Monday, July 31, 2017

"Stand Up To The Yanks" (1947)

From the October 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Early in September at meetings held in the London streets posters were displayed bearing the inscription “Stand up to the Yanks” They were not as might be supposed, put up by Mosley and his reawakening Fascists or by Tory Die-hards anxious to erect a barbed wire fence round the British Empire, but by the Communist Party of Great Britain. An older generation of Communists, whatever wrong theories they preached in other matters were in the main genuinely internationalist in outlook. What would they have thought of the degenerate views of their successors? What would they have thought of a Daily Worker editorial of September 9th, 1947, angrily protesting because some United States government official had said that Britain is “no longer an equal member of the Big Three”? Here are two passages from the Daily Worker article:
  “The spectacle of Britain being slurred, spat on, pushed around by its dear U.S. ally is so usual nowadays that it has almost ceased to be news.”
    "How much longer are we to tolerate a policy which brings this national humiliation?”
In saying this the Communists are as dishonest as they are inconsistent. When 19th century big business talked like this it knew that the words meant nothing without big armaments to back them up and prepared accordingly. Not so the Communists. They are campaigning for armaments to be reduced—here, of course, but not in Russia. All they are concerned with is to support whatever happens at the moment to he the foreign policy of State Capitalist Russia, and if this means inciting workers to ignorant hatred of Americans they do not hesitate. And if Russian policy should change the Communists will hurriedly switch their poisonous propaganda in another direction, as happened during the recent short-lived Russian attempt to cultivate the friendship of the Argentine dictator and during the period of the Stalin-Hitler Pact of friendship.of 1939.

In the meantime Communists in U.S.A., Palestine and on the Continent are telling their dupes to “Stand up to the British,” all with the same object of furthering Russian imperialist policy.

In Russia itself the old slogans of internationalism have long been discarded in favour of the cult of nationalism and the glorification of modern military heroes and those of Czarist times. In this the Russian Bolsheviks line themselves up with the patriotic boasters of all countries; with the Americans for whom that land is “ God’s own country," and with the poverty-stricken British workers who like to read that the British people are “the salt of the earth ” (Sunday Express, 3/8/47). Here is a specimen of the kind of lying stuff now being spoonfed to the wage-slaves of Russia:
  “A most important peculiarity of Soviet patriotism is the profound understanding of the superiority of the Soviet Socialist system over the bourgeois and all other class systems. It is precisely this peculiarity which above all characterises Soviet patriotism as patriotism of the highest kind. It follows that Soviet patriotism is in no way compatible with any manifestation whatsoever of obsequiousness by Soviet people before the modern capitalist world. Obsequiousness before foreigners is one of the relics of the past.
  ‘‘Our country has become the most advanced and progressive country in the world, and holds a leading place in the progressive development of the whole of mankind." (Izvestia, 13/8/47, quoted in the Times, 14/8/-47.)
It is legitimate for the socialist movement, being an international movement, to denounce exploitation, cruelty and ignorance wherever they are found, for socialists do not condone in one country what they condemn elsewhere. By the same standard it is sheer hypocrisy for Communists to denounce anything, anywhere, and if the Bolsheviks in Russia had any of the internationalism which characterised some of their members of a past generation they would be ashamed of the disreputable propaganda to which they and their foreign stooges have descended.

Socialists, while exposing and condemning world capitalism, extend the hand of fellowship to the working class of all lands, for only through international action by a socialist working class will Socialism be achieved.

One of the Carrots (1947)

From the November 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a trolley-bus passing through Hampstead the other day, an elderly woman, in the course of conversation, remarked that “it is the foreigners who are to blame.” Judging by her shabby clothes and care-worn expression, a lifetime of being exploited had given her little or nothing for which to thank her own nationals; but it has long been a firmly held opinion of the uninformed majority in the working class that the foreigner is responsible for our economic troubles, is for ever trying to throttle us, and simply refuses to play the game—the cad.

However, if the woman who is our subject of discussion went, for example, to Egypt, she would be astonished to find that her aggrieved cry has its echo in the Arabic tongue. The fellaheen, ignorant and exploited slaves of the great land capitalists there, look upon the luxury stores and houses owned by the French, Greeks and Jews with envy and hatred, frequently fanned into open rioting by the propaganda of the ruling class. Our worker, if of enquiring and analytical turn of mind, disturbed perhaps after visiting other lands, to find the same mistrust of the foreigner in existence, might start to wonder why States do not try to remedy tins. Why do they not try to “bring the people together”?

The reason is very obvious to the socialist, but the non-socialist worker finds it hard to accept. It is that all States are run by and for capitalism, and this social system can only continue to function whilst the workers are unconscious of the class-struggle. As long as the exploited donkey class continues to he misled by the bunch of carrots (one carrot being this anti-foreigner complex) dangling before its nose, so long will the capitalist class ride comfortably on its hack.

When the donkey realises that it is never allowed to get near enough to the carrots to test their desirability, the time will be appreciably nearer when the rider is hacked off. Until then the ruling class will do all in its power to foster the idea that people act according to the dictates of some mysterious characteristic inherent in their nationality and not, as is the real fact, according to their class function. The function of the capitalist, regardless of nationality is to use the worker for his own ends. The task of the worker is to understand this and achieve his freedom, which necessarily carries with it the freedom of all mankind.
G.


A Party No Socialist Would Join (1947)

From the December 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Communist Party of Great Britain is carrying out a campaign to increase its numerical strength and is endeavouring to give the workers adequate reasons for enrolling as members.

One would assume that as this organisation claims to be a Communist one it would do its utmost to explain Communism to its prospective new members. One would think that the manner in which the Communist Party is making Communists would be made known, and that the revolutionary composition of the Party would be preserved by the exclusion of those who have no knowledge nor a desire for Communism or Socialism.

This is far from being the case. In an article entitled “ The Party You Can Be Proud To Join ” (Daily Worker, October 4th) Harry Pollitt writes, among other things, of the Communist Party’s loyalty to the working class movement; its policy “to solve the present crisis in the interests of the common people”; and its objective of “establishing close co-operation internationally with the Socialist Soviet Union; the new democracies in Europe, and the advancing colonial peoples.”

Harry Pollitt asserts that the alternative to taking these steps is to “sink to dependence on American monopolistic reaction, surrender to the monopolists at home, succumb to our own immediate economic crisis which will be intensified by a depression spreading from America, and become engulfed in war as the outpost and vulnerable advance base of American reaction against European democracy.”

It is to be noticed that Socialism, the one alternative to Capitalism and its crises, is not even mentioned by Pollitt As for solving this crisis “in the interests of the common people"—does not Harry Pollitt know that no step that intends to leave Capitalism standing can be, to any great degree, in working class interests? Does he not know that, whether or not Capitalism is in a state of crisis, there is always a crisis for the workers? Is he not aware that, whether or not British Capitalism sinks to dependence on American monopoly, the members of the working class spend their lives depending upon their masters for the necessities of life? Does he not realise that it is not only Capitalist Monopoly, but Capitalism at a whole that grinds the workers down to wage-slavery and poverty? Is he not aware that war is inevitable under Capitalism?

The only way to eliminate the evils of the present social order is to end that order in its entirety and establish a social system wherein the means of production and distribution are commonly owned. That is Socialism.

Such a social system can only be achieved by a majority of Socialists. The making of Socialists, therefore, is the only way to hasten the coming of Socialism.

Neither Harry Pollitt, nor The Daily Worker, nor the Communist Party does this. Instead we find them deeply concerned with the health of British Capitalism and its need for more workers. We see them helping to perpetuate nationalism by asserting their readiness to fight for “national independence and economic prosperity of Britain against the offensive of the dollar dictators and their supporters in Britain — the Churchills and the Right Wing Labour leaders.” (Harry Pollitt’s speech at Ilford, Daily Worker, October 8th.)

It is possible that this new recruiting drive will draw many new members into the Communist Party, and that organisation will hail them as Communists. Actually they will be nothing of the sort. They will be those who, in their lack of Socialist knowledge, have been led to believe that Capitalism can be run in the interests of the workers.

To those who are hovering upon the threshold of the Communist Party, Socialists would say this: Read the literature of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Study our declaration of principles. Listen to our speakers.; question and oppose them, and weigh up the soundness of their arguments. We know that once you gain Socialist knowledge you will know the Communist Party for what it is—a purely reformist organisation seeking to patch up Capitalism.
F. W. Hawkins

An unrealistic utopia (2017)

Book Review originally published on the Socialism or Your Money Back blog

Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There. By Rutger Bregman. Bloomsbury. 2017. £16.99.

Rutger Bregman is a Dutch advocate (the book is translated from Dutch) of a universal, unconditional basic income as a payment from the state to all citizens as of right and of an amount at least equal to the poverty line. A large part of the book, however, is devoted to advocating an unconditional basic income for the poor only, i.e. not a universal one (and not entirely an unconditional one since you have to be poor to get it). In other words, a proposal to merely reform the so-called Welfare State.

At present, the state already gives the poor 'free money' but conditional, besides means -testing, on being sufficiently unfit for work or seemingly actively seeking work, as the case may be. Bregman’s case against this is that it would be cheaper to make such payments unconditional as this would avoid the administrative work involved in checking entitlement and organising bogus courses for the unemployed; that 'free is cheaper' if you like. A number of pilot schemes are being carried out, as in Finland and Canada, to see if this is true. Bregman lists some previous ones which he says have shown that it is.

What he really wants, though, is an unconditional, non-means-tested, payment to everyone. His case for this has certain similarities with the case for socialism: that we are living in an age of potential abundance (he writes of a 'Land of Plenty') but that this abundance is not used to directly improve people’s life but is wasted on such non-wealth-producing activities as investment banking, advertising and legal services (since he doesn’t envisage the disappearance of money his list is shorter than ours). The resources exist, he points out, to eliminate poverty, improve education and health care, and provide a comfortable retirement for all. For him, it’s the introduction of a universal unconditional basic income that will enable this.

Some of the objections to this are the same as those raised against socialism – that if people were given free money (or had free access) the incentive to work would be undermined. Bregman counters: 'There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the vast majority of people actually want to work, whether they need to or not' and 'Stable and meaningful work plays a crucial part in every life well lived.'

In any event, he does want people to work less as he also advocates a 15-hour week. This, he says, should be enough to provide an adequate plenty for all. The resources for this would come from increased automation, the end of the consumerist mentality, and from what is currently wasted in wealth-shifting rather than wealth-creating activities.

Bregman includes the word 'utopia' in the title but is it a realistic one? Since he doesn’t object to the market mechanism or even to profit-making his scheme is to be introduced within capitalism. This is not realistic. One of the objections to such schemes, and which socialists share, is summed up in one word: Speenhamland.

In 1795 the magistrates in the Berkshire village of that name decided to make up the wages of poor farm labourers up to a minimum level with payments from the Poor Law rates. This was a subsidy to their employers who were thereby enabled to continue paying below subsistence, or starvation, wages. Marx pointed this out in Volume I of Capital :
'At the end of the eighteenth and during the first years of the nineteenth century, the English farmers and landlords enforced the absolute minimum of wages by paying the agricultural labourers less than the minimum in the actual form of wages, and the remainder in the form of parochial relief.' (Chapter 24, section 4)
That a universal UBI would be a subsidy to employers is in fact a major socialist objection to it which Bregman is unable to counter. Indeed, in the Swiss referendum on the matter in June last year, the advocates of a UBI openly stated that everybody’s wages would and should be reduced by the amount of 'free money' from the state.

The other socialist objection is that ignores the economic imperative of capitalism, enforced through competition, to accumulate more and more capital out of profits, and so profits must come first before meeting the consumption needs of the population. Catering for these is kept to the minimum to maintain productive efficiency or, in the case of 'free money' payments to the poor, to the minimum needed to avoid bread riots. Bregman shares the illusion common to many would-be reformers of capitalism that production under capitalism can be made to give priority to people’s consumption instead of to profits. It can’t, as the failure of numerous reformist government that have set out to do this is testimony.

This said, Bregman’s book is very readable and he lands some effective punches on the status quo. He also has a pertinent criticism of those he dubs 'underdog socialists', Old Leftists nostalgic for what capitalism used to be like until the mid-70s:
“Reining in and restraining the opposition, that’s the sole remaining mission of the underdog socialist. Anti-privatisation, anti-establishment, anti-austerity. Given everything they’re against, one is left to wonder, what are underdog socialists actually for.”
And he does get Marx right when he writes that, for Marx, ‘releasing the proletariat from the shackles of poverty required a revolution, not a basic income.’
Adam Buick

BDS Election Campaign (1974)

Party News from the January 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bund Demokratischer Sozialisten, our companion Socialist Party in Austria, decided to put up a candidate in the Vienna municipal elections which were due to take place in the spring of 1974. Due to the total lack of ability on the part of the elected Mayor, the SPO (the Austrian Social Democratic Party) were forced to recall him and put forward a new man. As it was feared that their opponents would use the intervening period until 1974, the SPO, who are the majority Party, decided to bring the elections forward to 21st October 1973. This made extra problems for us in that, with our meagre resources, we had to try and obtain the 100 signatures in a much shorter time and, in the event, this proved impossible and we managed only 73. In spite of this we regard our activities as having been successful. It was the greatest effort ever made by the BDS. Never before have we visited so many people in such a short time and made them aware of our existence. We have made a great number of new contacts which we hope to follow up in the next months. With our papers and posters, together with our leaflet, thousands of people have been made aware of our Party and our political standpoint.

This time there were 3,000 copies of the Internationales Freies Wort (usually 2,000). Of these 1,100 were sent by post to ordinary supporters of the SPO and another 1,500 were distributed free to contacts we made. 400 went to subscribers and other regular purchasers. As well as this we had 3000 posters; to date, approximately 1,500 of these have been posted. However, as the contents are not exclusively directed at these elections, we shall be using the remainder for other activities. Apart from this we printed a leaflet (10,000 copies) of which we actually distributed 9,000 in house-to-house distribution.

This, the most ambitious activity of the BDS to date was also, of course, the most expensive and has completely exhausted our resources. We spent 9000 schilling (approx. £200) and, in spite of generous support of members and sympathisers, and in spite of the help of the comrades in Britain, some of the bills are still outstanding. (Donations please to BDS, see address on p. 15).

Nevertheless we feel it right that we should use all possible opportunities to put forward our objective, Socialism, to as many people as possible.

A Good Old Family Business (1974)

From the February 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sainsbury’s is a famous chain of grocers’ shops. Last year, after a lifetime of family management, they became a public company. The change was half-bewailed; put down to “progress” but signalling the end of old-fashioned shops where every woman was Madam and the assistants weighed things out. Their shops now are on the supermarket plan, where trolleys are wheeled down stacked-up avenues of tins to conveyor-belt checkout desks.

Sainsbury’s were paternalistic shops, full of cleanliness and service. How easy it is to lament the passing of all that, as if it were a golden age! The “niceness” for the customers was accompanied by low wages, and obtained by a regime of petty and not-so-petty tyrannies and humiliations. To work for Sainsbury’s was to be a slave. I know.



I was employed as a porter, quartered in the warehouse behind the shop. The porter’s job was to hump things and clean things, and at the outbreak of war the wage was thirty shillings a week. They made a fuss about employing you. There was an interview at the head office: references, good character, honesty and industriousness were essential. Once engaged, you were addressed by surname only like a soldier, and like a soldier called your superiors “Sir”.

The porter’s day began with sweeping the floors and washing the windows, and ended with scrubbing the long mosaic shop-floor. There was a daily schedule for cleaning — marble fascia, metal rails, the butchers’ blocks, the brass weights, the lavatories. To the warehouse walls were fixed enamel plates with paternal proverbs on them: A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place—J. Sainsbury; The Man Without a Cheerful Face Shouldn't Run a Shop—J. Sainsbury : as might be seen elsewhere All Hope Abandon Ye Who Enter Here.

The cleaning schedule in practice was carried on between the humping. Vans of groceries and meat arrived every day to be unloaded and their contents stacked and hung. But besides them there was the daylong carrying into the shop. Sainsbury’s did not let the assistants leave the counter, for fear they should do so with something from the till. As they wanted fresh supplies, they bawled towards the warehouse: Side of bacon ! Cheese ! Box of butter ! — and the porter entered like an extra in an ill- rehearsed play, burden on his shoulder and the manager behind exhorting him to hurry.

The porter wore a blue-striped coat like a convict’s, and the manager a dark jacket with a snow-white apron. Everyone else wore a white tunic and a long white apron. In that uniform, however, a hierarchy was shown. The “first hand”, the leading assistant, had red buttons on his tunic. The others’ buttons were black with numbers marking their standing in order. Only the juveniles had no numbers, signifying that they were nobodys at all.


The discipline was stringent. White collars and black shoes were compulsory, hair had to be short- back-and-sides. The highest virtue was to be “quick”; all were urged obsessively into a brisk demeanour and scurrying movements. Mistakes were unforgivable. Sainsbury’s employed “samplers”, people who went in shops anonymously to buy and look out for inaccurate weighing and other errors; assistants could be carpeted and sacked without being able to identify or contest the complaints against them.

Everyone was sent to the firm’s headquarters for training. There were courses in grocery, butchering, poultry-trussing, etc. On the course — usually a month — the trainees were lined-up for inspection by a head man, often one of the Sainsburys, every morning. Personal appearance was scrutinized, and the most dreadful condemnation was: “That’s not Sainsbury.” The courses were for conditioning as much as for teaching the trade. Assistants learned moronic jingles to chant as they knocked up the customers’ butter: “This is the shop, Built upon a rock.”

There was a voluntary superannuation fund, and at Christmas a double week’s wages was given. That week, the bike-boy had twenty-five shillings instead of twelve-and-six, the manager sixteen pounds instead of eight. After the war began this bounty was replaced by what might be seen as the acme of unwelcome paternalism. Employees were advised that because of wartime conditions the double wage could not be pursued; instead, every single one would receive what he would undoubtedly appreciate just as much — a signed picture of Mr. Sainsbury.

Why did people stand for it: the regimentation and conditioning, the skinflint pay, the contemptuous pretence of benevolence? The answer, of course, is unemployment and the fear of it. Sainsburys’ empire was founded on young men having to hunt and be grateful for whatever job they could get.


The abiding terror of all Sainsbury shops was “short stocks”. At the regular stocktaking every penny had to be accounted for, every empty carton and cracked egg. If it was not and a deficiency was shown, the shop took stock every Saturday until the cause was found. It might be inefficiency or waste, or it might be somebody pilfering. Whatever it was, it brought everyone under suspicion.

Ultimately, the manager might lose his job and be relegated to an assistant in some distant branch. So the manager hunted a culprit; if he became desperate, traps could be laid. The manager and his supervisor interviewed assistants, asking if they smoked or went to the greyhounds and how they could afford it on what they were paid. The search was facilitated by the fact that many assistants “lived in”, in accommodation provided over Sainsbury’s shops.

Curiously enough, systematic pilferers were seldom found out. I kept the egg-boy’s secret as to his method, when the management were frantic. Sainsbury’s wanted young men who “could use their brains”; perhaps they got, in this connection, what they were asking for. 

It was not all that long ago. Some of the brisk young men of my own generation are still in Sainsbury’s shops. That kind of training commonly qualifies people to do nothing else, so they are condemned until retirement brings merciful release of a kind. It has been possible also to observe the progress of Sainsbury himself, the “Mr. Alan’ who inspected us and sent everyone his picture for Christmas. He was made a Labour Party Lord: a putative friend of the working class who feels strongly, no doubt about social injustice.

This is the commerce of capitalism. The necessities of life are produced as commodities to be sold at a profit, and fortunes are made in their distribution. The multiple store which presents itself as a nice old-fashioned family business has exactly the same objective as the huckstering new one; both can live only by the exploitation of the workers who produce and distribute. It is a system we shall do well to get rid of.
Robert Barltrop

Who Governs Britain? (1974)

From the March 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

By the time you read this Socialist Standard the Election will be over. On 10th February The Observer listed slogans used by the Conservative and Labour Parties in General Elections since the war. A collection of phrases of such fatuousness and irrelevance would be hard to find: questions which should never be asked, appeals which might as well be in Linear B for all the meaning to be found in them.

The latest addition, in this election, is the Tory call “Who governs Britain ?” That is, of course, the question of every election, but its implication on this occasion has been of a vital conflict between representative government and attempts by agitators in trade unions to supplant it. In his first speech of the election campaign, Heath said:
Are moderates going to sound a call loud and clear that we have had enough of the extremists in our society and the danger and disruption they cause, these few who put so much at risk by their abuse of power? . . .  The future of Britain depends on this election.
Wilson has kept out of this argument for the tactical reason that he cannot accept at election-time that there is any alternative to Tory government except Labour government. But, in office, he has sounded the same cry that Communists and other “extremists” have been disrupting the work of running the country — notably, in the seamen’s strike of 1966.

Apparent awareness of the vacuity of election appeals did not stop the Observer a week earlier, on 3rd February, publishing grist for Heath’s mill in an article on the insidious scheming of left-wingers in the trade unions. Two things need to be pointed out at once on this subject. First, the complete failure of the “extremists” — the Communists for fifty years — to achieve what they set out to do with the unions. And second, that discontent with wages and poor living standards is not an agitators’ invention. As the satirical columnist “Yaffle” wrote in 1947 (in the Labour Reynolds’ News, under a Labour government):
No working man ever knows his wage is too small until some professional Fomenter strolls up with a microscope and tells him to look at it.
   No working-class mother ever knows that her children are under-fed until some salaried discontent-monger calls round with a pair of scales and a tape measure and asks her to examine her offspring closely.
   . . . Take warning from the past. Remember the last war and recall how easily a “hero” becomes a “work-shy” and a public nuisance.
    All he had to do was to discover he hadn’t enough to eat, and say so.
Head Against Brick Wall
Does the possibility exist that industrial action on a large enough scale could damage capitalism and governments’ ability to govern? Undoubtedly this is the dream of several left-wing groups. In the speech quoted above, Heath “reminded” the miners’ union that its action “threatened the whole country”, and went on: “That is why we called this election.” Such a statement is likely to give delusions of grandeur to anyone who believes he can “threaten the country”, but it is absurdly untrue. A General Election had to be called before long, and the question for Heath was finding an advantageous time.

The fact is that capitalism and its means of rule, the state, cannot be overthrown by industrial action. Of course changes of government can and do take place — but only at the behest of electoral majorities. Since 1970 (but by no means for the first time) a lot has been heard of “political action” by the trade unions. It should be known that no strike has ever succeeded in unseating a government or even getting one to change its mind about legislation. Certainly from time to time militants are gratified by seeing a change, though it has resulted not from their actions but from a General Election. And what does it amount to? The new administration is committed to run capitalism as the old one was, and by the same means.

Capitalism is not the government but the social system. It means the class ownership of the means of production and distribution, in the modern world. Whether industries are in private hands or under state control makes no difference (as the miners and railwaymen should know). In one case ownership is vested in private individuals, in the other in the capitalist class as a whole. Both ways, the sole purpose of production is profit, and the economic pressures and consequences of capitalism are there. The immediate concomitant of class ownership is the non-ownership of the rest, who are thereby condemned to wage-labour.

The function of the state is to upkeep this system. Before anything else, it is capitalism’s self-provided sanction. It gives class ownership its fortification, through law supported by police and prisons and, in the end, armed force. This is the simple fact which makes the idea of confrontation between militants and the state ridiculous. Before the modem state arrived, mediaeval kings could be overthrown by whatever barons raised stronger armies. It is that world, romanticized, that the confrontationists and Heath both seem to be invoking; the good knight topples the evil one, and the peasantry applaud. Twentieth- century politics is nothing like that.

Seat of Power
What has to be understood also is that this function of the state rests on the support of the electorate. The truth against which militants shut their eyes is that the majority of the working class remain, to date, in favour of capitalism; that is, they have been led to believe it is the natural order or can be brought round on their behalf. (Indeed, it is impossible to grasp how left-wing organizations dc see the working class. Their publications show the workers on one hand duped and doped by the big parties and hypnotized by the Spectacle; on the other hand, permanently seething with revolt. Which is it ?)

Obviously there are rival versions of how to run capitalism. There have also been — not any more, however — groups and individuals who have gone to Parliament believing the system could be reformed out of existence; in these cases, foreseeably, the man was oblivious to the bite and the dog it was that died. The main factor in administering capitalism is finance. Discussing aspects of government in an article in The Guardian on 6th February, Dr. David Owen wrote:
The democratic process as it is represented through our parliamentary system has traditionally focussed on the control of expenditure and this remains the central control mechanism whether the policy issue is related to the EEC or is purely domestic.
The position is that the state is provided with money by the capitalist class through taxation. The differences between the major parties are therefore largely differences over how this money shall be collected and spent. Two important points immediately arise. The first is that taxation, so often used to inflame or allure the electorate, is not a working-class issue at all. The second is that these differences all stand on the assumption that capitalism must be kept in good running order. It is tempting to believe that Labour measures for “soaking the rich” are steps to equality, and to blame their failure on mismanagement; but their basic futility is that they are conceived within the taken-for-granted frame work of capitalism. 

How to use Parliament
There is no hope, then, for reform to undermine or confrontation to overthrow the established order of who governs Britain and every other country. The strength of capitalism’s legality has been demonstrated again and again. Recently there has been the case of the local council which refused to implement an Act of Parliament, and had its powers removed and its members penalized; the same thing happened in the nineteen-fifties in attempted local rebellions against Civil Defence. In 1972 there were the ineffectual demonstrations against the government’s Industrial Relations Act and, later in the year, the disposal of the Angry Brigade group who claimed they could change society with bombs.

“Who governs Britain?” is a non-question. But Socialists have been putting forward for seventy years the means to get rid of the problems over which some workers fume and others think they must be resigned. The capitalist system continues because the majority support it. The day that support ceases, the situation will alter completely. What the majority have to understand is the nature of capitalism, including that a change of government is no change at all, and that only Socialism will be different.

The course of action then is easy. Delegates will be elected to Parliament with a mandate — which no industrial militant or reformist politician has ever had — not to administer capitalism but to abolish it. This is the state put to its final, and for the first time fruitful, use; instead of confronting the coercive machinery, the Socialists’ representatives take possession of it. Class ownership then falls to the ground, and the new world of common ownership can begin.
Robert Barltrop

Obituary: Harry Waite (1974)

Obituary from the April 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrade Harry Waite died in hospital on 10th February after a long and painful illness.

He joined the old East London branch of the Party in August 1929 and quickly began speaking and writing. His fluency and thoroughness made him an excellent lecturer, and these qualities were shown equally well in the articles he wrote regularly for the Socialist Standard in the ’thirties. For several years he was a member of the Editorial Committee and the Executive Committee; he remained on the E.C. during, and for some time after, the last world war.

When conscription began in 1939 he took a special interest in the younger members who took their stand as conscientious objectors. He gave up much time to advising them and accompanied many to tribunal hearings, and this help continued until the end of conscription in the nineteen-fifties. He was also one of the original editors in 1952 of the Party’s former internal journal Forum.

In subsequent years ill-health limited his activities, but he remained a staunch member. Harry Waite was known as a wise counsellor and a man whose personal qualities deserved esteem. Having worked hard for the Party, he respected others who did so and was always quick to defend them against criticism; former members as well as present ones made up the many who attended his cremation.

We extend our sympathies to his wife Ann, who looked after him for so long.

TU Politics, Marx and the Labour Party (1974)

Book Review from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour: The Unions and the Party” by Bill Simpson. (George Allen & Unwin. £4.50. 250 pages.)

This is an interesting book but not for the conclusions it reaches, which are much as to be expected from a trade-union general secretary on the National Executive of the Labour Party. Its interest comes from the fact that the author, in his attempt to justify the Labour Party, finds it necessary to do so by proving that Marx is out-of-date, that capitalism today is not as Marx expected it to be, and that the Labour Party, guided by Bernstein, Burnham, Keynes and others, now knows how to control and direct capitalism in the way it should go.

As background material he examines the events leading up to the formation of the Labour Party, discusses some of the controversies of the time, and sketches its history, including the General Strike and the attempts to control inflation by wages and incomes policies. In answer to the questions he poses he concludes that trade unions should go in for politics and not “direct action”, and should affiliate to the Labour Party.

The book is full of references to Marx and to Marxists inside and outside the Labour Party; to socialist society; socialist principle, revolution and revolutionaries, and so on: but none of this is to be taken literally. His ideas of Marx are hazy like those of the people he calls “Marxists”. His “revolutionaries” are not revolutionary (people who want some modification of capitalism are not revolutionaries because they use direct action or violence) and his “socialism” has no relation to what Marx and Socialists mean by the term. He does not mention the Socialist Party of Great Britain or answer our case. For him socialism means the current Labour Party concept of private and State capitalism (nationalization) and the Keynesian techniques of “managing the economy”.

The few quotations from Marx in the book include a complete misunderstanding of the traditionally misused statement by Marx that “Force is the midwife of every social system pregnant with a new one”. Mr. Simpson uses it as heading of a chapter (Chapter 7) which deals with the syndicalist-“direct action” ferment of the years before 1914, thus making it appear that Marx was advocating the use of force against the State power. The point Marx was making was the direct opposite; he was showing the way in which force is at the disposal of those who are in control of “the power of the State, the concentrated and organised power of society”. (See Capital Vol. I, Chapter XXXI, “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”.)

Marx noted the forms taken by this force, from “brute force” used by colonial powers in their colonies to “the national debt, the modern mode of taxation and the protective system” which were used by the capitalists through their control of State power “to hasten, hothouse fashion, the transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”.

Mr. Simpson’s idea of revolution and revolutionaries is illustrated by his belief that the strikes in the period up to 1914 meant that revolution was imminent:
What would have happened if the war had not started is difficult to forecast. This much can be said: if there was a time when revolutionary change was near in Britain it was surely then. (Page 69)
So the workers who had voted for capitalism in the election of 1910, and did so again in 1918, and for five years in between had been fighting to defend British capitalism at the behest of (among others) the union leaders who had been organizing the strikes, were bent on revolution — but when their leaders waved a flag at them they decided to call the whole thing off!

The argument as Mr. Simpson presents it is that while Marx “explained clearly how the capitalist system worked in a technical sense” (p. 131) he failed to forecast correctly the forces that would be operating later in an advanced capitalist society. He was wrong, says Mr. Simpson, about the concentration of capital, wrong about the workers becoming poorer, and did not foresee how it would be possible for a Labour government using Keynesian techniques to keep unemployment down to a very low level and avoid crises, so that since the nineteen-thirties all we have had according to Mr. Simpson is “a few uncomfortable lurches” (p.125).

If Mr. Simpson had understood Marx's clear exposition of what happens when a government steadily depreciates the currency, he would see that it is precisely the Keynesian techniques that have been largely responsible for the price level now being six times what it was in 1938. As it is, he has no idea what inflation is all about.

On unemployment he disregards the continuous powerful upsurge since the nineteen-fifties, to its peak in 1972. Registered unemployment then went over the million mark but his leader, Harold Wilson, contended that the real number of people out of work (registered and unregistered) “was nearer three million” (speech at Liverpool, Financial Times 10th April 72). And is Mr. Simpson still sure that the present crisis is just a “lurch”? The Labour Party Election Manifesto in February 1974 used very different language: “the most serious political and economic crisis since 1945”, and “economic perils of a new dimension; we face a crowning test of our democracy”.

When Mr. Simpson claims that the continued existence of large numbers of small businesses and retail shops shows that Marx was wrong about concentration, he not only ignores the flood of amalgamations and takeovers that are common knowledge but also leaves out of account that in every crisis (as at present) the small firms become more vulnerable. At all times their independence and that of small retail shops is more nominal than real.

He quotes the higher standard of living of workers as disproof of Marx. He says (p.120) that according to Marx “the mass of the people would become so poor (“the pauperization of the masses as he called it”) that the system would collapse and there would be a revolutionary change in society”. What Marx actually wrote was: “in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse”. It was social position, not falling real wages, that Marx referred to. His co-worker Frederick Engels saw the matter in proper perspective. When in 1892 he observed that British workers “are undoubtedly better off than before 1848” and that the condition of those in trade unions “has remarkedly improved”, he did not think this was a denial of the general view held by Marx himself. (The Condition of the Working Class in England, Frederick Engels, 1973 edn. pages 34 & 35.) But Mr. Simpson may be just finding out that in the present “lurch”, notwithstanding a Labour government, many workers are going to see their real wages falling.

Marx never supposed that capitalism would disappear of its own accord simply because of its internal contradictions and the workers’ poverty; it would need to be abolished and replaced by Socialism through the conscious organized action of the working class gaining control of State power.

Throughout his book Mr. Simpson treats the theoretical conflict between Marx and his Labour Party critics as if it is merely about different ways of achieving Labour-Party “managed capitalism”. He nowhere faces up to the fact that for Marx Socialism meant a fundamentally different social system, involving for example production solely for use, and the abolition of buying and selling and the wages system. This ought to have been considered by him because some of the people active in forming the Labour Party, including Keir Hardie, Shaw, and Sidney Webb, had broadly accepted it and presumably believed that it would be achieved by the Labour Party. It is strange that a trade-unionist who claims to know Marx does not even mention Marx’s plea to the unions to aim for the abolition of the wages system instead of seeking “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, which is what the unions and the Labour Party continue to offer them.

What, in effect, Mr. Simpson and his Party are saying is that capitalism is now different because it is “controlled” and therefore Socialism in the real sense is not necessary even if possible. So the justification of the Labour Party falls back on the arguments of those among its founders who, like David Shackleton, said in 1906: leave Socialism alone and get on with “something practical”. This basically is Mr. Simpson’s position though he is not entirely happy with it, for he notes (p.51) some of the “social evils seventy years ago yet which are still far from resolved”. Unemployment is one he names.

Another was housing, and not even the most satisfied Labourite can believe that the problem has been solved. It was not a Labour leader in 1906 who said “the number of homeless is increasing week by week and waiting lists are growing” but Labour’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Dennis Healey, in his Budget speech on 26th March 1974.

One of the sillier beliefs of the Keynesian Labourites was that their control of capitalism gives them control of interest rates, which they could reduce at will. As it happens, in the year of the formation of the Labour Party an organization calling itself “The Workers’ National Housing Association” was jubilant because they had been promised government financial aid for housebuilding of £4¼ million at interest of 3¼%. Current interest rates arc about four times as much, but when on 14th March this year the Labour Government was asked what they were going to do to stabilize interest rates their spokesman in the House of Commons, the Paymaster General, replied:
Interest rates will in the future, as in the past, have to be responsive to changes in domestic and external conditions.
Marx explained this a hundred years ago.

For Mr. Simpson all the efforts of Labour governments to improve capitalism are “socialist” and he tells with evident pride that John Wheatley, Housing Minister in the 1924 Labour government, “put through an excellent Housing Act”. Socialist? Not at all, said Wheatley himself:
The proposals which I am submitting are real capitalism — an attempt to patch up, in the interests of humanity, a capitalist ordered society.
(Hansard, 3rd June 1924)
This is what the Labour Party has been doing for years, patching up capitalism. Workers, inside and outside trade unions, should certainly take an interest in politics — but for Socialism, not for Labour Party capitalism.
Edgar Hardcastle

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Showing Up Shaw (1974)

From the June 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

George Bernard Shaw, as well as a playwright, was a reformist who debunked silly ideas and embraced even sillier ones.

In 1943 he wrote an article in the Labour Daily Herald headed What would Marx say about Beveridge? Our comrade Clifford Allen criticized it in the American Western Socialist. A copy was sent to Shaw, and he sent a letter beginning: “I am much indebted to Mr. Allen for having, by his article in your issue of May, called my attention to The Western Socialist.” He went on to say that Marx "had no experience of the daily drudgery of government”, and that Allen ought to try it too.

Allen responded with a detailed examination of Shaw’s political claims — his belief that Russia was "a new civilization” and that the Socialist revolution would be heralded by shootings on all sides; his Fabian theory that Socialism would come by instalments; and his comprehensive misunderstanding of Marx.

Was Shaw "much indebted” for this further commentary? Far from it. He wrote again, this time with great petulance:
The packet of your issues since May with which you threaten me has not yet arrived. I hope it never may . . . My time — of which there is so little left — is too precious to be wasted on Mr. Allen whose utter ignorance of the real world created a vacuum into which Marx (what he could understand and misunderstand of him) rushed with irresistible force. Experience alone can drive it out.
Allen pointed out that Shaw had made no attempt to answer the arguments but fell back on anger with anyone who took up his "precious time” by daring to criticize him. The Western Socialist’s last word was a quotation from Arthur M. Lewis’s essay The Social Revolution, dealing with the "professional intellectual”:
Should he take up socialism and enter the movement, his first and greatest surprise is to find himself surrounded by hundreds of working men who are fundamentally and undoubtedly his intellectual superiors.
Incidentally, a book called Shaw the Chucker-Out, published in 1968, quotes quite lengthily from the Western Socialist criticism but does not mention Shaw’s replies. The reader is not told of Shaw’s pique when he himself was "chucked out".

Haven Your Cake (2017)

Book Review from the May 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Dirty Secrets: How Tax Havens Destroy the Economy'. By Richard Murphy. (Verso £12.99)

A tax haven is a place that provides tax advantages for someone who does not live there. Some are further described as secrecy jurisdictions, as they also enable secrecy for those who utilise these tax arrangements. Tax havens rely on the notion of an offshore transaction, which is recorded in one place even though all the parties to it reside elsewhere. As one, admittedly extreme, example discussed here of the use of a tax haven, in 2013 Barclays Bank had nearly 55,000 employees in the UK, where on paper the company lost over £1.3bn, but in Luxembourg it had just fourteen employees and made a slightly larger profit.

Tax havens are not just places such as Jersey and the Cayman Islands, for the US and the UK are enormous tax havens too. The US state of Delaware was perhaps the first tax haven, in 1898, and nowadays over half of US corporations have their legal home there. Clearly one consequence of the use of tax havens is that vast amounts of tax that ‘should’ be paid to governments are in fact not paid; estimating the extent of such tax avoidance and evasion is extremely difficult, but Murphy suggests it may be as much as £120bn a year in the UK.

He argues, however, that loss of tax revenue is not the only problem resulting from the existence of tax havens. Since they also involve a great deal of secrecy relating to ownership, accounts and profits, they undermine the workings of the market, as people do not have the open and accurate information needed to act rationally, allocate resources properly and estimate risk. As a result tax havens reduce productivity, growth and profits, and so prevent the ‘proper’ working of capitalism. Doing away with tax havens would mean, as Murphy puts it, ‘saving capitalism from itself’.

Tax havens are used not just by companies but by super-rich individuals as well. One estimate is that in 2010 nearly half of all offshore wealth was owned by the world’s richest 91,000 people (0.001 percent of the global population). These people owned at least a third of the world’s private financial wealth. Tax havens contribute to increasing inequality and the continuance of ownership of massive amounts of wealth by the privileged few.

Murphy is associated with the Tax Justice Network (taxjustice.net), and his proposal is to do away with tax havens, thus reducing inequality, making countries more democratic and improving the rule of law. It would also, supposedly, make markets fairer and more efficient. Perhaps this signals one of the problems with tax havens from a capitalist point of view: with their secrecy and lack of transparency, they make it harder for smaller firms to compete and for companies to enter a new market. This is hardly an issue for workers, though: taxes are a burden on the capitalist class, and arguments about tax havens are in reality disputes as to how much of this burden different capitalists should bear.

Murphy’s book gives a broad coverage of various points relating to tax havens, but is overly-optimistic about what abolishing them would lead to. The book could also have done with an extra round of proof-reading, as there are rather too many typos (including an unfortunate reference to ‘on pubic record’).  
Paul Bennett

Corbyn: What He Did Achieve and What He Could Not Have (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Jeremy Corbyn has shown one thing – that contesting an election on a manifesto promising to tax corporations and the rich to pay for improvements in health, housing and education for ‘the many’ is not the vote-loser most pundits assumed. Most, including many Labour MPs themselves, thought that contesting an election with such a programme would be suicidal. In the event, it was one of a number of factors that enabled the Labour Party to increase the number of its MPs by 30 and its share of the popular vote to 40 percent. They didn’t win of course but they were originally supposed to have been annihilated.
The election was still one to decide which group of politicians should run the political side of UK plc, but this time it wasn’t, as in recent previous elections, just a contest between two groups both pleading that their team would be the better managers of capitalism as it is. This time it was between one group still offering this (the Tories)  and another saying that they would make some changes to capitalism (Labour).
That an increased number of people voted against things as they are is at least better than voting, unenthusiastically or cynically, as if having to choose between two brands of more or less identical soap powders. If people weren’t dissatisfied with the status quo and didn’t hope for something better then the prospects for socialism would be hopeless.
However
There is a difference between being able to win votes on a comparatively left-wing programme for reforming capitalism and being able to implement it. If the Labour Party under Corbyn had done even better and actually won the election, past experience of left-wing governments has shown that it would fail to make capitalism work ‘for the many not the few’.
This is not because its ministers would prove to be incompetent or sell-outs but because capitalism is a social system based, precisely, on the exclusion of the many from the ownership and control of the means of wealth production. These belong to the few, who employ the many to operate them. Under capitalism as an economic system wealth is produced for sale on a market with a view to profit, the source of this being the unpaid labour of the many appropriated by the few.
Promising to make the economic system work for the many not the few assumes the continuing existence of ‘the few’. So, the Labour Party was saying in effect that under a Corbyn Labour government the few would remain in their privileged place but some of their money would be taken from them and used to benefit the many. The trouble here is that the source of the income of the few is profits, and the pursuit of profits is what drives the capitalist economic system. Threaten profits and the economic system stalls. A left-wing government which taxed profits merely to improve the lives of the many would come up against the basic economic law of capitalism of ‘no profit, no production.’
Been there before
The historically-confirmed scenario for a left-wing government is: it is elected and begins to implement its programme; an economic crisis breaks out; the government reacts by backtracking on its reforms and accepting, reluctantly or not, that profits have to come first, and implements this. They lose popularity and at the next election are either voted out or re-elected on a quite different programme (not of radical reforms but merely that they won’t be as bad as the other lot).
This is why we could not be enthusiastic about Corbyn. However well-meaning he might be in some ways (and, despite the smear campaign against him, he did come across as more well-meaning than most politicians), his programme was undeliverable. Capitalism simply cannot be made to work otherwise  than as a system where profits have to come before people. That’s the way it works and the way it has to work.
Illusion
This means that politics and general elections are in fact based on an illusion – that who controls the government can control the way the economy works, whereas in fact it is the other way round; governments have to accommodate their policies to the way capitalism works. So, in the end, it doesn’t matter which group of politicians is elected to form the government. Whoever they are, whatever they have promised, they will have to govern on capitalism’s terms.
Put another way, if people vote to improve their lot under capitalism this will be frustrated by the operation of the economic forces of capitalism. Capitalism is not a system that can accommodate the democratic will of the people, as expressed in an election, to improve their conditions. The voters might propose, but capitalism disposes. This is the basis of the saying that changing governments changes nothing.
The aspiration to improve things is all to the good but it can’t be realised within the framework of capitalism. What is required to realise the hope of those who voted for  Corbyn is not to tax the few for the benefit of the many. It is to abolish the division of society into the many and the few by converting the means of wealth production from ownership by and for the few into the common property of all for the benefit of all. That would provide the framework within which to re-orient production from profit- making to directly satisfying people’s needs. Not the reformist ‘People before profits’, but the revolutionary ‘People not profits’.
Adam Buick

Fascism, Violence and the Left (1974)

From the July 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

On Saturday 15th June in London the National Front held a march to a meeting to protest against an amnesty for illegal immigrants. An attack on the march was made by left-wing groups, culminating in a battle with mounted police in Red Lion Square, and a young student was killed.

The inevitable accusations of “police brutality”, the headlines and questions in Parliament ensued. All this followed the National Union of Students’ resolution to prevent “fascists” and “racists” speaking. On 18th June the International Marxist Group announced that unless a July march of Orangemen supported by National Front is banned, it will attack that too.

The policies and attitudes of the National Front are detestable. So are those of the International Marxist Group and its collaborators. The latter include the Communist spokesmen for the National Union of Students who have expounded its policy of forcible suppression, and the Labour fools in the scarcely-known but ill-named “Liberation” group.

Their assertion is that unless “fascism” is crushed we are in danger of the rise of a dictatorship party, which would suppress democracy and persecute its opponents and those it did not favour. If that danger exists it is represented equally by the IMG, the Communist Party and other organizations of the left. What is THEIR aim ? To suppress democracy and put down rivals.

Like the Communist Party when it made a policy of attacking British Union of Fascists marches in the nineteen-thirties, IMG hope to obtain support by posing as the defenders of freedom. But the CP’s policy then did not apply only to fascists. At one period Labour Party meetings were ordered to be broken up. At other times our own meetings have been shouted down and disrupted. Make no mistake about this: these protesters are not Marxists or liberationists or democrats, but power-seekers wanting to suppress whoever disagrees with them.

What have the National Front, IMG and the Communist Party in common? It is not simply that all are would-be dictators; they all uphold capitalism, each aiming to run it in a particular way. A safeguard against them is needed, but it cannot come from force. The only safeguard is Socialist understanding : let any of them state their case, and have its worthless stupidity publicly demolished.

That is what these “defenders of freedom” fear. When the Socialist Party held a debate with the National Front, members of International Socialists came to shout down BOTH speakers. They did not want the fascists’ claptrap exposed — because it would have exposed theirs too. To them, a brawl in the streets is preferable to argument, and the support of hooligans acceptable because they cannot get that of enlightened working men and women.

The problem for the working class is not fascism but capitalism. Racism and other forms of oppression are symptoms of it. Socialists feel as strongly as anyone about them; and we know the solution of them to be the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement with Socialism.

AUEW Supports Labour, Rejects Socialism (1974)

From the August 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following Composite Motion and amendments were carried at a Conference of the AUEW held at Blackpool in May:
COMPOSITE MOTION No. 12  
This Representative Council demands that the Parliamentary Labour Party carry out policy formulated by the organised Labour Movement and decided by the Labour Party Annual Conference and in pursuance of these demands recognises the necessity for a Labour Government to pursue a clear socialist programme. 
FIRST AMENDMENTAdd at the end:- This programme should be committed not only to the pursuance of social justice but also to the maintenance of the basic freedoms of thought, speech and association and the people’s rights to be ruled by a freely elected government. 
SECOND AMENDMENTAdd at end:- Conference therefore calls upon the NEC to demand a change in the Labour Party constitution such that the parliamentary party is duty bound to advocate and implement policies determined by Annual Conference. 
FOURTH AMENDMENTAdd at end: - Furthermore, in pursuance of these demands and recognising the necessity for the next Labour Government to pursue a clear socialist programme, Conference calls on the EC to campaign both within TASS and the wider trade union movement for the active participation of workers in the Labour Party. Conference considers that this is the way to ensure that the Labour Party and the next Labour Government adopts these policies. 
As a contribution to the debate our Comrade J. E. Flowers opposed the Resolution as follows:
  Mr. President and fellow delegates, I wish to oppose the substantive Resolution and also to its being sent anywhere, TUC, AUEW or the Labour Party, for the following reasons. 
  As a Socialist recognising the class struggle, I am sympathetic to the struggle of the International working class, whether it be in Chile, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Russia, USA or Great Britain. So I am an active Trades Unionist, although knowing that TU activity is purely defensive against the Master Class. But I find the Labour Party and our Union this week only interested in reforms of capitalism not in its abolition. This abolition can only be achieved by political action by the overwhelming majority of the working class understanding and desiring it—i.e. the establishment of Socialism or Communism. These words mean the same thing, a classless, moneyless society. 
   Socialism therefore means: A system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution by and in the interest of the whole world community. This has not been the object of the Labour Party, supported as it has been recently by Lord Soper, Paul Foot, Tariq Ali, and now Enoch Powell, none of whom define what they mean by Socialism. 
  The Labour Party since its inception in 1906 has never had as its object the establishment of Socialism as described earlier. It has been reformist and supports the retention of capitalism, State or Private. The sale of the tools of war is as much a normal aspect of capitalism as is poverty, unemployment, racialism, sex discrimination, capitalist-oriented education, and housing shortages, from which technicians, as workers, suffer. 
    Marx and Engels, the founders of Scientific Socialism, insisted that the slogans for the working class should be “The abolition of the wages system” and “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.” 
     I ask you to reject this Motion and its submission to the AUEW or the Labour Party.



NHS On The Rocks (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Labour government nationalized private medical service in Britain the state took over. From then on all hospitalization, treatment, dentures, spectacles and prescriptions could now be got “free” on the health scheme. We could even receive specialist and consultant advice without the question of private fee. After-care in convalescent homes by the seaside or in the country was available if specified. It stopped short at such things as recuperation on the Riviera or Swiss Alps.

Thirty years later we now take a look at the state of Hire-Purchase Medicare. Consultants threatening to work to rule. Dentists and General Practitioners threatening to withdraw from the NHS. Technicians, Radiographers, nurses, ambulance drivers, cleaners, kitchen staff, porters, launderers (all but the kind ladies of the Women’s Voluntary Service), having withdrawn or threatening to withdraw their labour. Operations deferred because of the pressure of work or the lack of surgical beds. The government cannot buy enough kidney machines because they are too expensive. Kidney cases just have to suffer. It is reckoned that as many as half-a-million patients are queuing up for beds. Why does an ill person have to wait?

In 1946 Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Government’s Minister of Health, was so concerned about the health of the working class that he forgot momentarily about the health and welfare of those workers who would be running the show. Ever since the loyal servants of the state health institutions had to fight to keep their real wages from being whittled away by the increased cost of living. Now they have started kicking. In order to make it worth while for the consultants Bevan agreed that they should be able to carry on private business. It was arranged that a percentage of private patients be accommodated privately in special wards and wings of the NHS hospitals.

Now apart from the individual worker who insures himself, or the company or Trade Union who insures their employees or members with such bodies as the British United Provident Association or the Hospital Savings Group, who could possibly afford this treatment? When these patients go into hospital one special benefit might be a bed straight away. The general situation will be NHS standard, that is ordinary NHS bed and food. But there are two quite different standards of medical attention and what is the priority? Money of course— what can you afford?

So the great Nye and the Labour Government decreed that the best, or better, treatment during illness will be bought. And here to prove it are some facts. Salmon, steak, strawberries are a few of the tasty dishes you can actually order if you are resident in what’s comically known as the “Fulham Hilton” better known as the new Charing Cross hospital. In addition a bedside telephone and colour TV. That is if you are stingy enough and only wish to pay £174 per week. A better deal may be the London Clinic at £252 per week. This is exclusive of the consultant’s fees. You are expected to employ him if you wish his personal attention. The consultants wish to retain this, not surprisingly.

After thirty years so many people are suddenly piqued about it as if it only started happening yesterday. The present Labour Minister of Health thinks it is unjust and wants a year or so to phase it out. The CP's Morning Star refers to it as “a galling class question”. Yet they support privilege and inequality in Russia.

So no matter what they do they still finish up with two distinct standards of treatment. One of privilege and prerogative and privacy. The other utility, austerity and cheapness.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain had no illusions about this capitalist makeshift health plan for the working class. A patch-’em-up-and-get-’em-back-to-work-as-cheaply-as-possible service. And to think that this cheapskate make-and-mend of capitalism was delivered by the Labour Government in the name of “Socialism”!
Joe McGuinness

China Since 1949: A Survey (1974)

From the October 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Chinese People's Republic was inaugurated in 1949, Mao Tse-tung was careful to point out that the new society would not be Socialist. His inaugural speech said:
To counter imperialist oppression and raise her backward economy to a higher level, China must utilize all the factors of urban and rural capitalism that are beneficial and not harmful to the national economy and people’s livelihood . . . Our present policy is to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it.
The teaching of 1949 was that the workers and peasants of China still had to endure the development of capitalism — “several decades of hardship” (Mao, 21st September 1949) — before the change to “socialism” could be achieved. In the sophistries of the time China was “semi-feudal”; there were “semi-proletarians”, and the peasants were divided neatly into rich, middle and poor. There was also a “national bourgeoisie”, who were considered revolutionary allies, and a petty bourgeoisie who could be conveniently used as either comrades-in-arms or whipping-boys. The bogeys were the big landowners and the Kuomintang bourgeoisie.

Under “the people’s democratic dictatorship” the Chinese capitalists would develop the means of production together with a widening State sector and eventually the whole would fall into the laps of the workers. In the meantime the “democratic” structure would ensure that though a large section of the economy would remain capitalist, the capitalists would never exercise political power. Because the political institutions were democratically elected it followed naturally that the Chinese Communist Party, representing by definition the great majority of the population, would always be m power. It was similar, in fact, to the Chinese Imperial doctrine of “merchant operation, official supervision”.

The Capitalists
Of course it didn’t work. The idea of regulating capitalism had to be abandoned, largely because of the weakness of Chinese capitalists; the foreign capitalists who mattered — Mattheson & Lang, Butterfield, Russel & Co. — pulled out to Hong Kong after a very short time, leaving a gap which the Chinese had a hard struggle to fill. It was from this time, in the mid-fifties, that Mao and the CCP began to claim that China was socialist (the prefix “semi-” in front of "feudal” and “proletarian” was dropped at the same time). Chinese capitalists were bought out on terms described by Yuan-li Wu in The Economy of Communist China (1965) as follows:
A nominal ‘‘fixed interest” or “dividend” of 1-6 per cent a year, payable quarterly, regardless of the profit or loss of the enterprises in question, was promised to private stockholders for a period of six years. The amount was subsequently revised to a uniform 5 per cent per annum.
These compensation agreements were in fact extended for further periods, and as far as can be ascertained dividends are still being paid. Many capitalists were also offered State agencies on relatively generous terms. However, the smallness of the area in which these owners operated must be borne in mind. It was the confiscation of banking and manufacturing interests of owners identified with the Kuomintang that gave the Communists, at the beginning of their rule, a nucleus of important financial and manufacturing enterprises in addition to already-State-owncd enterprises.

By 1956 it was claimed that the proportion of the “capitalist enterprises” in the gross value of output of industry had declined to 0.1 per cent. However, as with so much else in China, hard facts are not so easily come by. As in Russia, illegal manufacture and trading have been widespread and persistent. Wu says:
In fact, among the “crimes” the Communist authorities have tried to stamp out are the matter of unauthorized invoices and purchase orders, purchase and sale of raw materials on the black market, and production in “underground factories”. These “deviations" became especially prominent in the spring of 1963 and required the institution of official drives to eliminate them along with the “rectification" of various "individualistic trends" contrary to the spirit of planning. The 1963 drives were reminiscent of similar campaigns in 1952. The Soviet tolkachi (pushers) most definitely have their Chinese counterparts.
It is often assumed that Soviet aid was, before the breach between the two countries, highly important to China. Certainly it was the major source of foreign capital, but its volume was quite negligible. In The Journal of Asian Studies, XXI, 1961, F. H. Mah estimated that only 727 million yuan out of 3 billion yuan loaned by Russia to Communist China during the First Five-Year Plan consisted of economic loans — about 1.5 per cent, of the state capital investment; the remainder was military loans and transfers of assets already in China. Wu estimates the total of Soviet loans between 1950 and 1957 at 5.2 billion yuan. (Exchange rate between yuan and $: 1 yuan = $2.5.) Thus, the principal source of capital investment was domestic capital formation.

Party and Bureaucracy
In an article “China’s ‘New Economic Policy’ ” in China Under Mao (1973) Franz Schurmann says: “The bitterness against the Soviet Union runs very deep in China.” Mao Tse-tung and Hoxha of Albania are the only political leaders in the world today still singing the praises of Stalin, yet Mao can have nothing for which to thank Stalin. When after 1917 the European revolution did not materialise for them the Bolsheviks turned their interest to China. From the time when the Chinese Communist Party was formed in 1921, until 1940, it was under the domination of the CPSU. (The name adopted was the Chinese CP, and not the CP of China: this is a unique distinction among national Communist parties, implying a subordinate status.)

In the ’twenties and ’thirties the advice from Russia to the Chinese Communists in their struggle against Chiang Kai-shek was continually disastrous. When the struggle resumed after the war Stalin gave little encouragement, and at the point of the Communists’ victory in 1949 urged a compromise settlement: a divided China was a better prospect for Russia than a united one. John Gittings says in The History of the Twentieth Century (Vol. 6, p. 2483): “the Chinese knew that Stalin’s foreign policy was dictated by national interest rather than by ‘proletarian internationalism’.” After a few years of alliance marked by well-founded mistrust, the rift came over nuclear weapons. The line taken in China, however, was that Stalin’s successors had departed from the principles of Lenin. An Editorial commemorating the 50th anniversary of the CCP in June 1971 said:
Khrushchev, Brezhnev and company are renegades from the proletarian revolution, and present-day social-imperialists and world storm-troopers opposing China, opposing Communism and opposing the people. It is our Patty’s bounden internationalist duty to continue the exposure and criticism of modem revisionism with Soviet revisionism at the centre and carry the struggle through to the end.
(Translated Peking Review, 2nd July 1971)
The historical oppressors of the Chinese people are the Imperial Despot and the bureaucracy which administered the despot’s will; and, by implication, the Confucian philosophy which sanctioned them. Mao’s declared aim is the abolition of bureaucracy. The ideological quarrel with the Soviet Union is that, according to Mao, it is the interests of the bureaucracy which govern the politics of Russia: the Party must be a wholly separate institution if it is to identify with the interests of the people. Yet all Mao’s attempts to curb the bureaucracy have failed. From the Great Leap Forward, through various rectification and education campaigns, to the Cultural Revolution and the anti-Confucius campaign, immediately the pressure has been eased the bureaucracy has re-established itself. The reasons are only too obvious, given the industrial and commercial structure China is building. Schurmann describes it:
Factory administration has been recentralised, with major decisions once again being made at the executive level, rather than on the production floor. Money is stressed over production . . . much of the talk about economising could come from the mouths of good Republicans in the United States. Concern over money also implies an orientation to some kind of professional or technical élite (bankers, executives, etc.) and so it is not surprising that the present turn toward accumulation has gone hand in hand with a return of authority to the country’s professional intellectuals.
The ideal of every regime is to see ideology and organization go hand in hand. When they fail to do so, scapegoats are usually sought; and since the advent of “socialism” in China Mao’s speeches and writings have been about little else than the dangers of subversion from “capitalist-roaders”.
Workers and Peasants
The living conditions of the Chinese peasant and worker are hard by any western standard. By their own standards, it can be said that things have never been otherwise and would be no different under any other government in China. It can be said, further that millions do not now die every year from starvation. Yet, since China has adopted the devices and modes of organization necessary to being a major power in the capitalist world, it is the standards of that world that must be applied.

The primary task for the Communist régime was the accumulation of capital. In Problems of Capital Formation in Underdeveloped Countries (1964) Ragnar Nurkse writes:
External resources, even if they come in the most desirable forms, are not enough. They cannot automatically provide a solution to the problem of capital accumulation in backward areas . . . Greater efficiency in food production is the basic way of releasing human energy for capital construction. The domestic saving potential consists here in an increment of real income, and the task of mobilizing it is to withhold the highest possible proportion of this increment for investment purposes. (Our italics.)
Thus, along with the establishment of “mutual-aid teams” — predecessors of the agricultural communes — in the early years political means were used to curtail consumption. As well as heavy taxation, compulsory saving, and rationing of necessities, "conspicuous consumption” was made a crime. According to Choh-ming Li’s article “Economic Development” in China Under Mao, per capita consumption of food, cloth and housing services declined from 1952 to 1957 and in the following two years “took a deep dive. The severe shortage of staple (rice and wheat) and subsidiary food was nation-wide.” In the rural areas, where 50-70 per cent, of total output was required to be set aside as accumulation, there was considerable discontent. Yuan-li Wu in his book says:
In the course of the programme to establish control over resources for accumulation, a principle of low wages and low farm income was evolved. The system of low wages, according to Communist Chinese authors, is one under which all workers would have enough to eat while improvements in the standard of living would be gradual and would be granted only on the basis of further development in production.
Industrial wage differentials on an eight-point scale were introduced in 1956. It was estimated in 1964 (Charles Hoffman: Work Incentives in Communist China) that the wage rates of the highest grades in Manchurian industry were 2.5 to 3.2 times those of the lowest grades; and in the ’sixties other material incentives — rewards and bonuses — were extended. A social welfare system has been steadily expanded with the familiar range of insurance benefits and including subsidized housing. The role of trade unions is similar to that of other Communist countries: enforcing labour discipline, performing welfare functions, and acting as a department of the government rather than as guardians of the workers’ interests.

All Toe the Line
What is considered one of Mao’s most important theoretical statements is his 1957 speech On the Correct Resolution of Contradictions among the People. It is part of life in China that absolute conformity is demanded; while speaking of the dignity of “socialist” man, Mao encourages every deception for degrading opponents and non-conformists. Though the CCP has not reproduced the slaughtering political purges which took place in Russia in the nineteen-thirties, in another sense a purge goes on all the time in the form of the continual “rectification” campaigns.

The Party in China has probably played a more crucial role than its counterpart did in the early Soviet Union. It aims to be in command in every department of social endeavour. Its legitimacy is its interpretation of Marxist-Leninism, conveyed through “the mass line”. By definition, the correct policy of the CCP must be one which will be acclaimed by its own model worker (assumed to be the overwhelming majority); the mass line is Mao’s attempts to give practical demonstration of this.

The CCP has built an elaborate system of communication. A decision made at the centre is carefully graded as information, directive or instruction; it is elaborated in the newspapers, and suitable correspondents procured to identify the CCP with the mass line. A meeting — the vital part of the system — follows. Pretending the possibility of CCP fallibility, the meetings are market-research exercises at which some notice may be taken of views from the floor. Though local party fractions are allowed latitude in the means they adopt, each exercise is stage-managed to give no choice as to the decision over the mass line. Preparatory open and secret sessions are held, the speakers selected, questions planted and bogeys exploited. In the end, the CCP’s correctness is demonstrated, and opposition becomes the evil intent of recalcitrant workers influenced by bad elements (“poisonous weeds”).

On the other hand, the Chinese rulers have discovered what western ones learned: that they can go too far. During the Great Leap Forward workers toiled to the point of exhaustion and produced shoddy goods in the factories, while the bumper crop of 1958 suffered heavy losses from the tiredness, hunger and resentment of the peasants. The disaffection was not confined to economic factors: it concerned corruption, maltreatment by the militia, the threat of labour camps, and the enforced disintegration of family life in the communes. The mass line has had to be accompanied by reforms.

Socialism or Sam's Image ?
What kind of social system exists and is being developed in China ? They claim it to be Socialism:
Article I. The People’s Republic of China is a socialist state of proletarian dictatorship led by the working class (through the Chinese Communist Party) and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.
(Draft Constitution, 1970-71)
The economic, political and social resemblances to Russia of, say, forty years ago are striking — even to the humourless ponderosity of speeches and writings and the endless sloganizing, and their repetition by parrot-brained supporters abroad.

Not one of the economic characteristics of Socialism is to be seen existing in China. The wages system is not abolished but flourishes. Production in its entirety takes place not for use but for accumulation and profit. So far from withering away or becoming an “administration of things” the State has consolidated itself and taken pride in being a dictatorship — of “the proletariat”, which would not exist if there were Socialism.

However, it is not even a question of theoretical shortcomings. The idea of Socialism is founded on the desire for equality, freedom of choice, and the population to be able to claim the fruits of its labour. Because it is opposed to capitalism, there is an over-riding implication that the consequences and concomitants of capitalism — war, economic crises, the shyster dealing between nations — would be absent. And if by some word-magic the theoretical rules for Socialism could be shown to be complied with but the latter conditions were not fulfilled, all Socialists would say that Socialism wasn’t worth having. What they have in China is not Socialist life.

One argument is that though the Chinese system is admittedly not Socialism, it is not capitalism either, because investment is in the hands of the State and a capitalist class in the traditional sense cannot be seen. The obvious point to be made is that, as in Russia, this makes no difference whatever to the social relationships of production; with the State behaving as the capitalist, the working class is exploited to produce interest and profit just the same. Given favourable historical circumstances, some nations can do all the time what others can do only part of the time. Ragnar Nurkse makes plain that this has nothing to do with “socialist” as against capitalist economies:
The country that affords the most notable instance of forced collective saving is Soviet Russia under the five-year plans since 1928. In this case private investment activity was entirely suppressed . . .   I mention it along with the others only in order to bring out the point that in countries with widely different political ideologies the system of collective saving appears to have arisen from basic economic needs which those countries had in common. It worked of course imperfectly, being man-made; but it worked nevertheless. It became very prominent in the post-war reconstruction effort of Western Europe in the 1940’s, but that is an example that does not come from an underdeveloped area.
Moreover, the State can respond to economic needs by admitting outside investment and private enterprise at times. After 1961 (see China Under Mao, pp 222-228) the right of enterprise management to make autonomous use of the capital furnished by the State, so long as quotas and targets were met, was emphasized. The purpose was to overcome defects in the planning system; it was accompanied by permitting open markets to develop, and one immediate consequence was the growth of advertising. Obviously the State at another time will seek to repress what it has licensed and encouraged — leaving the position that sometimes individual profit-makers can be discerned and sometimes not.

The centralized Soviet-type economy is sometimes thought to have greater stability than “free enterprise” and “mixed” economies. This is not true (the difference is the difficulty of obtaining information). It is now generally accepted that the failure of the Great Leap Forward was “a depression, such as in the capitalist world: overproduction, underconsumption, drying up of savings, unemployment, decline in business morale, disruption of the market, etc.” (Schurmann, ibid.) Nor has the Chinese régime escaped the problem of rising prices, or abstained from inflationary “deficit financing” (increasing the note circulation).

What has been set on its feet in China therefore is capitalism: where the privileged smirk and philosophize, and the peasant and the worker bear the burden. The announcement of the American President's visit there in 1971 said :
The meeting between the leaders of China and the United States is to seek the normalization of relations between the two countries and also to exchange views on questions of concern to the two sides.
It might have been more simply put: Uncle Sam recognizes his own image.
Robert Barltrop