Friday, February 26, 2016

The Sentimental Socialist (1955)

From the November 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The sentimental Socialist, though not necessarily Christian, retains essentially the introspective attitude of the Christian ethics. He forms societies, the members of which are supposed to pledge themselves to indefinitely high aims, aims that tower above the clouds from which it requires the practised eye to distinguish them. These aims ‘won from the void and formless infinite’ seem to be won only for the sake of being handed over to the equally formless indefinite. The only shape approaching articulation into which they wreath themselves, is that of resolutions and letters. The young people of the well-to-do middle-class, for whom sentimental Socialism possesses attractions, think human nature susceptible of higher aims than the current ones, and meet in drawing rooms for the apparent purpose of passing resolutions to that effect. The sentimental Socialist desires above all things to be broad and comprehensive. Now any proposition conveying a distinct meaning is necessarily limited by that meaning; and must be taken to exclude its opposite, and a fortiori the society adopting it to exclude those who hold its opposite. But how can a society whose aims are so high, condescend to such small matters of detail as meaning? How can a man as Catholic as the ‘Brother of the Higher Life,’ or the New Atlantis Society, be so narrow as to exclude anyone. Hence in the resolutions adopted by such associations, the first requisite is the absence of meaning. All is possible in the man (or woman) who aims high enough. Danton’s motto ‘to dare, to dare, and again to dare,’ becomes in the hands of the sentimental Socialist, 'to aim, to aim, and again to aim’ at an ineffable O—Voilà tout. All this 'casting of empty buckets into empty wells and drawing nothing up’ may be entertaining, beautiful, ennobling for a short spell, but palls after a time, which is probably the explanation of the fact that the societies that start so rosy flight invariably die of inanition within measurable distance of their inauguration, though only to make way for new ones. The young men and women of our blasé middle-class civilisation require a stimulus; this stimulus may be aesthetic, philanthropic, or social. It may consist in languishing vapouring on art, on improved dwellings, on social reconstruction. Just now it wears the latter aspect. The whole movement is born of the morbid self-consciousness of our Christian and Bourgeois civilisation run to seed.”
E. Belfort Bax
("Today," March 1884.).

Rioting for reforms (1990)

From the September 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party has long been aware that there are organisations. both in Britain and other parts of the world, that share our view that capitalism is the cause of the major social problems confronting the working class and needs to be replaced by a world-wide socialist system based on common ownership, production for use and free access to wealth. However, organisations which hold this perspective with us are, unfortunately, often found to be deficient when it comes to having a credible strategy for the revolutionary transformation of capitalism into socialism. One group, Wildcat have tried to argue that rioting helps raise class consciousness In their coverage of the Poll Tax riots earlier this year, Wildcat and a similar group of "council communists" in Manchester going under the name of Subversion have displayed a contempt for sections of the working class quite inconsistent with their professed aim of a harmonious society based on co-operation and mutual solidarity

Wildcat No.15. subtitled "Long Hot Summer 1990". stated:
Trafalgar Square will go down in history It was the most politically conscious and effective riot of modern times . . .  the rioters were not mindless hooligans They were mainly very clear about why and who they were fighting. They were disciplined. responsible and class conscious (Our emphasis)
Also:
The police were the main target. They were attacked with impressive courage and brutality . . .  the impunity with which most of the rioters were able to loot, burn, smash and occasion actual bodily harm has given a great boost of confidence to the undemocratic hooligan minority.
This is rubbish. An "undemocratic hooligan minority” beating up the other members of the working class which police are has nothing whatsoever to do with class consciousness—just the reverse.

Wildcat also proudly reproduced from a. newspaper:
A poll tax assistant hanged himself rather than face one more day of abuse from an irate public. He had only one more day of house calls to go. But instead he went home and hanged himself from a beam.
But Wildcat's wrath is not reserved merely for policemen, shopworkers or local government employees. Menacingly, they warn that:
The willing assistance of the media in providing the police with films and photos (of the riot) means that cameramen will always be among the first targets of future violent protests.
Very class conscious! But who will be the next victims of this peculiar "class justice"? Ambulance crews who go to help the injured?

Judging by some of the leaflets it has issued recently. Subversion is little better. Although one of their leaflets carries the interesting headline "Down With Poll Tax— Down With All Taxes", they seem just as obsessed with rioting and other violent behaviour as do their friends from Wildcat. In their issue dealing with the 31 March Trafalgar Square riot, they declared we support the riot 100 percent"

Their view of how riots and anti-Poll Tax demonstrations can bring about socialist consciousness is confused in the extreme. One of their leaflets reproduces two articles side by side. In talking of the Trafalgar Square riot the first one states "we regard such rioting as a positive sign" but is flatly contradicted by the second article which tells us that their group opposes all movements which are based on the acceptance of capitalism and which just want to ‘modify’ it in some way". The only way to resolve this contradiction would be to argue that the rioters were not interested in the Poll Tax but were rioting against the existence of the wages system, commodity production and other features of capitalism However, we doubt whether even Subversion could seriously argue that this was the case (and even if it was it would still be futile).

What is most striking about both Subversion and Wildcat is that they seem to be looking for “short cuts" to socialism by tagging on to the most extreme examples of working class discontent with particular products of the system. Although they seem reluctant to get involved in such campaigns run by trade unions or left-wing organisations, they are nonetheless in danger of treading the well-worn path towards reformism and single-issue campaigning that the Left have been involved in for decades.

Strategies based on riot and insurrection can play no constructive part in the development of a strong socialist movement. There can be no place for such romanticising of violence when the reality is that the coercive apparatus of the state machine is used to protect the interests of the ruling class. The first act of a socialist majority must be to take this apparatus so that the capitalist class can be dispossessed as peacefully as possible—and the socialist majority will include all sections of the working class—including the police, tax collectors, cameramen, ambulance crews and anybody else who might get in the way of the immature utopian fantasies of groups like Wildcat and Subversion.
Dave Perrin

The business of madness (1988)

From the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

This is the title of an article in Open Mind, the mental health magazine, for December 1987/January 1988. It deals with mental health "care" in prosperous, go-ahead Japan. The author. Dr Thomas Fahy, works at the Maudsley Hospital and his article is grim reading, making mental health care here, for all its shortcomings, appear enlightened.

In Japan 85 per cent of mental hospitals are privately owned. Patients can be committed on the say-so of one relative and one doctor (usually the administrator of the hospital concerned; hardly a disinterested party), which results in almost 80 per cent of admissions being compulsory. Two thirds of patients are kept in locked wards; average patient stay is over six-and-and-half years.

The system is designed not only to make money for those running the hospitals but to give profitable spin-offs to friends and relations. At the Bunoshin hospital where investigations had to be made into allegations of patient beatings and even deaths in suspicious circumstances, occupational therapy consists of eight hours work daily in the deep freeze food factory owned by the director's family. When, finally, the government enquiry was instituted.lawyers were refused access to patients and the slowness of police investigations was explained when it emerged that the Assistant Superintendent of the hospital was a member of the police group making the enquiry.

Privately owned mental health hospitals have, for a long time, been one of Japan's business success stories. Overcrowded wards and compulsory detention of patients for long periods, without any right of review or appeal, are good business. After all, when patients are paid for it would be foolish not to ensure that they are around for as long as possible. Modern capitalism is a stressful society and many families feel the burden of caring for mentally ill or feeble relatives is too great. As Etsuno Totsuka, a Tokyo lawyer who has been involved in trying to review and improve conditions pointed out, the dumping of the mentally ill may well be the necessary price of economic success.

Opposition to even the most elementary reforms is strong from interested parties who have ensured that, for instance, appeal procedures against compulsory detention will not be introduced. Considerable publicity is, rightly, given to abuses of psychiatric practices in Russia but, although the World Health Organisation suggested as far back as 1985 that the Royal College of Psychiatry could play an important part in exposing conditions in Japan, of which they are well informed, little or nothing has been heard from them. Could it be that here, as in so many spheres, it seems more important not to upset a profitable trading partner than to protect the rights and well-being of an impotent minority who are considered useless for exploitation in the profit-making process?
Eva Goodman

Myth of Industrial Unionism (1966)

From the May 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party attitude towards any specific political or economic organisation is determined by its basic position that there can be no social change as great, as far reaching and as demanding as the creation of Socialist society, without the conscious co-operation of the majority of the working-class. Until we reach that stage, until the wage-labour and capital relationships are abolished, there remains the vital need to safeguard working class living standards and conditions of work, and this safeguarding is rightly the task of Trade Unions. As long as a union remains a defence organisation the Socialists supports its sound actions and hits out at actions which conflict with the general interests of the workers, and as long as Socialists are few in number this is the only sound action possible. But the moment that any union claims that it is a revolutionary organisation then it must be judged from a revolutionary standpoint and the allowance made for the actions taken by non-Socialist unions are clearly out of the question.

Holding to this logical approach to the problem the Socialist Party very carefully examined the claims made for Industrial Unionism when American workers set on foot the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. The claims were that here was an organisation placed upon a class basis, free from conflict between skilled and unskilled workers, free from craft divisions, with such a resultant unity that the antagonism between boss and wage-slave could be seen clearly and met in the most effective manner. These “new style’’ unions, it was said, organised the workers “economic power" in such a way that it fitted them to take and hold the means of living when the time arose. These unions would then form the framework of socialist society and become its permanent administration. The Socialist Party was able to counter these claims by showing that no structural changes in union organisation could turn non-socialists into their opposites.

The Industrial Unions were open to all who took out membership cards; as a result their organisations housed Republicans, Democrats, Anarchists, etc., men of every brand of political persuasion. “It is useless for us here to attempt to disguise the fact that we have every shade of political opinion”, declared Delegate Murtaugh at the I.W.W. first Annual Conference. Yet the advocates of Industrial Unionism insisted that the I.W.W. was a "Socialist" organisation, one composed of "38,000 class-conscious workers" (Socialist Jan. 1908).

The I.W.W. was presented as an uncompromising force for unity, but in truth it was held together by shabby compromises and as a result it split, split and split again into warring factions. The split between the De Leonist elements and the “Bummery" section led to the existence of two rival I.W.W.’s (Detroit and Chicago) and during the active life of these rivals each side claimed that the other had blacklegged in industrial disputes. The De Leonist I.W.W. (later W.I.I.U.), though backed by the Socialist Labor Party of America, was organised on the same lines as the original I.W.W. and was thus open to all; as S.L.P. speaker, W. W. Cox confessed in the Weekly People (30 Dec. 1916) “The Workers International Industrial Union recognises no political party and it has a Republican, Democratic, Progressive Prohibitionist and Socialist Party as well as S.L.P. membership”.

The S.L.P. of A. while continually calling for clarity in political thinking at the same time approved and organised political confusion on the industrial field. As long as the politically confused were organised into the W.I.I.U. the S.L.P. was happy. In some magical way it was imagined that when the industrial unions grew strong enough they would themselves generate political clarity. The S.L.P. continued to urge the workers to “Organise industrially on the principles of the W.I.I.U.” until 1924 when, since the so-called “Socialist W.I.l.U.” had become an embarrassment, it was allowed to die.

In rejecting the fallacies of the Industrial Unionists the Socialist Party never asserted that Socialist Society would result from the actions of parliamentary delegates alone. It is completely illogical to imagine that Socialist understanding could grow to the point of political victory without simultaneously resulting in a growth of understanding and hence organisation to prepare for the taking over of industry. The Socialist Party in fact knows well that organisation is necessary for the running of industry in the new-born Socialist society. It holds also that a sizeable spread of political clear-sightedness will lead to the growth of such organisations, for when many workers want Socialism they will begin to organise and plan for the rebuilding of society prior to the capture of political power. We in fact stand for the principled, democratic organisation of class-conscious workers in contrast to the Industrial Unionist concept of industrial bodies built up upon the “open-house” principle.

For the present, however, Socialists have to act and co-operate with a majority of non-socialist fellow unionists. Socialist unionists will certainly oppose unsound actions and theories wherever these are found in the unions but we do not support the view that if the present unions were smashed then “genuine working class unions would arise in their place”—yet another industrial myth. The faults of the present-day unions result from the lack of understanding of their members and until their experiences lead them to realise the limitations of the day-to-day struggle, until they realise that within the framework of capitalism they cannot rise above their basic status as victims of the caprices of the world market these faults remain.
Melvin Harris

The Hospitalization business (1977)

From the June 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

When considering a subject such as the dispensing of health care to the working class a Socialist begins with a basic assumption, one which fits the real world of our times: The working class, generally, must be kept in some sort of adequate health if it is to function reasonably well and so requires a degree of medical attention along with the other items that go into producing and maintaining labour power—food, clothing, housing, transportation, luxuries of a sort. And it need hardly be stated that the well-being of the capitalist class dictates that the costs of producing and maintaining labour-power be constantly monitored and held in check. Hence, the continual hue and cry in the USA over the question of a national health programme.

As it is, today, there are various types of plans, some privately operated, with their own hospitals and staffs, by large capitalist industries and by some labour unions. There are also the state-regulated Blue Cross-Blue Shield Plans in which many employers of labour offer their help, totally or in part, as a “fringe benefit” (or equivalent plans sold by private insurance companies). And there are the Federal and State-operated Medicare (for 65-and-over) and Medicaid (for the indigent). But these plans are all expensive to operate and, in some cases, not too satisfactory in coverage and seem to invite a large element of graft and corruption. So, because the central organs of capitalist power are deeply involved, as it is, it is all understandable why opposition to some form of national health plan in this bulwark of “Free Enterprise” is steadily eroding.

In the meantime, the Carter Administration has stepped into the hospital picture and announced that it will seek to legislate a 9 per cent, per annum ceiling on hospital rate increases. (The going in-patient rate in Boston teaching hospitals, for example, hovers around $175.00 per day plus the various extra medical and surgical charges, and steadily rising. The costs of out-patient care, too, because of the sophisticated new equipment and highly trained technicians available, reach astronomical heights which can easily cause the uninitiated in other lands to believe that American workers are indeed wealthy). And hospitals, generally and understandably, are reacting unfavourably. The dispensing of health care might be their business but the proper balancing of books is equally important in a capitalist society, even for “non-profit” institutions. “We will have to cut back on patient care”, scream the administrators. And there are some interesting observations that can be made about the business.

For hospital administrators must steer a hazardous course between what to them are twin horrors: government “interference” (excepting when such interference is requested) and unionization of their personnel. Unions have made some inroads into American hospitals but they are by no means general and their strength is certainly limited. So, it is all but impossible for administrators to blame rising fees on union demands. But this is only half of the story.

There has sprung up a lucrative business of “union busting" public relations firms that has been meeting with much success in the hospital industry. In a column in Boston’s Real Paper for Oct. 16, 1976, we read:
Last spring, Massachusetts Hospital Workers began union drives . . . The hospitals responded by calling in heavy- duty outsiders, the Chicago-based labour relations firm. Melnick, Mickus and McKeown. which three years ago at B.I. (Beth Israel) helped defeat another organizing attempt. The Hospital Workers . . . added that the consultants cost the hospitals $150.00 an hour at a time when hospital rates are soaring . . .
Certain local politicians introduced a bill in the Mass. House aimed at such practices. The following quote from Vol. V, No. 13, of the MHA (Massachusetts Hospital Research & Educational Assoc.) Monday Report tells the story:
MHA membership reacted quickly and sharply last week, helping to thwart a bill outlawing certain labour relations expenses. The association had testified before the Health Care Committee in mid-March, opposing House 2889 which aims to remove from reimbursement any costs a hospital incurs when coping with union organizing efforts . . .
The member hospitals were alerted, the Senators contacted and the bill defeated, at least for the time being and the Health Care Committee promises to “follow it closely.”

Now the problems of hospital workers will not be solved by union organization notwithstanding certain advantages. Nor will workers, generally, be benefited if and when hospitals can no longer charge off union- busting costs to operating expenses. Hospital administrators are, primarily, business people and will always fix rates at what the market will bear. They are sellers of the commodity health care and that’s how it has been and will be until the working class gets rid of the commodity society—capitalism.
Harmo, WSP, Boston.

Socialists and the Communist Party (1931)

From the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent asks why we oppose the Communist Party. Our general objection is that the Communists confuse the workers as to the meaning of Socialism and urge them to follow policies which are useless and dangerous.

The Communists mislead the workers by claiming that Socialism has been or is being established in Russia. The claim is false. In Russia all of the essential features of capitalism exist, and are not in process of being abolished. The workers are wage-earners, as they are here. Goods are produced for sale, not for use. Means of production are privately owned. There is vast inequality of income. Persons in administrative and technical posts receive twenty and thirty times as much as industrial workers. There is rent, interest and profit. The State capitalist industries and farms (mis-called “Socialist”) are avenues for the investment of the surplus wealth of the wealthier sections of the population. There is a great and growing investing class drawing incomes from their investments in State loans at 10 per cent, and over.

We do not condemn the Bolsheviks for the fact that capitalism exists and develops in Russia. They would have had Socialism if they could, but the conditions do not exist to make Socialism possible.
We condemn the Communist Party for pretending that Russian capitalism is Socialism merely because it is administered by Communists.

We condemn the Communists for their dangerous and futile policy of setting unarmed workers against the armed forces of the State.

We condemn the Communists for their advocacy of reforms and for their policy of telling the workers to vote into power Labour Party candidates, whom the Communists themselves admit will use their power to bolster up capitalism.
Ed. Comm.