Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Falklands Comment (1982)

From the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is There Life After Jingoism?
The children who were taken off the requisitioned ship Uganda might have been bitterly disappointed at losing their cruise but instead they lined its rails singing Rule Britannia. The message that South Georgia had been taken was in a style which might have been used by Nelson and ended with “God save the queen”. Jingoism is not dead.

More significant was the absence of any popular protest of a size to disturb the government. Have the working class been duped yet again, after two world wars to end war, after Korea, Cyprus, Suez? What now of the peace movement, of the great marches and demonstrations, and the gentler protest of flowers slipped into the advancing rifles? We were told then that this movement was irresistible. that it was the way to build peace in the world and that peace was a priority above socialism. Yet another reform movement has been exposed as futile.

Workers who support capitalism are easily overborne by the propaganda supporting its class rule, exploitation, poverty, famine, war . . . Only the socialist—who is conscious to the facts of capitalism and the need to replace it with socialism—is immune. Socialists are not alone in hating what capitalism does to its people but they are unique in their understanding of why it does and of how to end it. Only a socialist society will abolish war. Socialists are the only true peace- mongers.

Gutter War
That prime example of gutter journalism, the Sun, published an article boasting that its man with the British Fleet in the South Atlantic had signed a missile sent to blow up an Argentinian ship. The missile, according to the Sun, had written on it, “Up Yours, Galtieri”. Needless to say, the missile was not aimed at Galtieri, but the uniformed wage slaves who serve his regime.

Church Comment
The Archbishop of Canterbury announced that he is opposed to wars unless they are necessary in order to protect life and property. So now we know: “Thou shalt not kill, unless . .."

His Own Petard
liven before the sinking of the Sheffield it was expected that the Argentinians would be pretty tough opponents—especially as they would be using a lot of weaponry made in Britain.

It was not, in fact, ironical that British servicemen should be shot at by ships, guns and missiles made in this country, directed by Argentinians who had been trained to use the weapons effectively over here. Britain is one of the world's great arms manufacturers and the armaments trade is highly competitive. Every arms producing country sends its salespeople out into the world to get orders, trying to persuade other states that their weapons are the most accurate, destructive and murderous on the market.

Armaments are commodities, made to be sold at a profit. Workers in the weapons factories use their abilities to turn out things which may at some stage be turned against them or against their fellow workers abroad. It is all good business, strictly in accordance with the precepts of capitalism. In any case, the country of origin of the missile which kills a worker is of no importance. What matters is that he or she dies in the interests of their masters, when they should be living and struggling for a society free of war.

Smashing Fascists
“Fight the fascists wherever they dare to show themselves”, said the Socialist Workers’ Party. Now that the Tory government is giving them the opportunity to pursue their futile fight against the fascists, SWPers are nowhere to be seen. Can it mean that they favour fighting ignorant fascist bootboys on the streets of this country, but they oppose the same dangerous tactics on an international level?

Money and Life
“Let’s get on with the war and damn the expense’’, demanded excitable Manny Shinwell in a House of Lords debate on the Falklands. It was assumed that the ageing ex-boxer, left-wing rebel, pacifist Labour minister, was talking about money but workers’ lives are also part of the expenditure of war.

As the first British ships sailed out of Portsmouth, one reliable estimate was that it would cost about £50 million just to get them across to the South Atlantic and back again, without staying for any length of time or doing any actual fighting.

Now we all know that these are hard times. There must be cuts. There must be no wasteful spending, so frivolous things like hospitals and old people’s homes must be slashed to the bone or we shall all sink beneath abject penury.

There were in fact a few feeble protests, from the customary feeble quarters, at spending so much on a military expedition instead of on schools, hospitals. social services and the like. The protesters, as usual, missed the fact that we live under a social system in which the priority is profit, not human comfort and safety.

Capitalism is always prepared to spend a huge part of its resources on destruction, regardless of how much deprivation there is in the world. It is no coincidence that it is at its most inventive, efficient and productive in wartime, when its aim is to destroy as much, and murder as many, as it can. It will need no help in this from outworn cynics like Shinwell.

Messages in the Media (1982)

From the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is increasingly difficult to take in the flood of words which is poured out daily by the various media, and we offer a few definitions in the hope that they may help the reader to make sense of the world.
Aggression: use of force by a hostile state,
    cf Self-defence: use of force by one’s own state.

Anti-colonialism (Argentine): seizing by force a small group of islands 400 miles away, entirely inhabited, by foreigners.

Anti-colonialism (British): killing Argentine servicemen in order to re-establish the right of the Falkland Islands Company to exploit the people of the islands.

Bicycle ride: the means by which three million unemployed could find jobs immediately.
  cf Bicycle rider: Norman Tebbitt’s father.

Bicycles, shortage of: the only reason why three million unemployed stay out of work.

Capitalism: a system of society in which the great majority of people own no capital.

Catholic priest: a man who thinks all Catholics should have large families, who refuses to have any family at all himself, and who is known as Father,
  cf Monk: a man who has renounced his family, and is known as Brother,
  and Nun: a woman who has renounced her family, and is known as Sister.

Day off: a month at Windsor.
   cf Brief break: two months at Sandringham.
   and Short holiday: three months at Balmoral.

Defence: attack.
  cf Defence expenditure: money spent preparing to attack other states in the next war.
  and Ministry of Defence: government department in charge of attacks on other countries.

Democracy, definition of Theodore Parker 1810-60: government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people.
 cf British democracy. 1982: government of the people, by the politicians, for the capitalists,
 and Socialist democracy: system which will replace the government of people by the administration of things.

Education: process of preparing the children of the rich to give orders, and the children of the poor to obey them.

Food: trace elements found in some supermarket groceries.

Freedom of the press. British version: right of any very rich person to spread their views effortlessly to millions every day; right of groups of workers to spread their views with great difficulty to thousands every month.

God is on our side: message from Christian British chaplains to British troops fighting in the Falklands conflict.

God is on our side (in Spanish): message from Christian Argentine Chaplains to Argentine troops fighting in the Falklands conflict.

God: one who seems to have difficulty making his meaning clear in two different languages; one who needs to brush up his Spanish (or his English, according to the view taken of the Falklands conflict).

God save the king/queen: request to someone who doesn’t exist to preserve someone who shouldn’t.

History lesson: recruiting drive (“we have a passionate attachment to the [Falkland] islands which has been imbued throughout our schooldays”-young Argentine, The Times 5 May 1982).

Human nature: unexplained compulsive urge to murder, rob, rape and pillage possessed by everyone except the speaker and friends.

Human nature theory: an invention of the ruling class for use as an alibi explaining away the excesses of their system.

Idle dreamer: anyone who believes that the producers of the world’s wealth could produce it for themselves instead of for the property owners,
  cf Practical politician: person who believes the exploitation of one class by another is part of the natural law.

Inflation: device (advocated c.g. by J. M. Keynes) consisting of printing more and more paper money, by which governments have tried to keep wages, and salaries, in check.

Inflation, advantage of: the government that creates inflation then alleges that it is caused by the workers who try to defend themselves against it.

Inflation, expert on: person who says workers trying to achieve the same real wages they agreed to work for a year ago are in fact causing inflation; one who believes that workers can force up indefinitely or in some way fix the level of their own pay; one who believes (theoretically) that all workers therefore must be millionaires.

Inhuman behaviour: human behaviour under the stresses and strains of capitalism

Murderer: person punished for killing one human being.
   cf Military leader, person rewarded for killing many.

National catastrophe: hundreds of workers not working for several days after disagreements on wages and conditions.
   cf Salutary economic re-adjustment: millions of workers not working for years.

News: what is left in a newspaper after discounting the advertisements, instant-wealth competitions, attacks on strikers, salacious details of entertainers' lives, agony columns, strip cartoons, astrology, pictures of sporting heroes, praise of rich men, photos of nude women, gossip about the royal family, denunciations of workers’ idleness, stock-market prospects, snapshots of kittens, proprietor’s opinions, letters from the converted, forecasts of women’s fashions, speculation on sporting events, and rude gestures at the Press Council.
   cf Dissatisfied reader: one who has discounted editorial bias as well, and finds nothing whatever is left.

Patriotism: blind obedience to the group of capitalists who live in the same country.

Patriot: worker who is exploited by capitalism, and who is prepared to die in defence of the right of capitalism to do so.

Peace: war (peace “means being prepared to fight for that peace”, Rhodes-Boyson, The Times, 4 May 1982).

Poor, the: a large group of self-denying people who produce the world’s wealth and hand it over to a small group of rich individuals.

Rewards of religion: pie in the sky; meals beyond wheels; in the great by-and-by we shall eat you and I.

Right to life campaigner: person who supports the right to life of a two-day- old fertilised egg, but not the right to life of a twenty-year-old worker in uniform.

Right to strike: an integral part of human liberty in all foreign countries,
   cf Right to strike in this country: slogan of a gang of malcontents and trouble-makers.

Schooling: indoctrination.
   cf Free schooling: compulsory indoctrination.

Tomorrow: point of time at which the workers will be prosperous under capitalism.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: propaganda title for the Russian state-capitalist empire.

Visionary: person who believes we should work for a sane social system in the world we live in.
    cf Realist: person who knows he will be rewarded after his death with a splendid time in Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana, Elysium, Paradise, etc.

Youth Employment Scheme: project to keep the young unemployed off the streets and out of the unemployment statistics, paying them small sums of money.
   cf Life Peerages: project to keep a few of the old unemployed off the streets, paying them large sums of money.
Alwyn Edgar

The NHS, from Birth to Old Age (2018)

From the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Health Service began seventy years ago, on 5 July 1948. One initial consequence was an enormous rush of patients who needed treatment that was now free at the point of use. One doctor, who had qualified on that very day, referred to:
   the colossal amount of very real unmet need that just poured in needing treatment. There were women with prolapsed uteruses literally wobbling down between their legs … It was the same with hernias. You would have men walking around with trusses holding these colossal hernias in. And they were all like that because they couldn’t afford to have it done. They couldn’t afford to consult a doctor, let alone have an operation. (Quoted in Nicholas Timmins: The Five Giants)
There had of course been progress in medical care before the NHS, such as big reductions in infant mortality, increases in life expectancy and much-improved treatment of infectious diseases such as TB. Better sanitation and so on had helped, but medical knowledge had improved too. During the Second World War, the Emergency Medical Service had provided free treatment, not just to war casualties but also to war workers, child evacuees and so on, and had resulted in the creation of a national blood transfusion service.

The Beveridge Report of 1942 advocated the establishment of ‘A national health service for prevention and comprehensive treatment available to all members of the community’. In reality, it was a way of getting workers who were ill well enough to go back to work; and, like most things under capitalism, it was done on the cheap. The talk of prevention entirely missed the point that much illness – both physical and mental – is caused by the way society is arranged, with dangerous and unhealthy living and working conditions and a great deal of stress inflicted on people.

The idea of free treatment lasted just three years, as in 1951 charges were introduced for dentures and spectacles. For the NHS cost far more than the government had expected: two-thirds more than predicted in its first nine months alone. The view that, as better care made people healthier, the cost of the NHS would fall turned out to be an illusion. As time went on, the idea of treatment that was free for all was gradually abandoned more and more, since the capitalists’ taxes simply could not pay the full cost and patients had to bear some of the burden. Free eye tests, for instance, were dropped in 1987. Nowadays only certain categories of people receive free dental care, and a medical prescription costs £8.60 per item (with a number of exemptions).

There were many changes over the years, partly as a result of advances in medical technology, such as transplant surgery, and the introduction of magnetic resonance imaging. But a constant theme was the mismatch between what was needed for patients and what could be afforded. Technical advances meant expensive new equipment had to be purchased; and people are living longer, resulting in them having more and more conditions that need to be treated. There have been frequent reorganisations, and privatisation and outsourcing have become commonplace, all undermining further the original vision of free and equal treatment for all, and they have been introduced in similar ways by both Labour and Conservative governments. Problems with, and cuts to, social care mean increasing difficulties for the NHS, which has more patients to cope with.

A nurse who is a socialist was interviewed in the June 1991 Socialist Standard. She made the point that the reforms brought in that year in April were to ensure that the NHS conformed to the demands of the market. She noted too the absurdity of applying price considerations to the provision of health care: ‘many pieces of technical equipment are unused because nobody can afford to buy their use’.

A particular problem in recent years, though no doubt it existed before, is that of stress among NHS staff. Almost two-thirds of young hospital doctors ‘say their physical or mental health is being damaged because pressures on the NHS are putting them under intolerable strain’ (Guardian online, 11 February 2017). There are also issues with recruitment, some but not all of them due to Brexit and the uncertainty that has created. Employing and retaining general practitioners is a particular problem, with many GP surgeries closing because they simply cannot be staffed. At present there is in all a shortage of at least forty thousand medical staff.

According to the British Social Attitudes survey, public satisfaction with the NHS was at 57 percent in 2017, a drop of six points on the previous year. The main reasons for being satisfied were the quality of care, treatment being free at the point of use, the attitudes and behaviour of staff, and the range of services and treatments available. Dissatisfaction was due to staff shortages, long waiting times, lack of funding, and government reforms. Despite all its problems, though, people consider that the NHS remains a key part of the welfare state.

A decent health care system would have increased resources, and treat both staff and patients far better than happens now. The socialist nurse mentioned above stated, ‘socialist hospitals will keep patients in for longer periods. At the moment hospitals do their best to throw patients out so that their beds can be filled, new money can be made. People need to be properly looked after and capitalism isn’t letting us do that as well as we can and should.’ In fact it is arguable whether keeping patients in for longer is such a good idea, and a socialist health service might well put far more emphasis on prevention rather than cure. But decisions about such matters will be made on the basis of what is in the true interests of those being treated, rather than what serves capitalism and profits.
Paul Bennett

Obituary: Bill Pritchard (1982)

Obituary from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Bill Pritchard died last October at the fine age of 93 the socialist movement in America lost one of its Old Timers, for Bill had been active in Canada during the first World War. He played an active part in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 when he was arrested, made his own defence speech and received a year’s gaol. Part of his speech appeared in a paperback, Winnipeg 1919. Bill arrived in Vancouver in 1911 and immediately joined the early Socialist Party of Canada. He became the editor of their journal the Western Clarion. He joined forces with Charlie Lestor in speaking and writing activities. Charlie edited the OBU Bulletin in which he wrote a column headed “Lestor’s Corner”, a title taken from his speaker’s site in Vancouver. An interesting item in one of Bill’s letters was that his Father, at the age of 9, worked in Erman & Engel’s mill in Manchester. Along with Charlie Lestor, Bill was well known for his articles in the Western Socialist over many years. At the age of 91 he travelled by air, coast to coast, from Los Angeles to Boston to attend a WSP Conference. In co-operation with local Comrade W. Z. Miller, he produced and distributed several Marxian socialist leaflets. I'd like to conclude this tribute to Bill with one of his poetic endings to a letter:
When the Frost is on the Pumpkin
And it’s cooler in the Fall,
I may be in better spirits
And in better shape to call.
Our sincere condolences to his son, Arthur, and relatives.
G. R. Russell

The Capitalist Never Learns. (1932)

From the July 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

For two-and-a-half years the world has been in the throes of a severe business depression. The consequences of that depression have been far-reaching. Unemployment has mounted to fantastic heights, until to-day about 30 million workers in the leading countries are unable to find jobs. In fact, the world-wide incidence and growth of unemployment are so pronounced that even those who but a short time ago were seriously alleging that unemployment was due to the unemployed being too lazy to work, if the chance to do so were offered to them, have been effectively silenced. Nobody now pretends that there are jobs waiting round the corner, and that it is only love of lining up in a queue that keeps workers on the “dole" or the bread line. There are no jobs, just as there are no markets for the thousand and one commodities produced by industry and which the producers find they cannot sell. Plant stands idle just as men and women stand idle. If there are 300,000 miners in Great Britain who will never again be employed to go down a pit, there is likewise redundant plant of all kinds which will cease to be operated. The only difference is that capitalism has to feed its redundant workers in order to avoid trouble; its redundant plant it sooner or later scraps. For examples of this scrapping of plant, it is sufficient to refer to the Lancashire Cotton Corporation, Ltd., and National Shipbuilders' Security, Ltd. The first of these companies was incorporated in 1929 on the initiative of the Bank of England. According to a prospectus published in “The Times" of March 26th, 1931, “the aim of the Corporation is to acquire between 9 million and 10 million equivalent spindles, and it is intended that production shall be concentrated in the most efficient mills . . . the remaining mills being scrapped." The National Shipbuilders’ Security, Ltd., was also begotten by “the Governor and Company of the Bank of England.” It was incorporated. “for the purpose of assisting the shipbuilding industry by the purchase and dismantling of redundant and obsolete shipyards . . .  and the re-sale of the sites under restriction against further use for shipbuilding" (see prospectus in “The Times" of January 21st, 1931). It is a pretty commentary on a social system that it has to devote new savings to the destruction of existing capital equipment because it has too much!

Not only has capitalism come up against the problem of surplus workers and redundant plant, but it is struggling to live down the effects of a too bountiful Nature. Vast areas in America are being thrown out of wheat cultivation, cotton acreage is reduced, Brazil is burning coffee, and wondering whether all her efforts to get stocks down to an “economic level" will be nullified by a bumper crop in 1933-34, sugar cane is not being cut in Cuba, oil wells are shut down in nearly every field, copper output is restricted, as is that of nitrate, the stocks of which equal three-and-a-half years' consumption. The list could be extended to include practically every raw material, but these few examples will suffice to show that want exists to-day, not because there is too little but because there is too much. All that is lacking is the opportunity to make profits, and because of this workers and plant stand idle, misery is widespread, and since Nature will not withhold her gifts they have to be refused or dissipated.

Under conditions such as these, which if we had not experienced them might be unbelievable, it is not surprising that universally the question is raised: “What has caused this crisis? What is its cure?” If the answer given to this question is to be of any value, there must be brought to the consideration of the subject an historical knowledge of previous crises. Such knowledge is conveniently provided by the late H. M. Hyndman's “Commercial Crisis of the 19th Century,” published in a new edition with a preface by J. A. Hobson (Allen & Unwin, Ltd.: 3/6). This book is probably the best Hyndman ever wrote. It is a classic of its kind; it has always been so recognised in interested circles. No one who wishes to understand economic development during the nineteenth century can afford to ignore it. It undoubtedly has its defects. The chief of these is a certain scrappiness in the treatment of the subject. In a work which attempts to cover so wide a field in less than two hundred pages, incompleteness is, however, inevitable. One thing for which the reader will search its pages in vain is, as Hobson points out in his preface, an explanation of why a system of production based on profit-making “expresses itself in a recurrent failure of demand to keep pace with supply.” Nevertheless the book is exceedingly useful, particularly at the present time. Hyndman confined himself to an “historic account of these successive failures.” He succeeds sufficiently well in his purpose for us to be able to agree with the statement, made in Hobson's preface, that “those who witness to-day in almost every trade and every country masses of idle workers facing idle machinery and untilled fields will be disposed to give close and serious consideration to Hyndman's declaration that 'the capitalist class has virtually declared its own inability to conduct the business of the community.' ” In those words of Hyndman are summarised our case against capitalism, and our justification for urging the workers to become Socialists.

It is usual to hear the present crisis spoken of as being unique. It is explained as being due to reparations and war debt problems, the hoarding of gold by Central Banks, the failure of creditor countries to lend to debtor countries, and again in the same quarters as being caused by over-borrowing by debtor countries. Economic nationalism and the raising of tariff barriers are blamed to a greater or less extent. Finally, every explanation involves a reference to the stultifying effects on business of the fall in prices. The explanations are as numerous as the suggested remedies, of which the most popular are those which aim at raising the price level through manipulation of the currency. In this group of proposals fall the suggestions for the introduction of bimetallism, managed paper currencies, and international monetary conferences. Only a slight knowledge of economic development during the past century is necessary to show that far from being a unique phenomenon, the present crisis is of the same kind as those of the past, and that the so-called "explanations" only repeat the explanations put forward by the men who lived through the crises of the nineteenth century. Further, the remedies now proposed merely represent a refurbishing of old ideas.

Certain unimportant characteristics of each crisis are, of course, particular to the crisis concerned, but in their broad outlines, all crises present the same features. The resemblance between one crisis and another even goes to the point, of those who live through any particular crisis, imagining that it is something entirely different from anything that has gone before, and of those of them who advocate remedies always thinking that the adoption of their proposals will prevent the recurrence of crises in the future. But just as a war to end war only sows the seeds for another war, so the melting away of a crisis in a burst of renewed activity only prepares the way for the next crisis. Until that fact is clearly realised, the true cause of a crisis cannot be appreciated, for not until then will it be seen that the fundamental cause of all crises must be the same. This is to say that it must be a continually operating cause, and cannot be something, such as reparations or war debts, particular to the individual crisis. Such special factors may, of course, intensify a crisis when it comes, delay its solution or help to determine the time of its occurrence. Their responsibility for causing it cannot be carried further than that.

Crises are inherent in the capitalist system of production owing to the fact that production is based on the principle of profit-making, not on that of satisfying needs. Goods are produced in order to be sold at a profit. When trade is booming productive capacity is extended in order to increase the opportunities to make profits. New plant is installed, new sources of supplies of raw materials are opened up to enable the output of finished products to be increased. Competition between producers to secure the lion’s share of the profitable markets leads to production being extended further and further. Finally a point is reached when the supply exceeds the demand. Markets are glutted. Production has to be curtailed, first in one sphere and then gradually in others. Prices fall as stocks are unloaded. Workers are dismissed, and as their wages cease the demand for commodities further declines. The spiral is then leading downwards to business stagnation, bankruptcies and widespread unemployment. The boom has dissolved into a depression. There is a crisis. Then in time stocks run off, there are a number of bankruptcies, demand revives, and the mad dance through the figures of boom and slump goes on again.

This is a brief description of the course and cause of all crises. Any attempt to explain or deal with a crisis that ignores the profit-making basis of capitalism ignores essentials, and can only deal with what are, more or less, irrelevancies. Once it is realised that crises arise because the object of production is the making of profit, all remedies, such as those for currency reform, of which so much is now heard, must be dismissed as futile. As they fail to take account of the fundamental cause, they cannot hope to prevent its operation in the future, whatever temporary relief they may afford. The only means by which economic crises, such as the present, can be permanently banished from the world is by the overthrowing of capitalism. Until the present system of society is superseded by one from which profit-making has been eliminated, crises will, and must, occur periodically.

A study of past crises by revealing the correspondence in events between them and the present crisis will help to put the popular explanations and suggested remedies for to-day’s depression in their proper perspective and to demonstrate the truth of the assertion made above that crises are inherent in the capitalist system of production. Here it is impossible to consider the crises of the past in detail. That has been done by Hyndman, and readers are recommended to study what he has written on the subject. Certain features of past crises will, however, be discussed so that the similarity between present and past events may be demonstrated.

Before doing this, however, it is worth referring to one aspect of economic crises which is too frequently overlooked. To appreciate the real significance of an economic crisis it is essential to realise that what takes place in a time of crisis over the whole business field and in several countries is taking place continuously locally and in particular spheres of business. In some industry or place, plant, workers, and commodities are always proving to be redundant, as the supply of the particular commodity outruns the demand. It is when this condition becomes general and pronounced that the disease is glorified with the title of crisis and the general manifestation is treated as some rare event. 
B. S.

(To be continued.)

Not a Private Matter (1996)

Pamphlet Review from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Foundations of Modern Humanism by William Mcllroy (Sheffield Humanist Society. £1.)

The Socialist Party doesn’t take the position that religion is a private matter, beyond rational criticism. All religions have something to say about how we should live our lives on this earth and, when looked at dispassionately, what they do say is thoroughly objectionable. Of course not all religions say exactly the same thing. They can be viewed as a spectrum: at the one end there are religions such as Taoism which are more philosophies of life than religion proper. Moving through the spectrum we find numerous religions, each offering salvation only through their God, and at the other end we find the three main religions of the twentieth century: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In Britain the most important of the specifically atheist organisations is, and has been for over a century, the National Secular Society. Its monthly journal. the Freethinker, is the best of its type and well worth reading for the ammunition it provides against religious superstition. Bill Mcllroy was for many years its editor and is the author of this pithy pamphlet He shows how, as a general rule, religion upholds the existing state of affairs. For instance, take this little ditty penned by a bishop's wife:
"The rich man in his castle
The poor man at his gate
God made them, high or lowly
And order’d their estate"
His explanation of the foundations of modern humanism, as a rejection of religious beliefs, is a history of the doings of liberal reformers. The writings of Thomas Paine is the most obvious example (although Paine himself was not an atheist). As is usual in this sort of account there is no mention of the socialist argument against religion. But it is from Marx that we have the most useful way of looking at religion—as a narcotic growing out of the material circumstances of life. For humanists, criticism of religion is a process towards the eventual triumph of reason. But they ignore the material conditions which give rise to superstition:
     "Consequently, in his worship of the ‘idea' the bourgeois freethinker is, like the Christian, attributing miraculous powers to the figments of men's brains" (Socialism and Religion, Socialist Party pamphlet, 1911).
On the new basis of material security and social co-operation, provided by socialism, individuals can gain a sense of meaning in their lives, with hope for a future free from the dead hand of religious belief. Rather than being abolished, religion can be expected to (as Engels said about something else) “wither away”.
Lew Higgins

Riding for a fall (2018)

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

John McDonnell is portrayed by his critics as an opponent of capitalism. He goes along with this but is riding for a fall. An interview with the BBC on 20 May was reported the next day in the Times under the headline ‘McDonnell: I’d overthrow capitalism’:
  ‘The shadow chancellor said he wanted to transform society “in a way that radically changes the system”. Asked if his job was the overthrow of capitalism, he replied: “Yes it is. It’s transforming the economy.” Pressed on whether there was a difference between transforming and overthrowing capitalism, he said: “I don’t think there is . . . I want a socialist society.’
These days, this sounds quite radical but in fact is merely what previous generations of Labour Party reformists have held. They envisaged the state capitalist economy adopted as their long-term aim in 1918, and which they called ‘socialism,’ coming into being gradually through a series of nationalisations and social reforms enacted by successive parliaments and Labour governments. This is what McDonnell means when he talks of ‘transforming the economy’; this to be a gradual process, ‘overthrowing’ capitalism piece by piece. It’s the classic reformist position.

This involves presiding over the operation of capitalism for a long period. However, capitalism cannot be reformed so as to work in the interest of ‘the many’. Capitalism runs on profits and any government which takes on the task of presiding over its operation is sooner or later forced to recognise this and, in the end, to allow and even encourage profit-making to take priority over pro-worker reforms. This has been the fate of all Labour governments.

A Labour government, with McDonnell as chancellor, would be in an even weaker position than previous ones. His ‘transformation of the economy’ is to begin while leaving production entirely in the hands of private profit-seeking businesses:
  ‘Asked by the BBC what he would do to private businesses Mr McDonnell replied: “We’d follow France’s example – they legislate for profit-sharing. We’d expect companies to profit-share as well as ensure they have a decent wage policy.”’
Profit-sharing, that old swindle! It’s what the Tories used to promote as ‘people’s capitalism’ and as a way to get workers to believe that their interest was the same as their employer’s. Trade unionists opposed this as it substituted a contracted wage of a regular amount by one in which a part of wages varies with the profitability of the employer’s business.

The best known profit-sharing business in Britain is the John Lewis 'Partnership ' (as it calls itself). Its latest annual report shows how profit, and so the ‘profit-sharing’ part of wages, can go down – and down – as well as up:
   ‘John Lewis Partnership (JLP) has cut its annual staff bonus to the lowest level in 64 years after profit plunged at the group, which owns Waitrose and a chain of department stores . . . Sir Charles Mayfield, the chairman, said it had been a “challenging year”. He blamed the downturn in profit and the staff payout – which has been cut for five years in a row – on subdued consumer demand and “significant changes to operations across the partnership, which affected many partners”. Mayfield said the coming year was likely to put further pressure on profit’ (Guardian, 18 March).
McDonnell, apparently, regards schemes which allow take-home pay to be cut five years in a row as ‘a decent wage policy’. And, of course, ‘profit-sharing’ implies that production for profit continues.

Elementary Union Rights (1996)

Book Review from the February 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

For Our Freedom and Yours, A History of the Polish Solidarity Campaign 1980-1994. (PSC. £5.)

No one committed to the interest of the working class could have failed to have been moved by the events in Poland of August and September 1980. Here, under a dictatorial regime which had not hesitated to shoot down striking workers in the past, hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike to obtain elementary trade union rights, formed their own inter-workplace liaison committees and eventually forced the leaders of the dictatorship to come and negotiate in public, with loudspeakers relaying the negotiations to the assembled workers outside.

We, naturally, were moved and immediately issued a statement on "The Class Struggle in Poland" which began:
  “The Socialist Party of Great Britain applauds with sympathy and admiration the courageous stand of the Polish strikers in their struggle to independently organise and negotiate over the wages and conditions. Their action bears out what we have consistently claimed and what no amount of repression, censorship. and pretence can indefinitely conceal. Poland is no "workers state on the road to socialism’’ but a state capitalist, one party regime, where the working class inevitably comes into conflict with those who control the means of wealth production and distribution."
Others who were moved were some ex-Trotskyists who took the initiative to set up a Polish Solidarity Campaign in September [1980]. This book is a detailed. almost blow-by-blow history of that organisation. Its original aim was to get the TUC and the Labour Party to withdraw their "support” and recognition from state employer-run puppet organisations" as they correctly described the official so-called trade unions in Poland.

Believe it or not, they had some difficulty in achieving this, with the TUC and other unions continuing to invite representatives from the official state "unions” to their conferences, and with Tony Benn, for all his talk about the need for more democratic and trade union rights in Britain, playing a particularly shameful role as what Lenin once called a "useful idiot".

After General Jaruzelski imposed martial law in December 1981 the PSC had more success but another problem arose. Two separate Trotskyist groups tried to take the PSC over. They failed and the sort of manoeuvres they resorted to—and still resort to with regard to other organisations—are well-documented and exposed in this book. One reason they failed (apart from the fact that the ex-Trotskyists in the PSC knew from their own Trotskyist days exactly what was going on) was that they weren’t wholeheartedly opposed to the Polish regime. They regarded it as a “deformed workers state" but a workers state nevertheless. A "workers” state that oppresses the workers—such is the absurd position of orthodox Trotskyism.

In the following years the PSC's emphasis shifted from supporting working-class struggle in Poland to supporting the demand for an independent (of Russia), democratic Polish State. In other words, Polish nationalism replaced working-class solidarity. In fact, the PSC became little more than a publicity organisation in Britain for Solidarity, even after it evolved into the right-wing Catholic trade union and political organisation it is today.

We in the Socialist Party didn’t make this mistake since we never supported Solidarity as such but rather the workers’ struggle against their state-capitalist bosses. And our solidarity was with our fellow workers in another geographical part of the world struggling to establish elementary trade union and democratic rights, not with the "people of Poland" trying to establish a capitalist democratic state. 
Adam Buick

Rolling in Poverty (1979)

From the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

To most people the word ‘poverty’ means one of two things. Either life below the breadline, such as experienced by many in this country in the last century and by millions still today in the less developed parts of the world. Or simply being badly off, of having enough to live on but not being able to afford the extra comforts which most other members of the community enjoy. Socialists also discern poverty of a third kind, of which however more later.

Looking at the first type of poverty, where people actually suffer sickness or death from undernourishment, we find that it has virtually disappeared from Britain and the other economically advanced countries of the world. The second type however is still rife. It exists among various sections of the population, the low-paid, the unemployed, the old, the disabled. Government statistics describe as “poor” families whose net income, less housing and work expenses, is less than 20 per cent over the Supplementary Benefit rate. In Britain 5 million families, and altogether 16 per cent of the population, fall into this category.

If the first type of poverty has been wiped out, why then should the second type still be so prevalent? After all we are no longer in the dark days of the 19th century when wealth was limited and goods seemed scarce. Today our local supermarket bursts at the seams, gleaming newly-designed cars fill the showrooms, huge £2 million airliners carry large numbers of people from one country and one continent to another. Why in the midst of all this plenty does there still not seem to be enough to go round with fair shares for all? Why this continual inequality?

While the conditions in which people lived and worked 100 years ago now seem a far-off nightmare to most of us, the lives they led did have one thing in common with those we lead today. They, like us, depended for their livelihoods on selling their energies to an employer for a wage or salary. Under far worse conditions admittedly, but the very fact that their existences revolved round the fact of having a job meant that their standard of living, like ours, was determined by what today is termed the job market. If the economy, particular industry or occupation in which they were engaged went into decline or needed fewer workers, they ran the risk either of a reduction in real wages or of unemployment. And for them this could mean poverty of the first kind, or starvation. The same situation exists today but with the obvious difference that the low-paid and unemployed, instead of being left to starve, are “cushioned” by state benefits of various kinds and hence suffer the second kind of poverty, having less to spend than the average worker. Yet this promotion from absolute poverty to state-defined poverty does not hide the fact that the economic basis of society, the competitive lines along which the world is run, has not changed since the 19th century. The need to make profits is still the dominant feature. As long as an enterprise is profitable (or “viable” in the language of state-run concerns) jobs remain and wages can even go up. But as soon as, for any reason at all, profits fall or become losses, lower real wages or unemployment result. A change of attitude on the part of governments in recent years means that such economic downturn does not bring the absolute poverty of former times. Governments have learned from experience that a large destitute work force is both potentially explosive and in the long term a neglect of a valuable resource. So they now prefer to take a more active part in the management of affairs and to keep their low-paid and unemployed workers physically and mentally fit. For when next there is an expansion of trade and profits to be made, their abilities can again be put to work. As neither governments nor employers can forsee periods of boom and recession in the market, labour, trained and untrained, must be ready at hand to exploit the upturn when it comes. Otherwise opportunities are missed and the markets go to foreign competitors who have been quicker off the mark.

So if the “poor”, the 16 per cent are still with us, it’s not because there isn’t enough to go round (with today’s technology and expertise, resources, if used rationally, could be easily sufficient to satisfy all people’s needs), but because the anarchic, uncontrollable nature of the economic system under which we live does not allow for the elimination of poverty, only for unpredictable ups and downs in the production and distribution of the world’s wealth.

The vast majority of this wealth anyway is concentrated in a small number of private hands. What all those who sell their bodily and mental energies for money (the vast majority of the population) get, unevenly distributed among them, is the tiny amount of wealth remaining. And here we have a third kind of poverty, the one mentioned at the beginning as being discernible to socialists. It is neither complete destitution nor life on low pay or the dole but the relative poverty of all the world’s workers, those who run the system from top to bottom and yet, whether “high- paid", “low-paid” or unemployed, see only a tiny fraction of the wealth they produce. In absolute terms they are far better off than their fellow workers of the last century, but in relative terms they are worse off. Their percentage share of the total wealth is considerably lower than that which went to their 19th century counterparts.

This helps to explain why workers’ pay never seems to be enough. Even on high wages, the drabness of their lives and the comparative shoddiness of their possessions are as nothing compared with the vast wealth on view everywhere around them and, in particular, with the supreme comfort and luxury in which the small minority who own most of the wealth and don’t depend on being employed for their livelihood, are able to live. Not of course that the attainment of wealth necessarily leads to great personal satisfaction. But this is the illusion that everything in our competitive set-up, in particular advertising and the media, conspires to create. Furthermore to a society permeated by economic insecurity (how many of us do not tremble for our jobs at some time in our lives?) and the mentality of getting ahead at the expense of others envy and the urge to get as much money as possible “behind you” while the going’s good is a perfectly comprehensible reaction.

As an alternative to the system which produces and perpetuates poverty we have a completely different kind of society to propose, one which will do away with poverty in all its definitions. We propose a world community in which all the resources at man’s disposal are used to satisfy the needs of people, not of profits. There will be no poverty of any kind quite simply because all wealth will be owned in common and all persons will have free access to all goods. There will be no money, no employers, no wages, no frontiers. Only voluntary cooperation and economic equality In a society in which what you need will be readily available when you need it the “I want more” mentality will inevitably be absent. To achieve this change of society we need a revolution in ideas followed by a political revolution in which people by majority vote (not by minority violence) will usher out the present world system of buying and selling.
Howard Moss