Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ask the general (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the intoxication of the INF Treaty comes the hangover of reality. The record has recently been put straight by NATO's Supreme Commander (and you can't get much higher than that in the business of managing a mass murder machine) General John Galvin, who advises against any misconceptions about the effect of the Treaty which, he says, will remove only about three or four per cent of the nuclear inventory. Whatever gap this may leave, the General is engaged in trying to plug by bringing NATO's battlefield nuclear weapons up do date. At the same time the British government is planning a £2 to £3 billion long-term costing for a new nuclear stand-off missile for the Tornado bomber, as another way of plugging the gaps left by the INF.

These facts indicate that, in spite of the blast of publicity which came with its signing, the INF Treaty will leave the world anything but nuclear-free. After all, nuclear arms did not happen by accident, out of an unconnected nothing. They were in the direct line of succession of capitalism's state organised means of murder and destruction (what, we wonder, will be next in the line?). The bomber aircraft which emerged from World War One were succeeded at the end of 1939-45 by the guided missile and the rocket. then in their infancy but holding the awful prospect of refinement and fitment with nuclear warheads.

This doleful state of affairs, in which a substantial amount of human energy, knowledge and resources is poured into manufacturing devices with the sole use of blowing us all up, is the inevitable consequence of a social system based on the class monopoly of the means of life. Capitalism produces its wealth for profitable sale; its relentless drive is for the accumulation of capital. This means that it is a society of competition, which at its fullest involves a massive, world-wide clash between the super powers armed with the most destructive weapons available.

The case that capitalism causes war and that war gives rise to the means of destruction. which must inexorably get more and more powerful, seems too straightforward for the anti-nuclear campaigners, who prefer to think that the weapons can be eliminated without doing anything about their cause. So imperfect an understanding of this social system must cause a vulnerability to misconceptions, of the sort which CND constantly offer as viable policy. That is why they celebrated the INF Treaty as the harbinger of a new age of peace and freedom from fear.

In reality, the powers of capitalism will not surrender their capacities to damage, perhaps destroy, each other at so casual a wriggle of pens on pieces of paper. They will not so easily dismantle the arsenals they have so painstakingly, so expensively, accumulated. They remain deadly rivals; the world is still a place of tension, under threat of the ultimate holocaust.

After the false euphoria of the INF Treaty, that is the reality. Ask General Galvin. 

Getting a message (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

I always watch breakfast television to see if the Revolution has started without me. Every day I wait for Gordon Honeycombe to announce that the working class have finally emancipated themselves. Well, this particular morning he didn't say that. Instead we got Batman repeats, followed by the usual mind- numbing mixture of self-publicising nonentities and heart-warming human interest stories. The aim of this early morning junk is to anaesthetise the thought processes of the workers before they set out to perform their capitalist employers' bidding.

Undaunted, I turned to the newly delivered newspaper. I nearly choked on my toast. "'Jesus lives' to adorn Britain's letters for six weeks," the headline read. One of 3000 Intercessors for Britain, who have vowed to pray for an hour a week over the moral state of the country, has paid the Post Office fifty thousand pounds to postmark every letter, parcel and periodical with the slogan "Jesus is alive". Expletive deleted, I thought to myself. I read on. A Post Office spokesman said. "The scheme in no way confirms that we agree with the contents of the slogan. We do not consider the slogan contentious but a fair and reasonable message generally to the public". Well it's not agreeable to me, matey. It adds a new dimension to "unsolicited mail". My indignation quickly subsided when I realised that it was yet another triumph for crass commercialism.

I had thought of writing on my outgoing mail, "Jesus is alive and well in America, providing homophobic bigots and racists with well heeled lifestyles made possible by screwing millions of dollars out of those members of the working class who need an emotional crutch to help them cope with capitalism, a system of society that produces war. poverty, economic insecurity and unemployment". Then I realised there would be no room left on the envelope for the address. So I think I'll write "Abolition of the wages system" instead.
Dave Coggan

Be your own boss? (1988)

The Running Commentary column from the April 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

During the nineteenth century Samuel Smiles offered the doctrine of hard work and abstinence to the British working class as a path from the poverty and suffering they experienced during the "golden era" of empire and industry.

Today the government peddles a similar message of self-help to the unemployed through its Enterprise Allowance Scheme with advice on how to become self-employed. The Prime Minister has revealed her vision for the future — a nation of self- employed. This is a bold vision in its denial of economic reality but it does reflect the pressures of party politics.

At the heart of the matter is government concern over unemployment levels and the consequent fear of losing power at the ballot box. This is a problem that has been faced by successive governments, whether Conservative, Labour, or Liberal (and will no doubt prove a source of worry to the new SLDP). Each has offered a variety of "solutions" that have proved useless without exception. Unfortunately for all parties hoping to capture power and administer capitalism the problem remains that unemployment is an inherent part of the capitalist economy and not capitalism gone wrong. As such the "solutions” offered by these parties and their accompanying economic advisers are spurious and, regardless of the promises, unemployment will be relatively high or low depending on the prospects for the capitalist class of realising a profit given prevailing market conditions. If the economy is expanding the capitalist will draw on the reserve of unemployed workers to increase production. When the economy contracts redundancy notices are issued.

The present government is offering the unemployed worker a chance to Be Your Own Boss. This self help booklet is available at Job Centres and offers advice and financial assistance in setting up your own business. It promises that "You won't have a boss breathing down your neck" (not that the target audience has the luxury of this inconvenience) and offers a list of services you could provide as a budding entrepreneur. Among the services listed that could launch you on the road to prosperity are: picture framing, making pottery, sign writing, gardening and child minding. Contact with reality is avoided by ignoring those crucial elements of market economy — competition and profitability. The reader is simply advised to identify a service that cannot be obtained at the "right price" in the area they live. The realities of the market place are left further behind when advice is offered on forming a co-operative. A co-op may suit you if you are ". . . more interested in serving the community than making profits". It would be hard to find a more cynical denial of the priorities of capitalism than to offer hope to unemployed workers by implying that a desire to help others may be enough to earn a living.
Tony Dobson

The Passing Show: Sons of Peace (1965)

The Passing Show Column from the September 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sons of Peace
We have only to mention such names as Berlin, Korea, Suez, Lebanon and 'Cuba, to recognise something they all have in common. All of them have at some time or other been trigger spots over which an extra large squabble has threatened something even bigger and more horrifying. At the time of writing, Vietnam is the current trigger spot and even the most ignorant must be aware of the slaughter which is going on there.

President Johnson has announced that the U.S. forces will be increased by fifty thousand men—“We are not going to be pushed out of Vietnam”, he says with cold-blooded frankness. His move, we can be sure, will be matched by the Vietcong and their supporters, and the situation moves one step further up the escalator.

But you may or may not have noticed the hypocrisy that gushes to the surface at a time like this. Nobody likes going out to war, but once it starts it’s difficult to stop, so there’s plenty of political prestige for the capitalist politician of perhaps a smaller “uncommitted” power if he can convince people that he has been responsible for putting a stop to the fighting. It’s a bandwagon which rolls merrily along, pausing only briefly between blood baths, and the assortment of individuals clambering aboard is bizarre indeed.

You may recall Korea, for example, and the appeals of the Indian government for a cessation of the hostilities—the very power which had gone to war only a few years before with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue. Since then Goa and the Rann of Kutch have been added to the nasty little list of “incidents” over which the Indian rulers have used force to push their interests, but these have not prevented the late Mr. Nehru, and his successor Mr. Shastri, from posing as peaceful mediators when some of the bigger powers have squabbled.

Perhaps you can think of any number of other examples, but to bring you up to date, the bandwagon has a new passenger. The Guardian of August 22nd reports that the gentle warrior Marshal Tito is trying to get a peace conference going over Vietnam. He will also ask that other war hater President Nasser of Egypt, to urge the peace loving Chou en-lai of China to “take a more constructive role in the Vietnam Crisis”. Apparently these moves are a result of talks in Belgrade between Tito and the Indian Prime Minister—obviously, whoever slips off the bandwagon, Mr. Shastri is determined to stay on it.

Just what the word “constructive” means in this context is anyone’s guess. As far as the contestants are concerned it will be only when the other side backs down, and until that happens, the slaughter and destruction will continue. So will the crocodile tears and the hypocrisy.

The government announced at the beginning of August that the immigrant quota is to be severely curtailed. About 300,000 Commonwealth applicants won’t stand a chance of entry, and only some 8,500 work vouchers a year will be issued. A far cry from the days of unqualified Labour opposition to restriction when Gaitskell was their leader? Maybe, but a politically popular decision nevertheless, and that’s what matters to the parties of capitalism.

Ironic is it not, then, to look further afield and find that the Australian Labour Party has now taken the opposite stand to that of its British counterpart, although it has always been a staunch supporter of a “white Australia” policy. Its statement of August 2nd says:
Convinced that an increased population is vital to Australia’s future, the Australian Labour Party will support and uphold a vigorous and expanding immigration programme administered with sympathy, understanding and tolerance. (Guardian, 3/8/65).
Now there may be a number of reasons for this change of front. Although the policy up to now has been to encourage British and Europeans and discourage Asians and other coloureds, Australian capitalism has been short of labour power for a long time, and the present policy has not succeeded in overcoming it. Then again, the Australian Labour Party may have its eye on the new independent Asian states not very far away, and its new policy could be an attempt to placate them (President Sukarno of Indonesia has for his part been saying some nice things about Australia just lately). Or maybe it’s a combination of factors, all contributing to what the ALP thinks are modern capitalism’s requirements. One thing is certain from the statement above, and that is that it’s not brotherly love for the coloured worker that has motivated it. )

But don't forget that the ALP is not in power at present, and if it ever does become the government again, we could well see a volte face if the situation demanded it. Hie labour Party may do the proposing, hut capitalism always does the disposing.

  NATO has been a success and the measure of thai success has been the shift of the threat from the West to the East (Mr. R. Maudling in a Commons debate. 20/7/65)
  Nobody has put any pressure on me to resign and nobody has suggested that I should go, but there are those who feel that a change of leadership would be right. (Sir A. Douglas Home, on his resignation. 22/7/65).
 Since 1945 it has become plain that the alternative government system is a defective means of securing national recognition of economic facts which exist whichever party is in power. (Guardian political correspondent, 29/7/65).
 The new leader sounded decidedly thin when it came to the Conservative remedies, many of which sounded nearly indistinguishable from Labour remedies. (Guardian comment on Commons censure debate, 3/8/65)
Eddie Critchfield

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Abundance (2012)

Book Review from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Abundance: the future is better than you think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Free Press. 2012

In the 1960s there was a spate of books about how automation would usher in a world of abundance in which we would all need to work only 20 hours a week before retiring at 50. It never happened. The post-war boom came to an end in the 1970s and pessimism set in: the Club of Rome, for instance, famously predicted that many non-renewable resources would run out before the turn of the century. That didn’t happen either.

Doom and gloom is still the prevalent mood.  Some are predicting the end of civilisation by the end of the century as a result of global overwarming. So it’s refreshing to read a book that’s rather more optimistic. Diamandis and Kotler set out to show that:
“Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standard of living for every man, woman and child on the planet. Within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthy few, to any and all who need them. Or desire them. Abundance for all is actually within our grasp.” (p. 9)
They anticipate that it is achievements and future developments in Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology, digitisation and genetic engineering that will enable this. Chapters 8 (Water), 9 (Feeding Nine Billion) and 13 (Energy) provide the details.

Most of the Earth’s surface is covered by water.  Water shortage should not therefore be a problem if an efficient and ecologically-sound way of desalinating it can be found. (They say it has.)  And there are also developments in water purification which permit the re-use of dirty water. Food production can be increased through genetically-engineered plants, artificial meat (grown from stem cells) and vertical farming (employing hydroponic techniques). The obvious alternative to burning fossil fuels as a source of energy for industry, transport and households is the sun. Until now a major problem has been how to store electricity. Diamandis and Kotler say this is in the process of being solved. Appropriate biomass can also provide a substitute for mineral oil.

The book’s big drawback is that this is supposed to happen under capitalism through the pioneering efforts of DIY inventors and innovators and ‘techno-philanthropists’ such as Bill Gates.

There is no theoretical reason why capitalism cannot further ‘develop’ the so-called developing world by providing more and more people there with some of the amenities (such as clean water and mobile phones) enjoyed by people in the developed parts of the world. But this can be done more quickly and more rationally in a socialist world.

Under capitalism, too, the risk is always there that advances in technology will be abused; as they have been and still are being abused. Drones, for instance, which could be used to transport medicines and spare parts to remote areas of Africa, are being used to transport bombs to kill people. And it’s only under capitalism that a group of terrorists could use developments in genetic engineering to concoct, and use or threaten to use, their own biological weapons.

One thing capitalism won’t be able to do is to remove profit-seeking as the driving force of economic activity, and so prevent wars and preparations for war.  Nor will it eliminate the enormous waste of resources this involves, nor prevent economic crises like the present one when austerity not abundance is the order of the day.

Diamandis and Kotler fix a date by which abundance and “an end to most of what ails us” will be realised as 2035 (p. 25). That’s a year before the UK government is preparing to raise the age of retirement to 67. Given the continuation of capitalism, it’s the latter that’s the more likely.
Adam Buick

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tactical Voting (1983)

Editorial from the May 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone who remembers the days of “consensus” politics, when Butskellism was rife in this country (which means when the Conservative and Labour parties made no secret of the fact that they were in basic agreement over the running of British capitalism) will be familiar with the slippery image of the floating voter. All manner of electoral bait was cast on the muddied waters to entice the floating voters into the net, as they moved shoal-like between the bed-rock support for the two big parties. Many dirty tricks disfigured the great angling contest between Labour and Tory, for the floater was in many cases considered to be crucial to the outcome of an election.

But all that was in the days of Macmillan, Gaitskell, Butler and the like; interest in the floating voter has declined and attention is given instead to the tactical voter, who is now said to be the deciding factor. There are contrasts between the two types. The floating voter could be an apathetic creature, liable to stay in its shell if the bait was not enticing enough to get it out to the polling station, while the tactical voter is essentially someone who votes. When the floating voter did vote, whether under inducement or threat, in the end it was for the party of its choice; the whole point about tactical voting is that it is for the party you don't really support.

In the famous Bermondsey by-election, for example. Labour supporters who were persuaded that Peter Tatchell stood little chance of winning might have voted for the SDP/Liberal Alliance candidate as the one most likely to keep the Tories out. This tactical vote would have been cast, even if the voter had been aware that the Alliance is a bunch of unprincipled opportunists.

Tactical voters try to be on the winning side, which means that they will be affected by preconceptions about the result. Electoral forecasts, then, are important; if Tatchell had looked likely to win in Bermondsey he should have attracted tactical votes rather than, as was the case, repulsed them. In that event many supporters of the Alliance, although they regarded Tatchell as a dangerous revolutionary (which he isn't) and the Labour Party as discredited and impotent (which it is) should have voted for him. In the past this process was known as a bandwagon which, as it gathers speed, picks up more and more people eager to be taken for a ride.

Although it seems to have been only recently discovered, tactical voting has been practised for a long time. Ever since the twenties the Labour and Conservative parties have argued that, as the Liberals could not hope to win an election, to vote for them was a waste; for tactical reasons. Liberals should vote Labour or Tory, even if they were opposed to those parties. This is not an argument about principle but about a squalid expediency. As the Liberals once suffered through the use of the tactical vote, it might be expected that they would be still opposed to its use now and would still be protesting that people should vote in accordance with their ideas; but now that they think the tactical vote is favouring them, the Liberals have no difficulty in accepting it.

Of course this is causing the Labour and Conservative parties a great deal of anguish and they are turning their ire on to the opinion polls on the assumption that, by forecasting the winner, they help to attract the tactical vote to that party and so to energise its bandwagon. A bruised Labour Party asserted that this happened in Bermondsey and one Labour MP — the ridiculous Doug Hoyle — wants to ban the polls from operating during the crucial period of an election. Hoyle sits on a thin majority having won a by-election almost as disastrous for his party as Bermondsey so it is natural that he should be anxious to find a picturesque excuse for Labour’s failures, to add to those which litter their history. A pollsters' conspiracy may now take its place alongside the bankers’ ramp, the economic blizzard and the winter of discontent.

Hoyle’s spluttering symbolised how seriously these matters are taken by the big parties whose business is to amass enough voters, whether sinking or floating, tactical or suicidal, to get them into power. None of them need be concerned about what the votes are based on — about what informs the voter who can be persuaded, during the brief couple of weeks of an election, to switch their support from one candidate to another. It is clear that no part in this is played by elements of political maturity or class consciousness or an awareness of the power of the vote to transform society.

Those votes are determined by inconsistency and opportunism and an ability to ignore the historical fact that it is useless to change from one of the capitalist parties to another. Workers in Britain have been swinging from Labour to Tory and back again since the twenties without producing any effect for the better; to add the SDP to the game will make no difference to its futility. All these parties represent the interests of the minority who own the means of life and they have no plans or intentions — or any conception — other than to run the social system in which that minority dominate through their ownership. They stand for the society which produces war, nuclear weapons, famine, poverty and disease alongside class privilege. They all stand for the decadence of capitalism and it matters not one whit if the vote swings from one to the other of them. The real issue is to get rid of capitalism.

This cannot be brought about through the crazy oscillations of the floating voter nor by the expedient manoeuvres of the tactical vote. It needs a stable political awareness that capitalism cannot be reformed out of its nature. A voter who has that knowledge does not drift or wriggle; they cannot be tempted to vote for any of the capitalist parties under the delusion that this is a useful thing to do because it keeps one of the others out or lets another in.

In contrast to the floaters and the tacticians there is the socialist, whose vote cannot be bought or manipulated or netted. Socialists vote on their knowledge, which means they use their vote to the limits of its awesome power to establish the society of freedom.

"The Prisoner" (Plaza) (1955)

Film Review from the June 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Prisoner is based on Bridget Boland’s play of the same name which had a short run in London a few months ago. The play, which was one of the very few worthwhile serious plays shown in London in the past year or so, had two of the main characters in common with the film—Alec Guinness as the Cardinal and Wilfred Lawson as the warder. The interrogator, the other principal character, is played in the film by Jack Hawkins.

It is a story of a Cardinal in an iron curtain country who has fallen foul of the regime by his outspokenness. The authorities, however, are unable to merely arrest and liquidate him owing to his fame and popularity, and it is therefore necessary for them to extort from the prisoner a confession of crimes sufficient to discredit him and to ensure his fall from public favour. In the words of the interrogator: “You are a public monument and that monument must be—defaced.”

The story, then, deals with the efforts of the interrogator to discover the chink in the Cardinal’s armour that will enable him to break down his resistance and eventually bring about his public recantation and “confession.” The interrogation takes months and although the prisoner is subjected to no actual physical torture, his spirit is broken by solitary confinement, the complete absence of sunlight and other well-thought-out “psychological” methods of torture. Inevitably roe chink in the armour is discovered and exploited and the State triumphs, although the interrogator discovers in the process that he himself is not free from pity, and is bringing about his own destruction as much as the prisoner's. The interrogator's method of breaking the prisoners’ will (or “curing him” as the interrogator puts it) and the Cardinal’s struggles to thwart him make a fascinating, although horrifying, study.

Any other conclusion to the story would have been dishonest for, in fact, in the so-called “Communist peoples' democracies” the State has always triumphed.

Bridget Boland has also written the script for die film and, unfortunately, has been prevailed upon to embellish the severity of the play with some romantic interest and some other tiresome, Hollywoodesque, film conventions, presumably at the instance of the box-office experts. The action of the play took place completely in the interrogation room and in the prisoner's cell, but there are a number of outside episodes added to the film that are both distracting and pointless. For instance, there is the disjointed love story of one of the police-warders; then a young boy is shot by the police while chalking “ Freedom” signs on a wall; a gun-battle breaks out between troops and an armed man in a house; a subversive journalist is arrested in a cafe; and so on. The addition of these episodes ruins the original unity of the play, and makes the film crudely anti-Communist, sprawling and inconsequential. Less reprehensible, perhaps, is the addition of the Cardinal's arrest in the cathedral and the trial. Both are quite effective but again, add little to the unity and point of the original.

The political trials that have taken place in Russia and the other so-called “Communist” countries generally follow a consistent pattern. At the trial the accused generally gives an abject “confession”; admits to all his crimes; extolls the virtues of the leaders of the party; admits the complete wrongness of his thought and sometimes even demands that the maximum penalty be exacted for the benefit of the people he is confessing that he has betrayed! A few extracts from the accounts of some of these trials should be sufficient to demonstrate this.

Vishinsky: How is one to judge the articles and declarations which you wrote in 1933 and in which you expressed devotion to the Party? As deceit?
Kamenev: No, worse than deceit.
Vishinsky: Breach of faith?
Kamenev: Worse.
Vishinsky: Worse than deceit, worse than breach of faith. Do you find this word? Is it treachery?
Kamenev: You have said it.
Vishinsky: Zinoviev, do you confirm this?
Zinoviev: Yes.”
Trial of Traicho Kostov and others. (Bulgaria, 1949):— 
Kostov: “So I repeat, I plead guilty of nationalist deviation in relation to the Soviet Union, which deserves a most severe punishment”—and—“I must confess that my readiness to put myself at the disposal of the British Intelligence Service was due partly to my left-sectarian, Trotskyist convictions of the past as well as to my capitulation before the police in 1942 . . . "
Nikola Nachev at the same trial:—
“Citizen Judges, having fully realised my criminal and hostile activities, carried on by me against my Fatherland and the Bulgarian people, I have described these activities in my written depositions before the People’s Militia. I will now tell you about what I did and what I know, so that the criminal conspiracy in which I also participated may be revealed. . . .”
One could go on quoting indefinitely this kind of thing. No one in their right mind could accept these confessions as being genuine and it is impossible not to feel uneasy when thinking of the methods which must be resorted to in order to obtain them. George Orwell in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” has, perhaps, described these methods in their ultimate form. For example, when O'Brien is explaining to Winston Smith the methods and ideals of the party he says, “Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane! Will you understand, Winston, that no one whom we bring to this place ever leaves our hands uncured? We are not interested in those stupid crimes that you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act; the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them."

It is ironical to think that after thousands of years of human progress, a large part of the world's population exists without even those elementary freedoms that the workers in this country possess, but this in itself does not justify despair, for though tragic failures, the Berlin riots and the Vorkuta rising are two signs that the “Communist” dictatorships do show cracks.

However, to return to the film. It merits a visit in spite of its faults, not only because of the superb acting performances of the three principals, but also because it throws some light on one of the most remarkable social phenomena of our time:—the political trial.
Albert Ivimey

Back in the USSR (2003)

Book Review from the June 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR. By Stephen A Resnick and Richard D. Wolff. Routledge, 2002

"The exploitation of workers”, the authors contend, “prevailed across the entire history of the USSR. When one kind of exploitative class structure was overthrown, another soon took its place . . . The 1917 revolution displaced private capitalism in industry but established an enduring state capitalism there instead”.

This is the sort of thing we say but, as the authors point out, how you regard(ed) the former USSR depends on your definition of class and exploitation. According to them, those in the Marxist tradition have used two different criteria for defining class: one based on property (legal ownership) and one based on power (actual control). The first view (embraced by the official ideologists of the former regime and the Trotskyists and by many in the old Labour Party) is that capitalist class society is abolished when legal private property rights over means of production vested in individuals are abolished and replaced by state ownership.

Although a classless society will have to involve the ending of such legal private property rights, it is clear, if only from the experience of Russia, that this is not enough. Nor is it really a Marxian approach since it emphasies what the law (formal property relations) says rather than looking at what the underlying productive relations actually were. Hence the alternative definition: that class is defined in relation to who actually controls access to and the use of means of production. On this, arguably more Marxian approach, where there is state ownership the question arises of who controls the state; those who do would, in practice if not in law, be the owners of the means of production.

This second is the approach we came to adopt, arguing that Russia was not, and never at any time since 1917 had been, a classless society but a class society in which the workers were exploited by an exclusive group that controlled the state. In fact, it is the approach adopted by nearly all those who argue that Russia was, or became, state capitalist.

But, as Resnick and Wolff point out, it still leaves open the question of what a classless, socialist (or communist, the same thing) society might be. Some who use this argument say that Russia would have been socialist (or become socialist) if only the state had been democratically controlled by the population or if only industries had been controlled and managed by those working in them. We don't take this view because, for us, common ownership of the means of production implies the disappearance of production for sale and with it of markets, prices, wages and money itself. If Russia had retained these but become democratic it would still have been capitalist, even though a democratic state capitalism or a worker-managed capitalism would be an unrealistic utopia.

Resnick and Wolff use this ambiguity to criticise not just the “property” theory (the Trotskyist nonsense about Russia having been a “degenerate workers' state” is an easy target) but also the “power” theory and to advance their own “surplus” theory of class: that class structure is determined by who appropriates and distributes the surplus produced at enterprise level. If it's not the direct producers then there's exploitation of them by another class; if it is the direct producers then that's communism. That right from 1917-18 the surpluses of enterprises were appropriated by state officials is the reason they give for saying that Russia always was state capitalist. (We say it was because commodity production, the wages system and money never disappeared.)

This theory raises a number of difficulties, the first being the definition of communism. Because Resnick and Wolff concentrate on what happens at enterprise level their argument leads to the conclusion that communism can exist at enterprise level. This is, in fact, their argument; which makes producer co-operatives the typical communist organisation. Insofar as communism is equated with any kind of “common ownership” then such co-operatives could be called “communist” since the co-operative's assets and products are commonly owned by its members. In fact, in their detailed economic history of the USSR between 1917 and 1990 that takes up most of the book, the only example of “communism” they identify in Russia are the collective farms set up in the 1930s, on the ground that, legally, the surplus they realised was not directly appropriated by state officials but belonged to the farmers as a collective group.

Traditionally, however, “communism” has meant a communist society, i.e., a whole social system based on the common ownership of the means of living and their democratic control by all the people (when we ourselves talk of “common ownership” this is to be taken as shorthand for common ownership of all the means of production by society).

Resnick and Wolff are prepared to consider “communism” existing above enterprise level, by for instance whole industries being commonly owned by those working in them and even (as a theoretical limiting case) of all industry being commonly owned by all productive workers. So that, for them, a fully communist society would be one in which all enterprises and all industries would be owned by those working in them, so that it would be the producers who would not only produce the surplus but also appropriate it (i.e., it would belong to them as soon as it was produced) and, even if through delegation either to professional managers or to state officials, decide its distribution.

Such a society would have more in common with what the co-operative movement and syndicalists used to envisage than with what we understand by socialism or communism, especially as Resnick and Wolff envisage buying and selling relationships existing between the various commonly-owned enterprises and industries. Thus they talk about “communist” markets and even “communist” value, surplus value, price and profit—enough to make our hair stand on end and conclude that they are not talking about communism or socialism in the original sense of a society in which all the means of production and distribution are commonly owned and democratically controlled by all the people. Since in such a society what was produced would also be commonly owned by everybody (or by nobody, the same thing from another angle), the question that would arise would not be how and where to sell it but how to distribute it through non-market mechanisms. Value, prices, profits, wages, money, etc are capitalist economic categories that won't exist in socialism.

That Resnick and Wolff are thinking in terms of an economic system based on capitalist economic categories is also evident from their treatment of productive labour, which is behind their workerist position that the surplus(-value) produced in an enterprise should belong only to that enterprise's “productive” workers to the exclusion of its “non-productive” workers such as its purchasing, sales, cleaning and guarding staff.

Here again, they are employing a concept that is relevant only to capitalism. Under capitalism a “productive” worker is a worker who produces surplus value. This is because the aim of capitalism is to maximise the amount of surplus value produced. Thus, for it, only workers whose labour is exchanged against capital (as opposed to being paid out of income) are productive. This does not mean that other workers, paid out of someone's income, are not productive in the broader (and more normal) sense of productive of use-values. A tailor employed by a landowner or a capitalist to make him a suit still produces a suit even if they don't produce surplus value. Similarly, a civil servant by his or her work still provides a service (even if in many cases one that is only useful under capitalism). Anyone who works, whether for an employer, on their own account or as a volunteer, is productive insofar as they produce something, whether an object or a service, that is in some way useful to somebody. All such workers are productive of use-values.

Since socialism (communism) will be a society that will produce wealth solely in the form of use-values then everybody who produces any use-value will be productive, and there will be no sense in trying to distinguish those who, if society were still capitalist, would have been regarded as producers of surplus value. And even less sense in placing such producers in a privileged position with regard to other producers by allowing them the first say in how products should be distributed. That wouldn't be democratic and it's not socialist either. Socialism, we insist, is the common ownership of the means for producing and distributing wealth (i.e., use-values) by and in the interest of the whole community (including non-producers such as the sick and the old).
Adam Buick

Don't Be Evil (2017)

The Pathfinders Column from the April 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Google have been in trouble again lately, this time for 'allowing'  ads by governments and major companies to appear next to extremist and hate videos on YouTube, making it look as if the videos are being sponsored by the likes of HMG, M&S, the Guardian and others.
The problem, as Google readily admit, is that they don't know how to prevent this happening. So-called smart filtering software does exist, but it's unrealistic to expect it always to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate content, given that human opinions are often divided on the subject. Current estimates vary, but in 2014 YouTube stated that 300 hours of new material were being uploaded every minute to their site, so policing that volume of content is next to impossible. Nevertheless critics are wont to demand the moon on a stick and attack Google for not doing enough to keep their house in order.
At the same time, Google has also been criticised for censorship, usually when their automated efforts to police content go wrong. An Egyptian blogger's videos of vote-rigging and police brutality were removed in 2007. A video criticising sharia law in Britain and backed by the National Secular Society was taken down in 2008. There are hundreds of other complaints about Google being either dictatorial or drippily laissez-faire, depending on the individual point of view. And YouTube was  itself blocked in Pakistan for carrying videos criticising Islam, in Turkey for videos insulting national founder Kemal Atatürk, in Thailand for unflattering remarks against the royals, in the UK and Germany for music copyright infringement, in China, Iran and Turkmenistan in virtual perpetuity, and so on.
It's not just the videos that YouTube has been castigated for. Its policy of allowing comments has repeatedly been under fire for unleashing a barrage of inane bigotry. Time Magazine complained in 2006: "Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred", and the Guardian in 2015 called it "a hotbed of infantile debate and unashamed ignorance" (Wikipedia). Google in 2013 decided to force viewers to create a Google+ account before they could post comments on videos, but this in turn attracted a storm of protest, even from one of YouTube's own co-founders.
This is all quite apart from controversies about aggressive tax avoidance, supposed manipulation over search results, source-code secrecy, abuse or appropriation of intellectual property, invasion of privacy and monopolistic practices. Having failed to live up to its founding motto 'Don't Be Evil' (what corporation wouldn't fail, though?), Google adopted a new motto in 2015: 'Do the right thing'. What this means is anybody's guess, but it's likely that Google won't live up to this motto either.
Google is valued at $133bn and its parent company Alphabet is listed by Forbes as the 27th largest company in the world, above IBM, General Motors, Gazprom, Intel, Boeing, Disney and Coca-Cola. Just as Uber, wriggling and writhing through its current worker-exploitation controversies by insisting it is a technology 'platform' not a taxi company, so Google aims to avoid government regulation by maintaining that it is a technology platform and not a media company (Google's crisis of confidence, BBC Online, 20 March). Whether it's allowed to get away with this in the future remains to be seen.
There is a degree of 'shoot the messenger' involved in all this. The internet has opened a hitherto unsuspected Pandora's Box of horrors including trolling, fraud, cyberbullying, revenge porn and general 'net rage' which reveals the crawling underbelly of capitalism in its harshest light. Young people, caught up in this ferocious storm of cruelty, have been driven to suicide. Pious pundits may wonder where all this rage and cruelty comes from, but socialists are not under any illusions. Happy people are not cruel. Anger runs through capitalism like 'Brighton' runs through a stick of rock. What people are angry about is the conditions they live under in capitalism, and the oppressive power relations that grind them down. Of course it's in the nature of power relations that you can't take your oppressor out into the street and punch his face in. So people vent their anonymous spite on each other instead, and then everybody blames Google for 'allowing' it all to happen. Maybe when they said 'Don't be evil' they didn't mean themselves.
What would Google and YouTube look like in socialism? Not that different, in some ways. But passwords and paywalls would be obsolete, to general relief, as would pop-up ads, banners and flashes, not to mention adware and spyware and porn links. Search results would tend to reflect genuinely popular sites, as they mostly now do, but without web developers having a money incentive to 'game' the rankings systems to promote bogus sites. But perhaps the most noticeable difference would be the disappearance of the obsessive cult of online secrecy, including the 'dark web', and the consequent freedom presently enjoyed by some in capitalism - the freedom to abuse, bully, libel, humiliate and torture someone, sometimes to death, while cosily wrapped in layers of anonymity, safe from discovery. That's not a freedom anyone will want in socialism.
Wiki Games
How accurate is Wikipedia? A recent study of Wikipedia produced a very interesting result. It turned out that Wikipedia's own army of 'bots' - autonomous editing and web maintenance programs - have been engaged in a relentless war with each other for at least a decade, changing and rechanging each other's edits, backwards and forwards, without let or quarter (Link.). As a study author put it, 'humans would have given up by now, but bots just go on forever'. Oddly, there is no entry in Wikipedia itself about its own bot wars, which might be an oversight or else a craven example of truth being the first casualty of war. At any rate, nobody's quite sure how this happened, or what to do about it. Says one researcher: "It is crucial to understand what could affect bot-bot interactions in order to design cooperative bots that can manage disagreement, avoid unproductive conflict, and fulfill their tasks in ways that are socially and ethically acceptable."
Quite so, and perhaps when they've managed that, they can start explaining it to humans.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Passing Show: Accidents (1962)

The Passing Show column from the March 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism (state or private) is and must be an inhuman system in the sense that people are thought of not as human beings but as workers—animals which, with the correct treatment, are a profitable source of work-days in factories or offices. This is so even when schemes are propounded that on the surface seem to be humanitarian, For example, there is currently an effort in the coalmines to cut down the number of accidents. That is as it should be. In 1960, for example, for each two thousand miners, one man was killed, and five seriously injured. The exact figures were 316 killed, and 1,553 badly injured (The Guardian, 9/1/62).

The National Coal Board has now offered £35,000 in prizes to accident-free pits and men during 1962. And how are the prizes to be distributed? Perhaps to the pits where no one has been killed during the year? Perhaps to the pits with the fewest accidents? No; the Coal Board has a different criterion. Pits are to be divided into three groups according to size; and “ trophies and cash will be awarded to the colliery in each of three size groups with the fewest work days lost for every 100,000 manshifts worked during the year." Then the men at the winning pits “who have not had an accident involving more than three days’ absence will take part in the draw for prizes totalling £10,000." So there it is: both for mines and miners, the question is who has lost fewest work days through accidents. To the Coal Board, as to the old private owners, the miner is simply a source of work days; and even these so-called “safety prizes” are really aimed, not against death or injury as such, but only against loss of working time.

The devil
There were a lot of easy jokes made when the Convocation of Canterbury, the ruling body of the larger of the two provinces of the Church of England, rejected a proposal to throw the devil out of the catechism—although “all his works" were excluded. And it is paradoxical that whereas the great majority of people have ceased to believe in the existence of any such being, Anglicans are among the few people who are still faithful to him. Even they have only accepted the revised catechism for seven years; at the end of that time even the religionists may give Satan up. The really significant point, though, is that any such proposal as this one, to evict the devil from the official list of beliefs, could ever gain support in a Christian Church. Belief in the devil has been one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity for nearly two thousand years. But now it seems he is on his last legs.

Perhaps his temporary reprieve is due to their consideration that, after all, God created him; it would seem hard if the Christians were to abandon him now, in his hour of need.

Engineers might like to know—in case the news is not given them in their union journal—that their General Secretary, Mr. W. J. Carron, is being seen about these days in the very best society. In the top people’s paper there was news of an exclusive little gathering at Admiralty House on January 17th—a dinner given by Mr. Macmillan for the Italian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Besides the Italians and the Prime Minister himself, there were present two earls, a baron, five sirs, an honourable, a couple of Tory M.P.S, and—Mr. Carron.
Alwyn Edgar. 

A good time coming? (1972)

From the February 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whatever happens elsewhere there is one industry the output of which never falls off in a depression. Other peoples’ troubles are its golden opportunity, it booms when others stagnate. Its operators are the professional politicians and economists who tell a bemused public how things got where they are, what is happening now and what the stars foretell for the future of what they call the “economy”. What they are dealing with is capitalism though they hardly ever call it by that name and, with a few exceptions, their actual understanding of how capitalism works is minimal.

They are not a united band—indeed much of their effort is directed to exposing each others’ errors—but almost all of them subscribe to one article of faith; that if governments did the right thing at the right time crises, trade depressions, a million unemployed, balance of payments deficits and devaluation need never happen.

At the turn of the year they showed no unusual degree of unanimity in urging us all to take our eyes off present troubles and look ahead to the good time that is coming, provided that no discordant elements such as trade union “greed” or “unfair” competition from abroad or a general world recession upsets harmonious development. “I believe that this year we have a unique chance to begin a sustained period of more rapid expansion with steadier prices”. (Chancellor Barber). “1972 can be the first of four years’ rapid growth”. (Times). “The year that the economy could really take off”. (Sunday Times). “All set for a boom”. (Sunday Telegraph).

In part the optimism has as its basis the belief that if consumers spend more money because of tax reductions, increases of wages and pensions etc. this must lead to a corresponding increase of the quantity of goods produced, and a reduction of unemployment. A glance at what has been happening shows how naive this belief is. Between 1965 and 1971 consumers’ expenditure increased continuously, by an average of upwards of £1600 million a year, but at the end of it unemployment was higher by more than half a million. Most of the increased expenditure merely meant paying more for the same amount of goods, and if workers’ productivity is increasing (fewer workers needed to produce the same quantities), the total output of industry needs to be continually rising in order to absorb the unemployed.

Some economists are of course aware of this and their forecasts have therefore to assume that they know how trade will go this year and afterwards, that they know that price rises will lessen, that they know manufacturers will increase output and expand their factories and that when the goods are produced they will be sold at a profit here and overseas. They “know” all these things because their “Keynesian” article of faith tells them so, but in face of past refusal of events to behave as predicted confidence in Keynes is waning. In the House of Commons on 23 November Chancellor of the Exchequer Barber admitted that the government were taken by surprise by the rise of unemployment and Robert Carr, Minister of Employment said:-
We may be entering a period when the old principles of demand management based on Keynes and the rest may no longer be operating as Government here of all parties and governments in many countries had come to expect them, with justice, to work hitherto.
The government holds that the principle key to recovery is restricting the rise of prices and that their policy will achieve this. A leading economist, Alan Walters, Cassel Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, says that they don’t understand the problem and are doing precisely the wrong thing. (Financial Times 1 Jan. 1972). He sees the fundamental cause of the recent abnormally rapid increase of prices in “the vast expansion of the money supply in 1967-8”, an increase that the present government has continued. He rejects the explanation given by Keynesians that the price rise is due to pressure by trade unions and others. He notes that company profits in real terms have been falling while prices rose and he does not expect manufacturers to expand investment while this continues. He thinks the competitiveness of British exports has been worsened by the agreement to up value the pound against the dollar and sees the likelihood of another devaluation of the pound. His own proposal is that the price rise should be curtailed by a gradual restriction on the money supply, but confesses that he does not know whether such a policy “would increase or even decrease the rate of unemployment”.

So much for both the Keynesian and the non-Keynesian beliefs in the possibility of managing capitalism in a way which would obviate booms, crises and depressions, which are not caused by “inflation” (though it can be an additional spanner in the works) but by the normal function of capitalism.

The government and the rest of the forecasters all agree that the discussions with America over international exchange rates will play a part in the ability of British manufacturers to compete in world markets, at least in the short run, but this condemnation of American policies is very much a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

British governments (like many others) have for years been depreciating the currency and putting up prices by excess printing of notes, thereby practising a form of legal swindling on purchasers of national savings certificates and other government securities, since the eventual repayment is in depreciated currency. This is much the same as the American government has been doing extensively in the past few years. The smooth running of trading operations and other financial transactions needs a comparatively stable currency and a means of preventing depreciating. This was achieved first by using gold coin of standard weight and fineness and, as a development of this, using notes convertible by law into gold of fixed amount. This was the 19th Century British system and under it currency depreciation was impossible. Gold functioned as the money commodity because, like other commodities, it has value, proportional to the amount of labour socially necessary to produce it. (It was a writer in the Financial Times 22 Dec. 1971 who came out with the staggering observation that “gold is no longer the symbol of security”)

Notes, British Bank of England notes, or American dollar notes became acceptable, "as good as gold”, because they were by law convertible into a fixed weight of gold.

Britain first, and much later America, abandoned convertibility between the wars. As regards the dollar it was a process of gradually limiting convertibility until, two years ago, it was confined to Central Banks in other countries, who alone could demand gold at $35 an ounce. C. Gordon Tether (Financial Times 17 Dec. 1971) describes how obstacles were put in the way of convertibility so that in the past two years some $20,000 million of paper dollars were unloaded on the world with the loss of only $1,500 million of gold through actual conversion. Then in August last convertibility was ended at the same time that the 10 per cent levy was imposed on many imports into America in order to put pressure on other governments and make them upvalue their currency. Now in return for an average upvaluing of 10 per cent of other currencies against the dollar the import levy is to be withdrawn but the question of gold convertibility of the dollar is yet to be settled. According to Tether the American government’s idea was to keep the dollar as a widely used world currency without convertibility at all. They wanted other governments and banks to accept the dollar as “common denominator by some kind of divine right —and not merely as a stand-in for gold’. Needless to say the French and other governments reacted sharply to this and the latest suggested settlement is that dollar convertibility may be restored but associated with a very big depreciation of the dollar in terms of gold.

To put the matter in perspective in relation to the present depression it should be recalled that crisis and depressions happened just as normally in the 19th Century when the then world currency, the pound, was fully convertible.

Some forty years ago when unemployment reached 2½ million (under a Labour government) many workers were being attracted to a study of Marx precisely because the Marxian explanation fitted the facts of the situation. Then along came Keynes with his glib proposals for running capitalism with guaranteed continuous full employment and Marx was pushed into the background.

Now that the Keynesian myth has collapsed perhaps Marx will come into his own.
Edgar Hardcastle

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lessons from the past and present (1982)

Editorial from the September 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The stubbornly high level of unemployment is producing a wealth of material for the use of economic and financial "experts" in comparing the present to the last time the total of jobless workers reached such heights. Even better, for the reminiscent journalist in need of a newsline, is the fact that it happened half a century ago—in 1932, when the post-1914-18 slumps were at their peak.

These comparisons usually overlook the period in between, when there was comparatively full employment—particularly from 1945 until the mid ’60s. Those were the days when Keynesian theories were supposed to have triumphed, when the economists and politicians claimed to be able to hold unemployment at bay by such measures as varying the rate of taxation—which, they assumed, was a controlling mechanism. If any of these measures were ever criticised in detail, it was usually enough for the politicians to threaten to discard the controls, which would inexorably bring back the misery of the 30s.

Now the Keynesian policies have been shown up in all their impotence. Unemployment remains high in spite of all the economists and financial wizards can do. The recession—world wide—is immune to all the curses, cajoling and incantations of the medicine men of modern capitalism. Indeed, in their more sombre moments (which nowadays means most of the time) those same experts will admit that the outlook is for the slump to continue, even to worsen, and for unemployment to increase. Workers who are sacked when they are in their forties and fifties, we are being told, may have to compose their minds to never being employed again. Those years the experts spent with their text-books, their lecturers and their calculators have left them as innocent of an understanding of capitalism as when they started out.

But are there comparisons between the present and the 30s and if so how valid are they? What contribution can they make to an understanding of society? As we pointed out last month, it is misleading to compare just the bald figures for unemployment. This game of doctoring statistics is played by politicians of all parties in their efforts to pick up the votes of the uninformed. The game takes no account of the fact that the level of unemployment has a specially awful significance for the working class, who depend for their livelihood on the sale of their labour power. It adds to the pressure in our daily survival struggle and debilitates our efforts to defend our living standards— as the railway workers have recently experienced.

This provides one valid comparison with the past. The period after the First World War was marked by some epic working class struggles against the pressures from the employers, as the world economy slithered into recession. Many of those battles ended in defeat for the workers; they were perhaps quickly humiliated, or like the miners after the General Strike, starved into a bitter defeat. In those days, as at present, workers who were trying to defend their living standards were castigated by the gutter journalists as wreckers, idlers and subversives.

As the ruling class felt their strength. the screw was tightened still further. Workers who were barely surviving on unemployment pay had what were called their ‘benefits' (a prime example of the political misuse of language) cut. In 1982 unemployed workers have waiting for them the ‘safety net' of Supplementary Benefit, which they receive after passing through an extremely humiliating experience. One of the ‘safety nets' of the 30s was the Unemployed Assistance Board, whose representatives were liable to advise workers to lighten their poverty by selling their furniture, cutlery and so on. The 30s, like the 80s, were times of exceptionally blatant degradation for the working class.

Yet through all this the political party which openly and arrogantly proclaimed its support for capitalism maintained its popularity. The Conservatives came through the 30s strong and united, apparently entrenched in power for ever. At election time, the workers gave them a hearty vote of confidence. The Labour Party was in disarray, with many of its leaders departed into a coalition with the Tories and the Liberals. There is a similar situation now, as an influential faction in the Labour Party runs for what they hope will be the cover of the Social Democratic Party, leaving the rest to contemplate an eternity in the political junk room.

If there are comparisons which can usefully be made over the past fifty years, they can be explained by the fact that this social system does not basically change. Capitalism in the 80s is the same society as it was in the days of Baldwin and Macdonald. It is similarly anarchic. It produces the same desperate, devastating problems. Its leaders are as impotent now as they were in 1932.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that, unless something is done to change this state of affairs, our successors in 2032 will be making similar comparisons, and reaching the same depressing opinion. In fact, capitalism cannot change. When it produces a war, or famine, or mass unemployment, it is not behaving in a wayward fashion but exactly in character. There can be no escape from the results of the system, in 1932 or in 1982, short of abolishing capitalism itself.

That is the crucial issue, the lesson to be gained from looking back over the past half-century. At present the working class absorb a staggering amount of punishment from the workings of capitalism and they dumbly accept that this must always be. But the future is in our hands. We have the power world wide to end capitalism and all its problems. We can have a world of common ownership and free access—a world of abundance and harmonious cooperation. If there is one lesson the past fifty years has for the working class it is of the urgent need for the new social system— socialism.

Organise—without leaders (1992)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

The TUC met in Blackpool in early September amid a continuing decline in trade union membership. Membership reached a peak in 1979 when overall—TUC and non-TUC unions—it stood at 13,446,000, a density of 58 percent of the working population. Membership of unions affiliated to the TUC amounted to 11,731,399 if the electricians, who were expelled in 1988, are excluded. According to the Department of Employment Gazette (April 1992) overall membership of trade unions stood at 9,947,000 in 1990. This meant that the proportion of workers organized in unions had declined to 43.9 percent. TUC membership at the end of 1991 had declined to 7,757,000, a fall of almost 4 million compared with the 1979 figure (Labour Research, August 1992).

The point can be made that union membership tends to decline when unemployment is on the rise, as it has been in the last two years. However this will not do as an explanation for the decline in membership over the last 13 years. Unemployment has of course had a negative effect on membership in the last couple of years. However, even when unemployment was falling between 1986 and 1989 membership continued to decline. Quite clearly there are other problems such as a longer-term change in employment patterns. The areas of the economy which are witnessing a growth of employment arc those which lack a tradition of strong union organization whereas those sectors which have had that tradition are in many cases areas of declining employment. Therefore, the theory which states that union membership will grow when unemployment starts to fall again must be regarded as dubious.

Nothing from Labour
To pin hopes of a recovery on the trade union leadership is likely to lead to despair. Ever since the election of the Conservative Party in 1979, union leaders have based most of their hopes on the future election of a Labour government. When this failed in 1983 they bowed their heads in disbelief and sat back for another four years. In 1987 the Labour Party once again failed to gain a mandate to attempt to run the wages system more effectively than the Conservatives. With yet another failure this year, it might have been thought that lessons might have been learnt. Nothing of the sort. Most recently, union leaders concerned themselves with the completely irrelevant business of who would lead the Labour Party, quite possibly into a further, record-breaking, fifth defeat in a row.

What needs to be done is to rebuild trade-union organization from the base. The basis of strong trade unionism is effective local and workplace organization with active rank and file participation and direct election and control over local representatives. It seems clear that in many industries and workplaces this organization needs rebuilding whilst in others it needs establishing for the first time. From this base more effective links would need to be built between workers in different workplaces, companies and industries. Such effective organization cannot be built from the top downwards but needs to be established by workers themselves. Effective trade-union organization has to be based on workers self-organization: a self-organization based on the understanding that the interests of employers as buyers of labour power and workers as the sellers of that commodity are antagonistic.

Quite clearly a leadership with strong links with a party which aims at running capitalism and which all too often puts forward the view that the interests of employees and employers are identical cannot be relied upon to build industrial organisations based on working-class interests. This policy of class collaboration reached its disgusting height at this year's TUC when the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry was invited to address the delegates. The CBI Director-General certainly had a better notion of the interests of his class than most union leaders, calling as he did for lower wage increases.

As usual with capitalism the class who produce all the wealth and receive in return only enough to keep us in working order have to bear the brunt of the downturn in the capitalist economy. We have to suffer for the shortcomings of their system. Whilst socialists might have several disagreements with the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill he [has], at least, had the guts and common sense to lead his members out of the hall when the representative of the class enemy began his speech. This policy of so-called “Social Partnership” must be rigorously opposed by all trade unionists with any understanding of the class nature of present-day world-wide society.

The policy of some unions of seeking to build their organizations by selling themselves to employers on the basis of how friendly they are to the aims of those employers can receive nothing but hostility. The sole purpose of a union is to organize workers to defend and promote their interests, not to increase their numerical strength by selling themselves to employers on the basis of no-strike deals, selling hard-won workers’ rights down the river or any other acts of class collaboration.

Workers need a political party to build a democratic movement designed to oppose and end a system based on the exploitation of the majority by the minority. Likewise, we need a strong industrial movement to defend ourselves so long as the system of capitalism remains. The socialist message to workers who may despair at the state of working class organisation at the present time echoes that of the IWW activist Joe Hill "Don’t mourn, organize”.
Ray Carr

A Few Words on "Mine" and "Thine." (1922)

From the April 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many years ago, many thousands of years ago, when a man was hungry he took what he required and nobody interfered. Travellers' records are full of strange accounts of the native who, when on a long journey, walks into any hut met on the way, takes his fill from the pot on the fire, and takes himself off without anyone (except the civilised traveller) questioning his right to do so.

To-day, in any civilised country, if a hungry man takes what he requires (takes and holds!) he will be thrown into prison for taking what does not belong to him.

What a long and tortuous period of development lies between these two social stages! And yet how simple and natural and reasonable it appears to take and eat when one is hungry.

Why does the wielder of the baton stand between the hungry man and the food he requires? Because the hungry man would take what is not his to take—ah! there’s the rub!

The problem that would puzzle a savage is—Why does food, one of man’s principal requirements, become somebody’s property; or why do things in general belong to particular sets of people, as, for example, ease and luxury to the masters, work and poverty to the workers? Why do mine and thine play such important parts in present-day affairs?

When a worker chances to put such questions he is belaboured with ponderous statements about foreign trade, supply and demand, wages of abstinence, cost of production, and hundreds of other things which he is solemnly assured are far above his capacity to understand and must be left to be worked out and settled by fat-headed highbrows whose sole aim in life is to attend to the well-being of the worker.

And yet it is really all very simple at the bottom. Thousands of Johns and Micks and Sams and Fritzs are all toiling in mines and factories, on the railways and on the seas, to obtain, fashion, and transport the things man requires in order to live. But these obtainers, fashioners, and transporters must not take the smallest fraction of their product, but must pass over all they produce to a set of idlers. This set of idlers only return to the producers what will keep some of the latter alive, fit to work, and reproduce their kind. Why? Because many, many years ago the forerunners of the present set of idlers obtained, by various means, the right to privately own the land and practically all that is on and in the land —in a word, private ownership of the means of production. And this latter state of affairs still exists because the average worker accepts it as something divinely given or a law of nature

Science, though aided with microscope and telescope, has been unable to find any divine law-giver or any room for his operations. Nature is bountiful and gives to no individual the right to privately monopolise anything. Man builds up these rights and man can abolish them.

The idle class are able to monopolise the wealth produced by the millions of toilers because the toilers accept as eternal the manmade laws of mine and thine.

Just as the air is free to all, so will the products of man’s toil be free to all when the producer wishes it, as the means to accomplish this wish are at hand.

Delve deeply into this matter, fellow-worker; do not leave it to your self-appointed guides and guardians. It is your problem, and in its solution lies your social salvation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Pacifists and Socialism (1927)

From the April 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Party claims (sometimes) to represent the interests of the workers. An illustration of its method of doing this occurred in the House of Commons recently.

On March 17th Mr. Ponsonby (one of the Liberal “converts”) moved that the Air Force be reduced by 32,000 men. This is, of course, quite consistent with the general attitude of the author of the “Peace Letter” on the question of Disarmament. Such a motion, however, is about as practical as asking the master-class to commit suicide outright.

It would, of course, be of financial advantage to considerable sections of the property owning class if their system could be maintained without expensive machines of destruction. If only other capitalists would not butt into the world-markets struggling for their place in the sun—if only the workers would peacefully accept wage reductions whenever necessary and never, never, never ask for a rise in their scale of fodder supplies—what a beautiful world it would be. There would be no need for the machinery of government to protect property and none would be more ready to apply the principle of disarmament than the Conservative Party.

The representatives of capitalist interests, however, have learned by grim experience that a system of exploitation such as the present can only be preserved by force and in this conclusion they find themselves at one with quite a considerable section of the Labour Party. Only twenty-four members of that Party supported Mr. Ponsonby's motion. The official Labour Party could not do so without jeopardising their whole position.

Representing the opinions of millions of workers, who accept the capitalist system as the necessary form of society, the Labour Party as a whole can do nothing but maintain that system through the machinery of government. They cannot entertain any suggestion of weakening the forces which are the essential element in that machinery. The disarmament of the capitalist class can only be accomplished by a political party representing a working class awake to its position as the slave-class in society and determined to end that situation.

Ponsonby, Lansbury and the rest of the Pacifist crowd in the Labour Party know that the confusion in their ranks makes their position safe. On this point they will always be treated as harmless cranks by their stodgy, respectable colleagues. Variety is the spice of life, and it would most certainly not do for a party trying to run "the nation” to think in unison.

The New Leader of March 18th (p. 4) informs us that there are no less than five distinct groups of opinion within the Labour Party on this question.

First, there are the out-and-out Pacifists; secondly, those who profess to believe in the class-war and who only condemn arms in the hands of the capitalist government; thirdly, the S.D.F. "citizen army” group; fourthly, the bulk of the Party which wants to wait till all the thieves have agreed to stop squabbling over the booty; finally, "the die-hards, who really believe in armies and navies.”

Whatever they may "believe” or not believe, these groups all joined hands in supporting the MacDonald Government, which did the dirty work of the Capitalist Class in Iraq and elsewhere.

One of Ponsonby's supporters, a Mr. Shepherd, advertised himself as a Quaker, who had been misled by propaganda into actually fighting during the recent carnage. This illustrates once more the worthlessness of religious and so-called ethical scruples to the workers. Only Socialist knowledge can prevent them yielding themselves up a willing sacrifice on the altar of capitalist necessity. Millions of Christians slaughtered one another, firmly convinced that God approved of their conduct.

To the workers who understand their position in society it is a matter of indifference which section of the international master class is the best equipped with engines of war. Whichever side wins or loses, the workers of both sides lose their lives or gain nothing if they survive.

The Socialist Party advocates the organisation of the working class for the capture of the political machinery in order that a new social order may be established in which the means of life will be owned in common by all and in which therefore there will be no need for the forcible protection of property and the slaughter of millions of producers in order to decide which bunch of parasites shall control the trade routes and markets of the world.
Eric Boden