Monday, November 6, 2017

Apartheid Must Go (1966)

From the September 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist party is opposed to Apartheid, just as to any other policy or movement based on colour prejudice. We think racism is foolish, unscientific and against the interests of the working class. We can see that the South African government's slogan of Apartheid ("separation") is really a hypocritical screen for haasskap (white domination), and that all manner of atrocities and hatreds flourish under the Verwoerd tyranny.

Our attack on apartheid is quite distinct from the attacks made on it by other organisations such as the Labour Party, Communist Party, Christian Action, etc. We do not support the “anti-apartheid" movement.

Socialism will be a world wide democratic community without private or government ownership of the means of production and will mean the end of Apartheid, together with a lot of other major human problems like wars, slumps and poverty.

To detach ourselves from other organisations who attach apartheid is no sectarian quibble: the most that members of the anti-Apartheid Movement can suggest to replace Apartheid is something rather like we have in Britain today. In other words, they want to swap one system of oppression for another. The only “equality" they want for the races of South Africa consists of the equal "privileges" of wage-slavery.

The best interests of industrial capitalism in South Africa call for the abandonment of Apartheid policies and the putting into effect of social reforms aimed at integrating Africans into the labour force as better trained exploitable wage workers. However, in view of the historical background of South Africa, capitalism has to adjust itself to a political situation that expresses the deeply entrenched prejudice that exists.

The contradictions between Apartheid and developing capitalism manifest themselves in hundreds of ways. Year by year the number of black Africans living in the “white" towns rises. Government policy is to strengthen tribalism: town life smashes tribalism. Without black African custom many "white" shops would have to close. Employers are increasingly annoyed at not being able to choose their own African workers: they have to recruit them through labour bureaus. The African workers' unions are not recognised by the government, but increasingly they are by the employers. Because of an acute shortage of labour, especially skilled labour, the system of job-reservation is being ignored “temporarily" in numerous cases

Soil erosion is a massive problem in South Africa, especially on the 13 per cent of the land occupied by Africans. To bring in adequate conservation measures, at least a quarter of the Africans on the reserves ought to leave, but government policy is to cram even more in.

Verwoerd wants to develop a series of “Bantustans" or “heartlands’ for Africans alone, and these provinces are supposed to evolve towards self-government. But it is commonly accepted even in $outh Africa that only one of these, the Transkei, will ever have more than nominal existence. The fact that a third of the African population lives on white-owned farms shows the ludicrousness of the Bantustan policy—but the government must try to carry this policy through to preserve the myth that the ethnic groups are being gradually separated, whereas in fact, African migration to urban areas continues.

The contradictions are there—and growing. But they are to some extent cushioned by the present boom. As long as the rate of profit is as high as it is in South Africa today, industrialists will be merely irritated by job reservation, etc., and will hang on to the apron-strings of the farming interests and the Verwoerd government. With greater pressures on profit margins, however, the apartheid statutes which help to maintain an exclusive, high-priced white labour supply, would become a more serious threat to industrial prosperity. The capitalist class would then become more aggressively dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction is already being expressed in these sections of the South African press which support industrial capitalism. The financial column of The Johnnesburg Star, (29.6.66) said:
  “South Africa is being drawn inexorably into a decisive choice between the demands of economic necessity and the dictates of ’idealistic principles,’
  “An obvious and surely inevitable step will be the more efficient use of the country's vast labour force, a major proportion of which is at present not only not being effectively used but is not being properly trained for the future.
   “And if South Africa is to retain its present competitive position in world markets and to build up internal demand for its products it must train its total labour force and raise the earnings of the thousands of workers who become more productive.”
Any large-scale anti-state action by the South African people (riots, mass strikes, etc.) would cause a drop in foreign investment in South Africa, disrupt the stability of society and call for far greater expenditure on repressive forces.

The attitude of the British capitalist towards South Africa is conditioned on the one hand by the fact that South Africa is Britain’s third best customer, and that two-thirds of all pays lip service to a repugnance for apartheid in its everyday relations with South Africa, it is business as usual.

Only the Socialist looks beyond all this, to a world where exploitation of man by man has gone. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is with the working class of South Africa in their struggle for democracy, for the vote and for the right to strike. But more than that, we work for the day when black, white, coloured and Indian workers in South Africa will unite with workers all over the world to remove wage-slavery and establish Socialism.
Steele.

Mr. Europe Retires (1966)

Book Review from the October 1966  issue of the Socialist Standard

Paul Henri Spaak of Belgium has retired from politics. His post-war work with the UN, OEEC and NATO gained him the reputation of being a great European statesman and internationalist. What is not so well known is that in his younger days Spaak had the reputation of being a militant Socialist. In Mr. Europe J. H. Huizinga traced Spaak’s career in which there is much to interest the student of politics.

Spaak is the last of a family of “radical" politicians. His grandfather, Paul Janson, a great orator, fought for universal suffrage against his party the Liberals. His uncle Paul-Emile Janson, also a Liberal, was Prime Minister and his mother was the first woman Senator in Belgium. It was with this background of a lively family interest in politics that Spaak grew up. After completing his legal training he joined the Belgian Socialist Party regarding them as the vanguard of progress. This party had by this time abandoned most of what had been considered principles by Social Democrats. It had supported the First World War in alliance with the other parties of capitalism and had even dropped its opposition to the monarchy.

Belgium at this time was suffering the results of having been part of the battlefield in the First World War, with its industry and agriculture in ruins and heavy unemployment. Spaak joined in the work of his party with enthusiasm, addressing meetings and touring the country lecturing to workers' political education classes. As in his choice of political party, so in his preparation as a political tutor of workers, much was left to be desired:
  . . . Paul Henri spent more of his leisure playing very good tennis and equally good bridge than reading Karl Marx. In fact he has never read more than a vulgarization of the master’s works. Spaak spent many years campaigning
against the leadership of his party for their willingness to join in coalitions with the Catholic and Liberal parties. He founded a fortnightly journal called Bataille Socialste using it against the party leaders. Huizinga quotes snatches of it:
   'The socialist revolution is our ideal  . . .  we are revolutionaries’, he wrote in 1927, ‘because we want a radical, total transformation of existing society . . . We accept neither the principle of private properly, the cornerstone of modem society . . .  nor that of a wage-earning class, the foundation of capitalism, nor that of the bourgeois family which finds it raison d’etre in the passing of wealth, nor that of the Fatherland . . . These principles we will not have at any price. Our Socialism aims to destroy and extirpate them’. ‘I believe more than ever’, he writes in 1933, ‘in the reality of the class struggle, in the necessity of preparing the proletariat for direct action, in the revolutionary possibilities of our epoch and in the necessity that will confront us, once we get into power by whatever method, to maintain ourselves in power by dictatorial methods; only revolutionaries are realists’.
These quotations are evidence of confused thinking not only by Spaak but also by today's left-wingers. Professing socialist aims whilst giving active support to a reformist party; advocating direct action yet eagerly canvassing votes at election times.

By now the world slump was in progress and Belgium's workers suffered like the rest. Spaak had built up quite a following and was causing the leadership a headache. In fact an attempt to have him expelled was defeated at the 1934 party conference.

His attitude to the development of fascism is worth noting. He saw the solution in demonstrations and acts of violence. The Rexist party, led by Leon Degrelle, a party of militant catholics who saw as their task the extermination of communism (that is, Russian state capitalism), was the Belgian equivalent of fascism. They burst on the political scene in spectacular fashion and within a short time had twenty-one members of Parliament. Their leader saw his chance of staking a claim to power. In 1937 one of his Brussels MP's resigned thereby causing a by election. Degrelle was put up as candidate challenging all comers, hoping for an overwhelming victory so as to cause a new election with the chance of coming to power on the wave of popular support. The challenge was taken up by Van Zeeland the Prime Minister and member of the Catholic party. The result was a 4—1 victory for Van Zeeland and at the next general election the number of Rexist MP’s was reduced to four.

It is not for socialists to advocate the lesser of two evils. The lesson lies not in the choice made by the electorate but that it was the electorate, the majority of them workers, who decided the political fate of the Rexists.

Within a few days of being involved in an unsuccessful attempt to organise a mass march on Brussels by the workers of Belgium, Spaak accepted a post of junior minister and his days of misguided rebellion were at an end. He joined a coalition of Catholics and so-called socialists doing precisely the thing which he had denounced his leaders for doing earlier. This was in 1935. From then on his rise was rapid. Within a few months he was Foreign Minister and by 1938, at the age of 38, he became Belgium's youngest Prime Minister and the [first] member of his party to have the job.

Disillusion had set in after years of confused struggle. Spaak's muddled ideas of revolution gave way to half-baked ones of turning capitalism "from a system of exploitation of the working class into a horn of plenty for all”. His party had produced a plan of action advocating replacing deflationary policies by Keynesian ideas of combatting the slump. It was this that Spaak now fought for.

Acceptance of the responsibility of administering capitalism soon aroused the opposition of his own party. One instance was the recognition of the Franco government in Spain in line with the economic interest of Belgium. This was ratified by Parliament by the votes of the hated Rexists and opposed by many of his own party.

Recent history has shown.the worthlessness of the ‘‘horn of plenty” theory. The Second World War, with its abundance of slaughter, destruction and terror, was the end of it. Since then Belgium has had its shares of problems. Workers still having to strike to defend their living standards show how little the system has changed. Language problems, the Congo, industrial stagnation, the diplomatic jungle of political, trade and military alliances are all part of the unwholesome mess that administrators of the horn of plenty have to deal with.

Paul Henri Spaak's career, a great success by the standards of today's world, is an example of what the future may hold for the well-heeled young rebel. To the worker the warning is clear. Leaders cannot solve our class problems. Spaak is but one of the many leaders who have had your support. All have failed to produce a solution.
Joe Carter

Monopoly (1966)

Book Review from the November 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Capitalism is the system under which profit-seeking is the main purpose of men's undertakings; self-interest is the motivating force that drives them. Each person seeks his own maximum gain in an unending struggle. Seller is pitted against seller in the eternal rivalry of the marketplace.
  Under this system men would rather see their fellow human beings, women and children, die, rather than forgo any profits. They will, knowingly, sell poison or lethal weapons—provided there is money to be made.
  Self-styled respectable businessmen use known gangsters in the struggle for survival. They throw away food in order to reap gold. They lie, cheat and bully with one end in view: profits.
It is rare that we Socialists can take such an indictment of capitalism from the writings of a politician who actively helped the capitalist world go round upon its bumpy axis; a member of the American House of Representatives for nine years, and after that a U.S. Senator; even, in 1956, the Democrats' candidate for Vice-President.

Yet from a book by the late Estes Kefauver, and with neither unfair quoting out of context nor exaggeration, the indictment of the first three paragraphs above has been taken. His analysis of monopoly power in America, In A Few Hands, has just been published here for the first time as a Pelican Original (price 6s.).

Kefauver, who died in 1963, learned his facts about American Big Business as chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Sub-committee on Antitrust and Monopoly. His book presents the essence of this committee’s extended hearings.

Evidence of the behaviour of the biggest drug firms is especially dramatic, for here we are dealing in human life. For instance, some years ago a drug called Orinase (its trademark) was invented, an oral anti-diabetic drug. Not only is this obviously easier to take than regular injections of insulin; it is also much easier and cheaper to make. But the manufacturer, Dr. E. Gifford Upjohn, kept the price of Orinase at 14 cents per tablet, the same price as insulin. That was his rival, so although the drug cost him 1.18 dollars to produce (for a month’s supply), the patient paid around 12.50 dollars per month. Dr. Upjohn shrugged this price difference off as “just a matter of pennies” before the Senate Sub-committee.

Doctors are constantly bombarded by American drug manufacturers with advertising and inducements to prescribe drugs by trade name, otherwise pharmacists may provide the much cheaper, possibly foreign-produced but equally effective, version. The detail men who visit doctor's surgeries to persuade them to use particular makes of drug were actually told of one drug, whose effects were known to be fatal in certain circumstances: ‘‘Chloromycetin’s toxicity should not be introduced unless the physician brings up the subject or unless you know that he has ceased prescribing the drug.”

It has been widely publicised of late, thanks to the efforts of Ralph Nader, that most American cars are death traps. Kefauver writes witheringly: “The dictates of the styling engineers take precedence over everything else. Even safety of operation—not to speak of fuel economies—is subordinated to the whim of the fashion experts.”

He is referring here to the “non-price” competition that takes place between America’s few giant car firms.

By contrast, in the bread industry what appears to be real price competition is in fact a rigorous campaign by big, nation-wide bakers to oust smaller local firms. The giants, four of whom already control 22 per cent of the market, will undercut wildly, even making a loss in one area, in order to force the small baker out of business. Other techniques include: acquiring detailed knowledge of the small firm while asserting a serious intention to buy it; using the two American unions notoriously run by gangsters, the Teamsters and the Bakery & Confectionery Workers, to give labour trouble; deliberately making piles of loaves, much of which can only be wasted, for if the small baker competes he faces heavy losses on returns of stale bread, and if he does compete his sales may decline anyway—housewives are attracted by big heaps of bread in the supermarkets.

The establishment of a giant in a town whose industry was formerly run by smaller, local capitalists revives the old story of company towns. Although these are less ugly, and perhaps less crudely run for the company's benefit than those of 30 and 50 years ago, they become worse places to live in nonetheless.

Local bankers, insurance companies, suppliers of all kinds, lawyers and accountants find themselves supplanted by the men at head office. The few studies of modem “company towns” that do exist show that areas dominated by a few absentee-owned firms suffer from worse housing, schools, and other civic projects. Councils attempting to raise local taxes are warned that the firm will close down, putting most of a community out of work.

Kefauver believes that the cure for monopoly is adverse publicity, government admonition, and keen competition among all capitalists.

Yet he also states: “Under a system of free enterprise it is basically illogical to expect businessmen to subdue the acquisitive urge of their undertakings. Profit-seeking is the accepted purpose of their undertakings.”

He could not see how it is the very nature of capitalism that brings about monopolies. One firm defeats its rivals, and swallows them. How would he stop this? By abolishing free enterprise capitalism? But that is exactly what he wants to see maintained.

A giant is indeed stalking the world today: the ogre of capitalism. Men like Estes Kefauver, who think they can run it are afraid of it. The majority of mankind. the workers, live in its shadow. Few indeed are even aware of this. But only when the workers of the world understand what lies behind their agonies, the cruelties and the wastefulness of capitalism, when they have determined democratically to establish Socialism, only then will the shadow be removed from all our lives.
A. Pottersman



What's it all about? (1966)

From the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Labour Government must be pleased with itself. Unemployment is increasing.

Those members of the working class who cheered the return of a Labour Government which claimed it would put an end to “stop-go” must now be asking themselves whether the “shake-out” will develop into an economic fall out. An appraisal of how the situation has deteriorated since July 20 does not inspire much confidence in the ability of the Government or the capitalist class to deal with the situation.

Regular readers of this journal will know that we hold that an economic crisis, or the threat of it, is endemic to capitalism, the social system under which we currently endure. We further make the case that the economic ups and downs, loosely described as the good and bad days, do not come about because of the ability, or lack of it, of the capitalist class. Despite all the forward planning horrible gaffs are frequently made and the laws of the economic jungle as expressed in the markets of the world always prevail, often making a mockery of the planned growth so fondly extolled by these lance corporals of industry.

If General Motors is the thermometer of American capitalism, then the British model is ICI, one of the few British companies big enough in terms of capital, labour employed, turnover, and profit, to be included in a world ranking list. For years the prestige of this company appeared as if it could climb to the moon. Its board of directors was held in such esteem that some people would instal them as the Government in preference to the inept politicians of the Labour and Conservative Parties. Any words uttered by chairman Sir Paul Chambers—a former accountant and civil servant, and the innovator of the PAYE system of taxation— were always eagerly waited upon. So much talent was encompassed in the board of directors that they could afford to loan Lord Beeching to British Railways for five years in an endeavour to make that organisation a more profitable concern. The good doctor, as he then was, undertook the task, as you may recall, on the time honoured trade union principle of the rate for the job. The rate in question being the one he was receiving at ICI of £25,000 per year.

It was therefore highly ironical that IC1 should be the first of the large companies to announce cut backs as the squeeze took its effect. Profits for the first half of 1966 fell by ten per cent to £90 million and the forecast for the second half of the year did not look any brighter. Capital expenditure was to be cut back and 1,000 workers declared redundant. All because the high powered, and even higher paid, board of directors had overestimated the growth of the market in those commodities that they produce.

Since then reports have appeared in newspapers every day of firms either dismissing staff or putting them on short time. But as the number of workers involved in these instances are counted in tens and hundreds, rather than hundreds and thousands, the publicity attracted by these events has been small and completely overshadowed by the happenings at the British Motor Corporation, where tens of thousands of workers have been “shaken out”.

The situation has become confused, as some workers have engaged in retaliatory strike action. It is no longer clear which workers are on short time because the company is curtailing production, or, because parts are not available because of a strike in some other part of the organisation. The one thing that is clear, is that if BMC were asked the question recently posed in the pop parade “What’s it all about?” they would have to reply that they just didn’t know.

Unfortunately the Government and our fellow members of the working class would have to answer in the same way. If Prime Minister Wilson is correct and unemployment reaches 470,000 this winter, that will mean an increase of 150,000 in the ranks of the unemployed. How then, does this [plain] crazy Labour Government propose to do to deal with this? According to Minister of Labour Gunter there are a number of firms eagerly awaiting skilled labour as it becomes redundant, and the Ministry of Labour training centres are ready to retrain sacked workers and give skills to the unskilled. But some of the unions whose members are being affected by the dismissals have made a survey of the situations vacant and find the vacancies are falling, and those still available are not suited to the sacked men, and, in any event, there are not enough to absorb the workers now surplus to the requirements of the motor industry. As for the Government’s retraining scheme, there are 31 centres in the country and they can deal with 12,000 men per year.

The situation in the car industry today illustrates the difference between a capitalist society that produces for profit, and a socialist society that would produce for use. Who could argue that man’s requirements for motor cars has been satisfied? There are many families who own a car which often has been acquired at a great personal cost, including sending the wife out to work. A large number of cars have the owner underneath them carrying out repairs for longer periods than the car is actually in use. If roadside checks were made on private cars in the same way as on commercial vehicles a large number of them would be similarly ordered off the road. Some people who have been unaccosted by the affluent society cannot even afford an old banger.

So then, there are people without cars, and some with old cars, all who would like new cars. There are the workers at BMC who want to work a full week manufacturing cars. But the British Motor Corporation will not let them, because its function is not to make cars, but to sell them at a profit.

It may be said that the motor car is not really an essential thing. Have fear. If the crisis deepens you will find that the home makers, food makers and clothing makers will all curtail production if their products cannot be sold at a profit.
Ray Guy

The 'Engels pause' (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the November 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Engels pause' is the name given by an economic historian, Robert C. Allen, to the period in Britain when Engels wrote his Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. It was brought up by David Smith, the Economics Editor of the Sunday Times, in an article in the Times (4 October) discussing the flurry of defences of private enterprise capitalism provoked by Corbyn's speech at the Labour Party Conference.
Corbyn was reported as saying that capitalism was in crisis. Actually what he said – and he was just quoting the Financial Times – was that capitalism was facing a 'crisis of legitimacy' (which it is, and a good thing too). He wasn't opposing capitalism, only the so-called 'neo-liberal' policies pursued by governments over the past decades, and was merely calling for more state intervention to stimulate private capitalist investment. Even the Times (28 September) recognised that he couldn't be opposing capitalism, not even private enterprise capitalism:
'Labour aides could not say whether Mr Corbyn's new economic model would be capitalist, hinting only that a majority of assets would be privately owned. '
Smith's argument was that capitalism was currently in the same sort of situation of rising profits and stagnating wages that it had been when Engels wrote:
'Engels bemoaned the plight of the “propertyless millions who own nothing and consume today what they earned yesterday”. Industrialists, he said, were growing rich on the “misery of the mass of wage earners”. 
Economic historians, Smith went on, have confirmed that in the first half of the 19th century 'real wages stagnated' and 'profits rose strongly and the profit share of GDP increased', but
'Capitalism adjusted, almost as soon as Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848, and well before Marx's Capital two decades later. In the second half of the 19th century, rising real wages and rising productivity went hand-in-hand. The Marxist diagnosis of permanently downtrodden workers was replaced by one of rising living standards.'
Did Engels argue that the conditions he described in Manchester in 1844 – people living in hovels sometimes alongside pigs, no sewage system, rampant adulteration, no limitations on the hours of work, employers swindling workers by obliging them to buy from the company store – were the permanent lot of the working class under capitalism? Was this really the 'Marxist diagnosis'?
In a word, no. Engels lived to see what happened in the second half of the 19th century (he died in 1895) and described what and why in the Preface he wrote to the 1892 publication of the English translation of his book:
'The state of things described in this book belongs today, in many respects, to the past, as far as England is concerned.(....) The revival of trade, after the crisis of 1847, was the dawn of a new industrial epoch. (...) ...England has thus outgrown the juvenile state of capitalist exploitation described by me ...'
In other words, Engels recognised that the conditions he had described in 1844 were those of an early stage of capitalism. He listed the changes as the introduction of Factory Acts (which improved conditions for factory workers), the acceptance of trade unions (which pushed up the wages of skilled, engineering and building workers), and sanitation improvements (to prevent the spread of cholera, etc).
Marx's Capital, published in 1867, takes into account these changes. By then the bigger capitalists had come realise how short-sighted and counter-productive it was to underfeed and overwork the geese that laid the golden eggs. The workers were still exploited – in fact they produced more surplus value than before – even though they were not as 'downtrodden' as in the 1840s. They still are. There has been no pause in that.

Chinese copy (1989)

From the January 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The government starts selling off state-owned houses to their occupiers, as a means of raising income and giving people incentives to improve their homes. At the same time it fights inflation and puts limits on government spending. No, this is not Thatcherite Britain but capitalist China, where all too familiar economic problems exist. Nor is the comparison with Britain an unwelcome one, as People's Daily has sung Thatcher's praises and commended her personal willpower and reliance on individual responsibility. China's own version of perestroika (but without glasnost) makes the different varieties of capitalism ever less distinct.

It is ten years since the post-Mao economic reforms began. Individual enterprises had greater power delegated to their managers, and then the system of contracted responsibility meant greater emphasis on the market to determine prices rather than central decision. Now, in the so-called "third wave" of reform, certain enterprises are being merged — that is, loss-making concerns are being taken over by more profitable ones. In ever more explicit acknowledgement that the profit system operates in China, individual factories are now viewed as commodities to be bought and sold. The way in which people are treated in a profit-oriented economy is highlighted by an admission that men are often preferred as employees to women, since the latter produce less surplus value (owing to longer breaks and maternity leave).

Houses in the Chinese countryside are usually owned (and indeed, built) by the occupiers, but those in towns and cities are nearly all state-owned. Rents are extremely low (around 3 per cent of a tenant's monthly income) as part of the social wage but there is a housing shortage and the building industry naturally makes no profits. Overcrowding is appalling, sometimes a family of grandparents, parents and child will have to live in a single room. Nearly half of urban households have access only to a shared lavatory, and over a quarter do not even have their own tap water. It remains to be seen how many will want to buy such palaces. The other problem will be fixing a price for the sold-off homes, as the present market price would be way beyond what ordinary workers could afford. It may even be decided to raise rents in order to encourage buying.

The Chinese health service is in no better shape, with the contradictions now patent between a system supposedly run for the benefit of all and one where profit and loss considerations are decisive. Hospital treatment is not free, but fees are very low, and well below the actual cost of treatment. However, the method of subsidy is such that the more patients a hospital treats, the more money it loses. So some hospitals now turn away patients, even in emergencies. According to one recent report from the south-west of China, doctors and nurses fought in the operating theatre over who should have the gallstones being removed from one patient — gallstones are a valuable ingredient in traditional Chinese medicines, and provide a convenient way for staff to augment their meagre incomes. Capitalism really does put a price on everything.

Just as in Russia, there is a flourishing black market in China: corruption and profiteering have become a way of life for some, and a part of everyday life for many more. Cigarette prices have been increased, with the unintended side-effect that private dealers take advantage of the fact that prices vary from place to place: they buy up popular brands and re-sell them at a profit in more expensive areas. Imported cigarettes are also subject to price speculation. High-quality liquor (costing over a month's wages per bottle at the new higher prices) is bought mainly by firms and various other organisations, presumably as perks for top employees or potential bribes. Such institutional "living it up" has been particularly frowned on, the government having ordered a reduction of spending and prohibited the use of top-class hotels for receptions and banquets.

In the first nine months of 1988, the retail price index rose 16 per cent. Economics spokesmen have complained that the economy is “overheating", with industrial output racing ahead of the production of energy and the capacity of the transport system. In a so-called planned economy, the number of state-run construction projects has had to be curtailed drastically. And a rise in imports has created a massive trade deficit.

Cancelling the construction projects does not just mean fewer luxury hotels, for those who would have been working on them (an estimated 13 million) will instead be returning to the countryside to put further stress on rural employment and living standards. The price at which the state purchases grain (wheat and rice) has stayed low, but has still been too high in many areas where local governments have put resources into construction projects. Consequently, some farmers have been paid not in money but in government lOUs. which do not provide clothes or heating. At the same time, grain imports have reached an all-time high. But 20 million peasants are officially reported to be short of food, after the fourth poor grain harvest in a row. A small minority of rural entrepreneurs have become extremely rich under the new regime, while others are forced to abandon their fields as fertiliser prices soar beyond their means. In other cases, the low grain price means farmers prefer more lucrative crops. But less grain also means less animal feed and so less pig-raising, hence the reintroduction of pork rationing in many cities.

As some workers return to their homes in the country, others head for the big cities in search of work. In Beijing there are nearly half a million so-called "vagrants" who have been there for over three months. Most sleep rough and exist on restaurant leftovers. Beggars are now a common sight in many Chinese cities; some disabled people are forced to beg because they cannot get a job or adequate welfare support. And the flood of overseas visitors has combined with the grinding poverty experienced by so many to cause the reappearance of prostitution.

In September, the free-market guru Miltom Friedman was warmly welcomed in Beijing. As he shook hands with party boss Zhao Ziyang, Friedman may have been reflecting that the two of them had plenty of common ground to discuss.
Paul Bennett

Paying the Piper (1989)

From the February 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
As an addition to background music we play a subliminal message in a store, a message which you can't consciously hear, but which is going to be subconsciously received. We are in a sense an improvement in that we can focus more specifically on what we're trying to achieve with the pro-active system than you can with background music. We are trying to create a subtle effect, for instance using it for theft prevention. We've had systems in for two and a half years now and our results have ranged anywhere from 20 per cent reductions on theft to 90 per cent reductions on theft
(David Tyler. President of Pro-active Systems Inc., interviewed on Omnibus. BBC TV. 16 July 1984.)
The system described in this quotation — appropriately enough in the year 1984 — includes the words “I do not steal. I do not steal. I am honest . . . " repeated in a whisper which cannot be consciously heard as it follows the sound level in the supermarket. Policing the workforce has certainly come on a long way since the days of the Bow Street Runners. Rediffusion now exports the sedative effects of "Muzak" to 135.000 large subscribers in over 30 countries, from Africa to New Zealand and Japan. But the power of music has long been recognised by those in power. In Ancient China there was the Foundation Tone, a "sacred" pitch believed to guard against disorder. In Ancient Greece, music was legally regulated as a potential force for good or evil. In the nineteenth century, the emotive quality of music was shamelessly prostituted to enhance many nationalist movements, despite its intrinsically global appeal. In the 1920s. Catholic missionaries introduced brass bands into Papua to "subdue the dangerous energy" of native headhunters. And when the BBC lengthened the last pip of the radio time-signal after the Second World War, a number of angry listeners complained about unwarranted interference with the true and proper order of things.

Music and songs can, of course, be great forces for change, although recent cases where this has been claimed are in fact nothing but shams. Take the boom in musical charity projects which began a few years ago with Bandaid. Liveaid and the We Are The World record. The fine sentiments of global unity and compassion fizzled out in the old holy trinity of "faith, hope and charity"; the attempt to redistribute poverty failed utterly. Even Bob Geldof himself now freely admits that it solved nothing and changed nothing. Some still say "Well, we know it's not the answer, but . . . " in a defeatist tone which accepts that this society of insane contradictions will just have to do for the time being.

The subversive rebel music of the fifties and sixties — the tradition of sticking two fingers up at the establishment — found its seventies expression in punk rock. Once again, there is a long history of such musical defiance, with jazz in its day having enjoyed a similar reputation, even if it did not embody the punk idea of participation and access to the music for anyone. In 1928, W.H. Hadow wrote that "the jazz band . . .  puts itself outside the pale of music by the coarseness and vulgarity of its utterances" and four years later Arthur Bliss pronounced that jazz was "a subject for the pathologist rather than the musician". These fearful reactions continue today, particularly among the "moral majority" in the American South where an MCA executive refused to produce an album by the punk group Black Flag on the grounds that it was “anti-family”.

The ways in which such music has been accommodated into the mainstream have been well documented. Speaking of the punk album Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols, the Virgin Records Press Officer, Al Clarke, said: "The LP was released eleven days ago. It brought in £250.000 before it was even released and went straight to Number 1 in the charts". Once Castro was in power in Cuba he used the tradition of subversive music, La Trova Cubana to consolidate the new régime, with an official festival in Havana in 1967 called a "Protest Song Get Together". Likewise, reggae has been used in Jamaica by the state as a means of controlling dissent; it is perhaps significant that Bob Marley's first record was called Simmer Down. And in Britain, the idea of using apparently rebellious music as a means of control came readily to ex-teachers like Sting when he was singing with his old group The Police. In an interview he spoke of controlling the crowd and leading them to oblivion, and concluded "There isn't much difference between rock'n'roll and teaching, mind you. It's the same job. You're entertaining delinquents for an hour”.

The limitations of protest music were well summed up by the folk singer, Dick Gaughan in Folk Roots, September 1986:
 You can say what a bunch of villains the ruling class really are, what a nasty bunch of war-mongermg bastards they are. Bob Dylan made a fortune out of doing that in the '60s. Nothing wrong with that. But as soon as you go over the edge and take the step of saying the solution to the problem is ordinary working class people who are actually not just going to say the world is a terrible place, but are going to take the power off you and stuff it up your arse . . .  say that we are actually going to lake control . . . at that point you have gone too far. You can say anything you like except suggest a change of power into the hands of the working class. You can argue for socialism as long as you don't define what you mean by socialism. 
This safety has been well noted and acted on by some of the commercially promoted and quite successful artists who form the eighties equivalent of protest music, the (mostly pro-Labour) ‘agitprop” bands and singers affiliated to campaigns like Red Wedge.

Whereas an earlier generation of protest singers like Dylan sang the poetry of dissent without campaigning for presidents or prime ministers, the present wave have been recruited into British party politics by the ogre of Thatcherism rather than the capitalist system itself. In some cases artistic popularity has been used to sell stale and second-hand ideas for an alternative brand of "people's capitalism”.

During 1985. Billy Bragg performed 50 concerts as part of the "Jobs For Youth" campaign in conjunction with the Labour Party, and that tour led directly to the founding of Red Wedge, a coalition of performers which declared itself "committed to a Labour victory at the next election'. Billy Bragg himself was quoted as saying of the earlier protest singers that “All that generation came to nought. They thought that if they joined hands and sang Imagine the world would change" (Sunday Times, 26 January 1986). But this eighties "realism" is not all it seems, and John Lennon's plea for people to “imagine — no possessions" will prove to have been more challenging than Bragg's badge of slavery in Between The Wars: “I'll give my consent, to any government that does not deny a man a Living Wage . . . " In the same article, Andy McSmith. Labour's Jobs and Industry campaign co-ordinator said “Billy is worth his weight in gold to us”, and Eric Heffer commented “it is a good thing that an ordinary working-class lad like Billy should identify himself with the Labour movement". The Red Wedge manifesto itself strengthened the myth that mass unemployment was invented in 1979 and could be cured by “Government and council spending", and on the subject of war only promises more of the same:
The Russians are making clear their commitment to world peace . . .  under Labour we would see a move to real defence . . .  This does not mean, as the Tories claim, that the country would be defenceless. It means strengthening and modernising our conventional defences, which are dangerously run down.
Which brings us full circle to the Ancient Chinese Foundation Tone, humming the monotonous tune of the present order, with its international rivalry and bombs, its poverty and despair. But there are far brighter things to sing about. The world and all its resources, including communication and entertainment, are still waiting to be taken into the hands of the world community, to be used by and for us all.
Clifford Slapper

To be continued next month with a look at how the music industry makes its profits.

Cash till culture (1989)

From the March 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard
In an article in last month's issue, we showed how music has continued to serve the interests of the powerful. This month we look at the economic side of the modern music industry.
Earlier this year, Thorn EMI splashed out nearly £200 million for the copyright of more than 250,000 songs; its portfolio already included many old favourites like Happy Birthday To You. Back in 1981, Woolworths took a full page advert in the Financial Times, aimed at increasing confidence among investors. They boasted with alarming honesty: We're not in the record business because were music lovers. We're in the record business to make money. So we only stock records we know we're going to sell a lot of.” This sums up perfectly how capitalism has done to music just what it has done to every other creative field. Individual creativity has to be sacrificed to profitability in the form of the lowest common denominator: maximum sales, from maximum uniformity and manipulation of the imagination, with a ruthless division between producers and consumers. It is hardly surprising, then, that there are obstacles in using music to express the need for revolutionary change.

At first, the idea of making profit out of music posed several problems. How could the product be packaged and marketed, without being enjoyed by those who could not or would not pay? The enterprising pioneers of exploitation were no more slow in getting round such an obstacle than they have been in the case of water, light or heat. The profitable sale of tickets for private performances of increasing frequency was soon followed by a great rise in the sheet music industry in the earlier part of this century. The accumulation of copyrights in the hands of entrepreneurs (who exploited changes in the copyright law) was soon to diminish the potential rewards for both performers and even composers. But of course, the great modern coup for those seeking to profit from the creativity of others was the rise of mass produced records and, later, tapes, compact discs and so on. Here was the epitome of capitalist artificiality: a moment of musical inspiration captured on vinyl to be played back a thousand times. And if it snaps, no problem. Pay for another, and the identical sound has again been purchased. From the start, manipulation of taste was understood to be essential for maximum profitability. As head of BBC music programmes. Stephen Plaistow stated that "public taste must, of course, be led” (quoted in The Changing Face Of Music. Hugo Cole). The workings of this system, which persists today, were explained by a Musicians' Union representative in Living With The Mass Media (Cave and O'Malley):
Any music publisher can tell you six months ahead which song is going to be popular. The public does not make a tune popular . . . There is in the industry a close link between the publisher, the record manufacturer, the BBC and the ITA . . .  They are all involved in the beautiful arrangement which results in the popularisation of a certain number of tunes each year. There is not only an organization to make certain tunes popular, but there is even a process of making them unpopular when it is necessary for more to be produced, out of which more money can be made.
Some time ago, the world's biggest Hi-Fi seller, the Sony Corporation, bought CBS records for two billion dollars. This now means that virtually the whole of the pop music industry is controlled by about four companies. The owners of companies like EMI or RCA amass growing fortunes out of the creative work of musicians, most of whom are not among the few dozen world-famous and very rich individuals. The people who actually make the records, who work in the factories where they are manufactured and the studios where they are recorded, the transport workers, sound engineers and so on are working in the same frustrating conditions as in any other industry. The faceless thousands of producers, together with the faceless thousands of consumers, are not being served by the system we are dealing with here.

Writing in 1938, Theodor Adorno compared the idea of the heroic star of the stage or screen with a fascist kind of hypnosis:
An approach in terms of value judgements has become a fiction for the person who finds himself hemmed in by standardized musical goods . . .  The listener is converted, along his line of least resistance, into the acquiescent purchaser . . .  The star principle has become totalitarian . . .  The official cultures pretense of individualism necessarily increases in proportion to the liquidation of the individual.
Today's technology has made possible all kinds of bizzare extensions of the commercial perversion of music. A couple of years ago, the idea of introducing a levy on blank audio tapes was supported by Norman Tebbit, who argued that "home taping of music amounts to theft”. Of course, if you are a musician earning a living from playing live and from sales of your recordings, then you will understandably be strongly opposed to home taping; hence the Musicians' Union's slogan of “Keep Music Live”. But this is just another example of the absurd contradictions which are constantly thrown up by the profit system. Such conflicts of interest, and such a notion of "theft", simply would not exist outside of a system of private property and sectional interests. As another example of so-called music being filtered through a cash register, there was the report in 1986 that "the pop group Sigue Sigue Sputnik have sold the gaps between tracks on their forthcoming LP to advertisers. But the group's record company, EMI, also wants to fill the potentially lucrative gap in the market, and a team of the company's lawyers is studying the question of who owns the hitherto unloved and neglected portions of a record.”

Those directly involved in the music business have been most open in revealing its commercial obsessions. In a Times report on the industry in 1985, an executive of a Polygram subsidiary stated that "the way to reach the older market is not to sign different artists but market the ones you've got differently", while Charlie Gillett of Oval records reflected that "the possibilities of a small label having a big hit are more remote now than ever. You have to make absurdly large investments just to launch a group". John Peel pointed out that “the industry's interest is in slowing down trends, because the record companies are now having to function as long-term investment companies". And, most revealingly, and in the same report, a CBS marketing analyst pontificated that "there is a need for music which appeals to upwardly-mobile aspirations. We have to acknowledge that we're selling symbols". After all of this, who could claim that we are dealing with individual creativity or spontaneous expression when we plug in the record player?
Clifford Slapper

Independence No Benefit (1989)

From the April 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chinese troops patrol the streets of Lhasa to clamp down on yet another group of men and women clamouring for Independence. But what exactly has "self-government" meant to those around the world who have managed to achieve it?

Since 1947, thirty-six territories previously part of the British Empire have become independent sovereign states, although most of them decided not to forego the economic aid and trade advantages inherent in being a member of the Commonwealth. What have the people of these countries gained from the change?

Various types of one-party dictatorships exist, and bloody civil wars have raged in Biafra and Somalia. In the latter there is wholesale denial of the most elementary political rights and more than a million refugees have fled into equally poverty-stricken Ethiopia and Sudan. New independence movements indiscriminately slaughter those of different groups or tribes in India and Sri Lanka as well as Somalia. Corruption is rife even in so-called democracies. Abject poverty is the rule among the vast majority, while the new ruling class who control the economy grow rich. To celebrate Independence in 1984 the Sultan of Brunei built the worlds largest palace with 2.000 rooms and 257 lavatories. His subjects have been provided with a "Welfare State" and pay no income tax; even so. it is safe to say that independence has made little difference to their lives. The government of Sierra Leone is so concerned for the health and welfare of its "independent" people that it has accepted, against payment of course, the dumping of tons of British lethal toxic waste just outside its capital, Freetown. It is very doubtful whether the "mother country" would have dared to do this while Sierra Leone was a British responsibility.

Lesotho (Basutoland) and Swaziland are completely dependent upon South Africa, have repressive regimes and widespread poverty. No Independence here and certainly no benefits for any but the ruling clique. Even in those few states where material and political circumstances of workers have been maintained or improved, changes have been minimal. The fact that some of the most repressive régimes refer to themselves as socialist is, of course, a mockery.

When asked why we do not support struggles for Independence by fellow workers in other parts of the world, we point out that, at best, they will simply be exchanging one lot of masters for another. They may win or be allowed a little more freedom within the system but while it remains they must depend on the capitalists — state or private — for their subsistence. For workers, independence is merely a change of rulers.
Eva Goodman