Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Coming Election in the U.S.A. (1932)

From the October 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

The two great burlesque shows recently held in Chicago are now things of the past—the conventions of the two major political parties in the United States to nominate their respective candidates for the offices of President and Vice-President, and to frame their respective platforms with which each party hopes to capture political power in the coming elections in November. 

An important reason why these conventions were held in that city is that the business organisations of Chicago, through their Chamber of Commerce, offered both the Democratic and Republican parties an inducement of 100,000 dollars to defray expenses. This was done because the business interests of the city of the “Jungle” saw in these conventions a means of increasing business for themselves. The city fathers of Chicago decided to make doubly certain that their investment would reap profit by asking both parties to prolong their gatherings as long as possible.

The shows opened, like most shows, with lots of previous publicity. Nothing was missing, brass bands, bathing beauties, and, of course, the spellbinders, religious as well as political. '

The conventions followed each other within an interval of a few days, both introducing their business with the aid of an attendant sky pilot who, as the agent of the Lord, did solicit this ubiquitous but invisible party to lend his divine wisdom to those convened for the important mission they were about to perform. But, according to some reports, the sky pilot’s request could never have reached the heavenly abode, for it is said that the chairman at one of these gatherings stated that he could not see how God would be able to do his part of the job “with such a hell of a noise among the delegates.”

In selecting their nominees for office and framing their political platforms, besides the incidental catch-cries, the delegates keep their eyes fixed on the political horizon and size up the prospects of capturing political office. The nominees selected for President and Vice-President are individuals whom the delegates believe will capture the most votes on the strength of their “personality” and reputation.

The Republicans selected Herbert Hoover and Charles Curtis, the present incumbents in office, whilst the Democrats chose Franklin D. Roosevelt, Governor of the State of New York, and Nance Garner, Representative from Texas and Speaker of that House, to fill these two jobs.

When the parties had selected their standard bearers the next task was to rally the voters around them. A platform had to be drawn up on the “bees and honey” principle of selecting the issues which are already troubling the minds of the electorate.

The question of how to bring back “prosperity” is foremost in the minds of the electorate, and both parties frame their platforms accordingly.

To a large section of the working class “prosperity” means being able to get jobs again. For the capitalist class it means the promise of more profit.

Another reason why the various capitalist groups are so anxious for political power is their desire to have a say in raising taxes.

With millions of wage slaves without means of selling their energies, and thus being deprived of the necessaries of life, there is always a danger that these hungry hordes might attack capitalist property. The capitalists realise this, and are compelled to make some sort of provision for these potentially dangerous slaves, by taking part of the wealth they have stolen from the slaves and giving it back to them in the form of bread-lines, soup-kitchens, doles, and the like. The New York Daily Mirror brought out this aspect in the following:—
 "Huge food reserves ordered for needy,” “Governor plans loan funds for idle,” "Preachers demand cure for idleness,” “ $6,000,000 drive for idle.” These items are spread over the front pages of many newspapers in the country. And they are only a meagre indication of the misery and unrest that millions are experiencing.
  Few people of wealth should give now “until it hurts.” They should give as a matter of self- preservation.
When private charity proved insufficient, the authorities had to step in and make provision, out of resources already depleted owing to the declining yield from the existing taxes—a feature of every trade depression.

Consequently many of the capitalists and their political representatives turn to the “liquor question” and see in this the “magic fluid” which will turn to gold. Many of them who only a few years ago saw in alcohol “the degeneracy of a nation,” now see in it life-giving properties. But they are not unanimous in their acclaim for “light wines and beer.” There are among them some who, whilst they would like to see a revival, of the liquor business for the revenues that can be obtained from it, yet, being professional politicians, see also the danger of jeopardising their sinecures by antagonising the “drys.” This is very noticeable in the Republican Party, and as a result of such a condition, the party’s attitude on the liquor question resulted in a “straddle ”—State Option.

This was the most important part of the Republican Party’s convention, and the rest was devoted to oratory and some horseplay. There was much talk about the need for a “new spiritual awakening,” and the “realisation of new values,” besides lots of other equally empty abstract talk which will soon be forgotten in the heat of the election campaign.

The Democratic convention came out almost solidly for the repeal of the 18th Amendment (which was expected from the party who in the Northern and Eastern states has long been “wet"). They expect to draw from the other major party many votes of those who are dissatisfied with that party's straddle on this question.

The Democrats dealt also with the problem of taxation, and agreed unanimously that the repeal of the 18th Amendment and consequently the legalisation of beer and wine-selling was the way out of this capitalist difficulty. “Make the brewers pay," is the Democratic slogan, and with the brewers paying, part or the burden of taxation will be put on to their shoulders. Also, we must not forget that with the legalisation of the sale of light wines and beer, the expenditure of the government on its army of “snoopers" and "stool pigeons" who are now engaged in attempting to enforce the 18th Amendment, will be wiped out. After much jubilation, much singing, and we suspect, a little passing of the “cup that cheers’’ within the seclusion of hotel bathrooms, the convention of the Democratic Party ended.

For the workers there is nothing to choose between these two parties. They both stand for capitalism. It has been shown that many capitalists support both parties, and evidence has been offered in the press that both parties draw finances from the same sources. The capitalists who finance both parties at the same time wish to be doubly certain that whichever party gets political power, their particular interests will be looked after.

The ruling class know that to obtain political power they must have the aid of the working class, as this class is numerically the strongest. These conventions, with all of their publicity, are part of the means to stir up in the working class a certain interest in political activity. So the capitalist politicians bring up at such conventions the different issues—some of importance to workers—and then with the aid of their professional spell-binders and writers, attempt to sidetrack and enlist the sympathy of the workers—and get their votes.

The conditions of the working class arise out of the social relationships in modern society. This class is forced by necessity to enter into a certain definite relationship with the capitalist class. As the latter class own the means of production— the means of life—the working class is compelled to sell its energies to the owners in order to gain access to the means of life. In exchange for their energies the workers get wages. It due to this condition that poverty and misery exist among the workers.

The control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces, is essential to the capitalist or property owning class to enable them to deal with the problems that confront them.

There is, for example, the need for the capitalist class of the United States to protect themselves from the encroachments of capitalists of other countries who may attempt to "muscle in" on the preserves of our masters' country. Again, new markets are sought in which to sell the surplus products that the limited purchasing power of the American workers will not enable them to buy. This struggle for markets is keen among the various capitalist national groups throughout the world. Who shall get the markets often resolves itself into which group can muster the strongest force, and when the trickery of diplomacy fails, the force of armaments decides.

Then, again, there is the struggle between the workers and the capitalists over the division of the wealth produced by the workers. The more the capitalist system develops, the clearer become the contrasts between the two classes, and with it the likelihood of periodical outbursts of industrial strife.

As the workers' understanding grows, the difficulty of stifling their discontent, correspondingly increases. To deal with this there are, apart from the regular army and navy and air force, also such organisations as the “National Guards," the "Citizens' Military Training Corps," etc. Besides these we have the police departments, and private agencies such as the “Burns" and "Pinkertons," all of which are used to suppress any of the smaller uprisings of workers, and which are also used as spies and stool-pigeons to weed out and fire those workers who desire to organise against their oppressive conditions.

Still another capitalist problem is the existence of the “criminal" elements which this social system breeds so freely. The uncertain conditions of the working class, and even of some of the smaller fry of capitalists, demoralises many into trying to live by means that are contrary to capitalist property laws.

What has been written above shows that the capitalists, in order to run their system, must needs have a government to enable them to enforce their kind of order, so that the conditions essential to the exploitation of the slave class can be continued. Thus it is that they are prepared to spend large sums of money running into many millions of dollars for the purpose of winning elections. Yet we know that no matter which capitalist party obtains the powers of government, their supreme interests as a class will be served. Individual and group differences there are, but basically all of these differences are as nothing when the difference between capitalist and worker comes into prominence. Then the common aim of the capitalist class is shown, and that is, to maintain the present social system.

It should be clear to all workers that the working class, if they are to escape from the misery of capitalism, must first understand their class position, and must then build up a Socialist political party for the purpose of capturing the powers of government in order to introduce Socialism.

This is the only solution of the economic problems of the working class. All else will leave them wage-slaves still.
Taffy Brown
Workers’ Socialist Party of the U.S.

What is Politics (1965)

Book Review from the February 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Introduction To Politics by Dorothy M. Pickles. Methuen, University Paperbacks, 9s 6d.

“I am not interested in politics,” is a statement that is made with monotonous regularity, usually by people who sincerely imagine that politics are something existing outside of society. They regard politics as a kind of superstructure built up around the realities of government, which can be ignored while they deal with the important things of life, such as the day-to-day problems of existence.

Problems are of course one of the few things that workers are never short of. At the time of the last General Election, a member of a much publicised quartet stated that the “Election was nonsense," a gem of wisdom that was given full publicity in the press. Somebody had probably told him that he was a philosopher.

But the important point is, that such a remark must have been acceptable to many of his admirers, otherwise the publicity boys would have quietly stifled it. Needless to say the General Election wasn’t nonsense to the capitalist class, who were once again confirmed by it in their position in society.

Developing from this idea come further statements such as, “Politics are a dirty game,” and “Politicians are in it for what they can get.” Politics and Politicians often are dirty, but in modern society no politician stays long in power unless he has the backing of the electorate, in other words politician’s reflect the society that places them in power.

One of the dangerous results of these attitudes is the belief that politics can be dispensed with by electing a non-politician, such as a famous soldier, to power. The fact that the soldier, upon election, behaves like all the others, is usually lost on the people who elected him. Totalitarian parties will always claim that a one-party stale is above politics, and the promise that they will clean up the state machinery, is always one of their main arguments.

The truth is that any action to control any society, whether primitive or complex, is political and if people refuse to take political action which is in their own interest, others are only too willing to fill the gap, and run society in their own way.

Introduction to Politics by Dorothy M. Pickles, the latest of the very useful series of University Paperbacks, begins:
The practice of politics is necessarily as old as society itself. Wherever men live in a community, they must accept certain rules of conduct, if only to safeguard the existence of the community itself.
and later;
The study of politics, which is sometimes called political science, is born when men begin to speculate about the rules by which they are governed, or by which their ancestors were governed, when they begin to ask whether these rules ought to be accepted, or ought to have been accepted in the past, why some societies chose different rules from others, or whether it is possible to discover general rules of conduct which could or should be applicable to all societies.
Mrs. Pickles traces the development of political organisation from its primitive beginnings in “ . . . a few traditions handed down orally from one generation to another to the whole complex set of constitutional and governmental regulations of the modern state.”

This is a book which contains much useful information, and many controversial statements, and which is well worth the effort of reading.
Les Dale

Dropped bricks (1966)

A Short Story from the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Ladies and gentlemen", said the Chairman, putting down the glass from which he had just taken a fastidious sip, to match his well-groomed suit, his smooth hair and his immaculate cuffs. “May I have your attention, please?"

The other members of the Board adopted poses which suggested, for the benefit of the shareholders who were present, a concentrated fascination with the Chairman’s words which none of them felt.

“You have," said the Chairman, “All been supplied with a copy of the Statement of Accounts, the Auditor’s report and the Board’s comments on last year’s operations. I should now like to add a few words of my own which will, I hope, help to clear up any misunderstanding and confusion which may have arisen from certain irresponsible press reports and politically-inspired propaganda.

“As you know, your company—Planall Ltd.—was formed some time ago with one object—to promote the idea that the problems of contemporary society can be substantially solved by planning them out of existence. The founders of the Company felt that there was a need for it when they saw which followed the collapse of other firms whose business was to promote other ideas—Lassayfayre Ltd. was one and the Freeforall Company another.

“Both these companies had their uses, in their time—indeed some of their shareholders are now investors in Planall Ltd. —but a series of unfortunate events persuaded the electorate —I beg your pardon, I mean the public—that there was some doubt as to the efficacy of the remedies they were promoting. Their collapse left something of a vacuum and this dangerous situation was remedied only by the courageous and far-sighted action of the people who founded our Company, to put about another delusion—I mean solution."

The Chairman was visibly uneasy at his slips of the tongue. He sipped again at his glass, smoothed his hair and fingered his cuffs.

“Planning,” he resumed, “Is the greatest idea ever. There is no problem it cannot solve, no social ailment it cannot cure, no confusion it cannot bring to order. Why did the Industrial Revolution impose such dreadful conditions upon the people of this country? Why did the South Sea Bubble burst? What is the real explanation of the General Strike, the Crash in 1929, the rise of Hitler?

“The—answer — is — there—was—no—Planning! ” he shouted, emphasising each word with a blow of his fist on the table. These blows rattled the Chairman’s glass and, as if reminded by this of its existence, he raised it once more to his lips.

“Things are different now. There are fertile fields for an organisation which works to convince people that Planning is the answer to our problems. And in this work your company, I say with due modesty, is in the forefront. I shall now review one or two of the situations which have faced us recently and consider their effect on the principles which Planall Ltd. is devoted to spreading.

“The election of a Labour government was, of course, a great help to us. It is perfectly true—I don't want to upset any of our shareholders, ha, ha,—that the Conservative Party is also strongly committed to Planning, although they may pretend otherwise and although they find Mr. Enoch Powell useful in persuading some people that on this issue they are different from the Labour Party.

“But what is so warming, to me, about the Labour Party is that they stand for Planning openly and unashamed. Why, their last election programme was full of promises about it. Hardly a week-end goes by without some Cabinet Minister making a speech somewhere about Planning something. There has never been a time like it; we've had Plans for regional development, for housing, for transport, and a host of other things. And, last but not least,"—the Chairman switched on what he liked to think of as his winning smile—“We have had the National Plan.

“Whatever other effect these Plans may have their very existence is bound to convince a lot of people that Planning is desirable and that is not only good for tile Labour Party but good for the whole sacred idea of Planning, and good for Planall Ltd."

The Chairman, in full oratorical flood, felt his confidence rising. With a sound like a distant wind on the horizon, the Board let out a collective sigh of relief. The Chairman, recklessly, drank again.

“Perhaps I could now mention something about Planning and Housing,” he continued. “The Labour government have promised to build half a million houses a year, all by the simple trick of Planning. Most people, I am happy to say, accepted that this is feasible but others allowed themselves to be unduly disturbed by an unfortunate situation which has recently developed.

“I refer,” he said loudly, “to the matter of the Bricks.

“About a year ago, one of the problems confronting the British building industry was a shortage of bricks. In July 1964, in fact, the stocks of bricks in this country had fallen to the lowest level for four years. Building Plans were being frustrated by the lack of bricks. Of course every Right Thinking Person”—he beamed around the room, casting upon all of them the benediction of being a person who thought. right—“knows that only remedy for this sort of situation is to get another Plan going and this, I am happy to say, is what the government and the brick companies did.

“The government appealed for higher brick production and the brick makers were quick to respond. Almost the entire industry launched into a Plan to step up production. Members of the National Federation of Clay Industries planned to invest more than £25 million in new plant over the next four years; the London Brick Company, which already has advanced techniques like mechanical handling, promised more big increases in production. Everything was being nicely Planned.

“But today we find that, before these Plans have had time to take effect, before the brick industry has even been able to invest all the money it planned, the brick market is shrinking rapidly. Bricks are being stockpiled all over the country—some works are putting by nearly half their production. The London Brick Company is finding that lovely mechanical handling equipment a bit redundant, because stockpiled bricks have to be manhandled.

“Month by month, brick production is falling. The firms who thought such a short time ago that the future was so rosy are now on the point of laying off workers".

The Chairman was plainly upset at the prospect of a lot of unemployed brick workers lying uselessly all over the country. He consoled himself with a large gulp from his glass.

“Why is this happening?” he demanded, and one or two of his audience observed that his eye was unsteady. He leaned forward, as if to take his listeners into his confidence.

“Because while the government has been stimulating the brick industry it has also been pepping up the prefabricated building firms. And these firms have been pinching a lot of the market.

“The Prime Minister has publicly given his support to industrialised building methods; Mr. Crossman is aiming at a hundred thousand factory-built houses a year; the G.L.C. is going to put up blocks ol flats made of steel and plastic; one firm recently built an eleven storey block of pre-fab flats in ten weeks.

“Now nobody is going to accuse me of getting worked up about people living in a lot of mass-produced, hurriedly built, plastic Flats”—the Chairman’s voice was noticeably thicker, and he swigged once more at the glass—“But what has happened recently in the brick industry is liable to undermine peoples' confidence in Planning and then where will we be?

“And we’ve not got just bricks to worry about, They’re busily closing coal mines and sacking miners now, although a few years back they were crying out for higher coal production and for men to go into the pits. Not men like me, of course, who are too valuable to the country in the jobs we’re already doing to waste our time down a coal mine. They wanted other types for that sort of work.

“But the whole thing looks bad for Planning. And if the government, with its resources, its information, and the control it’s supposed to have over the economy, can't plan, who can?

“Private Industry? Ha!” The Chairman snorted, and emptied his glass. “What about the ships built to carry cargo which never materialised? The office blocks which can't find anybody to rent them? The refrigerators which are unsold in a bad summer? The car firms who lay down expensive factories in the hope—the hope, I say—that they can sell the cars which come out of them?”

The other members of the Planall Board were becoming uneasy. The Chairman was wandering a long way off the notes which had been so carefully prepared for him, and he had filled his glass from a dark green bottle which he had taken from his despatch case. They remembered how candid he became with the typists when he drank too much at office parties, and wondered what he would reveal next.

The Chairman ignored them.

“The truth is,” he shouted, “That whatever we try to plan, we can’t control the market. Nobody knows how long a market is going to last, or whether it’s going to appear at all. Who knows what, next year's weather will be like? Or what new sources of energy may be found? Of what new productive process developed?

“Industry today produces to satisfy the market and as it can’t plan or control the market then it can’t plan or control its production. That’s the explanation for the bricks fiasco, for the crisis in the coal industry and for all the other examples I could think of if only I could get rid of this confounded drumming which has suddenly started in the back of my head.

“Production for the market is at the very heart of modern society. And this means we can’t plan this society at all. Basically it is unplannable, anarchic. It mocks at all efforts to control it. It is true that politicians, and some other people like the Board of Planall Ltd.”—he stared belligerently around the table, his eyes flaring—“Say that Planning is not only possible but desirable and necessary. But the facts say that they might as well rely on a crystal ball.

“The talk in favour of Planning is a lie. It is all a big trick to convince people that we can control a society which is out of control, and which will stay like that until all you mugs wake-up and do something about it”.

The Chairman groped for his glass and, misjudging the distance, upset it over the tablecloth. In the confusion the Company Secretary saw his chance and jumped to his feet.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he cried, “I am sure we are all grateful to our Chairman for his—ah—stimulating remarks. Shall we now vote on the motion to approve the Company’s Report and Statement of Accounts?”

The shareholders sat unmoving for a bewildered moment. Could they support Planning now, after all they had heard and seen? The turmoil raged in them, but only briefly. First one, then another, and finally all of them, raised their hands.

The Company Secretary beamed. They were, he thought, people who had their principles and their loyalties—and a lot of money invested in the company.

Labour: who will mourn? (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Who will mourn the Labour Party if, as seems likely, it is in its death throes? Prudent political commentators must even now be composing its obituary. Who will there be to shed tears if the end comes?

No doubt there will be thousands of workers, people who have tramped the streets in election campaigns, stood out in harsh weather to listen to some Labour leader, who will mourn. They were convinced that the reformism of the Labour Party offered some hope of a better world. They clung to this conviction in the face of years of evidence to the contrary; often, in the end, they were reduced to claiming that the Labour Party was the best of a bad bunch better, at least, than the Tories. Some of them might even have thought that Labour stood, at some time and some place, for socialism, although their conception of it was extremely vague.

There will be many trade unionists to mourn; workers who linger stubbornly in the Labour Party tradition that, having sprung from the trade union movement, the party must always represent the interests of union members. For some, as Labour governments fought the unions over wages and working conditions, as Labour ministers urged workers to break picket lines, it must have needed a special effort of obduracy to keep the faith. Those who did will mourn.

Some members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will mourn. They may be convinced that Labour’s conference decision to support unilateral nuclear disarmament would have meant something to a future Labour government. They will have been notably insensitive to political history and to the manner in which the governments of capitalism are liable to treat the idealism of a minority of their followers. Insensitive and ignorant, CNDers will be there to mourn.

Muddle-heads on the left wing will mourn. The Socialist Workers Party, for example, has devoted a lot of time to telling the workers that the Labour Party is their enemy but that they should vote for a Labour government. The SWP must be very grateful to the Labour Party, for providing so fertile a soil in which to sow such confusion. If Labour dies, where will the crazy militants of the left find an adequate substitute? So, without a doubt, they will mourn.

Racists among the working class will regret the passing of the Labour Party who, after all, gave racist laws the stamp of respectability; if a “socialist” government wanted to restrict the entry of coloured workers then it must be all right, mustn’t it? Crude patriots whose support for the Labour Party was rooted in a defence of their standards of poverty, who would fight to the death for their jerry-built home, the drudgery which is “their” job, the sub-standard care they get in hospitals; they who found much comfort in Labour’s racism will mourn the party’s end.

Among the British capitalist class there will also be many mourners. They saw the reality of Labour rule, with eyes unstarred by distorted history or by current deceptions. They knew that the Labour Party has always done its best for the interests of the British ruling class, that it has always done what it saw to be necessary for those interests to be protected and advanced. They had no cause to complain at their treatment at the hands of any Labour government. And it was all done while the working class were being told they were experiencing a socialist society. If only in gratitude, members of the British ruling class will mourn.

Abroad, also, there will be capitalists who will grieve that Labour is no more. The American ruling class, for example, who found in the governments of Attlee and Wilson such sterling allies, will no doubt pay tribute to a fond memory. The Attlee government gave its full support to the Americans dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the Americans declared war on North Korea, that same Labour government was eager in its support, sending British workers to die in the war there to protect the interests of their masters. Similarly, the Wilson government was a steadfast ally of the American war effort in Vietnam, supporting it through all the horrors which that war produced. The American capitalist class, in the person of President Johnson, expressed their gratitude at the time and it was well deserved. No doubt, the master class of America will mourn.

Socialists will not mourn the end of the Labour Party. We know it to be a party of capitalism, which stands for the interests of the minority owning, exploiting class in society. The effect of Labour rule has never been to leave that master class in any weaker position; in fact, if anything. Labour has gone out of office leaving the rich richer and the poor poorer. Every Labour government has attacked the living standards of the working class and because it has called this socialism, has thrown up a mountain of confusion.

What of those Labour Party members who, anxious to throw off the burdens of their position as workers and to alleviate the sufferings which are the everyday experience of workers everywhere, will mourn the passing of their party as the only vehicle they know to the society of freedom, peace and plenty? They are fatigued with disappointment and doubt. They will find the case for socialism refreshing.

Socialism requires that there is a majority of workers who understand and want it. That consciousness immunises a socialist against the deceits and the assurances which bolster the politics of capitalism. Socialists are alert to the fact that only a society based on common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution will abolish the problems of capitalism. We are aware that no reforms can do this and that parties which have a programme of reformism are seeking only to postpone socialism in other words to maintain capitalism.

The socialist alternative to the Labour Party, dead or alive, is a society in which all human beings stand equally in their access to the common wealth, a society in which all people co-operate freely to produce the things society needs. This will be a world without frontiers, without nationalities or senseless patriotisms or racism. It will be a world with only one people, all working together for the common good. It will be a world without war, poverty, starvation and much of the disease which now shortens our lives. It will be a society of freedom and abundance.

Workers who mourn the Labour Party must consider the alternative of socialism. For them, after the agonies of confusion and doubt, it will be like a life after death.

Briefing (1982)

The Briefing Column from the December 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The journal Super Marketing for 10 September 1982 published extracts from Nielsen’s study of the effects of unemployment on consumer spending, which came to the following surprising conclusion:
In areas of high unemployment, spending dropped considerably behind the rate of price rises in 1981. The survey indicated that the gulf between the amount spent on groceries in affluent and less affluent areas widened during the period under review. It revealed that expenditure in non-assisted areas rose much more than in assisted areas, suggesting that increasing unemployment and falling incomes had a significant effect on consumption patterns . . . Consumers bought slightly more than in the previous year in non-assisted areas, while in the assisted areas they bought significantly less. A difference in the type of goods purchased in the two types of area is also revealed. Non-assisted consumers spent more on “luxury items” such as yogurt, fruit juices, grilled desserts, while assisted area consumers spent more than the previous year on corned beef, soups and sponge puddings. A similar discrepancy between levels of expenditure between the two was revealed for staple goods such as tea, flour, butter and margarine.
Perhaps a more useful survey would have been between the spending patterns of workers — both in and out of work — and their employers. The results of this would have made more interesting, and perhaps more apposite reading. The “slimming down” of industry has made enterprises more profitable and share prices have risen. We might have read that, while workers are buying two less tins of baked beans a week, their masters are now buying fresh asparagus instead of having to put up with the tinned variety they have endured during the last year. We might have learned that, while their employees, and the unemployed, had to argue whether or not they could afford a new (or secondhand) winter coat, the owners of industry had decided that the new mink was now possible and it was really time to get on — or around — that waiting list for a new Rolls-Royce. The snag is that, although this would have made more socially significant reading, no one would have paid Nielsen to conduct such a survey!

Join - don't just applaud us! (1994)

From the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are two ways of looking at birthdays: they are either one more step in the onward march towards death and oblivion or part of the process of growth. For most individuals, ninetieth birthdays are passed on the geriatric scrapheap reserved for those who can no longer be milked for profit.

Balding sales reps might try to convince themselves that "life begins at forty", but only the senile are sanguine enough to think it starts at ninety. So, if your date of birth was 1904 or earlier about the best you are likely to hope for is that you can remember it’s your birthday.

On 12 June 1994 the Socialist Party will be ninety. This is neither cause for ecstatic celebration nor embarrassed bitterness. To be sure, our party has much to be proud of. We have stuck to our principles with a consistency that has alarmed our opponents, most of whom have disappeared over the years, despite their pragmatic "something now” opportunism. We started out as, and remain today, the only genuinely democratic political party in Britain. We have no leaders, no secret meetings from which our fellow workers are excluded, no hidden agendas. We are a party run by its members and answerable to no millionaires or union barons.

We have no blood on our hands, having never once supported a war for capitalist interests. Every war since 1904 has been exposed and opposed, even when our comrades were thrown into prison cells for their principles. We have never collaborated with any capitalist government, unlike the tacticians of the Left who have accepted our view that the Labour Party is anti-working-class until election times when they have consistently told workers to vote Labour. Never once have we made any concessions to racist or nationalist sentiments, and from our inception declared against racism and sexism in all their forms. We have not lied about the possibility of reforming capitalism so as to make it tolerable to live under.

Whilst never opposing reforms which might alleviate the lives of the wealth-producing majority, we have consistently and. at the risk of unpopularity, stood firmly against reformism and the illusion that capitalism can somehow be made decent. We have kept alive the great socialist vision of common ownership and democratic control, never once confusing that with the state capitalist proposal for placing the profit system under new management. We have stood out not for fair wages but for the abolition of wage labour; not for more money for the poor but for the abolition of money and thereby the end of poverty; not for the welfare crumbs but free and equal access for all to the abundant resources of this rich and fruitful planet. And we have never flinched from advocating revolution as our goal. Ours has never been to ask the bosses for a share of the loaf; only when conscious and democratically organized workers take the means of life will the world be ours. The Socialist Party has stood alone and with iron principles throughout these ninety years and for that we have reason to be proud.

But there will be no celebrations next month. That we have survived is an achievement. It has not been without effort and personal costs to those who have stuck to their commitments. Indeed, we have done more than just survived: when our party was formed in London on 12 June 1904 it comprised a group of few more than a hundred workers, mainly in London. Today, though still a party of hundreds rather than thousands, we are organized in many parts of Britain and Ireland; we have companion parties in other lands and new ones forming as we write, translating our literature into languages which we have long wanted to see our words published in. This is not mere survival, but growth indeed. But still no celebrations. There is far too much work to be done for us to bathe in the lethargic complacency of nostalgic self-congratulation. We are a movement, not a monument.

It would be embarrassing if the best that we could hope to do at ninety is remember how good it was when we were twenty. Wc will not let our political enemies forget how we, in opposition to both Right and Left, refused to be taken in by the Leninist claims of having introduced socialism in one country a backward, peasant economy at that. But remembering the past is no substitute for making the future.

What better way could the Socialist Party mark its anniversary than by looking forward with unprecedented energy rather than looking back and giving two minutes silence for the dead? In June 1994 our party will be in the midst of its biggest publicity campaign ever. Thanks to the fine support which has been given in response to our "Go For A Million* initiative the Socialist Party will be standing in four of the British Euro-constituencies: the equivalent of thirty-seven parliamentary constituencies. Over a million manifestoes will be distributed to workers in those four areas and that will mean that several million people will have a chance to read them. Thousands more manifestoes will be distributed in other constituencies where, although we have no candidate, we shall be urging voters to mark their ballot paper for Socialism. Hundreds of specially-prepared Media Files are going out to British and European newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations.

Many socialists have thrown their energies into this biggest-ever campaign — and many more are called upon now. Indeed, if ever there has been a good argument against the Socialist Party (and all of the criticisms of our principles fall flat upon investigation and debate) it has been that we don't do enough. To this we have always replied that if we are doing too little it is up to those who agree with us to support us. Never has there been a more propitious time to do so. For, not only are we on the move with a great and active campaign, but the capitalist system which we are against is looking more and more discredited, exhausted and bankrupt of ideas for its own future as each week goes by. If now is not the time for socialist fellow travellers to arise from their armchairs and join the fight, when will be?

That is the way to mark ninety years for socialism: by doing our utmost to ensure that we will not be here for another ninety years - to remember our past so that we can abolish ourselves in the future. For we are the only party in existence which seeks its own abolition; nothing would please us more than to be able to shut up shop because there is no more need to advocate the socialist transformation of society. We look forward to the day when the absurdity of having to argue in favour of producing food for people to eat and not for it to be sold with a view to profit will mystify historians of our movement. Our purpose is not merely to dream, but to make real our vision by destroying the nightmare which is the system of production for profit.

So, look out for no anniversary anthems in the next issue of the Socialist Standard (which will itself have been published continuously, without a single month having been missed, since September 1904). We will have more pressing matters on our minds. Wc intend for the next issue to reach thousands of new readers — a small step perhaps, but one which will lead to greater strides. How excited would have been our comrades in 1904 to think that the principles of socialism, which they had to advocate by walking and cycling to open-air platforms at which a few hundred might gather, can now be put to over a million workers within the space of a month? Are we downhearted? What do you think?
Steve Coleman

The January Sales (2017)

The Action Replay column from the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last month, The English Premier League winter transfer window opened from 1 January to 31 January. Joey Barton transferred to Burnley; Gabriel Jesus to Manchester City, and Oscar's £60 million departure from Chelsea to a Chinese football club grabbed the most attention in sports news.

According to the EPL, the present system was introduced in 2002/3, as a compromise agreement with the European Commission about how the transfer system worked and how to preserve contractual stability for the player and the club, while allowing movement at prescribed times during the year (transfer windows). The alternative was to bring football in line with most other industries where contracts were not enforceable or liable for compensation, i.e. notice periods being served and players moving at will (Bosman ruling).The football authorities across Europe felt this would undermine the ‘footballing economy’ by reducing incentives for clubs' investment in younger players.

Some managers including Arsène Wenger feel the transfer window should close when the Premier League season begins. In an ideal world the EPL might support this initiative; however football operates within a European and global market, so if transfer windows closed in England, witnessing Spanish, German or Italian rivals continue to trade and pursue their transfer targets with impunity would put English football at a disadvantage.

Effectively English football clubs operate within a market economy that buys and sells commodities (in this case individual footballers). A striker’s worth is mainly influenced by goals scored, defenders are rated by defensive qualities and goalkeepers by ‘clean sheets’. Despite the high wages some players earn, economically they are ‘for sale’ in the same way as pork belly, rice yields and the futures markets within a capitalist world.

To make the point, compare football's economic activity with the recent January sales. In the UK many shoppers descended on high streets the night before the sales took place, tucked into sleeping bags in order to be the first crossing the shop floor in the hope of securing bargains. Among those offering big reductions were familiar names like Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty, House of Fraser, Next, and Marks & Spencer.

Myf Ryan of Westfield shopping centres said the January sales remained a 'huge attraction'. Westfield operates two large shopping centres in west and east London and she anticipated exceptionally busy days yet again, due to the excellent retail offers and special deals with over 50 percent off by many of our retailers.

The Next fashion chain opened at 6:00 am and at one of its stores on Oxford Street in London's West End, 600 people queued. In Birmingham, some shoppers had been queuing since 02:30 am outside the Bullring branch of Selfridges, with store deputy manager Sam Watts estimating some 2,000 were queuing by opening time. Crowds of up to 150,000 descended on Sheffield's Meadowhall Centre.

Let’s not forget the sales bonanza from shopping online: according to the data firm Experian and online retailing trade association IMRG, internet shoppers were expected to spend £748m on Boxing Day, (£519k) a minute. They also predicted some 167 million visits to online retail sites, up 29 percent on 2013.

So we see, that whether it's footballers, fur coats, washing machines or flat screen televisions, the people and products bought and sold in our present society are mediated by the market. Under capitalism, we learn the price of everything but not its intrinsic value.

Hasten the day that socialism (a world system) arrives so that as a society we produce for social use and not for profit and the supply of goods and services are determined by the needs and wants of the people and not the realisation of profit at our expense by the capitalist class.