Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Obituary: James McMillan (1996)

Obituary from the June 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The death of James McMillan in March was a shock to all members of the Glasgow Branch.

James was a character. Outside the Party he was known as "Maxie’’or “Jimmy the Pill". Inside it, he was known affectionately as "Wee Jimmy”. Wee Jimmy had a ready wit and was known for his quick-fire delivery. A couple of examples may give some idea of the man. At a party where a non-socialist objected to his swearing and said "Please don’t swear in front of my wife", Jimmy replied "I'm sorry, comrade, didn’t know it was her turn.” On his early life in the East End of Glasgow, he would comment “If there was an egg short, I got it” When a family friend read his tea-cup and said “Maxie,. I see a stranger in your future”, he asked "Is it the butcher?” Wee Jimmy joined the Party in 1965, he was an ever-present at the many outdoor meetings of the Party in the sixties and seventies. He never deviated in his socialist principles.

Our sympathy is extended to his sister, Winnie and his brothers, John and Peter. He will be missed.

Science v Religion (1960)

Theatre Review from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July, 1925, at the town of Dayton, Tennessee, a school-teacher was charged under a State law with teaching the Darwinian theory of the origin of man instead of the story in Genesis, as the law demanded.

The case was defended by the great liberal lawyer Clarence Seward Darrow, who was famous for defending many workers in cases that had arisen through their Trade Union struggles; a man who was by many derisively regarded as the friend of criminals, because he considered that society was to blame for their actions, being responsible for not only making men into criminals but also for defining at any time what was criminal and what was not, according to its own interests and prejudices.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee have taken the case of the Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes, and made it the basis of their play Inherit the Wind, which had a regrettably short run at the St, Martins Theatre. The play is not an actual report of the trial and the authors have changes the names of the participants, so that what we have are the essentials of the case and its conflict. This conflict is between the cant and superstition of unsophisticated religion and the enlightenment of “atheistic” science and is played  against the background of the American Middle West with its particular pioneer traditions of suspicion, intolerance and isolation, which looked upon science not only as an encroachment on its religion and a device of the Devil, but as a threat to its way of life. 

The Legislature of the State of Tennessee had laid down that it was unlawful for any public teacher “to teach the theory which denies the story of the divine creation of man as taught in the Bible and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower form of animals.”* It is also of interest to note that similarly, the State Legislature of Florida had declared it “improper and subversive of the best interests of the state for any public teacher to teach as true Darwinian or any other hypothesis that links man in blood relationship to any other form of life."*

It was against thinking of this kind and every obstacle that could be put in his way, including the refusal to allow the testimony of eminent biologists, and the prosecution’s able lawyer, William Jennings Bryan, that Darrow had to fight in his defence of John Scopes. Bryan was a man who held “firmly with childlike faith to a literal interpretation of the Bible,” who was “hostile to the teachings of biological science which he had never had the inclination to study.”* 

Darrow was moved by his abiding interest in science and his deep commitment to freedom of thought to volunteer to defend Scopes. He was in fact “of an astonishing variety of intellectual and social currents: skepticism in philosophy and religion, determinism in psychology, evolution in science, realism in literature, a farrago of socialism and anarchism in politics.”*

The outcome of the trial was a farcical compromise to save the face of the community, forced by Darrow's brilliant defence and the weight of American public opinion. The teacher John Scopes was simply fined a nominal sum.

So far as Bryan was concerned, says the American Dictionary of National Biography, “the trial only revealed the naivete of his religious faith and his want of familiarity with the trend of biological science." Already an old man, the strain of the trial brought him to his death five days later.

Inherit the Wind conveys with a fair degree of authenticity the setting and atmosphere the trial, though the ending of the play is spoilt by anti-climax. The authors have conceded a point to the prevailing public morality, giving the impression that it is not religion itself that is questionable but merely fundamentalist religion; which is false not only to Darrow and to science, but to the spirit of the play also. Nevertheless, the play is not only good theatre, but a refreshing reminder of the gradual retreat of religion (and other fetishes), which makes our Socialist task that much easier.
Ian Jones

* American Dictionary of National Biography.

Ground Rents and Coronets (2011)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
The slump has led to a revival of long-forgotten nostrums. Last year the Times (10 June) carried an article advocating a single tax on land as a way out of the crisis. This proposal normally associated with Henry George (1839-1897), but Philippe Legrain chose to associate it with Winston Churchill. Hence the subtitle of his article: “Adopting Churchill’s plan would benefit wealth creators at the expense of the idle rich”.
It is true that a hundred years ago, when the Liberal government of the day was in a power struggle with the House of Lords over the budget, Churchill who was then a Liberal did support a tax on land as a way of getting at the landed aristocracy.
Some harsh things were said in the course of this struggle with the likes of the Duke of Westminster and Churchill’s cousin, the Duke of Marlborough, being denounced as “land monopolists” and the “idle rich”. As indeed they were. Those who own a piece of the Earth’s surface are able to extract an income from the rest of society as ground-rent without having to lift a finger; the higher the demand for their land, the higher their income. In capitalist society this has to come out of the surplus value created in capitalist agriculture and industry. Naturally it was resented by the capitalist class who at least have to arrange for their capital to be invested before they can obtain their property income.
Henry George’s idea was to tax away the whole of the ground-rent of landowners and use it to relieve the capitalist class of the need to pay any taxes. Churchill, Lloyd George and the others didn’t want to go that far, but they still wanted to tax the mere ownership of land. Legrain repeats their argument:
‘The country's biggest private landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, owns 277,000 acres, not because of his talent or industry, but because his ancestors seized vast swaths of Scotland. These "land monopolists" — as Churchill dubbed them — get richer not through their own efforts, but that of others. The Duke of Westminster owns 300 acres of what was once fields and is now London's priciest real estate — Mayfair and Belgravia. And because so many people have established thriving businesses in the capital, that inheritance is now worth billions of pounds. Surely it would be better to tax that windfall gain, rather than the employees and entrepreneurs who generate it?’
The landed aristocracy lost the political battle and in 1911 the House of Lords had its wings clipped. But they kept their property. According to Legrain, in Britain today ‘0.3 percent of population owns 69 per cent of the land.’ The latest Sunday Times Rich List puts the Duke of Westminster as the 4th richest person in Britain with a pile worth £7,000 million. The Duke of Buccleuch is equal 381st with “only” £180 million, but that’s because land in the wilds of Scotland is less in demand than land in central London. Other bluebloods monopolising land in central London are Earl Cadogan (21st with £2,850 million), the Howard de Walden family (33rd with £1,820 million) and Viscount Portman (53rd with £1,200 million).
The Queen, who besides being the figurehead of the British capitalist state is a landed aristocrat in her own right, is equal 257th with £300 million. Other titled landowners with more than her are the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Sutherland and the Duke of Northumberland.
Their wealth is obscene and not justifiable even by capitalist standards. But Legrain is mistaken. Taxing away their rents would not benefit the real “wealth creators”, i.e. the wage and salary working class, but only the capitalist class by reducing the tax it has to pay.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Joys of Independence (1963)

Book Review from the December 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Morning After by Brian Crozier (Methuen, 36s.).

The joys of becoming an independent country are, by and large, illusory for the mass of the peoples of the “liberated” countries and not worth the effort and sacrifice so often involved in achieving it. This is a theme that the S.P.G.B. has been plugging throughout its history. We did not need to wait till after the "subject peoples” had experienced the frustrations of independence to come to our conclusions, any more than we needed to wait for the emergence of forced labour camps or the signing of the Hitler-Stalin pact to prove that the Soviets were not going to introduce Socialism into Russia.

Of course, this attitude was regarded as cynical and brought us no popularity either among the people who were to be “liberated” or among the left-wing parties of the west who (except when they were in power, of course) were often in the van of the freedom movement. Nor shall we gain any popularity among the readers of this book if we point out that we could see it all coming.

Nevertheless, this book is a valuable one and worth reading. For Socialists it provides a considerable amount of evidence to support the case we make. For others it may prove something of an eye- opener.

Mr. Crozier has no difficulty in showing that in many of the countries that have thrown out the British or the French or the Dutch the lot of the average worker, far from being better than in Imperial days, is actually worse. He gives the example of Burma where four years after independence the average worker was earning £13 16s. per, not week, not even month, but year. Twelve years earlier, under British rule, the figure was £24 14s. Nothing to write home about, but the Burmese workers can hardly claim to have done very well out of the change for which they struggled. In Indonesia, a country with fantastic natural wealth, the author quotes President Sukarno’s own paper as admitting: “A city worker who only makes 6.50 Rupiah a day can never afford a litre of rice at 8 RP. He therefore cannot even support a family,” i.e., not even on rice-bowl standards. It must be comforting to a worker in Jakarta to watch his children going hungry and reflect that at least they have expelled the Dutch.

The author also has little difficulty in showing that on the freedom front most of these countries make as poor a showing as on the economic one. When one thinks of political opponents being tried in chains in the Courts of Ghana (where Nkrumah's strong-arm man was able to send his wife on a spending spree to London to buy, among other things, a £3,000 gold bed) one is almost tempted to forget (as one should not) the quite recent atrocities of the British and French in places like Kenya or Algeria. The author does not mention an item which was quoted in this journal a year or two ago about trade unionists being imprisoned and flogged in the Pakistan of General Ayub Khan, whom he regards as one of the less evil of the rulers thrown up by independence, for the crime of striking for better working conditions. One wonders if these poor devils felt the lash any less painful because it was used on the orders of a fellow Pakistani and not of an alien Briton.

There is a tendency, and Mr. Crozier is not free from it, to suggest that dictatorship is really quite good for the emergent countries or at worst, a necessary evil. This is, of course, an insult to the workers of these countries who deserve their despots no more than the European workers of Hitlerite Germany or Franco Spain. But in general this book does a useful job in showing the futility of the nostrum of independence for the working class. Would that he showed some awareness of the need for a revolutionary change in the social scene in backward and advanced countries alike.
L. E. Weidberg

Branch News (1964)

Party News from the February 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lewisham Branch, in anticipation of the General Election, have a full programme of meetings and activity arranged for the next few months. Their first meeting is at the Bromley Library Lecture Room. High Street. Bromley on “What is Socialism”. The date—Friday, February 28th at 8 pm (Full details are advertised in display panel in this issue). The following meeting at the same, venue is titled “Wages and Inflation", and is on March 20th. Intensive work will be put into Bromley by the branch with the help of other London members prior to the General Election when it is hoped that the Party will be able to contest the Bromley constituency. When the date of the election is known, members from all over London will make a special effort to assist in Bromley, but meantime all help will be welcome by Lewisham Branch.

We are happy to acknowledge donations from the following: Ethel L. Lee Haing, Sydney. Australia (£39 16s. 9d.). Mrs. P. de Cleve. Wellington. N.Z. (£1). “A Sympathiser” from Sunderland (10/-). and from Vienna, our comrades Frank and Pelinger £1 10s. each. It is particularly pleasing to learn that comrades so far away, whilst working hard under difficult conditions to spread the Socialist message, in addition contribute so generously to our funds.

Paddington and Marylebone Branch have a very full programme arranged right up till April. Full details in the meetings column. Glasgow also have a very full programme in preparation for the General Election. Details of their immediate meetings are advertised in this issue.

We regret that a printing error was made in Branch News in the December Socialist Standard. Under activity in Swansea reference was made to the “ Anti-Panzer Group”—this should have read the “Anti Nuclear Group”

We are very sad to learn of the death of our comrade Mark Bredon of West Ham Branch. Due to illness he had not been around very much of late, but he will be well remembered for his visits to Head Office and Conferences despite great difficulty in walking. He had been a Party member for more than thirty years.
Phyllis Howard

Branch News (1964)

Party News from the January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

Readers of the December issue who ordered a year’s subscription for the Socialist Standard should be feeling justified on seeing the first issue for 1964. Those who did not send in their subscription form are reminded now, and with this special issue as an example of Socialist literature subscription forms should now be pouring into Head Office. The more Standards sold, the less the overall cost and other fields of propaganda can be embarked upon with more cash in the “kitty".

Wembley Branch have had a most successful literature canvass—all their Standard stock was sold out, the latter part of the canvass was in a new area for the Branch —Queen’s Park. The canvassers were impressed by the interest taken, some people bought two copies and asked that they be called on again.

Mid-Herts. Group have been operating for just over a year. Much progress has been made and it is hoped to arrange a series of meetings in the New Year based upon the policies of the Conservative, Liberal and Labour Parties. These may take the form of discussion debates or a lecture from a Party speaker. When these arrangements are complete it is hoped to have leaflets printed and distributed to advertise the events.

South East Essex Branch holds its first meeting of the New Year on Monday, January 13th and will then meet every two weeks from that date.

During last month’s by-election in Marylebone, our local Branch members produced a special leaflet for the occasion. They also attended the meetings of the contesting parties, and keenly questioned the candidates. At Labour's meetings our comrades successfully put their points, exposing the weakness and anti-socialist nature of the Labour Party. At the Conservative meetings our members tried hard and well, but were faced with the strange phenomena of a candidate who refused point blank to answer oral questions from anyone. This Tory candidate apparently has aspired for the premiership. His arrogance and rudeness, plus his hollow phrase-mongering only made him look very foolish as well as incompetent.
Phyllis Howard

The Price of a Home (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everybody is supposed to aspire to owning their home. It is true that, in the insecure world that capitalism is, owning where you live does give you a measure of security. But it's pretty expensive and dependent on having regular employment for twenty to thirty years. And the house doesn't become yours till you've completely paid off the loan you took out to buy it; up till then it belongs to the bank or building society you got the loan and they can repossess it if you default. Having a mortgage round your neck also tends to make you less inclined to go on strike; which of course was one of Mrs Thatcher's calculations when she pursued the policy of turning workers from renters into owner-occupiers.
Renting is now increasing as stagnating wages and rising house prices make buying a house too expensive for more and more workers. Actually, it's not the price of houses that is rising, but the price of the land on which they are built. Most of the cost of buying a home is for the land, as can be seen in the difference between what a building is insured for and the price at which it will sell.
Commenting on the financial results of the house-building firms Bovis, the Times (21 February) noted:
'Ultimately, building houses is not rocket science and profits are not driven as much by the cost of supplies or labour as by a company's skill at acquiring land at the right price.'
Hence the phenomenon of 'land banking' where property speculators buy up land and leave it unused while waiting for the most profitable time to develop it.
Land, as it is not the product of work, has no value in the Marxian sense. It has only a price, which is determined solely by demand. Some plots of land have a higher price than others because they are located where firms and people want to use it. Location is all-important. Henry George, the late 19th century land reformer, pointed out that as cities and towns grew the price of the land on which they were built went up to the benefit of those who owned it. The centre of London is still owned by aristocrats such as the Duke of Westminster whose ancestors got fabulously rich without having to lift a finger or invest a penny and still the money rolls in.
This is why pro-capitalist reformers like Henry George proposed a 100 percent tax on increases in land values. Others, equally pro-capitalist, proposed land nationalisation. Today's reformers are less bold. They only propose tinkering to try to bring land prices down. The charity and reformist campaigning group Shelter is proposing:
'greater powers for councils over land in their area. Land would be sold to developers with proposals that most closely meet community needs, rather than selling to the highest bidder alone. Shelter said lower land prices would mean developers did not need to keep house prices “artificially high”' ( i paper, 2 March).
That's assuming that developers are out only to make a normal profit from merely building houses whereas, as the Times article points out, they are also out to make money out of rising land prices. And, do Shelter expect cash-strapped local councils not to get the best deal they can for the land they own or control?
Housing is a good example of the irrational way that capitalism treats meeting a basic need. What in a society geared to meeting people's needs would be a straightforward question of deciding how best to use land and then doing it is complicated under capitalism by such extraneous factors as profits, loan repayments and the price of land.

The Silent Conspiracy (1993)

Book Review from the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Silent Conspiracy: Inside the Intelligence Services in the 1990s by Stephen Dorril. (Heinemann, London, £16.99.)

The existence, and function, of the modern state is accepted and not questioned by most people. Yet the state has not existed, in the words of Frederick Engels. “from all eternity. There have been societies which have managed without it. which hail no notion of state power" (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State). The state came into existence with the emergence of class society.

The modern state, therefore, exists to facilitate the running of capitalist society as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and to look after and protect the interests, internally and externally, of the owners of capital—the capitalist class. Although at various times, and in varying degrees, in different countries, industries and means of transportation have been owned and run by the state (the nationalized industries), the central core of any modern state comprises the civil service, the armed forces and the police. Such organizations are there for all to see. But many of their functions, departments and offshoots remain secret, semi-secret and largely unaccountable. They are sometimes referred to as "the secret state”. This book deals in part, in some detail, with aspects of those parts of the modern state generally described as the security and intelligence services, largely in the 1980s and into the 1990s.

There are useful chapters on MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHO). Spying on trade unionists and unions as well as organizations such as CND are discussed. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the subsequent decline of the Communist Party, more emphasis by the security service, as well as the so-called secret intelligence service, is now put on other “subversives” and “terrorists" within the United Kingdom, and industrial spying by foreign capitalist states, "friendly” or otherwise.

The Silent Conspiracy provides useful information for socialists, striving for a world of production for use and the satisfaction of needs, and shows how necessary it must be for a socialist majority to gain control of the state. The book demonstrates just how impossible it would be for "revolutionaries" to abolish the state by “smashing” it. A socialist majority would have to dismantle the repressive apparatus of the state and, obviously, close down such organizations as MI5. MI6 and GCHO. No doubt the buildings, computers—and their staffs—could be put to different use. And as quickly as possible after a socialist majority wins control of the State. Socialism would have no use for a coercive stale machine.
Peter E. Newell

Modern Political Ideologies (1993)

Book Review from the August 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Modern Political Ideologies. By Andrew Vincent. (Blackwell.)

Starting with the origin and history of the concept of ideology, through Marx’s and Engels’s differing uses of the term, Vincent gives an analysis of its contemporary usage: a set of beliefs which has a view of society and how it ought to be. He then gives, from an unstated liberal viewpoint, detailed accounts of the “traditional" ideologies—liberalism, conservatism, socialism, anarchism, fascism—including accounts of feminism and ecologism, in all their manifold complexity.

Of particular interest to us is the chapter on “socialism”. Some insights are revealed:
despite the fact that Marxism is often regarded as a deeply statist doctrine . . . one looks in vain within the corpus of Marx and Engels's writings for any positive theory of the state. What one finds is an overwhelmingly negative analysis of the state.
But Vincent’s liberal standpoint leads him to look with favour on something that has been called “market socialism". Enough has been said in this journal about this contradiction in terms. It has to be said, however, that this concept illustrates a problem which pervades the whole book, and other books like it, the assumption that politics completely overrides economics. It is almost as if all that is needed to live the good life is to discover the right political principles and then live by them. But the global economic system, as Vincent partially realizes, is based on the accumulation of capital out of profits. When, as now, there is a widespread failure of profitability with its resultant social distress in terms of increased unemployment, poverty, ill-health etc, political principles can be rendered null and void. Even when the profit system is working "normally" it offers severe problems for most people: problems which governments are largely powerless to prevent or cure.

Vincent pulls together a lot of information which socialists will find useful. However, for a politics which is balanced with an understanding of the economics of capitalism just keep reading the Socialist Standard.
Lew Higgins

Going private (1983)

From the February 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is a simple belief among electors that the Labour Party is for nationalisation and the Tories are against it. While it is true that there are elements holding such views in the two Parties the reality is much more complicated. There are several different reasons why governments nationalise; because, as conditions change, governments may reverse their policies and because the outlook of the electors has to be taken into account.

The Tories, the Liberals and the Labour Party have all changed their attitude from time to time. In the 19th century Liberal and Tory governments looked on nationalisation as an acceptable way of dealing with private monopolies, and at first the newly formed Labour Party shared that view. It was a Tory government which established the Central Electricity Board in 1926, the BBC in 1927 and BOAC in 1939; a Liberal government which set up the Port of London Authority in 1908. In 1943 Churchill, as Prime Minister, said in a broadcast “There is a broadening field for state ownership and enterprise especially in relation to monopolies".

In the meantime the Labour Party, under its constitution and in line with conference resolutions, became committed to more or less universal nationalisation, and put a large instalment into operation in the sweeping nationalisation Acts of the Labour Government 1945-1951.

Then a reaction set in. The Labour Party leaders, notably Gaitskell, began to resist demands in their own ranks for further nationalisation, and the Tories and Liberals took up a positive opposition to nationalisation except in special circumstances (like the Tory nationalisation of part of Rolls-Royce in 1971 when the firm went bankrupt). The Tories actually denationalised Iron and Steel, which a later Labour government renationalised.

The present Tory policy is identical with that stated by the Liberal Party in their election Programme 1950.
Nationalisation for the sake of nationalisation is nonsense. The Liberals’ attitude is clear. Monopoly where it is not inevitable is objectionable and should be broken up. If it cannot be broken up it should, if possible, be controlled in the public interest without a change of ownership; only when neither the restoration of competition nor control is possible, should nationalisation be considered.
Among the reasons for nationalisation are military considerations, as in the Liberal government Act of 1871 which gave the government power to take over the railways in war-time or other emergencies. It was also military considerations which led a Tory government in 1928 to denationalise some Post Office cables and the Post Office Beam Wireless Telegraph Service and hand them over to a merger of the cable companies. The Post Office wireless service was undercutting the cables and driving them into bankruptcy, which the government wished to prevent, largely for military reasons.

Governments have also introduced nationalisation to secure the integration and modernisation of an industry when it appears to be impractical for private owners to secure the necessary capital for the purpose, as in the case of coal. State control had been unanimously recommended by a Coal Commission in 1919 on the ground that fragmentation into 4,000 separate owners meant waste and inefficiency, which only nationalisation could remedy. It is noticeable that the Tories have so far not seriously considered denationalisation of coal.

But the one continuing issue in relation to nationalisation has been the question of private monopolies and how to deal with them. The first Act giving the government power to buy out the railways was in 1844. Gladstone, who was President of the Board of Trade in a Tory government (it was only later that he joined the Liberals) got the Act through because the railways were exploiting their transport monopoly to fix charges regarded by business men and the government as excessive. During the debate in Parliament an MP who was Chairman of the Great Western Railway opposed the Bill and pleaded that the public should “trust in competition". Gladstone replied that the supposedly competing railways were getting together to kill competition. The Act was never put into operation but it served its purpose as a warning to the companies.

When, eventually, the railways were nationalised by the Labour government in 1947, far from being a monopoly they were being driven towards bankruptcy by road transport competition. In 1844 it was only the railways which were regarded as a dangerous private monopoly; but in the Great Depression at the end of the 19th century there was a growing movement in all industries for companies to seek salvation by amalgamating, so that the Committee on Trade in 1919 could report:
Trade associates and combines arc rapidly increasing in this country and may within no distant period exercise a paramount influence over all important branches of the British trade.
Subsequent Labour and Tory governments have passed Acts to deal with monopolies, but while the Labour Party has continued to seek a remedy in nationalisation, the Tories have now taken a strongly opposite view. At the 1979 General Election the Tory Programme dealt both with anti-monopoly laws and with denationalisation as a means of restoring competition. On the first it said:
In order to secure effective competition and fair pricing policy, we will review the working of the Monopolies Commission, the Office of Fair Trading, the Price Commission, with the legislation which governs their activities.
On the second, the Programme promised to denationalise the aerospace and shipbuilding industries, to sell shares in the National Freight Corporation and to relax the Traffic Commission’s licensing regulations to enable new bus and other services to develop.

In fact they have gone beyond this. Shares have been sold in British Petroleum and Britoil; the British Transport Docks Board is being partly “privatised" as Associated British Ports; British Rail's hotels and ferries have been sold, and there is a proposal to sell British Rail’s thirteen engineering workshops. It is intended to sell shares in British Airways but the airline's £l,000m outstanding debt makes it unattractive to investors unless the government first accepts responsibility for some or all of the debt.

Parliament has been dealing with the Bill to “privatise” British Telecommunications but because it was not mentioned in the Tory Election Programme the actual sale of shares will not take place until after the next election. At the Second Reading of the Bill on 9 November, the Minister of State for Industry, Patrick Jenkin, said that the public will be allowed to buy half the shares and "British Telecom would no longer be a nationalised industry but would become a private sector company”.

His case for the Bill was that it was only by being freed from Treasury control and allowed to raise its own capital in the market that it could "become a major force in the world communications market”. The company will not have a monopoly.

One of the purposes of denationalisation is to raise money for the government to help towards its planned, but so far not operated, reduction of taxation; but the main purpose of the whole policy is to restore competitiveness to British industry which has been the theme of reiterated speeches by Thatcher and other ministers. It will, she says, promote greater efficiency and lower prices, to enable British firms to meet the competition of foreign companies in the British market and exporters to invade world markets more effectively.
Edgar Hardcastle

Letter: Socialists and Parliament (1992)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Having listened to many of your SPGB discussion tapes I think I broadly understand the Socialist Party perspective. However I still feel very unclear about the vexed question of social change and the agents by which the SPGB sees it coming about. I would be grateful if you could clarify matters for me.

The SPGB apparently favours a parliamentary road, but not a reformist one. It will be a revolution, through the mass vote of the people, which will install a majority of Socialist Party MPs. They will pass a single act which will restore ownership and control of the means of production to the people, and replace parliament by a body of delegates— presumably from communities and regions. They will be mandated to carry out the general will, which will be to establish socialism thereby abolishing classes. Is this broadly correct? If so, several questions come to mind:

1. Isn’t the SPGB position somewhat vanguardist, despite its ostensible rejection of vanguardism? I ask, because it seems that the Party sees its role as educational: to work out and communicate a theory and practice which the majority can learn and apply when they are ready to call for profound social change. At this time, would not the Party, in practice, have a leading position, showing people what to do: thus making it difficult to carry out its declared aim of disbanding and fading into the ranks?

2. How does this parliamentary revolution scenario stand up to the critique of such scenarios implicit in Chris Mullin's A Very British Coup? In that novel (as distinct from the more optimistic film version), I recall that the radical Labour Party was frustrated at every twist and turn by an international and national conspiracy on the part of the owners of the means of production, distribution and exchange. They used their economic and military power effectively to emasculate the nominal, political power of the elected government. In effect, nothing changed from what obtains today, except that the real power was more nakedly and forcefully exerted to put down revolution. And this is surely what would happen. Has the SPGB contemplated what would have to be done then to complete the transition to socialism? Does it envisage that the revolution would very quickly have to become extra-parliamentary, and possibly involve aggressive takeover of all the apparatus of real power? I can quite see the logic in the if-they-won’t-vote-for-it-they-won’t-fight- for-it maxim. But if they vote for it, will they then go on to fight for it if this becomes necessary?

3. Does the SPGB envisage any transitional stage when there might be some members elected as MPs, but not enough to form a majority? What would the strategy be? Would MPs have to behave strictly as delegates, or would they have latitude to develop a united parliamentary line for more effective opposition (effectively a whip)?

4. What is the view on how a mass desire for socialism will arise? I, myself, do not have much faith in a steady process of education and consciousness-raising as a trigger for social change. It will surely be material forces and events— perhaps a series of massive ecological disruptions, coupled with an immiseration of the third world proletariat beyond the point where they are willing to continue to be exploited by a first world bourgeoisie. (But the problem with this particular scenario, according to development expert Michael Redclift, is that third world people are already immiserated beyond the point where they would be likely to achieve revolutionary consciousness and take action). What do you think?

1. We do indeed say that the working class should use Parliament in the course of establishing socialism. But your summary of our position is not entirely accurate as it gives the impression that we think it will be the Socialist MPs who will establish socialism on behalf of an essentially passive even if socialist-minded majority outside Parliament. In actual fact our position is the reverse: it will be the socialist-minded and democratically self-organised working class outside Parliament who will establish socialism with the Socialist MPs as their passive instruments. The working class establishes socialism; the Socialist MPs are merely their delegates charged with carrying out certain formalities to try to ensure that the social revolution takes place in as coordinated and as peaceable a way as possible.

Similarly, although at present when there are so few socialists the role of a socialist party is essentially educational, when a majority or even a substantial minority come to want socialism its role will be transformed. There will be no separation between it and the working class since the socialist political party will be the working class organised politically for socialism.

2. Your question about a possible pro-capitalist coup is highly speculative but, yes, we have considered this. Basically, we think that such a coup would have no chance whatsoever of succeeding. Consider what an impending or actual socialist victory at the polls would mean. This would be a reflection of a desire for socialism but not by people who were prepared to do no more to get it than put an X on a ballot paper. It would reflect the determination to achieve socialism of an active majority, who would be organised at their places of work as well as on the political field.

In fact the existence of such a determined majority in itself could be expected to be a deterrent to any pro-capitalist putsch being attempted. But if such a putsch were to be staged then, clearly, the socialist majority would have to take steps to counter it. Obviously they could not, and would not, allow a usurping minority to thwart the majority will for socialism. How precisely to react would be up to the socialist movement to decide at the time in the light of the precise circumstances, but—since anyway we are in the realm of speculation here—it can be imagined that strikes and demonstrations would be organised and that in the armed forces (whose personnel would also have been influenced by the spread of socialist ideas) widespread defections and refusals to obey the usurping government would occur. The position of the putschists would be hopeless and would rapidly become untenable. The only way-out would be the very thing they sought to impede: the establishment of socialism. For once a majority want socialism nothing can prevent its establishment.

3. We have also considered the question of what a minority of Socialist MPs should do. In our view, their main task in Parliament would be to use it as a tribune to propagate socialist ideas; under no circumstances should they do deals or form alliances with non-socialist MPs; nor should they propose any reforms to capitalism. However, this need not preclude them voting for certain measures proposed by other MPs if the socialist movement outside Parliament judged doing so to be in the interest of the working class (safety and heath legislation, for instance). The Socialist MPs would at all times be answerable to the socialist working-class movement outside Parliament and be strictly mandated by it.

4. We agree with you that the "mass desire for socialism" is unlikely to arise solely from “a steady process of education and consciousness-raising”. What we say is that such campaigning for socialism will be an essential clement in the process of the emergence of majority socialist understanding. The other element will be the working-class discontent that is endemic to capitalism, and this is where “material forces and events” come in. You may be right that this could be a series of massive ecological disruptions. Or it could be a nuclear war. Or the growing dehumanization and break-down of social ties that capitalism is bringing about. Or even a particularly severe economic slump. Who knows? Who can know ?

Will the mass movement for socialism start amongst the working class in the so-called Third World? Maybe, but if it did it would not be able to succeed without spreading to the working class in the developed capitalist parts of the world. This is where the main productive resources which will allow humanity to overcome the problem of material scarcity and eliminate world hunger, poverty and disease are situated. The fate of the working class in the “Third World" is indissolubly tied to that of the working class in the "First World”.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Not Piffle but Propaganda for Capitalism (1974)

Book Review from the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why We Need a Wealth Tax”, J. S. Fleming and I. M. D. Little; Methuen & Co. 34 pages, 45p.

The authors are described as two leading Oxford economists. Another economist, Mr. Patrick Hutber, in his Sunday Telegraph column (1st Sept. 1974) was moved to near-frenzy when he read it: “Little piffle”, “contemptible”, two dons "giving a passable imitation of the gaga”, and more to the same effect, By contrast the Sunday Times of the same date, while pointing to technical weaknesses, was more sympathetic and regarded it as “an important pamphlet, which could well have a big influence on public policy.”

The central idea is to make a tax on wealth a permanent major basis for raising government revenue, so arranged as to wipe out the very rich. The pamphlet was written before publication of the Labour Government’s “Wealth Tax” and “Gift Tax” proposals. In an interview Professor Little stated that there is nothing in the Government’s proposals that would make them want to alter their much more comprehensive scheme (Financial Times, 2nd. Sept. 1974).

The issue between the authors and Mr. Huther is a simple one. They argue that “in a progressive mixed society” (their nonsensical name for capitalism) “some clever, lucky, efficient individuals have to be allowed to become rather rich. But they do not have to be extremely rich — say, with over £250,000.” Mr. Hutber won’t have this at all: he thinks that millionaires are good for us: “It is better to have 300 new millionaires, and old age pensioners receiving £20 a week, than strict equality and a basic pension of £10.”

While Fleming and Little would not make “the accumulation of wealth more difficult” below the £250,000 level, they would start their tax with 1½% or 2% on £21,000 (at 1974 prices) rising at higher levels to 20%. Their case for having the possibility of accumulating wealth is the old argument of all the capitalist economists, that it provides “incentive” and thus increases the production of wealth “for the community”. (Those who are interested in political curiosities may like to compare the Fleming- Little scheme with that advocated by the Communist Party of Great Britain in its 1970 Election Manifesto: “The introduction of a wealth tax. By taxing all fortunes over £20.000 at an average rate of 3% . . .”)

Much heat will be generated about schemes to plunder the rich or very rich, whether from Fleming- Little, the Labour Party, the Communist Party, or any other would-be reformers of capitalism, but from the working-class and Socialist point of view it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Socialism is not a scheme to redistribute wealth and poverty under capitalism, but to get rid of capitalism. The working class are exploited by the capitalist class, no less by the “small but progressive businessman” whom the authors want to help than by the tycoons who stand to lose. 

Workers should avoid falling into the trap of supposing that because particular politicians come under fierce attack from some capitalists, what they advocate must be in the interests of the working class. Some of the greatest friends of capitalism and enemies of the working class, for example Lloyd George, Roosevelt, Ramsay MacDonald, have come under the fiercest denunciation from capitalist backwoodsmen who had not the wit to see what was really happening.

This is where Fleming and Little come in. They are not seeking to undermine capitalism but to prop it up. They see the resentment aroused by super-fortunes as a danger to capitalism. They want to dope the workers into accepting capitalism. They hold that “anything tending to lead to greater industrial concentration is undesirable and inimical to capitalism in the long run”. In the interests of capitalism as a whole they want to sacrifice the millionaires.

Of course, with the normal blindness of their kind, they never even consider the possibility that capitalism should be replaced by Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

A not very secret service (2000)

Book Review from the July 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

'MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations', by Stephen Dorril. (Fourth Estate, London 2000. 907 pages)

Even before this book had been put on sale in bookshops, review copies had given rise to considerable controversy. Towards the end of MI6 (p.722), Dorril asserts:
"Another MI6 catch was ANC leader Nelson Mandela. Whether Mandela was recruited in London before he was imprisoned in South Africa is not clear, but it is understood that on a recent trip to London he made a secret visit to MI6's training section to thank the Service for its help in foiling two assassination attempts directed against him soon after he became President."
No source is, however, given for the statement. According to the Guardian (23 March), Mandela "reacted angrily to a claim" that he had been recruited as a British "agent of influence"; and he added that "he had never visited the headquarters of any intelligence service". Christopher Andrew in his review of Dorril's book (Times, 30 March) also dismisses the claim that MI6 recruited Mandela. In a letter to the Guardian (24 March), Stephen Dorril's weak reply was "there is nothing implausible in the idea that someone such as Nelson Mandela might have been recruited", as he states in his book with regard to a number of African nationalist leaders.

There is, however, little in MI6 on Africa. As the author says in his Preface, "the prime focus is the European continent, and some areas of the Service's operations and intelligence-gathering, principally in South-East Asia and Africa, are not dealt with in any great detail". The author does detail areas of the Middle-East, as MI6 had the dubious task of subverting, and overthrowing governments and organisations who nationalised or threatened British-owned oil fields and supply routes. Furthermore, although the book describes "fifty years of special operations" by MI6, it largely concentrates on the period between the end of the Second World War, and about 1970, when technological surveillance began to take over from HUMIT (human spies).

Within a very short time following the Second World War, the "allies" fell out, the Soviet Union began to consolidate its control over eastern Europe, and the "Cold War" began. MI6 was more than ready to carry out orders to combat and "roll back" what was erroneously called "communism" in the area. It was soon sending spies and saboteurs into Poland, and particularly western Ukraine. Almost all of these, as Dorril demonstrates, were Ukrainian nationalists who had collaborated with, or fought for, Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. Most were captured within days by the KGB. Both Conservative and Labour administrations were involved in such activities.

In Greece MI6, supported by Labour foreign secretary Ernest Bevin, backed the right-wing Monarchists; and MI6, together with the CIA, sent scores of agents and saboteurs into Albania over a number of years. Few of them survived or returned to the West. Dorril recounts in considerable detail the, by now well-known, joint-MI6/CIA campaign to overthrow Mohammed Mossadeq, the Iranian Prime Minister who nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. They were successful, but the United States was playing a double game. Anglo-Iranian which changed its name to British Petroleum (BP), was left with 40 percent, and the American corporations got the rest. Stephen Dorril's book also recounts in detail MI6's assassination attempts against Egypt's President Nasser, following his nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956. Such attempts were both sinister and bizarre. Some of MI6's "special operations" were successful; many were not, but all were carried out in the interests, not of democracy but of British capitalism.

With MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations containing almost 900 pages of reading matter, and being divided into seven sections, the reader gets about half-a-dozen books for the price of one. In the main, the book is well-sourced.

Dorril suggests that "given a work of this size", the reader might wish to "dip into a particular area of interest". A good idea. Inevitably, being the size it is, there are errors in MI6. It would be surprising if there were not.
Peter E. Newell

Housing: An Anarchist Approach (1976)

Book Review from the September 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Housing: An Anarchist Approach by Colin Ward. Freedom Press, £1.25.

This is a collection of articles by the former editor of Anarchy, published between 1945 and 1957: some in anarchist journals, others in architects’ and planning publications. They are informative, and the book can be read as a survey of the housing situation in Britain over the past thirty years. None of the problems has dated, of course. Like the motif of Cathy Come Home, which last month was repeated on television ten years after its original showing, they are still crying out as hopelessly as ever.

The difficulty about the book is in its title. “An anarchist approach” implies that other anarchists would take different views, even opposite ones (the cover describes Colin Ward as a well-known authority, which may well have given some anarchists apoplexy). In fact the approach is a liberal-type reformist one, full of suggestions to the Housing Minister, local councils, and architects’ associations. The book ends with an advocacy of “dweller control”. Though earlier chapters enthuse about the squatter movements of 1946 and 1968 as examples of direct action, in a 1974 article the writer expresses doubt whether seizure of housing is a practical thing to advocate: 
It would certainly save a lot of tedious calculation if we could count on tenant militancy to do the trick, but the possibility, short of a revolutionary situation, is not great. It did not need Clay Cross to demonstrate that in view of the powers of the district auditor and of central government over housing, it needs more than local direct action to win.
The “tenant take-over” advocated comes down, therefore, to self-management under government supervision, or a variation on the principles of the Co-operative Society.

The chapters under the heading “Self Help” give accounts of “cities the poor build” in Latin America, and the shanty-bungalow towns of the Laindon-Pitsea area, in Essex. As Colin Ward says, building regulations and land prices have made sure there won’t be any more of these. He argues that they could provide the guidelines for “a desirable experiment”, helped by the government, to solve the housing problem. Helped by the government, we can guess what it would turn out like. However, these settlements indicate something much more important. If a housing shortage were discovered in Socialist society, it would not constitute a “housing problem”: without the pressures of cost and economic policies, people can create homes and communities anywhere.

As it is, the housing problem in capitalism is neither a shortage nor an architectural poser. It is from first to last an aspect of the poverty problem: huge numbers of the working class are either badly housed or not housed at all because they are workers, their lives’ aspirations bound and gagged by wages. That state of affairs can only be remedied by abolishing the wage-system and establishing Socialism.
Robert Barltrop

A Modern Parable (1948)

A Short Story from the May 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

There once lived a man, Proletarius by name. He had a bicycle, which was old and therefore had many faults. Whenever Proletarius rode it, he crashed and suffered considerable pain in consequence.

These mishaps induced him to try to solve the problem produced by the faulty nature of his bicycle. He saw a friend, Socialist by name, who knew something about bicycles. He explained to Proletarius that it was old and would not stand much more wear and tear. Socialist said he was unable to do anything himself and explained to Proletarius the need for a new machine. He added that only Proletarius himself is in a position to select his new bicycle and must therefore acquire a sound knowledge of them.

But Proletarius, although he worked very hard for his employer and was always ready to help his wife at home and spent hours toiling arduously in his back garden, was mentally lazy. He was unwilling to acquire new ideas and to get a new bicycle.

So he called at “ Reforms Cycle Repairs Co., Ltd.,” whose proprietor was called Leader. Leader said to him, “Entrust your bicycle to me and I will give it the general overhauling it needs. It will run well enough after I have straightened the front wheel and tightened the screws." After a week Proletarius called for his bicycle, paid Leader the price he charged and found his machine running fairly smoothly.

Soon, however, the screws began to fall out again. Proletarius weighed the matter up and thought, "I have chosen the wrong shop; they cheated me. 'Pseudo-Communistus,' who owns the 'Left-wing,' is a kind man and I trust him to do the job properly for me." He had new screws fixed on and the bicycle ran fairly smoothly for a few days. Meanwhile the brakes had become rusty and failed to perform their function. So when he went down hill his brakes failed; he crashed and broke his neck.

His brother, “Revolutionary," inherited his bicycle. But he knew something about bicycles and realised that the machine he had inherited was too old and worn out for further use. He heeded the lesson he learned from his brother’s experience and realised the need for a new bicycle.

And the various bicycle merchants heard of this and offered him the various makes they had in stock. They offered "Jingoism and Red Herrings, Unlimited," "Demagogy" and "Superstition." They used the press, wireless and the screen to advertise their wares.

But “Revolutionary" examined them and realised they were extremely cranky machines. Knowing something about bicycles, he did not need anyone’s advice, and selected his new bicycle himself, in accordance with his wishes, which coincided with his requirements.

Henceforward he had no bicycle troubles.
F. T.

Lansbury: A Figure of the Past (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the death of George Lansbury there has gone from the Labour Movement a figure of unusual character. There has passed out a type that will have no place in the future history of the Labour Party. The times that found a place for him have passed away. The necessities of the movement in which he was an impressive personality demand men of a different mould. The world in which we live has driven and will continue to drive that “movement” to place its leadership in the hands of men more able and of opportunistic Inclinations.

Lansbury’s life and work measures to some extent the progress and the place of the Labour Party in the history of the working class. He began his political career before the Labour Party was formed. As a youth, in the early ’eighties he was associated with the radical reform section of the Liberal Party. It was in this period that Lansbury announced his conversion to “ Socialism.” It is said that the conversion took place when, canvassing an East London constituency as a Liberal agent, a door was opened in response to his knocks by a woman whose only clothing was improvised from old sacks. It must be said, however, that this story circulated among those wags of East End workers who were mildly derisive of "Lansburyism.” His early career was devoted to local political activities. The Social Democrat (1900), in a biographical sketch, describes Lansbury fiercely contesting a Guardians election on a programme which included the abolition of skilly in the workhouse and the provision of shirts and drawers for the inmates. Lansbury’s “conversion” led him to the S.D.F. In 1894 he fought an election under their auspices and polled 207 votes: a somewhat ironic commentary on the “Marxist” character of the S.D.F. of the time. Lansbury has been described as a Socialist in the St. Simon tradition. This cannot be substantiated. The St. Simonites produced operative schemes. Lansbury affected a breezy disregard for plans and the details of policy. His last book, “The Way to Peace,” contains a phrase which was the keynote of his approach to all questions. He appeals to all who could adopt "broad principles of action and leave the general plan and details” to look after themselves. It was characteristic of Lansbury and led him to association with all sorts of hole-and-corner reformers and movements with a mission. To Lansbury it was sufficient to possess the urge and the fervour to put the world right.

Lansbury’s “principles of action” were so broad that his activities gained support from the most diverse quarters. He was one of those few Labour leaders whom those masters of scurrilous invective, the official Communists, refrained from attacking. He was "dear Mr. Lansbury” to thousands in the drawing rooms of the minor gentry. He was a lay preacher in the Church of England, and though of the High Church persuasion he was unique in that his broad principles straddled the gaps between the High, Low, and the Broad sections of the English Church, just as they managed to straddle the apparent extremes in the politics of the Labour Movement. Each section could claim Lansbury for its own. In his books, on the platform, in the pulpit, Lansbury preached a mixture of Christian Humanism and politics that could not be identified as anything particular. It was “Lansburyism.” Gossip (possibly originating among the sardonic unbelievers) had it that Lansbury, in his earlier days as a public figure, was a member of the free-thinking National Secular Society! The story may be false. But it could quite conceivably be true. What could there be in the “broad principles” of Lansburyism that could not approve the ethical principles and the human object of the N.S.S.? If Lansbury swallowed the S.D.P. without qualm or consciousness of inconsistency, then the N.S.S. pill needed no sugar. It would be pointless to argue Lansbury's sincerity. Where the capacity for self- delusion is so complete and rides unchecked there can be no test for sincerity. It is meaningless. It says something, perhaps, for the character of the man that he could address a hard-bitten audience of workers on strike in the soul-saving language of the Salvationist without embarrassment to himself or to his audience.

By all reasonable standards George Lansbury should have been shocked by the militant atheism and the methods of the Bolshevist regime. He was not shocked. He visited Russia and talked with Lenin, saw the baby creches, and came back and wrote an eulogy of Russia. He only saw what he wanted to see. According to the “broad principles” and contempt for “details” which constituted Lansburyism sufficient was it that the will to change things existed. Of the historic significance of the Russian movement it would be flattering to Lansbury to assume that he understood anything about it.

His services to the Labour Party were among that Party’s assets in the formative period of the movement. The needs of the early Labour Party demanded missionary zeal and ability, not the qualities of the administrator. Lansbury fulfilled the need and without doubt made many thousands of sympathisers for the Labour Party in the days when (curious thought) it had to make efforts to break down the opposition from the prejudiced and the respectable. His zeal for causes brought a great deal of advertisement to himself and to the Labour Party. In the earlier days this was not unwelcome, to the latter, though in later years it brought a priggish rebuke for “Poplarism” from the pompous MacDonald. In 1912 he resigned his parliamentary seat in the Bow and Bromley division of Poplar and refought it on the Suffragette issue. He lost it. Despite his temperament he was not without shrewdness. On private support he managed to run the Daily Herald independently of the official Labour Party until it was taken over by Odhams and the T.U.C. Against it in pre-1914 years the official organ of the Labour Party, the Citizen, failed to survive. In 1932, by accident, because almost all the leaders of the Labour Party had lost their seats in the landslide against them in the election of 1931, he became the Party’s parliamentary leader. His reign was short. Political and international developments were driving the Labour Party into support for war and into conflict with Lansbury’s pacifism. After a brutal speech by Bevin accusing him of “hawking his conscience from conference to conference,” Lansbury lost the leadership. He was finished. And out went another leader. Another cruel lesson was driven home to him and to thousands who accepted his standards—the lesson that events mould men and movements despite their will.

The Labour Party will have little need or scope for future Lansburys. It will need men of a different calibre to attempt to prevent the disintegration which the future holds for it.

If Lansbury’s life teaches anything it teaches the futility of the reformism which was not only his but was the essential doctrine of the Labour Party. After half a century of fervent reformist zeal he left the world with a working class facing all the old problems existing more intense and numerous than ever.

Labourism and reformism, of which Lansbury was the embodiment, will be as ineffectual in facing those problems in the future as Lansbury’s peace talks with Hitler were in preventing the war.
Harry Waite

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lenin - "Shoot the idlers" (2003)

Letter to the Editors from the July 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

Yes indeed, Lenin did say, "One out of every ten idlers will be shot on the spot" (Gary Cubbage's letter, June Socialist Standard). This is from his "How to Organise Competition" written in December 1917, well before Stalin or the market economy of the NEP had provided Trotskyist excuses. It is also quoted in the article, "Lenin & Blanqui, Victims of Self-Deception” in the Nov/Dec 1984 issue of “Socialist Comment” journal of the WSPA.

In researching that article and checking through the three volumes of the Moscow edition of Lenin's Selected Works, I was struck by the numerous times that Lenin made statements that differed depending on the type of audience. One of the most significant is his address to the Conference of Political Education Workers in 1920 admitting that it is a “utopian view that workers are ready for socialism” contrasting with his more optimistic statements to a wider audience.

This demonstrates the opportunism forced on leaders trying to capture and hold onto power, and to influence events in the face of working class lack of understanding, cooperation and support. And the Russian working class was, in addition, a minority class.

Of course, if majority understanding existed it would negate the need for leaders anyway and change the whole concept of the revolutionary capture of political power and its implications, and to come back to Gary's letter, also of the question of 'the lazy man'.

Latter-day Leninist parties have learned little from Lenin's experience as revealed in his writings, of trying to deal with those problems to which he, his tactics and his hopes ultimately succumbed. A few months before his death, a disillusioned Lenin admitted, 'we lack enough civilisation to enable us to pass straight on to socialism”. Coining a new confusing definition of the system in Russia, he bemoaned the fact that “Not a single book has been written about state capitalism under communism. It did not occur even to Marx to write a word on this subject; and he died without leaving a single precise statement or definite instruction on it”. Why Marx should have written instructions for running state capitalism Lenin doesn't say.

In thus finally, and perhaps unwittingly acknowledging the vast gap between his and Marx's concept of a post-capitalist revolutionary society, Lenin also gives the lie to those of his followers who hold the opposite view - that they corresponded.

Lenin's life should be read as a cautionary tale by would-be revolutionaries, although it could provide a few drastic pointers to those seeking to organise competition.

Yours fraternally,
William Robertson

Bothies: Any Volunteers? (2017)

From the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
When socialists introduce our fellow-workers to the concept of common ownership, of making work voluntary, we frequently meet with the response, 'It's all very well but it can’t happen in practice'. This often makes socialists rock back on our heels with surprise because we can see all around us where the principles of cooperation and mutual aid are applied by ordinary folk with a shared need.
A 'bothy' was traditionally a building constructed for the accommodation of farm or estate workers. However, these days it means a building used as shelter for hill-walkers and climbers, mostly in remote areas. The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) maintains about 100 shelters across Great Britain. These shelters are unlocked and are available for anyone to use. The maintenance and upkeep is carried out by volunteers.  Users are asked to follow a 'bothy code' which prohibits the use of the buildings by commercial groups, for example by guided tours or adventure holidays although they are free to use the bothies as a lunch shelter or in the event of a genuine emergency. It is only profit-seeking commercial groups that abuse this. As the BMA complained in a statement last August:
'There have been incidents when legitimate bothy users have been made to feel unwelcome, inconvenienced or even refused entry when commercial groups have been in residence. Our volunteers who maintain the bothies, not unreasonably, feel aggrieved to know that their hard work is contributing to the profits of a business that probably does not support our organisation in any way.'
As one user explained "Of course, not everyone is going to be your new best pal, and there are people who simply prefer to keep their own company, but the one thing you should be able to rely on from a bothy companion is trustworthiness and mutual assistance. I've both given and received advice in bothies, shared someone's last teabag and seen a drookit (drenched) traveller clad for the night in bits and pieces of several others' dry clothes while his own hung in front of the fire. In a bothy you really are all in it together".
Also we should not ignore how ramblers and mountaineers rely upon mountain rescue volunteers in an emergency. Rescue teams give up their time to provide a free service to people who request assistance. Volunteers save lives and are available 24/7, 365 days a year, in all weather conditions. Some suggest that in socialism unpleasant and dangerous jobs would be avoided but there never seems to be any lack of volunteers for mountain rescue.
And who would willingly place themselves in a life-threatening position? Well, lifeboat crews of the non-state organisation, the RNLI, voluntarily and without recompense risk their lives in storms at sea for the welfare of others and the common good of society. And there exists a waiting list of suitable applicants to join it, so recruitment is not a problem.
Kropotkin, the author of Mutual Aid, pointed out:
'The crew of a lifeboat do not ask whether the men of a distressed ship are entitled to be rescued at a risk of life... One of the noblest achievements of our century is undoubtedly the Lifeboat Association. Since its first humble start, it has saved no less than thirty-two thousand human lives. It makes appeal to the noblest instincts of man; its activity is entirely dependent upon devotion to the common cause, while its internal organisation is entirely based upon the independence of the local committees'. (Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles).
One thing we don't require to be told is people's capacity to organise self-help in support of each another. Along with many other charities these are affirmations of our humanity.

Obituary: Death of L. Jones (1947)

Obituary from the May 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death on April 5th of comrade Lew Jones of Leyton Branch, at the early age of 33. Comrade Jones joined the Party in 1933, and soon showed his all-round capacity and single-minded devotion to the Socialist cause. He studied hard to gain knowledge, and steadily applied himself to becoming a speaker and writer. His quiet and persuasive manner and his care for accuracy of statement made him a very effective propagandist in speech and in writing. He was secretary of the Branch for many years and treasurer until his death. He gave great help in editorial work and for a few weeks this year he was working as part-time assistant to the editorial committee, but owing to a worsening of his health during the recent spell of bitterly cold weather, he regretfully had to give it up. During the war, while working on the land to which he had been directed by a Conscientious Objector Tribunal, he contracted pleurisy.

He was refused a medical certificate and had to continue digging ditches in spite of his condition. As a result tuberculosis developed and he was very ill for the two years before his death. It was only towards the end of 1946 that he was reported to be sufficiently recovered to resume light work. In spite of the further relapse he was looking forward eagerly to resuming activities in a few weeks and his great concern was that his illness should have interfered with his work. In the last few days before he died he was working on an article. The Socialist movement has lost a fine and valuable comrade.

We express our sympathy with his family.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

They Never Had It So Good In 1860 (1962)

From the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Pick up any governmental speech, or article in the newspapers, on the subject of strikes and it is an even chance that a dividing line will be drawn between the “bad old days” when strikes were legitimate and the present time when strikes are said to be unnecessary, useless, dangerous and immoral. Nowadays, they will say, the workers are well off and don’t need to strike; and what is more, “the country” is in such a precarious state that strikes will lose markets for British goods and cause suffering all-round, to the strikers among others.

It is a seductive line but not at all persuasive when you realise that the same arguments were being advanced back in "the bad old days” of a century ago, as may be seen in the Quarterly Review, which in 1860 published an unsigned article on strikes, with particular reference to Papers on strikes read to the British Association in 1838 and 1854.

It started off with some splendid blarney about what a fine worker the Englishman was and how French peasants at Rouen, seeing English railway builders for the first time, gaped in wonder and admiration at the energy, the dexterity and the vast output, (It is possible, of course, that the translator was at fault and that the bench peasants were really saying "did you ever see such clots? ”).

The next thought of the writer in the Quarterly was that it was only right that such magnificent workers should be "liberally remunerated" and receive "a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.” He was not, however leading up to the theme that workers ought to be paid more but that they were already being paid enough:
  At no previous period has so large a number of skilled workmen received higher wages, and in no country are they able to live more comfortably upon the proceeds of their toil, if we except only those new colonies in which land is unusually abundant. There never was a time when skill and diligence received more general encouragement, or in which there was a greater disposition to do honour to the lot of the labour.
Not only were workers well off, but look at the chances they had of becoming really wealthy: “It is notorious that many of our most successful employers, and some of our largest capitalists have sprung directly from the working class . . ."

There never had been such working class affluence, indeed, the writer clearly thought it had been a bit overdone. ’’Will it be believed that the annual earnings of many families engaged in the cotton manufacture amount to more than the average incomes of the clergy of England?"

And London engineering workers were getting more than "the whole body of dissenting Ministers": iron workers being paid as much as an army captain with ten years’ service: and other workers with a larger income "than falls to the lot of most professional men." The figures given for these Staffordshire "ball-furnace men” were £300 to £400 a year (“when trade is brisk”). At current prices this would be equivalent to between £1,500 and £2,000: “Yet the houses of these favoured labourers are scenes of disgusting untidiness and squalor.”

But in 1860, as now, all was not well. The affluent workers did not always appreciate their good fortune, or understand how easily it could be destroyed. Some of them formed unions and came out on strike, whereas if well advised they would have been abstemious, saved money and joined the ranks of the capitalists.

If these workers came out on strike they were, said the writer, flying in the face of all experience because, as he sought to show with lots of examples, all strikes are either defeated or else they gain only temporary victory or they drive trade into the hands of foreign rivals. (He omitted to explain how the French could capture English markets in view of his quoted evidence that one Englishman did as much work as eight Frenchmen).

He summed up his arguments about the futility of strikes with the declaration: “Indeed there is not an instance of any extensive strike, no matter how well organised and supported, having ended otherwise then in suffering and defeat to the workmen.”

But he was not at all confident that workers would be convinced by what he thought he had proved. He feared that though you might prove "by political economy" that strikes were useless, some workers just would not be convinced. He quoted the case of a trade unionist who “boldly declared in Hyde Park"—"If political economy is against us, then we are against political economy! ”

There were other workers trying to resist machinery—he noted in passing that the workers were often encouraged to do this by rival employers.

It was all there, just like today, and not forgetting the final gentle admonishment to the employers:
   At the same time, employers ought not to stand too strongly upon their rights, nor entrench themselves too exclusively within the circle of their own order. Frankness and cordiality will win working men’s hearts, and a ready explanation will often remove misgivings and dissatisfaction. Were there more trust and greater sympathy between classes, there would be less disposition to turn out on the part of men and a more accommodating spirit on the part of masters.
Edgar Hardcastle