Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Obituary: Alan Coombes (2016)

Obituary from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deepest regret that we have to tell you of the passing of our much esteemed Comrade Alan Coombes. Alan was a very staunch member of the World Socialist Party of New Zealand. He was originally from Swindon, Wiltshire, and retained his strong West Country dialect to the end. So you can bet our meetings were more than lively when Alan was in full swing. A few years ago Alan, along with Comrade Gerald Coffee, used to broadcast on Auckland’s Community Radio, to try and get the socialist message across. Alan never got anywhere, so eventually we had to give up. So, on behalf of the New Zealand comrades, I will end with this little note – Farewell Dear Comrade, you have at last attained a measure of equality with the ‘spongers’ of the ruling class. Even with all their accursed wealth they get just ‘three score and ten’ like the rest of us.
Jim Ryder

Why Do We Behave As We Do? (2016)

From the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

Average workers (whatever they call themselves – artisans, ‘middle-class’, whatever) work hard all their lives and end up with not much more than when they started. The system is rigged to bring about that result. (It is based on the majority not owning enough to avoid having to work for an employer for a living.) But whenever they have a chance to vote, they vote to perpetuate the system. A clear case of turkeys voting for Christmas. Now why should that happen? Various experiments which were carried out by psychologists at some American universities in the twentieth century may indicate possible answers.

Solomon Asch and social compliance
In 1951 Solomon Asch, a professor at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, organized what he called tests of visual judgement. He organized groups of students, eight males in each group. Every group was given two cards: one card had a line drawn on it, and the second card had three lines, a, b, and c. They were asked to decide which of the three lines, a, b, and c, was nearest in length to the single line on the first card. The answer was never difficult: each time one of the lines (whether it was a, b, or c), was clearly the same length as the first card’s line. However, there was a ‘hidden agenda’. Everyone in the group (except one person) knew that the real reason for all this activity was to see how far this single oblivious person would be able to hold to his own (correct) opinion when all the others in the group unanimously chose the wrong answer. Each time it was so arranged that this one unaware person gave his answer last (or next to last). A number of tests were held. The first few times everyone gave the correct answer, and the ‘guinea pig’ had no difficulty in agreeing. But then there came a test when as pre-arranged all the members of the group gave the wrong answer. So when it came to the ‘guinea pig’, he either had to give an obviously incorrect answer, which meant he was agreeing with all the others, or he had to be brave enough to stand out on his own, which meant appearing to criticize what all the others had said. Each group had eighteen tests; in six tests the group’s members all gave the correct answer, so the ‘guinea pig’ would have less reason to be suspicious, or think it was odd that the others were always wrong. The other twelve tests were the ‘critical trials’, where all the group-members, except the ‘guinea pig’, gave the (same) wrong answer; this showed whether the ‘guinea pig’ was self-reliant enough to give the obviously correct answer, or meekly submitted to what everyone else thought. More than one-third of the time the ‘guinea pigs’ simply accepted the group consensus, though that meant going along with a palpable error. (And there was never any significant doubt about what the correct answer was.) Three-quarters of the ‘guinea pigs’ gave at least one answer that they knew to be wrong during the critical trials. Such are the results of the deep-seated desire in most people to be socially amenable. Afterwards, when the real nature of the tests was revealed, most of the ‘guinea pigs’ who gave incorrect answers said they did not really believe what they said, but they went along with the group “for fear of being ridiculed or thought ‘peculiar’.”

Stanley Milgram and obedience
When you look at some of the gigantic atrocities of the twentieth century, you feel that if you tried to describe them to people who had never heard of them, you wouldn’t be believed. Would German workers, employed on the railways, calmly transport closed cattle trucks with thousands of Jews (and others) to concentration camps, where other German workers would obediently usher them to their deaths in the gas chambers? Or take the famine of 1932-3 in the Ukraine, North Caucasus, etc, which Stalin imposed to punish the peasants who were reluctant to enter collective farms: surely Russian workers (even when put into uniform as soldiers) wouldn’t confiscate all the remaining food in an area when they knew the locals would die of starvation? But that’s exactly what happened. Hitler probably killed between ten and twelve million people in the early 1940s: Stalin’s famine killed six to eight million, besides more millions in the Great Purge, the gulags and so on. (The British ruling class decided that British workers would fight valiantly on the same side as Stalin in the Second World War; many British ships were lost, and sailors drowned, in the ‘Arctic convoys’ taking supplies to Murmansk in north Russia.)

Of course many thousands of apparently ordinary citizens were involved in the slaughters organized by both Hitler and Stalin; and another American, Professor Milgram at Yale University, carried out some experiments in the 1960s in an attempt to discover how this could have happened. He advertised for volunteers, who were paid a modest sum for their time, to take part in what he called a learning experiment. These outsiders were each paired with a participant, who really knew what was happening; in each pair one was called a teacher, and one was called a learner. Apparently this was decided by the toss of a coin, but in fact Milgram fixed it so that the outsider was always the teacher, who thought it was a genuine educational exercise, while the learner was a participant. The teacher and the learner were divided by a screen. The teacher, and another participant called a researcher, who was an authoritative figure in a white lab coat, watched while the learner had electrodes fastened to his arms. The teacher and the researcher then retired to a neighbouring position, which was out of sight of the learner, but not out of hearing. There the teacher sat down in front of an ‘electric shock generator’, with a row of switches each of which was clearly labelled from 15 volts, ‘slight shock’, right up in stages to 450 volts, ‘danger, severe shock’. The teacher then asked the learner a series of fairly straightforward questions: which of four words was most closely associated with another given word. The learners kept getting the answers wrong; and each time they did so, the teacher had to administer an electric shock. At each successive wrong answer, the teacher had to give (as he believed) an increased shock. Of course there was no shock in fact, but the learner gave increasing signs of discomfort, going up to screams and agonized shouts of ‘get me out of here’ as the supposed voltage intensified. The teacher naturally became increasingly uneasy, but the researcher kept telling him he must continue, in a predetermined series of official-sounding statements, each successive one more strongly phrased. In the basic original experiment, all the teachers went up to pressing the 300-volt switch, and two-thirds of them pressed the (as they believed) 450-volt switch, ‘danger, severe shock’, despite the sounds of anguish coming from the learner.

The original experiment was subsequently repeated with several different adjustments, to try and find the elements most significant in persuading the teacher to abandon his natural, basic human reluctance to harm another human being, whom he scarcely knew. If the researcher told the teacher that he continued on his own responsibility, the voltage reached was much less; if the researcher said he (the researcher) would take responsibility, the voltage reached was higher. When the researcher wore ordinary clothes, rather than the impressive lab coat, the voltage reached was lower. When the researcher was not actually present, but gave his orders or comments over the telephone, the voltage reached was lower; the same thing happened when the experiment took place in some rundown offices, rather than in the impressive surroundings of Yale University. All these elements, the evasion of responsibility, the persuasive costume, the physical presence, and the imposing environment, all helped to transform an ordinary human being into someone who was prepared to inflict great pain on another individual who was a stranger to him, and against whom he could have had no personal animus. Milgram said: “The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding attention.” In fact, ‘ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being. Obedience to authority is ingrained in us all from the way we were brought up’.

Philip Zimbardo and the prison environment
Later still Professor Zimbardo, of Stanford University, became interested in the psychology of prisoners, and organized the Stanford prison experiment. This was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, which wanted (somewhat naively) to know more about the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners. According to one website, Zimbardo was ‘interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards (i.e. dispositional) or had more to do with the prison environment (i.e. situational)’. Zimbardo advertised for male college students, offering a small daily fee. More than seventy applicants were given searching interviews and tests to weed out any with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or any history of crime or drug abuse. Twenty-four were chosen, and were divided into nine prison guards and nine prisoners (with six reserves) by the random toss of a coin. A lifelike jail was built in the basement of the psychology building, with three cells (each with three cots) equipped with heavy barred doors, and a cubby hole to punish prisoners with solitary confinement. A corridor was used as a yard for exercise, and there was a large more luxurious room for the guards. Those designated prisoners were arrested at their homes by the local police force, and processed like all arrestees: handcuffed and searched, booked, finger-printed, a mug-shot taken, and put in a holding cell. All this, said Zimbardo, so the prisoners would suffer the ‘police procedure which makes arrestees feel confused, fearful, and dehumanised’. At the Stanford ‘prison’ the prisoners were stripped naked, searched, and deloused: standard treatment in U.S. prisons, no doubt designed as a first dose of the continuous degradation which God’s own country inflicts on its prisoners. The guards wore khaki uniforms, boots, and mirror sunglasses to prevent eye contact; each had a whistle and a police truncheon. The prisoners wore shapeless smocks and rubber sandals, and were given numbers by which they were always known: both guards and prisoners were forbidden to use names.

An attempted prisoner rebellion on day two was met with spray from a fire extinguisher, with prisoners stripped and losing their mattresses. The further into the experiment, the harsher the guards’ behaviour, the more rigorous the punishments they doled out. For example, sometimes prisoners were not allowed to wash or clean their teeth, were not given food, or were made to do many press-ups on the floor; or they were made to clean the toilet with their bare hands. Later, visits to the toilet were cancelled altogether, with prisoners forced to urinate and defecate into a bucket in the cell – and they were not allowed to empty the bucket. The smell became all-pervasive. Zimbardo said, ‘In only a few days our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress . . .  as for the guards, we realized how ordinary people could be readily transformed from the good Dr Jekyll to the evil Mr Hyde’ (though none of the guards had shown any sadistic tendencies before the experiment). The prisoners themselves became submerged in their roles, applying for “parole” rather than simply walking out. One prisoner had a nervous breakdown after only thirty-six hours, with ‘uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying, and anger’; he had to leave the experiment. ‘Within the next few days three others also had to leave after showing signs of emotional disorder that could have had lasting consequences.’  (And all of them had been pronounced particularly stable and normal a short while before.) If they had really been prisoners, they would have had to stay in jail. The exercise showed ‘how prisons dehumanise people, turning them into objects and instilling in them feelings of hopelessness’.

One visitor, a woman who later became Zimbardo’s wife, questioned the morality of the whole exercise. She said that the treatment of the prisoners had become disgraceful (she was the only one among fifty visitors who said that), and the experiment – originally scheduled for two weeks – was stopped after only six days. All the prisoners were glad it was over, but ‘most of the guards were upset that the study was terminated prematurely’. In fact during the exercise ‘no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work’. Two months later one guard gave an interview: ‘I thought I was incapable of this kind of behaviour. I was surprised and dismayed that I could act in such an unaccustomed way’.

In psychological terms, the brutality displayed at Stanford was situational, rather than dispositional.

Who gets the extra biscuit?
One last experiment; several groups, each consisting of three students from Berkeley University, California, were put in a room and given a complex subject to debate. Randomly, one of the three was picked as ‘leader’. After a time, each group was given a plate of four biscuits. In every case, without anyone objecting or even discussing it, the ‘leader’ ate the extra biscuit. By pure chance, one student had achieved a ‘sense of entitlement’, which was never questioned (Times, 28 April).

All of us who live in a capitalist society have to accept that our behaviour is shaped by that society. If anyone feels that the conduct shown in these well-known experiments is acceptable, he or she will no doubt continue to support capitalist society. But some people work for a different society, with different – and preferable – behaviour.
Alwyn Edgar

Letters to the Editors: CND defended

Letters to the Editors from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

CND defended
Dear Editors

As a member of CND since it began, an ex-Aldermaston marcher, and one of the “100” who supported Russell, I must protest at the facile “hindsight” of S. Coleman. In the sixties it looked as though the world might indeed be destroyed and we felt we had to do something. It wasn’t, we know now. But it’s so easy for the S. Colemans of this world to pour scorn on the effort of great men like Russell, who had more brains in his little toe than apparently Mr. Coleman has in his head.
David Fraser
Rugby, Warwk.

It is not only with hindsight that socialists can demonstrate the futility of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; in September 1960 the Socialist Standard was able to predict that CND would not succeed:
Some “Campaigners”, while agreeing that capitalism is the cause of war in the modern world, maintain that although a new social organisation may be necessary, a nuclear war would prevent the establishment of this, perhaps for all time, and therefore the anti-nuclear movement should be given priority over socialism. This argument is logically unsound; it assumes that which has yet to be demonstrated. It presupposes that the Campaign will be able to prevent a nuclear war occurring. For the Campaign to “succeed" it must have a majority of people who are opposed unconditionally to nuclear weapons, in the major countries of the world. These majorities must be prepared to oppose their own governments, to put aside all nationalistic feeling or racial prejudice and be immune to all attempts of their rulers to influence them during periods of international crisis and tension. Is it possible that such internationalist solidarity could be achieved by a movement which is composed of so many fundamentally diverse elements and which lacks any clear conception of an alternative to our inhuman social system? Only a revolutionary Socialist consciousness could ensure such a united unshakeable attitude and in that event the question of opposition to nuclear weapons alone would be redundant. (The Weakness of CND, Sept. 1960)
The article, “Has CND Learnt Nothing?” in the August 1980 Socialist Standard was intended to deter workers from wasting their energies on another dose of CND when our criticism of it in 1960 has been seen to be clearly correct. Today in 1980 the number of nuclear weapons in existence is many times the number that existed when the first Aldermaston march took place. We are not against workers “doing something”, but we are against them doing the wrong thing.

As for Bertrand Russell’s brain, we must say that we arc less concerned with its size and location than its use. While Russell may have been a great mathematician and was certainly an eloquent atheist orator, as a political activist he was nothing but a pious moraliser with about as much understanding of social reality as his latter-day echo, E. P. Thompson.

Dear Editors,

The article “Battered Wives” in the July Socialist Standard follows Engels’ view in “The Origins of the Family” that mother-right was the general position before male-dominated, property, class institutions became established. Agreed: the position of women relative to men drastically deteriorated with the advent of private property, but it is open to question whether primitive societies were essentially matrilinear. Some were, others were definitely not. Why? is the subject of much controversy in anthropology. While the 19th century founding fathers of anthropology had precise, straightforward answers on how primitive humanity’s life was structured and functioned, present day anthropologists seem less certain of the meaning of the mass of data that has accumulated. I will quote just one of them—Leslie A. White a cultural evolutionist in the grand, system-building tradition of L. H. Morgan. His is by no means the last word, but at least he puts order into the question, and writes clearly.
As a general proposition we may say that prominence or predominance of men in the mode of life of the (primitive) society will tend to produce patrilinear lineages; prominence or predominance of women will tend to form matrilinear lineages. Thus a culture in which warfare, hunting or herding is an activity of paramount importance will tend toward patrilineal lineages because these occupations tend to be masculine pursuits. In systems where woman’s role in subsistence, house building and ownership, or in some handicraft, puts her in a position of considerable importance as compared with men in the mode of life, there will be a tendency toward matrilineal lineages. (The Evolution of Culture)
White adds that although this statement is sound enough, it could easily mislead because of the complexity of numerous, diverse factors at work in specific situations making for small to great variations.
S Lion
London, SE24

Deflation disaster (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who hasn’t heard (and seen) Maggie rabbiting on about “suitcase money”? Or dolorous Geoff drooling mournfully on “getting inflation down”? If only they did they wouldn’t talk so much about it. But what would actually happen if ever they did'! Answer: Very little—or nothing much!

In other words, we’ve all been here before. Most modern politicians and “economists” seem utterly unaware of recent history. World War I started it all. In 1917, the British Army was dropping over four tons of shells on every yard of German front line. This, and everything else, had to be paid for, which meant that Britain accumulated massive debts to the United States. It was then—in 1915—that the government issued ten- shilling notes. Here is an account of the situation in 1924 by James Joll:
With unemployment mounting and confidence in the currency and the financial institutions ebbing fast, the orthodox response of Governments was to adopt a policy of deflation, and to attempt to restore confidence by balancing budgets, exercising economy, cutting expenditure, reducing the wages of State employees and dismissing redundant workers. This had the effect of diminishing purchasing power still further, and increasing unemployment still more.
(Europe Since 1870: an International History
This view is echoed by the economic historian, David Landes: “Deflation may have been a triumph of ideology and virtue; but it was an economic failure” (The Unbound Prometheus: Technology from 1750 to the Present).

Britain’s return to the Gold Standard in 1924 sparked off the miners' strike, the General Strike, three million unemployed, and the collapse of the Labour government in 1929. The Sixth Congress of the Communist International announced that capitalism was once again heading for its collapse, and the by-ways of Britain echoed to the thud of the Hunger-Marchers’ tatty army boots.

In 1931, appalled by the apparent frightful havoc of deflation, “experts”, publicists and politicians turned to inflation for a change. Witch-doctor John Maynard Keynes wrote in his boring General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money:
The world will not much longer tolerate the unemployment associated with capitalist individualism . . . But it may be possible to cure the disease . . .  whilst preserving efficiency and freedom.
And what was the cure? Obviously, if “lack of purchasing power” was the cause, then the remedy was more paper money—inflation.

The chief self-appointed guru of the Labour Party in those days, G D H Cole, was not the only “expert” to nip smartly on the band-waggon; Sidney Pollard and all the other Lefties joined in the Hallelujah Chorus. “When resources are idle, additional purchasing power will bring them into play” pontificated Cole (What Everybody Wants to Know about Money), and the TUC General Council, understanding slightly less about it (as now) than they did about Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, submitted Memoranda to the Government with the same refrain. Ever ready to oblige, Stanley Baldwin’s Government confirmed the protection duties started during the War, and went off the Gold Standard.

This gave some, who did not understand the cause of slumps in capitalism, the mistaken notion that inflation really was doing the trick. The Locarno Conference cancelled the Allied and German war debts; re-investment from America followed; world trade picked up; and Germany experienced a boom under Hitler. The Second World War duly arrived and the whole ridiculous business started all over again: inflation-deflation-reflation. Currency manipulation is not the cause of capitalist crises, but its effect. Inflation is like the froth on a glass of Guinness—increased by pouring fast but always dependent on the liquid (world trade) which holds, or  releases, the gas (paper money).

Slumps are caused by the anarchic nature of capitalist production. A slump in cars, say, spreads like the plague—to steel, rubber, glass and components. In housing, to bricks, timber, plaster, cement, paints and equipment. Inflation only affects the working class to the extent that it devalues (lowers) real wages, thus restricting the goods that the watered-down money will buy (or, more likely, not buy). Deflation brings demands from the employers for wage reductions because “deflated” money buys more. When prices are falling, as they did on the Gold Standard in the twenties, the mine owners demanded wage reductions, and got them, on the grounds of the workers’ “increased purchasing power”.

A knowledge of the economics of capitalism gives the only satisfactory explanation of inflation; but merely a slight acquaintance with the facts of recent history is needed to realise that deflation under Thatcher would be about as much use to the workers as it was to their grandfathers under Stanley Baldwin in 1925.

Socialism - a Breath of Fresh Air (2016)

The Material World Column from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Nearly a quarter of all human deaths is caused by pollution. Contaminated water, polluted air, chemical waste, climate change, and UV radiation kill 12.6 million people annually, says a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The worst affected are children, the poor, and the elderly, WHO has found. ‘If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,’ said Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general.
Many environmentalist activists advocate lifestyle changes implying that it is the individual who is personally responsible for climate change. It suggests that we are each personally responsible for the pollution and should share in the sense of guilt. One of the greatest weaknesses of the mainstream environmental movement has been its failure or refusal to identify capitalism as the root problem.
Coal India has 175 open-cast mines and production from open-cast mines during 2014-15 was 92.91percent of total production.  Why open-cast mining when it is environmentally destructive and harmful to the people living in the locality? Because it requires less investment and less time to extract coal. Those who believe that the threat to the environment can be dealt with by a person’s life-style choices are hopelessly wrong. The energy industry is a leading source of pollution – including sulphur and nitrogen compounds – that cause breathing difficulties in vulnerable people, including children and older people, and can lead to premature death. Energy production and use account for about 85 percent of particulate matter and almost all of the sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides. Traffic pollution although still important in developed countries, causing a fifth of deaths, caused only 5 percent of deaths across the globe as a whole. Air pollution from power stations, mainly coal-burning plants, was significant globally, causing one in seven deaths. It is the biggest single factor in the US, causing a third of the 55,000 annual deaths, compared to 16 percent in the UK.  It is not you or your neighbours but the business interests which control the corporations which run the industries that produces most of the pollution.
The global air pollution crisis is killing more than 6 million people a year. Air quality has been identified as the fourth-largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, poor diet and smoking. A report in February from the Royal College of Physicians which blamed air pollution both inside and outside homes for at least 40,000 deaths a year in the UK. It took just eight days for London to fail its air quality limits for the entire year and this near-invisible pollution kills up to 9,000 people a year in London. Richard Howard, at the think-tank Policy Exchange, found that a Londoner’s life expectancy is cut by about 16 months by air pollution with poorer neighbourhoods the worst affected. Air pollution is estimated to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of six months.
Capitalists are not overly concerned with ending pollution. The existence of every business is based on its ability to make more profits than the next capitalist. If the cost of reducing cuts into their profits no real steps toward halting pollution will be taken. Capitalists are not about to reduce their profits for anybody. They haven’t to provide full employment or to avoid wars so there’s no reason to expect them to do so in order to tackle pollution. Capitalism is all about the insatiable pursuit of profit and it is accompanied by tremendous waste and pollution. If there are profits to be gained, capitalists are not too bothered by the long-term, or even short-term, consequences for other people or future generations. Political leaders lecture about the need to address environmental problems, while turning a blind eye to the role played by this rapacious system of profit chasing. Capitalism is a blind process of profit accumulation. Too many people want to preserve those profits while preserving the environment. It cannot be done. Capitalism doesn't take any notice if the air is noxious and if another technology is 'cleaner' - unless the 'dirty' option becomes unprofitable. The capitalists are waiting for a time when renewables are more profitable than fossil fuels.
Many socialists seek the ideal of a ‘gardened’ planet cared for by those that live on it. We no longer seek to conquer and dominate nature but to live in harmony and in symbiotic relationships with the world around us. Socialists are environmentalists who seek a non-exploitative economic system that permits co-operation and collaboration between people, and that recognises the mutual benefits when we also fully understand the responsibilities of our stewardship of the Earth. Our society and our way of life need to be in harmony with nature, not always battling against it, because in a war against the planet and nature there can only be one winner, and it will not be us. In the long run, humanity's greatest resource lies in the innovative intelligence of our species. Our problem is how to establish a society in which this intelligence can find its full expression for human needs.

CND: an exercise in double-think (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lazarus-like, CND is groping its way out of its grave. Having already demonstrated, over a number of years, the utter futility of its activities, it seems determined to point up all over again the lessons we—and it—should have learnt from its earlier failures and disappointments. And in consequence, time seems to be standing still. There is a strong whiff of what the French term “deja-vu” in the air: it has happened before and—or so it seems—we are about to go through it all again. But before CND starts yet another of its barren exercises let us recall some other human experiences from which we should have learnt a vital lesson, however bitter.

It has been estimated that more than 10,000,000 military personnel alone died during the First World War. A further 50,000,000 people, military and civilian, perished in the Second. More millions have died in South-East Asia, Africa, South America and in many other smaller theatres of war. In addition to these, many millions may be reckoned to have died from starvation, malnutrition and disease in the so-called “third world” countries. All these catastrophies are so vast as to defy comprehension. And anyway, converted as they have been into an arid statistical exercise, they seem devoid of meaning. Perhaps we need to turn, for understanding, to the vignettes of human tragedy rather than the great traumas of world war and mass starvation. To take an example or two:

A file of blinded British infantrymen, each with his hands on the shoulders of the man in front of him, and silhouetted against the sky, crocodile their way back to some Flanders field dressing station.

A press photographer pulls off the coup of a lifetime: he photographs a soldier of the Spanish Civil War at the precise moment of his death from a sniper’s bullet.

In some German concentration camp lethal gases wreathe around the walls of a sealed chamber packed with naked men, women and children.

A skinless and screaming child, unfortunate enough to have been in the path of an American napalm attack, rushes imploringly toward a news-cameraman.

In Cambodia the calculated genocide of a million or so anonymous peasants and their dependants has been exploited in an international diplomatic chess-game played out by would-be rival alliances.

It will be noticed that in none of these events have nuclear weapons played the remotest part. Yet the human suffering involved is no less poignant.

But what, it has to be asked, do these and numberless other terrible events inspire in the minds of the vast majority of people today? Shocking though it is, and difficult though it may be to reconcile oneself to it, the answer is: relative indifference. Workers whose political consciousness has been hampered by their “educators” and by the mass-media are unwilling to identify with, and therefore do not care deeply about, such matters. We seem to be inured to the sufferings of others, however graphically they may be illustrated. But then, as is implicit in the above, perhaps that very presentation is, in part at least, responsible for this indifference. The bloody images flickering away in the corners of our living-rooms are taken as being ail of a piece with the tomato-ketchup dished out to us by the “entertainment” moguls.

Perhaps we can no longer discriminate between fact and fiction. Indeed, it is probably intended that some such confusion should exist. After all, the “suspension of disbelief” can all too easily slide into a suspension of belief. Certainly much of the gory drivel which passes for “entertainment” these days breeds a callousness and insensitivity which must blunt any attempt to understand the true plight of those millions of our fellow-workers who possess nothing at all, leave alone a television set.

“But surely”, we hear you say, “most people cannot avoid caring about such things?” Not so. Most of us are unable to care because we have never been encouraged to understand the true reasons why otherwise normal men and women have this “inexplicable" capacity to behave so cruelly toward their fellow human beings—of whatever nationality, including their own. In the absence of any such understanding it is all too often put down to “human nature”; or “God’s will”; or “Fate”; or some other metaphysical characterisation.

Socialists are often scornfully asked: “What, then, are these reasons you keep harping on about?” We reply: The true—and only—reason is the existence, in our times, of the capitalist system, and the implacable determination of its principal beneficiaries, a tiny handful of greedy and power-hungry wealth-owners and their acolytes, to preserve and enhance their class status. These latter are cynically indifferent to the anguish of those who happen to be standing in the way of their miserable ambitions.

It has been observed that our masters would rather wade up to their necks in our blood than concede an inch of real power in their determination to cling to their privileges. Looking back over recent history alone, who can deny the truth of this observation? From Passchendaele to Stalingrad; from Belsen to Hiroshima: from Vietnam to Chile; from Dresden to Cambodia: nothing has been allowed to stand in the path of capitalism’s ruling classes; most certainly not the agony of the innocent millions who, possessing only their capacity to work and reproduce, have died like cattle in their wars, in ignorance of the true reasons for their pointless martyrdom.

However, in speaking of our apparent indifference to our fate under capitalism, it would be wrong to oversimplify. As the opening paragraph of this article has indicated, some of us care, however ineffectually. The streets of the world's cities frequently bear witness to this. Banner-carrying processions made up of earnest individuals from all walks of life and of all manner of opinions and beliefs may be seen parading this or that “cause”, or deploring this or that outrage. All credit to them (one might observe) that they have the guts to get out and do what must surely stick in the throats of so many of their numbers unused as they are to making such “public spectacles” of themselves.

Unfortunately, willingness to put up with blistered feet and the jeers of bystanders isn’t nearly enough. Unaccompanied by political understanding, such uninformed “witness” must inevitably dissolve; at best, into an emotional and platitudinous wallow in a tepid and vaguely unsatisfactory bath of self-righteousness: at worst, into the vicious, not to say ridiculous, punch-ups of Grosvenor and Red Lion Squares. But whichever way it goes one thing is certain: our economic and political masters will have lost no sleep. For once again they will have had demonstrated to them that the true responsibility for the human misery which leads to such demonstrations—capitalism itself—has once more gone unidentified and, therefore, unexamined and unthreatened. Demonstrators and their critics alike will have been restored to their television sets and what passes for “news”-papers and, with varying degrees of scepticism (or, more likely, none at all!) will already be harvesting yet another crop of lies and half-truths. As for our masters: they, no doubt, will shortly increase the pay of the police “for services rendered”. A handful of sycophantic press humbugs can confidently expect to be remembered in the next Honours List. And for the rest of us, life, with its attendant miseries, frustrations and risks, will proceed as “normal”.

So demonstrators, including those of CND. are certainly successful in one major respect at least: they deflect even the more politically-conscious from a true recognition of our existence—and therefore of our condition—as a class. They undermine a proper understanding of the capitalist system in a way which can only bring relief to, for example, the manufacturers of the very weapons they march to abolish. But—worst of all—they drain workers of energy we can ill afford to waste in what should properly be our common struggle to achieve an enlightenment without which socialism, our only remaining hope and goal, is not possible.
Richard Cooper

Running Commentary: Through the looking glass (1980)

The Running Commentary Column from the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Through the looking glass
One achievement the Polish strikers could not have expected was to bring about an apparent reversal in English political attitudes, almost as if events were being looked at through a looking glass.

The strikes broke out against a background of serious crisis for the Polish economy—massive foreign debts, shortages, falling production and so on. Even so, the strikers pressed home their campaign and, at least as far as the written agreement goes, won their point. A side effect of the strike was to topple the Polish leader Edward Gierek, who suffered a fate similar to that of Wladyslaw Gomulka in 1970 who also resigned after a “heart attack”.

Now a naive observer of the strike, remembering what happened in England in 1973 and during Callaghan's infamous “winter of discontent”, might have expected Tory and Labour leaders to denounce the strikers. After all, were they not, like the British miners in 1973, said to be striking for a political object? Were they not responsible for the downfall of a political leader—as the miners were supposed to be over Heath in 1974? And, like the engineers and the hospital workers in this country in 1978, were the Polish miners and shipyard workers not striking in disregard of the country’s ailing economy and careless of the welfare of the old, the sick, the needy?

But of such denunciation we have heard not a word; indeed the Polish workers have been elevated to the status of heroes and their leader, Lech Walesa, is almost as popular as any football star. With one exception, no headlines have shrieked abuse at the reckless strikers of Gdansk and Sczezcin. The exception, on the other side of the looking glass, was the weary Stalinist line spewed up by the tedious hacks of the New Communist Party, who in their paper New Worker denounced the strikers as wreckers.

Neither of these sides was concerned with the truth of the matter—that the Polish workers were on strike in resistance to an attempted cut in their living standards. The demand for independent trade unions came from the bitter experience of previous struggles, which showed up the treachery of the Communist Party dominated “unions”.

Both sides were concerned with plugging a line favourable to the particular ruling class whose interests they try to represent. This meant that the Polish strikers, who were showing considerable courage in their struggle, were treated with a cynicism which, had it not become so familiar, would have been sickening. But too much was at stake for it to be otherwise and the workers, here and in Poland and all over the world, would do well to take the point; the interests of capitalism demand an obedience to something more urgent than the truth.

Dirty washing
How is British industry to survive the slump? Will anything be left of it, after the bankruptcies and the sackings and the cutbacks? As the news comes in of lay-offs, short time and redundancies, we are also told about the markets in Britain being flooded by fiercely competitive foreign products, like Japanese cars, Russian watches and French apples. One “remedy” for this, popular with both management and workers, is to restrict imports so that everyone is forced to buy British, eat British, wear British, sleep British . . . 

One industry which has been hard hit in the slump is the one producing washing machines and other domestic appliances. Hoover, once the market leader and an energetic exporter, has had to cut its work force by a thousand over the past two years, now has 8,000 on short time and, it is rumoured, is considering closing down the place where it all started—its factory in Perivale in Middlesex.

Hoover blames its decline partly upon foreign imports and is particularly worried about cheap washing machines from Italy, where there is a veritable slag heap of the things at the moment, worth some £60 million. If this slag heap ever descended on the British market it might well kill off firms like Hoover. So the industry’s trade organisation has been busily campaigning for government action to stop the “dumping” of these machines on the UK markets.

This might pass unnoticed were it not for the fact that Hoover, who once prided themselves on their briskly competitive export trade (which was not described as “dumping”), have themselves been importers of Italian washing machines which they have sold under their own name. Even more, Hoover have done the same for, among other products, refrigerators from Italy, electric toasters from Canada, electric shavers from Germany.

Even now, in the depths of their troubles, they have been negotiating with their big Italian rival, Indesit, to get the right price for a washing machine to be imported and sold on the UK market. Presumably, the Hoover people who went to Italy did not take any idea other than bargaining for the lowest possible price—for, in other words, the cheapest possible imports.

This is more than a simple case of double dealing. The Hoover management are acting in a perfectly sensible manner: they are running their business in conformity with the demands of capitalist production and commerce. If this illustrates the absurdity of trying to solve capitalism’s problems with makeshift patching here and there it is only because it is a typical example of the essential stupidity and anarchy of producing wealth for sale instead of for use.

Playing with fire
When the Labour government used troops to break the firemen’s strike during the winter of 1977/8 they did so with the support of the Tories, on the argument that an efficient fire fighting service is necessary to protect property and lives—which, they asserted, must be their major concern as the government.

Well the firemen lost and now we have a Tory government and we are being shown what all that concern for life and limb amounts to. Fire brigades are not immune from the cuts of the government’s free-swinging axe on public spending and in some areas they are being cut to, and beyond, the bone of safety.

This process began under the Callaghan government; since March 1979 nearly 700 firemen have been cut (by “natural wastage”) and almost 100 appliances have been removed from emergency work. The London brigade is applying to cut out another 42 appliances.

In Staffordshire the situation is, quite literally, threatening with the brigade, which is only just meeting the Home Office requirements, subject to even more reductions. It needs only one big fire, like the recent destruction of Alexander Palace in London, to stretch resources beyond their capacity and perhaps cause an avoidable loss of life.

All of this is quite acceptable to the government, whose recent Green Paper on fire policy talks airily about lowering standards without bringing about an “unacceptable rise in casualties”. (Is there such a thing in Whitehall as an ‘acceptable” rise?) and which insists that the measures needed to bring about an actual reduction in fire casualties are too expensive to contemplate.

This exercise in capitalist priorities—in which, let it be made clear, both Labour and Tory join—might not be expected to impress anyone waiting to be rescued from the fifth floor of a blazing building and who receives instead the equivalent of a note from Milo Minderbinder, that the fire services have been cut in the greater interests of the British ruling class, in whose prosperity we are all allegedly invited to join

As the flames lick higher, the luckless sufferer might reflect on the cynicism of politicians whose attitudes are formed with such a callous disregard for human safety and welfare. And if they ever do get rescued, let us hope that they do not forget the insights born amid the rising flames.

Poland's workers take a step . . . (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Polish strikers, in forcing the government there to allow them to organise into independent trade unions with the right to strike, have once again exploded the myth that class and class conflict have been abolished in countries like Poland and Russia. They have completely undermined the ideological justification given for their dictatorship by the ruling “communist” parties in these countries. For, if such parties represent and govern on behalf of the working class, as they claim, why have the Polish workers had to set up a separate organisation to defend their interests? And who do they have to defend themselves against, if not some other class on whose behalf the so-called communist and workers’ parties of East Europe really govern?

That Poland is a class-divided society there can be no doubt. One of these classes is easy enough to identify: the working class itself, those obliged to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary in order to live. There is also a class of small peasants and traders, some of whom have in recent years evolved into “zloty millionaires”. But these private capitalists do not own the most important means of production—the factories, the steelworks, the shipyards, the mines and the other places where the bulk of the wealth is produced.

These are monopolised by a group which is more difficult to identify, since, unlike the private capitalists of the West, its members have no legal titles to say that they are the owners. Their monopoly of the means of production is nevertheless just as effective and, as in the West too, rests on control of political power.

Jacek Kuroń, one of today’s prominent Polish dissidents (who was arrested for the umpteenth time during the recent events and only released as part of the strike settlement) called this group, in an open letter he wrote to the Polish Party in 1965 with Karol Modzelewski, “the central political Bureaucracy”. Milovan Djilas, who had himself been a member of this class in Yugoslavia, had previously called it the “new class”. We ourselves would prefer some such term as “state capitalist class”, but the definition given by Kuron and Modzelewski is clear enough:
In our system, the party elite is, at one and the same time, also the power elite; all decisions relating to state power are made by it and, in many cases, at the top of the Party and state hierarchies there exists, as a rule, a fusion of responsible posts. By exercising state power, the Party elite has at its disposal all the nationalised means of production; it decides on the extent of accumulation and consumption; on the direction of investment, on the share of various social groups in consumption and in the national income; in other words, it decides on the distribution and utilisation of the entire social product.
(An open letter to the Party, p. 7) 
It is to this class that the workers sell their labour power (not labour, as the translation below says) and which exploits them:
To whom does the worker in our country sell his labour? To those who have at their disposal the means of production, in other words to the central political bureaucracy. On account of this, the central political bureaucracy is the ruling class; it has at its exclusive command the basic means of production; it buys the labour of the working class; it takes away from the working class by force and economic coercion the surplus product and uses it for purposes that are alien and hostile to the worker in order to strengthen and expand its rule over production and society. (P. 15)
The same state capitalist system which exists in Poland also exists in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Cuba, Albania and other such countries. There too the means of production are monopolised collectively by a “Party-state power elite” which exploits the working class.

The striking workers of Poland have achieved an important victory. For the first time the rulers of a state capitalist country have been forced to recognise an independent workers’ organisation and to negotiate wages and conditions with it. There have of course been strikes and riots in state capitalist countries before, including in Russia itself, which have compelled the authorities to make concessions over wages and conditions. This is what happened in Poland in 1956, in 1970 and in 1976, but at the price of the deaths of a number of workers shot down by a government supposedly ruling in their interests. The formation and recognition of a permanent workers’ body to negotiate with the ruling class represented by the authorities, however, represents a new advance in trade union consciousness.

The joint strike committee which coordinated the general strike in the Gdansk area (where at least fifty workers were shot when the unrest of 1970 was suppressed) was an embryo trade union and demonstrated a fairly high degree of trade union consciousness. Learning the lesson of the strikes and riots of 1956, 1970 and 1976 which achieved wage increases and other concessions, but left the workers without any means to defend them, the committee put the recognition of a permanent workers’ economic defence organisation before the demand for a wage increase. And, by their determination and with the support and solidarity of workers in other parts of the country, they achieved this aim. The strike committee also seems to have realised that the “workers councils” set up in Poland after 1956 and still existing in Yugoslavia were no substitute for an independent trade union. In fact such councils are only a trap to get workers to participate in their own exploitation and the ruling class of Yugoslavia must be just as worried by the Polish developments as those in the other state capitalist countries of Eastern Europe.

Poland already has organisations called “trade unions” but these are not formed to defend wages and working conditions, but state institutions, along the lines of Hitler’s Labour Front, for controlling and disciplining workers. Their leaders are full members of the “Party-state power elite”, enjoying the same bloated salaries, special shops, housing, prizes and the likes as other members of the privileged class in Poland. Let it be said in passing that the attitude of the General Council of the TUC in Britain in maintaining relations with these so-called “unions” (as indeed with other similar organisations in other state capitalist countries) was quite disgraceful, and perhaps revealing of the aspiration of the TUC leaders to win the same sort of privileged state positions as enjoyed by those they evidently feel to be their opposite numbers in Poland.

What has happened in Poland was predictable—and will happen sooner or later in other state capitalist countries too—since, as we have always held, no dictatorship, however totalitarian or brutal, can permanently suppress working class consciousness. Trade unionism is an inevitable product of capitalism, arising out of the very social situation of the workers under it, as wage and salary earners forced to sell their mental and physical energies in order to live. They are also forced by the same economic necessity to try to sell their labour powers at as high a price as possible—and sooner or later come to realise that “unity is strength”, that it is better to band together and collectively negotiate a price with the employers than to let them fix it unilaterally, as happened in most industries in Britain in the last century and as still happens in all state capitalist countries today—except, now, in Poland.

But trade union consciousness, necessary though it is, is far from being the same as socialist consciousness. It is no more than a recognition that the workers need an organisation to try to ensure the sale of their labour powers on the best terms that market conditions permit. To be a good trade unionist you don’t need to be a socialist and in fact, by all-accounts, the Gdansk strikers were Polish patriots and devout Catholics. This did not prevent them adopting the right tactics to win an important concession from their state capitalist masters, but it almost certainly means that they will make mistakes in the future. It remains to be seen, for instance, whether the Catholic Church will try to take over the new independent unions through some organisation like “Catholic Action” in this country.

Trade unions are no threat to the continuance of capitalism, not even to the state capitalist regimes in countries like Poland and Russia. Trade unions are in a sense useful, even to capitalist employers, as a means of channelling workers’ discontent in an orderly and peaceful way, as some of the more intelligent members of the Polish ruling class have come to realise (or have been forced to realise). Their counterparts in Russia seem to be more shortsighted but then no ruling class has conceded the right to organise and strike except under pressure from its workers. And until the workers in Russia react the ruling class there can be expected to maintain its repressive attitude.

Congratulations, then, to our fellow workers in Poland on winning the right to organise independently. But they must realise that trade union action, though necessary, Is essentially only defensive and that if they don’t want to keep running fast just to stand still (which, we fully appreciate, is not so bad as falling back because you are not allowed to run fast) then they must think in terms of acting in conjunction with their fellow workers in other countries to abolish the wages system.
Adam Buick

10: GOTO 20. 20: GOTO 10. 10: GOTO 20 . . . (2016)

The Pathfinders Column from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everybody knows that computers don't crash like cars or aeroplanes, with explosions and flying debris, so when we say that a computer has 'crashed' it generally means that, due to several competing programs trying to use the same resources at the same time, the computer has got itself tied into an endless loop, trying to perform the same task over and over again, until infinity.
It's not only computers that can get into this state. Capitalism has also never crashed the way cars or aeroplanes crash, in a process NASA once described as 'rapid spontaneous disassembly'. Indeed despite the predictions of some die-hard radical hopefuls it's hard to imagine how it ever could go down like the proverbial lead zeppelin, unless a collective amnesia also descended on people at the same moment in which they simply forgot that they had bank accounts, mortgages, title deeds, rent arrears, gas bills and jobs. Capitalism can't crash because it is not a thing, it is a set of agreements, customs and relationships. It will only crash when the concept of private ownership crashes, when the idea of selling on markets crashes, when its entire underpinning ideology crashes. That's our job.
But it can 'hang' on a regular basis, just like a computer, when for long periods it seems to do nothing at all. It doesn't give us the blue screen of death, it just leaves us swearing and cursing at a stationary progress bar that ought to be moving but isn't. These endless repetitive cycles are what mesmerise us from day to day until we start to hallucinate small change where there isn't any.
You develop a sense of déjà vu the moment fresh news items begin to look like old ones, the way new pop songs sound like old ones, the way new promises smell like old ones. You acquire a sense of what you call 'realism' but other people call cynicism. You develop a sardonic look when anybody mentions politics. The looping sameness of it all, round and round again, is enough to drive you mad. That's why they call it loopy.
The TV news is like a constant re-run of itself. There have now been so many mass shootings in America that journalists surely must have encoded their aftermath think-pieces into keyboard shortcuts. Ctrl-Shift-F9 to recycle the gun debate. Alt-Shift-Ins to spool out the catalogue of previous shootings. Mail-merge to shunt out the details, filling in variable fields with shooter name, death toll and quotes from world leaders.
Perhaps the business of capitalism actually has crashed and is now in a permanent loop. We can only tinker obsessively with cosmetic on-screen eye-candy but underneath the machinery has all stopped, forcing us to live out an endless Groundhog Day where we wake up in the morning confused and retire to bed disappointed.
Humans are supposed to be good at learning from experience. What are Americans going to learn from the experience of Barack Obama, a man generally regarded as a decent person and by and large a decent president, insofar as a capitalist leader can ever be called such? Could the 'most powerful man in the world' stop white cops shooting defenceless black men? Apparently not. Could he change gun laws to stop the psychos running amok? Apparently not. What about urban poverty? Forget it. Will even his health-care reforms survive the next Republican incumbent in the White House? Probably not. Yet he was treated almost like the Messiah eight years ago when he was first elected. Will Americans learn from this that capitalist leaders, even relatively benevolent ones, can't do anything for them, that it's not worth voting for them, and that the only solution is radical collective action among themselves? No, because they remain mesmerised by the stationary progress bar, afraid to blink in case they miss something. Perhaps they'll vote for Clinton and more non-movement, or perhaps they'll vote for the cowboy Trump, because movement backwards is at least movement.
Socialists have always said that capitalism won't crash of its own accord, it has to be brought down by collective effort. But perhaps we were using the wrong sense of the word 'crash'. In this less dramatic but far more bleak sense, perhaps we can say that capitalism certainly has crashed, and just needs to be turned off. That progress bar is never going to move, no matter how long you stare at it, because it isn't a bar at all, it's a barrier.
Wag Your Jiggly
If you haven't discovered the magic of Pokemon Go yet, there's really no help for you, because it's taking the developed world by storm. Every person under (usually) the age of 30 is mad for the new online game where you walk around your home town looking for digital creatures and their exotic eggs, scoring points as you go. It's bigger than Twitter, it's bigger than Brexit on Referendum day, hell it's even bigger than pornography according to Google (BBC Online, 18 July). And what is so killer about this killer app, you might ask? Well, it's the fact that, unlike most other digital games you can play on your phone, this one actually makes you WALK AROUND A BIT. In fact it's being claimed that a man playing every day for a week would burn up the equivalent of SEVEN SMALL CHOCOLATE DOUGHNUTS!!!!
You might, in your cynical socialist way, decide to save yourself the trouble by not eating seven small chocolate doughnuts in the first place, but then you would never have the pleasure of learning the difference between a Psyduck, a Poliwag or a Jigglypuff (and you have to walk at least two kilometres to find one of those). Mind you, we know from one player that there's nothing to stop you driving between locations, if you've a mind to cheat. Still, it's good to know humans can show real genius, at least when it comes to inventing new ways to waste their own time. Let's vote Poliwag for President, he'd fit right in!

Don't (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

If I won the pools or was in charge of the country I would soon sort out the unions, lazy, unemployed, students, immigration, housing, slums, wages, pollution, oil prices, vandalism, prison population, food scarcity . . . The proper solutions vary from the extreme of forced labour by conscription of vandals, lazy and unemployed, to the liberal idea of employing more social workers, sociologists. do-gooders and turning the Isle of Wight into a rest home for the workers who cannot cope with the stresses of the wages system.

Were it possible for both of these to realise their far off dreams it would be not long before they found out the reality of the capitalist system. The beast consistently refuses to take advice, and it controls you, regardless of all the information you might pump into the computers concerning world hunger, poverty, homelessness and lack of medical facilities.

The question remains—how do you bring the beast under control? In truth capitalism cannot be brought under control and it only exists because the majority of the working class support it and they continue to support capitalism when they repeatedly seek solutions from a system that only benefits the few who live off the exploited labour of the many.
Brian Johnson

The Money System (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

To one who accepts the economics of the capitalist system, money has quite magical qualities. It is cheque books, representing large money deposits in banks, that build houses; it is pieces of paper with pictures of the Queen on them that dig the coal from the ground; it is silver coins fed into the engine that drives the bus. Money — man-made, inanimate paper currency and coins — is, according to the economists, the means of producing and distributing wealth. Without money we could not survive.

The average weekly take-home wage in Britain is between £60 and £70. Let us suppose that a generous employer was to offer a worker twice or even three times as much money for doing half the work of any other employee, so that for a week’s labour he gets £230. But there’s only one snag: after he has been paid, the worker will be locked in an empty room with his two hundred and thirty paper notes. If they can produce things, then let them obtain food, clothing, heating and entertainment for him. If they have intrinsic value, let him eat the notes, ten at a time —for we all know that ten pounds can provide anyone with a good dinner.

But let us suppose that the employer is foolish. He offers a worker £70 for a week’s work. Like all capitalists he only offers a wage when he is confident that his employee will produce for him commodities which will sell for more than the value represented by the wage. The difference between the two is surplus value and when the employer offers the worker £70 they both enter into the contract on the assumption that more than £70 worth of real wealth will be produced. But what if the worker tells the employer that he is unable to work on a particular week, but will leave seventy pound notes to do the work for him instead? After all, money produces wealth, doesn’t it? The foolish employer accepts the idea, but discovers that the money is able to produce no wealth. As an incentive he offers a £30 bonus and in are brought six true-blue five pound notes which turn out to be just as lazy as the seventy green wealth producers.

But the capitalist economist is not satisfied with such absurd illustrations of the fact that money does not produce wealth. “Of course men cannot eat money”, he informs us, “it is only money in circulation in the market place that enables us to eat”. And of course it is true that money cannot independently produce wealth, but requires the collaboration of human labour and raw materials”.

Money, they say, is necessary for production and consumption. So, if one uses one’s labour to put a pencil to a piece of paper and produce a drawing, one has to have money in order to have access to the pencil and the paper. The same applies to mass production. If a capitalist manufacturer wishes to produce clocks he must first buy his factory, his clock components and the other inanimate things he needs to make clocks. He then buys the mental and physical energies of the clock-makers. If he had no money to buy these things, there would be no production. So is not the case fully proved that things cannot be produced without money? But why must the capitalist pay money for the things needed to make clocks in the first place? He needs to do so because the present economy is based upon private property which means that certain people have legal access to wealth which others are denied. Ten per cent of the population own and control approximately ninety per cent of all wealth. It is the people in the majority class who between them own so little wealth that they have no alternative but to sell the one property they possess: their ability to work by hand or brain, their labour power.

Money has not always existed. Men and women were producing wealth long before it came on the scene. With the advent of private property, money emerged as a means of exchange. It was better than barter because it was a universally accepted equivalent enabling values to be fairly exchanged. With the birth of commodity production wealth was produced not for use, but to sell for money. Capitalism has turned human labour power into a commodity to be bought and sold. The free labourer of capitalism is one who is compelled to sell his economic freedom.

So under the present system money is used to buy and sell commodities. All wealth has a price once it has become a commodity, and people cannot live without wealth. Our access to wealth is determined by our access to money. There are three was of obtaining money under capitalism:
1. Criminal Theft. This embraces illegal acts like robbing banks, mugging, begging on the streets and defrauding the Department of Social Security. The risk involved is that the state is there to ensure that property is defended against suckers like working class criminals and those who defy the defence of capitalist social relations can be locked up, beaten or killed.
2. Legalised Theft. You will run into no trouble with the state here. The theft that is essential to the continuation of capitalism is exploitation (paying the worker less than the value of what he produces) which in polite circles is known as “running a business profitably”. Large fortunes can be made in this way, but before the reader becomes too attracted to this option it should be pointed out that entry to the class of legalised robbers is only available to a small minority of the earth’s inhabitants, usually by inheritance.
3. But if prisons or profits are not for you, there is a third way of getting money. All you have to do is to sell yourself to a capitalist in return for just enough money to keep you coming back the following week in need of more money. This is wage slavery and it is the position of the vast majority of men and women today. 
The money we get in return for producing ail of the wealth in society is enough to buy cheap and shoddy goods. Meanwhile, those who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth —the ones we are producing surplus value to provide for—are able to live in comfort, security and privilege.

The capitalist economists tell us that property and buying and selling are inevitable because of scarcity of resources — because there is not enough wealth to go round, there has to be monetary rationing. This would be a good reason for the existence of money were it true, but as it is evidently false we must dismiss it as yet another example of the confusion of the experts of the economics text-books. We are now surrounded by a capacity to produce an abundance of wealth: the United Nations Food and Health Organisation has stated that it is presently possible to provide food, clothing and shelter for three times the present populations of the world.

It is at this stage in the argument that the economists bow out — and their partners, the theologians and psychologists step in. “Fair enough’’, they admit, “we are prepared to accept that there is no economic reason for money rationing.” The real reason is all to do with that elusive part of the human anatomy, the soul. (The one bit that the worms can’t eat when you die.) Money is needed, they say, because without such rationing we would all naturally take more than we need. (By “all” is meant the working class, not the capitalists who are presently looked up to for taking more than they need.)

“The greedy man”—the last friend of the opponent of a moneyless society—is a product of a system in which private property exists. Imagine if everyone was given unlimited money to spend on what they liked—but for just one day. Of course, the stores would be full of people, the shelves would be emptied, and, like Margaret Thatcher in a food shortage, people would be hoarding provisions in anticipation of the coming day when their wage packets would once again dictate their needs. So poverty, or the expectation of poverty, breeds a desire to not only obtain enough to survive miserably, but to obtain more than your poverty allows you. The will to escape poverty under capitalism is labelled greed.

Now imagine a moneyless society where all goods are freely available according to individuals’ self-determined needs. Will people take more than they need when they know that wealth will be there for the taking whenever they want it? It would be foolish for someone in a society of free access to take twenty loaves of bread when they need only one the others will soon be stale. Who will want to eat all twenty loaves simply because they are free? When did you last see a person filling their lungs with excess air or his mouth with more water than they could drink because these things are free? And if you did encounter such a person, would you resent the greed or laugh at the stupidity? The wretched theologians and psychologists, their minds contaminated by the conditioned behaviour of property society, ignorantly conclude that always men must act as anti-socially as we are forced to now. It is not “human nature” that stands in the way of a moneyless society, but human consent to the continuation of private property.

When the majority class of wage slaves get rid of the institution of property, money will have no more use than tram lines in a tramless city or gas lamps in an age of electricity. Exchange will have no meaning when there are no property rights to pass from one person to another. Just as you cannot sell your coat to yourself, so, when the community commonly owns and democratically controls the means of producing and distributing wealth, there will be no non-owners to buy things from or sell things to, to steal from or to give to. Wages will be replaced by co-operative labour; classes will be replaced by social equality; money will be replaced by free access to all wealth. The richness and beauty of the world is there for the taking; are you ready to claim it?
Steve Coleman

Liberals have no alternative (1980)

From the October 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the 19th and early part of the 20th century the Liberal Party formed the main political opposition to the Tories. After the 1st World War it collapsed electorally and has been in the doldrums ever since. Now, with increasing support in the opinion polls and widespread cynicism about the other two parties, Liberals again believe, as the mood of their Annual Conference showed, that they can make an electoral comeback.

A Liberal government is needed, according to their new President, Richard Holme, “for the reconstruction and regeneration of the failed British system” (from 1984 — The Real Alternative. The Task for Liberals Now, Liberal Publications Dept, 1979, p. 14). The past failures of the two big parties stem, they argue, from both Labour and Tory putting the interests of certain groups within the community before the interests of the community as a whole. Labour policy, they say, favours the trade unions while the Tories support big business. They, the Liberals, on the other hand owe no allegiance to any particular group and so “are free to reconcile conflicting interests”. A Liberal government would, they contend, be a “government of national harmony” which would revive the British economy and create new prosperity and opportunities for the British people.

Their way of creating economic harmony would be through “industrial democracy”. “Employees would share control with shareholders and participate in decisions through elected Works Councils”, said their 1979 election manifesto, which also talked about “profit-sharing” and encouraging employees to buy shares in the firm they work for. Other economic measures would aim at “an adequate minimum income for all” and “widening the distribution and individual ownership of wealth”.

Is the Liberal analysis of Britain's problems a fair one and would their suggested solutions work? Their suggestion that Labour governments generally give support to workers organised in trade unions is the first point that needs to be considered. A look at Labour’s record is instructive. During their 1945-50 term of office they used troops to break strikes (this happened again in 1977 during the firemen’s strike) and took striking workers (gas employees and dockers) to court. In 1969, before the Tories brought in their Industrial Relations Act, Labour had been close to introducing its own. And during all post-war Labour administrations we have had policies of wage freeze or wage restraint — the use or threat of legislation to keep down wages. Such facts show that, despite their historic association with the trade union movement and their continued financial dependence upon it, the Labour Party’s policies are no more aimed at defending workers’ interests than those practised by the Tories. The Labour Party in power does what any other government committed to administering British capitalism has always done and must always do. It aims to preserve the status quo, a society in which a small minority (the capitalist class) own most of the wealth and the vast majority (the working class) own nothing to speak of and in order to live are compelled to sell their energies to an employer for a wage or salary.

What follows from this is that any future Liberal government would have to tailor its policies to fit this situation of minority ownership of wealth just as much as past Labour or Tory governments. And this would make the task of reconciling “conflicting interests” far more difficult than they imagine. The conflicts that arose would be no less constant and no more susceptible to harmonious solution than they are now, for they are part of the very nature of a social system in which workers are driven by economic need to take action on pay and working conditions and employers arc driven by the pressures of competition to produce cheaply yet profitably. This causes that continuous head-on clash between employee and employer known as the class struggle.

No amount of “industrial democracy” could make any difference to this. It might sometimes take the edge off workers’ pay demands, but even were it possible to enforce it by legislation it could have little practical effect in the long term. It would soon become obvious to workers that any say they had in the decisions taken by their firm was wholly conditioned by its vital need to produce for a profit. They would also quickly realise that their ownership of a small number of shares in their employer’s business made no difference to their need to sell their labour power for a living and therefore offered no real incentive to them to work harder, produce more or refrain from pressing wage claims.

As for the other economic reforms on the Liberal agenda, (“adequate minimum income for all” and “widening the distribution and individual ownership of wealth”) such proposals have frequently been on other parties’ manifestos and are no more workable now than they were then. An income adequate for one person may be quite inadequate for another whose needs are different, and exactly how do you legislate to significantly increase the ownership of wealth of those dependent on a wage or salary for their living?

“Community Politics”
Another thing any future Liberal government would discover is that the extent to which they can impose and enforce their measures depends far less on their determination to do so than on the conditions prevailing at the time. One of their present ‘ideals’ is to halt the building of nuclear power stations to protect the environment. The decision whether to carry through such a policy once they were in power however would be based not on ideals but on whether other more economical ways of producing energy were available. Another of their stated aims is to involve the mass of people in decision-making by setting up local district and neighbourhood councils, so-called “community politics”. But once again this measure would only be pursued if its usefulness to the smooth functioning of the system outweighed other contrary factors, including the cost.

In other words the Liberals’ room for manoeuvre would be very small. Rather than their imposing their measures on the system, the system would impose measures upon them. And this is the reason why, despite apparently wide divergences of views between political parties, when in power they all pursue strikingly similar policies. It is also why the Liberal administrations of the 19th century, despite their commitment to reform legislation, presided over some of the blackest years in British working-class history. So when in 1970 the Report of the Liberal Commission said: “Recent governments have shown themselves unable to escape from a long series of ad hoc decisions; taking decisions on a day-to-day basis, reacting to the pressures of immediate events, rather than attempting to follow any consistent direction or design” (p. 11), it was involuntarily drawing attention to the way a Liberal government itself would be forced to behave if elected to power.

Nor does it end there. The tangle of problems facing any party seriously competing to administer capitalism inevitably breeds within that party frustration and conflicting opinions as to how best to tackle those problems. This leads to internal splits and intrigues of the type so well known in the Labour and Tory parties and it is worth pointing out to starry-eyed Liberals that in the Liberal heyday bitter internal strife characterised their party too, contributing greatly to its decline.

So despite the apparent unity of purpose with which the Liberals face the future after their Blackpool conference, such unity would be unlikely to survive a term in office, especially if that office were shared with another party as recently proposed by Liberal leader David Steel with his suggestion for a “radical coalition” with sections of the Labour Party as a “credible alternative government in 1983 or 1984” (Guardian, 8 August 1980). As an observer has pointed out: “When the Liberals have seemed to be on the verge of breaking through to become once again a majority party, their behaviour has begun to resemble the two large rivals” (Stanley Henig, European Political Parties, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1969, p. 435). Even a faint sniff of power in 1977-78 (Lib- Lab pact) was enough to cause loud disunity among Liberal MPs and supporters.

To be fair, however, many of the delegates at Blackpool were not just interested in putting a political party in power. Many were people who are genuinely concerned by today’s massive social problems and support the Liberal Party because it seems to offer help in solving them. For apart from their programme of economic reforms, the Liberals, by their attention to such issues as housing, environment, racism and civil liberties have carefully cultivated the image of a “caring party”, one of principles not pragmatism, one that caters for the needs of the individual and the underdog in society. The same kind of image in fact as projected by the Labour Party in 1964 after 13 years of Tory rule and one that has been repeatedly punctured since. The pity is that those who really do care about the kind of world we live in should seek fulfilment in working for political parties which can only let them down.
Howard Moss