Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Your Life - Their Country (1986)

From the May 1986 issue of Socialist View

Since the last World War - the second World war to end all wars - finished in 1945 there has not been a SINGLE DAY passed on which a war was not taking place somewhere in the world. Large wars . . . small wars . . . together they have accounted for the deaths of some THIRTY MILLlON human beings - about three-fifths of the total slaughtered in World War Two - and the maiming of probably four times that number of people,

As time passes and particular wars roll back into history, as the hate propaganda recedes and the politicians and generals write their memoirs, the truth about the REAL causes of these obscenities frequently emerges, Always, behind the death and suffering, the heroism and cruelty, are the economic interests of the ruling class - a ruling class that collectively owns and controls more than nine-tenths of the world's wealth; a class of international thieves whose members can, and frequently do, change their national identity with greater ease than could most workers change their shoes.

When countries are arming or mustering their wage slaves to fight, we are told that the conflict is about our interests, that it is concerned with our 'freedom' and our 'way-of-life'. The capitalist class and their pensioned politicians always become very preoccupied with 'our interests' when they want us to slaughter other workers on the alleged pretext that those other workers are our "enemies". Yet, when our crumbs of what passes for freedom in capitalist society are denied us, or threatened by poverty or unemployment, when we and our families are condemned to live in slums or have our health threatened by pollution or lack of medical care, when our children are given work-orientated training instead of education and our old folk have to choose between food and heat, what care our national capitalists for our plight - our denial of the most basic human rights, our misery or our gross degradation?

Think about it: did you ever hear 'a nation' marshalling its forces, proclaiming an emergency and amassing its reserves of wealth because the majority of its citizens, its working class - the only productive section of society in any country - are facing dire social problems? On the other hand, can you seriously believe that ‘the enemy' (whoever that may from time to time be) wants to make war in order to get possession of the things that ordinary working people possess or enjoy?

If a country is bent on conquest for gain, then, patently, the ruling class in that country will have nothing to gain from the conquest of the working people who own little beyond their ability to work. Equally obvious is the fact that the ruling class in the ‘enemy' country can have no designs on OUR way-of-life - our poverty, our poverty-ensuring jobs, our dole giros, our slums and our mortgages! The notion is too silly for words - as silly, indeed, as the notion that our ruling class want to wage war to win for themselves the social miseries of the working class in the 'enemy' country.

There is a mass of factual evidence to show beyond reasonable doubt that wars are caused by the conflicting world interests of the ruling class but, even without such evidence, it is abundantly clear that workers in ALL countries posses nothing of sufficient value to create thoughts of conquest and gain. WORKERS TRULY HAVE NO COUNTRY - indeed, most of us have to pay a rent of some sort even to occupy a ‘working class' dwelling. It is our masters, the capitalist class, who own the country we live in; it is in their interests, directly or indirectly that politicians pass laws and it is in their interests that judges and police enforce those laws. It is their interests - their markets, their trade routes, their areas of material and strategic interest - that represents the gain or loss in war. All we called on to do is to fight their bloody wars.

Most working people have seen and heard enough to make them cynical about the motives behind some, at least, of past wars. Unfortunately, when a new conflict of interests arises between sections of the ruling class and the politicians, the media and the other institutional prostitutes of capitalism get to work with a barrage of hate propaganda compounded of lies and fictions, it is all too easy for many of us to forget the last time. We are brought up on an ideological diet of nationalism and political ignorance; taught to mumble prayers for 'our leaders', and 'our country'; told that 'unlawful' killing is murder and excellence in battlefield slaughter is 'good' and 'heroic'. Given such conditioning it is a simple matter for the hate mongers - the political godfathers of capitalism - to convince the working class that they somehow share in the ownership of 'their country' and that they should become involved in organised murder to protect their 'national interests'.

Translating our experience of war and conflict into the present situation in Northern Ireland makes the phoney ideological rubbish being peddled TO THE WORKING CLASS by both the republicans and loyalists become evident for what it is. Why are working people killing and threatening other working people in Northern Ireland today? Do the poor of the nationalist ghettoes want to take something from the poor of the loyalist ghettoes - or vice versa? What have we to take from one another? Poverty? Slums? Unemployment?

‘Ah!' says the politician, the churchman, the republican or loyalist purveyor of ideological bullshit, 'There's more to life than poverty, slums, unemployment and the acknowledged miseries of ordinary working people. There's our British heritage, or our Irish heritage; there's our culture and our separate identities.'

Does this British or Irish 'heritage' do anything to help us to overcome our COMMON WORKING CLASS HERITAGE OF POVERTY, INSECURITY AND SOCIAL DEGRADATION - THE REAL, ACTUAL, FACTUAL AND PAINFUL HERITAGE THAT WORKERS SHARE IN EVERY COUNTRY OF THE WORLD? Our 'separate identities'! Some political nutcase might tell you that this is illustrated in the fact that some of us can articulate our working class miseries, or the common ‘cultural' experiences built on those miseries, in a different language BUT LANGUAGE BEARS NO RELEVANCE TO THE COMMON FACTS OF OUR WORKING CLASS CONDITION.

Our real problems are not caused by the ideas and superstitions that we absorb from parents, teachers or churches nor are they the result of the conflict and violence that arises from the exploitation of our conditioned ignorance by self-interested politicians and their capitalist paymasters, Our ignorance may result from our class position and may be fanned into hatred by those whose profits depend on our remaining ignorant, superstitious and divided. But the single cause of our problems IS CAPITALISM; it is capitalism that enforces on us the role of a propertyless, subject class. That enforcement can NOT be done by police forces, soldiers or repressive laws; It IS ACHIEVED BY THE CONTROL OF OUR IDEAS; by promoting among us, the working class who own nothing but our ability to work, the belief that we share ownership in a country or 'nation'; that patriotism somehow serves our interest or that religious superstition will earn us a good life in an afterworld if we dumbly submit to the miseries of the present life.

Those who promote hatred and division among us, those who preach nationalism or patriotism, who urge us to invest our blood in the cause of Britain, Ulster or Ireland, are playing the game according to the rules of capitalism.

WORKERS HAVE NO COUNTRY! When we have learnt to understand that we have made a giant stride forward from the obscenity of capitalism. The countries we live in, together with the machinery of production and distribution by which we live, are the property of the ruling class; theirs is the Ulster, the Ireland and the Britain that our loyalists and republicans want us to support and, if necessary, to be prepared to suffer or die for. Understanding that class ownership is the motive power behind all forms of patriotism and nationalism validates the time-honoured clarion; WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE FOR SOCIALISM!
Richard Montague


From the February 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party cannot be accused, with fairness, of hiding from the world its Object, principles, and policy. The goal for which we strive, the reasons that direct us thither, and the methods by which we confidently expect to arrive at our goal are no secret. They are embodied in a summary form in the Party’s Declaration of Principles appearing on the last page of every copy of this, its official organ.

The Party’s Object is defined as the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of production and distribution. This brief statement presents in a nutshell the whole broad, general outlook of the Party, and the key to all aspects of its philosophy. '

In the first place the definition implies that the basis of society lies in economic conditions. It does not say, as some would have us believe, that society is purely economic, nor that Socialism is merely an arrangement for distributing wealth. The point is important in more ways than one; for while on the one hand it is a common accusation against Socialism that it will reduce us to mere animals, content to satisfy physical wants only, on the other hand we have the pseudo-Socialists who, in order to avoid awkward questions in the hunt for the votes of all and sundry, seek to confine their “Socialism” to a mere economic formula or an ethical generalisation, according to the particular circle of people to whom they appeal.

The Socialist Party, while failing to see how we can be degraded to a much more animalish condition than capitalism imposes upon us, claims that the exercise of our faculties in other directions than those concerned with food and the like, depends upon the satisfaction of our economic wants in the first place. “Man cannot live by bread alone.’’ True! but without bread man cannot live at all. Until we discover the means for dispensing with the raw material from which we generate our energies, the expression of those energies will, to a large extent, be determined, in quantity and in quality, by the amount of raw material obtained and the conditions under which it is obtained.

What applies to the individual applies to a society of individuals. Just as buildings must rest upon bases, so the social organisation of mankind springs from the essential economic conditions of its existence. It is the product of the response of the consciousness of society to the influence of its inheritance and environment. Politics, art, philosophy, the relations of the sexes, all expressions of human thought and co-activity, bear the stamp of their economic mould and inheritance.

If we examine the relations of mankind in the matter of obtaining a living we find them centring around the means by which that living is obtained. From the earliest times to which we can trace human life it would appear that the human race has been distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom by the acquisition and use of tools and weapons.

Puny in physical powers in comparison with many of the living beings around him, and insignificant in the physical sense before the blind forces of nature, man’s co-operative thought has resulted in the production of means whereby co-operative action secures the triumph of mankind over these beings and forces. Mark that it is the capacity for “holding together,’’ for mutual protection, that has provided the leisure wherein individuals could discover and develop the instruments of social progress in the first place, and preserve and hand on these instruments to countless generations in the second place.

There are two main aspects of men’s relations to their means of living which it is as well to distinguish. We might define them respectively as the industrial and the legal sides of the economic basis of society. The industrial side consists of the relations of men as users of the means of production, that is, as producers of wealth. The legal aspect is comprised in the forms of property or ownership of the means of production and, as a result, of the wealth produced.

The industrial relations develop along paths largely irrespective of the conscious will of mankind according to the nature of the implements used in production. It is characteristic of modern machinery that it links up numbers of hitherto separate simple processes into a huge, complex, single series of processes. The specialised man, therefore, tends to become supplanted by the special part of a machine, and the workers are linked up in huge concerns which often deal with the article produced from the stage of raw material to finished commodity.

The ownership of the ever developing means of production, however, is determined in strictly conscious and deliberate fashion by the most powerfully organised section of the community in accordance with their material interests. The whole machinery of modern government simply exists to preserve and regulate the existing forms of wealth production.

We further find that the industrial and legal aspects of society's present basis do not harmonise. The users of the means of production are not the owners, and the wealth produced by huge armies of workers goes into the possession of a comparatively small number of individuals. Society is divided into conflicting classes. This brings us to another implication of our Object, namely, that it is possible to change the form of wealth ownership.

If we take a glance at history we see that the weapons of man’s war with nature, and the relations centring round them, have been subject to considerable change. Tools have been improved in the direction of time and energy spent in their use. Consequently there has taken place a progressive increase in the product of social labour-power, independently of the normal increase in population. This development may be divided into two main epochs. The first comprises the prolonged change from the simple weapons of hunting and pastoral man, capable of serving a variety of purposes (the knife and the axe, for instance), to the specialised tools of the handicraftsman and agriculturist (as the loom and the shinning wheel, the saw and the plane, the plough and the barrow).

The common feature of the tools alike at the beginning and the end of this period is that their motive power is derived direct from man. The second period, hardly 200 years old, embraces the application of scientific discoveries to industry and the control of natural forces on a large scale, for the purpose of driving the complex machinery which turns out the commodities of to-day.

The industrial relations of mankind reflect this development. Simple co-operation prevailed in the chase and the tending of flocks and herds. With the development of agriculture and handicraft it gave way to an individualisation of productive effort. This specialisation, however, in turn gave rise to interdependence which, breaking down local and national barriers, has led to the socialisation of industry in a more complex and universal form. It is difficult for a modern workman to consider himself detached from his fellows at a worker.

What of property? Here, too, we find the same evolution. The tribal and family collectivism of the hunting and pastoral epoch, in which all of the same kindred enjoyed economic and social equality, broke down in favour of the private ownership of land and tools which was essential to the progress of new methods of gaining a living.

The second change, however—to Socialism—demanded by the nature of modern production, has yet to be accomplished. That it will be accomplished is as inevitable as that an embryo chicken, having become complete in the relative development of its parts, should smash its shell.

The development of private property has had three distinct stages, and it is of importance to notice how each form gave way to its successor. The adoption of agriculture as a mode of production led to the break-up of the old tribal unity and the introduction of the patriarchal family, with its slaves—who were generally captives of war. The city-states (Babylon, Athens, Rome) represent the highest types of this form of society.

So extensive became the slave population that its supervision led to the development of a special military caste, which, as the progress of agriculture rendered a more intensive cultivation necessary, overthrew the local power of the patricians, and federating with the king at their head, became a feudal aristocracy.

Under their domination the slave was transformed into a serf. Whereas the former had his product directly confiscated by his owner, who was responsible for his maintenance, the latter was established in permanent conjunction with the land of his lord, to whom he was bound to render certain fixed services in return for the privilege of cultivating for himself certain portions of the manor or village property.

The development of handicrafts and commerce gave rise to another class —the merchants. Villages grew into towns, and again the struggle for mastery began. It ended in the downfall of the feudal class and their peculiar form of annexing plunder, and a new form took its place.

Divorced from the soil, the peasant became a wage-slave, forming a labour supply for the merchants turned manufacturers, enabling them to compete the independent handicraftsmen out of existence.

The power of the plutocracy has steadily increased from that day to this, but now it, too, is threatened. The modern ruling class stand face to face, not with a new prospective ruling class, but with a slave class amongst whom revolt against all class rule is rapidly spreading. Modern industry has massed the workers together, and they grow daily more conscious of their potential might. History shows that as the industrial conditions of society change, so the legal property relations are changed sooner or later by the conscious effort of the class on whom the further progress of industry depends. Thus is vindicated a third implication of the Socialist objective.

It remains to show what conditions remain to be fulfilled before the modern revolution is an accomplished fact. In the first place the workers must become fully conscious that the proposed change is necessary in their own interest. The facts of their every day life, whether they are perceived directly and independently or as a result of the agitation of their fellows in the Socialist Party, are sufficient to teach them this. Secondly, this consciousness must be followed by universal organisation, for only by this means can the established order be made to give way to a universal system of co operation. Finally, this organisation must at present take a political form. We have seen that all the social changes of history, from tribal communism to patriarchalism, from that to feudalism, and from that again to capitalism, have taken place as the result of a struggle between classes developed by industrial progress. Force alone decided the issue. Only when the revolutionary class can impose its will in opposition to its enemy can the new property conditions come into being. The classes of old fought their battles out in actual physical conflict. The modern ruling class is not a military entity, however: the defenders of its wealth are drawn from the ranks of the oppressed class itself. So physically insignificant are our masters that even their system of government dare not take its way without the support of the majority of the rest of society, while the direction of the political machinery is more and more entrusted to traitors from the ranks of the slaves. It needs only conscious organisation to wrest from the trembling grasp of the tyrants the only weapon with which at present they beat any rebel section of us down. Before any attack on their property they are impotent without the aid with which society supplies them. Conceive the great majority of society self-conscious, possessing control of their own political machine, and what stands in the way of the common ownership and use of the means of life in equality by all who accept the task of producing what they need ? Aye! what? That is the challenge to the intelligence of the working class which is embodied in the existence of the Socialist Party.
Eric Boden

Ridiculous economic moonshine (1981)

From the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Economists zigzag from forecasts of gloom and doom on the one hand to rosy reassurance on the other. In the first group, we should include Dr. Ralf Dahrendorf of the London School of Economics who asserts that we shall never again see unemployment as low as 2 million. His crystal ball seems distinctly murky. In the other group is Arthur Seldon, doyen of the Institute of Economic Affairs. It is his view — stated in a debate against the SPGB recently — that capitalism is going to continue, whether we like it or not. Since he is a supporter (and publisher) of Dr Hayek — a firm believer in the benevolence of the market economy — Seldon can be termed an optimist.

Seldon told his audience that according to Adam Smith man has a “natural urge” to exchange things. (What did Smith know of genetics, or even biology?) This “natural urge” could only be overcome by “unselfish love” as preached by Christians. We note, in passing, that the Christian religion has featured conflict in Northern Ireland, and that most of those in the West who have developed and stockpiled nuclear weapons are Christians.

Seldon had a startling approach to economics. He told the audience that if we owned any property we should be regarded as capitalists, and even suggested buying a car or a house on the never-never as a means to become so. Even a push-bike would qualify one, it seemed. If the Seldon theory is right, it follows that we workers must be crazy to work for wages — giving away so much unpaid labour every working day. After all, if we are the capitalists, we could just sit back and wait for the dividends to accumulate without any effort from us, as they are derived from the unpaid labour of the philanthropic working class. (If every car, bike or house buyer is a capitalist, who are the working class?) In fact, capital is wealth which is used to create profits. A car owned by a car-hire firm is capital; one owned by a worker to help him get to work is not.

The prize for the silliest statement on economics must go to a Labour Council candidate who quoted from a textbook he claimed to have studied when learning how to be a banker. Here it is:
Money is a “medium of exchange for goods and services, without intrinsic value" (our emphasis).

It seems, then, that humans have a “natural urge” to exchange commodities of real value (a house, car, bike, or our time and labour) for something of no value! The way the system actually works is surely quite crazy enough without these potty professors and pundits giving us confusion worse confounded.

Obviously, money has some value. To start with, it has a use-value, derived from its function (at least in a market economy) as a medium of exchange, as the “universal equivalent”, so that we no longer have to barter goods, swapping TV sets, carpets, cars and coats-as children swap conkers and marbles. Money also has exchange value. This is measured by the amount of socially necessary labour-time used up in producing it. Whether solid gold sovereigns or today’s paper flotsam, money always costs some labour time to produce. It is an indication of how debased our much-inflated currency has become that economics students, would-be bankers, Chancellors of the Exchequer and the like, are actually taught that money is “without intrinsic value”.

One would have to be daft as a brush — or a Labour Councillor — to believe that such a statement holds good in the real world. Do we pay the same amount of money for 6 eggs as for 1 dozen? If our money has no value, why should the shopkeeper ask us to pay at all for these eggs? If the money we get as wages has no value, why do our employers object to giving us more of it? Indeed, if the money we earn as wages has no value, why should we sell our labour power for money we should insist on payment in kind, in goods which do have a value. And how strange it is that bank managers are so reluctant to give away these tokens “without intrinsic value”.

An unusual industrial dispute is going on in London where workers at the Time Out magazine are on strike. It seems that the owners want to scrap the existing agreement. All workers at Time Out get the same pay — switch-board operators and editors are all paid the same. The owners, far from being proud to have pioneered such an egalitarian policy, are rather ashamed of themselves. Maybe Thatcher and the CBI have expressed disapproval. Whatever it is, both sides are now locked in dispute on this point.

The fact is that, however agreeable it may seem for all workers to earn the same, there are economic factors which make this impossible as a general rule. At Time Out, editors are earning less than they could get elsewhere while switchboard operators and other “menials” are earning more than the going rate. Result: while Time Out is a switchboard operator’s idea of a well-paid Paradise (probably there is a queue for the next vacancy) the owners may well find it hard to keep their editors. It takes more to train a good editor than a competent switchboard operator: the one requires a high level of education and a long and specialised training, the other is a job which can be taught relatively fast to almost anyone. Labour power is a commodity and its value (and consequently its price) will depend generally on its cost of production and reproduction.

“Equal pay” carried to the Time Out extreme is economic moonshine, almost as ridiculous as Arthur Seldon’s idea that owning a car can turn a worker into a capitalist, or the textbook’s teaching about money being without value. The only sensible approach to the economics of capitalism and the world we actually live in is one based on Marx’s labour theory of value, which shows us why money does have value and why different workers earn different rates of pay under normal conditions. And it is this theory which shows how we, the working class, the wealth-creating class, are exploited by giving away our unpaid labour to the capital-owning class.
C. Skelton
(A pushbike owner)

Paddington going strong (1913)

From the November 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has long been realised by the Paddington members that there existed in the surrounding districts ample material to work upon and thereby extend the Party's influence, the only barrier being the lack of speakers. Finding ourselves continually bombarded with inquiries as to when we intended opening up these sources for Socialism, we determined to meet this insistent demand for the Party’s propaganda with a series of week’s meetings at selected venues. Operations were therefore commenced at Kilburn, which duly materialised into an energetic branch that has completely pulverised the wobbly opposition formerly entrenched in the locality.

Fortified by that triumph, we made tracks for North Kensington, where further conquests were made. Our speakers had no difficulty in effectively smothering the smattering interruptions of the local illiterates, and the large audiences that nightly assembled showed that the time was never more opportune for the establishment of a branch of the Party.

That treacherous section of the Anti Socialist brigade, the B.S.P., till recently had a motley following, and to hasten the millenium they put up their chief mesmeriser as “Socialist” candidate for the General Election to come. The local sheets commented on the “self sacrifice of this well known gentleman,”and unkindly suggested that the prospect of £400 a year should bring forth quite a crop of budding M.P.s. The campaign was opened by inviting the constituents to nibble at a mish-mash of social reform. Street-corner harangues were held extolling the candidate's virtues, and for a while it looked as if the day of universal emancipation was at hand. Then dissension arose over his “programme,” recriminations were flung about, the '‘rankers” began to revile their “leader” and renounce bis unofficial candidature, and the branch went “nap.”

So we concluded that it was our duty to get our platform out and explain why it is the B.S P., so-called, is anti working class right through. This was done, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that our week's mission will fructify into a branch of our organisation.

In North Paddington an agitation is being worked up against the M.P. because be happens to be a foreigner. In spite of his Tory views and Tariff Reform ideas he is anathema to the local patriots because, to use their own words, “he is no good ; he does nothing for the working man." Well, this is what we have said for quite a long time. If anything is to be done for the working class, that class has got to do it itself. Millionaire Parliamentarians have not the remotest intention of abolishing unemployment and poverty. They are in Parliament to conserve their own privileges and power. Therefore we call on the working class to organise in the Socialist Party for the capture of this stronghold of capitalism.

Our itinerary for 1914 embraces the N.W. corner of London, but this cannot be successfully accomplished unless those who earnestly desire to see the pall of ignorance rent asunder by the spreading of scientific Socialism come inside and get on with the business. “The harvest, truly, is plentiful, but the labourers are few."
Ben Carthers

Quins, Quads and Poverty (1936)

Editorial from the February 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has been stated that the interest taken in the Quins and Quads by “poor working-class mothers is astonishing." The interest certainly does not stop there. Dr. Josiah Oldfield, speaking at the London School of Dietetics, on January 14th, attributed “the present outburst of multiple births” to birth control. It is, he says, “a throw-back towards the primitive. All primitive creatures were full of fecundity so that by good chance some of their early offspring would survive the perils and mortalities of early life.” What support there may be for his view does not, however, concern us here. What is of greater interest is that this led other commentators to link up the population question with working-class poverty in a novel way.

We have long been familiar with the argument that poverty is due to over-population, and that if the workers would only decrease the size of their families they would all be better off. Now we are introduced to the opposite argument, from a Catholic, Father Woodlock. In a statement to the Evening Standard (January 15th) he pointed out that a falling population means fewer soldiers to defend the Empire, and that in addition it means greater poverty for the workers.
   Only short-sighted economists fail to notice that a fall in the birth-rate will not help the condition of the working classes, but accompanied by the noticeable increased longevity of our people, will put a much heavier burden on the workers.
   They will be fewer, but in the future they will have to support a much increased number of aged and unemployable dependants. Propagandists of the spread of the birth-control movement never seem to aver this.
We can agree with Father Woodlock that those who preach birth control as a cure for poverty and unemployment are completely in the wrong, but in rejecting that fallacy Father Woodlock embraces another. It is true that a population containing a large proportion of people unable to work may be at a disadvantage compared with one containing a higher proportion of able-bodied men and women in the prime of life, but we are not living in a system of society in which the problem of wealth production is as simple as that. Under capitalism large numbers of people—the propertied class—are not engaged in wealth production and have no desire or necessity to be so engaged. Consequently the burden resting on the shoulders of the workers is not that of keeping only themselves and their own dependents, but, in addition, of keeping the propertied class in luxury and idleness or non-productive activity, and of keeping all the military and civil hangers-on of the capitalist system. The wealth producers are not engaged in producing for themselves, but of producing wealth for the capitalist class alone to own and control. What the workers get is wages, based on their cost of living. If the cost of maintaining a working-class household is reduced by smaller families or increased by larger ones, wages will sooner or later adjust themselves, leaving the workers no better and no worse off than before. As for unemployment, it is the over-production of commodities in relation to the demand of the market, and the encroachment of the machine, which the worker has to consider, not the size of the population. Experience has shown that these forces work just as powerfully in the countries with a stable or declining population as in those which are expanding.

Father Woodlock and those he criticises are alike in error through ignoring the economic laws or even the very existence of capitalism.

Before things could work out in the way Father Woodlock assumes, we have got to get rid of capitalism, lock, stock, and barrel. When that is done, and not before, we shall be able to consider the problem raised by him.

Incidentally, when we have cleared the ground by removing capitalism, we shall not have to consider the problem of population from the standpoint of the necessity of producing more cannon-fodder.

It's not in our genes (1986)

From the February 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following article first appeared in the Summer 1984 issue of The Daily Battle, published in Berkeley, California. We republish it. in a slightly abridged form, not only because it is a clear exposition of what we too would say on the same subject. but also as yet another example of how capitalist conditions are continually throwing up socialist ideas.

If you believe the classic movie 2001, our existence as humans began when an ape picked up a weapon. War, greed, and selfish behaviour of all sorts are often explained as being inherent features of our species. Recent scientific findings, however, have dispelled many such widely-held beliefs regarding “human nature", beliefs promoted by the media and other social institutions. We are not the descendants of a "killer ape" species. In fact, our human ancestors were primarily gatherers who occasionally hunted, and who lived co-operatively for some two million years. In many places, such a lifestyle remained prevalent until recent conquest by Western civilisation. A few tribes in Africa (e.g. Namibia's Kung), the Amazon and the Philippines still live this way. Even today's alienated societies show instances of human co-operation. Aggressive behaviour, warfare, competition, property and hierarchy did not mark human behaviour until the advent of fixed settlements some 10-20.000 years ago. These traits did not become dominant in any region till only some 10,000 years ago. (See Leakey, The Making of Mankind; Gribbin. Genesis.)

The first people to turn to farming did so because they encountered an increasing shortage of gatherable goods and game. They had to work long days just to produce their own food. So began the concept of private property. This situation of scarcity resulted in certain modes of behaviour becoming prevalent, and fixed as social values. The Judeo-Christian-Western tradition is loaded with these ideals of sacrifice, hierarchy and competition for the goodies, often reflected in competition for the graces of gods. Scarcity also meant that things could not be freely shared, but had to be exchanged for equivalents. The early agricultural societies also made necessary the institution of the state, whose function was, and still is, the protection of a region's social order from internal and external threats.

Over the years, people's ability to meet their needs via agriculture and industry has generally undergone vast improvements with the development of new techniques and tools. Social systems also changed with these new abilities as slavery was replaced by feudalism, itself displaced by capitalism. Incidental exchanges of goods and services along tribal boundaries have mushroomed into a world-wide interdependent fabric. A car "made in America" often has a Japanese engine. German alternator. French tyres, and raw materials from five continents.

With a growth of productivity and trade, money evolved over the past 3,000 years as a medium to facilitate the growing number of exchanges. Money could be exchanged for any good or service, and hence became the most desired object (the ultimate fetish). During the 18th century, individuals with large sums of money began to buy tools and other people's time and capacity to work. At this point, a person's daily requirements to survive as a worker could be produced in less than a full working day. Since the paid workers worked a full day, the commodities they produced beyond the equivalent to their survival needs represented a surplus. The buyers of labour-power could take this surplus and turn it into money through exchange. Hence, profits. profits which could be used to further enlarge the money pool. Money utilised in such a self-expanding way is capital.

By definition, capital needs to grow, to accumulate. Its interests in this regard are represented by real people who undertake actions to ensure the accumulation process continues. Some are owners, others are corporate managers working for faceless stockowners. and others are state bureaucrats. (The Soviet Union is really only the world's largest corporation.)

Our present-day capabilities, intelligently used, could enable each one of us to work fewer than 10 hours a week to produce our basic survival needs, (e.g. food, clothing, shelter, utilities, transportation) as a mid 60s' study by the Goodman Brothers showed. Another recent study by the University of Sussex demonstrated the world could feed twice its present population using existing farmlands. The last 10,000 years may indeed be visualised as a bridge between the pre-scarcity era to the post-scarcity age. But nearly all this capacity is being wasted, and, even worse, used in ways that threaten our survival, because meeting human needs is only incidental to capital's progress.

We're stuck with a social organisation which lags behind material reality. Hence, we see farmers destroying food in order to push prices upward, while millions starve. Meanwhile. Soviet planners push nuclear power technology, even though 1935 housing targets are unmet. And Third World farmers are forced to cut down life-supporting tropical rain forests in order to earn a miserly income. Furthermore, most of those who work in the US and elsewhere in the industrial world do not produce needs, but are busy facilitating the exchange of money or its circulation (cashiers, bank tellers, book keepers, ad agency workers). A large part of your phone bill consists of expenses incurred in the billing process.

Many who do produce needs see the results of their energy used to pay off parasitic money lenders, institutions whose existence depends on the money system. Several nations in Latin America spend their trade earnings just on interest payments. Much of what is produced in the world is designed to fall apart (planned obsolescence), or corresponds to artificially-created-and-sustained needs (advertising).

The modem state still defends the social order from within and without. Hordes of social workers, cops and clerks guard against internal disorders and keep the gears oiled. At home, as well as on the battlefields of the world market, the military and its support industries provide the ultimate defence of the "national interest," the general interest of a nation's capital, be it the US, USSR, Nicaragua, Israel or India. A social order which normally threatens us with death through terminal boredom and slow toxic poisoning now threatens total annihilation.

Neither Democrats, Republicans, "socialist" parties, nor the Soviet-led state-capitalist bloc, are interested in basically altering the world's social structure (and we're not just talking reforms). They merely debate about ways of improving national economic performance, i.e. the performance of a nation as capital on the world market. Jesse Jackson and Ronald Reagan, portrayed as on opposite ends of the political spectrum, both agree the "economy" must be made to perform well and the Persian Gulf must be defended. Also defending their economies are France's "socialist" president Mitterrand. Nicaragua's Sandinista commandantes. and the Soviet Central Committee (which talks of improving profits).

The American left's long-range programme merely calls for public control of investment decisions, still treating productive resources as capital, a sum of money or its equivalent, which must be utilised so as to yield more money. For now. most leftists (Democratic Socialists of America. Leninist sects) would be happy with govemment-corporate-labour co-ordination for the national interest. And why not? Most of them are professionals by background or aspirations. They tend to accept commodity exchange, capital investment, wage labour, hierarchy and the state — the blood and guts of this society — as necessary features of modem society. Many also have hierarchic ambitions. They are thus unable and/or unwilling to see beyond the present. They label those who want more fundamental changes "unrealistic" and their own programme "the politics of the possible". But how realistic is it to expect the world system to continue for very long without terminating human life or to expect capitalist production to meet human needs?

Many forces are at work against such a transformation. Religion, prejudices and other superstitions incapacitate people in the face of life-threatening crises, by keeping alive the values of an era whose material foundations — scarcity and lack of information — have crumbled long ago. Common nonsense ideas such as the innate aggressiveness of humans are laughable among most researchers, but are still widely held, and widely promoted by the media, religion and other institutions. Most people conceive of possible societies only from the spectrum which stretches from the USA to the USSR. And cynicism about social change runs rampant.

It will take hard work to shovel out all  bullshit. The newly-available facts about human history must be disseminated beyond academic circles. Information about past and present movements that have gone beyond the "possible” should be widely circulated so that real alternatives can be seen as attainable. Concepts and misconceptions should be critically challenged. For example, Marx's analysis focused on the relations between people, and aimed at the abolition of the economy. This means the abolition of exchange and wage labour and the assumption of control of the globe's resources by the world's population as a whole. Yet, today, most analysts, "Marxists" included, regard "Marxism" as yet another economic prescription whose goal is improved national economic performance.

The revolutionary tradition itself must be demystified. We need wide discussions on bringing about rapid and massive social change. Communications between interested people, hopefully leading to co-ordinated activities, should be our top priority. Neither we, nor anyone else has all the answers. This paper is a modest contribution to such a process. We hope to see more monkey wrenches tossed into the machine, eventually to be used to take it apart and put something else together. Have no illusions. The going will be rough, but social revolution is the only game in town, besides ecocide and World War III. Let's break on through to the other side.

Political Notes: Britain at war (1985)

The Political Notes column  from the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain at war
According to the government Britain has a war on its hands with an enemy so threatening that it will require the combined efforts of the navy and the air force to defeat it. Have the Argentinians sneaked back to the Falklands? Have the Russians landed in the Outer Hebrides? Have the "red" Chinese walked into Hong Kong before the referee has called time out?

No! The new enemy is drugs. A report recently published by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee claims that Britain and Europe are about to succumb to an epidemic of drug addiction. After ten days in America the MPs on the committee, frightened by the scale of the problem there and the probability that it would affect Britain similarly, have recommended that the armed forces be used to cut off drug supplies, that greater effort be made to catch, prosecute and punish drug dealers and that civil courts be empowered to strip them of their assets.

Is it too cynical to think that the government is merely trying to divert attention from its own political misfortunes and the real problems that daily confront the working class — poverty, unemployment, poor housing and cuts in services — by starting a crusade against the new "enemies within" of drugs and, of course, football hooliganism? It is significant too that both of these social problems are used as justifications for granting increased powers to the coercive forces of the state — the police and the army.

Despite all their pious rhetoric, none of the capitalist politicians has yet come up with a remotely plausible explanation for why young people take drugs or behave violently at football matches. What is needed is a recognition that these are just two more manifestations of the sense of hopelessness that capitalism engenders and no amount of draconian legislation — and especially not the use of the armed forces — can solve such problems.

Official secrets
Our old friend "National Security" has been dragged out of the closet again, this time to stop publication of a book which reveals security scandals and corruption at GCHQ, Britain's spy centre (The Observer, 2 June. 1985). The book, entitled GCHQ: the Negative Asset, was written by Jock Kane, a former GCHQ supervisor. Government lawyers claim that it contravenes the Official Secrets Act by disclosing information which could damage National Security, and have secured a civil injunction to temporarily suppress the manuscript. Since Jock Kane cannot afford to challenge the injunction and is not entitled to legal aid he has effectively been silenced and the government is unlikely to have to justify its actions publicly in the courts.

The book does not sound particularly earth-shattering, dealing as it does with "security failures" during an operation in Aden in 1967 and corrupt dealings in currency and petrol vouchers, and fraudulent overtime claims by GCHQ staff in Turkey. But clearly the government feels that the book could be politically embarrassing.

In a country where freedom of speech is claimed to be a right of citizens, this is just another example of official hypocrisy and the limitations that can be placed on workers' civil liberties when it suits our rulers. "National Security" is an all too convenient shield behind which the shady world of political intrigue and corruption of capitalism can be hidden from the view of the workers.

Murdoch’s media
The power of the mass media in shaping people's ideas and opinions is undisputed. We should therefore be very worried by the concentration of ownership and control of press and television in the hands of a very few capitalists. In May this year Rupert Murdoch. the chief executive of News Corporation. took over six American television companies from Metromedia. Taken together these stations reach nearly a quarter of all American homes.

The take-over is in conjunction with Marvin Davis, an American oil magnate. Murdoch and Davis already own 20th Century Fox. the American film and television production company. Two of the television stations they are buying are in cities where News Corporation already has major newspapers: New York, where it owns the New York Post, and Chicago, where it owns the Sun-Times. In Britain Murdoch s interests include The Sunday Times, The Times, The Sun and the News of the World. In Australia he owns two television companies - Channel Ten-10 in Sydney and Channel ATV-10 in Melbourne.

But Murdoch's latest empire building exercise has run into a few problems. Under American law foreigners (Murdoch is an Australian) are restricted to 20 per cent direct or 25 per cent indirect control of American television stations. In order therefore for the transfer of ownership to take place Murdoch would have to become an American citizen. But if he did this he would fall foul of Australian law. which restricts ownership of television channels to Australian citizens. No doubt Murdoch will get round these problems by exploiting some legal loop-hole such as hiving off his Australian television interests to form a new company and taking in Australian partners. One thing is certain: Murdoch will not have the same problems with nationality laws that workers have to contend with. Capital is truly international in character and the capitalist class is not imprisoned by national boundaries, restrictions on immigration or rules governing citizenship in the way that workers are.

Education for profit
The government's adherence to free market dogma is now to be applied to higher education in an attempt to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in universities, according to the recently published Green Paper (The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s. Cmd. 9524).

In addition to the usual catechism about the need to raise educational standards, save money through more efficient management and so on. the Green Paper also contains proposals that will tie universities more closely to industry. It seems that at present British universities are not turning out enough scientists, technicians and engineers to provide the appropriately skilled labour power for the capitalist class. So, resources are to be diverted from the arts and humanities towards technological and vocational courses. Coupled with this is a proposal to concentrate research in large "strong" departments. This will mean that some departments or even whole universities will lose their funding.
To those who dare raise the spectre of an earlier principle, namely that higher education should be available to all those who could benefit from it. the Green Paper argues that this principle will not be breached since the 18 year old population is expected to fall by 33 per cent after 1990. although demand for higher education places will fall by only 14 per cent because of increasing numbers of women and part-time students. However, these estimates are not accepted by the Association of University Teachers or the committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

These proposed changes are dearly part of a cost-cutting exercise, with the added feature of moulding workers more fully to the needs of the capitalist class by marginalising those areas of study which are not seen to be directly productive. The education system was born out of the need to produce workers educated to a level sufficient to enable them to run capitalism for the capitalist class. We should not therefore be surprised that as the needs of capital change, so does the education system.
Janie Percy-Smith

Life and Times of a Labour Leader (1967)

From the November 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Attlee's life was quite a success story. Born in 1883 — the fourth of the eight children of Henry Attlee, a solicitor — he collected honours and distinction for himself. Educated at a public school and Oxford, he was a major in the first world war and had what is known as a "gallant record" as an infantry officer. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1922, became a private secretary to Ramsay MacDonald in the first Labour government and succeeded Oswald Mosley as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1930. By 1935 he was leader of the Labour party and, as such, he became deputy Prime Minister in the war-time coalition. Finally, after the war, he was Prime Minister for the six years of Labour rule up to 1951.

When he died last month, there were plenty of tributes. Harold Wilson summed him up as "one of the greatest men of our generation". Mr. Heath remembered his "political courage"; Mountbatten his "integrity"; President Johnson his "great distinction". Even the Queen said she was sad at his death. All this is quite understandable from a capitalist point of view. The only comment we would add is that Attlee was a cunning and bitter enemy of the working class.

In many ways his progress was typical. Coming from a Tory background, he was upset by the squalor of working class life in the East End where he did some social work as a young man. Like many others of his generation he had a facility for getting worked up about the minor injustices of capitalism and this decided him to join a 'radical' organisation, the I.L.P. Also, like many another, he was completely assimilated into the society which he had once claimed to vehemently oppose. So much so that by the end of his life he was very much a pillar of the establishment — a hereditary Earl in a House of Lords which he had at one time attacked as a citadel of privilege.

He was an opportunist In the nineteen thirties the Labour party was at a low ebb, after its two farcical attempts to administer capitalism in 1924 and 1929. Given the prolonged effects of the slump, and the despair and anger which many workers felt, it was easy to strike a revolutionary pose. In fact Attlee, on a number of issues, was arguing a case similar to that of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. He wrote convincingly against workers supporting capitalist governments:
There are those who, realising the danger of menace of the Fascist Powers, tend to take up an attitude of supporting a Capitalist Government at home as the least of two evils. They tend to underestimate the reality of the struggle between Capitalism and Socialism, and to magnify the differences between democratic Capitalist States and Fascist States.                                                                                (The Labour Party In Perspective. 1937)
He was fond of stressing that the choice confronting the working class was between a vain attempt to patch up a rotten capitalist society "or a rapid advance to a Socialist reconstruction of the national life. There is no half-way house ..." (Socialism and Peace, 1935). He also called for a sweeping solution to the housing problem:
In the socialists’ plan there would be no little cottages and no large private houses. All would be reasonably well housed, while the only large buildings would be those owned and used by the community, in one of which the villagers would meet to settle their common affairs.
(The Will and the Way to Socialism)
Of course, any thoughtful worker could see that this was so much eyewash. When Attlee indicated how this social revolution was going to be achieved he made it clear that this 'new' society which the Labour party envisaged would merely be an over-hauled capitalism, with working men and women still employed in nationalised, state-capitalist industries as well as privately owned enterprises.
A Labour government, therefore, not only by the transference of industry from profit-making for the few to the service of the many, but also by taxation, will work to reduce the purchasing power of the wealthier classes, while by wage increases and by the provision of social services it will expand the purchasing power of the masses.
(The Will and the Way to Socialism).
Naturally, with the outbreak of the second world war, the Labour party suddenly shed all their hostility to capitalist governments. Attlee, Bevin and Morrison served as ministers under Churchill and helped direct a war in which countless millions of workers were slaughtered. With sickening hypocrisy Attlee supported the use of the atom bomb against the cities of Japan at the same time as he was urging that "there is only one principle that can serve the world, . . .  the Christian principle that all men are brothers one of another." (Speech to the TUC conference, 1945).

Also forgotten were those brave words about socialism or capitalism—"there is no half-way house . . . " For, replying to a taunt from Winston Churchill in the House of Commons in 1949, he maintained that Britain was in a transition stage — half-capitalist and half- socialist.
We live in the days of a mixed economy. The Right Hon. gentleman is quite wrong when he suggests that this is a purely capitalist economy. It is neither purely capitalist nor purely socialist, but a mixed economy in a transition period.
(Hansard col. 1633. 27th Oct., 1949).
This then is what the spokesmen of the capitalist class mean by "integrity", "political courage", "a great man". In fact, the most illuminating comment on Attlee was in the Queen's letter of sympathy to his son; "In war and peace he served his sovereigns and the nation (read capitalist class) well." Anyone who remembers the news films of the coronation ceremony, with Clement cringing in the background like a senile version of Uriah Heep, or of Winston Churchill's funeral, with pall-bearer Attlee tottering along, will know what she meant. She might have added that at no time was Attlee of more value to the ruling class than after the second world war when his government launched a massive rearmament programme. There had been a widespread revulsion against militarism following the first world war and this was repeated in 1946. The British capitalist class, however, needed all the strength it could muster if it was to carve out new markets and spheres of influence for itself in the post-war world. In retrospect it seems that only a Labour government could have got away with such an immediate and large-scale development of nuclear weapons.

All this explains why the bourgeois press had nothing but kind words for Attlee in their obituaries — and why Socialists are working for the day when men like Clement Attlee will be nothing more than a nasty memory.
John Crump

Antonio Labriola: A Strict Marxist? (2016)

Antonio Labriola
From the February 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
We examine the life and political approach of this Marxist political thinker.
The Italian political thinker, Antonio Labriola (1843-1904) was described by Friedrich Engels as ‘a strict Marxist’. However, he approached Marxism quite late in life and first mentioned Marx in 1883 in a review of Bärenbach’s book on the social sciences (Die Socialwissenschafte).
Labriola started corresponding with Engels in 1890 and in the same year, with Filippo Turati, founder of the ‘Italian Socialist Party’, he wrote an address to the German Social-Democratic Workers' Party Congress in Halle. When the ‘Italian Workers’ Party’ was founded at the Congress of Geneva two years later, Labriola was critical of its platform, and when that organisation became the ‘Italian Socialist Party’ in 1894 under the leadership of Turati, Labriola complained to him in the following terms:
‘Socialists must … be clear… they have to stop being little Jacobins and politicians…You want to make propaganda amongst the bourgeoisies, you want to make socialism nice. God help you in such a philanthropic feat, because in my view the bourgeoisies are only fit to be hanged. I will not be lucky enough to do that myself, but I do not want to do anything to contribute to a delay in that happening.’ 
According to Labriola the Party of the working class should have ‘Masters’ (in the sense of Teachers), and he seems to have had in mind people like Marx, Engels and himself. But he was clear that the Party should not have what he called ‘a Jacobin ruling minority’. Furthermore he saw Turati as reformist, as he explained in 1891:
‘[Turati’s] eclecticism is not a consequence of [his] intelligence, neither of [his] immaturity, but it is a necessarily reflection of the world in which we live, where everything is subjective, arbitrary, incidental, and therefore there is not space for the organised science, for party discipline.’
In 1892, in a letter to Engels, he repeats this concept:
‘Eclecticism will not disappear soon. It is not only the effect of an intellectual confusion, but it is the expression of a situation. When just a few more or less socialist individuals address themselves to ignorant proletarians who are apolitical and largely reactionary, it is almost inevitable that those individuals will be thought of as utopians and demagogues.’
But Labriola also thought that, via a combination of education and the necessity for workers to overthrow capitalism, this eclecticism (taking the form of opportunistic revisionism and reformism) would disappear in the longer term. In this sense Labriola was an optimist and is distinguished from other revolutionaries such as Lenin and Gramsci who held the pessimistic view that working-class self-determination was impossible and only coercion would be able to guide the masses.
Labriola became Engels’s ‘favourite’ source and, in response to a bitter Turati, Engels wrote:
‘As for (....) Labriola, the malicious tongue which you attribute to him may have a certain justification in a country such as Italy, where the socialist party, like all the other parties, has been invaded, like a plague of locusts, by that “classless bourgeois youth”, of which Bakunin was so proud.’
In October 1892 Labriola had informed Engels about a banking scandal in the Banca Romana involving some members of the Italian Socialist Party, who he referred to as ‘locusts’. The following year Labriola was heavily critical of the Party for its unsupportive position concerning the uprising of peasants, artisans, and industrial workers in Sicily, known as the Fasci Siciliani. It described this event as ‘a poor souls’ revolt’, whereas Labriola saw in it the first example of Italian socialism in action.
The main contribution of Labriola to Marxist thought did not come until several years after this when, in 1895, he published his first important work on the philosophy of historical materialism: In Memory of the Communist Manifesto. In this Labriola wrote:
‘We must insist on the expression ‘democratic socialisation of the means of production’ because the expression ‘collective ownership’ mixes up legal expression with economic fact. It conjures up in many people’s minds an increase in monopoly (...) and an ever resurgent State Socialism, whose effect is to augment the economic means of oppression in the hands of the oppressing class (...) The proletarian mass either knows already or will understand that proletarian dictatorship, which will have to prepare the socialisation of the means of production, cannot proceed from an uprising created by a few, but it must be and it will be the result of the proletarians themselves, who will have for a long  time been a political organisation.’
Following this, Labriola published a further analysis of historical materialism from a philosophical standpoint (The Materialist Conception of History, 1895) and in 1898 he replied to the views of the French writer George Sorel in Speaking on Socialism and Philosophy. He also carried on actively criticising Turati’s ‘eclectic’ politics and his PSI, writing for example that ‘in Italy there is no working class organisation and so the class struggle and the political party with a workers’ base are premature’.
In this era of ‘revisionist’ politics, Labriola was active in combating, for example, Enrico Ferri who tried to define Marxism as a derivative form of Darwinian evolutionism, and the German social-democrat Eduard Bernstein who took a similar position to Turati.    
Labriola had already anticipated that Russia’s so-called ‘agrarian communism’ could not be a path to socialist revolution and, in agreement with Engels, that Russia had to first go through a bourgeois phase of development (commodity production) before it could host a real emergence of socialist ideas. His views on Russian under-development, however, led to what many have seen as a kind of moral stain in his thought - his position on colonialism. He saw under-development as being resolved via colonisation by developed nations, so bringing under-developed nations to a material level at which socialist ideas could begin to have some resonance. It should be said that he changed his mind several times on this and seemed, before Engels’s death in 1895, to agree with Engels that governments were too corrupt and bound to financiers and to the stock market to prevent investors taking over colonies and exploiting them rather than the lot of the masses there being improved.
However, in 1897, on the question of colonisation of Libya, Labriola seemed to fall back to his previous position, arguing that socialists should support the Italian government’s attempts to colonise Libya on the grounds that ‘there cannot be progress of the proletariat where the bourgeoisie is incapable of progress’. This was anathema to the Marxists of the time.
After his death Labriola was read by and influenced Italian idealist philosophers such as Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile as well as by others claiming to be in the Marxist tradition such as Rodolfo Mondolfo, Antonio Gramsci and Lelio Basso and, outside Italy by Trotsky, Lenin and Plekhanov.
English translations of some of his writings can be found here: