Thursday, June 15, 2017

Incentive Under Socialism (1940)

From the November 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many people are genuinely puzzled by the Socialist contention that production will go on under Socialism without the existing privileges and inequalities. “How," they ask, “will people be induced to work except under the incentive of wages and the possibility of getting into a higher-paid grade or of escaping into the ranks of the propertied class, who can live without working?" They are not much impressed with the answer that normal healthy human beings who have been educated to an understanding of the social system, and trained to perform useful work do not want to escape working. They want to work and need no more inducement than is given by the knowledge that work must be done to keep society going, and that they are playing their part in it along with their fellow men and women. One curious thing is that it is never himself that the questioner has in mind. He never says that he won't work, but will try to sponge on those who do; always it is some other fellow who will do this. The same blind spot exists when the defenders of capitalism try to justify their system and its supposed “principles" of distributing rewards. In the abstract they defend capitalism on the ground that it is good and necessary that each individual should be looking after himself and trying to get or grab as much as he can, but when it comes to particular cases (always concerned with the other fellow) they repudiate their own principle. Notice how they object to the unemployed receiving a miserly dole without having to work, but never object to the millionaires (most of them in that position through inheritance) being able to live in luxurious idleness. Read the angry letters in the Press objecting to certain workers having changed their jobs in war time in order to get more wages—letters usually written by men whose income is far higher than the one they complain about.

Of more interest are the attempts to state some kind of principle to justify the present system. In the course of a letter to the Times (June 27th, 1940), Mr. Maurice Hely-Hutchinson, M.P., laid down one such principle: —
  It seems unlikely that mankind will ever move forward except on the twin foundations of reward for accomplishment and of personal responsibility. It is axiomatic that there must be a hierarchy of incomes if there is to be a hierarchy of responsibility. 
At a superficial glance it may appear that that is a correct description of the present order of things since some attempt is often made to weigh up the responsibility of grades of workers working alongside each other in the same organisation. The foreman usually gets more pay than the men he orders about.

But what is this “hierarchy of responsibility," and why is it axiomatic? Always the responsibility is responsibility which goes up grade by grade to the owners of the business. That responsibility may conflict and often does conflict with responsibility for the safety of the workers and the responsibility for the interests of the population in general. Why is it axiomatic that the responsibility to the profit-seeking owner should over-ride other responsibilities? Why should the man who supervises road transport drivers and tries to speed them up be paid more for his responsibility to the owners than the careful (but possibly not so speedy) driver who is impressed with his responsibility to pedestrians?

When we leave the individual concern and look at capitalism as a whole the practice is equally at variance with any such principle. How does anyone decide that the head of one of the railways is worth £14,000 a year for his responsibility to shareholders when the train driver or signalmen, who have great responsibility for passengers' lives, receive about one-fiftieth of that amount?

On what principle do our millionaires enjoy their vast unearned incomes? Why does the President of the American concern of Lever Brothers receive a salary of £117,500 a year (News Chronicle, July 2nd, 1940); and does Mr. Hely-Hutchinson think that the responsibility of Shirley Temple, as indicated by her income of £76,750 in 1939, is all that much greater than his own as indicated by his £600 a year for being an M.P? Why, in the Post Office, does the Director-General get a higher salary than his own chief, the Postmaster-General? According to Mr. Hely-Hutchinson this goes dead against the axiom. And would he say that the responsibility of the £5,000 a year (“plus generous expenses”) directors of the Suez Canal is greater than that of the men who run the canal on the spot—the directors, by the way, perform their “responsible” functions in Paris?

Altogether, those who take it upon themselves to explain and apologise for the capitalist system put up a remarkably poor show. Before leaving the matter just observe the Daily Express. That journal is ordinarily energetic and unrepentant in its advocacy of capitalism and ridicule of the supposed impossibilities of Socialism. Often it has dealt with this question of incentive and argued that the only satisfactory incentive is the prospect of making money. But on November 2nd, 1940, its editorial was concerned with the urgent need to find a means of overcoming the night air raiders over London. Instead, however, of being consistent and urging the Government to give large sums of money to whoever would discover the answer to the problem, the Express urged that "the public should be given the names” of the scientists who are at work on the problem. “ Remember,” said the Express, “scientists are human beings. They, too, will flourish under a nation’s praise.” So here, when it comes to the point, the Daily Express is going to rely on mere praise as an inducement to scientists to work hard and fast on a critical problem.

That should be remembered when next the Express argues that Socialism will not work because of lack of incentive.
Edgar Hardcastle

Excursions of "Vanoc II" (1936)

Book Review from the August 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard

"I Am A Heretic," by "Vanoc II." (Peter Davies, 6/-.)

"Vanoc II' might easily be regarded among his contemporaries as the Iconoclast of Fleet Street, so ruthlessly has he written of all traditional bourgeois thought and custom. "I am a Heretic” comprises some of the many contributions which Vanoc made to the Sunday Referee, and those who read them at the time of their publication in that journal will, we think, readily read them again in their more permanent form. Vanoc wields a powerful pen and knows how to “get there” with a pungent broadside, and is ever-ready to “spike the enemy's guns” by the mere turn of the phrase.

It takes an able writer or debater who will first allow his opponents their points in controversy and then proceed to reveal that they possess nothing worth having. This Vanoc does to a nicety. When writing “ In Praise of Courage ” as this is expressed in military terms, he says: 
   “The men who fought and died on all sides and in all causes during the years 1914-1918 were brave. The front officers and men of all armies displayed bravery. This fact is not open to doubt. Nor is there any reason to suppose that bravery of the same kind will be lacking in a new war. . . .”
   “If history teaches us anything,” says Vanoc, “it is that military courage is one of the commonest attributes of men. In war, the enemy is just as brave as the friend; every soldier is aware of that fact. There were, it is true, cowardly Germans; but there were also cowardly British. But there was enough courage on both sides to ensure a record slaughter.”
Vanoc then contraposes this aspect of courage and calls attention to its purpose. “If history has shown the mass of men at all periods to be the possessors of military bravery, it also proves that they have been woefully deficient in civil courage. There have been millions of military heroes for one civil hero.”

The underlying reason for this, Vanoc understands well enough.

*  *  *  *

In a chapter on “An English Reformer,” Vanoc cites the case of William Wilberforce as an example of religious hypocrisy, consciously determined or otherwise, which raves against the effects of class exploitation, but persists in bolstering up the system of class rule.

“Wilberforce,” says Vanoc, “brought every argument that sentiment could sharpen and eloquence ennoble against slavery; but all his arguments were not so much a condemnation of slavery as a refutation of his own Christian ethic. When, for instance, he appealed for mercy for negro slaves,, he vindicated the fundamental social principle of Christianity—namely, the principle of inequality. For mercy between equals is an insult.”

“Even at the time when Wilberforce was denouncing the treatment of enslaved negroes, tens of thousands of his own countrymen were living in conditions that swine would have spurned." Here Vanoc strikes a note well worth understanding, when he says, that “sentimentalists who strike heroic attitudes are seldom capable of co-relating phenomena.” Possibly this may, to some extent, explain why Wilberforce “chaffered with his own conscience to the extent of acquiescing in the infamous Act of Parliament which brazenly acknowledged the right of slave traders to carry on business, provided that cargoes of slaves were limited by the tonnage of ships.”

*  *  *  *

In Karl Marx Vanoc sees one of the best-hated figures in history, and he asks: “Why do they hate this man who has been dead for fifty years? His very beard inspires invective, and bright defenders of capitalism have even probed into his digestive processes in order to discover the origin of the class war.” And why not? Marx himself experienced his enemies' hatred, and in some measure thoroughly enjoyed it.

The men who see the way the game of human exploitation is played and who, in addition, expose the rules of the game, must inevitably arouse the ire of those who live by the sweat of the other fellow's brow. Perhaps the subtle wisdom of Oscar Wilde’s words has a special significance here, namely, that it is not the choice of one's friends that matter so much, it is the choice of one's enemies that is important. In the sense of laying bare the foundations upon which capitalism and all class societies rest, Marx chose his enemies well.

“The driving forces behind Marx's pen,” says Vanoc, “were vision and logic—the rarest of all human qualities, the sign-manuals of creative greatness. Marx shares with the great poets the power to see, with the great scientists the ability to analyse and compare, and with the great musicians the courage to orchestrate his ideas to a passionately human theme.”

Here we may say that this is no mere idealistic hero-worship. Vanoc will readily concede that specific material conditions must form the basis of all social theory, but—and a big “but” it is— Marx saw what millions of others merely felt. and Marx let them know it.

*  *  *  *

On the subject of the so-called crisis in the world of science, Vanoc is just as comfortably at home with the bourgeois scientists and their mysticism as he is in other fields of thought. “It is true,” he says, “that natural occurrences and our perceptions of them are two quite different things, just as the movements of mercury in a thermometer are something quite different from the heat phenomenon which calls them forth. But, as we have seen, this does not do away with the fact that causal connections exist between the two series of occurrences, and through this our sense-perceptions become good instruments for exploring the true nature of the world.” This is from a discourse on “The Dance of the Atoms,” which is exceedingly well done.

It may seem a far cry from all this to the institution of Christmas, but Socialists will appreciate the fact of ideological forces being conditioned by deeply-laid economic facts. Vanoc has a dialogue with Father Christmas, and the venerable old patriarch of Christian tradition is disrobed, dewhiskered and debunked. Old Man Christmas descends from the chimney into Vanoc's study on Christmas Eve. After a slight altercation, Vanoc offers the other a drink, which is readily accepted, but “without a splash.” “Good luck!” says Father Christmas.

Vanoc II: “Good luck! I suppose I can wish a fraud good luck without doing more damage?” 

Father Christmas: “Why, of course you can. And you've no need to rub it in about being frauds. What am I among so many? As a business man—”

Vanoc II: “I've always admired you as such. As a business man you're the slickest thing in the calendar. The hot-cross-bun racket is good, but—”

Father Christmas: “No, no! It's too serious. There's not enough in it. Apart from selling the 'Bread of Life' itself, I think I can pride myself on being the most successful merchant of the mysteries. I can give you exact statistics—”

Vanoc II: “ Don't! They depress me.” 

Father Christmas: “There you go again! Always the Puritan!”

Vanoc II: “Not at all. I was thinking

Father Christmas: “No need to think about me and my works. We're just child's play. If it happens, incidentally, to be good business, I say, ‘Thank God !' ”

Vanoc II: “No doubt. But again you're putting the cart before the horse. For it isn't child's play that happens to be good business, but good business that happens to be child's play.” 

And so on is old Daddy Christmas exposed as a mere retailer of commodities, the cash nexus being the underlying reality by which the passage down, the chimney is facilitated. This is why Vanoc compels Christmas to admit that he visits some households more than others, and some not at all.

We have no hesitation in recommending Vanoc's book, even though he sometimes skates on the thin ice of “Bolshevism,” as he went chasing after the blood of Mussolini and Hitler.

Vanoc not only says good things, but says them with telling effect. In this sense, may we say “more power to his elbow”?
Robert Reynolds

Woman's Place (1976)

Book Review from the July 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life by Eli Zaretsky. Pluto Press, £1.00.

This short book was first published as a series of articles in Socialist Revolution (California) in 1973. Eli Zaretsky argues that while work outside the home has largely freed women from patriarchal constraints, the basis for their oppression now lies in their responsibility “for maintaining a private refuge from an impersonal society”. Work in the home is part of the economy, and there is increasing emphasis on “personal life” as something experienced outside work and society.

Zaretsky acknowledges the influence on his thinking of the women’s movement and “socialist currents”. This influence is obvious in his criticism of Marx and Engels. His book illustrates the confusion which arises from the failure to understand Marxian economics and the consequent absence of a clear definition of Socialism.

We read that Marx and Engels failed to see the necessity for dealing with “personal life”, including the oppression of women by men in the home, as a separate issue. Instead they believed that once individuals were freed from economic exploitation they would arrange their private lives according to earlier ideals of domestic and personal fulfilment. But: “The development of capitalism destroyed this hope and to a great extent ‘separated’ the socialist movement from the subsequent development of the family and of personal life among the proletariat” (p.63). In Russia and China the emancipation of women was part of “the ‘emancipation’ of the productive forces of society”, (p.106). Zaretsky claims that the experience in these countries, particularly China, demonstrates the “relevance of Engels’s emphasis on entry into social production to the emancipation of women.” However, the gains in personal freedom have been qualified — “substantial by the goal of developing production”.

In America, apparently, Engels’s idea of resolving the oppressiveness of the family by “revolutionizing the mode of production” has appeared “less and less plausible”. Despite the material benefits of a modern industrial society, education, the possibilities for economic independence and easier housework, women are still oppressed by their responsibilties in the sphere of personal life.

Certainly Engels did say that the emancipation of women becomes feasible when they can take part in social production and “when domestic duties require their attention in a minor degree”. But in looking to a time when women would no longer be economically dependent on men he did not mean by taking a job! He wrote of the full freedom of marriage becoming general after all economic considerations "have been removed by the ABOLITION OF CAPITALISTIC PRODUCTION and of the property relations created by it” (The Origin of the Family, p.99, Kerr edn.).

Marx saw that in giving women and children a decisive role in “the socially organized process of production”, a rôle to be fulfilled outside the home, large-scale industry was forming the economic foundation “for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes”. However, in the same paragraph (Capital Vol. 1 p.496, Unwin edn.) he points out that in capitalism where the worker exists for the process of production, instead of this process existing for the worker, “it is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery”.

Marx and Engels were looking at conditions in the 19th century, but they would not have been fooled by the undoubted improvements in working and social conditions which have since taken place (the relaxation in the tension of “the golden chain”). Within capitalism they saw the immense possibilities for the future of human relationships. But they did not expect this potential to be fully realized until after the revolutionary change from capitalism to Socialism. This revolution has not yet taken place. There are no Socialist countries!

The SPGB has never been in doubt about the class position of women — or the way to their emancipation. Most women, like most men, belong to the class which owns no part of the means of production, the working class. Their position in this class is not dependent on their being employed. (This definition is obviously not restricted to industrial workers.) There are many reasons for opposing capitalism. The limitations it places on the “personal life” of the majority is one of them. The oppression of women may pre-date capitalism but so do war and poverty. It is capitalism which now prevents their solution and the answer is obvious.

Working-class men and women must organize consciously and politically for the speedy establishment of Socialism. Then when social production is combined with common ownership of the means of production the whole of mankind will be freed from economic exploitation. Common ownership will mean production solely for use and free access to the social wealth. Surely the prerequisite to the arrangement of social production and personal life according to human interest and individual choice. Emancipation indeed!
Pat Deutz

The Problem of Racism (1976)

From the November 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The riots at Notting Hill and in South Africa have once again sparked off discussion on the racial question. The Labour Party Executive (having supported and maintained the conditions which produced the riots in West London) is now running an anti-racialist campaign.

A great opportunity to debunk this and all the other rubbish about racism is readily to hand in the SPGB pamphlet The Problem of Racism. In easily understood language the whole question of “race” under capitalism is explained. Although published ten years ago, like so many Socialist statements it was prophetic.

For instance: “By trying to divide the Africans through tribalism, by building up vast internal security forces and by repressive legislation the Nationalists may ward off the inevitable for a time. Sooner or later Apartheid will go — capitalism must triumph in South Africa, peacefully or violently”.

Buy it, read it, and then go out and do battle with the Philistines.


No alternative (1985)

Editorial from the May 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Margaret Thatcher acquired the unlikely nickname of Tina not because of any fairylike quality but because it is an acronym of one of her earliest catch-phrases - There Is No Alternative. The message of TINA was clear: the government were aware that under their policies a lot of people were in acute suffering but there really was nothing else for it. Their policies may be tough but they were the only ideas which promised to eliminate problems which had been plaguing Britain for a very long time, which no other government had been resolute enough to deal with. If the people in the dole queues and the hospital waiting lists and the like would be patient, toughness would bring its reward in a prosperous, secure nation. Of course the government might try to curry favour by policies such as massive state investment in industry and public works; that might make things better for a while but would only postpone the inevitable. The Day of Reckoning, when it came, would be much more terrible for the delay. So the Thatcher government claimed that they were following the only possible way

One problem about this, for the government, was that it forced them to insist that their policies could be seen to be working. They have, after all, been in power for six years and it is time now for at least some of their pledges to be fulfilled, in the shape of better lives for the people. To argue in this way the government have had either to ignore little matters like the level of unemployment or to suggest that it had something to do with personal failings on the part of the unemployed. Thus Norman Tebbitt's incautious admonition to the workless, not to riot but to bike it around the country to search for non-existent jobs. Thus Nigel Lawson's lament that this year's Budget would have been an historic bonanza of state generosity except that the government had been forced to spend so much on the coal strike. Thus Thatcher's declaration last year, when interest rates began to rise and the pound/dollar exchange rate to fall, that this crisis could easily and quickly be ended if the miners went back to work. They did and it wasn't. Thus the Tories' claim that it is not their policy to reduce spending on things like hospitals, education and social services but only to re-arrange them so that they are better than ever.

TINA must mean that there is no poverty in Britain — nobody struggling to make ends meet on a wage or a paltry state benefit, nobody living in dank slums, nobody dying of the cold because they can't afford to heat their homes in the winter. TINA means ignoring reality because to face it — and this is a familiar story — to face reality would involve the government in an act of self exposure. showing them up as impotent or ignorant or deceitful.

These problems do not afflict socialists; we have no difficulty in facing reality — indeed it is our work constantly to illuminate it and to point to its lessons. The reality of TINA is that the Thatcher policies have failed. Six years of Tory rule have not built a country which is happy, secure and abundant. The social and bodily ills which disfigured Britain when Thatcher came to power are still here, in many cases even worse than they were in 1979. Socialists also point to the reality that the so-called opposition parties — Labour and the Liberal/ SDP Alliance — offer no hope of improving on the Tories' showing. In many ways the term of office of the last Labour government opened the way for the policies of Thatcher; the evidence is that if Labour had kept in power in 1979 they would have been forced to operate much as the Tories have done since then. There is no more optimism in the Alliance. Although they claim to be breaking the mould of the more established capitalist parties they are actually no more than a reconstitution, personally and politically, of the others' failures.

The opposition's fondness for blaming our current problems onto something called Thatcherism implies that the level of unemployment and of poverty in this country have been erected, piece by piece and person by person, by the will of the Prime Minister alone. On what is called the far left — that strange world of self-deception where reality is always barred from entry the priority is to smash the Tories (a policy which is never defined or described in any detail; meanwhile the workers continue to elect Tories to offices of various sorts). But there is never any encouragement from the loony left to consider what should follow, if the Tories were to be "smashed". In the past the working class have thrown out many a Tory government but, such has been their confusion, they have replaced them with other governments just as strongly committed to running capitalism. There is no point in changing one style of capitalism for another; if the world's problems are to be eliminated the radical, enduring solution of a new social order must be applied.

And here, it must be noted, we are not discussing just "Britain's problems", as would the Tories or the Labour Party or any of the other capitalist parties. The problems which matter are those of the working class world wide and there is no solution to them other than a world solution. Socialism will be a society different from capitalism in all ways, from its basis upwards and outwards. The means which human beings apply to produce wealth and distribute it will be in the ownership of the world's people. This will mean an end to production for sale and a beginning to production for human use, to meet human needs. Satisfying human needs must mean that wealth is communally available for all people to consume on equal rights of free access. It is hardly necessary to add. that such a society will not be divided into classes for the basis of class division — the private ownership of the means of life — will have been abolished. As class society is ended social relationships will change so that people will come into contact. and deal, with each other on the basis of a free and equal standing in society.

In such a world the problems which are the stuff of life for capitalism — war. poverty, famine, slums, avoidable deaths and disease — will have their cause removed and will, therefore, cease to trouble the human race. To establish socialism is the only way we can bring that about. The innumerable, agonisingly prolonged, attempts to reform capitalism have failed; it is now an historic monster which has the power to wipe most of us off the face of the earth. Socialism will work. It will be efficient. It will meet human needs. It will bring a world of peace, freedom and plenty. There is no alternative.