Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The way we live today (1981)

From the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

The name of the present worldwide social system we all live under is capitalism. It operates in every country all over the globe without exception, including USA, Russia, Britain. Egypt, China. Everywhere. It has many glaring contradictions: rich alongside poor, desperate poverty alongside immense luxury, starvation alongside good food being deliberately destroyed; suffering and painful illness alongside advanced medical treatment which is ready and available but which people have not the money to pay for. And many more examples that can quickly come to mind after a little thought.

It is the capitalist system itself that is the basic cause of nearly all the problems human beings face all over the world: homelessness, misery, mental illness, violence, greed, envy, general dissatisfaction and war. No one person or group of persons is at fault for this however. No blame can he attached to individuals personally. It is neither the rich man’s fault nor the poor man's fault. It is the fault of the system itself.

Capitalism has evolved out of past systems over thousands of years. But now we have reached a point in history' where the vast majority of the human race, as as whole, must consciously organise itself to alter the whole basic structure or things will continue as they are, and quite possibly get even worse, so bad in fact that whole sections of the human race could be wiped out.

The crux of the problem revolves around ownership. But not just personal ownership on a small scale, like one person owning a coat or a washing machine or a car. These are relatively unimportant. The problem is larger, yet quite simple to see. In other words we are talking about the ownership of factories, transport, offices, mines, machines, tools, energy resources, raw materials. And we all depend on these means for food, clothes, warmth, shelter, travel and entertainment. in short, we depend on them for life itself.

The problem at present lies in the fact that these means —which we all need to live — are owned and controlled by a small minority of the world’s population, which means that the rest the vast majority are dependent for their livelihood on this minority. Yet it is the vast majority — those who have no alternative but to work for a living — who actually produce, organise, build, administer, provide services and distribute all the wealth but who can only obtain limited access to whatever is produced; while the small minority — who do not hare to work for a living — have access to virtually anything and are able as a result to live in comfort and often in great luxury, simply because they own the means that produce the wealth.

The world is split, basically, into two sections. The vast majority, who are the working class, and the small minority, who are the capitalist class. This is not to say that one class are good people and the other class are bad. Being good or had does not come into it. We are talking about a factual economic situation, not an attitude. And the working class includes not only those engaged in actual production or manual labour but all those indirectly concerned as well. Therefore the working class includes, without exception, teachers, farm workers, factory workers, doctors, policemen, nurses, steel workers, firemen, dockers, managers, miners, salesmen, the armed forces, shop assistants, foremen, office staff. In fact, anyone who of necessity is in the position of having to work for a wage or salary, or who has to present themselves as available for work.

And no matter how high or low the wages are the situation is the same: the vast majority are forced to sell their only real possession, their physical and mental energies, their labour-power, in order to get the money to buy food, to pay rent or mortgages, for warmth, clothes, entertainment. and to care for their families. And they generally receive just sufficient to provide these needs they are constantly struggling to make ends meet, which in turn causes insecurity, anxiety, depression, envy, mental illness, greed and in many eases causes people to steal from and even to kill one another. It is the very fact that there is a money and wages system at all that is the problem.

And it is because of this wages and money system that there is a continuous conflict between the two economic classes, the small owning class and the large non-owning class: between, on the one hand, the owners, whose aim must always be to create more profits so as to continue to live in comfort and security, and on the other hand, the working people, who in turn are always struggling to improve, and in most cases simply to maintain their own standard of living. Trade unions, strikes, lock-outs, go slows, works to rule, overtime bans — all these are clear indications of this struggle. Even those in “professional", administrative and office occupations are also clearly involved in this struggle. And do not fall into the trap — as some falsely do — of thinking that these people, belong in some separate section called the “middle class”. There is in real terms no such thing as the “middle class”. Anyone who has to work for a living, whatever their job, is a member of the working class and cannot escape this continuous struggle, unless of course they are lucky enough to win a tremendous amount of money on a lottery or the football pools, which is about as likely as being struck by lightning.

But this struggle is not essentially about the division of wealth. It is not about sharing out wealth and money more evenly. It concerns instead the very ownership and control of the means that produce the wealth. And for so long as one section owns and the other does not, then there will always be this conflict. And all governments in all countries have  no option, whatever they try to do to even things out, but to act on behalf of the small owning section. Profits and wages are exactly the opposite of each other. An increase in one is exactly a decrease in the other: hence the never-ending antagonism between the working class and the capitalist class. Therefore all governments have no option but to continue — whatever they claim to the contrary — the unequal and divisive capitalist system of production, which also leads to conflict and wars between other countries.

But there is a way out of this predicament. It is this:

The only way of resolving this difference of interests is to do away with this out-dated capitalist system under which this perpetual antagonism is bound to exist. This is not a naive, unrealistic utopian dream. It is entirely practical and is the only realistic alternative. Only the global abolition of capitalism will suffice. All attempts to tamper with individual effects of this system have always failed and always will rail. Capitalism's economic laws make it impossible for it to work in the mutual interests of all. It has to be completely abolished and completely replaced with a better system whereby all human needs will be catered for, whereby food is produced to be eaten, houses to be lived in, where everyone will stand equal in relation to the wealth human beings produce, whereby goods are produced solely for social use. a system of society which is based on the total common ownership of the means of living, and whereby everything in society is controlled democratically by and in the interests of the whole worldwide population.

This will mean the freedom of all people, regardless of colour, sex or place- of-birth. There will be no need for money, wages, buying and selling, since everyone will be able to take quite freely of anything that is readily available. The best will be available to all, since only the best possible will be produced. There will be no wars since all wars are economic wars No boundaries or rival countries to overthrow or dispossess. No poverty, no economic stress, no homeless, no exploitation. no drudgery at boring, useless, profit-making jobs. Each will have the opportunity to do whatever is suitable to their own personal satisfaction and for the good of society as a whole — all quite voluntarily. Jobs such as banking, accounting, selling, insurance, ticket-collecting, will disappear There will be no leaders, no governments over people, simply an efficient and humane administration of things in general, whereby society as a whole democratically makes its own decisions and controls its own at affairs for the good of one and for the good of all. The public power of force and the protection of private property and the government which operate it will have no place when all that is in and on the earth is owned in common.
Paul Breeze

Trade Unions and the State (1981)

From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Trade Unions today are respectable organisations. Their leaders move in lofty circles, both nationally and internationally, and sit on royal commissions and boards of major charities. Unions, too, are to some extent partners with employers in the management of production, and are consulted to varying degrees by governments who need their advice and cooperation. But this situation is fairly recent: less than fifty years ago, union involvement with government was minimal. It is only just over a century since unions achieved any adequate legal status, and fifty years before that they were actually illegal.

It has been argued that the first unions were a response to the Industrial Revolution, so that their history should be dated from the late eighteenth century. An alternative view sees the unions as the descendants, albeit much altered, of the mediaeval craft guilds, which were transformed by the conditions of capitalist wage labour. This latter view has recently been supported by R.A.Leeson in Travelling Brothers’:
I would argue that the “trade unions” of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries derived a heritage from the earlier draft organisations by direct and indirect means, by links that were not only traditional and imitative, but also organisational. The unions in many trades have a pre-history as well as a history and a very long and proud one. Rather than being called “spontaneously” into existence by the Industrial Revolution, many of them were instead utterly transformed from what they had been before.
So we must examine “what they had been before”.

Guilds arose from about the thirteenth century as a form of organisation among all those who in feudal society were neither nobles nor ecclesiastics. One type of guild (also called a craft, among other names) embraced all inhabitants of a town who followed the same occupation or trade. Such guilds established minimum standards for goods, and maintained strict regulations for apprenticeship (generally a seven-year term), as a way of controlling skills and reducing competition. In 1351 the Statute of Labourers was passed, laying down maximum wages in every trade. Labourers were supposed to remain in their town or village and accept whatever wages were offered, rather than move elsewhere in search of higher pay. Such regulations were, in theory, directed at all craft members, whether masters or “yeomen”, for both belonged to the guild. Gradually, however, the powers of the masters, or “livery”, increased to the point where the law could be called upon to protect their interests. A law of 1548-9 prohibited craft “confederacies” that tried to lay down the price for work (for a second offence, the punishment was a fine of £40 and the loss of the accused’s ears!). For the master guild members were now full-scale employers, breaking the guild rules by taking on, as a source of cheap labour, more apprentices than they were entitled to.

It was against a background of increased influence on the part of the guilds that the nation’s rulers passed in 1563 the Elizabethan Statute of Apprentices, popularly known as Queen Betty’s Law. Seven years’ apprenticeship was reconfirmed, as was the earlier law against “confederacies and conspiracies” on the part of the workers. The aim was to harmonise relations among the different groups within each guild and to ensure that the guilds as a whole were subservient to the crown and the landowning class. But the nature of society was changing: as the merchants and craft-masters grew more powerful, they bit by bit ignored and went beyond the Statute, seeing it as an obstacle to industrial development. In 1753 Parliament stated that attempts to control entry into a trade, along the lines of the guilds, were “contrary to the liberty of the subject”. The regulations regarding apprenticeship blocked the availability of cheap labour to the rising capitalist class; the Statute of Apprentices had become a restraint on capitalist development.

The journeymen of the crafts attempted to use the provisions of the Statute to defend their position. This was more and more necessary because of the increased migration, especially of rural labourers uprooted by enclosing landlords. Begging was illegal, and such people were forced to seek work in the urban manufacturing areas:
Thus were the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system. (Karl Marx: Capital, vol. l, ch. 28)
The first half of the eighteenth century saw a number of laws aimed at controlling employees: for instance, in 1726, an Act against “unlawful clubs and societies” in the woollen trades. The journeymen’s clubs—which the guilds had now become — established inter-city links: a “tramp” system whereby a workman could travel from one town to another seeking work at the official rate (the public house connected with the trade often held a book listing vacancies) and, if successful, be lodged and given money for the next stage of his journey. And so local craft-based organisations began to be transformed into something closer to national trade unions.

This was the period of repression of popular movements: in 1795 Acts were passed making it treasonable to incite people to hatred of the government and illegal to hold meetings of more than fifty persons without notifying a magistrate. Demands by the employers for laws against workers’ organisations continued. In 1799 and 1800 they were rewarded with two Combination Acts, by which unions which had been at best tolerated by the powers-that-be and much circumscribed in their scope of activity, were made illegal. In 1814, the apprentice clause of Queen Betty’s Law was repealed, leaving the workers with neither legal nor organisational means of resisting the lowering of wages and the capitalists’ control over their working lives. But the Combination Acts did not in fact succeed in suppressing the trade unions which, during the period of their illegality, were comparatively flourishing. For one thing, it was the employers, not the government, who were expected to do the actual prosecuting, and this they proved reluctant to do. It was after the passing of the Combination Acts that the tramping system reached its height. It not only facilitated (and required) inter-town contact, but also kept the unions in existence, and frustrated the intentions of the law-makers, whose regulations could not affect the tramps. As one employer stated to a Parliamentary Select Committee:
The law cannot take hold of these men for they leave gradually, man by man and get employment in other places; thus the Combination Laws are by that means completely avoided.
It was both because of their ineffectiveness, and because of the beliefs of some that the unions only existed on account of their illegality, that the Combination Acts were repealed, in 1824 and 1825.

Trade unions were now illegal, but their exact status and power were still unclear; attempts at combination could still fall foul of the law. It was after the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1834 that the Tolpuddle Martyrs were transported to Australia. They were trapped in a complex legal web, involving the 1797 Mutiny Act, and were in fact guilty of “administering an oath not to reveal a combination which administers such oaths”! Despite such difficulties, unions expanded in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It is noticeable that the major legislation setting forth their legal standing all but coincided with the extension of the vote to urban male artisans in 1867.

Against this background, the government in 1866 convened a Royal Commission on trade unions. The following year, a court decision declared that unions were associations "in restraint of trade” and hence not able to claim the protection of the law for their funds, even if they were not exactly illegal. The minority report of the Royal Commission served as the basis for the 1871 Trade Union Act: unions were given adequate legal status and, importantly, their funds were protected. Picketing, however, was declared illegal. Unlike many other countries, no legal “right to strike” was established, the unions were simply given specific exemption from the penalties which they would otherwise automatically have incurred at Common Law, which looked with disfavour on those who interfered with the blind working of market forces. The 1871 Act formed the basis of labour legislation for exactly a century.

The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 made peaceful picketing legal, so that conspiracy for the purposes of a trade union dispute was not now punishable. This was a period of major change in the trade union movement, with the founding of many new unions, not based on craft lines or descended in any way from the guilds, and recruiting the unskilled and semi-skilled, regardless of trade or industry. At the same time, the tramp system was dying out. Going to another town in search of employment had some point when there was a good prospect of work being available, but was useless during periods of mass unemployment. Since the 1830s, some unions had allowed their members to stay at home and collect out-of-work benefit, rather than go on the tramp, and this system now became general. There were then no government labour exchanges, old age pensions, or sickness or unemployment benefits. Unions provided these services — for their members only, of course — at the cost of great strain on their financial resources. For the rest there was only the Poor Law.

Union members were at that time far fewer in number than today: even in the early 1900s union membership represented only fifteen per cent of the workforce, compared with the current figure of over fifty per cent. But the union leaders were becoming conscious of their potential power and influence, and of the need for a voice in Parliament. Consequently, in 1900 was formed the Labour Representation Committee, which in 1906 became the Labour Party. This founding of a party by trade unions was unusual: elsewhere in Western Europe it was precisely the other way round, with “left-wing” parties being founded first and later creating their own union movements.

“Rapid" growth
The first Labour MPs were among those calling for the state to take over the benefit scheme run by the unions. It was obvious that the unions could not administer these schemes efficiently, and that the interests of capitalism necessitated a reliable — though not too generous — system of sickness and unemployment benefit and of labour exchanges. William Beveridge, who was instrumental in the establishment of the “welfare state”, appreciated the need for a mobile and well-maintained reserve army of labour:
To be able to follow the demand (for labour) men must possess greater powers of intelligent movement from place to place; they must possess also power to move from trade to trade or . . . must have better guidance in the first choice of occupations. To be able to wait for the demand, men must have a reserve for emergencies; they must not be living from hand to mouth, they must through insurance or its equivalent be able to average wages over good and bad times and to subsist without demoralisation until they can be re-absorbed again after industrial transformations.
Through Acts of 1909 and 1911, the government took on some of the benefits previously paid by the unions.

Elsewhere, however, the unions were coming into conflict with the state and its courts. The judgement in the 1900 Taff Vale case meant that unions could in effect be sued by employers for losses they had sustained as a result of strike action; in 1909 the courts declared that unions could not use their funds to support parliamentary candidates. Both judgements were reversed by Acts of Parliament. The unions were now rapidly growing in size, and their members increasing in militancy. Between 1910 and 1912 there were some major strikes, of South Wales miners and London dockers, and then a national miners’ strike. Even during the First World War, there were strikes in defiance of wartime legislation. In fact the war itself led to great advances in union membership, to eight million, about forty per cent of the workforce.

It was not to last. The twenties and thirties were decades of massive unemployment and a drop — almost a halving — of union numbers. In the aftermath of the General Strike, the 1927 Trades Disputes Act split unions in government service off from the TUC, restricted picketing and outlawed sympathetic strikes. (Incidentally, it also provided that trade unionists had to contract in to pay the political levy to the Labour Party; in 1946 the Labour government re-established the undemocratic contracting-out system.) After their 1926 climbdown, the TUC leaders were determined to avoid workers taking action on such a scale again and entered into talks with big employers. The TUC General Council stated that their policy was:
for the trade union movement to say boldly that not only is it concerned with the prosperity of industry, but it is going to have a voice in the way industry is carried on . . . The unions can use their power to promote and guide the scientific re-organisation of industry.
The union bureaucracy was well on the way to collaboration with both government and employers. In 1931 J. H. Thomas, once General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, joined the National Government under Ramsay Macdonald and acquiesced in its policy of reducing railwaymen’s wages from forty-four to thirty-eight shillings a week.

However, it was during the Second World War that union leaders’ involvement in government, and hence their role in defending the communal interests of the capitalist class against the workers, became deeper than ever before. Ernest Bevin, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, became wartime Minister of Labour, a post which gave him draconian powers over the allocation of labour to the war effort. There were legal restrictions on pay bargaining, including the outlawing of strikes, measures which a non-union minister might have had trouble in enforcing (though the laws against strikes were ineffective anyway). Some observers have eulogised this period and the role of the unions:
. . . the British trade union movement is miraculously capable of exercising a progressive and highly effective influence on this country. It was between the formation of the Churchill coalition in the terrible spring of 1940 and Labour’s great victory at the polls in July 1945 that a real and lasting social contract was forged between the unions and the. politicians. (Robert Taylor: The Fifth Estate).
Taylor cites as fruits of this contract the “welfare state” and the commitment to peacetime full employment — neither of which could truly be characterised as “lasting”.

Since the war union membership has grown steadily, especially among white-collar workers, as has union leaders’ willingness to co-operate in government policies aimed at reducing working-class living standards. When a Conservative government was returned in 1951, the TUC General Council offered its support and co-operation. In 1961, a sterling crisis led to a six-month freeze on pay rises, and the government established the National Economic Development Council. The unions decided by a majority to participate in NEDC,
. . . the minority arguing that the government was only involving the unions in planning in order eventually to implicate them in incomes policy, a view for which there is considerable support. (Colin Crouch: The Politics of Industrial Relations.) 
NEDC has now become an important forum: six senior union leaders meet with cabinet ministers and representatives of the Confederation of British Industry and nationalised industries every month.

“In Place of Strife”
In 1965 there was another sterling crisis, and the government (now Labour again) asked the TUC to agree to some statutory control over pay agreements and to keep its own member unions in order. Another six-month pay freeze was then imposed, and since then there has been a more or less continuous series of incomes policies, whether statutory or supposedly voluntary, all with the aim of keeping down wages. In 1969 the White Paper In Place of Strife was issued by the Labour government, aimed both at placing various restrictions on unions and also at increasing the authority of the union bureaucracy: unofficial strikes were to be made subject to strict statutory limits (and currently about ninety-five per cent of strikes are unofficial). This never became law, but the Tories’ Industrial Relations Act did: again, among other provisions, unions’ powers over their members were strengthened, with unions being obliged to take disciplinary measures against members striking in breach of the procedures laid down in the Act.

The Industrial Relations Act was repealed in 1974, since when there has been a fair amount of labour legislation, covering areas such as health and safety at work, unfair dismissal, and sexual and racial discrimination. As a result, workers may not be quite so much at the mercy of their employers as they once were, but their subordinate position at the workplace, and in society as a whole, has not been altered one jot. The political and judicial representatives of the capitalist class, however, like to represent the unions as overly powerful enemies of freedom. For instance, in the course of one judgement in 1977, Lord Denning stated:
Parliament has conferred more freedom from restraint on trade unions than ever has been known to the law before. All legal restraints have been lifted so that they can now do as they will.
This is a typical Denning remark: preposterous, class-biassed nonsense. The Grunwick case is quite sufficient to show that unions cannot just “do as they will”.

One of the aims of recent legislation has been to increase the authority of full-time union bureaucrats over their unruly and allegedly strike-obsessed members But there is a paradox here. in that governments also believe that union leaders often force their unwilling members to strike: hence the call far compulsory strike ballots. The closed shop is another area where governments have contradictory policies: on the one hand, non-union members can lessen the effectiveness of a strike, but on the other hand all-union membership can make the job of controlling workers that much easier. This, then, is the kind of trade union movement that the capitalist class would like to see: one that exercises reliable control over its members and is both able and willing to water down their demands for higher wages and better working conditions. One way of achieving this is to have union leaders sit on government economic bodies and attain the trappings of some power or influence. With its annual economic review, the TUC is an economic and political pressure-group like so many others.

The unions are a necessary weapon that they help to prevent employers from keeping wages down too much but, because of the nature of capitalism, they are strictly limited in what they can achieve for their members. Their proper sphere of activity is that of defending workers’ conditions and standards of living, not in helping the capitalist class to administer their system. However, there is little point in leftists bewailing “betrayal” by the union leaders, for the unions can only be as good (as active, as militant, as democratic) as their members. In the absence of a class-conscious working class, trade unionists have the unions they deserve.
Paul Bennett

Obituary: Bill Lamb (1981)

Obituary from the March 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bill Lamb, who died last December, had been a member of the party since the 1940s. In the 1940s and 1950s he was a participant in all the activities of the, then, Ealing Branch. His extensive knowledge made him an asset to the branch and party. Our deepest sympathy is extended to his widow.
West London Branch

Running Commentary: Doleful story? (1981)

The Running Commentary Column from the February 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Doleful story?
It’s a funny thing, the way the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always said that there are two classes in society. After all, isn’t the recession hitting us all, whoever we are?

Take the Board of Directors of Spillers, for example. Their company was recently bought out by Dalgety, the international agricultural trading group, for £70 million and all the directors lost their jobs. They’ll probably be queueing up for the dole.

After all, look at their pay-offs. Ex-chairman Michael Vernon got £140,000. He had been earning £47,000 a year together with the use of a £155,000 company house in Paulton Square, Chelsea which he has now bought himself. He also has a 500-acre arable farm in Hampshire, and has recently become a director of Strong and Fisher.

At the time of the Spillers takeover he sold 266,800 of his 310,000 shares for £115,000. Three other directors each got “redundancy payments” of over £100,000 and the total paid to the Board was £1,700,000. It’s a terrible thing, this recession, isn’t it.

Eton racket
School for many young people is a shabby uniform, grimy surroundings and being constantly made to feel you are nobody special. It means being well trained to passively accept a lifetime of being employed and living a second-rate existence.

Not all schools however prepare their pupils for such a life sentence. If you attend Eton, to take one example, you will learn how to behave as a fully fledged parasite living in security and luxury at the expense of those who produce and administer all the wealth in society. You will be conditioned to feel a superior person, a different caste of person from the ordinary state school blighter.

You will have a special wardrobe of clothes for different occasions at school and acquire a peculiar public school banter and a refined accent. While most people at school are feeling great anxiety or despair at the bleak prospects for getting a job as rising unemployment particularly threatens school-leavers, not all school students have got reason to worry.

At Eton and places like it you eat drink and learn and sleep with with the sons of scroungers (aristocrats, politicians) and with your future livelihood not dependent on a visit to the Job Centre, you get friendly with the people who you will one day be in control with.

In a recent survey conducted on pupils at Eton (results published in the Eton Chronicle) three out of every four questioned believed they are simply a cut above everyone else; 74 per cent agreed that “Etonians could be said to have certain features that, for what ever reasons, set them apart from others’’. On the surface you might think those special features were arrogance, lofty turns of phrase and feeling at ease wearing a white bow tie or shooting wild animals.

More accurately what sets these parasites apart from the rest of us is their privileged economic position in society. You need the £12,000 odd for fees before you get to go to Eton. It’s not an unequal education system which produces a two-class society, but a two-class society which produces one sort of school for scroungers and one sort for the wealth producers.

A matter of taste
Many doctors have turned down a request by the insurance brokers K T Jarrett of Bristol to display, in their waiting rooms posters and prospectuses of a new insurance scheme offering cover against the birth of a handicapped child. A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: ’’It is particularly tasteless to expect a doctor to congratulate a patient on her pregnancy and then to point to an insurance scheme like this.”

Tasteless it may be, but the quest for profit rarely respects taste. In fact a lot of the time the quest for profit ignores a lot more than taste. It can for instance ignore lengthy, but prudent, research on the safety of a medicine, as the owners of Distillers (the producers of Thalidomide) will testify. The company which exported blood-stained military uniform pieces from Vietnam (often off dead bodies) to sell in America as novelty fashion wear was not exactly over concerned about “taste”.

Neither was the man who recently set up a binocular vending stall at the bottom of the high-rise block from which a man was threatening suicide. Capitalism is a society in which the dog-cat-dog ethic and the drive for profit is the order of the day.

Surplus and Starvation
World Commodity Outlook in 1981: Food Feedstuffs and Beverages, the latest report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, records a recent sharp fall in world wide wheat production. No. not because of drought, nor seed shortages, nor floods, lack of willing workers nor insectal pests. As more than a few people are at this moment dying, slowly, from starvation the reason for the falling wheat output warrants pursuit.

The reason is only half slated by the report, which warns that the governments of most developed countries have concentrated on “holding back the creation of surpluses” rather than on maximising production. The reason for the “holding back” is the same reason the USA Federal government has had in paying Northern American farmers to stop producing wheat, and even to burn wheat already harvested; it is also the same reason for Brazilian coffee being dumped in the ocean and the reason for the EEC”s mountains of butter and lakes of wine.

The reason is that these things, like all others today, are being produced to sell for the profit of the industry-owners. If they decide to keep back or destroy quantities of a certain product to stop its price from falling (to keep profits up) then that’s exactly what will be done. For as long as we allow a minority of people to own and control the resources of the earth and the places of production they will have these operated only for profit and actual human need will be ignored.

And human need isn’t only to do with those starving creatures in the so-called third world it’s also every one of your unfulfilled wants.

Strong lobbies
On a similar theme, the US Department of Health and Human Services has issued a report revealing that contaminants found in all commercial PCP (pentachlorophenol) caused liver cancer in rats and that there was a danger that it could similarly affect humans. The wood preservation and pest control company Rentokil has issued a statement to try to diffuse any anxiety, as it is using this deadly chemical in several of its products. Although the US authorities are now considering the withdrawal of PCP’s licence there will be a strong lobby, backed by the comfortable owners of Rentokil, to retain the chemical’s legality and to keep those profits flowing in unhindered by safety precaution obstacles.

That these “strong lobbies" from owners of industry work, is borne out by the recent success of the Ford Motor Company. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had ordered that 16,000,000 cars produced at Fords between 1970 and 1979 |be recalled and modified with a safety feature to stop them suddenly moving off in reverse. It was alleged that 98 people had already been killed in accidents attributable to the defect. The owners of the company were not entirely keen on this idea as the cost of the recall would have been about $100 million, and the company was already heavily in debt. Now after three years of wheeling and dealing between Ford “negotiators’’ and government officials the government has decided not to enforce the NHTSA ruling and the murderous machines are still on the loose
Gary Jay

Ronald Reagan takes the stage (1980)

From the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

“A recession is when your neighbour loses his job. A depression is when you lose your job. A recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Such was the favourite slogan of Ronald Reagan, the former film actor (“star” would be an exaggeration), in a campaign which has just seen him elected President of the United States. The slogan worked, the policies it decorated will not.

It is already a commonplace to observe that Reagan didn’t so much win the election but Carter lost it. The American economy is in deep recession, with productivity and real incomes falling, and inflation and unemployment rising. Lack of profitability has caused many steel plants to close down, and the national unemployment figure of 7.6 per cent of the workforce (which means over eight million people) is doubled in some of the steel-producing areas. Unemployment is far higher, too, among black and teenage workers; and among blacks of between sixteen and nineteen years of age, the unemployment figure is thirty-seven per cent. Less publicised is the fact that just over one American in ten lives below the official poverty line. The parlous economic situation, together with foreign policy disasters such as the failure to secure the release of the hostages in Iran, led to the unpopularity of Jimmy Carter. Carter had entered the White House claiming to be “different”, an upright man who would practise new standards of truth and honesty, but these promises were wrecked in the storms of capitalist crisis. His inability to ride or control these storms was responsible for his ignominious electoral defeat.

This time it was the Republican candidate who presented himself as offering a breath of fresh air. Reagan’s policies included massive tax cuts, supposedly designed to “get government off the backs of the American people”, and stimulate investment and production. There would be reductions in welfare spending but increased expenditure on defence. Employment would be boosted by lowering of the legal minimum wage, on the grounds that the current princely sum of S3.10 an hour prices black youths out of a job (shades of Sir Keith Joseph). A general lessening of state interference would soon set the economy to rights, and a new golden age of freedom and luxury would dawn. Or so the script ran.

However disillusioned American workers were with Carter, they certainly did not flock to Reagan in overwhelming numbers. Fewer than four million more voted for Reagan in 1980 than for Ford in 1976. A high abstention rate has always been an unusual feature of American elections compared with countries such as Britain and West Germany, and this time a new high (or low) was reached, with barely half of those qualified to vote bothering to do so. The “landslide” of support for Reagan in fact works out at little more than a quarter of all Americans of voting age.

The traditional low turnout occurs in spite of (or, arguably, because of) the mammoth sums spent on television advertising by the main parties and other pressure groups. For in American politics, money talks very much louder than ideas and principles. In 1978 the cost of winning a seat in the Senate was a cool million dollars. A noticeable development in this latest election was the massive expenditure by the “New Right”, wealthy religion-motivated groups who campaigned specifically against the re- election to the Senate of so-called “liberal” Democrats (those who supported such subversive reforms as legalisation of abortion). The financial domination of electioneering naturally works against those whose funds are more modest, such as the socialist movement in America. Like a room at the Ritz Hotel, TV time is available for all—provided they can afford it.

Of course all the advertising and all the money in the world may be sufficient to convince the voters, but they are no help when it comes down to the real nitty-gritty, putting the promises into action and curing economic ills. For Reagan’s policies will be as ineffective as Carter’s have been, and will do nothing to improve the lot of the American working class. The call for tax cuts, for instance, may sound as if it will automatically increase the take-home pay of every worker. But this is misleading, as taxes are in fact a charge on the employer rather than on the worker. Workers are paid, in general, the value of their labour power-enough to enable them to maintain themselves and to reproduce the next generation of wage slaves. The difference between the value of their labour power and the value their labour produces— known technically as surplus value —is appropriated by the capitalist class, and it is out of this that taxes are paid. The end of government is to defend the interests of the ruling class, by being responsible for activities such as defence and policing that individual companies are unable to undertake. The capitalists want the benefits of government as cheaply as possible—hence their constant calls for reduced state expenditure. Tax cuts benefit the employers, not the workers.

One supposed effect of transferring money from state to private hands is that it will make more resources available for investment and consumer spending, which will in turn give the economy a boost. But again this view is unfounded. Simply transferring money from one set of hands to another does not increase the total amount in any way; a transfer is just that, a transfer. The same number of dollars are available for spending, no matter who does the spending. By exactly the same token, it follows that the opposite policy—the Keynesian view that it is increased government spending that will get the economy moving again and cut unemployment—is equally fallacious. The true position is that neither increased nor decreased government spending offers a way out of a recession.

The suggestion that a lower minimum wage will enable more workers to find employment may just sound like common sense, but this does not square with the basic economic law of capitalism which says “no profit, no production”. If an employer cannot sell, say, the steel his factory produces, then there is no way he will employ people to make it, however low their wages. So lower wages would not mean lower unemployment.

Thus none of Reagan’s cherished solutions will work, none will operate in the interests of the working class. This should in any case be obvious from a study of American history and a glance across the Atlantic at Britain. For Thatcher’s government is pursuing essentially the same policies as Reagan has in mind: reduced government spending and appeals to the workers to accept lower wages. The world recession has coincided, in both Britain and the United States, with electoral defeats for governments who were identified with the policy of trying to spend their way out of a crisis. In both countries there has been a reaction in favour of policies whereby capitalism is given free rein and market forces supposedly produce equilibrium and full employment. When these new governments fail there will be a swing back to the old, equally futile, interventionist policies.

There is a way off this treadmill, provided the working class see the folly of reforming capitalism. The working-class vote is undervalued by the vast sums spent by capitalist politicians in influencing its use, for it is in fact a priceless weapon in the founding of a moneyless world. Until the vote is used to this effect, the American working class will suffer under the rule of such as the ham actor who, as in his Hollywood days, relies on mouthing other people’s words. The difference is that now he is under the heartless and inhuman direction of capitalist society.
Paul Bennett

Five myths about marxism (1980)

From the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

That Marxism can best be understood by examining the views of Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Castro, Mugabe or Paul Foot.
These people have all distorted Marxism to fit in with their own policies. The Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions were not Marxist revolutions, but were minority coups d’etat organised upon similar lines to the Jacobin insurrection of 1789. The press label all sorts of cranks, reformers and opportunists as Marxists. Don’t just accept the label; examine what these so-called Marxists are saying: nine times out of ten you will find that they are not Marxists, but Leninists.

That Marxism means state control of industry.
Nationalisation has nothing to do with the socialist order of society which Marx stood for. Marx, and his collaborator Engels, regarded Bismarck’s policies of state control as “a spurious kind of socialism” not socialism at all. What Marxists want is a society in which the machinery of wealth production and distribution is commonly owned and democratically controlled. Marxism is as opposed to state ownership as to private ownership.

That you have to have a degree in philosophy before you can read Marx.
Not so—in fact a degree in philosophy can sometimes be an obstacle to understanding the way in which the world is organised. Marx is a very readable writer. “The Communist Manifesto” is an excellent brief introduction to the ideas of Marxism. “Wage Labour and Capital” and “Value, Price and Profit” explain the basic points of Marx’s important economic theories. But you can become a socialist without reading a word of Marx.

That Marxism has been proved wrong by the developments of the last hundred years.
It is claimed by some apologists for capitalism that Marx’s analysis of the way in which capitalism must work is false because the squalid poverty of the last century no longer exists (they forget that Marx was analysing world capitalism). These people claim that a majority are now happy with their lives under capitalism. But can anyone really believe that, while millions are unemployed, millions are starving to death, millions are homeless and millions of pounds are spent daily on armaments? Capitalism is now more than ever a problem-producing society and the cause of the problems is still as pointed out by Marx.

That Marxism is a religion or dogma to be swallowed whole and adhered to faithfully.
Dogmatism is the very antithesis of Marxism: the former is based upon the certainty of static knowledge, while the latter concerns the dynamics of materialism. Socialists do not accept everything that Marx said and did: much of it was wrong and anti-socialist. We do not treat Marx as our god. Marxism is simply a tool to be used in critical thinking.
Steve Coleman

Jimmy Savile, Wealth, Power and Sex (2016)

From the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The leak, in January, of the draft report into the activities of Jimmy Savile at the BBC was a reminder of the deeply political character of his activities.
The most obvious sense was that in which the right-wing gutter press sought to attach fault to the entire BBC for the activities of one man, on one branch of its programming, as if the entire organisation were complicit in Savile’s acts of rape and child abuse.
Of course, others have tried to emphasise the connections between Savile and his friendship with Charles Windsor and the Royal Family. In a more narrowly political sense, he was very close to Margaret Thatcher (including staying for New Year at Chequers with her). Indeed, she actually fought to overcome the qualms of civil servants in the honours vetting system to secure Savile’s knighthood. He had himself in the 1970s appeared in Tory Party election broadcasts, and affirmed that he was ‘for the individual’ (the individual in question always, obviously, being himself).
There are strong grounds to believe that he had co-offended with Peter Jaconelli, the oyster-guzzling (he held a world record) Tory Mayor of Scarborough. Some are trying to link this relationship to a wider network of powerful individuals. Campaigners demand to know why the police never caught the pair (and suspect their power and influence protected them, via police corruption).
These connections, though, do not get to the real political character of Savile’s offending. We need to look at the whole of his life. Savile’s father was a small-time crook in Leeds, associated with illicit gambling. Savile seems to have grown up into this world. During the Second World War, he was called up as a ‘Bevan Boy’ to work in the mines, this left him free to remain in the UK, and apparently, engage in black market activities. After the war, he went into the scrap metal business (possibly with his father), and described himself as a ‘company director’, and he was clearly making a lot of money from scrap.
He soon moved into the night club business, and was an innovator for playing gramophone records at cheap entry afternoon dances. Now in his twenties, he was prolifically sexually active, with ready access to young girls and a sheen of glamour hung round him. Reportedly, he would share girls around with his friends, much like the activities we hear recently reported in Oldham and Rochdale. Clearly, he was the leader of the gang, and he could fix it for his friends to get laid, in an exercise in petty power.
He was a participant in the first Tour of Britain bicycle race, though it seems more for the self-promotion than for any sporting spirit. He soon transferred that self-promotion to the theatrical world of professional wrestling. He seems to have set great store by his personal fitness and prowess. He became established as a nightclub manager in Manchester, which doubtless expanded his underworld contacts, and taught him the value of cultivating good relations with the police.
The talent for self-promotion naturally led him into the media, where he found work on television and radio. It was a time when popular culture was rising, and he was part of the wave of ‘outsiders’ being absorbed into the established entertainment structures to give the BBC a ‘common touch’. Throughout the 60s he was a minor celebrity within youth culture, working on Radio 1 and Top of the Pops.
It was in the 1970s that he rose to become a national institution, being the face of public safety adverts (“Clunk click”) and eventually, the famous show, Jim’ll Fixit, which seemed to chime with his role as a fixer more generally. At the heart of the show was the image of a powerful man, with connections, dispensing bounty, in return for nothing but adulation.
He cemented his fame by publicly proclaiming his faith in God, whom he referred to, significantly, as ‘The Boss’ in the book he published on his faith. He was at the front of good, clean, wholesome family values. This was when his charity work took off. He campaigned extensively for Stoke Mandeville hospital, and his bringing of charity to the NHS suited the ideology of the Conservative Party (today it could be called the ‘Big Society’). Savile felt a certain proprietorial air towards the Hospital, and the Department of Health eventually had to disabuse him of the notion that it was ‘His’ hospital, no matter how much money he had raised towards its renovation.
Further, he volunteered in Stoke Mandeville and Leeds General Infirmary. Incredibly (and apparently awed by his celebrity) the authorities at Stoke Mandeville handed over a flat for his use, and he was able to come and go in the Leeds Infirmary at will. Apparently, he would shower his fellow porters with gifts (like microwave ovens) as well as wowing them with his undoubted charm. Nursing staff were apparently aware that he was a ‘sex pest’ but apparently felt unable to deal with him, either through misplaced attitudes to such behaviour, or a feeling that he was too highly connected to senior management.
He seemed to find using institutions to be an effective means of abuse. He ingratiated himself with the management at a girls reform school, Duncroft (which he referred to as a ‘posh borstal’), where he would take girls for a ride in his Rolls Royce, and would trade cigarettes for sex. In the 1980s, somehow, he was appointed to the board of Broadmoor hospital. He would hint darkly that he had connections with the powers that be that swung the appointment for him.
This was part of his methodology throughout, always implying that he had connections, not necessarily with a person’s direct boss, but the very top. The only time he was interviewed by police, he used his charitable work as a shield (with the implicit threat to take away the gifts he had bestowed) and hinted that he had tame police officers working on his side. He also hid behind the myth of the gold digger: that these women were making these claims to try and make money out of him (if only it were so - imagine if all rich men had to actually choose between keeping their wealth, or never having sex again).
The only time in his abusive career he came a cropper was when he was pestering a girl on a P&O Ferry (one he received gratis from the owners of the firm). The ship’s captain put him ashore: there is no higher authority at sea than a captain, and none of Savile’s strategies could avail against him.
Once he had his knighthoods (one from the British Queen and one from the Pope) he used the apparent status as a shield. He was also notoriously litigious. In the 1990s he appeared on a Channel Four show in the Without Walls series, called the Obituary Show, in which he explained his love of libel actions, and suing the press for even hinting that he might be engaged in child sexual abuse.
This, then, is the political aspect of the Savile case: that he was a rich man. That he was a powerful man. That he lived in a hierarchical society, where people felt unable to challenge his aberrant behaviour, and where he could dispense gifts to buy people’s loyalty. He was able to manipulate institutions, and find powerless people, who would be unlikely to be believed if they ever tried to tell the truth. He was unfailingly fawning to those he perceived to be more powerful then himself, and inveigled his way into their shadows to try and use a perceived closeness to his own ends.
We cannot say that in a society of common ownership there will not be sexual predators, abusers and psychopaths. The sheer number of humans and the spread of human behaviours mean there will always be the chance of such people cropping up. What we can say is that in a fiercely egalitarian society, where we recognise that we can only be as free as we help each other to be, people will have the courage to call their fellows to account. Where people don’t fear the sack, fear the boss, just expect the powerful to behave in abuse ways, in such a society the likes of Savile will be much less likely to prosper.
Where there are no bosses (real or imagined) and people feel that the levers of practical power lie in their own hands, his tactics would not work. Where there is no personal wealth to give out (either in petty gifts or as ‘charity’) there will be no need to fawn, and no way that one man can threaten to take his ball away and wreak destruction upon society.
Of course, because Savile worked on his apparent political connections, people will remain paranoid that there is a secret nest of abusers at the heart of our society: that is the reflection of our powerlessness, and based on the real truth that they gain power from secrecy and unaccountability. The fact that other alleged abusers, such as Cyril Smith and Greville Janner,  also used their access to institutions to gratify their lust for power shows not that there is necessarily a secret cabal at the heart of things, but that there is a systematic possibility of this fed by the way society is organised.
As such, we need to free ourselves from the Savile society.
Pik Smeet

The War Game (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

This BBC documentary film, made in 1965, shows the possible effects of nuclear attack, and was banned from television screening. It is currently being used quite widely by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a recruiting film. The effects of the winds and heat of fire-storms, of the displacement of oxygen by carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and of radiation itself are portrayed to horrific effect. Mass neurosis and widespread mental debilitation are evident, and those who survive are driven to violent rioting over meagre food supplies. Evacuation and other civil defence provisions are shown as tragically futile, and it is suggested that Britain, with its NATO bases, would be the worst hit area in the world in the event of war. Armed police are shown prowling the streets and supervising the burning of bodies and there is a pervasive chaos of devastation.

The film was based on the supposition of a “minimal” attack; today the effects of nuclear weaponry would be many times more destructive. (Sigvard Eklund, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates the number of warheads in the world today to be 50,000, with the power of 1,000,000 Hiroshimas.) All the same, the film is essential viewing for anyone who is concerned to get even a vague idea of what the threat of war really amounts to. The War Game also ridicules the attitudes of the clergy, quoting one minister who has said that he trusts nuclear bombs will be used “with wisdom”, and another who defends their use provided that the war they are to be used in is a “just war”.

One important irony in the film’s use as propaganda by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, is that it is based in part on the effects suffered at the bombing of Dresden in 1945, when no nuclear weapons were used. The fact is that it is not just nuclear weapons which can be responsible for unspeakable human suffering and universal devastation; “conventional” arms are quite sufficient for the purpose, to say nothing of the horrors of chemical and biological warfare. So that if CND were in some miraculous way able to persuade governments to start dismantling some of their immense nuclear stock, there would still remain all manner of other terrible weaponry. The problem is that these people, however genuinely concerned they may be about the threat of war, have responded by considering the tools with which war is waged, instead of the cause of war itself (of whatever kind) and removing that once and for all.

The cause of war was stated by Joseph Chamberlain nearly a century ago when he said that
All the great offices of state are occupied with commercial affairs. The Foreign Office and the Colonial Office are chiefly engaged in finding new markets and in defending old ones
and by W M Hughes, ex-Prime Minister of Australia:
The increasing intensity of competition for economic markets must lead to armed conflict unless an economic settlement is found. This, however, is hardly to be hoped for. Talk about peace in a world armed to the teeth is utterly futile.
So what are these “markets” over which so much blood is spilt? They are simply the areas in which capitalist enterprises, including that monster enterprise, the USSR, try to sell commodities in order to realise a profit. The markets, materials, territories and trade routes fought over in wars all represent profit, which belongs to the property-owning, capital-controlling class in society. The working class have no reason to fight over the property and profit of the various sections of the world’s ruling class.

The cause of war is world capitalism, the profit system, and it is that which will have to be removed. If it is not acceptable to see welfare services cut back while a minor nation like Britain spends more than a million pounds an hour on arms, then we must withdraw our support not just from Conservative politicians, but from all of the representatives of the profit system. And that applies equally to the Labour Party and the USSR patriots of the Communist Party who want nuclear bombs to defend state capitalist Russia.

It should not be forgotten, though, that war is just one particularly destructive aspect of the capitalist system. Capitalism’s converse of “peace” in some ways holds in store just as many horrors.

The expressive faces of despair which feature in The War Game are by no means uncommon in the world today. The problems of starvation or malnourishment are rife in capitalism, and sometimes unemployment is all that the working class can hope for from this system of wage-labour and capital, whether the state of affairs is officially described as “peace” or as “war”.
Clifford Slapper

Party News (1980)

Party News from the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Propaganda tour
A week or so before thousands of workers decided to spend some of their holiday on a trip to London to witness the extravagant 80th birthday celebrations of an aristocratic parasite, four members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain harmonised their holiday with a propaganda tour around the country. While some went to worship a hand-waving grandmother of no noted talent, we were campaigning for the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced, to put the means of life into the hands of the whole community by democratic action.

From London we drove to Bolton. Through South Yorkshire, noticing the number of ‘Factories for Sale’, the insanity of a society which periodically slumps into depression was graphically apparent. Workers thrown onto the slag heap of the unemployed, people hungry and shivering while factories and raw materials are guarded from use because the owners of these means of life would not stand to make a profit at such a time. In Bolton we were encouraged by the branch’s programme of weekly propaganda meetings on assorted topics and their methodical and energetic canvassing campaign. A public meeting on “The Class Struggle” was held that evening in the York Hotel.

The following morning we travelled from Bolton across England to Seaham for a debate with the Liberals, organised by the North-East branch. Recently, letters from members of the SPGB have appeared in virtually every edition of the Sunderland Echo and have stirred up a lively correspondence and interest in socialism. The debate was on the motion “Reform or Revolution?” Andrew Ellis, a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Party and their speaker at the debate, put the case for the piecemeal patching up of capitalism. The case for revolution was then put to the large audience with vigour and wit. Zestful contributions from the floor followed, including one from the chairman of the local Conservative Association which challenged the Socialist Party to debate at a later date.

We left Seaham the next morning in time to arrive in Scotland for the regular Saturday afternoon outdoor socialist meetings organised by the Glasgow branch in Exchange Square. A boisterous assembly was addressed by three speakers in all, and the meeting, not being brought to an end when one democrat from the audience tried to heave the speaker off the platform, continued until early evening. Edinburgh branch run regular outdoor meetings at their “Speaker’s Comer”, the Mound, and it was to there that we travelled the next day. With a short break for supper the meeting ran on from 3.00pm to 10.00pm and was addressed by six speakers—and this just within earshot of the hapless caterwaulings of the local Salvation Army, still singing to the skies for a solution to capitalism’s chaos.

Leaving Scotland and journeying southwards our next stop was for a two-and-a-half hour outdoor meeting at St Peter’s Square, Manchester, which began at lunchtime. Comrades from Bolton and Manchester have used this speaking station before and it is now likely that it will soon be a regular socialist meeting site. That evening we had a good attendance at an indoor meeting at the Wheatsheaf public house, addressed by a party speaker on the title "Thatcher and Murray: Partners in Capitalism”.

From Manchester we went to Stoke for a debate with the Communist Party where a note informed us that, although the CP speaker had agreed in writing to debate, his branch had advised him to withdraw on account of the wording of the motion, which had already been changed once to suit them. The Communist Party is renowned neither for its principled consistency (it urged the working class to vote for the Tories when Stalin had concluded a pact with Churchill after 1943), nor its willingness to openly debate its political position against the SPGB. The socialist speaker, however, provided the audience with a comprehensive criticism of the Left and an explanation of socialist principles.

An outdoor afternoon meeting which we held in the Market Square, Derby—our next stop—was temporarily halted by some hooligans who, having jettisoned the speaker from the platform, justified the action with an earthy praise for the Tory Party. A meeting was held that evening in the Garrick Hotel on the question “Is A Third World War Inevitable?” where, after the speaker’s address, a contentious argument with a local Labour councillor—a CND member who learnt nothing from the movements 60’s failure—dominated the discussion. The following morning the speaker was interviewed live by Radio Derby on the subject of War. The fluent and provocative statements made by the party speaker prompted Radio Derby to agree to hold a phone-in programme the next time a public meeting is organised by the SPGB in Derby.

From Derby we made our way homewards, stopping off for a final outdoor meeting at the Martyr’s Memorial, Oxford. A sizeable crowd gradually congregated on this sunny afternoon and a local comrade agreed that future meetings on this site would be useful. Our 1,400 mile tour ended that evening.
Gary Jay

Activity in France
Socialists in France, aided by comrades from Britain, have been carrying out organised socialist propaganda in France since the beginning of this year. Socialisme Mondial, the French-language journal of the Socialist Party of Canada, is now on sale in a number of Paris bookshops as well as in Marseilles, Nancy, Metz, Rheims and Aix-en-Provence. So far three public meetings have been held, the first in Rheims in March, the other two in Paris; one a debate on Mayday with Charles Loriant of the Mouvement Francais pour l’Abondance par le Socialisme Distributif, the other a straightforward presentation of our case by comrade H. Moss in July. The two Paris meetings were very successful both in terms of outsiders present, and of literature sold. It is planned to hold regular meetings in Paris from September onwards. The French comrades have also brought out as a pamphlet a translation of four of Engels’ 1881 articles from the Labour Standard on trade unions and the wages system.

The Queen Mother
The following resolution was unanimously carried at the Islington branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain at its meeting on 4 August, 1980. A copy has been sent for publication in the Islington Gazette. We are sure that many Socialist Standard readers will agree with its content:
Islington branch of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, on this eightieth birthday of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, hereby resolves to express its hostility to the existence of the monarchy and the parasitic class it represents. In an age when one third of the world’s population suffers from malnutrition, when millions throughout the world face the indignity of the dole queue, when 53,000 families in Britain alone are homeless, when health facilities are cut back while money is spent on nuclear warheads, for the workers of this country to be ecstatic that an aristocrat has survived to be eighty is distasteful in the extreme. The concern of our party remains with the wealth producers of the world, including those who face old age in poverty and with the threat of hypothermia. Let Kings and Queens be left to the history books; let working people create a better society for ourselves.

The Olympics: sport as warfare (1980)

From the August 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

A large number of people are currently assembled in Moscow to take part in, watch, or report on, a festival of international sport which, supposedly, contributes to world peace by bringing people of different countries together in a spirit of friendly competition. The popular mythology has it that even the compilation of medal tables, so as to discover which nation has come “top”, is preferable to other ways of asserting national superiority or increasing national prestige—score, score is apparently better than war, war. In fact, those who gather in Moscow are participating in a gigantic charade—a mixture of hypocrisy, chauvinism and plain dishonesty which mirrors accurately enough the world of which it is a part.

In the first place, there is no way in which the Olympics could possibly contribute to the establishment of peace in the world. A few thousand athletes come together in this way may get to know, and understand rather better, people of differing countries and cultures (the same sort of claim has been made about the Miss World contest!), but it cannot seriously be argued that such contacts will help prevent war. Countries go to war for good (to their rulers) economic and strategic reasons, and are not going to be diverted from such designs by the fact that a few of their citizens have made friends with a few of the “enemy”. Of course, if workers refused to kill each other in defence of their masters’ interests, then wars could not take place, but such a stand implies a degree of socialist consciousness which results from something more than just taking part in the Olympics. To suggest that the Olympics can serve the cause of peace reveals a naive misunderstanding of the causes of war.

On the contrary, the Olympic Games—like international sport in general—are used as a device to inflame nationalist sentiments and to delude workers into thinking that they have some sort of interest in “their” country doing well. It won’t just be Sebastian Coe who wins a medal, it’ll be Britain—or “us”. It is national sides who compete in team sports such as hockey and football, and it is national anthems and flags that are played and raised at medal ceremonies. Jacques Julliard, in an article in Le Nouvet Observateur for December 1979, argues that the true founder of the modern Games was not Baron de Coubertin in 1896 but Adolf Hitler in 1936. It was in Berlin that the nationalist and propaganda value of the Games was first exploited fully. And it is in Hitler's footsteps that the more recent practitioners of the propaganda art are following.

As a consequence of the exploitation of a victory for nationalistic purposes, the production of sporting champions has become a major industry in a number of countries. Russia has specialist schools and institutes for the training of the talented few—and this although half of the country's schools have insufficient equipment for physical education lessons (James Riordan: Soviet Sport). It is commonplace in the West to point out that East European sportspeople, whether described as soldiers, students, or whatever, are not really amateurs but in effect full-time professional athletes. This is fair enough, but it conveniently overlooks the fact that a very similar situation obtains in the West. Athletes are employed by sports goods firms, paid to wear their running shoes, and (in America) given generous college scholarships. The modern world-class athlete, whatever their natural ability, is an expensively-produced and carefully-nurtured product, packaged in a national flag.

And usually filled up with drugs to boot! The anabolic steroids taken by shot-putters and others are the most celebrated, but there are many examples, including—most distasteful of all, perhaps—the drugs taken by girl gymnasts to arrest the advent of puberty. Sports medicine is now a highly-developed science, but nobody really knows the risks being run by the drug-takers, especially the child prodigies who are subjected to drugs from an early age. Although doping is illegal, the rules are easy enough to circumvent: stop taking your steroids a few months before you know you’ll be tested, and you can be confident you won’t be detected. Indeed, even if you are found out, you’ll probably be competing again very soon, anyway.

So the countries that win the most gold medals arc those that have the best-organised and best-financed production line for top-class athletes. Sport at international level has been taken over by the ruling classes of the various nation-states for their own ends.

Which brings us to the boycott. In protest against the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, a number of national Olympic Committees have in response to a boycott campaign orchestrated by President Carter, decided not to send teams to Moscow. At the time of writing, eighty-five countries only had accepted the invitation to attend, out of a possible hundred and thirty or so, the non-acceptors including such successful nations as West Germany and the United States. It is as concerted an exercise in hypocrisy as could be imagined. Just look at some of the countries that are adopting a high and mighty moral stance and not attending. Military dictatorships such as Argentina and Pakistan. Israel, which is occupying parts of neighbouring countries. America, which till five years ago was waging a bloody war in Southeast Asia. China, which just eighteen months ago invaded Vietnam.

Looking back over recent Olympics, there have been few not marked by some particularly nasty illustration of the nature of capitalism. Just before the 1956 Games, Russia invaded Hungary, and Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt in the Suez Crisis. Spain (!) and the Netherlands withdrew because of the Hungarian invasion, and Lebanon and Iraq because of Suez. The Mexico City Games of 1968 were preceded by the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and by a massacre of Mexican students. Although there was a threatened boycott by African countries because of South Africa’s intended participation, nobody refused to attend Games in a country run by a government that had recently murdered some of its citizens. And in 1972 the Olympics went on despite the killing of some Israeli athletes by Palestinian guerrillas.

Even when there were no “spectacular” events of this kind, there were wars and dictatorships the whole time. It is difficult not to agree with Avery Brundage, President of the International Olympic Committee, who, in a moment of rare perception, said in 1956:
In an imperfect world, if participation in sports is to be stopped every time the politicians violate the laws of humanity, there will never be any international contests (quoted in Richard Espy: The Politics of the Olympic Games).
But of course boycotts aren’t mounted whenever there might be grounds for doing so, only when it suits those who organise them (when they are faced with a forthcoming presidential election, for instance).

It was particularly interesting to observe the humbug that surrounded the attempt by the British government to cajole the UK Olympic Committee into joining the boycott. When sports representatives pointed out that they were being expected to carry the can alone, in that the government was doing precious little else to protest about Afghanistan, Lord Carrington informed them that a trade embargo could not be considered, as it would hurt Britain more than Russia. “We are”, he said, “a trading nation.” It is then hardly surprising to learn that one British sportsman who has refused to go the the Olympics on grounds of “conscience” — is a fencer who is an army captain, in other words a man who is trained to kill (or, more likely, to order others to kill) in defence of the interests of British capitalism. His conscience won’t stop him doing that, presumably.

The deadly serious Olympic “Games”, as part of capitalism, reflect its nature and its values. The gold medals are tainted not just with the blood of Afghans, but with the essential rottenness of all class society.
Paul Bennett