Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Exhibition Review: Port Sunlight (2018)

Based on ‘The New Frock’ by William Powell Frith
Exhibition Review from the October 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a truism to say that art and commerce are closely related: under capitalism, artists have to earn enough to live, commercial galleries have to survive, and other galleries often need to attract sponsorship from companies. Rarely, though, is the relationship quite as close as that involving William Lever (1851–1925).

Lever was the son of a wholesale grocer, and he expanded the family business by having soap manufactured in pre-wrapped bars. Then he set up the firm of Lever Brothers, which made the soap itself, initially in Warrington but then at a larger purpose-built factory on the Wirral. He used the brand name Sunlight, and the area where the factory was situated was termed Port Sunlight. As his company expanded, both in Britain and overseas, employing 85,000 workers at its height, he became immensely rich.

His initial interest in art was to buy paintings that could be copied and have the word ‘Sunlight’ and an advertising slogan added, so that they could be used as posters. One of the best-known was based on the painting ‘The New Frock’ by William Powell Frith (who objected to the use of his art for commercial purposes). Later Lever acquired a taste for collecting, and built up a substantial collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles and porcelain. Much of this can be seen at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, which opened in 1922. There are many portraits, such as one of Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante, and a number of works by Pre-Raphaelites such as Rossetti and Burne-Jones (both associates of William Morris).

Many of Lever’s workers were housed in the specially-built Port Sunlight village. A few minutes’ walk from the art gallery are the Port Sunlight Museum and a worker’s cottage. It is often described as ‘an original garden village’, but it was run in a very authoritarian way: for instance, all the houses had gardens but tenants were not allowed to keep chickens in them, and there were strict rules on taking in lodgers. Houses were rented from Lever Brothers, and losing your job meant losing your home. The ideas behind the village were not just philanthropic, as Lever believed that children who lived in a slum would grow up to be ‘a danger and terror to the State’.

Lever Brothers became part of the giant Unilever company in 1930, and from 1979 houses in Port Sunlight were sold when they became vacant, as Lever’s paternalistic approach to housing his employees had long been unfashionable. The village now looks like a rather anachronistic settlement, though both art gallery and museum are well worth visiting.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Kennedy to run U.S. capitalism (2010)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Kennedy’s victory at the American polls came as the culmination of years of patient ambition and at the end of a campaign of open cynicism, such as we have come expect from capitalist political parties.

When he started his attempt to win the Democratic nomination, Mr. Kennedy had several question marks against him. The principal of these was whether he could unite the trade unions, the industrial cities and the backward Southerners into supporting him. We now know how skilfully he did this, by the careful choice of his Vice-Presidential candidate and by the promises and opinions which he uttered. Such was the success of these tactics that, long before election day, many on-the-spot correspondents were prophesying that Kennedy’s campaign would be irresistible.

Mr. Nixon showed a similar determination to win the presidency. Here is a man with an established reputation for single-minded ambition which has led him into some unsavoury actions. Many people will remember Mr. Nixon introducing his pet dog into a television programme in which he was offering evidence of his integrity as a servant of the American public.

Mr. Kennedy based some of his case upon an appeal to the patriotism of American workers, alleging that United States’ influence abroad has steeply declined during the Eisenhower presidency. Nixon’s reply—similarly an appeal to patriotism—was that it was insulting even to suggest that U.S.A. is a second-rate power.

This, then, was an election campaign of by no means an unusual kind, in which members of the working class were asked to vote on issues of personality, nationalism and capitalist power politics, none of which has the slightest effects upon their basic interest (. . . )

It is depressing that American workers should be impressed by—indeed be part of—slick, high pressure salesmanship and cynical drives for power. For after the shouting and the ballyhoo have died, capitalism, in America and the rest of the world, remains unscathed.
[From editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1960]

Horse Voices (2011)

Insert picture of horse here.
The Action Replay column from the January 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

All is not well in the Sport of Kings. The owners and trainers want more money for 2011–12 from the bookmakers, via the levy or tax on their profits, but the bookies are unwilling to pay up. Consequently the government will have to make a decision, in the person of Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

Of course there is a lot more to this than just a squabble about how much is paid over. Attendance at race meetings is more or less holding up, but otherwise racing is feeling the force of the recession. Trainers are going out of business regularly, and one prediction is that barely a quarter of the 85 who currently train at Newmarket will survive. The owners are in most cases wealthy individuals who see racing as a hobby that can sometimes make money but is mainly indulged in for fun. This hasn’t stopped them threatening to strike in order to get their way in this squabble, though. 

Then there are the bookies, who maintain that horse racing is becoming less and less important as a source of income for them, with it now contributing less than one quarter of the money they get from punters. Moreover, racing paraphernalia take up a lot of space in betting shops, and TV coverage has increased in price. But in particular it’s on-line betting that has caused the problems. If people can bet on roulette, bingo and football over the Internet (including while a football match is being played), there is less left over for the gee-gees. The traditional bookmakers have in some cases moved their operations offshore to avoid paying the levy.

One bookie said, in a nice phrase, that the top owners and trainers, were ‘shooting themselves in both fetlocks’. But really it’s a typical row between groups of rich individuals that will see many workers in the racing industry suffer as the powers-that-be argue among themselves and the whole industry struggles to cope with economic and technological changes.
Paul Bennett

Cue for a Change (2011)

Sexing up snooker.
The Action Replay column from the February 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

It’s not uncommon for sports to change their rules in order to become more popular with the public, or at least with broadcasters and advertisers. Cricket is the most obvious example, with various limited-over versions and now Twenty20, with its limited duration, having become very well attended.

The latest sport to see a change in format is snooker, with the Power Snooker concept. There are fewer red balls and some innovations to scoring but, more importantly, there is a set time span of thirty minutes per match. This is intended to avoid some of the supposed problems with traditional snooker, where some frames take a lot longer than others and some are just unexciting (however skilful) with lots of safety play. A more or less standard length for matches is of course much more attractive for television.

Moreover, spectators are encouraged to interact with players, rather than just sit in respectful silence, and the players can wear a live microphone if they wish. And, to cater for the laddish element among spectators, both referees are women. Each has her own website (something not thought to be common among football referees, for instance).

The staid world of ‘ordinary’ snooker is fighting back, with a one-frame knockout tournament (maximum ten minutes per frame) in Blackpool at the end of January. ‘Blackpool Beauties’ will walk victorious players out of the arena, while ‘two bouncers with character’ will ‘escort players through the “walk of shame” as they exit’ (www.worldsnooker.com).

All this appears to have little if anything to do with sporting prowess and everything to do with getting the punters in, and especially the sponsors and the TV companies. Hence the glitz and glamour and the time limits. And it’s hardly surprising to learn that the rich guys behind Power Snooker have worked previously in the entertainment industry rather than sport.
Paul Bennett

Supplying the Grid (2011)

Clint Dempsey and some bloke in a helmet.
The Action Replay column from the March 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

You might think that Premiership football manager is the shortest-lived career in sport. But being an American (gridiron) football player probably holds the title, for on average a player will manage less than four seasons before injuries take their toll. Notwithstanding this, the employers want to increase the number of competitive games played per season, from 16 to 18, with likely consequences for players’ well-being. The owners also want to cut wages and bring existing contracts to an end, two years earlier than is laid down.

As a result, the players threatened a strike, with the next season, due to start in September, under threat. The top players may be millionaires, but there plenty of other players who are far less well-off and who need the free post-career healthcare that is provided after three years of playing. And the team owners are mostly billionaires, with franchises that have grown massively in value over the last decade. Moreover, they have apparently got television contracts that guarantee payment to them even if no games take place.

The climax of the American football season is the Super Bowl, held this year in Texas at the start of February. Advertising slots during TV coverage came in at three million dollars for a half-minute commercial, and plenty of companies have been prepared to pay this, far more than last year. This has been seen by many as a signal that the US economy is recovering from the recession. If next year’s Super Bowl is cancelled, then there will not just be a lot of disappointed sports fans, but disappointed TV executives too.

The players’ and owners’ representatives have now resumed negotiations, but it is still not clear if there is a real chance of a settlement. Even celebrity workers sometimes have to be prepared to withdraw their labour power in order to defend their working conditions.
Paul Bennett

Chips With Everything (2011)

Peter Swan (Sheffield Wednesday)
The Action Replay column from the April 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Where there is gambling, there is likely to be corruption or cheating, and where there is sport there is likely to be gambling. From betting on prize fights and horse-racing sweepstakes to football pools and the current enormous betting industry, sport and gambling have always been closely allied. But recent complaints and sporting scandals surrounding corruption allegedly caused by gambling have moved to a new level.

Over the decades there have been a number of celebrated betting scandals. In 1919, players in the Chicago White Sox team threw the baseball World Series, so some gamblers could make a fortune betting on their opponents; as a result, eight players were banned for life. In a scandal in the Football League in 1962, three players were imprisoned and banned after betting on their team to lose a match; as one of them, Peter Swan, said, ‘Where there’s money there will always be a fiddle.’ In each case the players benefitted relatively little but paid a big price.

More recently, three Pakistan cricketers have been banned for fixing a Test match against England. They did not conspire to lose but, it’s alleged, to do things such as bowl no-balls at particular points, since that’s the kind of specific event that you can now bet on. They are facing criminal charges too.

The International Olympic Committee is setting up a taskforce to combat not just match-fixing but also illegal betting, an industry worth several hundred billion pounds. Jacques Rogge, IOC President, has said that ‘illegal betting…threatens the credibility of sport’. But the credibility and reputation of professional sport are already undermined, from horse doping to fixed boxing matches to dubious games of snooker or cricket. Swan, it seems, had it half-right: the profit motive leads to fiddles and cheating, where the swindled punters or the corrupted athletes are the real losers.
Paul Bennett

Circuit Training (2011)

A fascinating 'sport'.
The Action Replay column from the May 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ah for the old days of motor racing, the days of Stirling Moss and co, when the driver’s skill was what really counted and overtaking was central. Drivers still need to be skilled and fit and have quick reactions, but their central role is sidelined in favour of large organisation and behind-the-scenes work. As overtaking has become harder and technology has taken over, spectator interest has declined. At the Barcelona track, the last ten grand prix winners have started in pole position on the grid and stayed there, so it’s become particularly boring.

With Formula One races becoming essentially processions, some weird ideas to retain public interest have emerged, such as random watering of the track to make things more exciting. Tyres are being developed that will degrade more quickly, thus potentially leading to more unpredictable racing and an increase in the number of pit stops. This season the cars have a movable flap in their rear wing, which the driver can use in specific circumstances, again to give more opportunity for overtaking (but there are worries that it may make overtaking too easy and so undervalued).

From the late 1990s, private teams such as Ligier and Jordan ceased to operate in F1 as the emphasis switched to the big car manufacturers such as Ferrari and Renault. The telecom capitalist, Carlos Slim (the world’s richest man, according to some) is now backing one of the newer drivers. This is appropriate since, of course, it’s money that guides the F1 world.  Melbourne has lost £147m over fourteen years of staging the Australian Grand Prix, but the track in Shanghai was built at a cost of £280m, in the hope of attracting big crowds and TV money. And for some, F1 really is a cash cow: Bernie Ecclestone, the boss of the whole business, is the twenty-fourth richest person in the UK, with a tidy bank balance of nearly £1.5billion.
Paul Bennett

Short Changed (2011)

The Action Replay column from the June 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

The laws of football don’t say much about what players can or must wear. Shirt and shorts, no jewellery (on safety grounds), no undershirts that contain advertising (though of course in the professional game the shirts themselves have the sponsor’s name or logo prominently displayed). But in some sports the players’ clothing is a controversial issue – the clothing of women players, we mean.

It was recently decreed that women in badminton tournaments above a certain level must wear skirts, supposedly ‘to ensure attractive presentation of badminton’, which presumably involves making the players look more comely and so enticing more spectators and TV coverage. The ruling means skirts as opposed to shorts, though in fact the new regulations do allow skirts over shorts or tracksuit bottoms, so it’s not clear how effective they will really be.

A picture of a female badminton player which is not from 2011.

Naturally there have been objections, some on religious grounds. Others are not against shorts, just against making them compulsory. It’s probably no great surprise to learn that the whole idea came from a sports marketing firm.

The sport with the most controversial clothing regulations has to be beach volleyball. In 1999 it was decided that both men and women had to wear swimsuits, with women players usually wearing skimpy bikinis. In Olympic events women’s bikini briefs have a maximum side width of 7 centimetres and must be ‘a close fit’. What next? That the players have to be blonde with a bust over a certain size?

In cricket, the Indian Premier League has been featuring cheerleaders in short skirts and with provocative routines. One team recently tried to replace these with traditional dancers wearing saris, but many supporters thought the sari was ‘not sexy enough’.

Sadly the sexism of those who run these sports is often reflected in the attitudes of the paying public.
Paul Bennett

Ring-Fenced (2011)

The Action Replay column from the July 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

No doubt we shall be returning to the Olympics in this column before the whole jamboree kicks off next July. For now we can just comment on a couple of aspects of the build-up.

Back in March there was an undignified spat between the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG). BOA gets 20 percent of the profit from the Games, and argued that this should be calculated on the basis of the Olympics only, and so exclude any losses from staging the Paralympics. But the International Olympic Committee ruled against this idea, thus reducing the cut received by the BOA and increasing the amount kept by LOCOG.

And LOCOG and others won’t be making money just from this decision. For next door to the tube and train stations at Stratford is Westfield Stratford City, a huge shopping mall, in fact the largest urban shopping centre in Europe, due to open this September. The expectation (or hope) is that 70 percent of Olympic visitors will arrive at Stratford station, where they will walk to the Olympic park via Westfield. This will mean hundreds of thousands of visitors (and potential shoppers) each day the Olympics run.

After the Olympics, this mega-mall will still offer 300 shops, 50 food outlets, three hotels, a multi-screen cinema and a casino. It will also contain a ‘24-hour lifestyle street’, whatever that is. If all goes well for the company that owns it, it will become one of the country’s top ten shopping destinations. So there will be gold in them there tills, not just at medal ceremonies.
Paul Bennett

Nice Little Earners (2011)

Ryan Giggs in happier times.
The Action Replay column from the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Being a successful athlete can make you rich, very rich. Footballers, for instance, may get contracts involving staggering sums of money, often with bonuses for winning trophies. In many cases the actual sporting income is only a small part: tennis-player Maria Sharapova ‘earns’ around £15m a year, but well under a million of this is from prize money. The rest comes from advertising and endorsements, everything from rackets to handbags and cars. She is supposedly the third-richest athlete in the world.

Lewis Hamilton’s racing driver outfit is covered with the names of companies he endorses: banks, mobile phones, whisky. Of course the sports stars need to have positive associations such as success, glamour and honesty. Advertisers will swiftly drop anyone who compromises these supposed standards, as shown by the consequences of the extra-marital escapades of golfer Tiger Woods.

The most recent example is Ryan Giggs, the role model footballer who committed the sin of having an affair and getting  found out. Simon Barnes (writing in the Times, 27 May, in the wake of the Giggs revelations) castigated the humbug of the whole ‘good guy’ brand, where the appearance of virtue matters far more than the reality. But advertising, after all, is about stretching the truth, and is an industry built around humbug, so it’s a bit much to complain about the sporting link specifically.

We must leave the last word to the American baseball pitcher, Dizzy Dean: “Sure I eat what I advertise. Sure I eat Wheaties for breakfast. A good bowl of Wheaties with bourbon can’t be beat.”
Paul Bennett

World of Sport (2011)

The Action Replay column from the September 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

It takes a Professor of Leisure Studies to write an atlas of sport. Alan Tomlinson’s World Atlas of Sport was published recently by Myriad Editions and New Internationalist. It contains sections on specific sports, on individual countries and, of course, on sports politics and economics.

One point that emerges is the way that globalisation has affected sport just as it has permeated many other aspects of life. This is not just a matter of the global dominance of football but of the undermining of more local sports, though of course many of these survive, such as p├ętanque in France and Gaelic football on Ireland. In other cases, changes can only be welcomed: pato in Argentina is no longer played using a live duck rather than a ball.

As European nations extended their power to new parts of the planet, they introduced their own sports. Polo is very popular in Argentina, while cricket is primarily played in Britain and former British colonies: it has been described as an Indian game accidentally discovered in England.

Some sports can be played by almost anyone with a minimum level of fitness, while others require a  lot more investment in financial terms. Skiing was once the preserve of the idle rich, though cheap travel and carefully-prepared snow areas have now widened its appeal to some extent. But polo remains the  sport of an elite, often an aristocratic one, while horse racing, as far as the owners are concerned, is still the sport of kings, capitalists and sheiks.

Not to mention those who flaunt their wealth in sailing – the have-yachts. In his introduction, Tomlinson remarks that sports matter because they express the hopes of billions. But, as he says in his section on merchandising, ‘Sports sell’. Even for a humble kickaround in your local park with jumpers for goalposts what are the odds that players will be wearing logo-covered gear?
Paul Bennett

Keepie Uppie (2011)

Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967.
The Action Replay column from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

To the one who has, as the man said, more will be given. Nowhere in sport is this so clearly seen as in the upper echelons of European club football, where the UEFA Champions League has been arranged so that the most successful and wealthy clubs are all but guaranteed a sizeable income from the competition.

As the European Cup, this was originally structured as a knock-out tournament for the teams that had won the league competition in each country. Before money called the tune in national leagues, this opened the way for teams such as Nottingham Forest to win the final. But the bigger clubs disliked often being shunted into less prestigious Europe-wide competitions and the chance of being knocked out after just two games.

The ‘solution’ was to introduce the Champions League, with more clubs from the biggest countries, a league format which ensured a minimum of six matches and a seeding system that was intended to keep the top clubs apart till the later stages. Massive sponsorship from the likes of MasterCard and Ford, combined with television rights (and global audiences of over 100 million for the final) mean a club can make up to £20m or more from a successful campaign.

One (possibly intended) result of this, combined with the generally increasing power of wealthy clubs and countries, has been to drastically reduce the pool of likely winners. Barcelona has won three times since 2006, and over that period only teams from England, Germany, Italy and Spain have appeared in the final. It’s scarcely conceivable that teams like Ajax or Porto (winners in 1995 and 2004, respectively) could win nowadays. Whatever else may be said, football at such rarefied heights is certainly not on a level playing field.
Paul Bennett

Grounds for Appeal (2011)

John Terry being John Terry.
The Action Replay column from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

A football stadium used to be a place where, apart from watching the match, you bought a meat pie and a plastic cup of lukewarm tea. But now stadiums are like shopping malls, intended to get the captives (sorry, spectators) spending as much as possible and so make lots of money for the owners.

Recently the super-rich owner of Chelsea Football Club tried and failed to buy the land occupied by the club’s Stamford Bridge ground. This was so he could sell the stadium and move to a larger one on a different site. Ironically, the freehold of the land was owned by supporters who bought £100 shares back in 1993, in a move designed to protect the ground from being snapped up by developers.

Stadiums and their grandstands are often quite out of place among terraced houses and corner shops. But rarely is the contrast quite so stark as at the new motor racing circuit for the Indian Grand Prix, which took place for the first time at the end of October. The circuit cost £130 million to build, amid wasteland and poverty-stricken villages. The workers who built it were not even paid the pittance they were promised and were forced to live in makeshift tents with no sanitation.

Among those who came to watch the grand prix were some of India’s growing capitalist class. As one local hotelier noted, ‘there are lots of billionaires, not just millionaires’. So there were plenty of people able to pay the inflated prices, even while those who did the work were barely able to eat. And that’s just an extreme form of capitalism, not something totally alien to it.
Paul Bennett

Flat Out (2011)

The Action Replay column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back in July we commented on the build-up to next year’s London Olympics, in particular the new giant shopping mall that lies between Stratford station and the Olympic Park.

But that’s not the only way in which capitalist companies hope to make a profit from the Games. For instance, spectators will only be allowed to take in with them drinks in small containers, as a way of encouraging them to buy refreshments inside the venues – at inflated prices, no doubt.

Property developers, too, have seen a chance to make a killing in what has always been one of the poorest areas of London. New blocks of flats are being built in anticipation of an ‘Olympic legacy’ that will attract young professionals who can afford prices such as £350,000 for a two-bedroom flat. Not many of those who live in the area at the moment will be buying at prices like these, even as their local shops and houses are demolished or converted.

While the Games are on there will be an enormous demand for accommodation, especially in the surrounding area. So, many homeowners are planning to move out for a month or so and rent their homes to others for the duration at several thousand pounds a week. And “an increasing number of landlords are asking for clauses to be written into their rental contracts allowing them to kick out their tenants for a convenient ‘holiday let’ during the Games” (Guardian 8 October). Who said the housing industry existed to meet human need?
Paul Bennett

Letter: Banking demystified (2011)

Letter to the Editors from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

Governments no longer control their own economies, and neither can they act together to control the world economy. Whatever happens is now decided by global brokers and traders, who engineer situations where they can make money no matter which way the markets move, and that is all they are interested in. Their fiscal power now overwhelms any action that a government might take.

The private banking system also creates our money supply from thin air, by means of fractional reserve lending, so that all our money is created as interest bearing debt. Repaying that debt merely shrinks our money supply, and makes a recession worse.

Every year, private banks earn about £70 billion in interest from their lending of magic money. The National Debt is merely a name for the magic money they have lent to the government.

Another £75 billion of quantitative easing now goes to the banks, in the vain hope that it will pass into the economy, but the banks will simply use it to patch up their balance sheets, and square away their lost bets or adverse market positions. It will probably pay for some bonuses as well.

But the one thing that £75 billion of digital thin air money will surely do is fire up inflation, just as the previous £200 billion did, so that money already in circulation will buy less.

In the world of commodities, a similar position prevails. The price of everyday foodstuffs is dictated by the global speculations of commodity traders, who have also arranged to make money in the rising or falling of markets whose movements they control by the sheer size of their trades. Other essentials, such as oil and raw materials, suffer a similar fate.

In reality, the assets of the world have become no more than gambling chips in a casino, and the price of everything is set by those who play in the casino. If their bets are lost, the Bank of England just prints some money to pay those losses.

For the Bank of England or any other Central Bank, to think that they can affect the economy with their quantitative easing or interest rates is therefore just plain ridiculous, and shows a total ignorance of what is actually going on.

Malcolm Parkin, 
Kinross

Reply:
You are right. Neither governments nor central banks can control the way the (capitalist) economy works. But not for the reason you give. It’s not because this control is exercised by “global brokers and traders”, but because the capitalist economy is uncontrollable and governed by economic laws that impose themselves on governments and all economic decision-makers (including bankers) as if they were laws of nature.

You are wrong when you claim that “the private banking system also creates our money supply from thin air.” If money is defined as including bank loans then, of course by definition, banks “create money” and in the form of “interest-bearing debt” but they wouldn’t be doing so from thin air. The money they lend comes from what has been deposited with them or from what they themselves have borrowed, i.e. already exists and is just being recycled by the banking system. When a loan is repaid, money is not cancelled but becomes available for lending again. The interest paid on it comes in the end from what has been produced in the meantime in the real economy.

Nor is there anything mysterious or suspicious about “fractional reserve lending”. All lending institutions, not just banks but building societies, credit unions and savings clubs too, practise it, by keeping a “fraction” only of their money as a cash “reserve” against withdrawals. If a bank didn’t do this it wouldn’t be a bank but a safe deposit.

But if banks don’t create money who does? In the past, before the present era of managed currencies, money took the form of some commodity having its own value as a product of labour (gold and silver) which was made into coins by governments (which also issued metallic and paper tokens for it). Under this gold standard the amount of money in circulation was more or less self-adjusting in accordance with the requirements of the economy for payments.

This system was suspended during the First World War and finally ended with the Second. This meant that from then on governments have had to decide how much money the economy requires. Not an easy task. Issuing more than would have been required under the gold standard has become the norm, resulting in continuous inflation, so much so that people expect prices to rise from year to year.

This government-created, “fiat” money is issued by state-controlled central banks and could be described as being created, if you want to use the term, “from thin air” by them, in effect by governments. In most countries it is introduced into the economy by the central bank buying government bonds from commercial banks of which “quantitative easing” is one form.

Money dominates our lives and as banks deal in it they appear to have more power than they actually have. But banks are only one part of the capitalist system and not the most important part either. They are secondary to the real economy where wealth is produced in the form of goods and services to be sold for profit.

This is why getting at the banks, by reforming and regulating them, won’t solve the problems the profit system causes for most people. Only the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources can provide the framework for this as it will allow production solely and directly for use instead of for profit. This will make money and banks redundant – Editors

Film Review: Walmart – The High Cost of Low Price (2011)

Film Review from the December 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Walmart – The High Cost of Low Price (Tartan DVD. A Robert Greenwald Film)

Almost everyone has heard of Walmart (Asda in the UK) but many are unaware of the effects of its practices on populations around the world. Owned by the Walton family, who collectively are worth around $100 billion, Walmart has the world’s largest work force of any private employer. This makes this in-depth scrutiny of the impact of globalisation for profit highly pertinent.

Impoverishment, destruction of communities and non-unionised and illegal work practices figure strongly as do the sometimes clear, sometimes opaque links to government policy-making in the USA.  Walmart moves into town promising employment, builds a megastore structure and hires staff, displays every commodity that can already be found in town (and more), undercuts local prices and very soon oversees the closure of long-established, formerly successful small family businesses – causing unemployment, ghost towns and impoverishment of communities. If a community is strong enough to fight and either prevent the actual build or force closure then Walmart simply ups sticks and moves a few miles outside the town or county border and the end results for the community are the same.

There is a strong anti-union imperative within the company and such a climate of fear of punishment among employees that it was very difficult to find current workers in the US ready to speak out on record. Ex-employees, however, were less reluctant. National employment laws are different around the world.  One example of workers defying the Walmart no union rule was in Quebec, Canada, where they were successful in forming a union (according to local law) with the result that Walmart won anyway – they just closed down.

How is it that Walmart can give such cheap prices and offer two for the price of one? Benevolence from a caring, hugely profitable megabusiness? No, they simply pass the cost on to the farmers or other suppliers. He who pays the piper…  The film doesn’t stop at covering the retail side of the business; also there are interviews and filmed information from China, Bangladesh, Honduras and Saipan (US territory) to reveal the impact of the Walmart style of sweatshop labour and conditions around the world.

This film could be an excellent stimulus when viewed together by a group prepared to discuss and further understand the ways in which capitalism systematically works against workers, against regulations, against communities and for the ongoing accumulation of the few.
Janet Surman

What is Socialism? (2011)

From the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a model of organisation of society as a whole, incorporating the entire world without borders, the like of which has never before been experienced. Although maybe seemingly a utopian idea to be scoffed at by some, if we are of the opinion that capitalism has proved to be a harmful and divisive system for the vast majority of world population and that numerous signs are pointing to its ever accelerating accumulation at the expense of the world’s working class then we must offer an alternative reality in clear and unambiguous terms. This is an attempt to clarify some of the questions thrown up in discussion as to the form and aspirations of such a model, a broad canvas with space for individuals to insert their own ideas and interpretations.

First and foremost socialist society is based upon the common ownership of all of the means of living by all of the world’s people. For it to work, those people need to make it work, by cooperating together to produce the myriad goods required by individuals and society as a whole, to produce our food and to provide all the various services that constitute a comfortable satisfying life. They need to supply, equip, manufacture, mine, furnish, grow, teach, create, administer, distribute, service, facilitate. Whether manual or cerebral, ground-breaking or routine, all production is the result of physical work and/or mental effort plus the time taken to achieve the desired ends.

At present all that work is undertaken by workers mostly for the benefit of the rich. Capitalism has demonstrated over the years that the working class is merely a tool to be used in the interests of capital. Governments have demonstrated that they are the enforcers of capitalism’s rules not the facilitators of policies which are directed at putting the interests of people first. Socialism on the other hand constitutes a society of self-liberated former wage slaves firmly in control of their own lives in the here and now and into the future. Here we have the producers who collectively possess all that is produced and whose democratic control determines what is produced, when, where and how it is produced and also organises when, where and how it is distributed. This is a system built on transparent, open debate aiming to be totally inclusive and working for the best interests of the vast majority of world population.

Socialist society embraces the maxim ‘from each according to ability to each according to need’ and recognises all the different capabilities and contributions of each member of our human society. Those who, for whatever reason, (eg sickness, physical or mental disability or incapacity) are incapable of contributing still qualify to satisfy their self-declared needs as full members of this society. This is a society of cooperation and empathy based on social capital and tangible benefits for all, one which supersedes the former outdated system which functions on the overriding principle of pursuing and satisfying the profit motive for the benefit of the few.

As socialist consciousness develops, enabling the working class to free itself of all former constraints and restrictions to bring about the emancipation of the whole of humankind, society evolves to be inclusive of all without distinction of race, gender, intelligence or cultural norms. This emancipation is solely the task of the working class itself and is reliant on the great majority understanding and accepting the case that capitalism has never been and can never be organised to work in their own interest. As a consequence they have chosen to struggle together to get rid of the capitalist system which favours the few, the capitalists, and replace it with socialism, a cooperative system in which all can play a positive, active role without the negatives of competition.

Being inclusive and cooperative a socialist system has no use for legal structures relating to or enforcing oppressive social relations. Most of what is crime today is likely to become extinct since the main motivation for these crimes, property, the profit motive and money, will have been removed. You can’t have the crime of bank robbery if banks don’t exist, nor fraud, embezzlement or forgery when there’s no money. Common ownership means that stores, restaurants, amenities, supplies and services are freely available to all without differential entitlement, so ‘robbing’ a store of goods that are free anyway would make no sense.

A world without borders brings freedom of movement to a world society. With no rich elites fighting each other over land or resources, the armed workers of the world who presently kill each other in the interests of the rich will also happily find themselves unemployed and able to follow some other more constructive and less dangerous occupation.

Fears over housing, food, health and education – fears which affect a large majority of the world’s people – will be relegated to the past. Socialist society’s top priorities will be the provision for all of accommodation, services, access to food, unconditional lifelong health care and education for life. No one need go hungry in order to stay warm; no one need die of the cold; no family or single person need sleep on the street or in unsuitable, insanitary conditions; no child need die before their fifth birthday for want of nutritious food, clean water or preventive medicine; no one need suffer from waiting in a tiered health system or because they cannot pay; no one need go without the education they wish to have. This is the meaning of free access for all, but it will take collective work to make it so.

And who does this work? Whoever can. Think of socialism as a global voluntary sector. ‘Work’ is not dictated to the volunteer but decided by the volunteer: it is a vocational occupation, fulfilling both a sense of responsibility to one’s community ‘according to one’s ability’ and a desire for a meaningful activity which fulfils personal aspirations. Whatever the chosen work, conditions are determined democratically by those who are involved in that work. Health and safety are prime considerations as is, wherever possible, a pleasant work environment. Some may choose a single occupation because it satisfies a personal need or because the time investment in training is heavy, eg clinical surgery. Others might involve themselves in a variety throughout their lives or even throughout each month, week or day. Travel for some is the motivation to apply their skills in different locations whilst others are content to remain in one place.

The planet’s physical condition is also extremely important to a socialist society. Whatever our collective resource requirements, whatever manufacturing facilities are required, in every area care for the ongoing health and sustainability of our environment is always a prime consideration. Best practice can be applied in all areas because there are no demands to cut corners for profit. Of equal importance is our human physical and mental welfare and with the removal of former negative constraints from daily life humankind moves on to a level of awareness and self-confidence resulting in an unprecedented level of inclusion and involvement in social affairs.

The culmination of the struggle results in the awakening of billions, people from all corners of the globe recognising their similarities and celebrating their differences, realising their long-suppressed potential, their goal of living in harmony and cooperation, of doing no harm, living in a stateless, classless world with no leaders and no followers, organising their own communities and participating fully in policy and decision-making.    

You can call it what you like, but we call it socialism.
Janet Surman

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Overheard In The Club (1974)

From the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

Workers?
  Salt of the earth! Grand chaps! Where would we be without ’em? — They run everything for us. I can go away on a three-months’ cruise, confident that when I come back everything will be running smoothly. They make us excellent food, fine clothes, spacious houses, hotels, clubs, yachts, cars. They run our ships and planes and racing stables, keep our country estates fine and neat. All we need to do is look in occasionally — show an interest, express the thanks of the directors and shareholders — they appreciate that. And they never complain — not really. Niggles about wage rates sometimes, of course, but they never actually begrudge us our wealth or complain about how we use it. Proud to work for us, and yet not bitter when we have to lay them off or when they get too old to be useful. That shows real dignity. No doubt about it — hard work, and even hard times, breeds grand people! I’d be proud to be one of ’em — if I had to. Some of the nicest people I know are workers — my valet, for instance.

50 Years Ago: Who are the brain workers? (1974)

The  50 Years Ago column from the May 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
In order to combat working-class discontent the Daily Mail had urged “the men who do the brain work of this country” to give up their Sunday golf and devote the day to teaching the workers and correcting their “misapprehensions”.
How artfully the case is put! The manager, the professor, the cleric, the M.A., the B.A., and all the other lettered gentry; in other words the “Intellectuals” or salaried officials are obviously those to whom the Daily Mail points a reproving finger. How these people will swell with importance on reading such complimentary remarks. And yet it is nothing but “spoof”. “Spoof” for the “intellectual” and “spoof” for the worker.

* * *

Who are the intellectuals, the salaried officials anyway? They are simply a particular section of the working class, the most backward section, the most abject slaves — they who kiss the hand that smites them. They receive “honourable mention” when their performances assist the interests of the employers and the sack when their performances are unsuccessful. Like other workers they depend for their living upon the sale of their energies, and, like other workers, they go under if they can’t find a ready sale for such energies.

All work done by workers under capitalism requires the use of brains, and each kind of work is equally necessary.

The term “brain worker” is only a sop thrown to a particular section to ensure the continued support of capitalism by that section. The sop is thrown with the old principle in the mind of the thrower — “Divide and conquer". Set one section of workers against another and each will be so taken up with their sectional quarrel that they will overlook their fundamental solidarity as wage-workers.
[From an unsigned editorial 'King Canute Up-to-date' in the Socialist Standard, May 1924.]

Letter: Answers To Correspondents. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. H. Baker (Wickford, Essex) writes, objecting to the statement that there will be a period of transition after a Socialist working class have gained control of the machinery of government. He says that ”the moment Capitalism is abolished Socialism will start.” He forgets, however,. that economic re-organisation is not a task to be completed in a moment by the simple issue of a decree, even although the majority of the population support the re-organisation. You cannot in a moment convert industries from the production of luxuries for the leisured few to the production of. necessaries for the population as a whole.

Mr. Baker adds that the change-over will involve "as little fuss” as a general election. This, of course, depends largely upon the attitude of a dissentient minority. But whether there is fuss or not, there certainly will be very difficult economic problems requiring to be solved before society will be running smoothly on a Socialist basis.

Mr. Baker also states that a Plebs League speaker at Southend asserted that Socialism has been established in Russia. The statement is totally untrue, and the Bolshevists in Russia do not now make any such claim. We have repeatedly invited those here who ignorantly repeat this statement to produce their evidence, which they are, of course, unable to do. The Russian working class do not "own and control the factories and run them for their own benefit.” The Russian workers are wage-earners, like the workers here. Rent, interest and profit are in Russia as here, paid to home and foreign Capitalist investors.
[Editorial Committee]

What Shall We Do With Our Votes? (1928)

Editorial from the December 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

With the approach of a General Election the “Left Wing” Labour groups are asking themselves how they ought to vote. All the rebels and near-rebels and would-be rebels are wondering whether they ought to carry their opposition to the Labour Party to the extent of telling their supporters to vote for Communist candidates or the candidates put up by branches expelled from the official Labour Party. They are, of course, in a difficult position. Having dubbed the Labour Party programme a “Liberal” programme, they must now choose either to support that programme and the candidates who fight on it, or, in effect, put themselves outside the Labour Party; for the Labour Party Executive is taking vigorous action wherever the dissident elements infringe the Party constitution and rules. Probably many of the Left-Wingers would like to take a definite stand, but they are deterred by the consequences. Whatever they may say about the discontent of the Labour Party membership with its leaders, a practical test soon convinces them that it is MacDonald not Maxton, J. H. Thomas not Arthur Cook, who have the support of the mass of the Trade Union members. A recent and illuminating test was the Borough Council elections.

In England and Wales the Communist candidates polled in the areas contested by them 10.5 per cent. of the Labour Party vote, and in Scotland 19.5 per cent. For the whole country their poll was 17.7 per cent. of the Labour votes in these selected constituencies (Sunday Worker, November 18th, 1928). The Editor of the Sunday Worker points out, too, that the Communist vote has declined since the Communist Party recently adopted the policy of openly opposing Labour candidates. He says that “in places where Communist candidates previously contested seats, before the adoption of the party’s new electoral policy, decreased votes for the Communists are frequently recorded.”

The Sunday Worker offers what is no doubt a correct explanation. Even many voters who are dissatisfied with the Labour Party programme will not vote against its candidates because they want to “get the Tories out.” To indicate the unsoundness of this policy of voting for one capitalist party in order to prevent another capitalist party getting in, the Sunday Worker recalls the 1906 Election, when hundreds of thousands of workers who had no faith in Liberalism voted for the Liberals in order to keep the Tories out. The Liberals got in and eight years later led its dupes into the War.

Truly a fatuous policy, but who have done more to propagate it than the Communists and the multifarious “Left Wing” groups? The Communists from 1920 to 1927, and the other “ Left Wing " groups still, have persistently denounced the Labour Party and simultaneously told the workers to vote for it because, in some way never explained and now (by the Communists) emphatically denied, it was supposed to be better than the other capitalist parties. If the workers still have faith in the Labour Party’s programme of reforming capitalism, the responsibility cannot be shelved by the Communists and the Sunday Worker.

Even now, while opposing some Labour candidates, the Communist Party members are required to go on paying the political levy to the Labour Party through their Trade Unions. Could anything be more productive of confusion in the minds of the workers?

Mr, J. T. Murphy, a prominent member of the Communist Party, writes on this in the November issue of the Communist, and  points out the absurdity of asking the miners to contribute £10,000 a year to the Labour Party and then appealing to the miners again for more thousands to fight the Labour candidates. He also condemns the confusing relationship between the Communists and the Left Wing groups, which, he says, has made the Communist Party a “laughing-stock.”
  Our party members are not quite sure when they should be recruiting for the Left Wing and when for the party. It appears that we can carry the programme of the Left Wing in one pocket and that of the Communist party in the other, and, according to the audience we are addressing, use one or the other without contradiction, for . . . the Communist programme and the Left Wing are identical in all essentials. The only people who ought to be bewildered, apparently, should be the audience who are to be led into the Left Wing according to circumstances (i.e., whichever meeting they have attended—if a C.P. meeting, then into the C.P.; if a Left Wing meeting, then into the Left Wing). This may be considered by some of our comrades to be tactical, but I am sure that' our party members are unhappy about it, and cannot get results whilst such a policy exists. (Communist, November 1928.)
We see, therefore, that the Communists are still unprepared to accept and act on the recognition of the fact that the workers' economic position of subjection is the result of capitalism and will continue as long as capitalism continues, irrespective of whether the system is administered by Tories, Liberals, the Labour Party or by anyone else. Similarly, the Sunday Worker, having disposed of the fallacious argument that the workers should vote Labour to “keep the Tories out,” proceeds to throw up another smoke screen in order to hide its retreat from the position to which its argument would logically lead it. The editorial lamely concludes:—
  We shall give our votes only to the working-class candidates whose programme is the end of imperialism and the end of war.
Capitalism and the danger of capitalist war will not be brought to an end by voting for the Labour Party programme of reforms of capitalism. Labour candidates are compelled to fight on the Labour Party’s general programme, but this, of course, will not prevent every single Labour candidate from saying that he is in favour of “ending Imperialism and war.” Probably all the Liberals and most of the Tories will equally willingly subscribe to the same vague and unhelpful declaration. So that, having given good reasons why the workers should vote against the Labour, candidates, the Sunday Worker evades the issue with a piece of advice which is meaningless.

In contrast with the trifling of Communist and Left Wing groups, the Socialist Party gives a bold answer. If the workers vote for capitalism, then they will get what they vote for. Workers who want Socialism will vote only for Socialist candidates. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is unique among the political parties in this country in being prepared to put forward candidates fighting on that issue alone, Socialism or Capitalism. At present the number of workers who want Socialism is few in comparison with those who want Liberal capitalism, Tory capitalism or Labour Party capitalism. That unfortunate position can be remedied only by Socialist propaganda. It is not helped, but hindered, by voting for one in preference to another of the parties which stand for private or state capitalism. There are differences, and real differences, between the capitalist parties, but the differences do not touch the subject condition of the working class.

Is there a Capitalist System? (1928)

From the December 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

“There is no such thing as the capitalist system!” exclaimed a public speaker in the hearing of the present writer recently. “A system (such as the solar system, for example) implies law—fixed, rigid, unalterable, tyrannic; but to-day you have infinite variation in exchange, with currency conditions in a state of chaos. No, there is certainly not a capitalist system.”

This method of trying to combat Socialist propaganda is not original, and it is difficult to imagine any fairly well-informed opponent using it; but, knowing that the workers are seldom well-informed on matters outside their jobs, many champions of capitalism seem inclined to convey the impression that the Socialist is attacking a phantom of his imagination. In case any of our readers take them seriously, let us examine their case.

In the first place, it is not true that the solar system is “fixed and unalterable.” It is in constant motion, radiating energy into space and thus altering its own composition. If astronomers are any guide, it had an origin and must have some end. Its lengthy existence (judged by human standards) does not alter the fact that it is a product of evolution.

Being composed of definite quantities of matter, its motions can be measured and expressed in the form of laws, and the same is true of other parts of the universe, including human society.

The prices of goods, for example (upon which we depend for our existence to-day), are regulated by economic forces, no matter what the variations in those prices may be. If a shopkeeper marks his goods too high, he is left with them on his hands; should he sell at too low a figure, he will not clear his expenses. In either case he will fail to realise a profit and will find himself on the way to the Bankruptcy Court. But what determines the figure at which he should sell?

The basic factor is the value of the goods, which is the expression of the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them. Other factors are supply and demand. Sometimes the conditions will favour the seller and prices will tend to rise; at other times the reverse will obtain; but always there is the compelling force of competition, on one side or the other, or both simultaneously.

The effect of this force is felt most keenly by the workers. They have but one commodity to sell, that is, their power to labour. The value of this power, embodied in their brains, nerves, muscles, etc., depends upon the value of the necessary elements of their subsistence. The cost of the food, clothing, and shelter, etc., that the worker must have in order to go on working are reflected in the wages that they receive. In the long run and on the average, they cannot accept less without causing their energy to deteriorate and become unsaleable. They cannot get more, because there are machines on the one hand and unemployed workers on the other ready to take their places.

With the workers, the existence of economic law is not a matter of speculative theory; it is a painful, everyday experience. If there were no economic forces operating according to some discoverable law, nothing could prevent the workers claiming what wages they fancied, and the same would apply to the capitalists in fixing their prices. Nothing would be determined; all would be chaos; but human beings cannot exist on chaos and such a state is simply inconceivable.

At first sight, the realm of exchange presents an appearance of anarchy. The fluctuations of prices, including wages, are occasionally so violent that they seem capricious to the superficial observer.

In the same way, superstitious sailors, even today, attribute storms to spirits, etc., but for every wave there is a corresponding depression and the general level of the ocean remains unchanged. So with the world market. The rise in prices at one time encourages greater production till the market is glutted; then, with the consequent fall in prices, the less economically conducted concerns go out of business. Always there is going on a ruthless, blind, automatic selection of the fittest types of machinery and organisation for the production of the wealth, with the result that the social powers of production are greater today than ever before in human history.

How are these powers controlled? They are in private hands, in spite of their social character. Consequently, they are only set into operation for the production of private profit. There is no organised social plan. Competition asserts itself at every turn. Even the narrowing of the circle by the concentration of capital, the forming of world trusts, international combines, etc., only makes the struggle fiercer.

The larger the output, the greater the importance of minute economies; yet the conflict in the market is as nought compared with that in the factory. If the capitalist is an anarchist in the realm of exchange, he is a despot in that of production, which is carried on amid the smouldering revolt of wage-slaves needing but little to fan it into open flame; but this revolt, again, is for the most part blind. It is only against the effects of the system, because the workers have not yet learnt to understand the cause, i.e., the system itself.

Hence their efforts at improvement take the form of demands for higher wages and shorter hours, valuable enough if other things remained the same. Capitalism, however, constantly develops a greater power of exploitation. No programme of reforms can alter that. The workers cannot interrupt the development of industry; they can only take advantage of it by obtaining control of it through the common ownership of the productive forces themselves; but that would be Socialism—and “the end of all things.” That at least is what those who pretend that “there is no capitalist system" would like us to believe. 
Eric Boden

Trotsky States His Case (1928)

Book Review from the December 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Real Situation in Russia, by Leon Trotsky. Translated by Max Eastman. 364 pages. 7s. 6d. George Allen & Unwin.

This book consists for the most part of the statement submitted by Trotsky (and 12 other minority members) to the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in September, 1927. The document was suppressed by Stalin and his supporters, and the opposition group – both in the Central Committee and in the country at large – was broken up by the imprisonment, persecution and exile of its prominent members. As might have been expected a copy of the statement was smuggled out of Russia, and now appears in an English edition. It is translated by Max Eastman, who is an American admirer of Trotsky, and was himself recently in Russia.

Trotsky describes in considerable detail the serious problems which face the workers in Russia under Stalin’s Government, the charges which his group level at the dominant section in the Communist Party, and the remedies which they propose.

The richer peasants in the country, and the trading and money lending capitalists in the towns are increasing in wealth and are becoming a more powerful factor politically. One-fifth of all trade, 50 per cent. of retail trade and more than 20 per cent. of industrial production is in private hands (page 27). The profits of the trading capitalists, the middle men, are big and growing while the workers’ share in the national income has been falling since 1925. The introduction of methods of rationalisation into State industry results in an increase of unemployment, a general intensification of labour, and a lowered standard of living.

The fear of unemployment is such that the workers resist the efforts of the Government to increase production in the factories by machinery and more efficient methods.

Among the 3½ million rural wage workers the rates of pay are often below the legal minimum even on the Soviet State farms. Housing for the town workers grows steadily worse.

Workers’ control is more than ever a mere catch-word without real application. “Never before have the trade unions and the working mass stood so far from the management of the Socialist industry as now” (page 57).

The immense majority of delegates to Trade Union Conferences are people entirely dissociated from actual participation in industry. Factory committees are mistrusted and discontent is driven underground because the man who voices a complaint knows that he will lose his job. Men and women are not equally paid.

Capitalism on the land
During the previous four years Trotsky alleges that from 35 per cent. to 45 per cent. of the landless rural workers and small peasants were unable to continue making a living, while the rich class of peasants (more than 28 acres) increased in number by from 150 per cent. to 200 per cent. (p. 61). In a typical district 15 per cent. of the peasants own 50 per cent. of the land machinery, cattle, etc. Renting of land is on the increase, and the army of landless rural labourers is continually being recruited from the poor peasantry.

The new bureaucracy
Under Bolshevik administration there has grown up a new bureaucracy, divorced from working class life and not subject to any effective control from below. “The city Soviets have been losing in these recent years all real significance.” “The Soviets are having continually less and less to do with the decision of fundamental, political, economic, and cultural questions. They are becoming mere supplements to the executive committees and the praesidiums. . . . The discussion of problems at the full meeting of the Soviets is a mere show discussion” (pages 98 and 99). Elected delegates are promptly removed from office if they express on behalf of the workers any criticism of the official element.

The composition of the Communist Party is deteriorating. At the beginning of 1927 only one-third of the members were shop and factory workers, while two-thirds were peasants, officials, etc. In 18 months over 100,000 industrial workers were lost to membership and an equal number of peasants admitted. The majority of these were “middle” peasants, the percentage of farm labourers being insignificant.

Inside the Communist Party “the genuine election of officials is in actual practice dying out” (page 115). Terms of office are being increased to two or more years. The Party machinery is used to secure the dismissal from their employment of workers who criticise the leadership.

Communist Party groupings
There are, in Trotsky’s analysis, three main groups. First, a right wing group, which combines the aims of the middle peasants with those of the Trade Union leaders and the better paid clerical and other workers. Secondly, there is the ruling section of the Communist Party, the members of the Government and the administration. Their object is to avoid if possible any change in the present balance of forces such as will disturb their own position.

And, thirdly, there is the Trotsky group, which claims to represent the mass of the industrial workers.

Lenin worship
Quite a large part of the book is given up to the personal issues between Trotsky and the members of the Government. Each section and all of the individual disputants try desperately hard to prove not only that their views are in accord with Lenin’s general line of policy, but that during his lifetime they possessed Lenin’s personal regard. These personal issues may be of interest to the English reader, but are not of great importance. They are, however, significant in that they indicate what both Stalin’s group and Trotsky’s group think of the degree of understanding possessed by the members of the Communist Party in Russia. Whatever may be the real opinion of Stalin and Trotsky as to the value of this “Lenin worship” and controversies about personal merits (it is noteworthy that Trotsky specifically credits Stalin’s faction with “sincerity,” p. 185), they both plainly realise that in the life and death struggle which involves the political careers and the very existence of the oppositionists, they have got to canvass support by “arguments” based on abuse and on the kind of trivialities which are the stock in trade of every demagogue appealing to a politically ignorant electorate. This, more than Trotsky’s assertions, indicates the low level which rules among the so-called Communists in Russia. It is not, therefore, surprising to be told that the majority organise regular bands of “Communists” to break up opposition meetings by means of catcalls and whistling in chorus.

Trotsky’s programme
The reader will have noticed that the evils which afflict the Russian worker are very much the same as those which afflict us here or in any other country where the basis of the economic system is capitalism.

Trotsky presents a long list of remedies which serve only to confirm what we have always said as to the necessity for Russia to go through capitalism. Trotsky does not admit this in so many words. In fact, he vigorously denounces Stalin’s “capitalist tendencies.” But when we examine his programme we find that it is all based implicitly on the continuance of capitalism in Russia until such time as a developed capitalist industry and a Socialist revolution outside Russia make Socialism possible.

Most of his proposals might have been lifted out of the programme of any trade-union in Germany or England; “Equal pay for equal work,” less overtime; more unemployment pay; no more Government faking of labour and industrial statistics; retail prices to be brought down to the world price level; no profiteering by capitalist middlemen; no increase in the rents of” working class houses; every effort to be made to lower the cost of production in order to promote the growth of industry ; more taxes on rich peasants; abolition of the State sale of Vodka, etc. A long programme of reforms, but no mention of the abolition of capitalist farming, capitalist trading and capitalist investment. Both Trotsky and Stalin draw up their programmes within the framework of state and private capitalism which prevails in Russia.

By far the most important demand made by Trotsky is for the unfettered expression of opinion by members of the Communist Party, and this does not go far enough. In the past Trotsky, Stalin and Lenin all agreed that “democracy” was merely a capitalist trick for hoodwinking the workers. With their dictatorship of a minority they were going to suppress the defenders of capitalism and impose Socialism on the apathetic majority. Experience has now taught Trotsky that dictatorship is incompatible with sound working class organisation.

It is also still necessary for him and other Bolsheviks to learn that they have not found a substitute for democracy. Without in anyway idealising it, the fact remains that modern industrial society, whether on a capitalist or on a Socialist basis, cannot be run with any degree of smoothness and efficiency without democratic methods. In no other way can the necessary social stability and the indispensable minimum of general interest in administration be secured.

Sooner or later the whole apparatus for suppressing opinion and political propaganda and organisation in Russia will have to be scrapped. The attempt to stifle criticism and hostile propaganda does not hasten the end of capitalism; it may for a time drive the propaganda underground, but the effect of that is to produce a false sense of security and a rapid deterioration among the organised workers themselves.

Trotsky’s errors about England
One fatal weakness of the Bolshevik leaders 10 years ago was their appalling misunderstanding of conditions outside Russia. There was at that time much excuse. Now there is none; but the ignorance remains. In face of the plain evidence of every election and the absurdly small membership of the English Communist Party, despite the waste of hundreds of thousands of pounds on propaganda, Trotsky still bases his hopes on an early revolution in this country. With 85 per cent. of the electorate members of the working class, there is no single constituency where a candidate has yet been returned to Parliament on a Socialist programme. The great majority of the workers still pin their faith to capitalism, a majority of them even continue to vote for the Liberal and Tory parties. To suppose that workers who vote for capitalism will at a signal from Moscow rise in revolt against the Government for which they vote, either in peace time or war time is sheer delusion. If Trotsky or anyone else bases a programme on that fantastic supposition they are in for certain disappointment.

Trotsky deals also with the complete failure of the Third International in China, and lays the blame on their tactic of supporting one after another of the capitalist nationalist leaders.

The book as a whole is valuable as a first-hand and authoritative impression of the recent condition of Russia, although of course we cannot accept Trotsky’s facts or his conclusions without further independent evidence, and this is not available. It is absolutely certain that the means do not exist in Russia for obtaining statistics on prices, production, etc., on a sufficiently general and precise basis to warrant the use made of them by both Trotsky and his opponents, and if Trotsky is as prone to rashness in drawing conclusions about Russian affairs as he is about England, then his views must be treated with considerable caution.

Nevertheless we can confidently assert that Stalin’s group is in the wrong. Not Trotsky’s book, but its treatment by the Russian Government proves this to be the case. Competent, self-reliant Socialists are not produced in an atmosphere of censorship, and Socialism is not to be promoted by the violent suppression of critics and criticism. Party unity which is based on the avoidance of discussion, is a fictitious unity, and a membership which is recruited by the bait of jobs in the State factories is worse than useless. Trotsky’s exile is the Russian Government’s plea of guilty to the charge of hindering the spread of Socialist knowledge and the growth of the Socialist movement. His exile does not prove Trotsky to be in the right, but it does prove his opponents to be in the wrong.
Edgar Hardcastle