beside the girl as she stood gazing at Debenham's lingerie display. Their heads turned momentarily aside towards one another a couple of times, and then they suddenly walked away together and turned the comer. How can she bring herself to do it!

"Slut! They shouldn't be allowed on the streets." The woman behind Sue said this to her husband but loud enough for everyone else to hear. He said nothing. Sue’s own feelings of contempt for the prostitute were temporarily swamped by protectiveness, pity. What right had this fat. smug, middle- aged woman, with her husband on a lead, to judge the girl!

The bus was a quarter of an hour late and very full. Although her legs felt swollen from being on her feet all day, Sue made the effort to climb upstairs in the hope of getting a seat, and found one at the front, next to the window. Just as the bus was pulling away from the stop, she saw the girl trudge back round the comer and take up her springy step and eager look again. Sue turned away with her mind full of vague pictures of what the girl had been doing in the dark streets behind the lighted shops to earn her living. With somebody you hated to touch! And then some ponce takes the money off you. Can't she get a job — even if she’s got a child, like me? I hope Caroline's in bed by now, not asleep in front of the telly again. Yes. I did leave her the money for the chips — didn't I? Yes, on the sideboard, that's right.

The warmth of the bus and the steady hum of the engine made her sleepy. But the egg and chips she had bolted down at half past nine were refusing to lie quiet on her stomach, and she felt drawn, almost nauseous with physical tiredness. She swayed in an uneasy, drowsy half-sleep as the bus relentlessly pushed its way out of town through the late traffic.

A ten pound note, sir? No, it wasn't. It was a five. Here it is. Just a moment, sir, I'll call the manager for you. He didn't expect that! Oh, god! don't they try it on! This egg's not fresh. I'm not going to pay these prices. No, sir, we don't get the service charge. The management keep that. Him? Yes, he was rather nice. He was very interested. Perhaps I will go out with him if he asks me again. I don't suppose he'll ever come in again, though. What was his accent? Scottish. He noticed my wedding ring. He must guess I'm divorced, though. Did I sound too keen? Mike wouldn't like it. Still, a bit of competition might do him good. He takes me for granted. It's too late for Uncle Mike to go home now, dear. He can sleep in Mummy's bed. She's going to work that one out soon. It's all right for him — no ties, no housework, no money worries. He does work hard, I know, but he spends ever such a lot on himself. Does he really want a family home? I could make it comfortable, lovely, if I didn't have to do this waitressing every day. No, I suppose I don't really love him. Though you have to say you do, don't you, when you go to bed with somebody. Anyway, I loved Eric. Look what that got me!

Sue nearly missed her stop. The driver was closing the doors as she came stumbling down the stairs. He didn't say anything as she mumbled, "Sorry", and waited for him to open them again, but he looked irritated.

The lift was stuck again. At the top of each flight of steps Sue had to stop, put her shopping bag down, and get her breath. When she got up to the fourth floor it was a sudden wave of depression, rather than the weariness, which made her stand, almost bent double, with her head down, resting her forearms on the handrail and looking down into the near darkness of the stairwell. Now that she was almost home, she was no longer eager to get into the flat. When she and Eric had finally divided everything up, three years ago, she had made Caroline the centre of her life, built the new home round her and gone out to become the breadwinner. Now, only ten years old, Caroline was becoming surly and ungrateful, very difficult to manage. This morning, in the middle of a quarrel over keeping her bedroom tidy, she had suddenly said, as though she had been saving it up, "Daddy didn't leave me, he left you". That was a winner. Sue sat down on the child's untidy floor and cried.

Caroline was not in bed. She was not even asleep. She was watching the late-night movie. Sue was too exhausted for a confrontation. She took off her coat and put the groceries away. She stopped herself automatically washing up Caroline’s dirty crockery, and made herself a cup of drinking chocolate instead to take into her bedroom with her.

"Goodnight love." Caroline did not answer. At ten! You'd think she'd have forgotten all about it by now.

Even with both doors closed. Sue could hear the menacing music, the gun shots, the screams, the clatter of the helicopter, the screeching of car tyres. In her bra and pants she stopped and looked at herself in her dressing table mirror; twisted her body to the right and then to the left. Not too bad, considering. I can't get into a twelve any longer, though. My bum's too big. And stomach. Wish my bosom would match it! She examined her face, leaning close to the mirror, smoothing the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes with her finger tips. I'm not bad looking, really. Perhaps he will want to marry me if I go out with him. Caroline needs a man in the home. So do I.

She sat down and cleaned off her makeup, looking at her face all the time in the mirror. It needs something, doesn't it. She began to put make-up on again, but differently, hardly colouring her pale complexion at all, but exaggerating her eyes with mascara. Now! I'd get the sack if I turned up for work like this, wouldn't I? I look like . . . Her ironic smile faded away.

"All right!" she said aloud, "I’ll go on being a sodding waitress till me feet drop off. rather than sell myself to any man."

She wiped all the black away with cold cream, deliberately not looking herself in the eyes any more, clenching her jaw so that the little muscles rippled at the comers. But the trouble is you've got to be young even to keep a job as a waitress these days. You can be as thick as two short planks at our place as long as you're pretty. Who's going to give me a job in ten years' time?

Her frilly pink nightdress was neatly folded on the pillow but she threw it on the floor and dug out a pair of winceyette pyjamas from the bottom of the chest of drawers. She put them on hurriedly, scrambled into bed and switched off the light, trying fiercely not to think any more, about anything, wanting to fall asleep like a log.

A baby was crying in the flat next door. Overhead, somebody was playing reggae records, not loudly, but she could hear it. And from across the hall gun shots started again in Caroline's TV movie. Oh god! I wish there was a god. But the tears would not come.
Ron Cook

The Time For Action: A Letter to a Young Socialist (1932)

From the September 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

You say that you like our theory but you cannot understand our seeming indifference to action. You are mystified that a party with so firm a grasp of principles should appear to have no capacity—or no stomach—for applying them in the practical way that appeals to the workers. You say that we leave all the active struggle to other parties with only half our insight into the social problem. You ask, “What is the good of all the S.P.G.B.’s lucid explanations of the failure of capitalism if they do not lead somewhere? Is it not time something was done, something drastic and exciting, right in the line of march towards Socialism?” You end with a warning: "If the S.P.G.B. will not, then someone else must.”

You put your question bluntly. We will give you a candid answer. But first a word about yourself. You are a newcomer to the Socialist movement and for that reason we are not surprised at your impatience. You have just had your eyes opened to the problem that confronts the workers. At first you did not know that there is a problem. Then you found the problem and were baffled by it. Now you see the solution, and on being told that you cannot get there at once you want to know the reason why.

There is no need to stop long over a re-statement of the problem. We live in a world marvellously equipped for producing all the things the human race needs. Yet so faultily is society organised to deal with the present situation that half of the equipment is out of gear and far more than half of the population is forcibly prevented from using up the goods already produced, and from using the equipment to produce more goods. This is absurd and indefensible. Almost every interested person sees this and says that it is absurd, from the Prince of Wales and the Leaders of the Churches to the professional politicians and their millions of followers. Yet it has remained for the socialist to perceive what it is that paralyses even the well-meant plans of reformers. The means of producing and distributing wealth are the private property of individuals and are under their legal control. The rest of the population—representing more than 90 out of every 100—may not use the means of production or consume the products unless they can first obtain the permission of the minority or their paid agents. The workers may not eat the food they grew and prepared, wear the clothes they made, dwell in the houses they built, or travel in the trains they constructed except by leave of the capitalists. Unless and until the masters say "you may now go in and work,” the workers have no right to set foot in the mills, mines, and factories. While this situation continues the working class, who form the great majority of the population, may not live except by permission of the propertied minority.

The way out of the economic labyrinth is simple and obvious. The majority, acting in an organised and orderly fashion, must assume possession of the means of life in the name of society as a whole. Society must take them over from the few whose private ownership stands in the way of the general welfare. That is where we want to get. But how? And where do we begin?

There are plenty of people telling the workers what to do, but for our present purpose it is not necessary to examine what most of them say. The advice of nine out of ten of them consists of recommending actions which would leave the cause of the trouble quite untouched. So we need not bother our heads on this occasion with the schemes which only tinker with capitalism and leave the capitalists still in possession. There are, however, other advisers who profess to agree about the need for Socialism, but who advocate immediate action. They say, "Let us demonstrate about the Means Test. Let us send deputations to the Public Assistance Committees and to Ministers of the Crown. Let us hold meetings of protest outside the Japanese Embassy as the I.L.P. and the Communists tried to do on May Day. "Let us distribute anti-war leaflets. Let us organise to stop the transport of munitions in the event of war. Let us demand higher wages, shorter hours, holidays with pay, more unemployment benefit, lower rents, etc., etc. Let us back up all these demands with demonstrations and deputations, and with strikes, local, national and international. ”

The people who are the loudest with this sort of talk call it “direct action” or "mass action.” And the strange thing is, that that is just what it isn’t. It is not direct action. Much of it is not “action ” at all in the popular sense of the word. Much of it is just talk. Much of it—strikes, for example— is inaction, the sometimes useful but very negative state of refraining from work. If we socialists were free agents, able to do what we like, we would not do any of these things. We would not waste a moment on things so hopelessly indirect and roundabout. We would—if we could—take direct action and advise the workers to do the same. Indeed, the workers would not need anybody’s advice. If it were not for a something that stands in the way the workers could walk into the shops and warehouses where the food and clothing is and take what they want. Then they could occupy the land, the factories and the workshops, and use them to produce more goods, no longer for the employing class but for society as a whole. That would be direct action. That is what we would advocate if it could be done. It cannot be done, so we say that it cannot be done. The so-called direct actionists and mass actionists say differently. They say that direct action is possible, but they know that it is not. That is why the one thing they never advocate is direct action, and why the things they call direct action are always anything but that. Could anything be more indirect than for workers who produced too many goods for the market and thus threw themselves out of work to go cap-in-hand to the Public Assistance Committee for permission to have a small portion of the unsaleable surplus?

The something that stands in the way of direct action is the control by the capitalist class of the machinery of government, including the police, the army, navy and air force. Because of that, the so-called actionists, just like the Socialist Party of Great Britain, must confine their activities to those things permitted by the capitalists. For practical purposes all that any of us can do is to propagate our ideas and organise to apply them eventually. The "actionists” are muddled in their ideas and are organising for a kind of action that can never succeed. Our ideas are clear and we organise for the only action which can eventually command success—action to gain control of the machinery of government and the armed forces. Socialists are at present a small minority of the working class. The majority of the workers are not yet with us. Until they are won over they will continue to vote the capitalists and their agents into control. It is the non-socialist workers who periodically at elections give the capitalists the power to say to the socialist minority: “If you take any action against our interests, and in defiance of our laws and our wishes, we will crush you."

These are the facts of the situation. You will have to give heed to them and curb your impatience, for you will ignore these facts at your peril. There are really only two courses open to you. You may learn from the experience and observation of others as we have done, or you will learn more slowly and painfully by frittering away your energy and enthusiasm on the senseless activities miscalled direct action.
Edgar Hardcastle