Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Money Shuffling Business (2018)

The Cooking the Books column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is trade and trade. Trade in tangible things – what most will understand by 'trade' – and trade in services. This was brought out by a news item in the Times (6 November):

'Data published by the Office for National Statistics last week showed that Guernsey, with a population of 63,000, was one of Britain's largest international trade partners and the sixth-largest consumer of British services, putting it ahead of major economies including Italy, China and Japan'.

In other words, the UK exports more services (not tangible goods of course) to the island than it does to the other countries mentioned. According to the statistics, export of services to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands accounted in 2006 for 11 percent of all such exports.

What are these services? The ONS lists 52 of them, but excludes travel, transport and banking. On the list some such as technical advice on production are useful in themselves. Most are only useful in a capitalist society and some only to capitalists and capitalist corporations: accounting, advertising, market research, management consultancy, public relations, legal services, leasing, financial services, merchanting.

As sales of technical advice on how to grow potatoes, tomatoes and flowers must be rather limited, it is not difficult to guess what the 'trade' in 'services' with Guernsey will be. And why. In a word, tax-dodging.

That some capitalists and corporations don't pay their fair share of taxes compared with other capitalists and corporations is not really of concern to socialists or to the wage and salary working class generally. But it does expose the hypocrisy of those who preach patriotism to the workers while in practice being, as they used say of the Northern Ireland Protestants, more loyal to the half-crown than to the Crown.

Trade is a buying and selling transaction but what is traded doesn't have to be tangible. Anything – in fact everything – can be bought and sold and, under capitalism, is. Some services such as health care, education and entertainment are useful in themselves, even though corrupted by being sold. Other services – all those concerned with money – are useful only under capitalism. They would not make sense in a socialist society.

In fact, there would not be any trade or trading in socialism. There won't need to be as what is produced will be the common property of society and will just need to be moved from where it is produced to where it is needed (actually, technically this is still part of production). So, goods will still be moved from one part of the world to another. This won't be trade because no equivalent will have to be moved in the opposite direction. If people in some part of the world need farm machinery it will simply be shipped there. The same goes for food or minerals that can't be grown locally. There will be no expectation that something has to be shipped back in exchange. No doubt people will move from one part of the world to another to provide services like technical advice, training or health care. Once again, in exchange for nothing.

All the financial services necessary under capitalism – and the vast waste of resources and work involved in them – will disappear. The people of Guernsey will be able to give up shuffling about paper claims to wealth and concentrate on doing something useful, sure in the knowledge that, as with all communities, they will be provided with all the things they can't produce locally.

Reflections on Black Mirror (2012)

The Proper Gander TV column from the January 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

A video is posted onto YouTube showing Britain’s beautiful new Princess tied up and crying. She struggles to read out loud a message from her kidnapper: she will be killed unless the Prime Minister has sex with a pig, live on television. The first story in Charlie Brooker’s trilogy of state-of-the-nation dramas – Black Mirror – wasn’t going to be easy viewing. The bizarre, nightmarish scenario was acted and directed with thorough seriousness, making the programme feel more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, drawing the viewer in.

Brooker is savvy enough about the media to make the viral spread of the threat across the internet central to the plot. The kidnapper’s message zooms through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter without the traditional methods of communication – press releases, newspapers and television news – being able to keep up. The new types of media are changing how we relate to the world. Information is open directly to more people, to interpret, spread and act upon. According to Brooker, this turns us into social-networked, YouTube-sharing voyeurs, for whom everything is titillation. He’s saying that reducing events to tweets and facebook updates cheapens them, and robs them of their real meaning.

Back in the drama, the government’s improvised back-up plans fail, and the situation for the Prime Minister and the Princess gets fist-clenchingly desperate. The kidnapper’s deadline for the live bestiality broadcast is approaching. Like the crowds gathering in front of their screens, the viewer is both appalled and dragged into watching, thinking, ‘will they really show it?’

Brooker succeeded in crafting an intelligent, challenging drama. Anyone hearing about the premise and tuning in for a PM-on-porcine-action trashfest would have found themselves to be the target of Brooker’s bile. The final scenes shifted the blame for the horrible situation to the gawping masses. This is where Brooker is perhaps too cynical about our lust for what we watch on our screens, whether on a television, computer or smartphone. So, Black Mirror is best watched as a warning of the risks of alienation by the share-and-spread immediacy of modern media.
Mike Foster

Shanghai: A New Gang "Muscling In" (1937)

From the October 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is nothing more entertaining than the indignation of one gang of imperialists at the unsportsmanlike conduct of rival gangs. An imperialist newspaper recently reproached Mussolini with stirring up both Jews and Arabs in Palestine and the Near East by promising to support the claims of each of them. The writer pointed out that both promises could not be kept. What he forgot is that the British Government during the Great War did the same thing, down to the last dot and comma, and now could not keep the impossible pledges if it wished.

British imperialists are outraged at the behaviour of the Japanese Government, which hardly troubles to disguise its greedy intention to rob the British in China as well as the Chinese. The Times says that British capitalists have £250 million invested there, of which £180 million is in Shanghai (The Times, August 19th, 1937). The News Chronicle City Editor thinks that the amount is even larger, about £300 millions (News Chronicle, August 27th). The Times wants the Government to take a strong line. It tells Japan that “the free hand which she desires in Eastern Asia will in no circumstances include license to play havoc with the lawful interests of Great Britain."

The City Editor of the News Chronicle (August 27th, 1937) comments on the strong anti-Japanese feeling in the “City," and contrasts it with the City's placid acceptance of General Franco’s brigandage. The reason for the difference of attitude is that in Spain British capitalists have only £40 million, half in Franco territory and half in Government territory, and of the two—
   Property in Franco’s territory is probably a rather better “risk” than property in the Spanish Government’s territory, whereas no one has any illusions as to the relative friendliness of the Chinese and Japanese Governments to British capital.
The City Editor says: “I have no desire to be cynical about the City’s attitude on China and on Spain—but money does talk, doesn’t it?”

The Co-operative newspaper, Reynolds News, (August 22nd, 1937), takes The Times to task for wanting armed action to protect British capitalist interests in Shanghai. This is sound enough, but lest Reynolds News should overlook one of its past editorials, we would like to remind it that, in 1932, when Japan seized Manchuria, Reynolds News wanted action by the Powers to restrain Japan, for the reason that—
    If free rein is given to her vaulting Imperialist ambitions in the Far East, the large economic interests of the Western nations must be imperilled gravely. Their trade and capital investments will collapse. Their treaty ports and extra-territoriality will be lost. Their every right will be abrogated.— (Reynolds's Illustrated News, February 21st. 1932.) 
When Japanese imperialists see the Western imperialists thus blatantly justifying their right to hold Chinese territory they can hardly be blamed for claiming that their “right" to do the same cannot be less. Anyway, what is more important is that the Japanese capitalists have great armed might and are on the doorstep of China, which gives them a big advantage. Badly armed and industrially backward, China is unable to meet Japan’s forces on equal terms.

One organ of British capitalism, the Daily Express, is taking the line that the British Government should in effect walk out of Shanghai and let the new gangsters take-over. If investors have sunk £300 millions there, that is just too bad for them but not worth a war. This is in line with Beaverbrook’s policy of "splendid isolation" for the British Empire. He probably thinks that British capitalists will have enough difficulty holding the Empire without trying also to hold investments outside it.
P. S.


Our Parliamentary Fund (1937)

Party News from the November 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrades, sympathisers and friends, gather round, and make this the greatest effort of all. Use every known trick you have to put the Socialist Party of Great Britain on a sound financial basis for the forthcoming parliamentary election. Some of you have, in the past, done more than your share; well, forget about it, and go ahead and knock spots off your previous achievements. Money is urgently required. Don’t forget this money will be used for a purpose that the S.P.G.B. have been striving at for over thirty years, i.e., to put up a candidate or candidates at the next general election.

Some of you have ideas, but you don't execute them, you let them slide, the E.C. are waiting for these ideas (money-raising ideas, of course), others when the “Standard" arrives read the list of subscriptions to the Parliamentary Fund (usually about two inches) and take it for granted that it will reach the sum aimed at. Maybe I have been guilty of this in the past, and I am turning over a new leaf, I wonder how much space would be required in the "Standard" if all of us sent something, well, let's have a go, I, for one, will make it my business to have that space increased. All of us who have read anything of the life of Marx and Engels will understand what these two pioneers would have done in a case like this. I suggest that in honour of these two we make this effort something that even the E.C. did not expect. Fancy asking a miserable £400 ! I am willing to bet new rolls (morning rolls) that we beat that amount, all the talk in the world won't make you stick it if you don't want to; miss the pools, stop smoking, don’t go to the pictures, leave the "gee-gees” alone, cut out Sunday papers, at least do something that will enable you to increase that pain in the eye, the space for the Parliamentary Fund. Make it at least half a column.

Marx himself suffered many times from the lack of "filthy lucre," the S.P.G.B. have the same trouble now, we can help, we will help, only the dead have an excuse, the living have none. To all who read this appeal I say get your name or nom de plume in the Parliamentary Fund, promote a dance, sell something, raffle something, go round your friends with a subscription sheet, anyway, use your nut, and get that few shillings (or pounds), send it on as fast as you can, don’t wait, start now, never mind what you have already done, this is different, it’s really urgent. As a member of the central branch living in Scotland I am determined to raise at least £10, if I fail to reach that sum I will fine myself 10s. over my own subscription. To every member, sympathiser and friend who helps to swell that space please accept my sincere thanks. 
Angus McPhail


PARLIAMENTARY FUND
The following donations to the Parliamentary Fund have been received: Previously acknowledged, £180 11s. 6½d. (donation to October 19th); W.A., £1; Littlewood’s, 3s.; W.W., 4s.; J.C., 4s.: H.W., 4s.; J.V., 2s. 6d.; Southend Branch, £1; Bloomsbury Branch, £1; Collections (S. Cork), £1 3s. 6d.; Hutch, 1s. 6d.; Stepney Branch, 10s.; F.J.H., £1; Rimmer, 1s. 6d.; W.J.M., 10s.; Gladstone Park, 1s.; West Ham Branch, £1 18s.; Rolls Royce, 10s.; W.J.B., 1s.; Quartet, 6s.; Rimmington, 10s.; W.L.B., £1; D.L., 2s.; Mrs. H., 10s.; A.J., 2s.; Lewisham Guarantee, 17s.; Lewisham Members, 11s. 8d.; S.W. London Stamp Books, 13s. 9d.; S.W. London Donation, £2 14s. 8d.; Manchester Branch, 13s. 3d.; Dagenham and Romford, 10s.; I. D., 6d.; Southend Branch, £1; U.P. Workers, £1 14s. 6d.; A.P., 10s. ; Collection, October, 9th 1937, 5s. 6d.; Guarantees, £2 13s.; Total £204 18s. 4½d.


Bazaar and Social (1937)

Party News from the December 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Bazaar and Social to be held at the Trade Union Club, 24, New Oxford Street, W.C.l, on Saturday, December 18th, commencing 5 p.m. until 11 p.m., is in aid of the Parliamentary Fund.

The Social Committee, who are arranging this event, are still asking for goods from members and sympathisers. Anything suitable for sale at a bazaar will be welcome. Goods should be sent or brought to Head Office on Tuesday nights and given over to the above Committee. If you are prepared to help, but are at a loss what to give, donations of money will be most acceptable.

Request No. 2.—Please endeavour to bring your relatives and friends, and advertise this to everybody you think will be interested. Tell them to come along and buy their Christmas presents, and remind them that, besides the Bazaar being a solution to their “presents problem,” they will be aiding the Party.

We would like to take this opportunity of thanking all those who have already given either gifts or money, and are looking forward to seeing them on Saturday, December 18th.

A social will be held during the evening, and the aid of members and friends has again been sought, so here is a chance to kill three birds with one stone, they are: (1) Aid the Party; (2) make all our helpers’ efforts worth while; and (3) have a most enjoyable evening.

We close on a Runyonese note, by stating that we hope that one and all will turn up with plenty of potatoes to spend and that one and all will enjoy themselves more than somewhat.
Social Committee

The Bazaar (1938)

Party News from the January 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many thanks to the comrades who assisted in various ways in this new and successful venture. The nett sum, after all expenses were met, was nearly £37. Excellent! We have learned many things from the experiment, and next year, we believe, we could more than double this figure. The Parliamentary Committee have expressed their gratitude—but how about helping them to reach that figure of £400? We understand that this was the minimum required to back their plans for 1938. A sum has been set aside to meet the deposit and the minimum election expenses, but there is not a large balance to meet the expenses of current activities. On your toes! 
Social Committee.

Socialism or Reformism? (1976)

From the January 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard 

Summary of a debate between the SPGB and the Labour Party Young Socialists —

Greenford Co-op Hall, Greenford Road. Tuesday 2nd December
For SPGB : T. D’Arcy. For LPYS : M. Brooks, Acton Labour Party.

SPGB Opening Statement
The title of the debate is: “Which party should the working class support, the SPGB or LPYS?” Today we live under a system called capitalism. The basis of this society is division into two classes: the working class virtually propertyless, having only their labour-power to sell, and the capitalist class, the tiny minority who own the wealth of society. There exists therefore a class antagonism between wage-labour and capital which is irreconcilable. We say Socialism is in working-class interests and by Socialism we mean our object, contained in all our literature. This is not what exists in Russia and other places and as yet it does not exist. The LPYS do not advocate this system which implies abolition of the wages system, private property and its relationships, banks, trade unions etc. Socialism means a fundamentally different kind of society where the means of production are owned and controlled by society as a whole.

The LPYS make socialist noises but there is a world of difference. They want capitalism run in working-class interests — this is nonsense, capitalism cannot benefit workers; only the capitalist class. One outstanding disagreement is on reforms. The LPYS have a list of reforms: Free Spanish political prisoners, oppose cuts in social services, Rent Act, nationalization, abolition of the House of Lords, etc.

The SPGB is opposed to reformism because: (a) it makes capitalism run more smoothly (b) it is the capitalists who pay for reforms and decide which ones, and (c) we have had them for 150 years and they have not led to Socialism and never will. At most they are a temporary appeasement to some sections of the working class and can be withdrawn, e.g. free milk for schoolchildren. Why do the LPYS need [a] “radical Labour Government” to push a reformist programme? Surely the Tories and Liberals have a better record on that count? Can you imagine the fury of the left if we had a Tory government now with a £6 limit and 1¼ million unemployed?

Nationalization is a main part of the Labour programme but it is irrelevant to the working class. Are workers for British Rail any better off because they are exploited by the state? Nor does nationalization bring Socialism any nearer. Lenin admitted that what existed in Russia was state capitalism. The LPYS have misconceptions about the state. To them it is something which, if you push hard, will do what you want. But it is a coercive body to maintain the rule of law, i.e. protect private property society. I refer you to Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. The LPYS have the idea that with good leadership and 10 million trade unionists you can combat capital and take it over, leading to the promised land. The SPGB rejects leadership and insists on the majority understanding Socialism before it can be established. No need for intellectuals, vanguardists, √©litists, Trots etc. Understanding is the key.

The LPYS hold that inflation is caused by rising prices; but a wage is a price. It is caused by the depreciation of the currency — printing paper money. Unemployment is a normal part of capitalism but the LPYS want to fight it. How? It provides a reserve industrial army for when production picks up again, and it tends to keep wages down. Taxation is not a concern of the working class; it is a levy on wealth and the burden of taxation falls on the owners of wealth, the capitalists. LPYS ideas are not new. They should learn the lessons of history. The SPGB holds that Socialism is not only possible but the essential step if mankind is to progress.


LPYS Opening Statement
The SPGB rejects leadership yet goes to some lengths to put forward its ideas — this is playing with words. Leadership means offering a way forward; we have no ability to enchain the working class, only ideas and a political programme to offer them. The Labour government has false policies and is on the wrong course — we try to change these policies within the Labour movement. The LPYS have their own conferences, programmes and policymaking bodies.

The LYPS believe themselves to be socialist. We believe unemployment, rising prices, poverty, can only be solved by a fundamental transformation of society, in the direction of socialism. What’s stopping us? The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself and there is only a minority of socialists. It is absolutely true that the Labour Party has not led to socialism. Nor has the SPGB. It is necessary for the socialist movement to work within the labour movement putting forward the day-to-day interests of the working class, but it is necessary both to build understanding and to relate this to the struggles of workers. The LPYS attempt to do this. We don’t talk of solving unemployment in the framework of capitalism, we explain the need to take over the means of production and run them in the interests of the working class. SPGB history shows they have done service to the labour movement in the field of propaganda if in no other. The method of Marxism shows that during times of capitalist boom (the 1950s) workers aren’t interested in revolution, but they are in desperate economic crisis (e.g. 1848). The present crisis gives some hope of the working class questioning the basis of society but there is no certainty of this.

The SPGB contradicts itself by supporting trade-union action and not reform action. The trade unions are not revolutionary and yet Socialists work in them. In the same way the Labour Party is not revolutionary yet we work within it. Labour Party policies are no different from Tory policies, but radicalization will multiply as the crisis deepens. To cut yourself off from the Labour Party and the trade unions is to cut yourself off from the organized working class.

The SPGB likens reforms to crumbs from the capitalist table; if capitalists had infinite ability to give crumbs, socialism would be forever a dream. Marx hailed the 10-hour-day as a political reform, it was an indication to the working class of how to act. Would the SPGB support the 7-hour-day if brought about by trade-union action and oppose it if legislated? The 7-hour-day would be one of the first steps of a socialist government. The workers should take over industry and run it in their own interests, and this only leads to socialism when workers have control of the state.

The SPGB denies need for transition period but the level of production is not high enough to do away with money, and workers will need a period of training. The SPGB says it wants the democratic way. Who doesn’t? but most workers live under dictatorships and capitalists stop democracy when they want to, e.g. Chile. Capitalists will behave like wild beasts when they see their interests threatened. We must warn workers of the tricks and guiles capitalists will use in a country. As Guthrie says "Take it easy, but take it”.

(Several questions were asked by the audience, for the speakers to answer in summing up).


SPGB Second Speech
My opponent says he agrees that he wants Socialism as I defined it, yet LPYS propaganda is full only of “real issues”. If you don’t take Socialism seriously, of course it will seem years away. The SPGB is not prepared to water down its case by pushing reform programmes as the LPYS do. If we did this we could increase our membership with the support of non-socialists. On trade unions I refer you to Value, Price and Profit, where Marx calls for the abolition of the wages system. Workers organize under capitalism to try to safeguard their wages whether or not the SPGB urges them to.

A Socialist party must maintain independence and have no compromise with capitalism. It neither supports nor opposes reforms even if they appear to benefit workers at some time. Personally I have no objection to free milk for schoolchildren but it is not the task of a Socialist party to advocate such things.

The transition to Socialism takes place in capitalist society whilst men’s ideas are changing. The LPYS do not talk of abolishing the wages system, they talk of a £40 minimum wage.

Aim must be linked to method. Socialists in countries like Spain put forward the Socialist case as best they can alongside propaganda for political democracy for Socialism and not anything else. Socialist ideas, when they start spreading, will go to all parts of the world. Democracy will realize its true meaning in Socialist society. Capitalists cannot stop a vast social movement when it gets going, especially as the working class run capitalism from top to bottom.

The policy of boring from within is dishonest. I submit that the LPYS have no separate identity from the Labour Party and that they carry out their own rule “to secure the support of young people for the principles and policy of the Labour Party.”


LPYS Second Speech
We try to relate our programme to the day-to-day needs of working people. The SPGB reacted against the split in the 19th century socialist movement by resorting to preaching the final end without involving themselves in the mass movement.

On the question of taxation when VAT was introduced the retail price index did go up and this obviously would cause hardship to workers who could not get increases in wages. You have to support the working class on such issues.

The LPYS demand ‘“Work Or Full Pay” is not achievable within capitalism. It requires a transformation of society, but it is a reform attractive to workers who have no conception of Socialism. We base ourselves on not forming a party away from the main movement. Otherwise, no-one listens to you.

We agree that nationalization is state capitalism and that capitalists get their income in the same way as if they owned shares, but if the commanding heights of the economy were taken over that situation would be transformed. We would be prepared to give a better deal at the Social Security to poor workers with a few shares, say in ICI, to supplement their income. Nationalization is a necessary first step. There are just not enough resources available to immediately abolish money, and there will have to be a transition period with certain inequalities.

With the deepening economic crisis the working class is going to move to the left, and you have to be there explaining the need for the transformation of society. If not then you’re writing off the working-class movement.

As regards boring from within, the Labour Party has capitalist-minded leaders but the working class don’t regard it as such and that will be the cause of the radicalization of that party. During elections we don’t stress the bad points of Labour Party policy but instead put the LPYS programme and ask workers to get involved.

It is an admission of failure to say that the SPGB could not exist in Spain. Most workers live under dictatorships. It’s all very well to talk of taking over the state but what if the generals etc. don’t let you? The need to change society will not be realized in a flash of light. You must prepare against the reactionary violence the ruling class are likely to use in defence of their privilege and profits.
Tony D'Arcy

Unemployment: A Chronic State (1976)

From the February 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

When it was announced that the number of unemployed in Britain had reached 1¼ million, the Minister for Employment described the figure as "intolerable”. This apparently meant he would not put up with it a day longer. However, that was before Christmas, and nothing has happened. The question is: what will the Minister (who is Michael Foot) do about it — or, more accurately, what can he or anybody else do?

It is interesting to recall the allegation by Harold Wilson when unemployment rose to 1 million under the Tories in 1972. Pointing out the large number who do not register as unemployed, he said the true figure was "nearer three million” (Financial Times, 8th April 1972). He is not now repeating this, but it has always been the case. Moreover, the people living on unemployment pay include not only those registered but their dependants. In The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937, George Orwell says: "A Labour Exchange officer told me that to get at the real number of people living on (not drawing) the dole, you have got to multiply the official figure by something over three.”

Up to 1939 the existence of a million unemployed was regarded as normal. In the inter-war years this was about 7½ per cent, of workers. However, throughout those years it was above that level. In 1919 and 1920 it was 2.4 per cent., but in 1921 rose to 16.6 per cent, and thereafter remained at 10 or 11 per cent, until 1930. In that year it was 15.8 per cent., and in 1932 went up to 21.9 per cent., or 2,745,000 persons. According to The Ministry of Labour Gazette in February 1940, about a quarter of the unemployed in the inter-war period were out of work for at least a year; and of these, 22.1 per cent. were unemployed for five or more years.

Figures for earlier periods are less reliable because, prior to the Unemployment Insurance Acts of 1911, they came almost solely from those trade unions which paid unemployment benefits to their members. From the middle of the 19th century the returns (made to the Board of Trade) show an average rate varying between 2½ per cent. in boom years and 7½ per cent. in bad times. Since they represent chiefly unemployed workers in the best-organized trades, the inference to be drawn is that the position in total numbers was similar to that from 1920 to 1939.

Before the Labour Party fell into the hands of the Keynesian doctrine, it accepted that unemployment could not be eradicated under capitalism. In The Book of the Labour Party (1924) Sir Walter Citrine listed various measures seeking “to alleviate the worst effects of the industrial and economic system", but said:
We are compelled to realize, however, that by no expedient we may devise, short of the abolition of capitalism and the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange, can the unemployment problem be permanently solved.
 Of course this muddled statement shows that Citrine, like other Labour leaders, never understood Socialism. Nevertheless, he knew better than to say the level of unemployment was “intolerable” under government by his party.

The present figure, representing about 5 per cent. of a labour force double what it was before the war, appears less dire than the pre-war ones. We do not know how much higher it may go. In each of the trade depressions since 1950, unemployment has risen to more than the previous time. The full extent is masked in various ways besides the non-registration of numbers of unemployed. The government policy of “putting money into” firms like Chrysler which are victims of the depression amounts simply to providing wages for workers who would otherwise draw their money as unemployment pay. Insofar as Chrysler continue producing cars as a result of this subsidy, the outcome must be unemployment in other car firms in this country as well as abroad; obviously the government is buying time, hoping a general recovery will begin first.

Some post-war social reforms also have the effect of keeping down the numbers of registered unemployed. Before the war the school-leaving age was 14 and is now 16, and more now remain at school and attend colleges after that: a high proportion of over-fourteens would otherwise be out of work. This may be thought a favourable reflection —reform as a means of checking unemployment; but it acts in that way only partly. School-attenders are dependent on “heads of families”. In times of heavy unemployment they are held back from swelling the numbers as compared with pre-war, but they add instead to the larger mass who are unregistered but living on the dole.

The thirty years since the war provide an object lesson to end the supposition that capitalism can exist without its normal consequences. During the war the Tory, Labour and Liberal parties agreed with one another that Keynesian policies would make full employment and economic stability certain. As the post-war era has gone on, there has been a series of increasingly frantic rearguard actions to cover the failures of those policies. The present Labour administration is in a particularly acute dilemma as the result of its efforts to control capitalism. It is urged on all sides, and is itself conscious of the need, to reduce the government spending which has produced inflation. Yet if it does so — if, for instance, it refuses to put money into crisis-hit firms and cuts services like education — unemployment will go still higher.

That is not to say other kinds of policies would do better. On the contrary, Keynes was followed because capitalism’s incessant lurching from boom to slump, and the running sore of unemployment, made political disasters. The fact is that the capitalist system is incapable of anything else, and so long as it continues the working class cannot hope for security and freedom from want. Let us spell out the position. Under capitalism the great majority are called the working class because they own nothing of the means of production and distribution and so are forced to sell their labour-power to those who do. The wage they get is a commodity price: workers can never be better off than that.

But because capitalism produces only for sale and profit, stability is impossible for it. Investment in industry reflects the state of trade. In bad times production is reduced or stops, and the workers are out of work. There is nothing a government can do to change this. Workers themselves can, however. They can view this state of affairs, and decide that employment and unemployment alike are intolerable — that capitalism must end and be replaced by a system of production for use.
Robert Barltrop

As we go to press, it has been announced by the Government that the total of unemployed (20th January 1976) has risen to 1,430,369, or 6.1 per cent. of the work force.

Let's Get Our Terms Right (1976)

From the March 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

In this world of double-talk and double-think, most workers in every country unquestioningly accept the different terms chosen by their own particular governments to describe the self-same factions and events. It would be in the interests of such workers to scrutinize carefully all the terms spewed out by their respective bosses.

For instance, according to the commercial and strategic interests held by different capitalist groups, the latter, through governments, will refer to the same body of duped workers either as “patriots and freedom lighters’’ or as “terrorists and subversionaries”.

Moreover, depending upon where the conflicting interests of two opposing groups of bosses lie, they will describe the same invading armies as “liberators” or “imperialists” respectively.

In war, opposing governments (i.e. big business’ spokesmen) refer to the warring troops either as “our gallant lads” or “their screaming hordes”. And, of course, a retreat can be a “headlong rout” or a “strategic withdrawal” depending upon whose propaganda you choose to listen to.

But the biggest sell of all in the bosses’ repertoire of appeals to nationalism lies in the use of the term “our country” when, in fact, they mean the private ends of the bosses of “our country”.

The workers of all countries would be well-advised to make it a rule to prefix the words “business interests of”, whenever they hear or read pronouncements about “our country” or “the nation”. 

Thus, when being urged to be loyal to one’s country, remember what this actually means; i.e. “Be loyal to the business interests of one’s country.

“Make Britain great” means “make Britain’s tycoons’ profits great”.

“Fight for your country” means “fight for the business interests of your country”.

In times of war, inflation or depression, “Sacrifice your personal interests for the good of the country” should read, “Sacrifice your own interests for those of business”.

“Work harder for less returns (and even accept redundancy) to make a prosperous England” really translates “Help the English businessmen to grow fat at your expense”; and remember that at the time of “Britain’s” enormous prosperity as “the workshop of the world” during the Industrial Revolution, prosperity for the workers meant long hours of arduous toil for pittances. Even the "prosperous” children worked at the benches thirteen hours a day.
R. B. Gill

Education and the Working Class (1976)

From the April 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The growth of state education was once called “the silent social revolution”. Few phrases ring less true. Silent it is not: loud discord is its characteristic. If a revolution, it has ended in chaos with the strategies all gone wrong and a popular feeling that those responsible deserve the worst.

The thirty-one years since the war have seen the implementation of the 1944 Education Act, which produced a tripartite system of secondary schools, followed by the demolition of that system in favour of comprehensive schools. Under the 1944 Act the school-leaving age was raised from 14 to 15, and in the last two years it has been extended to 16. Each change has been advocated as a reform containing great advantages for “the nation” and the working class, and each in due course has produced despair.

The fruits of the present system can be summarized as follows. 15 per cent, of school leavers are illiterate, according to research carried out by the Cadmean Trust (Guardian Education correspondence, 9th April 1974). It is estimated that half a million school- children in Greater London and another half-million elsewhere do not attend school at all; a high proportion of them are in the “extra year” age group between 15 and 16. “Equality of opportunity”, which was the professed aim of the reorganizations of secondary education, has never materialized. Numbers of schools are bear-gardens and teachers themselves are truants, afraid to face a daily losing battle.

To understand how and why this situation exists it is necessary to go back to the beginning of state education in 1870. At that stage in capitalism its need to systematize the existing partial facilities and have the working class educated to a basic standard had become clear. Philanthropists and radicals had agitated for education to be provided, but the motives for reform are practical ones. In particular, technical change—the petrol engine, the small electric motor, typewriter, telephone, linotype machine, cash register, tramcar, fountain pen and many other new inventions entered industry and commerce in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The process, extended by further Education Acts in 1902 and 1918, ensured the capitalist class a supply of clerks, mechanics and shop assistants who could add figures and had been taught obedience. It also provided a means of creaming-off more proficient children to be trained for more skilled work and even to enter the universities and professions. From the nineteen-twenties onward, the established grammar schools were encouraged by financial incentives to admit increasing numbers of “scholarship” boys and girls who were likely to do well. Investment in education remained restricted, however. The 1918 Act empowered and recommended local authorities to raise the school-leaving age to 15, but between the wars there did not seem much point in providing additional education for employment when unemployment was chronic.

The 1939-45 war emphasized capitalism's need to comb the working class for the abilities it wanted, and this turned to the special demand for technically-trained people in the nineteen-fifties. It was held that the post-1944 three types of school, based on selection at 11 years old, was inefficient in this respect: neither America nor Russia had a system of early selection, and both produced more science graduates than Britain. It seems to be wilfully forgotten now that this was one of the major arguments for comprehensive schools. Defending them in a recent television discussion Fred Mulley, the Minister for Education, said he was opposed to selection in any form. Yet the statement which committed the Labour Party to introducing comprehensive schools, Learning to Live (1958) opened with a section called “True Selection”. It claimed that selection at 11 was unsatisfactory, and that its plan would mean “real and continuing selection”.

Selection means rejection. As in the adult world for which it is the preparation (the school day is modelled on the working day), in the education system communalty and lofty motives are preached while divisiveness and mercenary aims are practised. In 1964, in a book called English for the Rejected, David Holbrook estimated that three-eighths of the secondary schools’ population formed the residue from the selection procedures, and were treated as “lesser beings” in the education system. Of this large section he wrote: “Who shall blame them for becoming a resentful group expressing their contempt for a society which treated them as ‘dim dregs’, by taking to forms of delinquency and violence, or by other forms of unsocial behaviour?”

The answer to the question is, of course: Nearly everybody. The London crime figures for 1975 showed a continuing increase in crime by young persons; 37 per cent, of thefts of and from cars were committed by children between 10 and 16. In connection with this and other figures a police official said London is “heading for the most violent period in its history” (The Times, 11th March 1976). This misrepresents the situation insofar as, throughout the history of capitalism, parts of big cities have always been infested with delinquents. The writer Jack London in his youth in the early eighteen-nineties ran with gangs of hooligans and took part in muggings. The sentiment today is that it is specially deplorable after so much social reform, in education particularly.

However, the fact is that the capitalist class — abetted, and whether consciously or not does not matter, by reformists—has gone too far. In its anxiety for profit it has demanded the perfection of a method for grading and separating prospective workers. The outcome is a youthful mass who are labelled “low-grade” but kept in the education system which has no use for them. In the 1914-18 war the capitalists found likewise that their greed had rebounded on them: large numbers of the working class, starved and deprived, hardly had the strength to fight for capitalism.

Similar observations can be made about illiteracy. Its true extent is never ascertainable because illiterate people themselves and schools both seek to conceal it. On 3rd March 1976 The Times reported that the government was giving money to the Adult Literacy Resource Agency “for the campaign to teach more than two million illiterate adults to read and write”. In 1850 it was estimated that eight million, or just under a third of the population of Britain, could neither read nor write. If it is assumed that the Cadmean Trust’s figure of 15 per cent, is an underestimate, after more than a century of compulsory education illiteracy has been halved.

This looks like the failure of the education system, but it is not. The system carries out what is required of it by capitalism. Its apparent problems are problems of the capitalist organization of society, that it is mistakenly expected to solve. On 19th December 1972 The Guardian's Education Notebook, referring to a discussion in New Society on the proposition “education is our main hope for social change”, said:
. . . the compelling evidence is that readers of New Society have got it wrong. In the last few months four separate studies have been published, and they have iterated a single message: that there is little, perhaps nothing, that the education system in isolation can do to alter the pattern of our society.
What it reflects overwhelmingly is the position of the working class, and the futility of hopes of “equality of opportunity”—or of “learning to live” in such a system.
Socialists have an interest in education of another kind: workers must learn about capitalism and what to do to get rid of it. We are often asked what prospects there are of this, in view of the lack of success in getting large numbers to learn in school. It is an educational commonplace that people, including school failures, learn swiftly when they want or need to. Backward boys become wizards of mental arithmetic if they take to buying and selling goods, and people “pick up” foreign languages they would never have learned at school. If Socialism were no more than an idea, the task would indeed be hopeless. But that is not the case. The drive to understand it comes from the pressure of the class division in society, and the compulsion for workers to know and pursue their interests.

We are asked, too, about education in Socialist society. The fact that Socialism is based on common ownership means that, for the first time, education will be for the purposes only pretended today—the benefit of the community and its individual members, not for an exploiting class. As regards literacy, the fact is that any literate adult can teach a child to read (many children teach themselves) and, with social disabilities removed, it would cease to be an achievement for some but not for others. The study of numbers may well acquire a different status, since its chief elementary function today is dealing with money.

Beyond the basic things, there will be choice in place of compulsion. As teachers know, people learn little or nothing at all of what they are not interested in. In any case, the amount learned of any subject in the school-lesson system over several years is pitifully small, aiming only at a general minimum. The purpose of true education is not to stuff knowledge into others, but to develop the desire and show the way for each one to obtain it for himself. Once it exists, the desire is not extinguished at 16 or when an examination is over. In a sane society, education would be available at every time in life.
Robert Barltrop