Saturday, July 29, 2017

So They Say: Crystal Ball not Needed (1974)

The So They Say column from the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Crystal Ball not Needed
Before the war we claimed “If you read it in the Socialist Standard you know it’s true”. That is still the case, and we can give two recent examples. In August this year we gave details of the unemployment and inflation situation in Australia, where so many Britons go in hopes of things being different. On 2nd October The Times reported:
The Australian Government has temporarily suspended its immigration programme to ease the country’s unemployment problem, Mr. Clyde Cameron, the Minister for Labour and Immigration, said today.
   Sources say that the monthly figures due to be released on Sunday will show unemployment at a postwar record level.
And in May we commented on the Labour Government’s show of virtue in cancelling the plans for Maplin Airport. Our observation was that Labour had begun all that themselves by projecting a Third London Airport at Stansted. On 11th November the Guardian Air Correspondent wrote, under Labour ‘Lumbers’ Stansted:
The Town and Country Planning Association has described the Government’s decision to abandon the Maplin Airport project as, in effect, a “monstrous” decision to build London’s third airport at Stansted in Essex.
However, you don’t require a crystal ball to see such things. All that is needed is to know how capitalism and its politics work, and then watch them at it.


Ganging Agley Again
The politicians, of course, exist by saying it will all be different this time: they are going to plan.

In the first week of October the United States Administration announced its economic plan. It lasted exactly two weeks. On 25th October The Guardian published the following from its Washington correspondent:
The Administration’s economic plan, unveiled with much fanfare two weeks ago, may have to be radically revised as President Ford is slowly being forced to admit that the country is in recession, and that he must act more decisively against growing unemployment.
It reminds one of the local Angling Society setting out with rod and line to catch the Loch Ness Monster, and then explaining to the world’s press after a fortnight that its bait was wrong. Except that capitalism is a real monster which eats planners.


To Heel, Rover
The same report also tells us:
Economists are now freely predicting that unemployment will rise soon to 7½ per cent . . . there are indications that the unions are getting more concerned about job security than wage increases.
A week earlier, on 17th October, the London Evening Standard’s front page headline was Rises or Jobs! Jones Warns the Unions. This was “a powerful call” by Jack Jones, the well-known militant leader of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. The report said :
Mr. Jones argued that unions must play their part in fighting the main danger in the economic crisis — the growth of unemployment.
    “It is simply no use pressing actions which lead to the closure of firms we work for,” he said. “A wonderful wage agreement is of no value if the firm with whom we have negotiated the agreement doesn’t employ people any more.”

Concentric Straight Lines
Another aspect of capitalist planning is how the apparent solving of one problem inexorably leads to another in its place. At the end of October newspapers were reporting that cattle were being slaughtered because of an acute shortage of fodder and the prohibitive price of what is available.

Until not many years ago all farmers grew their own fodder crops. Few have dreamed of doing so in recent times, with seductive subsidies to be received for every square foot given to barley, wheat etc. The last Conservative government did all it could to encourage beef production, without correspondingly encouraging the more mundane production of hay. Mr. Philip Brown of the RSPCA was quoted in The Guardian (28th October) as saying “they [the government] did their sums wrong”.

Of course, because capitalism’s sums all require several contradictory answers at once. Socialism is simple one-answer arithmetic.


Squeak Up, Please
Something Labour governments keep promising the working class is hearing the rich squeal. The idea is that if workers can be persuaded to listen intently for this delectable sound they will not notice that while they are lying down listening Labour politicians are standing on their necks.

However, the sound has not yet been detected. What we have instead is, for instance:
A wealthy Kent businessman picked up a pools prize of £44,806 today and said: “I’m delighted, of course, but it doesn’t mean that much to me.”
   Leslie Mustill, 58, said: “The money would mean more to other people. I’ll just take life easy . . . playing golf.” (Evening Standard 23rd October)
Or a full-page advertisement for Fred Olsen cruises in The Guardian on 24th October. “Upwards of £170” is the cost for one person. There is a special inset on shopping for cruisers (“On Madeira you can pay up to £28 for a hand-embroidered lace tablecloth, but the workmanship is superb”) and advice about tipping (“If any steward has been particularly helpful, £5 is customary”).


A Peep under the Sink
When an Enquiry Agent named Quartermain was jailed for “dirty tricks” over evidence for divorce cases, the judge told him he was “a thoroughgoing disgrace” to his profession. Don’t laugh, please.

Quartermain became known in 1969 when he was employed by Redbridge Council as a strong-arm man to evict squatters. Local authorities employ creatures like him to collect arrears and debts, asking no questions about how they do it; so do “respectable” firms. Their function is to do the dirty work behind the genteel facade which property society likes to display.

We are often asked who will do the “nasty” jobs under Socialism. This is one which won’t exist.
Robert Barltrop

The centre sags (1983)

From the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is nearly two years since the Social Democratic Party was founded amid the glare of media publicity and rhetorical heights about “mould-breaking" and “new departures". After the heady success of its early by-election victories, the SDP has now come down to earth. Membership is ten thousand down from its peak of seventy-five thousand, and still falling, and its electoral popularity is also in decline.

One thing that has changed little in eighteen months, though, is the difficulty of discovering precisely what the SDP stand for, apart from such helpful slogans as "newness" and "niceness". Fortunately, some of the SDP's Gang of Four fancy themselves as theoreticians, and David Owen’s Face the Future and Shirley Williams' Politics Is For People give us some clues.

Owen’s book (and. to a lesser extent, Williams’) may be taken as having two main themes: the merits of decentralisation and of continuity in government economic policy. Both the Labour and Conservative parties are viewed as deeply centralist. Labour by virtue of their commitment to nationalisation and an active interfering state, and the Tories by dint of their preference for large-scale administrative bodies (such as Area Health Authorities, founded in 1974) and their antagonism towards local-government autonomy. The growth in the powers of government, of bureaucracy, of big business and even of large trade unions illustrates the increased centralisation that has taken place over the last few decades. The result is not just a lack of democracy but also of innovation, as large institutions of any kind are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than with seeking and developing new ideas. Thus centralisation is claimed to be one factor responsible for Britain's economic decline.

The SDP alternative is to argue for greater decentralisation of both government and economy. The powers of local government will be increased, and those of central government correspondingly reduced. There will be a decentralised incomes policy (though the mechanics of this are not spelt out in detail) and “industrial democracy", which seems to mean a few workers being placed on the board of directors. Williams advocates an increase in the number of small firms, which she argues will help to create jobs, promote innovation and (mysteriously) mitigate inflation. On the other hand, the SDP are fervent supporters of British membership of NATO and the EEC, so their opposition to large conglomerates is not always applied consistently.

Issues such as the balance of power between national and local government are concerned with the most efficient (from the capitalist point of view) way of administration. Owen may be right to claim that a shift of power to the local level will increase efficiency, but it is quite wrong to imply that this makes a scrap of difference to the essential characteristics of capitalism or to the working class. At whatever level, government exists to defend the interests of the ruling class. Decentralised governmental power can be just as brutal and oppressive as the centralised variety; witness the police force.

Increased centralisation, however, is seen by the SDP as only part of the cause of Britain's malaise. The other is the fact that the electoral system ensures fairly frequent changes of government and. because of the policies of the two largest parties, correspondingly frequent changes of economic course, with the incoming government undoing the innovations of its predecessor. This continual shifting is viewed as especially pernicious in the area between state and private ownership: the cycle of nationalisation, denationalisation and nationalisation is wasteful and inhibits long-term planning.

The SDP propose that greater continuity and coherence in government economic policy would bring a spurt in economic growth, together with all the benefits of forward planning. But the SDP takes continuity to mean acceptance of a “mixed economy", with the balance between state and private ownership roughly what it is today. Tampering with the present mix by means of either nationalisation or privatisation would mean rocking the boat which would otherwise be set on course for prosperity. In Owen's words:
There will be an open acceptance of the need for profits, to allow for wealth creation in a person's lifetime, to encourage investment and risk-taking and a realisation that our country's prosperity depends on our ability to sell in the markets of the world at a price, design and delivery time that is competitive. Social Democrats, in genuinely championing the mixed economy, must ensure that the mix will become a partnership between the public and the private sectors, devoid of the obsessive dogma of privatisation or nationalisation and the oscillation of policy that has meant uncertainty and discontinuity for many of our basic industries.
The problem is, given the possibility of democratic electoral change, how to ensure continuity? It is here that proportional representation (PR) enters the picture. The SDP-Liberal hope is that, once elected to government, they will introduce PR — which would mean that they will remain in power for ever. Though this may vary according to the exact method of representation chosen, PR tends to produce coalitions, and a "centrist" grouping, even if not the largest party, stands a good chance of being a member of any coalition. In such circumstances, with no one party ever having an overall majority in Parliament, there would be a good chance of economic policy being essentially continuous rather than continually shifting. Thus PR is an important means of achieving continuity of government policy, as well as a way of keeping the SDP in power.

However, changes in government policy are due not so much to the ideas and dogmas of political leaders as to the dictates of the essentially uncontrollable capitalist economy. The wholesale nationalisation carried out by the 1945-51 Labour government, for example, was because the industries concerned were crucial to British capitalism. The Conservatives have taken enterprises into state ownership in their time. From the worker’s point of view, being employed and exploited by private or state capitalists makes no difference whatever.

A recurring theme in SDP literature is the resemblance between themselves and the Social Democratic Party in Germany, the SPD. In 1959, the British Labour Party lost its third general election in succession, and there began an attempt to alter some of its policies; Roy Jenkins attacked the party's commitment to nationalisation, and Hugh Gaitskell tried to alter Clause Four of the party’s constitution. These attempts were unsuccessful, and Labour remained wedded (on paper, anyway) to a programme of increased state ownership. In the same year, the SPD transformed itself into a "modern" party, claiming to appeal to the whole nation rather than just industrial workers.

But recent events in West Germany make this parallel somewhat embarrassing for the SDP. In spite of years of "centrist" government by the SPD in coalition with the Free Democrats (Liberals), the German economy has not escaped the worldwide crisis; unemployment and inflation are both rising. The Free Democrats have deserted the SPD in favour of coalition with the Christian Democratic Union.

The quotation from Face the Future continues as follows:
It is a sad commentary on post-war Britain that this combination of policies has never been unequivocally on offer to the British electorate.
But whatever the proportions of the mixture, the ingredients themselves are the familiar ones of unemployment, profits and markets, with their equally familiar effects of unemployment, poverty and exploitation. The SDP have precisely nothing new to offer, and nothing at all to offer to the working class.
Paul Bennett

Marx and trade unions (1983)

From the February 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx’s assessment that the English trade unionists involved in setting up the International Working Men's Association were “real powers" was to be proved correct by the subsequent careers of some of them. Robert Appelgarth, for instance, played a very prominent role in presenting the evidence of the trade unions to the Royal Commission which had been set up to investigate them in 1867 and whose Report in 1869 paved the way for a further liberalisation of the law governing their activities. Howell, as Secretary of the TUC’s Parliamentary Committee from 1871-5, was the first General Secretary of the Trades Unions Congress, whose first congress had been held in Manchester, in June 1868. Thus Marx was dealing with some of the top British trade unionists of his day. Since in politics they were Liberals it may seem strange that Marx, as a revolutionary communist, should have been prepared to work with them. But, for him, what was important was not their politics but the fact that they were leading trade unionists, solidly implanted in the working class movement.

In other words. Marx’s participation in the IWMA was a resumption of the same strategy derived, through Engels, from the Chartist experience of the early 1840s which had motivated his earlier collaboration with Ernest Jones. Because he believed that out of the economic organisations of the working class would eventually evolve a conscious political movement for socialism, he was not too concerned about the political ideas of the trade union leaders he had agreed to work with. The development of the working class movement itself would, Marx believed somewhat over-optimistically, sooner or later put this right. The important thing at this stage for Marx was to set this movement in motion, to encourage independent working class trade union and political activity. When this did not happen, as became evident within a number of years. Marx severely criticised the union leaders for having sold out to the capitalist class and the Liberal Party.

In fact until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 the activity of the IWMA was mainly of a trade union nature. Not all the members of the IWMA, particularly not the French workers, were convinced of the utility of trade unions and strikes and to Marx fell the task of providing a theoretical justification of trade unionism. Marx proved to be a worthy successor to Hodkingson and other earlier pro-working class writers, in whose tradition he must indeed have been regarded by the English trade unionists whose practice he was showing to be sound from an economic point of view (despite what the economic orthodoxy of the day claimed) and who called him "Dr. Marx" out of respect for his economic and historical knowledge. This is not to suggest that English trade unionists were incapable of themselves providing economic justifications for their activities. The Secretary of the London Consolidated Society of Bookbinders. Thomas Dunning (1799-1873), had written a book, published in 1860, Trades Unions and Strikes: Their Philosophy and Intention, which impressed both Marx and the leading British economist of the time, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). Marx referred to it several times in his footnotes in Capital and, more extensively, in some notes which he did not in the end include in Volume 1 of Capital. In these notes he took up Dunning's argument that the economic logic of trade unions was to ensure that the laws of supply and demand were “fairly” applied or, translated into Marx’s economic categories, to ensure that the workers were paid the value of their labour power, defined as the value of
the means of subsistence that is customarily held to be essential in a given state of society to enable the worker to exert his labour-power with the necessary degree of health, strength, vitality, etc and to perpetuate him self by producing replacements for himself.
Without trade unions, workers would tend to be paid less than this value:
. . . the value of labour-power constitutes the conscious and explicit foundation of the trade unions, whose importance for the English working class can scarcely be overestimated. The trade unions aim at nothing less than to prevent the reduction of wages below that level that is traditionally maintained in the various branches of industry. That is to say, they wish to prevent the price of labour-power from falling below its value.
“Abolition of the wages system”
Marx presented a particularly well-argued case for trade unionism in a reply to John Weston, an old Owenite and a member of the General Council of the IWMA. which took up two successive meetings of the Council in June 1865. [1] Weston had argued that trade union action to raise wages was pointless, even harmful, as wage increases only led to price increases or to wage cuts for other workers. Marx showed how Weston’s arguments were unsound: the level of wages did not affect the level of prices; the effect of a general increase in wages would be, after a readjustment of demand, a decrease in the rate of profit. Marx did, however, recognise that trade union action, including strikes, was basically only defensive and that if workers were not going to go on fighting a permanent rearguard action they should begin thinking in terms of abolishing the wages system altogether:
I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their every-day conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any large movement. At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these every-day struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in those unavoidable guerrilla fights incessantly springing up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto ‘A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work!’ they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword. ‘Abolition of the wages system!’
Marx ended his talk by proposing a resolution. which the General Council adopted, the third clause of which declared:
Trades Unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wages system.
The trade union question was also discussed at the first Congress of the IWMA in Geneva in September 1866. Marx drafted the “Instructions” for the General Council’s own delegation. The sixth section, headed “Trade Unions: Their Past. Present and Future", gives a very clear idea of Marx's hopes for the future evolution and role of the spontaneous economic organisations of the working class that trade unions were:
. . . unconsciously to themselves, the trade unions were forming centres of organization of the working class, as the medieval municipalities and communes did for the middle class. If the trade unions are required for the guerrilla fights between capital and labour, they are still more important as organized agencies for superseding the very system of wage labour and capital rule.
This characterisation of the trade unions as being the equivalent for the working class of what the medieval towns had been for the bourgeoisie Marx had already made on previous occasions, in the Poverty of Philosophy and in the series of articles in the New York Daily Tribune 1853-4 in which he referred to as his “history of strikes". It is almost a syndicalist vision of the emancipation of the working class, except that Marx envisaged the trade unions playing a political role, converting themselves into, as it were, a mass political party of the working class, rather than remaining industrial organisations relying exclusively on industrial action to try to overthrow capitalism.

Marx’s participation in the British trade union movement was however not just confined to theorising. As we have said, until 1870 the IWMA was mainly concerned with trade union matters and has been accurately described as being during this period “an international trade union liaison committee". [2] When a strike occurred in Britain and the employer imported blackleg labour from the Continent, the IWMA intervened, often successfully, with leaflets and speakers in the appropriate language, to persuade the continental workers not to break the strike. Similarly, when a strike occurred in Britain or on the Continent, the IWMA publicised it and raised funds from workers and trade unions in other countries to help the strikers and their families. Marx, as a member of the General Council, played his part in such activities, drafting for instance a leaflet addressed to German tailors concerning a strike.

Marx put the finishing touches to Capital, which was first published in German in Hamburg in September 1867, at a time when he was actively involved in the mainly trade union-type activities of the IWMA. This no doubt helped to give Capital a very pronounced pro-working class character. Marx only mentioned the trade unions in passing (since he planned to deal with the question in a separate volume, which never appeared, to be devoted to "Wage Labour"), but he did devote considerable space to another working class struggle: that to achieve a legally-enforceable maximum working day. As with trade unions. Marx was not content simply to describe and support this struggle. He also showed how the demand for a legal “normal working day" was justified even from a capitalist economic point of view.

There had been opposition to this demand also within the IWMA, once again from the French workers who, influenced by the ideas of Proudhon, had doubts about appealing to the capitalist state to protect the working class. In the "Instructions" he drafted for the General Council delegation to the 1866 Geneva congress of the IWMA Marx met this criticism head on. with regard to the legal limitation of child labour. The "more enlightened part of the working class", he wrote
know that, before everything else, the children and juvenile workers must be saved from the crushing effects of the present system. This can only be effected by converting social reason into social force, and, under given circumstances, there exists no other method of doing so, than through general laws, enforced by the power of the state. In enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify governmental power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency. They effect by a general act what they would vainly attempt by a multitude of isolated individual efforts.
Mere Marx appears, not so much as an early-day syndicalist, but as a reformist arguing that the condition of the working class could be improved under capitalism through the action of the existing state.

Class struggle over hours
But he was no more a reformist than he was a syndicalist. He did indeed believe that state intervention to limit the working day could bring about a real improvement in the condition of the working class and in Capital did not hesitate to say so:
  On the whole the working population, subject to the Factory Act, has greatly improved physically. All medical testimony agrees on this point, and personal observation at different times has convinced me of it (Chapter X “The Working Day", Section 6. footnote).
  To guard against false conclusions front the text, I ought here to remark that the English cotton industry, since it was placed under the Factory Act of 1850 with its regulations of labour-time, etc., must be regarded as the model industry of England. The English cotton operative is in every respect better off than his Continental counterpart in misery (Chapter X, Section 5. footnote).
This is a far cry from the absolute impoverishment of the working class under capitalism which some have read into Marx! Marx also had the highest regard for the government officials who enforced the Factory Acts in a strict and conscientious way, saying of one, Leonard Horner (1785- 1864) that "he rendered undying service to the English working-class” (Chapter IX. “The Rate of Surplus-Value”. Section 3, footnote).

It is important to understand why Marx thought that it was possible for factory legislation to improve working class conditions. It was not because state intervention generally — reformist political action, if you like — could bring about an improvement in working class living standards, but because, in this particular case, in the absence of state intervention, wages were being driven down below the value of the workers’ labour power. The parallel with trade union action was clear, and deliberate. Factory legislation was another way of ensuring that workers were paid the full value of the commodity they had to sell, their ability to work. If they had to work too long hours the workers were not being paid, in the words of the slogan Marx denounced as conservative, "a fair day’s wage for a fair day's work”.

Marx, basing himself on a leaflet produced by the building workers strike committee during the strike and lock-out of 1859-60, summarises the workers’ case for a shorter working day as follows:
You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges. I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place . . . I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity (Chapter X, "The Working Day", Section 1).
Since the capitalist employer is not prepared to accept this argument, insisting on his right to make maximum use of the commodity he has purchased, the struggle for a “normal” working day becomes a class struggle:
. . .  in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class (ibid.).
Marx describes the course of this struggle in detail, from the first attempt at legal limitation initiated by Robert Owen in 1802 through the Acts of 1833 to the 1850 Act. in Section 6 of Chapter X of Capital entitled “The Struggle for the Normal Working-Day. Compulsory Limitation by Law of the Working-Time. The English Factory Acts, 1833 to 1864”. There is therefore no need for us to repeat that history here, but it must be emphasised that this was a purely defensive struggle:
  The history of the regulation of the working-day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others in regard to this regulation, prove conclusively that the isolated labourer, the labourer as ’free’ vendor of his labour-power, when capitalist production has once attained a certain stage, succumbs without any power of resistance (Chapter X. Section 7).
  For 'protection’ against ‘the serpent of their agonies’, the labourers must put their heads together, and. as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death (ibid.).
This explains why state intervention in this domain was capable of bringing about a once-for-all improvement in conditions, but incapable of bringing about a continual improvement. Like trade union action, once it has improved conditions by raising workers’ wages to the value of their labour power, its role became purely defensive: to ensure that wages were not driven down below their value, in this case by over-work as a result of too long a working day. So factory legislation was subject to the same limitations as trade union action: it could only play a rearguard, defensive role against the encroachments of capital.

In fact, here too the working class had to run fast just to stay still. The capitalist employer sought to compensate for the shorter hours imposed on him by the law by making his workers work more intensively (harder and faster); which meant that the workers would eventually have to demand a further shortening of the working day to avoid being over-worked and so underpaid:
There cannot be the slightest doubt that the tendency that urges capital, so soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, to compensate itself, by a systematic heightening of the intensity of labour, and to convert every improvement in machinery into a more perfect means of exhausting the workman, must soon lead to a state of things in which a reduction of the hours of labour will again be inevitable (Chapter XV, "Machinery and Modern Industry", Section 3c).
Marx added, in a footnote, that "the agitation for a working-day of 8 hours has now [1867] begun in Lancashire among the factory operatives”. The Geneva Congress of the IWMA in 1866 had in fact already adopted the demand for an 8-hour day, following the example of the American trade unions.

Marx also explained, in the Preface to Capital, the space he had devoted to the Factory Acts by referring to the political, as well as economic, lesson they had for the continental ruling classes. The present epoch, he wrote, was that of the rise of the working class:
In England the process of social disintegration is palpable. When it has reached a certain point, it must re-act on the Continent. There it will take a form more brutal or more humane, according to the degree of development of the working-class itself. Apart from higher motives, therefore, their own most important interests dictate to the classes that are for the nonce the ruling ones, the removal of all legally removable hindrances to the free development of the working-class. For this reason, as well as others, I have given so large a space in this volume to the history, the details, and the results of English factory legislation.
In other words, the change-over to socialism would be less violent to the extent that the working class was better treated. In fact, Marx believed that, with the extension of the franchise as well, a peaceful capture of political power by the working class in England had become a distinct possibility.

But there was one argument in favour of a shorter working day and week which Marx did not use, even though it was as widespread in his day as it is now: that it would help reduce unemployment. Marx’s knowledge of the economies of capitalism led him to point out that the effect was more likely to be the opposite. A shorter working day, by increasing labour costs, would encourage the introduction of labour-saving machinery. As he told a meeting of the General Council of the IWMA in August 1868, which was discussing the question, the case for a shorter working day should be based, not so much on economic arguments, but simply on the need for workers as human beings to be healthy and to have more free time; so that they would be fit and educated enough to be able to carry through the advance in civilisation that the change-over from capitalism to communism would represent.

Marx thus provided a theoretical justification for what the working class movement in Britain was actually doing — trade union action to defend wages and demanding a legal maximum working day. This was in accordance with the role he and Engels had assigned to communist theoreticians in the Communist Manifesto:
The theoretical conclusions of the Communists . . . merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from an historical movement going on under our very eyes.
In this sense, a large part of Capital, Marx’s major work, can be said to be a theoretical reflection of the activity of the working class of his day in Britain.
Adam Buick

FOOTNOTES
[1.] First published in 1898 by his daughter, Eleanor, and Aveling under the title Value, Price and Profit, which is the title under which it became a textbook for those calling themselves Marxists in the British working class movement. Its original title was Wages, Price and Profit, by which it is known in other countries and which is also used in some later English editions.
[2.] Collins and Abranisky, Karl Marx and the British Labour Movement, p.84.


Marx the Revolutionary: 100 Years of Development and Distortion (1983)

From the March 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is often asked how it reconciles its claim to be Marxist with certain attitudes and statements of Marx and Engels. Many of these criticisms are based on misunderstandings. The critics have not noticed that, as Marx and Engels gained in knowledge and experience, they themselves rejected or modified views they had held at the beginning of their long years of political activity.

One example of this is the statement made by Engels in 1895 in his Introduction to Marx's Class Struggle in France 1848-50:
The rebellion of the old style, the street fight behind barricades, which up to 1848 gave the final decision, has become antiquated 
and
The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us. But so that the masses may understand what is to be done, long and persistent work is required, and it is this work that we are now performing with results that drive our enemies to despair.
But Engels, as is shown by his unjustifiably optimistic concluding statement, was far from having realised just how "long and persistent" that work had to be, and how it had to be conducted. He based it on the growing membership of the European Social Democratic parties, particularly the German party. Most of those parties claimed to be Marxist and all claimed to have socialism as their objective, but they all had in their programme a long list of immediate demands. The German Party's list ran into dozens, including such items as legal recognition of trade unions, abolition of child labour, no government support for religion, and — a very significant one — “Training in universal military duty. A people's army in place of the standing armies". This appeared, too, in the 1895 programme of the British Social Democratic Federation in the form: "The abolition of Standing armies, and the establishment of National Citizen Forces; the People to decide on Peace or War".

As later events were to show, the Social Democratic parties owed their growing membership and electoral support not to any socialist objective but to their reform programmes. The parties all paid lip-service to the idea of international socialist unity and opposition to war, but most of their members and supporters in all countries were strongly nationalist in their outlook.

When the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in 1904 by breakaway members of the Social Democratic Federation it made a clear break with the practice of having programmes of immediate demands and of entering into pacts with openly capitalist parties which the reform programmes encouraged. A statement issued by those members of the Social Democratic Federation who were about to form the Socialist Party of Great Britain contained the following: "The adoption of an uncompromising attitude which admits of no arrangements with any section of the capitalist party; nor permits of any compromise with any individual or party not recognising the class struggle as a basic principle, and not prepared to work for the overthrow of the present capitalist system. Opposition to all who were not openly and avowedly working for the realisation of Social Democracy". The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed on the basis of having only socialism as its objective, as set out in our Declaration of Principles, the seventh clause of which embodies the statement of hostility to every other party in this country. That Declaration of Principles became the sole basis of membership.

How right the SPGB was in dissenting from the belief that the growth of the social democratic parties was evidence of growing support for socialism, was to be shown with the outbreak of war in 1914. In spite of having subscribed to resolutions at international conferences opposing participation in war, nearly all the Social Democratic parties rallied in support of their governments in waging war. It was left to the SPGB in this country to issue a statement of total opposition to the war: “Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism".

Among other things this meant rejecting the attitude of Marx and Engels in favour of supporting a “defensive war" and their attitude towards war with Russia. As late as 1891 Engels, in a letter to Bebel had written:
Between a Socialist France and a ditto Germany an Alsace-Lorraine problem has no existence at all. Hence there is no reason whatsoever for a war on account of Alsace-Lorraine. If, however, the French bourgeoisie begins a war themselves, and for this purpose place themselves in the service of the Russian Tsar, who is also the enemy of the bourgeoisie of the whole of western Europe, this will be the renunciation of France's revolutionary mission. We German Socialists, on the other hand, have the duty of maintaining, not only against the internal but against the external foe. If Russia is victorious we shall be crushed. Therefore if Russia begins war go for her! Go for the Russians and their allies, whoever they may be.
The same letter contained two other statements foreshadowing the new departure of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Engels, with the German Social Democratic Party in mind, wrote — "We have the almost absolute certainty of coming to power within ten years" and then wrote: "If a war brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies: they will deceive and destroy us wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them."

The SPGB rejects outright any idea of the working class taking power for socialism "prematurely". It will be noticed that Engels talked of using "terror" against a section of the working class described by him as "people with technical training”. Such people are members of the working class just like any other wage and salary earners. We take literally, as Engels did not, his own statement that “the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they must act". It is of course an enormous task to win over the working class to an understanding of socialism, but the "technicians" are no more slow to accept it than any other workers.

While there was a Social Democratic Federation in this country proclaiming itself Marxist the course of development was different from that in Germany and other continental countries. The SDF, formed in 1884, gained only a few votes at elections. This was duly noted by J. Keir Hardie. He ascribed it to the "narrowness" of the SDF's appeal to the workers and argued that the road to socialism had to be by broadening the appeal, especially to trade unions, so that a mass party could be built up and the membership then won over to socialism. It was on this basis that Hardie founded the Independent Labour Party in 1893. (He had already been elected to Parliament as an “independent socialist" on such a broad programme.) He and the ILP were active in the formation of the Labour Party in 1906 and he was its first Chairman. Hardie insisted that the Labour Party was a Marxist party, and. in effect, the Labour Party became the British equivalent of the German Social Democratic Party, the supposed socialist victories of which had misled Engels.

It is therefore against the policies and development of the Labour Party that the line taken by the SPGB can be assessed. In 1907. while Hardie was Chairman of the Labour Party, he published two works From Serfdom to Socialism and My confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance. In the first he stated his socialist objective: 
State Socialism, with all its drawbacks, and these I frankly admit, will prepare the way for free Communism in which . .   . the rule of life will be — From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
(By "State Socialism" of course he meant nationalisation, or “State capitalism”).

In his Confession of Faith Hardie made several statements about Marx and Marxism:
The Labour Party is the only expression of orthodox Marxian Socialism in Great Britain.
(Hardie knew all about the SPGB but chose to ignore it.)
The Labour Party practices the Marxian policy of the class struggle, and is blamed by its critics for doing so.
The founders of the ILP, and even more so, of the Labour Party were, if I may use the expression, in the direct line of apostolic succession from Marx and the other great master minds of Socialist theory and policy.
Hardie made much of the argument that the Labour Party was a party of workers, "working out their own emancipation", and delivered a telling blow against H.M. Hyndman, a leading member of the SDF: "It is a favourite saying of Mr. H.M. Hyndman that ‘no slave class ever emancipated itself."

He also boasted of the unprecedented success of the Labour Party in already having thirty members in Parliament. This "success" was to continue until, in 1945, with 393 MPs, they had a clear majority and still claimed that their objective was Socialism (by which they meant State Capitalism) though by then, the claim to be Marxist had disappeared. The Labour Party had gone the way of the German Social Democratic Party, supported British capitalism in two world wars and had become simply an alternative to the Tories in running capitalism. Keir Hardie's belief that a socialist minority would win over the non-socialist trade union members to socialism had sunk without trace in the Labour Party, dependent on trade union money and dominated by the affiliated trade unions.

Keir Hardie. in his Confession of Faith, had already seen one aspect of the development, the infiltration of "men who act as though their principal reason for being in the ILP is that they may get returned to Parliament".

With the collapse of the Liberal Party after World War I there was a flood of ex-Liberal MPs and members into the Labour Party, who did not even pretend to have any interest in socialism. They were to the fore in winning over the Labour Party and trade unions to the view that Marx was out of date and that the way ahead was the improvement of capitalism on the lines of the doctrines of J.M. Keynes.

It has been left to the SPGB to keep alive the socialist ideas of Marx in this country, vindicating the position taken up at our formation in 1904.
Edgar Hardcastle


White Law (1983)

1965 cover.
Book Review from the April 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

117 Days: An Account of Confinement and Interrogation under the South African 90-Day Detention Law by Ruth First (Penguin. 1982).

Originally published in 1965, 117 Days has been reissued following Ruth First's death last year in Maputo, Mozambique. She was killed by a letter bomb which, according to Ronald Segal in his preface to this new edition, was issued by “those guards of the South African regime . . . not swaggering in their uniforms but in a seemingly safe package which had been treated to blow her apart". Ruth First was well known to the South African authorities before her imprisonment in 1963 because she had published accounts of the use of forced labour on the farms of the Transvaal and exposed the conditions under which migrant labourers worked in the gold mines of South Africa.

First was arrested under the General Law Amendment Act of 1963. A person could be arrested without warrant if they were suspected of having committed or intending to commit any offence under the Suppression of Communism Act (1950), or if suspected of sabotage or in possession of any information relating to such an offence. The person could be detained for a period not in excess of ninety days or until that person, in the opinion of the Commissioner of the South African Police, had satisfactorily answered all questions during interrogation. The act became known as the "90-Day Law".

Ruth First was arrested under suspicion without warrant and without facing trial. After her initial arrest she was released just within the period of ninety days, only to be immediately rearrested. She spent a total of 117 days in solitary confinement undergoing repeated interrogation. She had already been banned "from writing, from compiling any material for publication, from entering newspaper premises . . . I had worked for five publications and each had, in turn, been banned or driven out of existence by the Nationalist Government". She had in her home, at the time of her arrest, a copy of Fighting Talk, a publication she had edited for nine years and possession of which was punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of one year.

First was originally imprisoned in Marshall Square. The conditions under which she was detained are described in horrific detail and with touches of irony:
   I, a prisoner held under top security conditions, was forbidden books, visitors, contact with any other prisoner; but like any white South African Madam I sat in bed each morning, and Africans did the cleaning for the “missus".
Even the bucket of hot water for washing, a concession for “Ninety-Dayers". was brought to the cell by the African inmates until a shower was finally installed in the prison during her two months at Marshall Square. She was then moved to Pretoria Central Prison for the next twenty-eight days before being returned to Marshall Square.

Although never charged. First was aware that the Security Police knew of the magazine at her home and that she had attended meetings at Rivonia with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others. Interrogation took a number of forms and ranged from threats such as "this is the first period of ninety days; there can be another after that, and yet another" to cajolements such as “we’re not holding you, you’re holding yourself. You have the key to your release. Answer our questions, tell us what we want to know , and you will turn the key in the door".

Ruth First’s portrait of prison is not limited to her experiences but covers the experiences of many others including Looksmart Solwandle Ngudle, who committed suicide during imprisonment, and Isaac Tlale who revealed evidence concerning his own torture during “90-Days" imprisonment and of the torture of Ngudle:
  Looksmart by his death and Tlale by his courage had lifted the lid for the first time on the systematic resort to torture of Ninety-Day detainees by the Security Branch.
First focuses attention on the South African prison system’s concern with vengeance. She herself attempted suicide during her second period of detention. Her conclusion is that "these amateurs in political sleuthing who seized books because they had ‘black’ or ‘red’ in the title had developed into sophisticated sadistic mind-breakers in the matter of a few years”. This is a savage indictment of the South African policies of apartheid and the suppression of any ideas conflicting with the status quo in that country.
Philip Bentley



Harnessing the wind (1983)

Book Review from the May 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capturing Energy from the Wind. by James L. Schefter (NASA. 1982).

Generating energy from the wind is an old proven technique which became obsolete as capitalism developed. Now in an updated form it is the subject of some renewal of interest in view of the uncertainty about oil supplies and the problems currently surrounding nuclear fission power. This NASA publication carries a certain amount of useful historical and technical information but little conviction when it tries to show that the American authorities really are making determined efforts in this direction. Concern with the profitability potential is evident, leaving the impression that this publication is not much more than window dressing. Admittedly, it does not take too much imagination to envisage a situation in which the ruling class might regret their present uncommitted attitude, but capitalism is not conducive to long term planning which involves a long, anxious wait between investment and return. To the socialist, however, wind power is of interest because it offers an ecologically benign method of energy generation in keeping with the co-operative society.

Wind machines are as old as civilisation. Persian writers of several hundred years BC described gardens irrigated by wind-driven water lifts. It is believed that this ancient technology may have been carried by returning Crusaders, as it was about this time that windmills appeared in Northern Europe. In America a different, small design extended agriculture and ranching into previously barren land. In the forty-years before national grids became established, the windmills took on a new role as generators of electricity.

These early windmills were mechanically inefficient. The wind is a fitful thing, one moment too weak to be harnessed, the next so potent that the best wind turbine has to be shut down in self- preservation. The nature of the loading leads to fatigue problems on the rotor blades and shafts. The Department of Energy/NASA programme which this booklet claims to describe is, within its constraints, trying to apply modern technology to these problems.

Four aircraft companies have been contracted to design wind turbine components. Not only does this bring sophisticated technical expertise on the scene, but it also provides the capitalist owners with a potential alternative product. (It is quite possible that aircraft sales, both civil and military, will dip permanently in the future.) This powerful sectional interest should not be ignored, but the author makes clear that profitability, in particular the cost of energy produced is the overriding consideration. To quote Schefter: “So important is the factor that a predetermined cost of energy goal is written into every wind turbine development contract". This philosophy, inherent to capitalism, tends to favour wasteful, polluting methods of production over environmentally conservative alternatives because generally speaking the conservation element puts a non-profit making block into the loop.

Under socialism different, socially oriented criteria will be employed when democratic decisions are made about what technology should be used for given tasks. The profit-led economic considerations of capitalism will be a thing of the past. It is however encouraging to hear of the progress being made despite limited financial support to overcome the technical problems associated with this environmentally satisfactory method of energy production.
E. C. Edge

Election Notebook (1983)

From the June 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

No vote
Leo Morris will not be voting in the election because he is in gaol and by the time he comes out there will be a new government running British capitalism and wondering what on earth they will do with all those promises they made about peace and prosperity for all if they won.

It may be of little consolation to Leo Morris but his incarceration illustrates a fact of capitalist life and those workers who are prepared to weigh up the true power of their vote at the election might ponder it, and what it represents.

Leo Morris was sent to prison for two months — the maximum at the court's power — for being drunk and falling asleep when he was in charge of a railway signal box. As a result there were long delays to trains on the main line from Paddington to Cornwall; the magistrate told the hapless signalman (or rather ex-signalman, now) that "It is very fortunate for you and all concerned that there was no accident".

Indeed. But at least this shows that Leo Morris had a job which is useful and important to the safety of human beings. There are many other occupations of which this can’t be said, where it doesn’t matter if you are drunk every day, three times a day. Mark Thatcher, for example, can be drunk or sober without affecting the welfare and safety of other people. Observers in the public gallery of the Stock Exchange during the period of labour after lunch in the City will see several people whose sobriety or inebriation is of absolutely no consequence. No member of the capitalist class has ever been prosecuted for being drunk in charge of a dividend cheque.

It is the working class, who rely on selling their labour power for their living, who do all the useful work in capitalism. Leo Morris had been on the railways for 35 years and he was doing an especially important job. The punishment he got for failing to do this job to the highest standards shows how vital it is.

So the issue is: there are two classes in society, one productive and useful and the other non-productive and redundant. The useful one is the majority and they run society now, but in the interests of the other class. It is time for the majority to take over society and to begin to run it in their own interests.

That is the real issue in this election. Whenever the working class go to the polls they have the opportunity to begin the revolution; human society is up for grabs and the evidence is there, before the voters’ eyes and in their ears, of the vital need to take it.


Crusader
He was not the only one to do it but Tony Benn was characteristically quick off the mark in greeting the election as “. . . the most critical in this century". The other politicians had different time scales — for them the election was the most critical of the decade, a lifetime, in the history of the human race. It is part of their unsavoury job, to tell us that it is of crucial importance whether the Labour Party or the Conservatives rule in Westminster.

Benn was prepared to go further than that. In fact, of course, going too far is what he is famous for: "Labour’s policies had to be taken to the people with the passion of a moral crusade". (Guardian 11 May 1983.)

No details were offered about the scope of this morality — about Labour’s plans to again hold back wage rises by negotiating an overall deal with the unions, about their clear intention (whatever happens to their professed commitment to ban British nuclear weapons) to remain within the nuclear-armed NATO power bloc.

The morality of these policies fits in exactly with that of capitalist society, with protecting the interests of a minority class of parasites. They are based on a confidence that capitalism will continue, with its wars, poverty, class conflict, famine, disease . . .

An absent-minded politician might one day describe these policies for what they are — a cobbling up of the remnants of previous failures. But leaders like Benn are always alert, quick to stitch up the remnants into an historically vital crusade for an eternal morality.

Experience makes it obvious that this is nonsense. It matters not one whit to the working class — who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s people — whether one capitalist party or another is in power, trying to control the system’s uncontrollable anarchy.

Of course it might make a difference to Benn, whose ambitions are very different from the abolition of capitalism. The summit of his achievements would be to wave to the crowds from the steps of Number Ten. as British capitalism’s Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury.

Science and madness (1983)

TV Review from the July 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last programme of Jonathan Miller’s series on BBC2 entitled States of Mind brought to a head one of its recurring themes: can psychology in any of its forms be considered as a science and, moreover, what exactly is a science? This question is of interest because its resolution parallels the debate between the “idealist" and "materialist" approaches to politics.

Dr. Miller’s guest in this programme was Dr. Thomas Szasz, and his hypothesis was that there is not, and never has been, anything to prove that certain mental states are to be considered as medical conditions. He then went on to make several very persuasive points to this end. He said that it is only since around 1800 that mental institutions (mad houses) have existed and that society did not recognise "madness" before that time. He thought it highly significant that only in so-called “mental illnesses" did the state have the power to forcefully administer “treatment" (like locking away). Unlike other medical conditions, he said, no physical agent could be discovered in causing symptoms of mental disorder. And finally he stated that the victims of such medical treatment by the state were mostly those who rejected the values of society; the fact that theirs is a minority opinion is no proof of insanity, since all majority opinion was once a minority one at some time. It is not claimed that early Christians were all mad because they were in the minority. His conclusion in the light of all this was that a scientific (medical) approach to mental conditions was fundamentally inappropriate and dangerous, and that it should be replaced by a moral and ethical one.

It is undeniable that capitalism has used psychology for its own ends, as it does with every discovery, but this misuse can be seen as a direct result of the morality to which the doctor wants to turn, and not as a logical result of the scientific method itself. As Marx showed, by using the same scientific method, the morality of any social epoch is that of its ruling class, and as the doctor pointed out, it is no coincidence that it is the non-conformers who are removed by this misuse of science. The majority prejudice in society against so-called mental cases is fostered by the state so that this removal can continue. To claim that it is science which causes such abuse is like saying that physics, and not the political regime under which it has to work, is responsible for nuclear weapons.

Dr. Szasz’s confusion lies in his misunderstanding of what science really is, and it seems appropriate to let Sigmund Freud enlighten him. Freud says that science endeavours “to understand the phenomena, to establish a correlation between them and, in the end, if it is possible, to enlarge our power over them” (Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis). The doctor, in contrast to this, seems to see science as many intellectuals do, in terms of a metaphysical dogma of black and white, right and wrong. But science is in fact the direct opposite to this moral idealism, because it concentrates on the dynamics of nature where there are none of these absolutes: Hence the doctor's misplaced criticism when he reverses the qualities attributable to science and morality and completely overlooks the real problem, the social power of capitalism.

As Freud continues in his article: “Its (science’s) findings are bound to canvass on its behalf and it can wait until these have compelled attention to it". In other words, it is the scientific method and its discoveries which can help to undermine social prejudices. This is exactly what Marx did with his analysis of history and it has proved, together with such as physics, chemistry, biology, psychology that the scientific method, however incomplete, is alone to be considered as the relevant method of analysis of society today.
Andrew Westley

British rope trick (1983)

From the August 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Although it struck panic into the abolitionists, the recent debate and free vote on the issue of capital punishment was part of an established tradition; every new parliament tries to discuss and decide the matter in its first session. The new Home Secretary Leon Brittan quickly declared his intention of arranging a debate — some said in order to avoid the pressure to reintroduce hanging from the enthusiasts at the Tory conference in the autumn and which some new Conservative MPs might find difficult to resist. There was also a nasty rumour that those same MPs might want to get into favour with Margaret Thatcher, who favours capital punishment, but our elected representatives would never behave in such a craven, dishonest way, would they? At any event, the hangers are not likely to have a better chance to restore the gallows to British gaols.

The exact origins of capital punishment — the putting to death by the state of people who in particular ways transgress its laws — are hard to discover. The earliest recorded example was the “blood for blood” law of BC2343, whereas the ancient Greeks were the first to use courts to try suspected murderers in BC1178. In Britain social conformity was sometimes enforced by drowning dissenters in quagmires (which even the Tories don’t seem yet to favour) but regulated capital punishment did not appear until the time of the Romans.

Throughout British history the number of crimes which might result in being put to death has varied widely. Ethelbert I of Kent, on the grounds that killing men deprived him of an army, abolished capital punishment (women were considered dispensable and so were drowned if they fell foul of the law). William I banned executions as he considered that mutilation was a more effective penalty. William Rufus reintroduced the death penalty to protect the royal deer from unauthorised hunters and from then the number of capital crimes grew steadily: by the fifteenth century virtually every prison contained a gallows and public executions were an accepted form of popular entertainment (P.N. Walker, Punishment, An Illustrated History, David and Charles, 1972).

By the early nineteenth century the number of capital offences had risen to 220 and offenders could be strung up for such heinous crimes as causing damage to Westminster Bridge, appearing disguised on a public road and shooting rabbits (C. Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, Journeyman Press, 1981). The response to this was that juries commonly refused to convict; with law and order in such disrepute, the Tory government of the time were forced to decapitalise many offences. The same motives were behind the decision to abolish public hangings in 1868, as it was felt that the deterrent value of such a ritual was dwarfed by the risk to public order as crowds at a public hanging could often be induced to riot.

As the nineteenth century wore on the number of capital offences fell steadily from its all-time peak of 220 to four in 1861, where it remained until the twentieth century. There was a persistent campaign for abolition, until in 1956 the House of Commons passed Labour MP Sidney Silverman’s Bill which would have ended capital punishment. The Bill was rejected by the Lords, leading to the compromise of the 1957 Homicide Act which made a distinction between capital and non-capital murders, in much the same way as some MPs now want to reintroduce hanging for some types of murder. However, differential sentences caused many anomalies, which led to the death penalty being finally abolished in 1965, a situation which survived with none of the major capitalist parties being prepared to risk making a manifesto declaration on the issue.

There can be no doubt that an execution is a hideous ritual; the governor of San Quentin Prison, in California, describes a hanging thus:
   The day before an execution the prisoner goes through a harrowing experience of being weighed, measured the length of drop to ensure breaking of the neck, size of the neck, body measurements etc.
    When the trap springs he dangles at the end of the rope. There are times when the neck has not been broken and the prisoner strangles to death. His eyes pop almost out of his head, his tongue swells and protrudes from his mouth. . . The prisoner remains dangling from the end of the rope for from eight to fourteen minutes before the doctor pronounces him dead. (Guardian 4 July 1983).
This barbarity is the result of nine hundred years of improvements in the techniques of hanging, from its origins as a form of execution designed to be extremely painful and degrading for the lower orders (noblemen enjoyed the dubious privilege of a private beheading, considered to be a more honourable way to die). Hanging is now justified as the most humane possible method of execution (Gowers Commission, Conclusion, paras 62-3) and various reasons are given to support the view that its return would civilise society.

The first is that a person who is unlawfully killed must be avenged. This “eye for an eye” concept of justice does not mean, however, that everyone who kills will be executed; a serviceman is a hero if he kills in uniform in the Falklands but a vicious thug if he does it in civilian clothes in Britain. There will be no calls at the Tory conference for the execution of Margaret Thatcher in revenge for her part in sending British workers to kill, and to be killed, in the South Atlantic. The food producers who destroy vast quantities of produce to preserve their profits while millions are dying of starvation will not be strung up. In capitalist society killing in pursuit of profit is an accepted norm and the people who perpetrate it enjoy a great deal of social esteem.

Execution for revenge is a backwards-orientated punishment; it cannot benefit the original victim in any way, even if it gives some ghoulish thrill of satisfaction to some survivors. There is another drawback to this irreversible act of revenge: since hanging was abolished in 1965 six men have been pardoned after being found guilty of what at one time would have been capital crimes (Guardian 4 July 1983). Of course there is always the chance of rehabilitation after death and the admission that it was all a terrible mistake; as in the famous case of Timothy Evans, the remains may be moved to consecrated ground, presumably on the argument that in some way this makes full amends.

The most popular argument for the death penalty is that it acts as a deterrent. (This is even popular with many criminals: the Guardian of 7 July published a letter from a lifer in Parkhurst arguing the deterrent case.) In fact, of course, every execution shows that the deterrent has failed. The belief stretches back as far as 1810 when Lord Ellenborough declared that removing the death penalty for stealing five shillings would lead to an epidemic of crime (C. Duff, op cit). The invalidity of the deterrent argument is illustrated by the facts, which speak inconveniently for the hysterical hangers. Over 80 per cent of murders are spontaneous (Patterns of Murder, Vigil of the Observer) and would not have been prevented by a fear of the consequences. European homicide figures around the time that the death penalty was abolished show that in no country was the ending of execution followed by a rise in homicide (Duff op cit).

Some elements of the pro-hanging lobby say they would be satisfied with a return to the post-1957 situation, which they argue would reverse what they see as a frightening rise in violent crime and "terrorism". In fact the rise in murder in connection with crimes for gain was established while it was still a capital offence and slowed down in the 1970s when it was not (Guardian 4 July 1983). It is also false to suggest that the death penalty would deter “political murderers” like the IRA (who kill British troops rather than vice versa). This argument takes no account of the hunger strikes of 1981; if “terrorists" are prepared to starve themselves to death for a political point and martyrdom it is hardly likely that a British rope, and even greater martyrdom, will be a deterrent.

What then would be the effect of a return to capital punishment? Enough meticulously organised killing to satisfy the most blood-lusting. One estimate (published in the Guardian. 4 July 1983) was that it would mean an average of one execution a week, or over one a month if the post-1957 situation were to obtain. There is no evidence to suggest that it would have any effect on the murder rate, for a murder — or indeed any crime — is not an isolated event caused by some failing or evil in its perpetrator. To understand a criminal act — or rather an act defined as criminal by the law — it is necessary to see it in relation to the social system which allows a secure and abundant life to a small minority of people and condemns the majority to a life of sub-standard housing, food and services and to unfulfilling jobs or unemployment. The working class generally see their inevitable frustrations as the faults of their neighbours or workmates or families or some other religious, racial or political group. It is no surprise that since the turn of the century Royal Commissions have viewed murder as mainly an incident in some miserable lives rather than as the preserve of the “criminal classes" (Patterns of Murder, op cit).

Neither the reintroduction of capital punishment, nor its continued absence from the options available to courts, will lead to a murder-free society. Crime has roots in the social relationships of this system and will pass when this society is ended. The argument about hanging is imbued with, and distorted by, a morass of emotion. In its proper context, we should see that in innumerable ways, all the time, capitalism kills; it is a social system unfit for human habitation.
John Critchfield

End of the hammer and sickle? (1983)

Editorial from the September 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Skilled commercial artists who also have political knowledge and (most important) an active memory might like to submit their suggested design for a new symbol for the Communist Party of Great Britain, to replace the traditional, and once much revered, hammer and sickle. According to a recent report in the Guardian, the CP are discarding the old symbol because the hammer and sickle, representing a unity between peasants and workers, is out of date. There aren't that many peasants now. Hardened cynics will not be alone if they question whether this is the authentic reason, whether the CP is not also worried about its falling membership, the desperate financial straits of the Morning Star and the fact that they have been outsmarted and overtaken by the trotskyist fringe in the long-running farce of trying to be what is called the vanguard of the working class. Beside the dramatic and exciting activities of the Socialist Workers Party and the rest, the CP appears to he faded and stale If the CP are now looking for a new logo it could well be that, like any commercial firm in trouble, they are hoping to recast their entire image.

Any artist thinking of entering a design faces some formidable problems. It would be difficult enough to symbolise any political party but for one like the CP it becomes almost impossible. To begin with, there are the embarrassments of the party's history, including so many twists and turns, so much compromise and backtracking. How could the slavish adherence to the policies and the interests of the Russian ruling class, involving those infamous overnight changes in policy over the 1939-45 war and the cynical justification of the Stalinist terror which wiped out tens of millions of Russian people, be encompassed in a mere badge?

Then what about the splits opened up in the CP by events like the Russian invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary in 1956? These were classic examples of a ruthless imperialist power crushing a threat to its dominance in its sphere of influence — although in these cases the suppression was called Saving Socialism. Such acts are normal in world capitalism but many members of the CP were shocked and outraged because they lacked an understanding of the realities of this system and so were blind to the fact that Russia is another capitalist state, competing against the rest in the deadly business of international conflict.

One example of these conflicts, which again caused much agonv and confusion in the CP, was the antagonism between Russia and China. Communist mythology at one time had it that both these stales were “socialist" and stood in ideological unity against the powers of western capitalism. This fallacy bolstered many delusions among CP members, who preferred romance to knowledge. When the conflict between Russia and China, over the usual issues of economic and political dominance, came into the open, it provoked much questioning and reassessment among CP members. The result was that many of them, unable to reconcile the irreconcilable, left the CP in despair. 

Any new badge for the CP must obviously make reference to the unsavoury tactics of reformist compromise, of which they have always been such enthusiastic exponents. No issue has been too big or too small, too lasting or too temporary, for them to have considered it unworthy of their shrill advice. They have flown banner headlines, organised indignant campaigns, long marches, heated protests . . .  In these campaigns the CP plumbed the depths of dishonesty in the hope of winning the support of workers who did not understand the futility of reformism. They have advised workers to vote for the Labour Party although they were aware that a Labour government would be in continual conflict with the very people who had voted for them. During the war the CP backed Conservative candidates in by-elections, provided they stood as supporters of the Churchill coalition, which oversaw the war effort of British capitalism in alliance with that of Russia. These characteristics are common in the political parties of capitalism so in the end any logo successfully designed for the CP would probably do equally well for the rest. It would need to symbolise ignorance, confusion, despair, cynicism and repression — the entire spectrum of misery which capitalism imposes on the majority of its people.

The alternative to this mess of cynicism and futility lies in political consciousness. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no time for compromise; we stand entirely and singly for the establishment of a new social order. This order can be brought into being only through a social revolution which must be the outcome of a democratic act by the world working class. And the essential of that act is that it will he the work of politically aware socialists — of people throughout the world who understand that capitalism cannot operate in their interests and who have therefore resolved to sweep it away and replace it with socialism.

But conscious political action cannot result from confusion and deceit. A party which aims, as the SPGB aims, at the development and expansion of political awareness cannot achieve its object by spreading confusion and by wavering in its principles. Such a party must be based on its object of socialism; nothing else will do and nothing else will therefore be considered. From this basis the events of capitalism, and the actions of the parties which support capitalism, can be analysed and exposed.

Socialism will be a society based on the communal ownership of the means of production and distribution. It will be a democratically controlled society. Its wealth will be turned out to meet human needs and will therefore be freely available to everyone. It will be a system without classes and therefore without class conflict. Socialism's harmony of interests will remove war and poverty from human experience. That will be a very different social order from that which dominates us today and which is supported by parties like the CP. They may give themselves a smart new symbol but their tawdry reality remains.

Obituary: Ron Everson (1983)

Ron Everson, 1955.
Obituary from the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with regret that we report the death earlier this year in Wellington of our comrade Ron Everson; he was 83. A native of London, Ron settled in New Zealand after a short period as a seaman. Along with his brother, Rolph, he was a founder member of the Wellington branch of the Socialist Party of New Zealand in 1932 and for nearly fifty years was either its secretary or literature secretary.

Ron was an active trade unionist in the meat workers and waterfront workers unions and was held in high esteem by members of the Wellington Trades Council, who placed an obituary notice in the Wellington Evening Post. The New Zealand Federation of Labour was represented at the funeral service by its secretary.

As a debater Ron’s skill was matched by the quality of the many articles he contributed to the journals of the socialist movement. He will be remembered with affection by all of his comrades, who extend deepest sympathy to his wife. Amy.
SPNZ