Monday, February 29, 2016

Sickness in society (1966)

Editorial from the March 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a sick society, and within its framework, man suffers. Capitalism is alien to man’s interests. It denies him all that is potentially best in humanity. It is a disease from which there is no recovery short of the reorganisation of society.

Socialists generalise about the way in which society is class divided about private properly. This is not a remote economic abstraction; it is the day to day reality which bestows existence on most people as an ungratifying burden of personal struggle. To the individual worker, life is an endless battle for fragmented survival. There is the electricity bill, the food bill, the clothes bill, the rent or the mortgage, the holiday fund, the minor crisis brought about by some unexpected item of expense. To establish a home, to have children, the worker tightens the knots of a personal economic straight-jacket. He consolidates the conditions of his own exploitation and his dependence on wages or salary.

Behind this, there is the year in and year out commitment to the job which he probably hates and which probably does nothing for the real needs of the community. This is an aspect of the insecurity which pervades capitalism. A man is oppressed by his own life but can see no alternative. It is this insecurity that forces a man to clutch on for a lifetime to what is devoid of satisfaction.

The separation of the individual is completed by the divisive attitudes of propertied society. Where the individual is considered not by what he is but by the properly he owns, there is a sense of shame, a special stigma attaching to the man with meagre possessions. With poverty goes guilt. It is the guilt of the individual in failing to measure up to the swinging commercial ideal associated under capitalism with success. These attitudes preclude social unity, where people might communicate in honest terms. Instead there is failure to communicate. There is pretentiousness; a discreet conspiracy to cloak the realities of the struggle.

Life under capitalism is not an opportunity for creative living; the individual in association with his fellow human beings. It is an acceptance of the dreary disciplines of wage employment couched in competition, pride, insecurity, guilt, frustration, hate and all the attitudes that divide the community and isolate its members.

Capitalism is not so much individualist as atomized, individuals moving in separate orbits, either suspicious or indifferent. It is not that under all circumstances he is uncaring. The preoccupation with the private struggle renders impotent his identity with humanity as a whole. Under capitalism, we are all on our own.

Moreover, the existence of social privilege under capitalism eats away at the mutual sympathy that man is capable of. The side by side existence of the well fed and the starving; the leisured and the overtime working; the cultured and the illiterate; is a corrupting assault which leads to cynicism, despair, a poor evaluation by man of himself.

For Socialists, the concept of community means that the existence of one under privileged person is an affront to the dignity of all members of society.

The problems of workers are common problems. The establishment of Socialism is collective action in the interests of the whole community. The disintegration of community under capitalism can only be healed by the social equality, the collective responsibility, the unity of Socialist society.

Through common ownership, a Socialist community would undoubtedly replace competition with co-operation, indifference with love, isolation with integration. It would replace mere economic functions with men.

Guyana horror (1980)

TV Review from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

On two Sunday evenings in July we watched in fascinated horror a reconstruction of the career of an American called Jim Jones.

Born in 1931, he “caught religion” at an early age. While studying to become a Unitarian Minister, he worked as an auxiliary in the local hospital where he met and married a qualified nurse who, despite everything, stuck to him to the end. After his ordination he was appointed to a church whose congregation never topped twenty. He built this up until the church was filled. However, he displeased his Elders as the faithful were predominantly negro in a city where segregation was fact if not law, and the Ku Klux Klan reigned. Dismissed from his post, he took to the streets and founded his own church, the People’s Temple.

At first his reputation rested on fiery oratory and the provision of welfare facilities for his deprived flock. However, soon he started to use his personal magnetism as well as fake miracle cures to dominate his flock completely. Absolute obedience and the making over to the church of all worldly goods was required. Part of the money so obtained was used for bribes and deals to buy into the city administration. Disobedience was published with public disgrace, beatings and even death.

Eventually his financial chicanery made it too hot for him and, with the law on his tail, he and 1,000 of his congregation went to Guyana to found their own community. His vanity and ruthlessness led him from excess to excess. From claiming to represent God, he progressed to proclaiming himself to be God. His sexual excesses with young people of both sexes multiplied yet his hold was such that the majority of his community continued to adore and obey him. In 1978 after the coldblooded shooting of a visiting Senator and accompanying newsmen, the end came. It is difficult to credit that his domination was still such that, when he ordered everyone to take poison — making his young son set the example all but three obeyed.

Those who saw the programme could not understand how so many could be duped into parting with all they had and, without question, obeying this man, even into death itself.

There is a far greater continuing tragedy than the one which happened in Guyana. The vast majority of the world’s population, the working class, are similarly deprived. They also accept without question the fact that they should spend the greater part of their lives working for the enrichment of others. They obey, with hardly a murmur, the edicts of their masters; in times of war even to death itself; and accept gratefully the crumbs from the rich man’s table. However, whereas everyone outside Jim Jones’ claustrophobic society recoils in horror at his merciless domination, only socialists appear to realise what is wrong with the capitalist world we live in today, and try to change it. 
Eva Goodman

"The Class Struggles in France." (1924)

Book Review from the October 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The Class Struggles in France." (1848-1850). by Karl Marx. (Published by the New York Labor News Co: $2.00.) Translated by Henry Kuhn

A melancholy significance attaches to this volume, as the long preface was the last thing Engels wrote for publication before his death in 1895.

The work consists of four articles, originally published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1850, or just after the events recorded had taken place. The masterly analysis of the course of those events, with the penetration into the causes of the defeat of the working class, are all in Marx’s best style. While he was the first to recognise this defeat and its causes, the wide area of the revolution occurring in the principal countries of Europe, misled both himself and Engels as to the period when the working class would march to victory.

In this volume are given the details and materials, that were again briefly surveyed and summed up, after the coup d'état of Louis Bonaparte, in the famous “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.”

The Class Struggles in France’’ form an introduction to the Eighteenth Brumaire, while the latter sums up the whole period 1848-1851 in the light of the later developments. The two works are thus complementary and should be studied together for a full understanding of that exciting period.

To-day this study is of special importance in view of the claims made by certain self-styled “leaders” of the working class for the use of methods and tactics that these volumes show to be completely useless in present day conditions.

It is here that Engels' splendid preface is so valuable. Written 45 years after the events referred to above, Engels could show how true were the main sections of the analysis, while admitting the errors in forecast made by Marx and himself. But it is on the question of the tactics to be used by the working class that the greatest lessons are to be learnt. The view held by the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party that Socialism will be established by an “intelligent minority’’ leading the masses of the workers, looks curious in face of the following statement on p. 9:—
The proletarian masses themselves, even after their Paris victory, were absolutely at sea as to the course to be pursued. And yet there was the movement—instinctive, spontaneous, irrepressible. Was not that just the situation wherein the revolution must succeed, led by a minority it is true, but this time not in the interests of that minority but in the most specific interests of the majority.
This statement might have been taken today from one of the papers of the two organisations mentioned. But with pitiless logic Engels points out on p. 10:—
History has proved us wrong and all others who thought similarly. It has made clear that the status of economic development on the Continent was then by mo means ripe for the abolition of capitalist production.
Yet some who claim to have studied Marx’s teachings try to argue that it is possible to establish Socialism under economic conditions far less ripe than those existing in 1848, and with a working class much inferior in knowledge to those of France in that day.

Equally crushing is Engels' exposure of the absurdity of supposing that the working class can oppose the Army and Navy with weapons of physical force, in street fights, as advocated by many Communists and Anarchists, After analysing the revolts in the various capitals of Europe, and showing why temporary successes in some places was followed by defeat in all of them, he says :—
Since then much more has been changed, all in favour of. the military. If the cities have become larger, so have the armies. Paris and Berlin, since 1848, have quadrupled, but their garrisons have grown more than that: These garrisons, by means of the railroads, may be doubled inside of twenty-four hours, and in forty-eight hours may swell to gigantic armies. The armament of these enormously augmented troops has become incomparably more effective. In 1848 the smooth bore, muzzle-loaded percussion rifle, to-day the small calibre, magazine breech loader, shooting four times as far, ten times as accurately, and ten times as quickly as the former. At that time the solid projectiles and case shot of the artillery with relatively weak effect, to-day the percussion shell, one of which suffices to shatter the best barricade. . . . . Even if on the side of the insurrection there be more trained soldiers, it will become more difficult to arm them. The hunting and sporting rifles of the warehouses—even if the police has not rendered them useless by the removal of a part of the mechanism—are no match for the magazine rifle of the soldier, even at close quarters.—(Pages 22-23.)
If this was true twenty-nine years ago, how much more does it apply to-day when in addition to all the above advantages, the modern army possesses poison gas, aeroplanes and bombs. What was considered by Engels as a lunatic’s action then, can only be considered as quite brainless to-day. Yet such action still has its advocates!

The final view of the veteran who had lived and taken part in so many stirring events, whose immense knowledge and great intellect were combined in a calm survey of the conditions around him, is given on page 24 :—
The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When' it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But so that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required, and it is this work that we are now performing with results that drive our enemies to despair.
Such is the lesson this volume drives home. In view of its value to the workers, it is a great pity it has not been produced in a cheaper form. The price, at the present rate of exchange, is about 10/-, a sum beyond the power of most workers to pay for a book of 200 pages.
Jack Fitzgerald

Will Thorne and the Others (1917)

Editorial from the February 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard

There was a time when Mr. Will Thorne was spoken of as "honest, blundering Bill Thorne." It was not honesty blundering, however, that led him, after specifically declaring during his last election campaign that he was not standing as a Socialist, to bawl from the balcony of the West Ham Town Hall upon the night of the declaration of the poll which elected him, that he had won a great victory for Socialism and Labour.

At the recent Labour Conference Mr. Thorne, in moving a hostile amendment to a resolution calling for the holding of an International Socialist Conference after the war, asked: "What sort of an International Conference would it be with delegates from Serbia and Bulgaria upon it?"

Would the man who claimed a Socialist victory when he did not stand as a Socialist, say if he stood as a Socialist when he arose to move that amendment and make that remark? It is not at all difficult to supply an answer in the absence of one from the member for South West Ham.

Mr. Thorne does not speak as a Socialist because he is not a Socialist. His claim to be such is exactly on a par with his claim to have won a victory for Socialism when he admitted that he had not fought a battle for Socialism. Not understanding the class struggle, not realising the unity of interest of the working class the world over, he is a nationalist—an anti-Socialist. But just as he regards himself as a Socialist, so he regards other nationalists of other lands as Socialists also. And just as his ignorance of the fundamental facts of the class antagonism has permitted this sordid masters' quarrel to fill him with hatred of his fellow-workers of other climes, so he sees the Thornes and Clynes of other lands seething in a hatred of their own class of other nations such as utterly precludes a peaceful international conference when the present strife is over.

Undoubtedly Thorne is right within certain limits. The hatred with which he regards his fellow working men of Germany and Austria and Bulgaria is no doubt heartily reciprocated by his mental parallels in those countries. And doubtless also that attitude of mind is as fully appreciated by Kaiser, Hindenburg, Bhung, Schippeowner, Schweater and the rest as is Thorne’s similar mental attitude by a like circle at home, as an expression of loyal love and fidelity toward “the hand that feeds.” To argue that such men can sit in peaceable international conference were fatuous, and therefore Thorne, so far, is right.

But this only proves what has already been stated here, that Thorne is not a Socialist. And by implication, neither are his mental images of other countries Socialists. And by the rules of logical argument, since a Socialist conference must be composed of Socialists, and since the Thornes and Clynes and Hendersons of this and other countries are not Socialists, a conference composed of such elements cannot by any possibility be a Socialist conference.

We always have maintained that the late conglomeration called the International Socialist Bureau was not Socialist at all. Events have proved us correct. The first blast of war found the Thornes and Clynes and Hyndmans of the various countries at each other’s throats. The "Socialist International” collapsed. It was not founded on the international unity of working-class interests; it was not reared and tested and levelled and plumbed and kept true and sound by that grand instrument for working-class guidance, the principle of the class struggle. Had it been so based and built Thorne would have been pitched out neck and crop at least at no later date than the first opportunity after he fought an election but did “not stand as a Socialist.” Such evidence that he did not (or would not) understand that the line of cleavage is drawn between the classes, and that therefore the political struggle must follow the same line, and that again therefore the man who “did not stand as a Socialist" in that highest expression of the class struggle, the political struggle, necessarily stood in opposition to Socialism—such evidence, we say, of these things, would have sufficed to place him outside any Socialist International that was such in fact as well as in name.

And the same remark applies to all the members of the Labour Party, who each and every one ran upon the same constitution, and not as Socialists. It applies also to those “Labour representatives” of other countries who have followed the same line of action. These men, and the organisations whose mentality they reflected, who could not separate themselves from their masters in peace time, would not have been permitted to remain in a SOCIALIST international to wreck it because, perforce, they found themselves in hostile camps in war time.

The Socialist can never be a nationalist. His mind can conceive no division of interests between the working peoples of the world. To him capitalism is one the world over, an international torture-rack on which every working-class race of the present day is stretched in agony. To him this capitalist war, terrible as it is, is but one of the torture twists of that rack, wringing impartially the thews of all workers unfortunate enough to be caught in its toils. His bosom, therefore, harbours no hatred for the German or Austrian worker whom he finds in arms against his fellow of Britain or France. Whether the combatants are the willing or coerced tools of the master butchers, and whichever side they serve, they are alike the subjects of the Socialist's pity, regret, and fraternal concern. He knows that they are a part of his class, wherever they are to be found; he knows that their ignorance, so curiously alike in England and France and Germany and Russia, as the late International itself, in both its rise and its fall, amply proves, is part of the class ignorance it is his mission to combat and disperse; he knows that their weakness as well as their strength, their agony as well as their emancipation, their struggle as well as their foes, are international. The only thing he finds in his whole political outlook that is not international is the sectional interest of the master class—before which the International composed of the Thornes and Clynes and Hyndmans of all countries collapsed like a house of cards before a “Jack Johnson.”

This is the difference, then, between Mr. Thorne and hie like on the one hand and the Socialist on the other and it is the difference between an International composed of Labour adventurers and one consisting of Socialists and founded upon Socialist principles. For the former Mr. Thorne may be permitted to speak—for the latter he never shall. Any Congress which may be engineered and set up by men of the kidney of those is doomed to be rotten at the start, since it must start with the assumption that the workers must defend their masters' property. It must therefore crumble at the test, whether it is confined to the “Allies” and neutrals or not.

What Socialism Means (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The object of socialism is to unite humanity and to solve social problems by building a society which can satisfy the universal need for co-operation and material security.

Socialism involves a creative outlook concerned with the quality of life. In association with others, the individual will develop himself as a social being. With enlightenment and knowledge, man will replace the ignorance, false illusions and prejudice from which he suffers in our own day. Socialism is the form of society most compatible with the needs of man. Its necessity springs from the enduring problems, the economic contradictions and social conflicts of present-day society. Socialist society must be based upon the common ownership and democratic control by the whole community of the means of life.

Life will be based on human relationships of equality and co-operation.  Through these relationships, man will produce useful things, construct amenities and establish desirable institutions. Socialism will resolve the conflicts which at present divide man from man. Regardless of ethnic or cultural differences, the whole world community will share a common interest.

Under capitalism the whole apparatus of production are either privately owned, as in America, or state controlled by a privileged minority, as in Russia. The economies of some countries combine both private and state control. Both forms are alien to the interests of the majority, since the priorities of trade and commerce, exploitation and profit-making, dominate life. Under both forms, production for sale on the market is organized primarily for the benefit of a privileged minority.

The building of Socialism requires a social reorganization where the earth's resources and the apparatus of production are held in common by the whole community. Instead of serving sectional interests, they are made freely accessible to society as a whole. Production will be organized at world level with co-ordination of its differing parts down to local levels.

In Socialism there will be no market, trade or barter. In the absence of a system of exchange, money will have no function to perform. Individuals will participate freely in production and take what they need from what is produced. The fact that Socialism will be based on common ownership does not mean that an individual will have no call on personal effects. It means essentially that no minority will have control over or possession of natural resources or means of production. Individuals will stand in relation to each other not as economic categories, not as employers and employees or buyers and sellers, but simply as human beings producing and consuming the necessary things of life.

Socialist society will minimise waste and set free an immense amount of human labour. Armies and armament industries with their squandering of men and materials will be swept away. These will disappear together with all the wasteful appendages of trade and commerce.

Work is a human need not only because it produces the material things of life, but because it is through work that man expresses his social nature.

In present society, human labour-power is the source of profit. Economic antagonism causes strikes and lock-outs. The uncertainties of trade result in dislocation and unemployment. The present chaos generates frustration and violence. Work becomes repugnant when carried on in this context of competition and exploitation. Life is a personal struggle.

In Socialism there will be a common interest in the planning and smooth operation of production. Work will be a part of human co-operation in dealing with practical problems. Work will be one aspect of the varied yet integrated life of the community.

With the change in the object of society, that is human welfare instead of profit, man will freely develop agriculture and housing, produce useful things and maintain services. As well as material production, man will freely develop desirable institutions such as libraries, education facilities, centres of art and crafts and centres of research in science and technology.

It will be a problem of social planning, statistics and research to ascertain the requirements of the community. Although these techniques are used for different ends, there is already wide experience of them. With experience of Socialist production, these planning techniques will gain in accuracy.

Once produced, goods will be transported to centres of distribution where all will have the same right of access to what is available according to individual need. It will be a simple matter of collecting what is required. As well as tradition and geography, it will be a matter of organization and practicality as to which things will require a complex world division of labour for their production and which things will be produced regionally.

Social values
The insecurities of our present acquisitive society drive men into ruthlessly selfish attitudes and actions which frustrate the human need for co-operation. With success in this competitive race goes a hollow pride; with failure there goes guilt and stigma. Against this background the failure is general because where the individual is isolated, co-operation breaks down.

Socialism will establish a community of interests. The development of the individual will enhance the lives of other men. Equality will manifest attitudes of co-operation. The individual will enjoy the security of being integrated with society at large.

The establishment of Socialism does not call for the complete destruction and reconstruction of society. Techniques of production and some of the machinery of administration which can be transformed already exist. The task is to allow their free use and development by and for the community. With the change in the object of society from profit to human welfare will come a change in the function of social institutions. The schools and universities will no longer be concerned with the training of wage and salary workers for the needs of trade and commerce. Education will be a social amenity for life, providing teachers and a storehouse of all accumulated knowledge and skill. Education will not be rigidly separated from other aspects of life. The provision of education facilities will call for some permanent specialists, but knowledge and skill will to a much greater extent be passed on by those actively engaged in their practical application. Education will be tied more closely to the whole process of living.

There will be a body concerned with safety, the co-ordination of services in the event of an emergency, traffic regulation and the like. Here again, whilst some specialists may be required, it will be desirable for members of the community to participate as part of the normal pattern of their lives.

Institutions such as the armed forces, customs, banking, insurance, etc, will become redundant. Socialism will continue those institutions necessary to its own organization. For example, the Food and Agricultural Organization could be expanded to submit plans and execute decisions concerning world food production.

World unity
Socialism will end national barriers. The human family will have freedom of movement over the entire earth. Socialism would facilitate universal human contact but at the same time would take care to preserve diversity. Variety in language, music, handicrafts, art forms and diet etc will add to all human experience.

Democratic control
Socialism will be democratic. World policies will be subject to the control of the world community. The most complete information relevant to all issues under discussion will be made fully available. Elected delegates will carry local viewpoints to a world congress where the broad decisions on all aspects of social policy will be made. From that point, the social machinery would be implemented to carry out these decisions, subject to democratic control through both local and world bodies. Decisions affecting only local interests would be made democratically by the local community.

Whilst the general direction of social policy will be decided by the whole community, many decisions will be technical ones arising out of the problem of this policy. These decisions can be left, subject to regular democratic checks, to men and women with specialized knowledge and experience; but given the whole context of Socialism, they could only be consistent with its general aim--human welfare.

The elimination of vested interests will mean that men will have no ulterior motives influencing their decisions.

The challenge of Socialism
The greatest challenge facing humanity is the need to increase the production of wealth on an enormous scale, but this cannot be done within present capitalist society. Men and resources serve profit. On all sides it can be seen that commerce, trade and vested interests are preventing man from expanding production on a scale necessary to serve the community's needs. Socialism will provide a social framework that will enable man to get on with the job. The initial task of producing enough goods for the whole human family will be a huge one. We do not underestimate the problems of organization and production involved, but to eliminate world poverty must be one of the first tasks of Socialist society.

It is the glaring contradiction of our times that wealth is socially produced but possessed by a minority. Whereas in science, technology and in the development of the means of production man has brilliantly asserted his genius, in his relationships man suffers an abiding failure. It is this failure which is expressed in war, nationalism, racism, world hunger and poverty, unemployment, industrial chaos and social disunity. In all history, man has never suffered such universal frustration whilst having so close at hand the means of building a better world.
Pieter Lawrence

Reformism: A Waste of Precious Time (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The part of the case that separates Socialists most firmly from all other attitudes is our insistence that reform will not do. It is the cause of the most pressure and argument by those who want our energy given to their causes: there are struggles going on for innumerable things, and we should be in all that flailing-about. And to many whose hearts rule their heads it is continually unpalatable. With the world full of misery and suffering, surely — they say — attempts at alleviation must be made; the efforts may be foredoomed, but the compunction at not making them is too great.

Reform means legislation seeking to overcome the problems and defeat the grievances of capitalism. The arguments for it are of four kinds. First, the conviction that in whatever situation Something Must be Done. This is less a theory than a compulsive sentiment, but like all sentiments it is inevitably rationalized and grounds shown to plead for each particular case. Second, the proposition that every reform is an erosion of the present order; given an accumulation of tiny changes, we shall wake up one day to find that a new society has come by stealth. Third, the belief that while working for Socialism in the long term, campaigns on various issues will bring short-term advantages. Last, there is the activist slogan "People are changed by struggle”, which means constant rallying on this and that account in hopes that rebellion may become a habit of mind.

A Bit of History
It should be said at the outset that the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed precisely because reformism had taken hold of the existing movement. The Social-Democratic Federation was the first party in Britain to exist as a partly-Marxist organization, proclaiming the class struggle and the need to overthrow capitalism. (That is not to ignore the old International Workingmen’s Association in which Marx himself played an active part; but it was an association aiming to foster and stabilize revolutionary thought chiefly among trade unionists, not a political party as such.) However, as the SDF grew and laid down fresh policies, considerations of expediency were posed more and more against those of Socialism. While it aimed still at “The Establishment of a Free Condition of Society”, it sought also "measures called for to palliate the evils of our existing society ... for immediate adoption”.

Thus, the free society became a remote objective and "something for now” the actual one. The immediate demands, because they were immediate, required attention all the time not only in propaganda but in tactics too, and the Federation became prepared to ally itself anywhere, anyhow, for its temporary ends. Eventually there appeared a body of dissidents determined to return to Socialist teaching, to independent political action based on class-consciousness and the excision of reformism; and these became the founders of the Socialist Party in 1904. What happened to the SDF was no anomaly, but the inexorable fate of all would-be revolutionaries who open the door to reform. 

An Unamenable Society
The basic question is that of the nature of capitalism. Here again, a vague idea leads nowhere; the policy of Socialists has always been to insist on proper definition of terms, so that what we are talking about is clear. Capitalism is the social system in which the means of living are owned by a section only, leaving the great majority having to work for wages to live. The wages are the price of the commodity sold, i.e. labour-power; like all prices, they depend fundamentally on the commodity’s content — which means that people get what it costs to support them, from buyers who say they cannot throw money about. What must be noted and emphasized is that this is not an exchangeable state of affairs, but the way capitalism has to run. The position of the majority as wage-workers, their differentials only degrees of financial desperation, is unalterable under this system.

More follows. Social problems galore — housing, health, literacy, racial tension, the plight of old age, etc.—are simple consequences of working-class poverty. In addition to them there are the recurrences of war and economic crises, which also are consequences of the production for and competition in markets that is capitalism’s existence; the weight of these catastrophes too falls on the working class, to whom the victories and recoveries mean nothing. In the face of the organic nature of these problems it should seem obvious that attempts to treat them while the cause remains intact are absurd. That is the view Socialists take; but plenty of people make such attempts their vocation. It might be salutary to look at "reform” etymologically as re-form, and consider its activity in that light.

Progress and Commerce
Is all this to say that nothing has changed since capitalism began, or can change? Of course not. Examples to the contrary abound. If one assumes that being alive is a good thing, the expectation of life has grown remarkably. Barefooted children, or children with their legs in irons from malnutrition, have ceased to be a common sight within living memory. Despite the headlines and Mrs. Whitehouse’s obsession about "mugging”, there is nothing like the violence which was taken for granted in everyday life before 1939. Up to the last generation, to have a carpet on the floor, or to possess a car or eat in a restaurant or have regular holidays, was thought luxurious; now those and many other things are commonplace.

However, enthusiasm for apparent benefits should be reserved. Though electioneering parties claim credit for improvements in physical well-being, the fact is that none of the instances given above comes from benevolent legislation. In a broad sense they can be put down to "progress”. But, by itself, that will not do. What "progress” means is that technical and medical knowledge are applied to social life if they are marketable or serve political needs for capitalism. It used to be said that after missionaries had denounced the un-Christian nudity of African tribeswomen, clothing salesmen were the next to arrive. Likewise, to have shoeless children and homes without wallpaper or electricity is to dam up a market. On the other hand, research which finds children poisoned in the streets by traffic fumes is damnably subversive, at least until it provides some selling-point. Nor is this cynical speculation. The pouring of welfare foods down infants’ throats began in this country — see the report of the Royal Commission on Population, 1948 — with the alarm over future military needs: to the drug firms’ delight.

Doubtful Bounties
It may be thought that the gains, nevertheless, are there. Certainly that was true of major reforms when capitalism was still forming its apparatus in the 19th century. The vote and popular education were given by the ruling class for its own requirements, but are indispensable weapons in the struggle to abolish capitalism. The changes in living standards can be traced back to the beginning of the era of relative surplus-value when technical changes brought about, as Marx puts it:
. . . the fact that the same amount of values represents a progressively increasing mass of use-values and enjoyments to the extent that the capitalist system of production carries with it a development of the productive power of social labour, a multiplication of the lines of production, and an increase of products.
(Capital, Vol. Ill, pp. 256-7) 
What the benefits have conveyed, then, is a fresh phase of exploitation. Portraying in “The Man with the Hoe” the mute, brutalized labourer of the 19th century, Edwin Markham asked:
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands.
How shall the future reckon with this man?
The masters, lords and rulers answered by giving him a Council flat and Hai Karate after-shave; the future remains to be reckoned with.

For all the changes in detail that can be seen, in broad sweep there has been none. The situation of the working class and the major problems it is faced with have not altered. Indeed, to compare circumstances today with those of forty, sixty, a hundred years ago is to accept the wrong yardstick. The comparison should be between life as it is and life as it could be; the development of society’s powers, and the restraint from enjoyment of them. By that standard, reform is an idiot’s struggle to get miniscule silk purses out of the monstrous sow’s ear of capitalism.

Reforms at Work
One other thing not realized by reformists is that measures arc granted on the basis of their worth to capitalism: for practical considerations, not sentimental ones. This is why an ideal so often turns sour. The good intentions which furnish support for a project are one thing, the terms in which it is legislated usually another. The outstanding example in our time is that of the Welfare State. As planned by Beveridge, it sought greater State control of the economic system and manpower; giving priority of claim to sick workers and their children over the non-productive old; and the damping- down of wage claims. Yet, presented as the great promise of the post-war world, it was hailed as such by thousands who wanted insecurity abolished but had not read even the moderately small print. Another instance is the recent agitation for the repeal of the Industrial Relations Act. There is general agreement in the Left that the Tories must go and a Labour government be brought in to enact something different; but no-one is asking what, and whether the alternative will be acceptable either.

Some reform is fat-headed, actuated by limited vision of the consequences. Labour’s limitation of office-building, which was a flourish at quelling the speculators and did them a good turn by creating scarcity prices. Farther back, the zeal of prison reformers in having every convict enclosed in his own neat cell, thus creating one of the most dreadful of deprivations — that of human company. And some reform is cynical. The varying of censorship laws can be seen thus, pretending liberal thought or moral concern when the issue is invariably a practical one; and present-day penal reform, preoccupied with the finances of keeping men in prison while the correspondence columns irrelevantly debate justice. One might add reforms in other “moral” matters, like the legalization of abortion and homosexuality; it would be hard to imagine measures like these considered except in times when population growth was conceived as a serious problem.

But, whatever its motivation, the policy of reform does not change the essential nature of society. That is not a matter for argument: the history of social problems, and attempts to deal with them, demonstrates it absolutely. Promises, endeavours and lamentations over the housing problem, for example, can be traced back almost endlessly. “Disgraceful condition of the dwellings inhabited by the poorer sections” (1851); “better housing for workers” (1895); “London’s shame — the slums" (1933); “a million slum houses” (1955) — and so on, to the Shelter reports of today. What other indictment is needed of the futility of reformism?

Where we Stand
The Socialist case follows the logic of the facts. We oppose the patching-up of capitalism, and work only for its abolition and replacement with a system based on common ownership of the means of living. It is part of our case to analyze reform measures and point out their effects — favourable, if and when that can be discerned, as well as otherwise. What matters, however, is not the statements of good intent but the actual legislation; perhaps that is why the Socialist view is so constant an irritation to reformers, since it involves saying “Told you so”, continually.

We do not advocate any reform. It is possible to think of measures which we would welcome for our own benefit — say, a change giving minorities the TV and radio facilities now monopolized by the main parties, or an end to the legislation which stops us selling literature at meetings in public parks. But if a case were seen for wanting this or that to be done, the fact is that there are thousands of people and organizations already in the business of reform. To join it means only adding to, in some other words of Marx, “the length and weight of the golden chain the wage-worker has already forged for himself”. Our business is revolution.
Robert Barltrop