Thursday, May 19, 2016

Between the Lines: When TV told the truth (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone who has argued with reporters at a British TV station will have seen the apologetic and compromised embarrassment which is proof of their collaboration with deceit. Yes, they will admit that TV is biased and the bias is usually against workers who dare to take on their capitalist masters. It is true, they confess uneasily, that the NUJ has discovered that MI5 vets the files of all senior "news" reporters. It is true also that there are bans on some reports. These bans may be public They are more often the result of internal semi-secret memoranda and directives. If you work for the British media you have to learn to censor yourself in case you tell unwanted truths. It is true, journalists will tell you in whispered outrage, that the government threatens the BBC with cutting its funding if it does not adequately toe the line—and with the laughably labelled "independent" TV companies fighting like mad for advertising revenue they too must be careful not to offend major moneyed interests. So if you have a concern for telling the truth (and such concern is no qualification for employment in the BBC or ITN machines) it is hard to be a journalist. Reporters are workers too; they need to work in order to get the salary to pay the mortgage to keep on living to keep on working. Many wage slaves have to do dirty work; distorting truth for mass consumption is one of the dirtiest kinds.

There are moments in history when the dirty workers decide to come clean. Such was the case last December in Rumania. The dictator, Sir Nicolae Ceausescu (the knighthood was given by one unelected Head of State to another) was aware of the importance of TV. Since the mid 1980s Rumania TV broadcast for three hours daily mainly to convey "news" of the dictator's good deeds, the healthy state of the (crumbling) economy and to play "patriotic" music. When the workers came out on to the streets to overthrow the dictatorship the TV crews had to decide which side they were on. One ungenerous observation is that they backed the right side in the battle, but some of them were doubtlessly motivated by a consciousness that now was the moment of truth: to continue telling lies when so many workers were seeing through them was pointless The reporters in the Rumanian media put their futures on the line and went with the workers. In solidarity with the bravery of the TV presenters the workers defended the TV station. The Ceaucescu loyalists knew that winning control of the mass media was the most important victory they could achieve. These days the means of communications are more important than how many bullets you have.

The support given by Rumanian TV to the rebellion there supports three points which the Socialist Party has long made about the nature of social change. Firstly, it shows that the ideas of the majority determine whether change can happen or not. However more militarily competent the enemy might be, if workers possess the machinery of ideas they are a long way on the road to victory. Secondly, it does not follow that state-indoctrinated dupes can never change. How often have we been told that soldiers are not part of the working class and are brain-washed to turn against any workers' uprising? Such is the dogma of the Leninist left. In Rumania not only the much-indoctrinated soldiers but also the university-conditioned TV employees went to the side of their own class, the workers. Thirdly, the success of what happened in Rumania owes much to TV and radio reports of successful workers' struggles in other East European countries. In Czechoslovakia it was TV film of the brutally suppressed 17 November demonstration in Wenceslas Square that spurred Czech workers to join the struggle. Similarly it was Hungarian TV reports picked up on Rumanian TV sets which alerted Rumanian workers to the legalised murders committed by state police m Timisoara. The claim that world socialism will not emerge simultaneously seems less credible than ever in this age of TV images which know no borders.

On a recent ITN news broadcast there was a five-second shot of motorists passing ambulance stations and sounding their horns in solidarity with the striking workers. The vast majority of British people support these caring workers. At the moment it is the strikers' enemies who own and control the means of communications and the sound of a few car hooters does not drown out the noise of the official "news" reports. That might change but now we know it can change.
Steve Coleman

Capitalism causes housing problems (1990)

From the January 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1969, in the suburbs of North West London, property developers built a block of flats which was regarded at the time as a model to which all future working-class housing was to be built. The idea was sold to local councils who subsequently erected similar flats all over the country.

Some thirty years later, out of the original twenty flats twelve are now empty and have been for over three years while the remaining eight have occupants living in conditions bordering on squalor. They have now become Show Flats to capitalism's inability to meet human needs and to the reformists of the time who erroneously believed that capitalism could do this. Up and down the country there are similar examples of such recently-built slum housing. There is a certain irony too since at the time the then Labour Minister of Housing and Local government, Richard Crossman. wrote:
I am getting used to being shown the most magnificent plans in the council offices and then feeling a sense of anti-climax when I walk outside and see the actual buildings going up. (Town Planning Institute Journal. LI, 1965).
Quite—and Crossman, the developers and subsequent ministers did not have to live in them either. Workers get housing which befits their subordinate class position within society. It is only the capitalist class who get the housing that meets their needs and they do so through their class ownership and control of the means of life. They did so in the 1960s and they do so today.

Workers living in squalid post-war slums are more fortunate than some others in our class. At least they have a roof over their heads, albeit one often needing an umbrella. Some twenty miles away from the suburbs of Harrow, near the South Bank in central London literally scores of homeless workers, of both sexes, are forced to live in the open air because they simply do not have enough money to rent even slum accommodation.

In an article called Freaks. Misfits and People Like Us in July 1987 (the situation has got worse since then) the Architectural Journal gave statistics on how workers became homeless. Not surprisingly, these showed that this derived from the insecurity and unpredictability associated with the class position of workers under capitalism: the majority of homeless became so because parents, friends or relatives were no longer able to accommodate them: next came the breakdown of relationships with partners, loss of home due to mortgage arrears, loss of a service tenancy, eviction from council homes for rent arrears, and eviction from private dwellings for rent arrears or for redevelopment by the owners of the property. It is important to note too that the number of homeless began to rise sharply from 1978 onwards, under a Labour government, thereby refuting Labour's current claim that homelessness is the fault of the present Tory administration—of that 'evil and uncaring woman'. Mrs Thatcher—rather than a result of capitalism itself.

Under capitalism houses are produced as commodities to be bought and sold for a profit. The developer is compelled by competition to struggle for profit—a struggle against competitors who if more successful might drive him into bankruptcy, a Hobbesean 'war of each against all' in a market, which for many developers is often nasty, brutal and short. The housing needs of workers are not his problem. In this profit struggle the diverse needs of society can never be met.

It is easy to bemoan the predicament many workers find themselves in over housing. But, under capitalism, as workers what better can we expect? We are born into a class system in which we are propertyless and can only exist by selling our labour-power to an employer. We get the housing corresponding to that class position.

If we want to end the conditions we exist under we will not do so by misguidedly placing faith in politicians nor through subscribing to charities. What is required is class consciousness and democratic political action. Until then houses will leak and fall into disrepair and the homeless will eke out a precarious existence between the current celebration of capitalism’s decadence at the Andy Warhol exhibition and the pimps and muggers lurking in the streets around Charing Cross station.
Richard Lloyd

Socialist Economics: 4. Do Machines Produce Surplus Value? (1974)

From the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialist Economics Series

Historically the function of the capitalist system of production was to replace the previous mode of production prevailing within Feudal society by the more efficient capitalist mode of production. This involved the amalgamation of small fragmented and even individual means of production into a social force. Capitalism socialized the means of production. All the productive forces which were capable of being developed were developed. The capitalist could ensure the presence of large numbers of wageworkers in any one place co-operating with each other within the process of production, with a view to cutting down the time expended in the process.

Even on the basis of simple manual labour, it is a fact that 20 men working in unison can perform tasks that 40 men working individually could never do. The secret is that the 20 men are operating socially, or in concert, as a productive force; a force almost as old as mankind. The sub-division of labour is accelerated as each process becomes repetitious and broken down so that a number of operations can happen at the same time. It is quite obvious that a productive force based on even a high sub-division of manual labour was inadequate so long as it continued to rely on mainly manually operated tools. There were limits as to how many men you could get into a factory or one place, and there were also limits to the amount of time you could work the labourer without his health deteriorating. This productivity of labour could only be increased by the introduction of machinery. The motive force for this machinery was, in the first instance, provided by men or animals, but eventually by water, steam, gas and electricity, in that order.

It should always be borne in mind that the natural forces in social labour, i.e. sub-division of labour and co-operation, cost the capitalist nothing; likewise with the physical forces, water and steam. It is true that physical forces have to be harnessed in order to be exploited. This involves costly power-generating stations, hydro machinery, etc., but the cost of these is recovered over the period of their operation. Capital, therefore, has not only inherited the earth, but the natural physical forces so far discovered, and perhaps some at present undiscovered.

The gigantic means of production existing today bear little resemblance to the industrial scene when Marx made his analysis of machinery, manufacture, and the position of the working class in relation to the development of these technical productive forces. Automation, computers, nuclear energy, are certainly new, but the basic Marxist theory on machinery embracing these new developments is as true today, and of equal application, as it was in 1860. Today, capitalists and their economic advisers will go to great lengths to stress that most of the profit created by modern industry is due mainly to the increasing mass of constant capital vested in plant and machinery.

This appears on the surface to be the case, but Socialists do not take things at their face value. We fully agree with Marx that machines do not produce surplus value, and consequently profit, even if whole areas of production were based entirely on automated processes involving little direct labour participation. The reason why machinery, however highly developed does not produce surplus value is not difficult to understand. Machinery is an extension of the labour process which is carried on mechanically.

Machines are, in effect, social tools created by the man for the sole purpose of replacing human labour-power, and cutting down the time expended by human labour. The productiveness of machinery is measured by the labour it replaces. It is a fact that there are quite a number of processes which can only be done by machines, but all complicated processes have evolved from a sub-division of simple labour, and therefore the fact that simple labour has been intensified to the point of the scientific skill needed to produce and operate a machine to replace that simple labour, in no way alters the basis for calculating the productiveness of a machine.

No matter how complicated machines become, even to the point of the capitalist’s wildest dreams — the push-button society — they are still produced and maintained by men. Being a product of labour, a machine like every other commodity contains value in addition to its use-value. That value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour required to produce the machine. During the productive process, the machine wears out, and has to be replaced in the course of time. It follows then that the machine cannot pass on any more value than that which is contained within it in the first place. The machine is used in the production of commodities, and it gradually by stages, perhaps over years or decades, comes to the end of its working life. But during its working life it has added value to the particular commodity for which it was designed. Each of the commodities, therefore, has consumed part of the value of the machine, and consequently the machine has transferred its value to the products.

Suppose, for example, a machine cost £10,000, and would operate efficiently for 10 years, and at the end of the period would require to be replaced. The capitalist owner of the machine would therefore add £1,000 to the value of the products produced annually, representing 1/10th of the value of the machine. In this way the capitalist ensures that he can replace that portion of his capital vested in the machine. Any depreciation of value of machinery, however complicated, is always compensated by the amount returned to the capitalist by way of the value added to the commodity.

Value, in the form of capital, lives on — it has the gift of eternal life. Not only do the workers produce surplus value at the point of production, but they also preserve existing value. It is the phenomenon of the social relation of value that whilst it owes its origin to the social relation of human labour it has an independent existence, working through its own anarchistic economic laws; consequently it is no longer under the control of the society which gave rise to it.

If we consider the productive process as a whole, with computers, electronic devices, and highly developed machinery, there can be no doubt that these have added greatly to production. It appears that any increase in profit, apart from cutting wages, can only be derived by introducing machinery. This is true, but the profit, or surplus value, cannot come from an inanimate object. The technical foundations of modern industry are built on machinery. This machinery has been created by men under the capitalist mode of production and distribution; the incentive to its invention and introduction has always been the profit motive. If a machine is to replace labour it must perform its operation in less time than that required by human labour — it is no good otherwise.

Any substitution for labour, including the substitution of natural force for human force, is an extension of the labour process carried on by the working class. It is not disputed that machinery is a means to the production of surplus value, but this surplus value is produced by the people who make and operate the machines. The production of the worker working with machinery is increased tremendously, but the workers are paid not for what they produce but for what they sell, their labour-power. It follows, therefore, that the introduction of machinery serves only to increase the rate of exploitation; that is, the difference between what the worker produces and what he receives in the form of wages.

Each fresh introduction of machinery  into the working process is always done with a view to cutting down the amount paid in wages, by reducing the number of wage workers. Capitalists find the machine a useful ally in the struggle over wages.

Most of the industrial processes today could not, as they are, serve the needs of a Socialist society. Existing technology would provide the basis for developing socially acceptable industrial processes, free from noise, dirt, and non-injurious to life and limb. At the moment, the plain fact is that scientific progress in the development of machinery, as in all things, serves capital and not man.
Jim D'Arcy

Reformist woman (2001)

Book Review from the February 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Woman of Vision—A Life of Marion Phillips MP. By Marian Goronwy Roberts, Bridge Books, Wrexham, 2000.
A true visionary, or a crusading reformist? Both conclusions could be drawn from this biography of Marion Phillips. Roberts charts the successes and failures of this formidable Australian, who came to Britain in 1905, serving on numerous women's committees alongside Beatrice Webb, Mrs Keir Hardie, Mrs MacDonald and Lady Frances Balfour, eventually becoming Labour MP for Sunderland in 1929, one of only nine women members of Parliament.
Roberts's admiration for Marion Phillips is obvious as she describes how, through determination and skill, Phillips placed the working woman's perspective onto the political agenda. Unlike Mrs Pankhurst, her vision was not concentrated upon extending the franchise. As leader of the Women's Labour League, she described its role as "keeping the Labour Party well informed of the needs of women and providing women with the means of becoming educated in political matters". In this endeavour she gave an impetus for a quarter of a million housewives to take part in the labour movement and helped raise issues such as equality for women in the workplace, healthcare for children, the value of motherhood and an ending of the drudgery of home life. Speaking on the need for adequate bathing and washing facilities in new housing projects, she remarked: "If Labour councillors will not support us on this demand, we shall have to cry a halt on all municipal housing until we have replaced all Labour men by Labour women".
Phillips's tireless efforts on behalf of working women left me a little exhausted just by the reading of it; yet it becomes the cause of my disappointment in the book. Roberts's portrayal of Phillips concentrates far too heavily on the detail of Phillips's political struggles on behalf of women. Or perhaps it was Marion Phillips herself who did so. There were brief episodes in the biography where Phillips broke free from her world of immediate problems and practical considerations and offered some analysis. In an article on birth control, for instance, Marion Phillips stands against the prevailing view of her reforming colleagues to limit family size, arguing that large families are only a disadvantage where economic causes make it impossible to accommodate them, arguing that birth control was becoming the doctrine of liberalism, because the Liberals did not want to make drastic changes in the distribution of wealth.
Such wider reflections were few and far between. Baby clinics, labour-saving devices, wage demands, strike committees, school meals, maternity pay . . . all piling up into an enormous reformist heap. I was overwhelmed by it, hoping Phillips or her biographer could clear a path towards a genuine vision.
Much of her work, and the work of others like her, have made it possible for women like me to be accepted as equal members of our class. As a visionary for socialism, however, Marion Phillips barely scratched the surface. None of her battles for reform could ever relieve the ultimate exploitation of women—that of wage slavery itself.
It is often difficult for socialists to evaluate successful reformers. Do we acknowledge their achievements or point to their limited ambitions? Roberts's book is an interesting read in places, but hardly inspiring. It is up to us, as socialists, to take our vision forward. To quote Phillips in her address to the women of Hartlepool: "There is still a lot of educating to do and we are going to begin by educating ourselves".
Angela Defty

Capitalism's War On the War On Drugs (2016)

The Pathfinders Column from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
It may come as a surprise to some that the Tory government has since the coalition years been promoting the idea of 'evidence-based policy' and using it as a buzz-phrase in their publications. Insofar as they are genuinely pursuing this laudable aim we could hardly object. But are they?
Not according to anyone who's looked at the terms of the new Psychoactive Substances Act, which blanket-bans anything 'intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect' and which was due to come into force on 6 April (Link).
The Act has already hit a major snag, forcing the commencement date to be postponed, with no new date set. The problem is that the government has offered no meaningful and unambiguous definition of the term 'psychoactive'. The result is that ministers don't know exactly what they are banning, which means that the police can't enforce the Act ( 30 March).
But surely the government, committed to 'evidence-based policy', would have sought the advice of its own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which was set up over 40 years ago in order – theoretically – to provide the scientific case for the war on drugs? The problem is that, ever since the days of ACMD chairman David Nutt, who was famously sacked by New Labour for stating that taking ecstasy was less dangerous than horse-riding and for describing government drug policy as 'beyond absurd', the government has not trusted the ACMD to toe the line and has cut them out of all consultation on the new Act. This despite the fact that 'It is actually a legal requirement set out in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 that the ACMD must be consulted before alterations to the Act or new legislation is brought in' (Link). Not surprisingly, members of the ACMD were reported to be 'furious'.
Health campaigners have, also not surprisingly, ridiculed the illogic of a universal ban on relatively harmless drugs while exempting some of the worst, notably alcohol and tobacco. But Mike Penning, the minister responsible for the bill, was ebulliently unapologetic: 'We will ensure that we insert what we want to insert [into the exemption list], while at the same time having a blanket ban'. Insurrection duly followed from the Tory benches over the use of amyl nitrate 'poppers', which are highs and muscle relaxants popular among gays and which now were threatened with criminalisation.
'Sometimes when something is proposed which becomes personal to you, you realise the government is about to do something fantastically stupid' said Crispin Blunt, gay Tory MP and popper-user, in a Commons speech in January which served to create an embarrassing association between banning party drugs and homophobia (Telegraph, 20 January). After further lambasting from the Labour benches the government retreated in some confusion and instructed the ACMD to find a way to get poppers onto the exemption register in order to avoid a back-bench mutiny. The almost equally mutinous ACMD, commanded to produce 'evidence' in support of a stupid Act but to keep silent otherwise, duly obliged with a technical fudge arguing that as poppers mainly affect blood vessels and do not directly target brain cells they couldn't be said to cause a genuine psychoactive effect (New Scientist, 2 April). The fact that this is pseudo-sciency-sounding-codswallop is abundantly obvious to any popper user getting the instant highs, and often the banging headaches afterwards.
This draconian and ill-conceived Act isn't just illegally-drafted scientific nonsense, it's really the last desperate cheer in the UK for one of capitalism's biggest avoidable own-goals, the 'war on drugs'.
Worldwide, state anti-drug policies are in total disarray. While China, Russia and remarkably, Sweden, are trying gamely to stay hard-line on prohibition, the Americas are in the process of hoisting the white flag, at least in the case of cannabis, by far the world's most popular illicit drug. After years of decriminalisation, California is set to legalise cannabis this November, after Colorado in 2014 and Washington DC in 2015. Federal regulation is expected within five years, while Canada has already announced plans to create its own regulated cannabis market in 2017. Uruguay 'went legal' in 2013 and other South American countries including Argentina and Ecuador are likely to follow suit. The Czech Republic legalised 'medicinal' marijuana in 2013, and Germany is soon embarking on a huge medicinal cannabis programme. Spain, Italy and Australia will probably to do the same. The World Health Organisation came out in support in 2014. In the UK, cannabis-related arrests have fallen by 50 percent since 2010 and several police commissioners have stated that they will not arrest users or growers of small amounts. The Lib Dems, with the reckless daring of the electorally doomed, are proposing a new Cannabis Regulation Authority to oversee a legal retail industry ( 20 April). As things stand, however, Labour and Tories both still see drug liberalisation as political suicide.
Even in its own terms, capitalism has done some bizarre things, and prohibition must count among the most logic-defying, because it has forced a decoupling of the capitalist market from capitalist legislation, thereby shutting down the normal operations of capitalist production (including quality control) and instead opening up an entirely unregulated black market, a kind of 'dark capitalism', which is today worth around $500bn globally, more than the market value of Google or Microsoft. This has in turn produced a global disaster of racketeering and murder that dwarfs what happened in Al Capone's time. The policing cost to the ruling class has been staggering, but the cost in deaths is even more so. Mexico's average life-span has actually lowered due to the gigantic number of drug-related deaths (New Scientist, 9 April). Whoever has been winning the war on drugs, it isn't governments, it isn't the (licit) capitalist class and it certainly isn't workers either.
The history of drug prohibition has nothing to do with science and everything to do with racism and anti-worker condescension by governing classes. Drugs were first banned in the UK in 1916 under the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act, after a moral panic about drugs in the front line. But where post-war bans on alcohol failed quickly due to its universal popularity, the prohibition on other, relatively niche narcotics, remained sustainable until globalisation in modern times has created a Frankenstein's monster.
Exactly a century later, the signs are that capitalism is beginning to realise what it's missing out on, and is not going to allow its own legislation – which normally exists to protect it – to continue getting in its way. How to sell this enormous policy U-turn to voters who have grown up being brainwashed by government propaganda against drugs is currently the problem proving precisely too much for Cameron and his Tories, or for Labour hoping for re-election, but there's no doubt where the smart money wants to go next.

Palliatives and Politics (1907)

From the November 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

The existence of a professing Socialist body with a programme of fifty items of reform may well cause the uninitiated to pause and wonder as to why the Socialist should seek to "capture the political machinery." Presumably it is to legislate and administer the fifty items of reform; and to some members of that organisation that is most certainly the idea. In an argument with a member of the S.D.F. on the question of palliatives, I was met with the astounding statement : "If the S.P.G.B. is not in favour of palliatives there is no occasion for it to go in for political action at all." His "Socialism" prevented him from conceiving political action except for the purpose of administering reforms. Yet the administration of any number of reforms under capitalism is not the work of the Socialist. The S.P.G.B. seeks to attain to political power with the express intention of rendering the administration of reforms and palliatives unnecessary by achieving politically the revolution that will place the means of producing wealth in the hands of the working class.

The two view-points are not only distinct — they are mutually antagonistic. The person who seeks return to political position for the purpose of administering capitalism in a way less objectionable or oppressive to the working class, stands, ipso facto, for the maintenance of capitalism. Socialist votes are not necessary to his return and are not, therefore, sought. He stands in the same category as other reformers and his advent to the local council chamber or elsewhere marks no advance in the class consciousness of his electors. But the person who stands for the abolition of capitalism and seeks return to political position for the purpose of using that position to assist in his revolutionary aim, seeks to express the determination of his working-class electors to use the political power in their hands, and stands in a different category. The votes of men not in favour of Socialism are useless to him and are not sought. His election campaign is but an incident in the work of the propaganda of the idea that social reforms are rendered unnecessary when the working class control the industrial machinery which to-day they operate, for the reason that the enjoyment of wealth would follow logically upon its production, and the contradiction of capitalism which couples poverty with industry and wealth with idleness would not be inflicted by the working class upon itself. That contradiction is at the bottom of the demand for and the need for social reform. The Socialist objective is the abolition of the economic relationship which produces it, by the capture of the political machinery and its use for the purpose of that abolition.

The political power is at present gratuitously placed in the hands of the capitalist class, who use it for the maintenance of capitalism. It could as easily be placed by a conscious working class in the hands of its delegates for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. 

And no doubt it will be when professing Socialists have themselves recognised the fact, and have ceased to lend their efforts to the capitalist class by agitating for reforms that leave the central position of capitalist domination intact, and serve but to delay the time when the working class will use its vote for the revolutionary purpose — the Socialist purpose, of ending and not mending capitalism.