Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Capitalism: the sick society (1980)

Editorial from the July 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

To paraphrase the famous words of Marx: The experience of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as an immense accumulation of tragedies. And for every tragedy there is someone with a proposed palliative—a protester, a reformer, a counsellor—who are often described under the collective sneer of “do-gooder”.

“Do-gooders” come under the lash because they are more than patient reformers; they are busy-bodies, seeking everywhere for trouble to deal with. They excavate society’s misfits and force them, square pegs though they may be, into round holes. They flush out lame dogs and dump them, willing or not, over precipitous stiles. They are all over the place, insisting on the inherent goodness of people, even if they have to probe for it like some surgeon exploring the farthest recesses of an etherised patient’s bowel.

The reformers might argue that they are at least better than the “do-badders”—as if that were all there is to the argument. It can be conceded that “do-gooders” are anxious to involve themselves in social problems, which is preferable to trying to ignore them. They talk about a “caring society” and, although they may be confused about what that means, it can be taken as evidence of their desire for a world which looks after its people.

But further than that the “do- gooders” begin to fall apart at the theories. In many cases they attribute someone’s particular problem to some individual shortcomings or misfortune. There are, for example, still social workers who explain poverty, and the inter-reaction of this upon family relationships, by referring to an insensitive toilet training in infancy. A worker who, having been raised in a slum where only the toughest survive, is quickly aggressive will be pigeon-holed as “anti-social” or “lacking confidence in forming personal relationships” or (most damning of all) “anti-authority”.

Another glaring fallacy is the theory that social ailments can be dealt with in isolation. Bad housing, for example, is not seen as an unavoidable product of capitalism's poverty but as a mass of separate families or persons each of which has a peculiar difficulty and must be treated separately. Mental illness is regarded as arising from one person’s stressful situation when it is truer to say that it is a small fragment in the kaleidoscope of remorseless pressure in the everyday process of trying to exist in capitalist society.

The “do-gooders”, as they trudge their weary way among capitalism’s chaos and dereliction, are blind to the fact which is there in every vagrant’s eye, every city slum, every mental hospital ward. All of these problems are inter-connected; they have a common root and can be eradicated only by attacking that root.

The first matter to be considered by anyone who is concerned with social problems is the nature of society: what is its basis, how does it determine its social relationships, how does it operate? Capitalism is more than an immense collection of individual problems; it is a social system, with the basis of the private ownership of the means of living—the means of producing and distributing wealth.

The owners of the means of life are a privileged class, who employ the rest—the non-owners—in the processes of production and distribution. This privileged class are always alert to preserve and extend their superior position. Assaults against their position are outlawed by capitalism and there is a massive machinery to punish those who try to accumulate wealth outside the system’s legalities. Crime is a problem of property society.

The non-owning class depend upon selling their labour power for a living and their restricted access to wealth expresses their poverty. No member of the ruling class has this problem; none of them suffers from poor housing or involuntary’ malnutrition or vagrancy. Workers’ poverty sours their personal relationships — friendships, marriages, break up under the stress of poverty. Children are rejected and battered by parents who are unable to cope with capitalism’s demands upon them. It is hard for affection to survive in a slum.

It is not surprising that so many workers react to these pressures by trying to escape. Youngsters look for an identity apart from the uniformity of wage slavery in the mob—punks, teddy boys, football hooligans. Or they seek an outlet for their frustrations, or some mark of distinction, in a fantasy of violence. Others retreat into drugs, which can dull the effects of this insecure world and for a while offer an apparently stress-free personality.

Like any attempt to escape from reality, this response is unhelpful. Yet when it is faced, the reality of capitalism is not so hopeless; all that is needed to end this tragic state of things entirely is for the very people who endure it all to cry enough. It needs the working class to resolve to abolish the root cause of their misery and to replace capitalism with socialism, a society based on the common ownership of the means of living and free access to wealth. Socialists have faced this reality and we are confident that only socialism offers hope.

Capitalism kills (1980)

From the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers continue to support a system of society that kills deliberately and efficiently, not only in wars, but also by hypothermia in the aged or malnutrition and outright starvation. Capitalism is responsible for so many of the illnesses common to-day, either directly as their cause or because funds are refused for research into their origins and possible cure.

Harry Smith was a salesman, married with a nine year old son, when he died of a coronary at the age of 41. That was in 1951. Recently his son Howard died at the age of 36, leaving a young wife and two children. On the advice of his doctors he had lived carefully; but he did not even attain his father’s age. Medical research had hardly progressed in the intervening 28 years.

Tragedies such as those of the Smith family are part and parcel of capitalism. How long will we allow this inhumanity to continue? The choice is ours — capitalism, coronary and cancer on top of all the other evils workers suffer under the system, or the establishment of socialism a world where all will live in harmony, producing only for use and not for profit.

Such a society will eliminate the stresses and strains which are responsible for many of today’s illnesses, and all the resources necessary for research into and the cure of such illnesses as may still exist will be readily available. Doctors and scientists will no longer be hampered by “cut backs” and the lack of research facilities and everyone will avail themselves of necessary treatment when they need it — not, as so often happens today, months or even years later — sometimes too late to be of help.

These things are readily available now — if you can pay for them! Eric Morecambe and Peter Sellers did not have to wait for their operations. Tennis pro. Arthur Ashe recently had the arteries to his heart replaced and hopes to resume his career in the near future. The only difference between Howard Smith and these people is that they are wealthy and he was not. With enough money he too could have had the best medical care and advice and might be alive today. Are we prepared to put Howard Smith’s children at risk too? How many more lives must needlessly be lost under capitalism before we, the workers, the vast majority who suffer under the system, decide to get rid of it and introduce a sane society - socialism?
G W Featherston

Obituary: Bob Ambridge (1980)

Bob Ambridge speaking in Hyde Park. Undated.
Obituary from the April 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

With sadness we have to record the death of Bob Ambridge as the result of a road accident in February at the age of 81. He was one of our staunchest comrades, active in socialist propaganda right to the end. For 53 years he was an exemplary Party member, a tower of strength as speaker, writer, tutor, EC member, Branch secretary, organiser—and anything else that was needed. Bob Ambridge was self-educated, widely read, informed in many fields, frequently staggering friends and opponents by his erudition and depth of knowledge. He was a devastating debunker of all that was pretentious, steady as a rock in Party affairs, he never wavered in his hold of socialist principles.

A Conference without Bob Ambridge was unthinkable: where with ruthless logic he disposed of anything he saw as crackpot nostrums or gimmicks. He was incapable of ‘tactics’ or dissimulation. He said precisely what he thought, always objective, oblivious of personalities and without rancour. He was a model chairman, impartial, a genuine democrat who would listen quietly to acrimonious assaults and then give his firm ruling. He was a tall, upright, handsome man, and behind the outward gruffness lay a shy, warmhearted person with a keen sense of humour. When he ‘retired’ to South Wales 15 years ago, instead of taking a rest, he began a new lease of life with our Swansea comrades. And we, in London, looked forward to Bob Ambridge’s twice yearly conference attendances as a provincial branch delegate. In this new role we were privileged to his wise counsel as recently as October last year.

Bob Ambridge left his mark on the Party. We are all the better for knowing him. To Frances Ambridge we send our sympathy and shared sorrow.

Sharpeville remembered (1980)

From the March 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 21 1960, at the African township of Sharpeville in the Transvaal, police fired on a large crowd of Africans who, in response to a call by the Pan Africanist Congress, had gathered to demonstrate against the Pass Laws. Sixty-seven people were killed and a further one hundred and eighty-six injured. Three more Africans were killed while attending a similar demonstration at Langa location, near Cape Town.

The PAC had announced on February 14 that it would launch a non-violent campaign against the carrying of pass-books, which they described as “the symbol of white domination”. The plan was that all African men should leave their pass-books at home, march to the nearest police-station and give themselves up. If brought before a magistrate they would make no plea, nor would they accept bail. It was further stated that the campaign would not be called off until the Pass Laws had been abolished and various other conditions had been met, including the promise of a minimum wage of £8.6.8. (£8.34) a week and no victimisation.

Predictably, police witnesses, in their official testimony, denied responsibility for the slaughter at Sharpeville. The familiar excuses were offered and accepted: shots had come from the crowd; sticks and stones had been used; the police were in danger of being overwhelmed. It is revealing to note however, that the senior district surgeon of Johannesburg, Dr Jack Friedman, at the post mortem examination he had conducted on fifty-two of the Africans killed, recorded that 70 per cent of the bullets had entered from the back. Of the police, only twelve were injured, none of them seriously.

In the debates which took place in the House of Assembly on the Sharpeville massacre every effort was made by the government spokesmen to whitewash the actions of the police and to blacken the motives and behaviour of the Africans.

Even in a police state as tightly controlled as South Africa's, any attempt to cover up an event as horrific as Sharpeville was bound to fail. News of the massacre made the headlines all over the world. The event was variously interpreted, some commentators going so far as to assert that revolution was just around the corner. Although there were — and are — many apologists for the behaviour of the South African authorities support for racism and police brutality isn’t confined to South Africa — there was a widespread feeling of shock and horror. Even many in the business world contrived to put up a passable imitation of outrage—as well they might; for Sharpeville promised to be much more than the mere disciplining of a handful of recalcitrant blacks. At stake was the continued ability of the South African ruling class to divide, rule and profit from one of the great cheap-labour markets of the world.

South Africa is effectively a slave state. Its mainly black workforce is divided along racial lines. In order to maintain control over their enormous reservoir of dirt-cheap labour the South African ruling class has underpinned its position by ensuring, through the granting of extensive and exclusive privileges, that white workers are persuaded that they have no interest in identifying with their dark-skinned fellows. For example: where black workers are deliberately under-educated, or not educated at all, white workers are granted free access to all levels of state education; subject, of course, to the competitive rigours of the examination system. White workers may freely organise in trade unions which black workers may not join. Blacks, under the policy of apartheid (separate development) have no permanent right of settlement outside specially designated areas the so-called ‘Bantustans’ or ‘Homelands’. Whites are free to live where they please. A corollary of all these circumstances is the massive job discrimination which exists throughout South Africa.

It is not as if the South African capitalists have any greater love or respect for their white employees than they have for their black or brown ones, despite the fact that all white South Africans are encouraged to believe that the blacks, whom they slightingly refer to as the ‘Bantu’, are essentially less than human. (Can this account for the behaviour of one Dominee J. J. du Toit, of the Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk reported in the Guardian, 17.1.80—who refused to conduct the funeral service, in Germiston, of a white employer because two truckloads of his former black employees turned up to help bury him?) It is rather that they exploit an opportunity to capitalise on the prejudice, jealousy and greed which they have themselves assiduously fomented among the working class as a whole. It is a heightened illustration of what Karl Marx correctly identified as a ‘false consciousness of class’;—heightened because it includes the particularly vicious concept of racial superiority. (Of course, it repays capitalists everywhere, and not only in South Africa, to play off one group of workers against another using wage levels, religion, colour, language or whatever, in order to do so. The method may be examined even closer at hand among our own coloured brothers and sisters whose isolation currently serves the miserable purposes of such as the National Front; or Enoch Powell; or Thatcher).

Sharpeville, then, represented a threat — not to the capitalist system as it was—and is—operating throughout the world, but to the peculiar and highly lucrative manner in which it was operating in South Africa. A police massacre of unarmed, protesting, black near-slaves is hardly calculated to bathe either South African or international capitalism in a very flattering light. In short, the whole affair was acutely embarrassing. But that was not all. If world opinion were allowed to get out of hand then it could begin to endanger the continued amassing of the huge profits hitherto enjoyed by some of the world’s largest corporations and banking interests.

They need not have worried. An initial tactical suspension of the Pass Laws by the South African Government led to even greater repression, with the—by then—re-introduced Pass Laws being more forcibly upheld than before. The black Africans’ right of assembly was withdrawn and the police were armed with even more punitive powers. (Following mass protests and strikes the police had resorted to indiscriminate brutality on a scale and of a type which shocked even many white bystanders.) A state of emergency was declared. The leaders of the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress were gaoled and their organisations proscribed, mass arrests were made of opponents of Government racial policy. South African and world capitalism rode out the storm.

As time passed Sharpeville slipped into the shadows and for the capitalists it was business as usual. Who today can truthfully say that the seventy black workers who died at the hands of South Africa’s police thugs brought about any noticeable change of policy in that country except for a determination on the part of the white ruling class to tighten the screws of oppression? Far more than that seventy have died since: hangings, shootings, mysterious ‘suicides’ by ‘suspects’ who ‘leaped’ from high windows during police ‘interrogation’. Some, like Steve Biko, were kicked and beaten to death for no better reason than that they were black and politically articulate. Then there were the Soweto riots, resulting in yet another crop of police killings. Hundreds languish in prisons such as Robben Island, convicted on trumped- up charges which the South African judiciary and police, lackeys that they are, have ensured need no proper substantiation.

What message, then, should workers draw from these and other similar happenings around the world? Firstly: it cannot be emphasised strongly enough that, appalling though such disasters as Sharpeville are, they are nevertheless manifestations of a condition which all the world’s workers share: the capitalistic exploitation of their labour power in exchange for wages. If this can be achieved voluntarily then so much the better. If it cannot then our masters can resort to the methods described above. This would be true even were the present white regime in South Africa to be overthrown and replaced by black rule: black governments throughout Africa bear witness to the validity of this assertion. Doubters will shortly be in a position to test it anew against events taking place in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia on South Africa’s borders. At the time of writing, that country—ostensibly preparing for elections—is demonstrating all the signs of a plunge into a civil war even more ferocious than it has suffered hitherto. What is certain is that whoever emerges ‘victorious’ will proceed with as much dispatch as possible to take over capitalism where the last lot left off. (In reassuring Rhodesian whites of their future position, the so called Marxist Robert Mugabe was reported by the BBC on 27 January as saying that if his party came to power they would have to inherit a capitalist economy and any reforms would be built on that basis.) It will make not a scrap of difference whether the troops who hold the ring are South African, British, Cuban, or whatever: black and white workers alike will merely find themselves saddled with a new set of exploiters. The demands that are made of them will not have changed. And it is certain that unless and until workers are prepared to understand this then any protest they may make can in the end be no more effective than that which led to the bloodletting at Sharpeville.
Richard Cooper

Where we stand (1980)

Editorial from the February 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands solely for socialism—a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community. The object and declaration of principles of the Socialist Party were laid down in 1904 when a group of revolutionary socialists broke away from the Social Democratic Federation, a party which paid lip service to the idea of socialism, but saw fit to campaign for a programme of reforms of capitalism ‘in the meantime’. From the start the SPGB recognised the fundamental distinction between reformism and revolution: the former professes to eradicate specific symptoms of capitalism; the latter aims to wipe out the disease. The SPGB has never gone to the working class with a programme of reforms. Our message has always been clear: the capitalist system will never run in the interest of the working class; only socialism can solve the problems of capitalism. The seventy-five years, in which the SPGB has constantly stated this theme, are themselves testimony to the futility of trying to reform the present system. After three quarters of a century of welfare reforms workers still have to go out and sell themselves on the labour market for a wage or salary in order to live.

All this time after those few men and women left the reformist road and established a socialist party, capitalism still commands the support of the mass of the working class. Millions have died for want of food, millions have been slaughtered in wars, millions have suffered in Nazi concentration camps and Stalinist purges, Tory, Liberal, Labour, Social-Democrat, Christian-Dcmocrat, Communist and Fascist governments have been elected by workers to preside over this inhumane mess. None has made any fundamental difference. Dictatorship or political democracy, rich nation or poor nation, Christian or Moslem country, the vast majority of workers have willingly given the capitalist class the go-ahead. The SPGB has stood alone in condemning capitalism and proposing a workable political alternative.

In 1917 the myth was created of a working class revolution for socialism in a land where the working class was only a small minority of the overwhelmingly peasant population, where capitalism was still emerging and where socialist ideas hardly existed. The Leninism of the Russian Revolution and subsequent revolutions of its kind has done much to distort the workers’ ideas of socialism. It still remains, that socialism is an impossibility unless the majority of the working class is socialist. It is the SPGB which has correctly analysed the state capitalist regimes which pose as socialism.

The organs of capitalist propaganda, from the churches to the schools to the mass media, have told workers that they are naturally lazy, selfish, aggressive and unco-operative. Workers are told that owing to this natural inability they must accept political leadership by men of wealth and wisdom. Despite the collective intelligence of the church, the aristocracy and the politicians society is still in a hopeless mess. Could it be that, unlike sheep, human beings need critical thought and not leadership in order to make the world a fit place to live in? The SPGB has consistently argued that the working class is quite capable of understanding socialist ideas without leaders and of organising a co-operative society-without government.

Capitalism has set worker against worker. In time of war it whips up wild nationalist sentiments, deceptively trying to associate the interest of property less workers with that of the owning minority. When capitalism goes through its periodic crises scapegoat minority groups are singled out to be blamed for the problems. Capitalism breeds racial hatred. Through the institution of its family, the present system creates social differentiation between male and female workers. All of these things—nationalism, racism and sexism make the task of socialist unity much harder. The SPGB is unique in insisting upon the unity of interest existing between workers of all countries, colours, ages and sexes.

In every area of political debate the Socialist Party of Great Britain takes a principled position in favour of the interest of the working class. For three quarters of a century our principles have been maintained without compromise. What has happened during that time has not led us to believe that we are wrong. But correctness is not enough. Socialist ideas can only be put in force when the majority of workers understand and want socialism, not just at election time, but all the time.

Women in Parliament (1979)

From the December 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sixty years ago, in December 1919, the House of Commons saw its first woman MP, Viscountess Astor. She was not the first woman to be elected, having been preceded in November 1918 by another woman of wealth and title and supporter of capitalism, the Countess Markievicz who had been elected as Sinn Fein MP for a Dublin constituency. (Southern Ireland was at that time still part of the United Kingdom with MPs at Westminster). The Sinn Fein party however was boycotting Parliament so Markievicz never took her seat.

Lady Astor was elected as Conservative MP for the Sutton division of Plymouth. She was an American and was already wealthy before her marriage to Viscount Astor. Astor was the MP for Plymouth, but on the death of his father in 1919 he entered the House of Lords and Lady Astor replaced him as MP, occupying the seat until 1945. She had long been an advocate of women’s suffrage and (along with an obsession about the “evils of alcohol”) took a prominent part in Parliament and outside in the campaigns for equal pay and for legislation affecting the employment of women and children.

Women had been given the vote in 1918, but with qualifying age of 30, against 21 for men. The qualifying ages were brought into line in 1928 (reduced to 18 in 1969.) It was claimed by Lady Astor and the women’s suffrage organisations that the entry of women into the House of Commons would bring about a fundamental change in legislation, with corresponding improvement in wages and working conditions not only for women but generally. As, since 1928 women voters have exceeded men voters by about 2 million, the campaigners confidently expected to see a big increase in the number of women MPs. In this they were disappointed and only a tiny minority of MPs are women. The number reached 29 in 1964 and is now 18.

In an article in the Guardian (30 October) Shirley Williams, who lost her seat as Labour MP at the recent general election, made it clear that she still holds the view that Parliament would be a very different place if there were more women MPs, irrespective of party. But she has to admit that, once women voters preponderated, the male members took up the so-called “women’s issues”—after all it was votes they were after.

Many Acts of Parliament have been passed affecting these issues, including the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, both of which came into force in December 1979.

How much in fact have these Acts altered the operation of capitalism to the benefit of those for whom they were intended?

In the first place the advocates of such legislation overlook that the employers, whether private companies or nationalised boards, are in business to make a profit and with this in mind will always pay as wages as little as they can. Secondly, employers will seek legal ways round the Acts, or will ignore them. In the 1930s it was estimated that half the agricultural workers were being paid less than the minimum rates that were supposed to apply: they preferred to accept lower pay rather than be unemployed and perhaps be evicted from their tied cottages.

In their pay, women’s average weekly takings were increasing relative to men’s in the years before the Equal Pay Act, possibly reflecting the larger numbers of women workers who were organising in trade unions. Women’s pay has continued to increase since 1975, but according to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth the position in 1978 was that women workers as a whole received only 59 per cent of the pay of men, this reflecting the fact that a larger proportion of women are in the lower-paid occupations.

Over the same period women workers have been increasingly hit by unemployment. In the years 1973-75 the number of unemployed women was 22 per cent of the number of unemployed men. Since 1975 the figure has risen each year and in 1978 was 37 per cent.

In short capitalism has largely nullified the intentions of those who thought to change women’s position by legislation. Women workers, like males are exploited as members of the working class. Their problems call for working class action not the remedy of Lady Astor and the women’s organisations based on the simplistic belief that having women MPs would change the scene. In 1919, replacing a male supporter of capitalism in Plymouth by his wife, another supporter of capitalism, made no difference to capitalism or the politics of the working class; and the same applies to Shirley Williams’ plea for more women MPs now.

Before women had the vote male workers, who formed a big majority of the electorate, chose to return to Parliament Tory, Labour and Liberal MPs committed to the continuation of capitalism. Since women got the vote they have continued to follow the same barren policy.
Edgar Hardcastle

Discovering capitalism (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

It would be an exaggeration to say that we owe the Industrial Revolution to the stink of bad offal. Yet the fact is that when Portuguese ships were sent to explore the coast of Africa, it was partly in the hope of discovering an easterly route to the Indies, and so destroy the Muslim monopoly of the spice trade. Spices were essential to the meat-eating classes, in an age of famines and epidemics when refrigerators, deep freezes and canning were unknown.

Henry the Navigator’s crusading zeal to join forces with Prester John coincided with his country’s economic needs. Portugal possessed few resources, and the strength of the Islamic stranglehold on Mediterranean trade, with the high prices extorted for goods passing through Venice or Egypt, was too great. In 1415 Portugal invaded Morocco, an adventure which finally failed, and Henry began to organise those expeditions south which by 1430 brought corn from Madeira and the Azores. By 1443 regular cargoes of African slaves came to Lisbon, enabling sugar plantations to be developed. By the end of the fifteenth century the Portuguese had reached India and Brazil, and Columbus had found the Caribbean islands.

Religious and political motives combined with the economic needs of the European mercantile class to override the authority of Ptolemy’s world map. They overcame, too, the contemporary belief that near the Equator the heat would frizzle a man like pork crackling and ships would be stuck fast in hot seas thickened to the consistency of treacle.

Yet these voyages would not have happened if various technical problems had not been solved. By the fourteenth century, the use of the magnetic compass made it possible for ships to travel out of sight of land even in dull weather. Henry's shipwrights developed caravels, which combined the speed before the wind of Atlantic square-rigged vessels with the manoeuvrability of Mediterranean lateen-rigged craft. His captains joined the ‘log, lead and look-out’ navigating technique of the Atlantic seamen with a Mediterranean skill in using charts and compasses. Navigation was also assisted by the growing use of astronomical instruments like astrolabes, in use in the 1480s and later replaced by quadrants.

As they reached down south of the Equator, Henry’s captains reported that they could no longer see the Pole Star. This caused his ‘think-tank’ to devise a new method of establishing latitude from the sun’s altitude at noon. Astronomy benefit ted from the navigators' demand for accurate tables. During the seventeenth century, navigation became an art, with quadrants, sextants, telescopes and bulky almanacs, complete with correction tables for the dip of the horizon, refraction, and lunar and solar parallax. The Butterfield quadrant of the seventeenth century was accurate to one-tenth of a degree. Instrument making depended in its turn not just on the needs of astronomers and navigators but on other developments in optics, glassmaking. lense-making and metallurgy.

Another result of the increase in geographical knowledge was the development of map-making. Fifteenth century seamen used charts on which compass-roses and criss-cross rhumb lines indicated bearings. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Ortelius, Mercator and other Dutch cartographers developed maps, charts, globes and atlases to an extent never known before. In 1477 the first engraved (printed) maps were being produced — among them the ancient Ptolemy world map of c.150 AD, destined to be outdated within twenty years by the discovery of the sea route to India. By the end of the sixteenth century, Mercator had discovered how to project an accurate picture of the nearly spherical earth onto a two-dimensional map.

There was a striking contrast between the Elizabethan maps of which Raleigh wrote: “The fictions (or let them be called conjectures) painted in Maps doe serve only to mis-lead such discoverers as rashly believe them.” (his expedition produced, ironically, just such a map of the River Orinoco in South America, complete with Amazons, cannibals, men with heads beneath their shoulders, and tigers!), and the view taken in the eighteenth century when Dalrymple declared: “Geography is a science of facts. . .  Surveys and Astronomical Observations only can give Precision.”

The development of printing and engraving techniques enabled the discoveries of the explorers, combined with the observations and theories of sixteenth century astronomers, to be widely disseminated, which revolutionised the intellectual climate. Facts undermined the authority of Herodotus, Aristotle and Ptolemy, and threatened even religion. The world which produced Newton and Halley was a very different one from that which produced Erasmus.

Yet the old ideas stubbornly held their ground. Ptolemy’s map showed the Indian Ocean as landlocked, a notion which lasted until the end of the fifteenth century. He also suggested that there was a vast southern continent: this Terra Australis Incognita was duly drawn on everyone’s map of the world. Mercator believed (1569) in “a continent so great that, with the southern parts of Asia and the new India or America, it should be a weight equal to the other lands” and Herodotus’ theory of symmetry persisted into the mid-eighteenth century, when Dalrymple wrote that a southern continent was “wanting on the South of the Equator to counterpoize the land on the North and to maintain the equilibrium of the earth's motion”.

Columbus, overestimating the width of Asia and therefore underestimating the westward distance from Spain to Asia’s east coast, believed he could quickly reach Asia by sailing west. This mistake was as fruitful as was Dalrymple’s argument in promoting Cook's new discoveries. In both cases, the new discoveries were not at all those expected.

It has been said that ’great men are beginners'. The ships’ captains who sailed to Africa’s Gold Coast in the fifteenth century began the slave trade. Sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations developed in the New World. On Barbados the first settlers were dispossessed by subtle and greedy planters in the seventeenth century. Monoculture took over in Europe’s colonies: sugar and tobacco in the Caribbean, rubber in the Congo, coffee in Brazil, opium, jute and tea in India. The oceans of the world teemed with capitalist shipping: slavers from Bristol and Liverpool (they could be smelt a mile off), sugar, cotton, tobacco, tin, gold, silver, rubber, guano, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, jute and copra — these are only some of the goods brought to swell Europe’s capital. The labour employed on plantations was not usually free labour. Cotton and sugar cane plantations were mainly slave-based, though some convicted or indentured labour was also employed. ‘Blackbirding’ raids on Pacific islands like the New Hebrides to provide ‘contract labour’ for Queensland sugar plantations went on right through the Victorian era.

The effect of capitalism on relatively backward peoples was to destroy their cultures (Benin in West Africa sunk into a Dark Age of catastrophic wars and human sacrifices), to decimate or annihilate their populations by disease, forced labour and often by deliberate genocide and to reduce agricultural villages or tribal communities into debt-ridden peons, share-croppers and indentured labourers on massive plantations.

Even in the twentieth century, indentured or contract labour, hardly distinguishable from slavery, was producing cocoa on San Thome; the ‘labourers’ were still being shipped from Angola in the fifties (John Gunther. Inside Africa, 1955). In the Belgian Congo, “the monstrous assembly line which spewed out the rubber was very simply worked. The only machinery required was a supply of guns, knives and whips. Labour presented no problem.” (Rene MacColl, Roger Casement). Torture, mutilation, murder and terror were as common on the Putumayo in Brazil as in the Congo. The same can be said of eighteenth century Jamaica, which Dr. Johnson described as “a place of great wealth, a den of tyrants and a dungeon of slaves”.

These are only some of the horrors produced by the capitalist system. The early discoverers bartered and plundered. The Merchant Venturers used profits from early ventures to accumulate greater capital. Expanding colonial trade helped develop Europe's big ports, shipping and industry. The growth of the cotton plantations assisted the development of the factory system. The world market in commodities expanded at an increasing rate from the sixteenth century onwards.

The discoveries also led to a development of scientific techniques and instruments. By the eighteenth century naturalists travelled with Cook on his expeditions, Linnaeus was able to classify many botanical species, and in the nineteenth century a sea-going naturalist, Charles Darwin, developed the theory of evolution. A hundred years ago, the Challenger, on a three-year voyage, took five hundred deep bearings with a hemp line several miles long; each sounding took a day. In 1926-7 a German research ship took 67,000 soundings while under way at twenty-minute intervals. Now Glomar Challenger and Explorer can drill deep into the earth’s crust at the bottom of the oceans - a measure of the tremendous growth of human knowledge and technology under capitalism.

The history of exploration and discovery provides numerous illustrations of the extent to which many interrelated factors - ideas, outstanding individuals, technology, economic needs — contribute to developing our knowledge and how we use nature. Knowledge is a social product; not abstract pure science but something sought and accumulated in a given social, political and economic context, only to be obtained in certain historical circumstances. “Men make their own history”, wrote Marx, “but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” (18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).
C. Skelton

Picketing and the law (1979)

From the August 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The right to strike was only secured in 1875 when the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act legalised the act of picketing as long as it was ‘peaceful’ and did not constitute a ‘conspiracy’. There is considerable legal controversy about what picketing actually is but, essentially, it is the necessary effort made by workers to prevent other workers from aiding the employer with whom they are in dispute, either by taking over their jobs or by supplying the employer with goods needed to maintain efficient production. It is a correct and necessary tactic without which the strike weapon would be sterile. Any efforts by the government or the judges to weaken the right to picket peacefully is a direct attack upon the right to strike. Workers should be opposed to them.

The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act was no sooner passed than it was used by the courts to prevent picketing. This was done by employers bringing civil actions against workers for what was considered to be a ‘malicious interference with the freedom of contract’. In short, while the 1875 Act permitted peaceful picketing it did not preclude employers from prosecuting strikers for conspiring —an important and mysterious word in labour law—to damage their employer’s interest. The 1890s, mistakenly portrayed by some historians as the golden decade of New Union militancy after the success of the 1889 dockers’ strike, was a period of vicious employers’ backlash against the right to picket.

Pickets were prosecuted and found guilty of criminal intimidation. But it was left to the police to determine what was meant by intimidation. Communicating that there was a strike was considered legal, but attempting to put an argument to a fellow worker was classed as intimidating behaviour. In 1891, the Queen’s Bench decision in the case of Curran v. Treleavan slightly improved things by laying down that pickets could only be guilty of intimidation if the action threatened would, if executed, have been a criminal offence. In other words, a picket could be found guilty of intimidation for threatening a delivery man with a punch on the nose if he crossed the picket line, but not for simply speaking to him which had been viewed by the courts as intimidation before 1891.

In 1895 it was decided by the courts in the case of Trollope v. The London Building Trades Federation that it was a ‘conspiracy to injure’ for a union to publish a black-list of non-union firms. Needless to say, blacklists against employees seen to be ‘trouble-makers’ have never been opposed by the law. The most important case of the 1890s was that of Lyons v. Wilkins in 1899. Although Lyons, a leather goods manufacturer, was unable to prove that Wilkins, the secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Fancy Leather Workers, had provoked his members to use threats or violence while picketing, he was found guilty of ‘maliciously inducing or conspiring to induce, persons not to enter the employment of the plaintiff. So, the court had come down firmly on the right of employers to employ free, or non-union labour. It was in this case at the Court of Appeal that one of the judges, Lindley, declared that
You cannot make a strike effective without doing more than what is lawful.
The culmination of this anti-union period was in 1901 when the court accepted the action by the Taff Vale Railway company against the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants which had organised picketing against the former during a bitter strike. The union was fined £23,000 to cover damages to the company and costs. The Taff Vale judgement paved the way for the legal crushing of trade unions simply for engaging in effective action.

In 1906 the legal position was remedied and, with two notable exceptions, has remained in accordance with the 1906 Trades Disputes act to this day. That Act granted immunity to trades unions from action in respect of employment contracts and granted the legal right to picket:
It shall be lawful for one or more persons, acting on their own behalf, or on behalf of a trade union or of an individual employer or firm in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, to attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, if they so attend merely for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information, or of peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from working.
Despite government efforts in 1927 and 1974 to alter this, the current law regarding picketing remains the same as in 1906. Now, after the strikes of last winter, the new Conservative government has pledged itself to revise legislation on picketing. Any attempt by the government to restrict the right to picket will be resisted by many trade unionists. The reaction will not be unanimous, as it was not in the case of the Taff Vale judgement. Then, Richard Bell argued that
I have all along held views . . . as to the conduct and action of some of the rank and file and the younger bloods of the trades unions . . . Rules, executive committees and responsible officials have been ignored .
He went on to almost welcome Taff Vale as
a useful influence in solidifying the forces of trade unionism and in subjecting them to wholesome discipline. (Railway Review, 2 August, 1901)
Legal restrictions which give greater power to the leaders of the trades unions are likely to be supported by a number of them. But even if a majority of trade unionists do resist the Act, the state’s power is far greater than that of the unions. To criticise the state for betraying the industrial interests of workers is like blaming the Mafia for failing to wipe out crime. The state is the instrument of the capitalist class and it will always play their tune.

Temporary improvements
Just as one wing of capitalism wants picketing law made restrictive, so the other wants it made more lenient. Workers are asked to put their faith in Labour politicians to win legislative improvements on behalf of the unions. Such reform will not solve the problems faced by the working class. Temporary improvements can be won by reforms but, in comparison with the immediately attainable political conquest of political power by the working class, such reforms are not worth fighting for. After the Taff Vale judgement, millions of workers put their faith in Labour politicians to represent their interests in Parliament. Their reward has been the 1945 government which set the troops against the striking dockers, the 1966 government which published the blueprint for the Industrial Relations Act in In Place of Strife and the 1974 government which set the police on to the pickets at Grunwick and showed contempt for the low paid in the recent strikes. If Labour are supposed to be defending trades unions in Parliament, how would they behave if they were attacking them? The Fabian Research pamphlet, The Picket and the Law, after proposing a number of legislative reforms, makes the pitiful admission that
. . . none of the proposals will involve a revolutionary change in the legal framework of either industrial relations or civil rights.
So, as with all reformist struggles, much energy will be expended and no change will be made to the system which is the root of all oppression. This is the most serious charge against the trades unions: they can never bring about basic changes in the lives of their members because they are industrial-defensive and not political-offensive bodies. They arc simply the carriers of the begging bowl for the working class. The journey from trade union to socialist consciousness by the majority of the working class will be one from faith in leadership to faith in themselves, from bargaining with the employers and the state to owning and controlling the means of wealth production and distribution, from catching the crumbs to possessing the loaf.
Let the revolution, not reform, be the way of expressing working class solidarity. This government is wretched and anti-working class and pro-employer and so will be the next one and all others. Labour or Conservative, they are our enemies because they are compelled to act against our interest by the nature of the profit system which they uphold. The solution to repressive laws is not better government but no government.
Steve Coleman

Political Notebook: Hard work and happy families (1979)

The Political Notebook Column from the July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

It's tough being a capitalist these days. What with inflation and profit squeezes, not to mention petrol shortages, it’s almost like being a worker. After all, do we not share the same problems? Are we not one big happy family? Maggie Thatcher and the Tories would try to make us believe that. She wants us to work together for the good of the ‘nation’. She says that we are all in the same boat, rich and poor. Maggie has even discovered a new aspect of human nature — everybody wants to leave some wealth to their children. That is why she wants to sell off council houses, so that the slums that belong to the local authority can be handed over to the poverty-stricken people who have to live in them. Then, no doubt feeling suitably grateful, workers can work even harder for the rest of their lives under the wonderful illusion that they are leaving something to their children. No doubt the grateful workers will vote Tory as well. So you can look forward to receiving the mortgage in your parents’ will, as well as the clapped-out motor car.

Now according to the philosophy of Maggie, it’s all a question of hard work. Those that work harder get on and get the best rewards. Like a director of the insurance group, Alexander Howden, for example. Mr. I.R. Postgate was recently given a pay rise of £1,884. No, not per year, per week. His gross salary in 1978 rose from £45,000 per annum to £143.000 per annum (The Guardian, 4.4.79.). Funnily enough, the report forgot to mention the productivity deal that goes with this 100 per ccnt-plus increase. No doubt Postgatc will be able to increase proportionately the number of inter-company memoranda, not to mention swings with the golf club.

Then again, according to Maggie’s right hand (or should it be -wing?), Keith Joseph, it’s all a question of initiative. For example, it you want to get on, find something that people want and sell it. It’s dead easy. One obvious way is to rake round the attic and sell some of your old junk, even bits of paper will do. Look at Lord Cobham. He sold some old paper described as family archives for £164,000 (Daily Telegraph, 13.12.78). That’s real enterprise. Mind you, it is hard work. At the end of the Sotheby sale, poor Lord C. was described as looking ‘tired and upset’. Why don’t you sell your archives too and become rich? There’s that picture of Grannie that has been lying around for ages; or what about you and the kids at Margate in ’73?

Still, not everyone has got an attic, but what about the cellar? Sell off your old bottles for example. The Duke of Northumberland sold off his spare plonk — 18 bottles of South African sherry (1791 or 1809 the year is so important) for £3,305 (The Guardian, 23.5.79). And of course, a corkscrew to go with them; one sold for £350 and one for £170. So what about those old cans of beer . . . 

Another obvious thing to sell if you need a bit extra to make the family budget go round is an old castle or two. Lord Brooke, for example, sold Warwick Castle to Madame Tussaud’s for one-and-a-half million pounds. Mind you, can’t please all the people all the time. The Farl of Warwick, Lord Brooke’s dad (described as a tax exile living in Paris, though his home is in Rome - confusing, isn’t it?) said of his son, “He’s a clot . . .  he could have got four times that sum.” (News of the World, 8.10.78).

Still, 1 am sure she’s a good mum. Her child won’t suffer from such extravagances. Nor will any other children. After all, Maggie says we live in a caring society where all children are well looked after, just like Annie’s little one. The fact that the number of children living in families with incomes below the Supplementary Benefit level has risen between 1974 and 1977 from 260,000 to 500,000 (The Guardian, 27.3.79) is quite irrelevant. The Child Poverty Action Group reported in March this year a ‘seemingly inexorable’ rise in the number of families with children living below the official poverty line. All scroungers, Maggie? Living off the state. Sir Keith? Refusing to work. Jim Prior? Well no; 400,000 out of the 500,000 are in families where the breadwinner is in full time employment. But the CPAG has the answer. They wanted the Chancellor to raise the child Supplementary Benefit allowance from £4 to £4.85 per week. Just think of all the bottles of South African 1791 the parents could buy with that.

Anyway, even the poorest families could probably give their child an apple occasionally. After all, that 85 pence would probably cover three or four pounds of apples at today’s prices. This year there is going to be a surplus of over half a million tons of apples in the EEC. Wonderful! All those poor families will be given a few apples instead of that extra money. It could even save the increased burden of Supplementary Benefits, Geoffrey Howe is no doubt thinking. But what actually will they do with the spare apples? Obvious dump them. (The Guardian, 10.3.79). Why? To keep prices up. Who does that benefit? The producers. Are they the same as the consumers? No - one buys, the other sells. The buyers, if they are poor, can’t afford the apples; the producers only want to sell if they make sufficient profit. So it isn’t one happy family after all, is it, Maggie?
Ronnie Warrington

The working class in Russia (1979)

From the June 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

All class societies are based on the separation of the producers from the means of production. Under capitalism the means of production and distribution monopolised by a minority function as “capital”, as wealth used to produce other wealth with a view to profit.

The source of this profit is the unpaid labour of the working class. Being excluded from the ownership and control of the means of production, the working class can only get a living by selling their ability to work, mental and physical, to a capitalist employer for a wage or salary. But this wage or salary, representing the value of the labour power they have sold, is less than the value of what they produce. The difference is surplus value and belongs to the capitalists who have bought the labour power. It is the source of their profits and of all other property and privilege incomes.

If we look at the social position of the producers in Russia we see that they are in basically the same position as are the working class in the West. They too are excluded from ownership and control of the means of production and they too are forced to sell their ability to work for a wage or salary. Defenders of the Russian regime argue that in reality the situation is different: that Russian workers work not for capitalist employers but for the State which represents the whole community, so that they are in a sense working for themselves and the profits they produce belong to them.

This view is incorrect, both from a theoretical point of view and on all the evidence we have on the social and political scene in Russia. We are also told in the West that “the state represents the whole community” but workers in state-owned, or nationalised, industries know different. They still have to organise into trade unions to fight against their employer, the state. The state, in fact, represents not the community but the ruling class, the class which monopolises the means of production. When the state takes over an industry, it does so on behalf of the ruling class as a whole and functions as a kind of “collective capitalist”.

On theoretical grounds, then, we have every reason to suspect the claim that the state in Russia represents the community. This suspicion is fully confirmed when we examine the structure of the Russian state. In most Western countries the state is subject to formal democratic control: its top officials are elected or are answerable to elected assemblies. This is not the case in Russia. Here there is a single legal political party from whose ranks come all the top state officials and leaders. This party itself is not organised on a democratic basis but is controlled from the top downwards by its politbureau and central committee. State power in Russia, then, is concentrated in the hands of a minority quite as small as, if not smaller than, that in the West.

The fact of the existence of a political dictatorship in Russia, concentrating state power into the hands of a single political party, shows that the claim that the Russian state represents the community or the workers in Russia is quite without foundation. The state clearly represents the interests of the minority which controls it and through it the means of production. But if this is the case then the surplus value produced by the working class in the state factories of Russia belongs not to them but to this minority which controls the state. As in the West the working class is exploited by a class which monopolises the means of production and distribution.

The Russian ruling class in fact has a stronger hold over its working class than have Western ruling classes. In the West, after many hard struggles, the workers have won the right to organise into trade unions and to bargain, and if need be to strike, over their wages and working conditions. What they can achieve by such trade union action is not much, but at least it is a means of minimum protection against pressures from their employers. The Russian workers do not have this right nor this protection.

Organisations called “trade unions” do exist in Russia but these are not organisations formed by workers to protect their interests; they are state organisations into which the working class are brigaded, whose functions are precisely to see that strikes do not take place and that the work of production (of profits) is not interrupted. Strikes do take place in Russia but they are generally severely suppressed by the police. An attempt was made in January last year by some Russian workers to form a sort of trade union (though we would rather call it a “claimants union” since its purpose was to try to redress grievances against the state rather than to negotiate over wages); most of those responsible are now in psychiatric hospitals. The Russian ruling class is clearly not going to allow genuine trade unions to be formed in Russia except under mass pressure from the workers. As they did in the West, the workers in Russia are going to have to struggle against their rulers to obtain the freedom to organise.

It is the same with regard to political democracy. Limited as this must be by the class structure of capitalism, it is still the framework within which can develop the working class movement, both to defend its interests under capitalism and to replace capitalism by socialism. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and so on are needed by the working class so that they can acquire the majority socialist consciousness needed before capitalism can be abolished. The Russian ruling class, however, has the same fear of political democracy as it has of genuine trade unions and does the best it can to suppress the growing civil rights movement in Russia.

We workers in the West must wish our fellow workers in Russia every success in their struggle to win elementary trade union and political rights. But we do them a great disservice if we do not identify the Russian rulers for what they are: a class of state capitalist exploiters living off the backs of the Russian workers and oppressing them through a ruthless political dictatorship.

This is all the more necessary since this class of exploiters uses the language of socialism to disguise its class rule, thus discrediting the whole idea of socialism among millions of workers throughout the world who knowing what goes on in Russia, think (correctly) “If that’s socialism, no thank you!” But it’s not socialism and has nothing to do with socialism. It is state capitalism.
Adam Buick

Airey Neave and the tactics of illusion (1979)

From the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The killing of Airey Neave by an assassin’s bomb brought much huffing and puffing from politicians on the virtue of democracy. Margaret Thatcher said that Neave’s death “diminishes us, but it will enhance our resolve that the God-given freedoms in which he believed . . . will in the end triumph over the acts of evil men.” Some politicians have of course reacted hysterically, demanding blood letting. George Gardiner, Tory MP for Reigate, for instance, said that he “would gladly see every man and woman found guilty of causing death by an act of terrorism stood up against a wall and shot.” (Sunday Express 1.4.79).

Had Neave been an ordinary citizen it is doubtful whether the incident would have made News at Ten, but then politicians are special cases. Indeed, Neave was reputed to be a man of outstanding qualities, a real Bulldog Drummond, who escaped from Colditz and worked with the French Resistance during the Second World War under the code name ‘Saturday’. Notwithstanding his fighting qualities, he was also said to be a “soft spoken” and "gentle” man. (Sunday Express 1.4.79). Thatcher said he was “a very dear friend” who was “strong to root out injustice.”

However, for all his reputed qualities of gentility, bravery and integrity, there was another side to his character. Neave was the Tory spokesman on Ireland, and as such advocated and supported vicious and repressive government. Neither he, nor Gardiner for that matter, expressed sympathy for the 13 victims of the "Bloody Sunday” massacre conducted by the British Army. Neither was he outspoken against the torture (sorry, inhuman treatment) of IRA suspects. In fact, Neave defended the now illegal methods of interrogation. He also approved of the activities of Murder Incorporated—Special Air Services—and wanted the death penalty reintroduced for “terrorist” offences (Sunday Mail 1.4.79). In short, Neave was anything but gentle.

His death will therefore not be mourned by socialists, although we do strongly condemn the tactics of the so- called Irish National Liberation Army and other organisations who seek change by the bomb.

In recent years a number of “liberation organisations” have sought to achieve their political ends through violence. The Angry Brigade was one; the Red Brigades and Baader Meinhof Group were others. These claimed to represent the interests of the working class, although they had no mandate to do so. They sought justification for their acts in the passivity of the working class, who they regarded as blind and stupid for failing to recognise their own interests. They therefore had to be galvanised into an offensive against capitalism by an insurrectionary vanguard, who through acts of violence against the capitalist State would show the workers that the system was vulnerable and could easily be damaged. On seeing this the workers would awake from their political slumber and overthrow capitalism by armed struggle. At least, that is how the story goes; reality is somewhat different.

The tactic of terror is an old anarchist one. It came to prominence in Russia in the late nineteenth century, when a political group known as the People’s Will assassinated the Czar Alexander III. Since then various organisations have employed the tactic from time to time, assassinating leading political figures in a vain attempt at social or political transformation. By changing the leaders it was, and is, assumed that some change or collapse of the system will follow. All that happens however is the new leaders are appointed to carry out similar policies to their predecessors. It is just a simple case of new wine in old bottles.

Neither have these anarchistic groups made a favourable impression on the working class. Indeed, such actions have had the opposite effect. In Italy the recent assassination of ex Premier Aldo Moro brought millions of workers out on strike in a spontaneous protest against the murderous activities of the Red Brigades. Similar protests occurred in Birmingham a few years ago after the IRA had bombed a pub, killing a number of young people. The event led to the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act. So they are not even successful. Neither are they remembered. Names such as Prescott, Baader are quickly forgotten.

It might then be reasonable to ask why they engage in the activities in the first place, when the results seem so disappointing. Some no doubt take to it for the excitement. But the main reason is undoubtedly one of isolation. Because they have failed to gain the support of the working class by legitimate means, they abandon the hard, and more difficult task of propaganda in favour of what seems a quicker course—violence.

We reject the notion that a gun rather than an idea can bring about socialism. It can only come about through the united class conscious action of the majority of workers. There are no short cuts or easy ways, just sheer hard and repetitive work. Not a glamorous as gun battles, not sensational enough to get front page treatment from the press, but in the end more worthwhile and lasting. For if you cannot convince a person to vote for an idea, you’ll never convince him to fire a gun for it. In the struggle to win over the working class for socialism violence has no role to play. We leave that to the followers of the forgotten romantics. As for the political lackeys of capitalism, like Neave, we offer no sympathy, just implacable hostility.
Bill Knox

Romantic revolutionary (1979)

Book Review from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

William Morris. The Marxist Dreamer. Paul Meier. 2 Vols. Harvester Press 1978.

Two works have recently been published, both written to show that William Morris was a follower of Marx. One. by E.P. Thompson, William Morris, From Romantic to Revolutionary, was issued in a revised edition with a useful postscript in 1977. The other is the work under review. William Morris’s socialism is no news to the SPGB. A lecture which he gave in Oxford in 1883, later reprinted as Art under Plutocracy, was published by the SPGB in 1907, apart from two paragraphs, and reprinted with a long introduction in 1962. The carefully chosen title which the pamphlet was given — Art, Labour & Socialism — shows how clearly Morris's message was understood.

Paul Meier’s book was originally published in France in 1972 with a more appropriate title — The Utopian Thought of William Morris. The author deals first with the influence of religion and of William Morris’s bourgeoise background; and for the greater part of volume I with the influence of various writers and thinkers, including the Utopian socialists — Saint- Simon, Fourier, Louis Blanc, Owen, and Henry George. The longest section, however, is very properly devoted to Ruskin, because his ideas concerning social problems, especially those of poverty in a rich world, the meaning of work, the significance of art, profoundly impressed the young Morris. Meier shows that Morris’s study of Marx not only quickened his understanding of these issues, and gave to Ruskin’s vague idealism real purpose and meaning, but made Morris a revolutionary socialist, which Ruskin failed to become.

Meier offers convincing evidence that Morris knew Marx’s Capital and understood it. Morris’s own alleged statement often quoted, ‘To speak quite frankly, I do not know what Marx’s Theory of Value is,

and I’m damned if I want to know', comes from Bruce Glasier’s William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement, published in 1921, long after the event. Meier examines it at length, and concludes that Glasier’s memory was perverse and at fault; and even if Morris said this in the heat of the moment, there is nothing else in his writing, nor in what was said about him by others, to warrant the charge. He quotes Cobden-Sanderson, who inherited Morris’s copy of volume I of Capital . . . ‘before it came to me’, he says, ‘it had been worn to loose sections by his own constant study of it’. Probably, Meier thinks, Morris was diffident when it came to economics, where he was not on his own ground; concealing, as he often did, a greater knowledge than he cared to admit.

Much of the book is taken up with what, according to the author, is Marx’s theory of the “Two Stages of Socialism’, and his attempt to prove that Morris accepted this. He pursues the argument into the pages of News from Nowhere, probably taking that work rather too literally. Marx, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme of 1875 spoke of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, a phrase he used on other occasions. Engels, at the same time, explained clearly what he meant — the workers will take over the state power in the revolution, and, having captured it, will use it to hold down their adversaries, the capitalist class. There would be, therefore, a transitional period before complete ‘‘freedom’’ was established —that is, socialism proper; when the state, having served its purpose in the revolution, will fade out of existence. Meier apparently takes this to mean, and argues that Morris means, that socialism cannot be established at once, immediately after a revolution, and that there will be a period during which some kind of control and state intervention will be necessary. Concerning this, what Marx and Engels had in mind early in life can be debated. Later Engels certainly came round to the view that the majority must understand and accept the meaning and responsibility of socialism before the conquest of power. Even in 1881 he had moved towards this concept. In his 1891 introduction to Wage Labour and Capital he wrote — ‘A new social order is possible, in which the class differences of to-day will have disappeared, and in which — perhaps after a short transition period   — which, though somewhat deficient in other respects — will in any case be very useful morally — there will be the means of life, of the enjoyment of life, and of the development and of the activity of all bodily and mental faculties . . .’ (my italics). Morris, by a ‘transition’ period, appears at different times to mean different things: a period before the revolution when the workers have gained concessions and capitalism has been modified — which, unless such a change was likely to bring socialism nearer, he deprecated; a period of armed struggle; ‘State Socialism’ — though, as Meier admits, he uses this expression in more than one way; a period after the revolution when the mess and remnants of capitalism are being cleared away. The truth is that Morris was not consistent, and that Meier gives him credit for greater consistency than he displays.

In support of his case Meier at all times quotes widely from Morris, though he is not always careful to ensure that his quotations are of approximately similar date. He is apt, too, to curtail them when it suits him; and in context they sometimes have a different ring. Happily, for the most part, he relies on readily available sources. It is unfortunate that he is so concerned to fit Morris into a strait-jacket with ‘Two Stages of Socialism’; but this remains, none the less, a valuable work. It covers an immense ground. It contains much that is new. It is scholarly, and, in general, fair in its presentation. It disposes of, once and for all, some of the myths about Morris— that he understood neither history nor Marx; that his socialism was an aberration, and that towards the end of his life he abandoned it altogether. Above all, the work, in spite of these reservations, places Morris clearly in the stream of Marxist thought and it shows how this informs his philosophy of art and of work. It is highly readable — often movingly so. Sadly, the price (£28.50! !!) puts it beyond the pocket of most workers. It is hoped that a cheaper edition is on the way.
C. Devereaux

Wales or the World? (2016)

From the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Wales or the World?
That’s the issue in the Wales Assembly election – says Brian Johnson, the Socialist Party of Great Britain candidate in Swansea West.
‘Could the Welsh Assembly be the most important thing that has ever happened to Wales?’
This was the question posed by a journalist Brian Walters writing in the South Wales Evening Post in March 1999 shortly before the first Assembly elections. He suggested that the Assembly would profoundly affect our lives deciding issues on education, health, housing, transport.
16 years on, is Wales any better? Are the problems in Wales – job insecurity, poverty, crime, poor healthcare -- any less than anywhere else in Britain?
The answer has to be ‘no’. The reason for this is clear.  These problems don’t come from particular constitutional arrangements. They come from the basic way society is organised – production for profit and ownership of the vast majority of the wealth by a tiny minority of people: the global system of capitalism.
The other parties
This is what all other political parties exist to administer. They have different ideas on how that system can be best maintained, but all agree it must be retained.
Many of their supporters have good intentions but are unaware that, in campaigning for these, they are helping to maintain this built-in system of minority privilege. However different the policies of Corbyn seem from those of Cameron, they offer no alternative to the present way of running society.
No matter how well-meaning politicians may be, they can’t control the system – it controls them. The best any government can do is ride the storms of the market.
So what's the alternative?
We propose an alternative to the system based on ownership of capital and market forces that currently exists in Wales, the UK and worldwide. This alternative is a society of common ownership that we call socialism.
But not ‘socialism’ as you probably know it. Not the type of dictatorships that collapsed in Russia and elsewhere and that were in fact a form of state capitalism. Not the various schemes for state control put forward by some in the Labour Party.
For us socialism means something completely different and something much better. We are talking about:
•           a world community without states or frontiers based on participatory democracy
•           a society without buying and selling where everyone has access to what they require to satisfy their needs, without the rationing system that is money
•           a society where people use the earth’s abundant resources rationally and sustainably, and freely contribute their knowledge, skills and experience to produce what is needed

To sum up:
•           If you don't like present-day society
•           If you’re fed up with the way so many people are forced to live – hanging on for dear life to a job that gives little satisfaction and doing it just for the money
•           If you are sick of seeing grinding poverty alongside obscene wealth
•           If you are sick of the Earth being abused by corporations who couldn’t care less about the future or the environment
•           If you think the root cause of most problems is the market system and the governments that maintain it
. . . then you’re thinking like we are.
What you can do
We are not promising to give you the society we describe. We are not putting ourselves forward as leaders.
The new society is one without leaders just as it is one without owners and wage-slaves. It is a wholly democratic society, which can only be achieved when you – and enough like-minded people – join together to bring it about peacefully and democratically.
If you agree with this, you will obviously not want to vote for anyone but our candidate. In casting your vote for Brian Johnson, the Socialist Party of Great Britain candidate, you will be voting for the kind of socialism you – and we – stand for.