Monday, August 15, 2016

What classless society? (1992)

Editorial from the August 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nobody really believes that we live in a classless society. Not even Major. He knows as well as anyone else that at the top are a small group of big businessmen, financiers, landed aristocrats and rentiers living off their investments. Around them is another group, many of them the first group’s relatives, who occupy the top posts in the civil service, the judiciary, the armed forces and the Church. In Russia they would have been known as the Nomenklatura. Here they are called the Establishment. A more accurate name is the capitalist class.

It is not their posh accents, their old school ties or their titles and honours that makes them privileged. These could disappear without ending class privilege. As could other frills like the monarchy, the House of Lords, Henley and Ascot. Their real privilege is in being rich.

Being rich doesn’t mean having a country estate, a chauffeur-driven Rolls, a yacht and the like. Rich people do have these things, it is true, but any rich person who spent all their income on them wouldn't be rich for long. The trick is to use your money to acquire a regular income that enables you to sustain a life of privilege. And the way to do that is to invest your money, to use it as capital and live off the profits.

How the rich got their money in the first place— whether through inheritance as most do or like most of the others by financial wheeling and dealing—is irrelevant. To stay rich they have to become capitalists. They must use a part of their wealth to purchase a stake in the ownership of the means of production.

Profits are an unearned property income that accrues to those who invest their wealth as capital. Making profits is what capitalism is all about. It is what motivates production. But it involves depriving those who actually produce the wealth of society of a part of the fruits of our labour. This is why capitalism works in the interests of the rich. As a profit-making system it works, and can only work, in the interests of those who live off profits and never in the interests of the rest of us.

Capitalism is a system of exploitation. One class, thanks to its ownership rights over the means of production, is able to live off the work of the other class. Not that the two classes are equal in numbers. In Britain those rich enough to be able to live off their profits can’t amount to more than 2 per cent of the population. Their exploitation of the rest of us is quite legal. In fact property rights are entirely granted and maintained by the state.They amount to a licence to levy a tribute on production.

The way to end exploitative class society follows from this. We, the non-rich, must use our overwhelming numbers to win control of the state and revoke all private property rights over the means of production. At a stroke this will render null and void all stocks and shares, title deeds and other legal entitlements to live by exploiting others. These will become useless pieces of paper. The means of production will become the common heritage of us all and the way will then be open for us to democratically control them in the interests of the whole community. With the capitalist class off our backs, we can begin producing things to satisfy people’s needs and not for profit. This is what a classless society must mean. Nothing short of it merits that description.

End of a Dream (1992)

Editorial from the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley were elected leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party in 1983, they were hailed as a "dream ticket"—as a pair who between them were likely to pander to just about every prejudice and delusion and so were expected to bring in the maximum votes for their party. At the time Labour had suffered so crushing a defeat that there was serious speculation about their ability to survive as an electoral force. How should they recover? Make an alliance with the SDP and Liberals? Fight the next election on the kind of programme which Derek Hatton might consider too extreme? Or ditch practically everything they ever called their principles and campaign as an open and unashamed party of capitalism, market forces and all?

In fact there was never any real doubt about which course they would take. Kinnock lost no time in settling to the task of jettisoning what has been called Labour's intellectual baggage— a journalist's title for politically embarrassing policies. He did not flinch, when this entailed disposing of some of his personal baggage for, as a former left-wing firebrand who ostentatiously sat in the Commons chamber with Dennis Skinner while the rest of the Members went to the Lords to listen to the Queen's speech, he had some adjustments to make if he was to change from a friend of the left wing into its scourge. Kinnock's priority was to win power over British capitalism and anything he saw as an obstacle to this—and Militant threatened to be an especially large and deeply rooted obstacle—had to be ruthlessly cleared away.

At the same time, with a little help from some slick, manipulative friends, he refurbished Labour's campaigning style. Out went Michael Foot and his walking stick, speaking passionately but emptily to a genuine audience— genuine in the sense that they could ask questions and put opposing arguments. Out went spontaneous walk-abouts. Out went the red flag, both symbol and song. In came the red rose and an anthem by Brahms. In came the monster rally with an audience hand-picked for their eagerness to give mindless applause to anything their leaders said, rallies where Kinnock strode to the platform picked out by a spotlight in a darkened stadium. Labour's rally at Sheffield was the height—or should it be the depths—of this style of presentation, all aimed at maximum coverage on TV, at putting over the party as fit to govern British capitalism and not allowing any doubt or discussion about it. It is not stretching the point, to say that the Nazis used the same technique in their rallies; it did not sit easily with Kinnock's talk about "government readiness to listen to the people" being "evidence of strength and confidence, not of weakness".

One Labour MP now expresses his doubts about that rally, talking of his "churning embarrassment", but at the time no such criticism was heard because it was represented as a triumph of one way, unavoidable communication in the age of the TV election. Kinnock allowed himself to be managed so that he had no real and direct contact with the voters, gave no chance to anyone to question him and certainly no chance for anyone to harrass him as the Tory leaders were publicly harrassed. But while this was seen as essential to Labour's march to victory it was all accepted and admired. It was only after their defeat, when Labour's election tactics were exposed as futile, that the criticism began to be heard.

When he conceded the election, Kinnock spoke about the security and satisfaction of his own life and contrasted it with that of so many other people, regretting that without power he could do nothing to improve things for them. The implication of this is that the Conservative government is responsible for poverty in Britain, that it is their own creation, almost as if it did not exist before 1979 when Labour was the government. This absurd and feeble deceit is self-exposing; indeed Labour's 1979 manifesto was one long promise to cure the many problems which were still in existence after their five years in power.

The bitterness and bewilderment in the Labour Party now is there because they thought they had mastered the art of persuading the voters to opt for their style of running British capitalism rather than the Tories' way. It was hardly a choice. If the result had gone the other way it would have made very little difference. Poverty, homelessness, unnecessary disease, crime, squalor, war and fear—all these would still have blighted our lives, under a Labour government as they have done in the past. Labour's dream turned into a nightmare but for the working class that is how it is all the time—except that they have yet to realise that an election is their chance to wake up.

An unfair fight (1992)

Editorial from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy: rule of the people by the people. The 1992 General Election: a chance to choose whether to be ruled over by Tweedledum or Tweedledee. The right to place a cross on a ballot paper every four or five years does not amount to democracy. To be governed is to be unfree.

The coming election will be a cynical exercise in manipulating workers’ minds to blame A or have hope in B as a way out of the mess of relative degrees of poverty which is the lot of the majority of us. Labourites and Lib-Dems will pretend that all of the problems of capitalism emanate from wicked Tory rule and could be remedied by them carrying out almost identical policies to the Tories. The Conservatives will lie that the workers have done well under them since 1979, despite the objective record of working-class hardship which only the socially blind cannot see around them. There will be smears: Kinnock the crypto-Stalinist; Major the secret puppet of the Thatcherite barbarians. There will be press launches in which political charades will take the form of tame rock concerts. There will be TV broadcasts in which your future will be sold to you by the same twisters who sell time shares and Fairy Liquid. There will be cheap, hollow slogans. There will be crass photo opportunities in which the previously inhuman shapes of Kenneth Clarke and Gerald Kaufman will pose with cuddly kiddies and dying geriatrics. There will be promises so big that all but the strongest will be crushed as they fall upon us.

For all of that, it is better to have the vote than not to have it. The workers in the Chartist movement of the last century were no fools in wanting their chance to determine who will rule. The wealthy who opposed votes for workers on the grounds that the working class is many and the property-owning rich parasites are few and therefore the many might end the social power of the few had a point. Sadly, the past century of working- class franchise has not yet justified those fears of real democracy. The workers have been persuaded to play the game: bought off by reforms and conned by leaders, the potential power of the vote has been wasted in every single election.

The answer is not to abandon the vote and ignore elections, but to work to create a politically-educated electorate of working men and women who understand where their interest lies. The battle, not just when the electoral whistle blows, but at all times, is to win workers’ minds; to make class-conscious workers. Such workers, currently only a small minority, will never waste their votes on electing leaders, nor will they support any policy designed to run the profit system which exploits and dominates them.

Socialists enter into the electoral contest, using it as a means of putting our revolutionary case for socialism to the widest number of fellow workers. In the coming election we shall put up one candidate, Richard Headicar, in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency. He is not a prospective leader, but a delegate to be used by workers who understand and support the socialist mandate. If elected, our delegate will be wholly accountable to the socialist majority which put him into parliament for the sole purpose of stating the socialist position and furthering the socialist cause. When enough socialist delegates are elected, here and throughout the world, the workers' conscious will shall be enacted: class ownership and control of the means of life will cease and the state, which is an instrument of class coercion will be abolished.

The socialist candidate in the coming election will receive negligible media attention and little chance to debate with his rivals who will be too busy engaging in manipulative stunts to dare to take on socialism in democratic debate. Our party will be charged £500 by the state for the right to join the electoral contest and then will meet with an unfair fight in which money, the means of communication and public prejudice will be stacked in favour of the pro-capitalism candidates. On our side we shall have little money and working-class supporters with constraints upon their time, but we shall not flinch from the fight, sure in the knowledge that the undeniable class interest of the vast majority is represented by Socialism which we alone stand for in this election.

No to nationalism (1992)

Editorial from the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The political virus of Nationalism is spreading. In Yugoslavia and the late Russian Empire, after decades of forced national unity, new national splinters are emerging, echoed by the sound of gunfire. In the north-cast of Ireland both sectarian gangs persist in their absurd nationalist hatreds, while fanatical Welsh nationalists set English property on fire and Scottish nationalist tricksters preach independence from Britain as some kind of panacea for ending poverty. Czechs against Slovaks; Flemings against Walloons; Ukrainians against Russians; western against eastern Germans, and both against Turkish and other immigrants.

Commentators speak of neo-fascism being on the rise. To be sure, gangs of desperate, frustrated, ignorant workers are looking for scapegoats. In Poland they are blaming their problems on the Jews, even though most Polish Jews were killed in the holocaust.The growth of the French National Front, with its facile equation between immigration and national crisis, is a miserable reflection upon millions of people who seem to have learned little from the experience of Nazism.

The world capitalist economy is in a crisis. Millions are feeling the hardship of living under a system which puts profits before needs. Not understanding the system, they seek someone to blame. Deceived by their masters, they seek security in isolation, entombed by artificial borders which stifle the cultures of those who never look beyond them. In Britain, nationalists wrap their ugly flag around them and thank God (who saves The Queen) that they are not continentals.

The contradiction of capitalism is that, being a global system, it cannot allow petty national fragmentation to succeed. The complacent British must become Europeans, and the isolationist Americans must face up to the world slump they must share with Japan, and the Croatians must realise that even if they escape Serbian domination they will soon have to accept German economic rule.

Socialists, whose country is the planet Earth, do not underestimate the importance of cultural diversity. The notion of the whole world conforming to one uniform way of life is far from appealing. It is the profit system, with its inevitable cultural imperialism whereby those with the dollars dictate what we listen to, how we speak, what we read and where we travel, which reduces culture to lifeless conformity to the cheap and nasty offerings of a culture industry.

Socialism is a global solution to a global problem. The problem is that the Earth and all its abundant resources belong to the minority, not to the human community as a whole. The minority abuse the planet Earth for the purpose of making profits. Socialism will end minority ownership and control, place the world in the hands of everyone and produce goods and services solely for need. This will require global organisation and not national fragmentation. Socialism will put an end to every border; nation-states will be abolished immediately.

The working class has no countries. The British do not own Britain any more than the Russians own Russia, the Georgians Georgia, the Armenians Armenia or the Serbs Serbia. We, who produce the world’s wealth, must cast off the chains of nationalist illusion. We have a world to win.

Profit before need—again (1992)

Editorial from the January 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Half of bedsit tenants live in unhealthy, unsafe homes, according to a report from the Audit Commission last September. At least 300,000 people in England are homeless, most in squalid bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but thousands live rough in such places as Cardboard City under Waterloo Bridge in London. Nearly 2.9 million homes are in poor condition, according to the last major survey in 1986. including 900,000 statutorily unfit. 460,000 lacking one or more amenities, and 2.4 million in poor repair.

Clearly, for millions of people their basic need for decent housing is not being met. There is an urgent need for existing houses to be improved and for new homes to be built. So why isn't this done? Why are the housing needs of so many neglected in this way?

One possible explanation would be that there is a shortage of skilled building workers to carry out the repairs and build the new houses. That this is not the explanation can be seen from the announcement last August by the Building Employers Federation that 150,000 building workers had lost their jobs since the middle of 1990 and that a further 100,000 would by the middle of 1992. So we are talking of there soon being a quarter-of-a-million unemployed building workers, not counting those who were already without work in 1990.

Perhaps there is a shortage of building materials? But this can't be the explanation either since "producers currently have almost 1.4 billion bricks stacked up in their warehouses—higher than in 1982, the nadir of the last recession, or in the mid-1970s, when the property market collapsed. That is enough to build 170,000 more houses" (Independent, 25 November 1991).

So what is the explanation? Simply that those who suffer from bad housing and those who have no home can't afford to pay for decent accommodation. A report in 1990 from the Audit Office on the homeless was quite explicit on this: “The link with poverty is underlined. The report says the average net income of homeless households in 1988 was under £100 a week, compared with an average income for all households in 1986 of £192 a week" (Daily Telegraph, 22 August 1990). The 1986 survey of housing conditions was equally clear: “78 per cent of homes lacking basic amenities had annual incomes of less than £6000 a year. The same was true for 69 per cent of households in unfit housing and 55 per cent of those in houses in poor repair" (Daily Telegraph, 12 September 1991).

What this means is clear. The resources—the materials and the skilled workers—to solve the problem exist but, under the profit-driven market economy, the incentive to do this is lacking. The capitalist economy only responds to paying demand, not real demand. Some group, such as the badly housed and the homeless, may have a need for something, even something as basic as decent housing, but unless they can afford to pay for this it will be neglected. The profit system only allows production to take place where there is a prospect of a profit being made. If this prospect is absent, then production will not take place. People's needs will go unmet.

This is why we have the obscene situation of hundreds of thousands of unemployed building workers and huge stockpiles of building materials along side millions of people living in bad housing conditions. It is further proof, not that any is really needed, that the profit system does not serve human needs.

The profit-driven market economy is not the end of history and pinnacle of civilization towards which humanity has been travelling since we came down from the trees, as some of its more lyrical defenders used to claim in the 1980s. It is a squalid system that is incapable of meeting even people’s basic needs in an adequate way. That is why it must go, and be replaced by a system of common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. This is the only social arrangement that will allow productive resources to be used for their proper purpose: to satisfy the needs of the members of society.

The Review Column: Bombs in Orbit (1967)

The Review Column from the December 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bombs in Orbit
A few years ago the nuclear powers (there were then only three of them) signed the Test Ban Treaty, amid mutual congratulations at their humanity in lifting a shadow from the world.

Since then, a lot has been happening.

France and China have got the Bomb and have tested it. The older nuclear powers have carried out numerous underground tests and have devotedly improved the delivery systems of the bombs they already have.

Russia and America, apart from their well publicised space adventures, have fired up many unannounced satellites, which have gathered the data needed to develop a more deadly type of missile guidance.

Now, the Russians have FOBS—the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System—missiles which go into orbit around the earth and are brought back from space onto their targets.

The American Defence Department have stated that, in their view, the FOBS presents no greater threat than an equivalent number of the old, comparatively simple intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Anyone who can find consolation in that is free to do so. Meanwhile, U Thant’s report to the United Nations states the grim opinion that the world (or some states in it) now have enough nuclear weapons to “eliminate all mankind”.

It is pertinent to point out that the latest Russian horror has come into being in the year when they are remembering the 50th anniversary of the revolution which, they say, introduced Socialism.

What a way to celebrate! And what a comment on the true nature of that revolution, that one of its results has been to add an even more fearsome weapon to the arsenal of an already desperately unsafe world.


George Brown
A section of the press has been gunning for George Brown for a long time. That was why, when Brown put on one of his displays of temperament at the dinner given by Lord Thompson, some newspapers revealed a sudden, strange interest in meticulously accurate and detailed reporting.

Brown is by now established in popular estimation as a man who is always ready to show off his personal weaknesses in public. It is, of course, not unknown for politicians to have personal weaknesses of every kind but usually—as is now being increasingly revealed about the private life of the late Lloyd George, for example—the self-appointed guardians of public information have no qualms about suppressing the facts.

Brown’s tormentors excuse themselves by saying they are worried that a British Foreign Secretary should act in so undignified a way, because this must damage British interests abroad.

The first thing to say about this is that whatever influence the British capitalist class may have in international affairs is founded in their economic and military strength and has absolutely nothing to do with the personalities of their diplomats.

The second thing is that a Foreign Secretary must become involved in all sorts of unsavoury matters. He must promote, agree to, arrange, all manner of treachery, duplicity and intrigue. He must deceive and, if he can carry it off, bully. Sometimes he must back his word with armed force—with destruction and killing. He lives in a savage and cynical world.

It is typical of the hypocrisy of capitalism in general, and of this affair in particular, that all sides in it should think it is perfectly alright for a Foreign Secretary to dabble in the slime, provided he does so with all the traditional ceremonies and dignity.


By-elections
There have been Labour governments before, and Labour governments with unpopular policies, and Labour governments which have lost by-elections. But in all these things the Wilson government are breaking the records.

The Attlee government, just after the war, were unpopular—they imposed the wage freeze, they rationed bread and potatoes, they met the severe winter of 1946/7 with drastic power cuts which sent thousands to bed early in cold, dark homes.

Yet at the by-elections they held the line; as one monotonous result after another came in, it seemed the two big parties were immovably entrenched, each in their respective seats.

Wilson’s record is different. The loss of constituencies like Walthamstow and Leicester means that almost nowhere are Labour candidates safe; that the most massive majority is now vulnerable.

This is a surprisingly rapid change in voting sympathy; it is, after all, only some eighteen months ago that the voters, seemingly mesmerised by the magic of Wilson’s political trickery, swept Labour back into power with an increased majority.

Disenchantment was bound to come and what is now in question is whether, under the pressure of these reverses, Wilson will lose his nerve in the same way as Macmillan did after Orpington.

Either way, and even if in a few odd constituencies like Hamilton the electors decide to vote for one of the smaller parties, there will be no change worth getting excited about. As long as the working class express their frustrations and disappointments by turning from one capitalist party to another the problems they complain about, and which persuade them to change their vote, will continue.

So will the deceits of the political leaders’ magic which, however dazzling in the proud, confident morning of victory, always fades in the dim despair of reality.