Sunday, May 8, 2016

Reason or Violence (1934)

Editorial from the July 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

The meeting held by the Fascists on June 7th at the Olympia, was the occasion of disorder that has prompted a shower of newspaper correspondence, questions in Parliament, and the suggestion that the police should have the right of entry into public meetings.

As far as the information goes, there does not appear to be any doubt that organised groups went to the meeting with the deliberate intention of creating disorder. Why, then, is so much fuss being made over the fact that they were roughly ejected?

The outcry comes from such different quarters as Conservative, Liberal, Labour and Communist. The Conservatives have their own axe to grind, and are not anxious to assist the growth of Mosley’s following. The other groups appear to have the wind up.

What is exceedingly curious in the business, however, is the righteous indignation of the Communists—who have gloried in meeting-smashing for years, and promised to suppress all discordant voices if they got power.

In our view, those who went to the Fascist meeting with the intention of creating disorder and making the meeting impossible only got what they asked for, and have no reason to complain if they were roughly handled.

Violence is not a successful method of convincing people of the soundness of a case. In fact, it is usually an admission that the case is threadbare. A case is not destroyed by violent methods, though those who are putting it forward may have to tread cautiously for a while. Anyhow, the use of violence only provokes violence from the opposition.

One thing that stands out clearly, however, is the fact that these methods play right into Sir Oswald Mosley’s hands. He has shown his desire for the spectacular from the beginning, and the nature of the opposition he is receiving is giving him just the advertisement he needs.

The use of violent methods is an attempt to foist on to the majority of people views which they are unwilling or not ready to accept. It used to be a plank in the Syndicalist programme, and has since been the spearhead of the Communists, on the plea that the time for theory is past, and the time for action has come. It fosters the growth of secret movements, and the ubiquitous agent provocateur.

Behind the violent movement stalks the spirit of revenge, and passion instead of reason urges the combatants forward. It plays to the emotions and the worst elements in the population get a footing in the movement, or use the movement to cloak their own actions. This has been illustrated time after time in the history of the working-class movement, and it is therefore essential that those who are genuinely interested in pushing forward the workers’ struggle for emancipation should resist all incitements to violence.

The success of violent movements depends upon frightening people and not upon convincing them. It is as well to bear in mind that it is not the capitalist who is frightened, for he has the armed power at his command to crush out opposition when he desires to do so.

It may perhaps be of some use to point out to those who are following methods that kill free discussion, that they are following in the path of their predecessors in Italy and Germany, and provoking the ogre they fear. The starting-point of the Fascist career in Italy was the seizure of the Italian factories by the workers and the propaganda of violence by the Communists. Germany tells a similar tale. It may be added that the country that gave them the lesson was Russia, and one of the principal defenders of Russian violence —Trotzky—is now wandering about seeking an asylum—a victim of the methods he advocated.

It is only by free and open discussion that the workers can grasp the essentials of their present condition of servitude and the way to abolish it. Until they have this knowledge it matters little which of the capitalist parties they support.

While we are on the subject of “freedom of speech” we cannot help being surprised to find what curious, not to say, suspicious friends, this “freedom” has. We see among them the numerous organs of capitalism, which steadfastly decline to allow the publication in their columns of a statement of the Socialist case. We see the “Morning Post,” which published grossly inaccurate statements about the Austrian Social Democrats engaged in the fighting of February, and then would not publish a correction, although not denying that photographs published in its own pages a few weeks earlier proved the inaccuracy. We see "Forward" which charged us with misstatements about Keir Hardie a few years ago and then refused to let us give evidence to show that we were right. We see also Mr. Hamilton Fyfe, who, as Editor of the “Daily Herald" allowed correspondents to discuss our attitude towards religion, but would not let us intervene to explain our position. Maybe the threat presented by Sir Oswald Mosley's movement has induced a change of heart, but if so, there is a quite simple method by which the various political parties and papers can help to promote reasoned discussion, that is by copying the example set by the S.P.G.B., and by it alone, of allowing opponents to state their case in our columns and on our platform. At all of our propaganda meetings (although not at formal debates, where time forbids, or occasional commemoration meetings which do not lend themselves to questions), it is the standing practice of this party to allow questions and opposition, without any attempt to select or restrict. If our various opponents, Sir Oswald Mosley, the Liberals, Labourites, Tories and Communists believe that, they have a good case and can answer criticisms, we suggest that they could largely reduce the possibility of rowdy meetings and at the same time promote calm discussion by throwing open their platform to their opponents, as we do to ours.



The Strike (1926)

From the June 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

The largest battle in English industrial history is over and the wounded are being carried off the field.

The first point that strikes one, after making the necessary allowance for the intimidation of the nervous, is the amazing solidarity of the workers on this occasion. The consciousness, dim though it may have been in the main, that they must make common cause and stand together, though only one section was being immediately attacked.

The next point was the demonstration of where the power really lies in modern affairs. The control of the governmental machinery gave the masters the key to the situation.

Strictly speaking it was not a general, strike, but it was general enough to make apparent the limitations of such a method as a weapon to be used by the workers in their struggle for emancipation. The advocates of direct action had little to find fault with. On the Monday night the strike was declared and on the Tuesday morning the transport services were paralysed. In almost every instance the workers, unionist and non-unionist alike, answered the call. In many cases workers came out who had not been called upon to do so. As time progressed more and more workers came out and there was little sign of any returning. From this point of view, then, the strike was a success—it was as complete as may be wished, and lasted for nine full days, and yet the food supply was not paralysed nor seriously disturbed.

An ordinary strike depends for its success upon putting the masters to so much expense that they would prefer to concede the conditions demanded by the workers (whether reduction of hours, increase of wages or similar demands) than bear the expense and disorganisation of a strike. In other words, they are faced with the problem of the respective costs of resisting or conceding the demands and decide accordingly.

It is not necessary, for the purpose of the argument, to consider those strikes or lockouts instigated by the masters when a favourable opportunity has presented itself for depressing the workers' condition. For instance, when there is a surplus of certain goods or, as in the coal industry, when the summer is coming with a slump in the demand for domestic coal.

Employers in different branches of industry support each other (apart from the universal intermingling of capital in different concerns) because a successful strike in one branch might lead to strikes in others. On the other hand, as the making of profit is hindered by industrial troubles, and as dissatisfied workers do not work well, the threat of a strike is sometimes sufficient to force the employers’ hands and obtain concessions.

When we come to a strike of the huge dimensions of the recent one the position is entirely different. It is in effect a challenge to State power. The demand, made on behalf of the mass of the workers, was that a Government, placed in power mainly by the votes of the workers, should be forced, without regard to their wishes, to take action in a given direction. That is to relinquish their political functions as the generally accepted and approved guardians of society and capitulate to one section in the community—or starve.

A calm, passionless examination of this position makes it clear that under such conditions no capitalist Government dare surrender—for such in fact would be its action. To have submitted to defeat in these circumstances would have left the way open for the workers to put forward whatever demands they wished, backing them with the threat of a general strike. This was the more likely at the moment because wage struggles were already on the board in other industries as well as the coal industry. We may interpolate here that, had the employers themselves deliberately planned the recent industrial upheaval the result all round, as far as they are concerned, could hardly have taken a more favourable turn. They have been able to settle many of their difficulties, such as the redundant labour in the rail industry brought about by the fusion of companies a few years ago, and nipped in the bud further strike trouble for a year or two.

What action did the Government take in this emergency? Already during the railway strike of 1919 plans had been prepared to deal with the sudden cessation of the transport services. Since that time the plans had been further perfected, and now was the time to test them. From the point of view of the supporters of direct action, in this higher developed form, the evolution of the oil engine has been disastrous.. The employers and what are called the “professional classes” (the last section of the proletariat likely to become revolutionary) are accustomed to learning motor driving as a hobby, and, consequently, there was available a large reserve of prospective drivers for the transport services, quite apart from the professional drivers and other assistants that could be obtained from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. With petrol lorries and an odd train or two it was possible to provide sufficient transport to meet the essential food requirements of the nation. As time passed it became increasingly evident that this could be done for several weeks. The fact that there was a good deal of muddle does not matter; the point is that the Government could have muddled through sufficiently well to meet the needs of the population until the strikers could not tighten their belts any further, so that starvation would have finally driven the workers either to surrender, extinction, or the shambles. And this was, is, and will be true of all attempts at industrial action on such a vast scale, involving serious interference with the food supply.

By their control of political power the Government were able to put their transport plan into action and to prevent any interference with it. They were also able to put the Emergency Powers Act into operation and effectively silence any disturbing opposition. To the last action the Labour Party can say nothing, as, when in power, they themselves were prepared to evoke the same black spectre when threatened with a large strike.

The cold hard fact has been made plain once more that “unless they are prepared to give up the kingdom of this earth the working class must some day take the political power into their own hands.” Until they do so they must expect defeat in industrial battles of any great magnitude.

So far we have pointed out that, in this strike, the workers must ultimately have been defeated. This might lead some to believe that on this particular occasion the workers were defeated. Such a view would be entirely erroneous. The workers came out solidly and, in the main, gave every evidence of a determination to remain out solidly for quite a while longer. But in the meantime the leaders had decided otherwise, and without a shadow of a solid guarantee that the object of the strike had been achieved—the withdrawal of the lock-out notices against the miners, and the removal of the stipulation by the mine-owners of a reduction in the miners’ wages as a preliminary to coal negotiations—the strike was called off. This was not defeat, but deserves another and much more ugly name. Already details of the sordid business are leaking out, and some of the erstwhile trustworthy leaders are likely to lose their reputations. In time, no doubt, the whole truth will come out and the workers may learn more quickly the frailty of leadership in general, and the broken reed they are leaning on.

We have often flogged the leadership idea in these columns, but must plead the “occasion” as an excuse for mentioning just one or two points again.

The method of handling the strike was bad from beginning to end, from the point of view of advantage to the workers. Before anything in the nature of a general strike took place the whole of the workers concerned should have had an opportunity of expressing their view upon it by means of a ballot. And no such strike should have been undertaken unless there was a substantial majority in favour of it. The method of handling the situation during the strike should have been also decided upon by those taking part, before the strike was put into operation. Delegates from the unions should have been deputed to carry out the strike with no power to make any arrangements for ending it without first consulting all those on strike, who should themselves have decided the ending in the same way as they decided its commencement. With a full knowledge beforehand of the difficulties the strike would place in the way of carrying out this programme, arrangements should have been made to enable it to be done. To put the matter another way, there should have been no leaders in whom to place a trust that could be betrayed, but rather delegates to carry out instructions formulated by those taking part in the strike. Until such a method operates, both industrially and politically, it will always be open to leaders to betray their following. In the present instance, A. J. Cook, the Miners’ Secretary, speaking at an open-air demonstration at Porth, in the Rhondda Valley, on the 23rd May last, is reported as follows :—
“I say to the railwaymen that one of the greatest crimes that can be laid at the door of their leaders is that they not only left the miners in the lurch and betrayed them, hut they betrayed the railwaymen."—Daily News, 24/5/26 
Had the line we have indicated been followed in the conducting of the strike, then there would have been no question of betrayal by leaders, as there would have been no leaders to betray. Those who were suffering would have put an end to that suffering when they had decided the suffering had gone far enough. As it is, so far as immediate matters are concerned, their suffering has been not only entirely wasted but it has placed the miners in a far worse position than before. On top of that, each group of workers has had to give up certain of their hard-won privileges and depleted both funds and enthusiasm for the future wage fights that had already loomed up.

What we have said should have made clear by now the only real solution to this, and all the other economic troubles afflicting the workers. If the workers had been as solid in voting for Socialism as they have been in striking on behalf of the miners what a different tale there would be to tell! And yet, as long as the workers support a condition of things which lays it down as a fundamental proposition that there shall be employers and employed, capitalists and wage-slaves; and at election time puts control of the governmental machinery into the hands of the masters and their supporters, they must expect defeat in their struggle for better conditions. The solution of the difficulties lies in the workers' own hands. The substitution of common ownership in the means of wealth production in place of the present private property system, and the accomplishment of this end by voting delegates to the central seat of power at election times to carry out instructions formulated by their working-class electorate.

In conclusion, let the strike engrave deeply upon the mind of the workers the evil of leadership, good, bad or indifferent; the solidarity and ruthlessness of the masterclass when they think their privileges are in danger; and finally, the utter hopelessness of attempting anything that might shake the foundations of capitalism without, as a preliminary, getting control of political power, which can be done quite constitutionally without the risks attaching to industrial action.

If these lessons are laid to heart then the strike will not have been in vain, and the victims will, in the fullness of time, reap their reward.
Gilmac.

Snapshots (1934)

From the June 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE “SENTIMENTAL” CLARIONETTE.

For several years “before the War” there was a paper called the Clarion. There still is. There is a contrast, however, in its present tone, which expresses the degeneracy of the Labour movement, with which it is associated.

The old Clarion sent forth a shrill and challenging blast. Its economics were decidedly “wonky” and its excursions into philosophy were somewhat crude, but compare “Britain for the British,” or “God and my Neighbour,” with the near-deathbed confessions of J. C. Lansbury, commencing in its issue of April 14th. “The foundation of all true reform or revolutionary change must start with this ‘that ye love one another,’” says old George; and, confronted with the question, “How am I to do it, placed as I am in the midst of a world of strife?” continues: “This is our problem, and it can only really be solved by us all individually.”

“Ker-ist!” and one is asked to pay twopence a week to listen to the apologetic squeak of this tin-trumpet! “Odham’sbodikins!’’


THE “INTELLECTUAL” CONSPIRATORS.
A document has fallen into our hands contrary to the wishes of its authors. It is labelled “Forward to Socialism” and is issued by the National Council of the Socialist League for discussion at that body’s forthcoming Annual Conference (May 20th and 21st), and at the foot of the title-page occurs this tit-bit: —
“Members and branches are requested by the National Council of the League to take the greatest care to secure that the contents of this document are not divulged in whole or in part to other than League members.”
Needless to say, the proverbial wild horses shall not drag from the writer the secret of how he came into possession of this precious document with its solemnly futile attempt at secrecy. Let us glance at its pages. About halfway through we encountered the phrase, “We must have Socialism!” in capital letters, repeated seven times. It is, of course, common knowledge that seven is a number of mystic potency, but this hardly explains the jargon which occurs after each repetition of the phrase. One of the alleged reasons for having Socialism is ”that society as a whole shall be responsible for the health, well-being and education of its people.” Does not capitalist society pull down slums and build banks and departmental stores? Does it not provide us with a water supply and drains, hospitals and convalescent homes, and free education for all? And are not these things done in order to facilitate the working of a system for the production of profit?

This little spasm ends with a reference to "all those financial institutions necessary for the maintenance of a highly-organised industrial life.” This reads somewhat like an auctioneer’s advertisement, but we are left guessing what necessary function financial institutions will fulfil under Socialism.

On the same page, our dear old friend, the House of Lords, is severely dealt with, and we are assured, in italics, that “the will of the people must prevail.” Shades of 1910! Play me those "Limehouse Blues”!

These Socialist Leaguers are hot-stuff. The final agenda (which descended from heaven along with the document) contains a resolution on Policy in the name of three branches, one clause of which (15) demands "Compensation of the existing owners of socialised industries or compulsorily closed units by the issue of State fixed-interest bearing bonds, based on the assessed capital value of their holdings.” There are several amendments to this, all of which safeguard the interests of "the present holders.”

All of which goes to show what practical people these chaps are. No foolish upsetting of the existing capitalists and their dependents for them.
Eric Boden

The Futility of Reform (1904)

Editorial from the October 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has often been asked why they have not drawn up a programme of measures for the partial redress of those evils which most immediately affect the position of the working class. “Should we not strive to palliate the existing misery”? “Should we not seek to foster the sectional differences existing among the capitalists so that we may use them in the interests of the working class"? “Should we not temporarily support, or form temporary alliances with, other political parties while working for common ends”? These and other questions of like import are constantly being put to us by non-members of our party. We now propose to answer them.

The basis of modern society is, economically, the holding by one section of the community of the means necessary for producing and distributing the means of living of the whole of the community, i.e., the ownership by a class of the whole wealth of society. As against them there is the vast mass of the people owning nothing but their "labour-power,” their power of working.

The worker being compelled to sell this power of working on the labour market, in return for his means of livelihood, has interests diametrically opposed to those of the employer who buys his activity. Hence two classes with conflicting interests, constantly meeting on the labour market, must necessarily engage in a struggle in which each combatant can gain only at the expense of the other. Such a struggle between classes forms a class war.

Economically, the working class are impotent so long as the employing class has possession of political power. Therefore, the class struggle must manifest itself as a political struggle for class supremacy. The working class can only gain their ends by taking possession of the political machine and using it so as to gain their own economic emancipation. This can be done only by themselves, and the struggle in which they must take part to secure this is a class war—the working class against the employing class.

The basis of a Socialist Party in any country must, therefore, be a recognition of the fact that the material interests of the working class are in entire opposition to those of the employing class, that is, the recognition of the class war. Any party which declares that no class war exists rules itself, by virtue of that declaration, out of court as a Socialist party. It is, necessary, therefore, in forming and organising a Socialist party to have a clearly defined class war basis, and in every action of the party to always keep the class-conscious character of the party clearly to the front. Any action tending to obscure this position, any position keeping the class struggle in the background, is a virtual betrayal of Socialist principles, serving only to confuse the issues in the minds of the workers and to make it more difficult for them to understand their class position and the reasons for it, and to see the road which must be followed if they are to achieve their emancipation—serving only, in brief, to retard the development of their class consciousness.

Any alliance, either permanent or temporary, with a party which does not recognise the class war is therefore out of the question. For does not every such alliance, whether openly avowed or tacitly understood, make less clear the class opposition which exists between the various political parties? How can we claim to be essentially distinct and, in fact, diametrically opposed to all other political parties, if we can find sufficient common objects to make possible any common ground of working? We think that the teaching of our principles is hindered by every such concession to the anti-class war parties, and is, therefore, opposed to the true interests of Socialism. We, therefore, avow ourselves in hostility to all other political parties, and can have nothing in common with them.

And this has been tho experience of the Socialist parties of other countries. Wherever those parties have maintained an attitude of open hostility to all other political parties they are strongly organised. Whenever any of those parties, strong or weak, have formed temporary alliances, as they did, for instance, in Belgium, with the Liberal Party, for the purpose of securing universal suffrage, they lost strength, and remain as far from securing their desired reform as ever they were. Thus, then, is our first objection that such action confuses the issues and hinders our success.

Our next objection lies in the fact that any such dependence upon other political parties for their assistance assumes the maintenance of a majority of members on our legislative bodies who are not class conscious representatives of the working class. So long as that remains the case, so long will the legislature be controlled by middle class men, by capitalists. Every such capitalistically controlled legislature secures the control of the administrative and judicial functions by the capitalists.

The result of this is that every measure carried through Parliament is carried through by those whose position makes it necessary that these enactments should be piecemeal and ineffective. They will, therefore, endeavour to reduce every concession to the point of impotency except in cases where they think to maintain their power by greater concessions. In this latter case they know they can depend upon their second line of defence—the administration of those laws which will cause the laws to remain a dead letter.

We have only to study the legislation of the last half of the nineteenth century to find that each of those phases of the economic legislation of the middle class parties plentifully exist. Wo find that the administration of the law being in the hands of the capitalist class, will be carried on by them in such a way as not to be dangerous to their own class interests.

Any “blue-book” dealing with any phase of working class life, will show instances innumerable of the neglect of the Local Government Board, or of the Borough Councils, or of the County Councils, in applying the laws already in existence. Housing Acts and Public Health Acts and Acts for the prevention of women returning to work at too early a period after child-birth, and Factory and Workshop Acts are not efficiently carried out, while powers vested in governing bodies are hardly ever exercised. Thus we read with regard to the pollution of the atmosphere by smoke, that:
“There are people in Manchester who systematically pollute the air and pay the fine, finding it much cheaper to do so than to put up new plant. The trial of such cases before benches of magistrates composed of manufacturers, or their friends, creates an atmosphere of sympathy for the accused, and it was alleged that magistrates who had sought to give effect to the law encountered the indifference and sometimes the positive opposition of their colleagues."
Just so! And this is only one case which may be cited from among innumerable others which lie before us.

We have to point out further that sometimes it happens that a reform asked for by the working class can be granted them without any serious danger to the capitalist class. In such cases they make graceful concessions and the working class are usually called upon to hail the party granting such a "concession” as their truest friends.

Another case is that sometimes a measure is passed which, while benefiting certain individual workers, proves disastrous to another and larger section. Such was, for example, the Workman's Compensation Act. This Act was passed to benefit those workers in certain selected industries who met with accidents while in the performance of their duties. It is to be observed that the Act was again the minimum of possible concession. It benefited those workers who in consequence of meeting with accidents which disabled them, received compensation where, before the passing of the Act, they would have obtained nothing. But while they were benefited, a larger section of the working class were affected to their detriment. The employing class ever on the watch where their class interests are concerned, immediately claimed that the old men they employed, the men over a certain ago, who were rendered infirm by the hard toil to which they had been subjected, were liable to more accidents than men in their earlier manhood, and that when they met with accidents, such accidents were more likely to prove serious or fatal than if they were younger. These men were in consequence immediately discharged. And what has happened since? A committee, on which was Mr. George N. Barnes, of the A.S.E., has reported:
"That with reference to the employment of aged, infirm, or maimed persons, amendments should be made to enable the employer to offer work to such persons without incurring undue risk of paying compensation." ,
We are, therefore, forced to tho conclusion that the trying to secure measures for the palliation of the evils of the existing class-governed society is useless. The men in control of the legislative, administrative, and judicial machinery of the community can always dodge any such partial attacks upon their position, can always find loopholes to escape from any concession appearing to endanger their position.

The only thing which will secure the alleviation of our misery and our wage slavery is the propagation of the principles of Socialism and the building up of a class conscious Socialist party, prepared to wrest at the earliest possible moment the whole powers of government from the hands of those who at present control them.

When a strong Socialist party, fighting directly for the establishment of a Socialist regime, and prepared in their progress to secure any advantage which will act as a new vantage ground in their further fight is organised, then the capitalists will be only too ready to offer and to give each and all of those palliatives as a sop to the growing Socialist forces in the country.

We have, therefore, to recognise all the time that it is only possible to secure any real benefit for the people when the people themselves become class conscious, when behind the Socialists in Parliament and on other bodies there stands a solid phalanx of men clear in their knowledge of Socialism and clear in their knowledge that the only way to secure tho Socialist Commonwealth of the future is to depend only upon the efforts of themselves and those who have the same class conscious opinions. Therefore we have no palliative programme. The only palliative we shall ever secure is the Socialist Society of the future gained by fighting uncompromisingly at all times and in every season.



Taking liberties (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Index on Censorship, a journal that monitors "human rights" violations throughout the world, recently devoted a complete issue to Britain. It examined such areas as education, freedom of speech and assembly, public broadcasting and sexual intolerance. One of the contributors, Ronald Dworkin, University Professor of Law, New York University wrote:
Liberty is ill in Britain. Freedom is being curtailed or sacrificed in favour of some real or supposed advantage: popular moral sensibility or financial tidiness or administrative convenience or the virtues of conventional family life. Censorship is no longer an isolated exception . . .  The sad truth is the very concept of liberty is being challenged and corroded by the Thatcher government.
Why is it that at a time when many people have seen their living standards decline and their limited freedoms eroded, there has been so little reaction? The liberal democratic model of society, with its talk of "freedom, equality and rights", is less appropriate than it ever was. And yet the restriction of these freedoms is important, if for no other reason than that, without them, political dissent and opposition become more difficult and dangerous.

A recently published book, Blacklist: the inside story of political vetting (Hollingsworth/Norton-Taylor; Hogarth Press) underlines the difficulties that even those who are not revolutionary socialists face. Detailing vetting and blacklisting of individuals by both the state and commercial interests, it informs us that association with groups such as CND, Friends of the Earth, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and trades unions is now deemed to be "potentially subversive". It reminds us of Thatcher's remark in 1984 that 140.000 striking miners were "the enemy within". Individuals who consider themselves patriotic find they are subject to the attention of Big Brother for apparently innocent reasons. Jack Dromey. a national officer for the T&GWU. has little time for Marxists or the “ultra-left" but his union activities have led M15 to compile a thick file on him. After thirty-five years as an engineer, Ken Richards discovered, when applying for a new job with a company with links with the Ministry of Defence, that he was considered a security risk. His reaction was one of disbelief: “I am not a security risk. I'm not a communist and never have been. I've been to the Soviet Union and there is no way I want to see my country run like that".

Being unaware that the state exists for the benefit of the capitalist class, the vast majority would probably concur with the authors' view that positive vetting for employees who work in areas "genuinely involving national security" is perhaps necessary. Greater awareness of other areas of covert interference in peoples lives might make them think twice about the society in which they live.
One interesting fact to emerge from the book is that blacklisting can be traced back to the time when trades unions first became active in the seventeenth century. In 1697 the Feltmakers’ Company introduced the "leaving certificate" system, whereby a master could refuse to employ a journeyman who failed to produce a "character note” from his previous employer.

The extent of blacklisting in specific industries is dealt with comprehensively. Since building a house or making a car have nothing to do with national security, what are the reasons for someone being commercially blacklisted? Page twelve provides the answer. The basic motive, for the employer, is a clear commercial one: sack the activists and you will remain a non-union firm. That means lower wage costs and higher profits. " Two more quotes underline this. "Management, on whom our future power and prosperity primarily depend, cannot be effective without a loyal and contented staff and labour force" (page 208): and "Managers should have the right to ensure that a potential employee is going to work well for their company and have no other ulterior motive for going into his employment" (page 227).

Since it is now harder for employers to sack workers, a large effort goes into vetting potential problem employees. One of the main agencies used for this purpose is the Economic League whose more than 200 subscribers include contributors of funds to the Conservative Party. Also prevalent is the use of private security firms to obtain information on individuals: sources include the Police National Computer and security services.

It is unlikely that the authors of Blacklist will get a three a.m. visit from the "thought police". Neither is reading the Socialist Standard likely to result in your being detained for possession of subversive literature. The ruling class has two hundred years experience of subjugating its workforce and the methods it uses to achieve its ends are not as overtly brutal as those of other capitalist states: but they are just as effective. The Observer recently ran a story about the huge increase in the number of official telephone taps: 30.000 was their figure. Of equal concern is the fact that proposals to reform the Official Secrets Act would have prevented the newspaper from making such disclosures.

The majority of the working class, because they support capitalism, do not comprehend and therefore do not value democracy. The erosion of legal freedoms are accepted with little demur in the frame of mind that the need for quiet life justifies them In the western world legal rights are eroded or vitiated in this "soft" way. The smug patrician's view is that we live in a democratic and "liberal" society. The reality is that socialists have to struggle to make the most of limited means of "free speech", against pressure from opponents who plead necessity but are glad to find excuses for further restrictions.

The real answer is to build a strong socialist movement. With growing numbers we shall be better able to resist the pressure to box us in, and to push outwards all the time. Socialist consciousness is democracy-consciousness, and its spread is the only positive answer to all repressions and intrusions.
Dave Coggan

Begging bowl (1989)

From the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

When those who seek to dismantle the welfare state are asked what will happen in future to the most destitute, they reply with calm reassurance that a return to the good old days of private charity is in order. As part of this tendency. Sir Hector Laing, chairman of United Biscuits, has been busy trying to persuade some of his fellow multi-millionaire business colleagues to join him in throwing some scraps at the hungriest among their class enemy. These are the workers whose normal poverty has been exacerbated by Sir Hector and his friends, who threw them on the scrap heap as they were not generating enough profit to make their further exploitation worthwhile. No doubt it was Sir Hector’s presidency of the company that makes McVitie's Digestives which made him especially suitable as chief crumb- thrower. The company, which is also responsible for Wimpy hamburgers, KP nuts and many other cultural delights, has been kind to old Hector: in 1984. for example, his shares entitled him to a dividend of over £3,000 every week, in addition to his salary and the steady increases in the value of the shares themselves.

Laing founded the Percent Club two years ago with the support of Margaret Thatcher. It is a grouping of businesses with pledge to donate at least half of one per cent of their profits to the local community. and it is linked to another organisation called Business in the Community. Interviewed in the Guardian on 8 December last, Laing explained that "industry” (by which he means the capitalistic class) has to take on the role of the old charitable wealthy families or “city fathers", especially since the government began to take “a big step back from industry". He ended with a resounding confirmation of our long-held view of such begging bowl routines. It is not, he says, a question of conscience:
A decaying society means decaying profits. What's in it for us is a better society, more people in jobs, more entrepreneurial flair in communities, and therefore more chance of making worthwhile profits.
Clifford Slapper