Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Property-owning democracy (1963)

From the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are always being told that more and more people are owning their own houses. This, we are assured, is a great step forward. We are now on the way towards a “property-owning democracy” —the Conservative Party takes great pride in the phrase.

To begin with, these houses which some workers are now coming to own are in fact usually owned not by the occupiers but by the building societies or the local councils, or whoever else advanced the money for the purchase. A worker who undertakes the ownership of a house which has had to be mortgaged to the hilt to make the purchase possible is simply adding yet another monthly repayment to those he is already probably making on his furniture, his car, perhaps even on his clothes and his holidays. Besides the mortgage repayments, he has to face the steeply-rising demands for rates from his council; and, unless he is going to allow the place to fall down round his ears, he has to foot the repair and redecoration bills, or give up his spare time to doing it himself—first buying the necessary paint and materials.

Leaving aside the question of the deposit which has to be found at the very outset, and adding up only the mortgage repayments, the rates and the repairs, a worker who embarks on house-ownership is likely to find his outgoings much higher than his old rent. If rates continue to soar as they have been doing, some house-buying workers fear that the rates and repairs alone will soon take nearly the same proportion of their income as the rent would have taken before the war.

The hard sell
Apart from these factors, the vote-catching phrase “property-owning democracy” is very misleading. It seems to have been dreamed up by the publicity departments and advertising agents who now advise the big political parties on their “image” and their approach to the electors: as if the all-too-serious questions of the future of mankind were on a par with marketing a new brand of detergent or smell-remover. The phrase appears intended to counter the critics of capitalism who say that (despite our regular phantom “social revolutions”) the ownership of property is just as firmly in the hands of a small ruling class as it ever was—if anything, indeed, it appears to be becoming more concentrated still.

The figures have not been at all affected by the undoubted fact that more people are having to buy their houses in order to keep a roof over their heads. And this is not surprising when one reflects that the property which the ruling class has in its grip comes mainly under the heading of “capital goods’—land, factories, dockyards, and so on: for it is the possessors of this kind of property who own also the results of production in the factories and mines, and who then sell the products to realize their surplus value.

Landlord democracy?
Now houses, in the context of the phrase “property-owning democracy,” are not capital goods at all. For those who talk about “property-owning democracy” encourage us to look forward to the days when every worker will own his own house. And if everyone owns his own house, there will be no one else to rent houses to. Of course, houses which are rented out to other people are the kind of property which, like factories and offices, brings in an income without work to the lucky owners. But the Tories, when they brought out this idea, can scarcely have meant us to look forward to an extension of house-ownership in this sense: otherwise “landlord democracy” would have been a more appropriate phrase. No: they simply meant that more people would own the houses they live in.

Potatoes
But in this sense, houses are merely consumer goods. It is quite true that the worker has property in his own consumer goods. It is quite true that he owns the pound of potatoes he gets at the greengrocer’s until he has boiled and eaten them, and that he owns the coat on his back until it goes to rags. In the same way, if he buys the house he lives in, he will own that too until it is pulled down under some future slum-clearance scheme. But, as we said earlier, if the “property-owning democracy ” theory becomes practice, and everyone owns his own house, then the house-owner will have no one else to rent his house to—even if he wished to do so. His house will be merely part of his consumer goods.

Docile
Who would get the advantage of such a scheme? The capitalists or the workers?

To take employers of labour first: there could certainly be advantages for some of them. For the workers would be much less mobile. If a wage-increase was refused (in time of boom) or if wages were cut (in time of slump), the worker who only rented his house might well hand in his notice and go to a better-paid job in another district if he heard of one. But a house-owning worker would not be able to move half so quickly. He would have to put his house up for sale, and wait till a buyer came along; then he would have to find a new house in the new district. He would have to pay the solicitors' fees and the estate agents’ fees on the sale of his old house, and the solicitors’ fees and the stamp duty on the purchase of his new one. Besides that, unless he had completed his repayments, there would be the trouble and expense of paying off one mortgage and taking out another. His removal would be a much more expensive undertaking, and he might well accept a lower wage than his house-renting fellow-worker, rather than go to all the trouble—in time and money—of selling his house and buying another. House-owning, in short, might well tend to make the worker more docile in his dealings with his employer.

Idyllic picture . . .
What would be the advantages to the worker?

Let us put the case at its highest. Let us assume that, unlike most politicians' plans, this one comes into full operation. Every worker in the country will own his own house: let us assume that there are no rates to pay, no repairs or redecorations bills. Every worker has his own dwelling, free from rent, rates, or any expense whatever. What then?

It seems harsh to shatter what must seem, to some workers, an idyllic picture. But it must be done. For this “property-owning democracy,” within capitalist society, would bring no benefit to the workers whatever.

. . .  and the reality
This is why. Wages arc the cost of producing and reproducing the labour-power which the capitalist must have to keep his mines and factories turning out goods for sale. And in wages, the rent the worker must pay—or his housing expenses of mortgage repayments, rates and repairs—forms an important item. This is recognized perfectly clearly by all the large political parties. When, in the last war, the ruling class felt that its very existence was at stake, and wage-increases had to be avoided at all costs, then rents were among the first-controlled, and among the most strictly-controlled, of all workers’ expenses. This strict rent-control was introduced by the Coalition Government, supported by the Conservative, Liberal and Labour Parties. For they knew that if rents went up, there would be such industrial unrest—strikes, go-slows, and so on—that wages would have to go up proportionately to cover the increases. Alternatively, if rents could be kept down, then wages could be kept down as well.

Workers’ wages have to cover their expenses of food, clothing, housing, and so on. And if every worker in the country owned his own house, and either had to pay nothing for his housing, or less than his present rent, then the “housing element” in his wages would be correspondingly reduced or eliminated entirely.

Inescapable
It is easy to say that if there was no rent to pay, the workers’ standard of living would be higher, and that he could enforce this higher standard by industrial action. But if the workers can obtain a higher standard of living simply by deciding to have it, and by resolving to support their demands by industrial action—well, in that case, they could have it straight away simply by striking for higher pay, without going to the trouble of buying houses. In fact, whether they pay rent or not, the workers will be in exactly the same position as before: their wages will be enough to cover on the average their necessary living expenses. By exceptional militancy, they might get the wage level somewhat above this standard; by exceptional lack of militancy, the wage-level might fall somewhat below it. But. taking the whole of the working class together, that is what the wage-level is. And the workers will not avoid that inescapable fact of life under capitalism by running after the latest reformist slogan.

In fact, the “property-owning democracy" is like all other reforms: the more capitalism is “changed,’’ the more it remains the same.
Alwyn Edgar

For and Against the Popular Front (1938)

Editorial from the May 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of large votes against the Popular Front registered by conferences of the Labour Party, some of the rank and file of that party still hanker after the idea—much to the consternation of the Daily Herald and many leaders of the Labour Party. The reason why the latter oppose the proposed alliance with Liberals and Communists and “progressive” Conservatives is twofold. On the one hand they fear that Communist assistance will frighten away many more votes than it brings in, and, on the other, they fear still more that the Liberal Party—an army with more generals than soldiers—will make up its own deficiency at the expense of the Labour leaders.

Mr. Lloyd George would probably have little difficulty in stealing the allegiance of the Labour rank and file if he once got into the fold; and then there is Winston Churchill, a Conservative without a Cabinet job, who might also join up in a promising Popular Front with expectations of leading it. So, for the Labour leaders who lack the more impressive political gifts, it is better to be leaders in the Labour Party than to be thrust into the background by more popular stars.

The idea behind the Popular Front is that as the Labour Party cannot hope to get a majority on its own it should unite with others on a limited programme of social reforms and a policy of peace, anti-Fascism, and anti-war. That being the idea, one might expect the Communists to condemn it as a betrayal of independence and Socialism, and expect the Labour Party to back it on the ground that it is an idea thoroughly in line with the past policy of that organisation. But times have changed and the roles are reversed. Sir Stafford Cripps is for the Popular Front, but admits quite frankly that “Clearly, any idea of real Socialism would have to be put aside for the present” (Daily Herald, April 16th, 1938).

The Communists, too, are for the Popular Front, but, according to the Daily Herald (April 14th), in the Communist Party's 2,000-word manifesto, “the word 'Socialism' does not occur, and every single specifically Socialist measure has been dropped from the programme itself."

To add to the troubles of the Labour Party Lord Beaverbrook is giving his blessing to the Popular Front, though whether his motive is solely the one he gives or whether it is also a move in the campaign to steal readers from the Daily Herald is hard to say. Anyway, here are Lord Beaverbrook’s views, set out in the editorial column of the Daily Express on April 18th, 1938:—
   The Daily Herald, organ of the Socialist Party, declares against a Popular Front of Socialists, Liberals, Communists. Co-ops. The Socialist Party, says the Daily Herald, are the Popular Front and the alternative Government.
    That is sheer bunk. The Socialist Party alone can’t form another Government in Britain for many years. They can’t even form a decent Opposition, and that is what should concern every democratic person, party, and newspaper.
   It concerns the Daily Express, which cares very much for democratic government and hates dictatorship.
    Dictatorships go for strength in government, but democracies go for justice in government, which is a higher and a more enduring quality.
    Under present conditions in Britain, with a Government not all-powerful and an Opposition which is feeble and stupid, we get the worst of both worlds. It would be good for Britain and for the form of British government if the parties of the Left here were joined in a compact and well-defined alliance.
(It will be noticed, by the way, that Beaverbrook, who recently declared that the Labour Party is not a Socialist party, hah decided to call it one again.)

The Daily Herald, instead of giving a welcome to an attitude so reminiscent of its own past, hotly denounces it now that the Communists have adopted it, and proceeds to rend it asunder by making use of sound Socialist arguments, the very arguments we have used against the Labour Party. The editorial in the Daily Herald of April 14th contains the following remarkable statements, remarkable, that is, when they appear in the Labour Party’s official mouthpiece. The question is put as to whether it is "worth while to surrender independence and compromise Socialist in order to defeat the National Government?” The Daily Herald answers, “No!” and points out, quite correctly, that fictitious unity is not a source of strength but of friction, quarrelling and weakness. The Herald next rejects the Popular Front because it would mean dropping Socialism—as if the Labour Party had ever fought an election on anything else but a programme of vote-catching reforms. Next it argues—again quite correctly— that the advocates of a Popular Front are suffering from “a fundamental lack of faith and confidence,” and that victories are not won by such defeatists as these.

The Herald finally clinched the argument against Popular Fronts by actually quoting the last Labour Government as an awful warning of what happens to a Labour Government “without independent authority and relying upon non-Socialist support for its majority.

Two days later, after the Chairman of the Co-operative Party, Mr. Alfred Barnes, M.P., had urged an alliance between the Labour and Cooperative Parties and “the Liberal Party, religious leaders, and a good section of the Conservatives” (Daily Herald, April 16th), the editor returned to the attack, and asked: —
    What must be the practical (and the emotional) effect of such talk upon the millions of loyal Party workers whose whole heart is set upon seeing a great instalment of the living Socialist Commonwealth in their time?
In short, the arguments used by the Labour Daily Herald to defeat those strange bedfellows, Liberals, Co-operators, Communists, followers of Stafford Cripps and progressive Conservatives, are arguments worthy of a better cause, the cause of Socialism.

The Workers' Outlook (1943)

From the April 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

The press has pleaded until recently that the war must be won before the “blue prints of the future” are made. Now for a number of reasons the planning and. reconstruction propagandists are given full play, both over the air and in print.

Perhaps a good reason for the present flood of spiritual and temporal oratory on the part of the “better worlders” is the marked apathy shown by the workers to those who would arrange their future for them.

Truly no Socialist in the ranks of the organised workers could fail to see that, granted the toilers dutifully put up with all the “directions” given under the Essential Works Order, are ”pushed around,” as Americans say, that this is only tolerated because of their war resolution summed up in the words, “We don't want Fascism here." Yet by no token can this mood be taken as being in the spirit of class-collaboration. Indeed, in this respect the "Communists" have become about as popular as black-beetles by the anti-dispute aid they give the capitalists and their managements.

Perhaps the outlook of the not-too-articulate workers may be gathered by a quotation from an article by R. B. Bathers in the A.E.U. Monthly Journal for December, 1942.
   In the midst of the general rejoicings over the Allied victories, Mr. Henry Kaiser informs the world that the great masses of workers are shivering with apprehension that the war will come to an end. General Smuts says in 1944. Another American has prophesied that when peace comes the United States will have 18 millions unemployed. Similar apprehensions have been voiced here, and. as Lord Croft, divulging the Tory mind, has declared that we need no new order, we can assume that the number of unemployed here will be several millions. Sir Patrick Hannon, President of the National Union of Manufacturers, has spoken of “the absolute certainty of industrial impoverishment at the close of the conflict.” There is the fear, the fear of want. The masses are sceptical about Atlantic Charters and speeches about the New World Order, many of which are quite sincere— many are not.
    Here, faith in the intentions of Parliament to implement the promises of the Charter is at a low ebb. It is lower because of our victories. For, as the tide has turned, so have the hopes of the Tories risen that they will continue to rule the roost and return to the Old Order. Big Business, represented by 120 prominent industrialists, has issued its programme for the future. Does this forecast the era of the Common Man? No. The Common Man is to be kept in his place as heretofore. He is to have no part in the control of industry, though he may get a few more crumbs. Sir Patrick Hannon fears that the Atlantic Charter, if carried out, would injure British competitive power. Obviously, he envisages an era of international competition for markets as before. That this would sooner or later end in war does not trouble Big Business. Like the Prime Minister, their slogan is "What is our own we hold.” 
It would be churlish to argue that the foregoing does not show the way to end capitalism; for it expresses a degree of class-consciousness which, if held by the mass of workers, would bode ill for capitalist rule.

In general one finds that though the workers are under the duress of war conditions, that Jingoism is weak, while the Socialist case, quite unvarnished, can be stated almost anywhere. But what of after the war? Can the capitalists hold their power and prestige?

It would be Utopian to think of a sudden conversion to Socialism on the part of the workers, as suggested by the I.L.P. in their ”Socialist Britain Now” stunt, even if the I.L.P. understood Socialism. In any case there are dozens of tricks left in the bag by which to bemuse a not-socialist working class.

Our capitalists could introduce centralised State insurance, Nationalisation, Empire, or should we say Common? wealth development, or even the setting of one section of the workers against the other by State jobs.

The ruling class could spend, if necessary, millions on propaganda in building up reformist or phoney parties to attract the workers, and would not be above taking an idea or two from the State Capitalism of Russia. In effect, any proposition could be tried which left the class relationship intact—namely, capitalists and wage workers.

In the opinion of the present writer, the political fight will become progressively keener, because of the State tie-up of the workers' industrial organisations, which may continue long after the war. This will have the effect of nullifying much of the bargaining power of the workers, such as strike action and industrial hold-up.

The class struggle then enters the political stage, which makes quite archaic the ideas of those who advocate direct action, in the sense that capitalism can be overthrown by force behind the barricades. It puts these ideas where they originally belong—to the conspiratorial, unenfranchised period of working-class history.

We as a Party unflinchingly upheld the Socialist cause throughout World War No. 1 and the present conflict. We correctly interpreted, against all opposition, the Russian upheaval as not being a Socialist revolution.

All this and more is the splendid background of the Socialist Party with the sound case for ending the wages system.
Frank Dawe

A Question of Incentives (1970)

From the November 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are often told that a society operating on the socialist principle of — from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs — must fail. All the incentives that bring out the best in mankind are missing. Something called a reward in the form of cash payment is needed to overcome a natural reluctance to get down to a bit of hard work. The argument goes on that this is especially so where unpleasant working conditions are involved. How could large cities get people to man the essential services without monetary reward? So unpleasant are tasks such as sewage disposal, rubbish collecting and pest control we are told, that only the fear of losing their affluence keeps people at those jobs. Under Socialism, without wages to keep us working, we would laze our time away and end up engulfed by our own dirt. Let us see what this argument in defence of capitalism is worth.

How well does the “pot of gold" technique cope with routine tasks of keeping such vital services going? At the time of writing the people doing these jobs are exerting themselves to get more of that ‘reward’. Are they doing it by working harder? Not likely, experience has taught them that less work helps them in this respect. The strike and go-slow by virtue of the inconvenience they cause employers are weapons in the workers’ quest for more wages and better working conditions. It must be noted that employers can and do use the no-work technique to bring pressure to bear on their employees; that is the lock-out. The society of wage labour and capital is one of conflict and antagonism. On the one hand the workers must if they are to defend their interests act anti-socially. On the other, employers must resist and be no less anti-social. As in most strikes dire warnings are issued. This time they are not about “the nation’s trade" but about the danger to “public health" due to pollution from untreated sewage getting into rivers and a plague of rats thriving on uncollected garbage.

The Daily Telegraph (8 October) quotes Conservative Minister Peter Walker speaking on the environment at his party's conference.
  Referring to the strike of local government employees, he said no responsible authority could go beyond the offer the men had rejected. As a result of the men’s action rivers had been polluted and in some cases, if the pollution continued it might take years to put right.
Here the threat of pollution is being used as a weapon in the struggle. What an equation, the workers demand 55s a week pay- rise; the employers (responsible authority) offers 36s a week and over the difference of a miserly 19s, years of river pollution could result. As Walker well knows pollution is rapidly becoming a major problem for capitalism. Not because of strikes but due to the need to keep costs down; industrial and domestic waste including sewage is dumped as cheaply as possible and pollution follows. The quarrel over pay claims is bound up with this cheese-paring procedure. Far from being well paid it is recognised that these jobs are amongst the poorest. So much for rewards..

When it comes to taking adequate precautions to safeguard the public wellbeing in other ways we find that capitalism is just as niggardly. When dustmen strike we are warned of plagues of rats. In spite of the warning, those who pay the wages don’t seem to be in much hurry to settle the dispute. However it was admitted in a recent survey in the Evening Standard (8 October) that other factors are involved. One is demolition work. Another is economy measures. The G.L.C. borough of Islington has seven council rodent operatives whereas there had previously been twelve for the same area. The Evening Standard comments “no wonder they can’t cope. (Last year the seven operatives made 3.500 visits in the borough)”.

If capitalism runs its services for preventing disease on a shoe string, how does it do when curing the same? The same London evening paper ran a story that started:
  A casualty patient can wait up to three hours to see a doctor in most inner London hospitals. The cause : A severe shortage of doctors and nurses.
Need we go on? If there is one thing about capitalism it is that it provides plenty of evidence to expose the fallacious arguments about incentives and efficiency. The new government have sworn that things won’t change. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer put it:
   Employers both in the public and the private sectors must be prepared to resist unreasonable claims even if it means standing up to strikes. (Evening News, 9 October)
We wonder what he made of the report in the Times (9 Sept.) of a survey of directors’ salaries that showed “an increase of 91 per cent between 1968 and 1969 in the remuneration of part-time chairmen”.

What is the answer then? This strike has shown the potential. A call was made for volunteers to keep the sewage works going. Not with the lure of financial gain but on the basis of helping out in an emergency. That many people offered their help no doubt strengthened the employers' bargaining position. This is typical of capitalism that it perverts people's finer feelings, in this case by having them as potential strike breakers. At present the working class accept capitalism and are easily divided against their fellow workers. Once they understand their class position and how they are exploited through the wages system. they will unite for the political task of establishing Socialism. Socialism must operate on a basis of voluntary co-operation. Once the question of cash payment no longer intervenes, that of removing drudgery from work must dominate. It will only be in a free society where production is solely for use that human welfare will come first.
Joe Carter


Ups and Downs in China (2017)

From the July 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard

We look at the rise of China as an economic and political power

In April the first rail freight service from Britain to China left a terminal in Essex for a 7,500-mile journey to eastern China. Thirty containers with goods such as whisky, soft drinks and pharmaceuticals travelled via the Channel Tunnel and seven countries (including Russia and Kazakhstan). The train took over two weeks to reach its destination, but this route is cheaper than air transport and faster than sea. Three months before, the first freight train had travelled from China to the UK. This illustrates the fact that China is now a central part of the global trade system, as both importer and exporter.

Developments over the last forty years have resulted in China being the world’s second most economically powerful country, after the US. Over a hundred Chinese companies are now on the Fortune 500 Global List, with only the US having more. State-owned enterprises gradually became less dependent on the government, but even private companies still rely greatly on government permissions and licences. Investment from overseas companies, mainly via joint ventures, resulted in industrial expansion. Labour costs have been very low, leading to big profits, but are now increasing.

The change from state capitalism to a mixed state and private system may have been started by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, but the idea of China being part of the global economy did not originate with Deng. As Mao Zedong is reported to have told a US diplomat in 1945: ‘China needs to build up light industries to supply her own market and raise the living standards of her own people. Eventually she can supply these goods to other countries in the Far East. To help pay for this foreign trade and investment, she has raw materials and agricultural products. America is not only the most suitable country to assist this economic development of China: she is also the only country fully able to participate. ‘

GDP has grown at around seven percent a year in the last few years, and exports have been consistently larger than imports (by $380bn in 2014, for instance, and $600bn in 2015). Manufacturing has been the core of the expansion, though now the service sector outranks industry and construction. Electronics, machinery and clothing are the largest export sectors, with many global companies having their smartphones and laptops manufactured in China, often in sweatshops and factories with appalling working conditions, leading to much resistance by workers. In the first three months of this year, GDP growth continued at an annual rate of just under seven percent, but there are signs of a slowdown since then. China’s foreign exchange reserves, though still enormous, have been falling steadily. There have been claims by some economists that China is on the verge of a crash comparable to the subprime crisis in the US in 2008, but such predictions are hardly reliable. In May China’s credit rating was cut by one agency.

One result of these changes has been a massive movement of people from the countryside to cities, not as a part of government policy but as a consequence of people seeing urban life as a way to escape from rural poverty and isolation. It is claimed that over the last 35 years, 500 million people have moved from the countryside to cities, including ten million moving to Shanghai alone. This inevitably puts enormous pressure on services such as housing and education, with many children of these migrants not being able to attend school. One response of China’s rulers has been to create urban mega-regions, which cover massive areas and have populations of perhaps 100 million. One example is Jing-Jin-Ji, to include much of the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the province of Hebei.  These mega-regions need a great deal of investment in housing, transport and other kinds of infrastructure, and there are concerns that they will lead to ‘endless cities’, as already found in countries such as Brazil and Japan.

It is generally accepted that there have been big decreases in poverty over this period. On World Bank figures, in 1990 650 million people in China were living on less than $1.90 a day, but by 2013 this figure was down to around 26 million. But it is by no means clear how reliable such figures are, and even most of those living above this poverty line are pretty badly off. Moreover, inequality is not just a matter of rural–urban contrasts, as a 2014 survey suggested that one percent of the population possessed one-third of the wealth. There are more dollar billionaires in China than in the US, though even the richest (Wang Jianlin, with $32bn) is not among the world’s twenty wealthiest people.

And there are big plans in China for further economic expansion, with claims to sovereignty over raw materials in exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea, and the proposed Belt and Road Initiative (see the Socialist Standard, June 2015). Even though the economic problems mentioned earlier cast doubt on whether Chinese banks can finance all this by themselves, a big summit was held in Beijing in May to push the proposal. British capitalists have their eyes on China for increased trade, especially post-Brexit, and Philip Hammond said in a speech there that ‘Britain, lying at the western end of the Belt and Road, is a natural partner in this endeavour’. If – a big ‘if’ – Britain signed a free-trade deal with China, it might help to mitigate any adverse effects on trade and profits of leaving the EU. Representatives of the EU have, however, been less keen on the Belt and Road, supposedly because of the lack of commitment to environmental sustainability, but perhaps more because of concern about economic competition. Vladimir Putin spoke at the same summit, referring to a Greater Eurasia and declaring that this would be ‘a truly civilisation-wide project looking toward the future’. More rhetoric than anything else, of course, but the ‘New Silk Road’ may well be viewed as a framework for a forthcoming challenge to US global hegemony, with Putin not wanting Russia to lose out to China.

China’s rise has frightened the American ruling class in various ways. Under Obama it was decided that the majority of US naval forces would be transferred to the Pacific, and there are now over four hundred military bases, stretching from Australia, the Marshall Islands and the Philippines to South Korea and Japan, stocked with missiles, warships and nuclear weapons. No doubt these have many possible uses as a way of maintaining US dominance, but one potential employment is for what John Pilger (New Internationalist, December 2016) has described as ‘the coming war on China’. While campaigning to be president, Donald Trump described China as an enemy of the US, but the language became friendlier after he took office.

In May a trade agreement was signed under which China will allow imports of US beef, while the US will allow the import of cooked poultry from China. Hardly a major change, but possibly an indication of future developments. If China overtakes the US economically in the next decade or two, as some have claimed is likely, then US hegemony will have lasted a little over a century.
Paul Bennett


Canada—the Same Story (1963)

From the May 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is no shortage of housing in Toronto. There are apartment blocks in abundance, sub-divisions in profusion, and gimmicks to induce the unwary signing of leases. The radio roars the advantages of “graceful living” in this area and the beauties of countryside combined with easy transportation to downtown Toronto, with a dash thrown in from the real estate agents to sell “your home" through them, fast . . .  fast . . .  fast . . . 

Truly a paradise—empty houses, flats and apartments. Unbelievable to the British Worker. True, nevertheless. Just listen, inspect and you are “sold.” Then comes the snag. How much can you afford for a down payment? There is now a housing problem in Toronto . . .  or is it a poverty problem? If you haven’t got the cash then you can’t sign the lease, purchase the house on a heavy mortgage, or take that wonderful trip to New York which was promised to you, just for signing on the dotted line.

Yet the large sub-divisions on the outskirts of Toronto which have been developed could be a foretaste of what housing could be like under Socialism when the profit motive has been removed. The houses are designed to suit the needs of families, whether large or small, and are fitted with all the necessary up-to-date equipment, such as refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers. There are several architectural plans to choose from. Each tastefully designed house has a garage, a basement recreation room and is fronted by a large lawn. Within a short distance are the shopping plazas and supermarkets.

Owning their houses is an ambition of many workers, but many of those who through a lifetime of sacrifice attempt to accomplish this, find that when their mortgage is due for maturity there is a lump sum payment or a bonus to pay. They failed to read the small print in the contract and could not afford to employ a lawyer. Often they are forced to sell quickly at a loss before the mortgagor forecloses. Or a fresh mortgage can be obtained at considerably more than was originally owing. This bonus system sometimes prevents the worker ever being able to pay off the mortgage and he never “owns” his house. The mortgage set-up in Canada is big business and sometimes a worker who proudly persuades himself that he owns his house after making the down payment, loses his life savings. Legally, of course. Forty-nine per cent. of all mortgages in Canada are owned by lawyers.

In the downtown area called Cabbage Town are concentrated the slums of Toronto, although they also exist in other parts of the city. Here one sees the hovels that pass for human habitation, hovels without adequate heat, light or air, fetid, stinking and disease-creating. Houses that are terraced, without inside toilets, and with an outside toilet sometimes serving as many as a dozen houses. Houses that are tumbling down, with paper hanging off the walls, broken steps, crumbling walls, and some rat and termite infested. Hovels that are rented to the most depressed section of the working class, those on relief and those who are unemployed. Landlords are unwilling to repair even if repair would help the condition at all, but in most cases they are beyond any patching up. Exorbitant rents are charged; each time an increase in “welfare” payments is received, the landlord puts up the rent.

In Metropolitan Toronto in the year 1961 there were seven evictions taking place daily. Families are split up, children put into the care of the Children’s Aid Society, and mothers at their wits end what to do.

In Northern Ontario on the Indian Reservation at Red Lake (and other reservations, too) the housing conditions of the Indians are positively unbelievable. There are wooden shacks with a floor area of 18 ft. by 22 ft. housing as many as twenty-two human beings for eating, sleeping and living. Wood stoves heat the hovels, and wretched rags are used for covers. Sometimes these people have only the clothes in which they stand and hunger and starvation are permanent features of their miserable existence. The Indian’s income is approximately £49 a year to keep alive on, plus whatever can be obtained from trapping, which is generally very little.

In the rare instance where an Indian has been able to obtain a job for any period, he is not usually any better off because he shares whatever he possesses with any or all of his tribe who are in greater need than he. Consequently, when he gets a little better house to live in, he is willing to, and does, share it with others of his tribe. The result is overcrowding.

All this exists in a country where an old-fashioned but structurally sound and perfectly usable City Hall is to be pulled down and a new stream-lined one built at a cost of approximately $27 million. Is any comment needed?
Sid & Gladys Catt



The Passing Show: Goa (1962)

The Passing Show Column from the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Goa
The successful Indian invasion of Goa set off a wonderful display of coat-turning. Many of those who supported British aggression at Suez in 1956 opposed Indian aggression at Goa in 1961: and vice versa. So many politicians seized the chance of using the arguments which had been used by their opponents at the time of Suez. Those who had hailed the British and French armed forces' attack on Nasser were then discomfited by having to watch Britain and France pilloried at the United Nations Assembly, with the vast majority of the member-states condemning the aggression, and only two or three countries, most of them Fascist or racialist like Portugal and South Africa, supporting it. At that time no state shouted louder against this wanton aggression than India.

So with what glee have many MPs and others—chiefly Conservatives—waded in with righteous speeches and articles denouncing the Indian aggression, and using the very “holier-than-thou” arguments which were used against them with such telling effect in 1956. Even newspapers like the Daily Mail, which has supported the British ruling class for many years through thick and thin, whatever methods it has used—indiscriminate brutality to the civilian population as in Cyprus, executions for having associated with suspected persons as in Kenya, or naked aggression as at Suez, all defended by sob-jerking references to “our boys out there’’—even newspapers with this record came out quite unabashed against India. The Daily Mail, straightening its very tarnished halo, and raising its eyes piously to the heavens, even had the nerve to proclaim that no action which was morally wrong could be politically right. How any Daily Mail journalist could write that without the typewriter jamming is hard to see.


Right to rule
On the other hand, we had many of those who consider themselves left-wing or progressive weighing in on the other side. Very often they were the same people who pointed out (quite rightly) in 1956 that it is no good denouncing aggression only when it is committed by somebody else; that aggression is still aggression even when the aggressors are the British ruling class. But over Goa they had deluded themselves into believing that the Indian ruling class had some “right ’ to rule over Goa and its people stronger than the “right” of the Portuguese to do the same thing. So out came the argument that “aggression is wrong, but—well, this is different"—exactly the argument used by the pro-Suez faction in 1956.

What it all boils down to is this: if you support capitalism, you will end up by backing this or that capitalist state against the others, even when it goes to war, kills innocent men, women and children, and commits the most barefaced aggression. It is only the Socialist who sees all capitalist states for what they are, and sees that when their own interests demand it they will all kill, execute, and commit aggression however much they have denounced other states doing the same things in the past.


Independence for Balham
But that is far from being the only insoluble problem of supporters of capitalism. While we are on the subject, here is another. All “liberal-minded, progressive people" support, of course, “national independence"—i.e., the right of one state to throw off another which attempts to rule over it. On the other hand, as one descends the scale of communities, there must be a point at which this “right of independence” no longer applies. If, for example, a small London suburb like Balham (even though it is, in Peter Sellers’ words, the “gateway to the south”) proclaimed its independence, there would surely be very few people, even in the Labour Party, who would be prepared to rally to its banner and die gasping out “independence for Balham!’’ with their last breath. But—and here is the sixty-four dollar question—where exactly is this point reached?


Ireland
A case in point is Ireland. Over the long years when the Irish propertied class was demanding its “independence” from the United Kingdom, the British ruling class said the British Isles was the smallest possible unit in this area which could claim independence: Ireland was too small. Against this, the Irish owning class argued that any community, even if part of a larger community, has a perfect right to split off if it wants to. Then when it became clear that Irish independence was only a matter of time, the capitalists of Northern Ireland began to claim the right to hive off from an independent Ireland. At this, the two parties did a smart about turn, and each stole the other's arguments. Now it was the emerging Irish ruling class which denied the right of a small part of a larger community to split off, while those who had previously said that the British Isles was the smallest community hereabouts which could claim self-determination now stoutly defended the right of no more than six counties in Northern Ireland “to determine their own future’’.


Katanga
Another example of the same difficulty —and one which is causing repeated loss of life both among the “United Nations" forces and among the forces supporting Tshombe—is Katanga. One view is that the Congo is the smallest possible unit which can feasibly claim independence; the other view is that Katanga is large enough to stand alone if it wants to. The problem is in fact insoluble in capitalism, except by force. There is no valid rule which lays down how large a country must be before it can demand “ independence”. So the two sides—the Congolese ruling class which wants the mineral wealth of Katanga, and the Katangese rulers who want to keep if for themselves —fight it out in either open war or uneasy temporary peace.

The only permanent solution of the Katanga problem, and all the other problems of “national independence”, is Socialism. In a Socialist system of society there would be no national boundaries, no state frontiers, because there would be no ruling classes to impose them: so naturally there would be no dispute as to where they should lie. Those earnest supporters of the “ United Nations” who are now deeply puzzled about the Katanga impasse might usefully consider our alternative.
Alwyn Edgar

The Passing Show: What it Means (1962)

The Passing Show Column from the January 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

What it Means
In The Times recently there was a reference to President Nasser’s nationalisation policy, under the name of "Arab Socialism"; and on the same day (27/10/61) there was a report of a speech by the President of the Senegal Republic in which he referred to “ the Negro-African form of Socialism.” So much confusion is caused by reformist politicians in every part of the world wishing to masquerade under false colours that it was not surprising to read (in the same issue) the following report of a meeting of the so-called “ Socialist International ” (which is in fact a collection of Labour Parties):
  A particularly able speech was made by a delegate from the Action Group of Nigeria, who, he said, had recently announced that they were going to embrace democratic socialism, and were now hotly discussing what that meant.
For the benefit of the Action Group of Nigeria, democratic socialism means nothing that socialism does not already mean. Socialism, being a system voluntarily entered into by society as a whole, and being without any coercive forces, is by definition democratic. In the same way, it is pointless to talk about Arab socialism or Negro-African socialism; one might as well talk about Birmingham Socialism or Tooting Socialism. Socialism is in its essence international, and knows nothing of racial or national differences.

All that is needed to complete the confusion is for the Labour Parties of the Common Market countries to join together and start talking about “Common Market Socialism.”


Apes
Reviewing a recent book (African Genesis, by Robert Ardrey) a Sunday Express writer triumphantly records the author’s conclusions about monkeys and apes (22/10/61):
  He shows clearly that their most powerful inborn drive is, first, for status; next, for territory (both family and tribal); and, only third, for sex. Thus such things in men as ambition, patriotism, and a yearning for a house of one’s own are not—as many fashionable thinkers have tried to make us think—an artificial product of an artificial civilisation. They are natural and inborn, especially in the higher animals.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept what Ardrey says about apes, his premises clearly do not support his conclusions. It would only be possible to reason in this way if man was descended from the monkeys or the apes: but, in fact (although this may be news to the Sunday Express) no scientist has ever maintained that this is so. What all scientists do now maintain is that man and the other primates are descended from a common ancestor. So what has to be explained is why man has left all the other animals far behind, while the monkeys are still swinging in the trees. And if the main interests of apes are, first, status, and second, grabbing more territory, that would go a long way towards accounting for the great gulf between man and monkeys. Men have developed in the way they have simply because they co-operated—they lived together amicably in tribes and owned property in common. As Engels says (in Chapter 2 of The Origin of the Family): 
   For man’s development beyond the level of the animals, for the achievement of the greatest advance nature can show, something more was needed; the power of defence lacking to the individual had to be made good by the united strength and co-operation of the herd. To explain the transition to humanity from conditions such as those in which the anthropoid apes live to-day would be quite impossible; it looks much more as if these apes had strayed off the line of evolution and were gradually dying out or at least degenerating . . .  Mutual toleration among the adult males, freedom from jealousy, was the first condition for the formation of those larger, permanent groups in which alone animals could become men.

No satisfaction
Who said this? "There were literally thousands of jobs in industry which gave no satisfaction to the worker and never could . . .  as a result among the great working class areas of the country” men were getting no "sense of fulfilment . . . from the tedium of their day-to-day jobs.” 

It was no Socialist, agitating for a new society; it was the head of the state-capitalist board which now runs the coal-mines—Lord Robens. He was speaking at the recent national conference of the Institute of Personnel Management. It would be difficult to think of a much stronger argument against our present form of society than this—that the workers get no sense of fulfilment from their jobs, which occupy so large and so central a part of their lives: yet here we have one of our leading operators of state-capitalism saying just that.

If Lord Robens really believes this, it is about time he thought of resigning his job and joining the Socialist Party, since that is the only way he can help to bring about a change in the situation.
Alwyn Edgar

Obituary: Bill Mack (1982)

Obituary from the November 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we report the sudden death of Bill Mack at the age of 67. Bill joined Birmingham Branch in 1960, although he had been a socialist for many years. As a young man he tried to escape poverty, like so many others, by joining the army. Bill's long military career made him acutely aware of the horrors of war and later, as a socialist, he was keen to make others aware. His contribution to Branch activity was enormous, and his presence will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. We offer our condolences to his wife Lillian and his three daughters and son-in-law.
Lew Higgins