Wednesday, January 31, 2018

50 Years Ago: Carnegie and—Cant? (1955)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Andrew Carnegie, Croesus and library vendor, has recently delivered himself of several lectures upon the horrors of war—Carnegie, the head of the great American Capitalist Corporation which raised an army in opposition to the steel-workers of Pittsburg struggling to prevent a further hardening of their already hard enough conditions; Carnegie, the head of the mighty firm that conducted a bitter and bloody war to vindicate the right of Capital to wring out of the labour of the workers larger and ever larger profit; Carnegie, the multi-millionaire, every penny of whose stupendous wealth is stained with the blood of his workmen, slaughtered by armed Pinkertons to make Carnegie’s holiday and to help build him a reputation of a great philanthropist—this Carnegie comes to say:— 
   “There still remains the foulest blot that ever disgraced the earth, the killing of civilised men by men like wild beasts as a permissible mode of settling international disputes, although in Rousseau’s words, ‘ War is the foulest fiend ever vomited forth from the mouth of hell'. "
So, "the foulest blot,” when used to settle international disputes . . . and yet when it occurs at Homestead, the hell that sweats for Mr. Carnegie the millions that Mr. Carnegie’s labour never produced, Mr. Carnegie expresses his horror in—loud silence. It is wonderful the great difference a little change in the geographical situation of the seat of war will make.

From the Socialist Standard, December 1905.

No Promised Land (2018)

The Material World column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
If there were a nation that one would expect to be sympathetic to asylum seekers it should be Israel – a land that became home to refugees. However, rather than being welcomed tens of thousands of Africans are being detained and deported. It appears to be acceptable to persecute people, just as long it doesn't happen to be you.
However, Knesset member Yael German thinks differently saying 'Our history requires us to give them a place here.'
Israel has reached an international agreement that allows the deportation of around 40,000 (5,000 of them children) African refugees with plans to shut down the Holot detention centre giving asylum seekers a choice of leaving the country or going to prison for an indefinite time.
The United Nations refugee agency said it was seriously concerned about the proposals with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees telling Israel it had 'legal obligations to protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection.' The Refugee Convention came about after the Holocaust to ensure that nothing like it ever happened again.
The Israeli government dehumanises the African migrants as 'infiltrators' and economic migrants. Yet, there are probably more Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian citizens living illegally in Israel, but they are less obvious because they are white and dwell among the Russian-speaking communities.
Israel has just opened an embassy in Rwanda which has agreed to take the migrants from Israel and receive $5,000 for each one. Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo has said Rwanda is willing to accept some 10,000 African asylum seekers.
'We are concerned that if you move forward with these plans the lives of thousands of individuals will be put in jeopardy, and the name of the Jewish State and the Jewish People will be irreparably stained,' said the letter by 25 groups including HIAS, the leading Jewish immigration advocacy group, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, the New Israel Fund and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. 'As a people who were once refugees, and were once strangers in a strange land, we believe we have a special obligation toward refugees, whatever their religion or race...  Please do not deport these individuals who have sought refuge among the Jewish People, but rather let us work together in addressing the burdens and challenges of our moral obligations' said the letter.
'Israel’s failure to follow the Jewish imperative to protect and care for the gerim – the landless sojourners who seek refuge among us – is a far greater threat to the Jewish character of the state than is the community of African migrants and asylum seekers who have escaped forced military service, torture and crimes against humanity in Eritrea and Sudan and sought safe haven in Israel,' Rabbi Michael Lezak, co-chairman of T’ruah, told Newsweek.
The Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee approved a bill for its second and third readings to extend limitations on migrants until the government can deport them including taking into custody migrants who violate the geographic limitations imposed on migrants such as banning them from Tel Aviv, where health and welfare services are available. It also voted down requests that exceptions be considered for women, children and disabled people. The Committee had voted 'against allowing sick children to see doctors,' Amnesty International Israel said.
Chen Bril Egri, its head of Campaigns for Refugees and Asylum Seekers called on the country to allow all the migrants to stay and said the panel’s decision 'expresses shameful cold-heartedness by the descendants of refugees who have forgotten their past, and who show contempt for basic human rights.'
But such humanitarian appeals will be ignored by some Israelis such as Tel Aviv City councillor Shlomo Maslawi who accuses Africans of '. . . turning synagogues into bars and selling drugs . . . ' and who peddles the Netanyahu propaganda that South Tel Aviv’s poverty, prostitution and drugs can be blamed on African asylum seekers, but many residents recognise he is cynically scapegoating a defenceless population for the government’s own negligence and culpability.
Israel could absorb the African migrants, but by permitting them to live in Israel it would potentially mean opening a door for non-Jews more generally to move to Israel. Given the longer term historical background, challenging the 'Law of Return' remains too much of a taboo for the Israeli political parties from Labor to Likud. But as socialists we sympathise with the suffering of our fellow-workers of whichever ethnicity and we ask them all to set aside their nationalism, their religious bigotry, their ethnic hatred and racism and to join together to put an end to the real problem – capitalism and the oppression it causes everywhere.
ALJO

Tempus Non Fugit (2018)

The Pathfinders Column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists who are not among today’s socially-connected youth and who do not read The Sun newspaper will probably never have heard of Jack Maynard, the Brighton YouTube vlogger (like blogger, but with video, geddit?) and will certainly not care that he got himself thrown off I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here late last year after just three days on the show. But the reason for his summary expulsion from this must-be-seen-on if not must-see show is revealing.
The YouTube ‘star’, it seemed, had sent a number of racist and homophobic slurs via his Facebook account which The Sun, that bastion of egalitarian and anti-discriminatory social values, felt morally obliged to bring to the nation’s attention. Despite effusive apologies and energetic denials that these off-the-cuff remarks reflected his real views, Mr Maynard found himself an overnight toxic brand, leaving presenters Ant and Dec with no choice but to announce his immediate departure from the celeb-infested jungle. Oh the fickle finger of fate.
But wait. The slurs in question had been posted six years before, when the fifteen-minute celeb was aged just 17. It didn’t matter. The tabloids had by now got the bit between their teeth and gleefully reported that Japing Jack had also sent text messages importuning a 14-year old girl for nude photos. Sexual exploitation being utterly foreign to the tabloids, this caused a sensation. It didn’t matter that the girl herself, while agreeing that Jack had been a ‘dickhead’, also pointed out that “He was 16, I was 14. He didn’t know how old I was, and I didn’t know how old he was at the time. I cannot stress enough that the messages were harmless” (The Sun, 5 December).
You may also recall the suspension last year of Labour’s MP for Sheffield Hallam, Jared O’Mara, following revelations of homophobic, sexist and racist remarks made online more than a decade previously. Leading the moral charge on that occasion was, surprise surprise, The Sun, which called it a disgrace that Labour bosses had known about these comments for a whole month prior to sacking Mr O’Mara. A whole month. Fancy. Meanwhile another source had this to say about Labour’s supposed ethical inertia: “Labour has become cultish, and now values loyalty to the hard left more than suitability and capability" (BBC Online, 26 October).
What is becoming ‘cultish’ is the idea that whatever you have said at any point in your life remains and will forever remain your viewpoint, as if it is indelibly tattooed on your brain. Once, such comments would have been forgotten or at least hard to dig up. Now that one’s entire history is available in real time on social media, it stops being history at all but becomes part of an extended and eternal present. You can say you’ve changed your view. You can say you don’t believe those things anymore. But there is the evidence for all to see. You said them. You are guilty.
All present and incorrect
One of the lesser known cognitive biases and a veritable plague in the world of bad historical fiction is a thing called ‘presentism’, in which people unfairly judge past ideas and events by the currently prevailing ethical assumptions. Presentism, also known as cultural hypocrisy, is at work in much of the media’s deprecation of past sexual mores among certain celebs in the unreconstructed 1970s. It’s not that past behaviours should necessarily be condoned or glossed over, but such revelations need to be leavened with some recognition that those times were different and that the world has moved on. This acknowledgment of time passing is precisely what is missing from the new illusion of the eternal present.
Much of physics, and indeed science in general, is based upon the principle of symmetry, of numbers balancing on both sides of the equation. But there is one crucial asymmetry upon which the physical universe is founded, and that is time. The second law of thermodynamics, also known as the law of entropy, states that the degree of disorder in any closed system must always increase, and never decrease, over time. In other words, time flows in just one direction. Broken cups cannot magically jump back from the floor onto the table edge and reassemble themselves (despite what Stephen Hawking tried to argue in A Brief History of Time). Cold coffee cannot miraculously reheat itself. People cannot ‘un-die’.
This law is the organising principle of matter. It is the thing which oversees the growth of complex systems and their ultimate death and dissipation into chaos. If this law were to be broken, if time were to stand still, not just life but all physical reality would disintegrate. What happens when our modern, virtual world breaks the same law? Does the virtual world also disintegrate? What would this disintegration look like?
It would look like what we’ve got: a world that remembers everything as contemporaneous, the way you watch an old movie whose actors are young while in the real world these same actors are old or dead. It would look like an eternal present where the actor exists side by side with his younger and older selves, extending sideways like an endless series of reflections between two mirrors. It would be a world with an infinity of stories served up in a Cinema of Babel, told for entertainment, without sequence and without consequence. It would be a world where nothing changes and where changes mean nothing. All contradictions exist side by side, without contradicting each other. All ideas are equally valid, all theoretic dials set to zero, all roads circular and all philosophy reinvented as postmodernism. It would be a world of trivia, of the existential absurd, of Bake-Off programmes and the unbearable lightness of being.
It is a world of pseudo-immortals who have forgotten how to forget. One thing we’ve already forgotten is that this eternal present is only about 20 years old. When Princess Diana died in 1997 the world-wide web was still being born. People still wrote letters and sent postcards from holiday and wrote cheques in supermarkets and got lost or stuck in traffic with no way to phone home. Nothing was instant except coffee and mashed potato. Social media meant reading the newspaper in the pub.
For revolutionaries, the eternal present is a place where change can’t occur because people can’t be allowed to change their minds. But we know this isn’t true, and that socialists have come from all walks of life and all political backgrounds, including the Tory Party and even the far right. This is what revolution is. People change. If we remember everything else, let’s not forget that.
Paddy Shannon

50 Years Ago: Capitalism and Psychology (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the capitalist class was young and still engaged in the struggle to overthrow their feudal oppressors the physical sciences met their requirements. The development of the processes of production in order to meet the growing demands of the world market, coupled with the improvement in weapons of warfare, were their chief immediate needs.

Now, having definitely established themselves as the rulers in society, they must turn their attention to the task of preserving their system and increasing the benefits they derive from it. In this pursuit they find a constant menace in the unrest of their slaves. They can employ force when dealing with particular sections, but in order to control the working class as a whole they must use cunning. They must employ knowledge of the minds of those whom they would control. Hence psychology comes to the rescue of priest and politician, journalist and factory manager.

Oh! Psychology! What wonders are committed with thine aid! Vegetarians and beefeaters, atheists and Christians, discovered an instinctive harmony with one another when the interests of capital are threatened.
From an article “The Psychology of Capital” by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard, January 1928.



50 Years Ago: Industrial Peace (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again we are being regaled in the Press and from the platform with unctuous rubbish concerning the desirability of “peace” in industry. The overwhelming fascination which the topic appears to possess for capitalist representatives and labour leaders alike only speaks for their mental bankruptcy and the fatal readiness of the workers to be deceived by promises.

The subject of the industrial conflict is the exact amount of blood, nerve and sinew that shall be sucked dry of energy in order that a small class of idlers may feast and frolic. The cause of the conflict is the fact that the idlers own the means by which alone the blood, nerve and sinews of the workers can be re-energised. Every increase in the blood, nerve and sinew, every corresponding increase in its output, only heaps higher the wealth that the idlers waste.

Never has any capitalist, never has any labour leader, produced a shred of evidence to conflict with this simple, obvious fact. Similarly, not one of them dare deal with the only remedy. If the workers are to enjoy the fruits of their labours, they must own and control the means by which they produce them. The land, factories, railways etc. must be made the common property of all to meet the needs of all. That is what we mean by socialism.
From an article by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard Feb 1928.

The Questions They Ask . . . (1978)

From the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Speaker: Your party has an Executive Committee—right? And yet you say you are opposed to following leaders! Aren’t the EC the leaders of your party then?

Answer: No! The EC of the Socialist Party are not leaders. They could not lead the members if they wanted to (which they don’t) because Socialists do not need somebody to tell them what they should do.

Implicit in membership of the SPGB is an understanding of Socialist principles. In fact, membership is conditional upon this. Therefore the members have the knowledge which enables them to make their own minds up for themselves. It is a fact that the rules of the party are so framed as to guarantee that the members control the EC. First, the EC is elected annually by individual ballot. Each candidate is nominated by a Branch of the party.

Then, the EC is bound by rule to carry out the decisions of Annual Conference. In addition, any six Branches can demand a party poll on any question they deem to be of sufficient importance. Or, if they prefer, they can demand the calling of a general members’ meeting. And perhaps most important of all, every meeting of every committee of the party is open to all members—and indeed to all members of the public. Our door is always open for those who wish to know what’s going on. This, is the guarantee that no group or caucus can seize control of the party.
Contrast this with the intrigues, backstairs frame-ups and underhand double-dealing which are the stock-in-trade of all the other parties. The sort of carve-ups revealed in the Crossman Diaries, the manoeuvring for jobs in the Labour and Communist Parties, for example. All this can only flourish with an ignorant membership. The membership of the SPGB is small—because so far there are not many socialists.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

50 Years Ago: The policies of the Liberal Party (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Report of the Liberal Party Industrial Enquiry has at last appeared, but is should be called “The Capitalists’ Whitewashing Programme”. From beginning to end it tails attention to bad conditions but never once does it enquire into the cause. The remedy proposed is more of the conditions that caused the evils. More capitalism. Empire Development — of Capitalism. More shareholders — in Capitalism. More Free Trade in goods — and labour power. Less taxes for the industrial lord. Cheaper coal. More roads, and similar pills for the economic earthquake.

All these quack doctors can suggest is that the workers should buy shares where they work and get a share in the profits in large concerns, and when jobless they can work on the roads or in the forests — developing capitalism for the capitalists. They tell us that ownership is far too concentrated, and while they report thus, the Liberal capitalists, like their Tory friends, are busy amalgamating, centralising, combining and trustifying modern capital in more powerful concerns, whether like Sir Ernest Benn in the publishing world or like the Brunners in the chemical industry.

The Labour Party are angry because the Liberals have pinched their policy and put it in the Liberal Report. The MacDonalds and Hendersons say the Report embraces much of Socialism, but any Socialist who looks into the Report to find the Socialism will wear his eyes out in vain.

From an editorial “The Liberal Industrial Fraud” published in the Socialist Standard in March, 1928.

Technology and Socialism (1978)

Letter to the Editors from the March 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The writer of the article "Technology and the working class” (November Socialist Standard) says, "Progress is not a matter of finding new things which could transform existence. It is the development of society’s capacity to let them happen.” This of course is far from telling us what progress means. Modern society has developed the capacity to allow many technological inventions to happen and operate, but that does not necessarily mean progress, does it? If the hand mill gives us society with the feudal lord, and the steam mill society with the industrial capitalist, in what sense does the writer call this progress? A change from hand mills to steam mills does not necessarily constitute progress, no more than does a change from gunpowder to atomic bombs. No-one can of course dispute that there has been scientific progress, because this is verifiable. But has scientific progress made man any happier and kinder to his fellow man? One can hardly talk of any progress here at all. Man’s life on earth seems to be what it has always been, that is, quite short and very rarely sweet. Progress means a lot of different things to different people, and after 6,000 years of human history we do not have very much progress to boast about, do we? And in regards progress to Socialism, we can safely say there has been no progress there at all. Socialism has been a non-starter since the publication of the Communist Manifesto of 1848. It is true of course that Marx saw technology as a precondition of the change from capitalism to Socialism, but the progress in technology has had a rather sinister effect on the working class. In that it has turned the workers into robots. And how do you possibly expect robots to establish Socialism?
Ian Campbell
Dundee


Reply.
Surely there are ways in which scientific progress has made men happier. Take the development of medical knowledge, for instance—many diseases which were once rife are now things of the past. You refer to the human lifespan as “quite short”, but it is now about twice as long on average as it was in Marx’s day. Standards of medical care and hygiene are far higher today than in any earlier period of history.

Technological innovation throughout human history has created a situation where the productive forces of society can produce an abundance of goods. It is the existence of a profit-motivated society, capitalism, that prevents most of the benefits of technological progress form reaching the working class. The article made the point that products based on technological inventions are either too expensive for most workers, or else their quality is reduced to make them marketable. Other inventions are put to utterly anti-social ends under capitalism—atomic and nuclear bombs, for instance. In Socialism there will be no criterion on which to base the use made of technology other than that of benefit to society as a whole.

The workers have certainly not been turned into robots by technological progress: it has rather led to them acquiring sufficient skill, knowledge and critical awareness to take over the running of society when they have become convinced of the possibility and need for them to do so.

50 Years Ago: The Failure of the Labour Colleges (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from April 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July 1925 we wrote on the significant action of the National Council of Labour Colleges in joining its old enemy, the Workers’ Educational Association, in an education scheme sponsored by the TUC. We pointed out that the acceptance of money from the trade unions to cooperate with such bodies as the WEA and Ruskin College meant the passing of the independence of the “Movement for Independent Working-Class Education”.

Time has justified our warning. The “Plebs League” has ceased to exist as an independent body and three years later others, including men in the NCLC itself, are recognising the truth of what we then anticipated.

In particular the NCLC, as we long ago pointed out, cannot hope to receive trade union money if at the same time it exposes the part played by Labour and trade union leaders in supporting the capitalist system and its ways. The NCLC had to choose and it chose the money in preference to the independence.

From an article “The Failure of the Labour Colleges”, Socialist Standard, April 1928.

Diary of a Capitalist (1978)

From the April 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
   We print below some excerpts from a journal, giving the private thoughts of a member of the ruling class (not always the same as their opinions for public consumption, which is what you can read every day throughout the British press). We hope to print further extracts from time to time. 
Sunday. My new Rolls-Royce drophead is going splendidly. It’s very good value for £45,000. As the Rolls- Royce adverts used to say a few years back, if you have a Rolls everyone can see you’ve got good taste. So I’ve proved I’ve got that, all right—£45,000 worth of it.

I keep the Rolls mainly for business journeys, for example going up to town to my head office. As chairman of the company, I have to travel in a certain style. The car is kept smart by a firm I’ve found in the City, run by an ex-chauffeur (Sunday Telegraph, 15.1.78). They take your Rolls in for a day and give it a good service and clean, right down to hand-polishing the radiator and putting saddle soap on the leather upholstery, for £100; then, after that, they come and pick the car up one day a week and keep it up to standard, for only £45. They think one good going-over per week is enough to maintain a Rolls as a credit to its owner, and it’s dirt cheap at only nine fivers a week.

My butler and I parted company today—I found him reading a rag which said we should abolish the wages system! As I said, how am I going to get people to produce the goods which make my profits without a wages system? I’ve put an ad in the paper for another one, offering £7,000 a year and car allowance, which is what a decent butler gets nowadays (domestic situations, The Times, 20.1.78).


Monday. Dropped in at an interesting press conference this morning, held by the Independent Schools Information Service. Its director claimed that many manual workers—he instanced miners, a machine operator, a fairground worker, a policeman, and a postman—send their children to independent schools. “We reject the epithet ‘bastions of privilege’,” he said (The Times, 17.1.78). There are, of course, independent schools and independent schools. They range from the very expensive, with highly paid staff and lavish equipment, and a pupil-teacher ratio as low as six to one, to the ramshackle institutions which offer worse premises and lower-paid teachers than most state schools, and which only survive because of snobbery among some parents. The really posh public schools charge about £2,000 a year, so my two sons set me back some £4,000 annually. I don’t think we need worry, at those prices, that our boys at Eton are going to be swamped by proletarian brats; and if there was a risk they’d put the price up.


Tuesday. Another bit of news in the paper: it appears that the workers regularly go hunting, besides sending their children to public schools. The Master of the Cotswold Hunt denied the other day that fox-hunting is an upper-class sport. “That’s an outdated belief. We have many working people who come to the hunt on Saturday afternoons” (TV Times, 26.1.78).

The MFH’s forthright words made me sit down and work out how much it costs me to go fox-hunting. I bought my hunter—not a bad piece of horseflesh—for £2,000. Then there’s the saddle, £100, and bridle, £50. The clothes cost me about £400—a couple of hunting jackets (£100 each), breeches £50, whip £10, handmade boots £100, top hat £20. On top of that the horse costs £30 a week at livery stables, plus about £100 a year for shoeing, and then there are vets’ fees, rugs and blankets, and so on. Besides all that the stable charges for transport, though one could always buy a trailer for £500. Then the fox-hunter mustn’t forget his, or her, “evening dress wear for the important social side of the hunt” (as the TV Times puts it); and this isn’t the ordinary evening dress outfit I put on for dinner every night, but a special rig-out I keep specially for hunt functions. The Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt, for example, has distinctive evening dress with scarlet facings, and the East Kent prescribes “evening dress—scarlet, buff silk collar, white silk facings”.

I suppose most people suspect that hunting in the proper style, like sending your children to good boarding schools, is only for the rich; but this propaganda to the contrary helps to keep the poorer people happy, which is good for capitalism.


Wednesday. Had a bit of trouble today at one of the factories owned by the family holding company. The workers are asking 15 per cent more pay. They say prices have gone up 10 per cent in the last year, and an increase of 15 per cent, after tax and other deductions, means (for all except the very poor) only 10 per cent more take-home pay. So they needed 15 per cent merely to regain the same position they were in a year ago (ignoring all the losses they have suffered as prices have gone up each month, though their wages remained stationary). They had the nerve to point out that our profits went up 35 per cent on last year’s (just like the Barclay’s Bank profits, Daily Telegraph, 24.2.78), so we could easily afford 15 per cent more pay.

I went down there, and called the union representatives in to a meeting. I said I had every sympathy with their claim, and in normal times (of course, “normal times” never come, but they were too polite to mention it) I would naturally agree to restore their nominal pay so that in real terms they wouldn’t have to take a cut in the wages they agreed this time last year. But, I said, it just couldn’t be done. The national interest, I said, demanded sacrifices from us all (especially them, though I didn’t say so aloud!), and I was naturally obliged to support the Government, which had laid down only 10 per cent wage increases. I gave them all the usual stuff —law and order must be upheld, respect for our democratic institutions, light at the end of the tunnel, putting this old country of ours back on its feet, the regular load of clap-trap—and in the end they had to accept the 10 per cent. I’d worked hard for it, though. I had a meeting with one of the head-office boys in their union yesterday—plush London hotel, slap-up meal, brandies ad lib, cigars on the house—and finally he agreed we would all have to tighten our belts. At least his members would. So he came down to the factory today and backed me to the hilt. You put the Labour Government in, he kept telling the shop stewards: you aren’t going to turn traitors now, are you?—the usual trade-union leaders’ line. So we got our agreement signed and sealed, and the factory hands got back to their proper job of building up my profits, for lower real wages than they agreed last year.


Thursday. More trouble today. One of the small companies owned by the family trust has a chain of provincial hairdressing shops. At one of these shops the staff were turning nasty. An assistant had found out that employers are supposed by law to pay the wage-rates set by the wages council for the industry, and began complaining that their pay was below even the wages council’s low figure, which starts at £26.50 for a forty-hour week. He’d read somewhere about the Low Pay Unit’s report that twenty-four in a hundred hairdressing employers pay below the minimum legal figure (The Times, 3.2.78). So I went down to sort it out. The trouble-maker began spouting at me about upholding law and order, and our democratic institutions and so on, so I shut him up a bit sharpish. I told them I’d close the place down completely if there was any more trouble (they don’t belong to a union, so we can be a bit more direct in our methods). There’s nothing like a million and a half people in the dole queue to make the others see reason! So back to work they went.

I’ll have to watch that agitator, though. He had some cheek, quoting law and order at me. He’ll have to realize that law and order is intended to help people like me keep him in his place: not the other way round. 


Friday. Marvellous meal this evening at the Inn on the Park’s Four Seasons restaurant. Normally a meal for two there costs about £26 (The Times, 7.2.78), but this week four chefs from Maxim’s in Paris have come over to superintend the cuisine, so dinner for my girl friend and me this evening cost £60. The girl friend said if the hairdressing assistants who were so awkward yesterday saved their entire week’s wages, they could almost afford one meal at these prices! We had a good laugh about it over the Filets de Sole Albert.


Saturday. Bought the wife a new coat—ocelot fur, with lynx border, £3,000 (Sunday Times, 4.12.77). And booked a three-week cruise in May for the two of us to the West Indies, £1,392 (Daily Telegraph, 24.2.78). It’ll make a nice break.

I turned down a four-week art treasures tour to Bali, Java, and so on, which would have been £2,496 for the two of us (Sunday Times, 4.12.77). One doesn’t want to be ostentatious in these hard times.
Alwyn Edgar


50 Years Ago: Unemployment in Australia (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

While Australia is being boomed abroad — by emigration touts — as a paradise for the workers, and thousands are flocking to her shores in search of work, in the capital cities the unemployed are marching the streets, registering at the Government Labour Bureaus, and sending deputations to the State Governments asking for sustenance or work.

All the old fallacies that have done service this century are being trotted out by the pen-valets, politicians and other hangers-on of the capitalist class. Free trade and protection hold pride of place although in circumstances in which either of these fiscal policies is in operation unemployment still remains a problem. According to Stead’s Review, June 1927, the figures submitted by the League of Nations demonstrate that the percentage of unemployed in Australia was greater than in any other nation associated with the League.

When the Labour Government came into power in Victoria it set out valiantly to deal with unemployment, but after six months unemployment is worse than ever. The Premier’s (Mr. Hogan’s) explanation is that the sole cause of the unemployment problem is the adverse trade balance.

From “A Letter from the Socialist Party of Australia”, published in the Socialist Standard, May, 1928.

Obituary: R. B. Gill (1978)

Obituary from the May 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have learnt of the death in a car accident of our Comrade Ray Gill, who last December emigrated to Australia. Doctor Gill joined the Party in 1974 and subsequently wrote a number of informative articles on the National Health Service for the Socialist Standard. Our Australian comrades will share our regret at his untimely loss.

Marx, carbuncles and all (1978)

Book Review from the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx without Myth by Maximilien Rubel and Margaret Manale (Blackwell)

A very good biography of Marx, which recounts fairly and without eulogy his personal and political activities year by year, is Marx without Myth by Maximilien Rubel and Margaret Manale (published by Basil Blackwell in 1975). What makes it so good is that the authors recognise that Marx stood for “a classless, stateless and moneyless society” and point out that, right from his first socialistic writings at the end of 1843, Marx held that mankind could only be emancipated through the abolition of money and the State.

Marx maintained this view for the rest of his life even if, as Rubel and Manale point out, “he was not always able to reconcile his conduct with his theoretical views”. For instance, he was obsessed with the Russian threat to Western Europe, an obsession which led him to very questionable cooperation with Tory journalists like David Urquhart and Maltman Barry. As late as 1877 Marx was writing anonymous anti-Russian articles in the Tory press! But then we have never been committed to endorsing everything Marx said and did, even though we do owe him a tremendous debt as the man who first provided a scientific basis for the case for Socialism.
Adam Buick

A useful introduction to Marx (1978)

Book Review from the June 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx's Capital by Ben Fine (Macmillan)

Subject to certain reservations dealt with below, Marx's Capital by Ben Fine (Macmillan’s Studies in Economics, Paperback, 76 pages, £1.50) achieves what the author set out to do and should serve as a useful introduction to the three volumes of Capital.

The author, who is Lecturer in Economics at Birkbeck College, describes his work as both introduction and interpretation. His method is to summarise and simplify, in his own words, various aspects of Marx’s economics, including the labour theory of value and surplus value, commercial and interest-bearing capital, rent of land, crises and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. On the last of these he writes (p.57) that it would be nonsense “to hypothesize a long-run tendency of the rate of profit to fall in the sense that over a period of one hundred years the rate of profit must have become lower”, and he stresses the relationship of a short-term fall to the cycle of booms and depressions.

He warns readers that his book must not be regarded as a substitute for reading Capital itself. Its merit is that, by clearing away some popular misconceptions, it should make it easier for the student to understand what Marx was getting at in his detailed treatment.

Marx’s Capital begins with an outline of the materialist conception of history and an account of the way Marx moved on from his early Hegelianism. It reminds the reader of the impossibility of separating economic theory from the class basis of society. Other economists’ attempts to explain profits are briefly dealt with, including “abstinence theories” and “marginal productivity” (pages 31-2).

In the treatment of Marx's economics a serious defect is that, although present-day inflation is several times referred to, there is no mention whatever of Marx’s explanation, based on the labour theory of value that inflation is caused by an excess issue of inconvertible paper currency. As the author can hardly be unaware of Marx’s explanation the possibility is that he rejects it (as some rather obscure remarks suggest), but he makes no attempt to disprove it or to offer an argued alternative explanation.

His treatment of the very low post-war unemployment is equally unsatisfactory. He writes (p.76) that capitalism has changed, as evidenced by the fact that “capitalism since the second world war has enjoyed an unprecedented boom, free from the shattering crises . . . that characterised the earlier laissez-faire period . . ."

Several things can be said about this. Did capitalism in general enjoy an unprecedented post-war boom? In the four years 1948-1951, for example, unemployment was at depression levels in several countries. The average for the four years was over 9 per cent in Belgium and 8 per cent in Germany. In Italy it was continuously over one and a half million.

As regards low post-war unemployment in Britain all that was unusual was that it lasted as long as it did. It was always normal for unemployment to be low in periods of expansion, and in the second half of the nineteenth century there were several periods of 3 to 5 years when the average was less than 3 per cent.

Nor is the enormous belief in permanent boom a new one. Kautsky, in his “Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx” (p. 230), after noting that there had been a belief in permanent depression, wrote:-
From 1895 to 1900 we had again a period of economic prosperity, which led not a few optimists to the opposite assumption, viz. that the period of crises had passed away.
Mr. Fine’s book was published first in 1975. If he had waited till unemployment rose above 1,600,000 in 1977 we may guess that he would have worded differently the passage quoted earlier.

The book contains two mentions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the first a quotation from Marx, in the Foreword, and the second on the last page. It reads:-
   The future will herald a new era founded on the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The author does not go into the question of what Marx meant by the phrase or explain what he (the author) means by it (the dictatorship in capitalist Russia?) or give his reasons for believing that it is a way to the classless society, Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: What is Capital? (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Exploitation gives the key to an understanding of capital. Today the workers as a class are born, and remain, propertyless; they therefore do not own capital which is a form of wealth. Capital is the accumulated wealth of the capitalist class. It is useful for further production, but with only one object — that it may absorb the further unpaid labour of the workers, and thus produce . . . surplus value, the source of rent, interest and profit. Not the means of wealth production in themselves, but the class relations under which they are used to obtain surplus value, realised through sale in the world market — make them capital.

Bodies like the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party do not stand as we do for common ownership, which would mean the abolition of such class relations. The ILP (Forward May 12 1928) asks:-
When and where any socialist ever pretended or suggested that we could dispense with capital. Socialists propose that capital should be publicly owned.
Socialists do nothing of the kind. By public ownership the ILP means nationalisation or government ownership, a condition under which the capitalists would still collectively own their property as bond-holders, while the workers would still be exploited by receiving wages which presuppose unpaid labour.
From an article “What is Capital”, Socialist Standard July 1928.

Italy's political killers (1978)

From the July 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Red Brigades carried out their first killing in June 1974. In Padua an armed commando entered the local Party offices of the MSI, the Italian neo-Fascist movement, handcuffed together the two men they found there, one a Party official the other an ex-member, and then shot them both twice in the back of the neck. Two years later, again in June, they shot dead a top magistrate together with his bodyguard and chauffeur, and last year, in April and November, they killed a Turinese lawyer and the assistant editor of the daily newspaper, La Stampa. So far this year their victims have been a magistrate, a police marshal, two prison officers and of course Aldo Moro and his five-man bodyguard. Add to this half a dozen kidnappings (the first in 1972) and scores of bombings and armed attacks on individuals, most of them since the kidnapping of Moro in March, and we have a picture of political violence paralleled in few of the economically advanced countries of the world.

Not of course that the Italian State is in danger of imminent collapse. As we pointed out last month the Red Brigades are a small isolated group with no support to speak of among Italian workers. Far from “striking at the heart of the State”, as they put it, they are impotent to do it any real harm and will ultimately find the massive resources and means of violence at its disposal more than a match for them.

This however is something they themselves do not see. They quite clearly consider themselves a real threat to the State and a potent ideological force among Italian workers. A mixture of jobless intellectuals and individuals from very poor backgrounds, many of them disaffected Communist Party supporters, they issued, in the 55 days that elapsed between the kidnapping of Moro and his killing, 9 communiques in which they tried to justify their activities and explain their position. Their theory as stated in these communiques, all of which were published in the Italian press, can be summarised as follows: — The old liberal nation-state is dead and has been taken over by the “imperialist states of the multinationals”. At the head of the “hierarchical chain” of this multinational imperialism (or the biggest links) are the USA and West Germany with other lesser states such as Italy forming smaller links in the chain and carrying out faithfully the directives coming from above. To pursue its economic interests and at the same time to crush the developing proletarian revolution this multinational imperialism has recruited a “politico-economic-military personnel", “imperialist executioners who massacre the militants of the IRA, the RAF (the German Red Army Faction), the Palestinian people and the Communist guerillas of South America”. Hence the need for revolutionaries to put their strategy in a European, not just a national focus. Italy too has concentration camps in which “there are hundreds of Communist prisoners condemned to the slow death of centuries of prison”. Therefore the Italian slate, “the Italian branch of the greatest multinational of crime the world has ever known”, must be the target of revolutionary violence and the designs of the “imperialist bourgeoisie” must be upset by attacks on this “politico-economic-military personnel” which it has created and which is its expression. In a class-divided society “the Italian proletariat possesses an immense potential of revolutionary intelligence, an infinite amount of technical knowledge and practical capability which, by its own work, it has been able to collectively accumulate, a will and a disposition to struggle which decades of fighting for its own liberation has forged and made indestructible. Upon this stands the whole basis of our organisation: its growing strength is built on the solid foundations of the Italian proletariat and avails itself of the incalculable contribution that its best sons and vanguards make to the building of the Communist Party in struggle”.

This then is the “thinking” behind the Red Brigades’ War against the Italian state. And all the signs are that they see their analysis as original and striking. Yet if we remove some of the more fanatical rhetoric and a few of the contemporary references what we are left with is far from original. It’s a hotchpotch of ideas, slogans and expressions of wishful thinking common to and oft-repeated on the political Left for nigh on a hundred years.

Firstly the theory of “multinational imperialism” when looked at closely boils down to the old notion of capitalism being a carefully planned conspiracy on the part of the ruling class. Certainly capitalism is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracies, political, economic and other kinds, and Italy probably has more than its fair share of them. But to suggest that the whole system is run on a conspiratorial basis is to attribute to the capitalist class and their servants in government powers and controls they do not and can not have. Capitalism depends on the impersonal workings of the world market. It is not run by governments in collusion. What happens is that governments accommodate themselves to conditions created by the market sometimes consulting and acting in concert with other governments sometimes going it alone, but in all cases, and even in the context of an international organisations like the Common Market, acting in what they see as the broad long-term interests of their own national capitalist class. Capitalism may indeed have become more international than ever before but foreign investment is welcomed or otherwise by a government according to its capacity to increase that country’s competitive position in the world market.

The second part of the conspiracy theory propounded by the Red Brigades is that there is afoot an international bourgeois plot aimed at crushing proletarian revolution. As so many leftists before them the Red Brigades refuse to face the harsh reality that the vast majority of workers do not at the present time want revolution in any shape or form. They delude themselves that a mass revolution of which they themselves will be the leaders is just waiting to be touched off and that the ruling class has got together, in this case internationally, to prevent this from happening. The fact is that when the majority of the population of the advanced world want revolution, nothing the ruling class can do will prevent them from having it. At present the authorities have the workers as their willing allies and even if they do possess the complex secret apparatus of repression the Red Brigades talk about, it is for use not against a mass workers’ movement but against small violent minority organisations like the Red Brigades themselves.

Picking off members of this apparatus, the so-called “politico-economic-military personnel”, i.e. rich or prominent individuals, is also an old trick and, as history has shown, quite futile. It is based on the “Great Man” theory of history whereby leaders not conditions are seen to determine the course of history. Since the death of Lenin and Stalin’s rule in Russia leftists have argued that if only Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin things would have been different. Different perhaps they would have been in their details but Trotsky’s own blood-stained record leaves little doubt of his capacity for a ruthlessness to which the conditions and the need to develop state capitalism in Russia would have forced him. The conditions create the men, not vice versa. And if one man disappears another is always on hand to take his place. This, it seems, is a lesson lost on the Red Brigades. Their murder of individuals such as Moro may bring them notoriety and give them a small place in history but its impact on historical development will be infinitesimal.

Lastly the self-confessed “vanguardism” of the Red Brigades. This desire to lead has been a characteristic of all small left-wing groups since the last century. The Red Brigades correctly see society as class-divided but imagine that a small group of determined individuals can lead a revolution against the capitalist class and take the working class with them. They would no doubt argue (they frequently make reference to the theory and practice of Lenin) that this idea is confirmed by the Russian experience of 1917. But what Lenin did in Russia was to set himself up as dictator of those he had led and establish a brutal state capitalist regime as far removed from Socialism as could possibly be imagined. The consequence of violent minority revolution has always in fact been violent minority control. If the Red Brigades—and given the totally different conditions from those existing in Russia in 1917 this would be nothing short of miraculous—were to take over in Italy, the result would be the same. The only kind of revolution truly possible in Italy, as elsewhere in the advanced world, is Socialism in which there will be neither leaders nor led. It will be a majority democratic revolution without the need for violence and will change the basis of society from production for profit to production for use, from world competition to world cooperation.

All sorts of theories have been advanced to explain why Italy is suffering from the violence of these would-be revolutionaries more than most other countries. Sociologists have been at it, so have politicians, historians, psychologists, et al. Insufficient reforms, the Communist Party’s shift to the centre, high unemployment, inefficient education system, traditional Italian leaning towards extremes Italy’s late and rapid development in the industrial field not being matched by progress in its infrastructure, social services, etc: these are all reasons offered to account for this phenomenon. And there is probably a good deal to be said for many of them. But when looked at closely none of them is a cause but an effect of the system of society in which we live. The effects of capitalism itself, which is the real cause of political violence in the world today wherever and whenever it takes place.
Howard Moss

Monday, January 29, 2018

Letter: Human Nature or Human Behaviour? (2018)

Letter to the Editors from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dear Editors
I enjoy reading your magazine every month. It would seem wherever socialism is tried it ends up as state capitalism, probably because socialism is opposed to human nature. Humans are greedy by nature and are lovers of money.
I believe money [guilty] of 95 percent of the world's evils and problems and it will be money that eventually destroys the planet.
Like you I want a moneyless world based on the needs of all humanity and of course a peaceful world but again humans are aggressive by nature. How then do you change human nature?
D. Tandy, 
Sittingbourne, Kent

Reply:
Socialism has never been tried. State capitalism was indeed the result of the revolutions in Russia, China, Cuba and the rest but that's what the revolutionists set out to establish and succeeded, though unfortunately they called it 'socialism'.
There is no need to change 'human nature' – the gene-determined biological make-up of humans – as there is nothing in it that would prevent the establishment and operation of socialism
'Human nature' and human behaviour are two different things. What our biological human nature makes possible is for humans to engage in a wide range of behaviours. Basically, human behaviour in general is flexible and can and does adapt to the environment in which humans find themselves and/or are brought up in.
In conditions of material scarcity humans, to survive, need to acquire and secure what resources they can, even sometimes at the expense of others. Hence, in such circumstances, humans tend to behave in ways described as 'greedy', though for most of human existence most people have not been able to acquire much more than the bare necessities.
Capitalism is a system of artificial scarcity – the profit motive, or rather barrier, prevents the plenty for all that has been possible now for years from being produced – and so engenders behaviour that is 'greedy'. As capitalism is a society where people have to buy what they need this takes the form of trying to get more money. But this is more as security against them and their offspring falling into poverty than a desire to accumulate more and more wealth for its own sake.
In a socialist society, where everybody will have a right of access to what they need to live and enjoy life, people won't need to chase and accumulate money, if only because as you point out money will be redundant when there's common ownership and production directly for use. In such circumstances, although people will still be concerned with their own survival, they won't need to be 'greedy'. After all, what would be the point of stockpiling things at the place where you live when you will be able to get them when you need them from the nearest store?
'Aggression' is one of the behaviours that human biological make-up makes possible, but it is not in-born and, once again, is a behaviour which manifests itself only under certain circumstances. It is certainly not a feature of everyday life. This is not a violent struggle of everyone against everyone else. No society could survive on that basis.
Organised aggression takes place between societies, and in class-divided societies between states, and arises from struggles over resources. In past societies it was between tribes for hunting grounds or between herders and agriculturalists. In capitalism it is a struggle between capitalist states over sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets which, when the vital interest of a state is at stake, leads to war. So far are humans from being aggressive by nature – natural killers of other humans – that states have to train people to be killers and engage in propaganda amongst the rest of their subjects to support wars and to regard those who do the actual killing as heroes.
In socialism there will be no competition over resources and so no drive that, when push comes to shove, leads to wars. The Earth's resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity, to be used for the benefit of all.
A copy of our booklet Are We Prisoners of our Genes?, which provides the scientific evidence for what we say, is in the post.  Anyone wanting a copy should send a cheque for £5 made out to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain” – Editors

Socialism and the Fascisti (1923)

From the April 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party accepts the view that it is necessary for the workers before they can begin to introduce Socialism to conquer the powers of Government in order that they may control the Governmental machinery, and through it the armed forces. The fulfilment of our programme requires that a majority of the workers shall understand and want Socialism. Given such a majority and its reflex in a majority of Socialist delegates on local councils and in the House of Commons, the workers will be in a position to impose their will on the present ruling class; an appeal to armed force from whom will be met by the military, acting under the instructions of the Socialist delegates.

This attitude is subjected to many criticisms, one of which is that the capture of the political machinery will not give the power we assert. Those who make this criticism argue that while political power is necessary it can be obtained only by the workers building up a rival organisation and with it overthrowing the capitalist State. They deny that the power of the capitalists rests on their control of Parliament, and point to the Fascist movement in Italy as proof that revolutionary Parliamentary action by the workers is futile. The workers must, they argue, organise armed resistance to the ruling class. They do not explain how the workers are going to obtain possession of the arms and organise in such strength as to offer serious opposition to- the Crown forces, and it seems fairly obvious that the capitalists will easily be able to prevent such organisation within the present system. When pressed on this point the exponents of violence look knowing, and make obscure references to the disastrous Irish insurrection now being crushed by the capitalist Free State Government.

Their chief argument is, however, the rise of the Italian Fascisti, who, they say, robbed the workers by armed intimidation of their constitutional gains. If it were shown to be possible that in an advanced and stable capitalist democracy the ruling class were able to throw aside the recognised forms of government, to ignore the institutions which they had proclaimed to be the basis of society, to rule by brute force and to survive, a condition of things would be created requiring the application of methods other than those we advocate. As regards Italy, however, it just doesn't happen to be true.

What these critics have overlooked is that the Fascist movement existed only by permission of the Italian Government, by the permission, that is, of the people who did control the political machinery and the armed forces.

Nor is there evidence that the Italian workers as a whole had ever reached the stage of desiring Socialism. They had, for instance, not returned a majority of Socialists to the Italian Parliament, nor had they captured more than a minority of the town and other councils.

What is always advanced as proof of their being revolutionary is their seizure of the factories during 1920. But according to the correspondent in Italy of the New York "Nation" (March 8th, 1922) this will bear no such interpretation. The "Nation" article (quoted by the "Western Clarion," Vancouver, May 1st, 1922) gives the following account of the event. The war gave rise in Italy to a new and powerful group of metal industries with banking connections, known as Peronne Brothers, the allied bank being the Banca Italiana Disconto. It was the Peronne factories, the "Ansaldo Iron and Steel Co.," which were occupied in 1920.

This group and its banking allies came into conflict with the older concerns, and at the end of the war, with its consequent slackening of demand for iron and steel for war purposes, the position of Peronne Bros. became acute. Naturally the employers sought to resist the wage demands of their workers, and for this purpose entered into alliance with their rivals. It was their betrayal by their rivals, the Banca Commerciale, which caused their defeat and subsequent bankruptcy.
  "The proletarian seizure of the factories was, in its political and juridical episodes a counterattack of 'safe and sane ' industry upon 'political and new' industry. The Steel operators (Peronnes) were tricked into resisting the demands of the workers on promise of support from all the other manufacturers ; who at once pacified their labourers with reasonable concessions, knowing well that the Steel industries would not be able to follow suit."
It is a noteworthy fact that the government of the day did not at once use troops to eject the workers. The "Nation" suggests that this was because Giolitti, the Premier, was in close friendship with the Banca Commerciale and wanted the factories occupied. It certainly is true that the movement came to nothing. If the responsibility for failure is laid on the shoulders of the men's leaders, this is only another way of saying that the men had no clear idea of their object nor how to attain it : they were, in fact, in a state of unrest, but were not consciously revolutionary, and were therefore not ready to undertake the task of overthrowing capitalism. They decided themselves by ballot vote to evacuate the factories.

As for the Fascisti, a member of the Communist Party of Italy, A. Bordiga. writing in the "Labour Monthly" (Feb. and March, 1923), gives an interesting account of their origin. In brief, he states that the end of the war found the Italian Government faced, like other governments, with the difficult problems of transition to peace. First, there was demobilisation and the absorption of ex-Service men into industry, and then there was the task of disillusioning those who really thought that the workers were going to share in the fruits of victory. To meet the peculiar conditions which arose from having to deal with masses of men who had been under arms for years and had been overwhelmed with flattery and promises, the Government deliberately encouraged the Fascist movement.

That they were able to do so was the result of the unfortunate fact that the Italian Capitalist Government still had the support of the majority of the Italian workers and peasants.
   "After the Nitti, Giolitti, and Bonomi Governments, we had the Facta Cabinet. This type of Government was intended to cover up the complete liberty of action of Fascism in its expansion over the whole country. During the strike in August, 1922, several conflicts took place between the workers and the Fascisti, who were openly aided by the Government. One can quote the example of Bari. During a whole week of fighting, the Fascisti in full force were unable to defeat the Bari workers, who had retired to the working class quarters of the city, and defended themselves by armed force. The Fascisti were forced to retreat, leaving several of their number on the field. But what did the Facta Government do? During the night they surrounded the old town with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of carabineers of the Royal Guard. In the harbour a torpedo boat trained its guns on the workers. Armoured cars and guns were brought up. The workers were taken by surprise during their sleep, the Proletarian leaders were arrested, and the Labour headquarters were occupied. This was the same throughout the country. Wherever Fascism had been beaten back by the workers the power of the State intervened ; workers who resisted were shot down : workers who were guilty of nothing but self-defence were arrested and sentenced ; while the magistrates systematically acquitted the Fascisti, who were generally known to have committed innumerable crimes. Thus the State was the main factor in the development of Fascism."
Further, while it is correct that the Fascisti were not in a majority in the Italian Parliament, they were compelled because of this to accept into their Cabinet representatives of such other parties as would give a combined majority, and Bordiga considers that it is only a matter of months before Mussolini takes Trade Union officials as well into his government.

The critics who argue from the experience of Italy that an armed minority can ignore parliamentary control are also invited to consider Bordiga's statement that :
"Fascism, after having temporarily adopted republicanism, finally rallied to the strictest monarchist loyalism ; and after having loudly and constantly cried out against parliamentary corruption, it has now completely accepted parliamentary procedure."
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: Are the Co-operators Socialist? (1978)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many workers appear to believe that the Co-operative societies are a form of socialism, or at least a step towards the establishment of socialism.

The Co-ops buy and sell at a profit. Otherwise they would cease to exist. This profit is derived from the unpaid portion of the labour of some section of the workers. It is immaterial whether these workers are directly employed in production by the Co-op themselves or by the outside concerns which produce goods in which the Co-op deal. The fact that some of the profit is distributed in the form of ‘divi' among working-class consumers and members blinds the latter to the real position.

Any reduction in the cost of living brought about by wholesale buying, irrespective of whether it is done by Co-ops or other multiple shop concerns, simply enables the master-class to reduce wages accordingly. There is thus no advantage to be gained by the workers in the long run along these lines.

From an article by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard, August 1928.

Russia—dissent under dictatorship (1978)

From the August 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anatoly Shcharansky (sentenced to thirteen years for ‘spying’), Alexander Ginzburg and Viktoras Pektus (sentenced for anti-Soviet activities) have been interned—possibly to face an ordeal through which they will not live, certainly to conditions of the utmost hardship and cruelty. They have dared to criticise publicly the totalitarian dictatorship of the Soviet Union. In mediaeval England, if a subject criticised or disobeyed the monarch, he was destined to incarceration or death; in Tsarist Russia the Siberian mines or the army was the fate of dissidents. As long as the State has supreme power—that is, control over the army and means of coercion, a monopoly over education, the press and ideology and, above all, the ownership and control of wealth production and distribution—the consequences for those who dissent from the ruling class ideology are bleak.

Shcharansky and Orlov (both sentenced to labour camps) were leaders of a group whose intention was to monitor the Soviet Union’s breaches of the Human Rights clauses in the Helsinki Final Act. The evidence gathered by this group has been of considerable interest to those trying to discover the extent of the tyranny of Russian State capitalism. But the quest for political liberty in a country dominated by a party dictatorship must not be seen as an end in itself. What Russian workers must fight for—as must their fellow workers of the world, be they living under dictatorships or in political democracies—is the genuine freedom which comes with Socialism. What the opponents of the Soviet regime must do is to couple their struggle for political liberties and free trade union organisation with a struggle for the establishment of Socialism. 

Shcharansky, Ginzburg, Pektus (only the most recent of a series of dissidents interned by the Soviet government) will probably suffer in vain. The working class, far from learning the lessons of their efforts, are being fooled on every side. Capitalism is a system of profound hypocrisy and this is no better exemplified than by the world reaction to the trials of the Russian dissidents. From every part of the capitalist world which is presently opposed to the Soviet Union we hear empty cries of outrage at the unfairness of the Russian judiciary. That arch-defender of liberty— especially the liberty of capitalists to make huge profits and workers to take less pay—Jim Callaghan, has spoken of the recent trials as reminiscent of the injustices of the Stalin period. In the days of Stalin Mr. Callaghan was singing the praises of the Soviet system:
  “The rewards given to ability in the USSR at all levels are far greater than those given to the employed in Capitalist Britain. I have seen it and it works”.
Reynolds News 17 March 1946
Under capitalism the State fears criticism; when a majority understands and wants Socialism they will turn criticism into action. Shcharansky and most of the Russian dissidents have so far attempted to criticise, but not to recognise the nature of Russian State capitalism and the need for a revolutionary party to win political liberties for the purpose of overthrowing the dictatorial rule of the Communist party and joining with their fellow workers to organise for Socialism. In this the Socialist Party of Great Britain will give them every possible encouragement.

One step forward, two steps back (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent years the Trades Unions have voluntarily subjected themselves to a policy of wage restraint at the request of the Labour Government. This year, however, the TUC has firmly rejected the government’s proposal of a 5 per cent “guideline” for 1979 which must have been welcomed by many trade unionists. 

It is worth considering exactly what the Labour Government has been trying to achieve with its income policies over the last few years. Is it really all a part of the so-called “battle” against inflation? We think not. Denis Healey has hinted at the real answer: 
  “What we are aiming for is something like the West German system, where Unions, Government and Employers agree each year on the increase in earnings compatible with the needs of the national economy” (Guardian July 22 1978).
What, you may ask, is in the interests of the “national economy”, or to be more accurate a capitalist economy? The answer to that is to have the lowest wage-bill possible.

Socialists have always stressed the need for workers to organize in Trades Unions in order to defend the levels of their wages and conditions (and wherever possible, to improve them). Therefore the decision not to go along with further government wage restraint which by definition can only prevent them from doing this work, can be seen as a step forward.

But it was patently obvious to all concerned that the announcement of this decision would cause acute embarrassment to the Labour Party, and so it was that the TUC also took its two steps backwards.

First of all they declared that the TUC would offer its election fighting services to the Labour Party in whatever way the executive wants to use them”. In the words of Moss Evans, General Secretary of the TGWU, “We will be working exceptionally hard to get the Labour Party re-elected” (Guardian July 31 1978).

Secondly, on the very same day of the TUC Press Conference which announced the decision to reject the pay policy, Callaghan and Murray appeared on a common platform to register their “highest common factor of agreement on social and economic policy” and begrudgingly admit that on a couple of points their views “may diverge rather than converge” (Guardian July 27 1978).

They had, in fact, summoned the press to launch a new document prepared by the TUC—Labour Party Liaison Committee entitled “Into the Eighties”, which was designed to bolster the image of cooperation between the Labour Party and the Unions. From the Socialist point of view it confirms that the Trade Union Movement is (sadly) still committed to support of the stale and useless reformist Labour Party policies.

The TUC argues that it must take an interest in the standard of living of its members which includes “. . . the food on the trade unionist’s table, the clothes on his back, the roof over his head . . .” (ABC of the TUC April 1977). This in itself is an essential attitude, but we must disagree that the Labour Party is the party best able to pursue the interests of the working class. An examination of “Into the Eighties” will demonstrate why.

The statement frequently speaks of “a speedy return to full employment”. We weren’t aware that it ever existed. It promises that the Labour Party will give “high priority” to housing, the health service, education, social services etc. etc. It promises a fairer distribution of wealth, lower prices, care for old age pensioners, the one-parent family, the disabled. In short just about every promise the Labour Party has made over its seventy odd years of existence. During that time it has formed a number of governments and yet we challenge you to name one social problem which has disappeared. There isn’t one. Why is this?

It is because the Labour Party is committed to the idea of running capitalism and believes that this can be done in the interests of the working class:
  We set out below ten points on which we are determined to make progress and we will have to agree on the rolling programme of priorities, having regard to the economic circumstances of the time (“Into the Eighties”, item 37, our emphasis).
  There is no reason why such a policy need be incompatible with proper levels of profitability in British industry. ("Into the Eighties”, item 38).
This is a thoroughly utopian and unrealistic policy. The first and only priority of a capitalist economy is to make a profit. Everything else, including the standard of living of the workers, is subjugated to this aim. We maintain the support of the Labour Party can never satisfy the interests of the working class.

We reiterate the need for workers to organise in trades unions in order to defend their wages and conditions, but at the same time point out that this activity in general can only be useful as a defensive mechanism against the harsh realities of living under capitalism. If living standards can be forced up when market conditions allow, they will just as surely be forced down in times of crises. The last few years has proved this. Trade Union activity can only fight the effects of capitalism, not the causes of those effects, it can retard a downward movement of the spiral, not change its direction.

So if the Labour Party is no answer, and Trades Unions only a defensive mechanism, what is the way forward for the working class? We can only repeat the advice of Karl Marx, who advised workers:
 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 days wage for a fair days work!” they ought to inscribe on their banners the revolutionary watchword “Abolition of the wages system!” (Value, Price and Profit).
A resolution will appear on the agenda of the TUC Conference this month endorsing the statement “Into the Eighties". We hope that trade unionists will oppose it and consider instead the alternative of revolutionary socialism.
Ian Westgate