Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Letters: Ultra-Purist Approach (1982)

Letter to the Editors from the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors,

It has been extremely interesting to read your views, but I find that while I share the SPGB’s objectives, I am unhappy with the party’s tactics for achieving them. If there were any real hope of arriving at a socialist society in one country—let alone world-wide—in the foreseeable future, I could accept your ultra-purist approach, but under present conditions (and any I can imagine coming about, with or without my help) it seems a case of cutting off the working-class' nose to spite your face.

You are very close to saying that we should be making things as bad as possible for the workers, to encourage them to rise up and throw off their oppressors, but I believe that while only true socialism on an international scale is really worth holding up as a long-term objective, we should work at the same time to ease the worst effects of capitalism.

Despite this difference, I hope I am very wrong and that our joint efforts will herald a new future for all before it’s too late for me to see it!
Mike Scott
Barnstone
Notts

Reply:
You say that you agree with our objective socialism but you disagree with our view of how it should come about. Well, the important thing is that we agree about the socialist objective. We’re sure our differences about methods can be reconciled.

Let us say at first that we support the activities of trade unions where workers are trying to improve their position as wage workers on the industrial front, where these actions are consistent with the interests of workers as a whole. Members of our Party are also trade union members. There is scope for workers to improve their positions under capitalism through increased wages and better conditions. We think you will agree that, for the most part, these are defensive actions which over a long period still leave workers as being exploited under capitalism.

The struggle for socialism is different. This is political action and its object is to achieve the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism by a majority of socialists. On the political front there is only one kind of action which is consistent with the socialist objective—work to persuade the majority of workers that only socialism can achieve the common ownership of the means of production and the establishment of a system of production for use on the basis of equality and co-operation.

There cannot be, as you suggest, a long-term objective which can be reconciled with short-term actions to ease the worst effects of capitalism. You will find that these "short-term actions” commit you to advocating a modified form of capitalism which would surely be hostile to your socialist principles. You cannot seek the abolition of capitalism by advocating some modified form of it. This is surely contradictory.

In fact this is a very old argument, and was the subject of much controversy when various labour groups, the Labour Party and our Socialist Party were being formed at the beginning of the century. Members of the Socialist Party stuck by their principles. Others formed the Labour Party and it is as well for you to consider what has happened since that time. How far have the workers come in political terms since that time? The improvements in workers' living standards have been as a result of trade union action and the productivity of their own labour. They have produced more wealth and they have been able to negotiate a share of the extra wealth that they themselves have produced.

But the decision to support reformist parties of an allegedly working class nature has been a complete waste of time. The working class the world over are still an exploited class; we still have poverty, unemployment, wars and all the social problems that go with capitalism. Some would agree that the development of nuclear weapons has brought us to the brink of destruction. Still the priorities of the profit motive prevail over the needs of people. For example, thousands of millions of pounds are spent on armaments while 40.000 children die from hunger and hunger-related disease every day.

If all those who argued that the socialist objective should be set aside in favour of political attempts to improve capitalism had instead joined the socialist movement based uncompromisingly on socialist principles, then we would have a large and influential Socialist Party.

The choices in the real world are these you either have capitalism with all its unavoidable consequences in terms of its problems, or you have a socialist system of production for use which would enable the people of the world to solve those problems. The political and economic realities are that there is no ground in between. By its very nature capitalism cannot be run in the interests of the community; its social and political limitations are essentially economic in nature and cannot be controlled. This is what the Labour Party has found.
Editors.

50 Years Ago: Birth Control and Unemployment in France (1982)

The 50 Years Ago column from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

For many years the advocates of birth control as a cure-all for social and economic problems have pointed to France as a proof of their claim that unemployment and poverty can be abolished by the limitation of the number of births. In the Socialist Standard for August 1930 we examined this claim and showed that the theory is unsound. We pointed out that France had not solved the problem of working class poverty, and that unemployment had not been abolished. It was the absence of statistics, not the absence of unemployment, which made the claim appear to have foundation. Unemployment in France was for a time kept relatively low by the demand for workers to rebuild the devastated areas. We then confidently foretold a big increase in unemployment, and recent reports fully confirm our view. The following appeared in The Star (January 9th, 1932): “The French Ministry of Labour issuing its weekly unemployment return, estimates that there are 2,500,000 persons wholly or partly unemployed in the country, says the British United Press”. According to the French Federation of Trade Unions, the number is even larger, being 3,000,000. Most of them are not entitled to relief.
(From an article The Economics of Unemployment in France. published in the Socialist Standard, February 1932.)

The Future of British Aerospace (1982)

Pamphlet Review from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Future of British Aerospace, AUEW-TASS, price 50p.

This pamphlet imparts a great deal of interesting information, in spite of the self-proclaimed bias of its standpoint. To quote the front cover, we have here “A policy statement by TASS, the Union that fights for British Engineering", and the policy it enunciates is openly designed to increase the British Aerospace share of the market at the expense, inevitably, of its competitors and the livelihood of the workers employed by them. It is at least a relief that little or no attempt is made to deck this policy with garlands of confused and misleading names. TASS has had a bad track record in the past, and their use of political terms should be viewed with suspicion.

TASS is confused on a number of issues. For instance, it correctly points out that following "denationalisation" a year ago, employee shareholding is only just over 3 per cent of the share capital despite a free issue and some shares being sold at half price, the vast majority being held by City institutions. The latter are then condemned because their “raison d'etre is profit making", as if capitalism could exist on any other basis. Even so-called "public" transport outfits which operate at a loss are allowed to do so only because their cheap services allow higher profits to be made elsewhere. And even if employee shareholding could be raised to a level to allow participation in policy making, the same capitalist pressures would force the same profit oriented decisions as at present. It is also clear that TASS remains wedded to nationalisation and Keynesian economic theories. Government money only differs from private investment in the aerospace industry in as much as it may not require such a quick return, but sooner or later the return must come or cancellations, closures and redundancies follow.

The pamphlet abounds with advice to the British Government on how to conduct its business. Some of this may be heeded, but governments have to consider on a broad base the interests of the capitalist class they represent. One issue has caused TASS considerable embarrassment. Two-thirds of the business of British Aerospace is on the military side, and TASS has had trouble in reconciling its aerospace policy with a long standing commitment to press for a reduction in arms expenditure. The pamphlet reminds us again of the historical role of military technology as the pace-setter for new developments, and it has largely been drafted by workers engaged on military aircraft whose idea of their own interests goes no further than trying to expand the area of their wage slavery.

The growth of multinational projects such as the Airbus and Tornado is supported by TASS, who could scarcely do otherwise in view of the industry’s cash flow problem. This stance, however, is scarcely consistent with their super-nationalistic tub-thumping, which demands withdrawal from the EEC in addition to its self-appointed fighting role on behalf of British industry.
E. C. Edge




Political Notes: Images (1982)

The Political Notes column from the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Images
The job was not widely advertised but the Conservative Party recently appointed a new Marketing Director (we are not making this up) and he at once got down to a review of the Tories’ advertising and presentation strategy (we are still not making this up).

One likely result of this review is that the famous advertising firm of Saatchi and Saatchi, who took time off from composing lies about things like detergents and breakfast foods to master-mind the Tories’ return to power in 1979, will be sacked.

Of course the dismal record of the Labour government may have had a bit to do with Thatcher's victory but advertising agencies and marketing directors need to believe in their power to influence people or they would resign from their jobs or blow their brains out or something equally useful.

Well the elation of those heady days, when all was going to be put to rights through the beneficient workings of the market, is now looking decidedly drab. Saatchi and Saatchi’s 1979 slogan “Labour Isn’t Working”, under a picture of a long dole queue, has recoiled so that the Tories will forever be stuck with responsibility for three million unemployed.

Not unnaturally many Conservatives, with an eye on the next election, are getting uneasy about the image they present now, as a hidebound, callous bunch of wreckers. And Saatchi and Saatchi, equally nervously, feel it does their image no good with the makers of detergents and corn flakes to be so closely associated with so unpopular a government.

Time too for the voters to reflect on the insulting cynicism of those whose business it is to sell capitalism to them, who wheedle for their support with lengthily constructed campaigns of concealment, evasion and deception.

Capitalism deprives the working class of the full product of their labour. It makes a world of conflict, terror, famine, disease. Its hall mark is exploitation, poverty, the degrading of its people. For them it is the worst possible bargain, which they buy with their sweat, suffering and their blood.


Alliance Split
Some observers of the squabble between the Liberals and the Social Democrats over who shall contest which constituency may have been puzzled by the talk of “gold” seats and “silver” seats. Was this to be some bizarre version of the Olympic Games? Is Roy Jenkins so desperate, that he plans to cut down on the richer foods and heavier wines and get into condition for the Marathon?

If the squabble goes on much longer, will the Alliance even get to the starting blocks? Unable to split on matters of policy, because it hasn’t got one yet (which raises the fascinating question of what will happen when they have) the SDP and Liberals are quarreling over the good, old fashioned issue of power grabbing.

The SDP’s preoccupation in this is well illuminated by Jenkins’ tireless search for a parliamentary seat, in which he now threatens to subject the workers of Glasgow Hillhead to his unguent cynicism. Jenkins’ passion to get into Parliament is very much part of his need to be seen as the undisputed leader of the Alliance, to prevent Owen and Williams becoming too established at the top.

Another shaft of illumination came from the behaviour of Rodgers, who brought his old role of Labour’s parliamentary muscle man into the haggling between the two parties. When matters of political power are under discussion, Rodgers has a famously low level of frustration.

The simple fact is that the SDP/Liberals are nothing new, although their success very much depends on their ability to deceive the working class that they are. A compound of discredited Labourites and disorientated Liberals, the process which they call breaking the mould is really the rehash of the same stale ingredients.

Before long they will be inviting the workers to elect them into power over British capitalism. Time then to remember these fractious days, which revealed them for the power-seeking opportunists that they are.


Town Hall vs. Whitehall
Until the 1950s it was very rare to find a Conservative candidate in a local election. Of Labourites and Liberals there was no lack; but apart from that there were usually only people with descriptions like Ratepayers’ Association or Municipal Reform.

It is true that these same people airily emerged at general elections as active members of the Conservative Party. But they argued that local elections, about matters like keeping the pavements clean and where to erect the street lamps, should not be influenced by national issues. Politics, they said, should be kept out of the Town Hall. The autonomy of local authorities was vital; how could the man in Whitehall know what went on in Little Sodbury?

Well the Tories now openly contest local elections. Even more, as they are showing during Michael Heseltine’s current battle with local authorities over rating and expenditure, they are convinced that Westminster should be able to dictate important policy matters to every Town Hall.

The Labour Party has also changed its line. They once argued, against those phony Ratepayers’ and Municipal Reform candidates, that autonomy for local authorities was wasteful; better to co-ordinate it all under Whitehall’s benevolent eye. Now they stand up (some Labour councillors declare they are ready to defy the law, and go to gaol, on the issue) for what they call local democracy against the encroachments of a hectoring Parliament.

It has always been clear that the machinery of government exists at both national and local levels and that all must be taken over if there is to be a fundamental change in society. The argument between the Labour and Tory parties about state against local council is, like all the other disputes between the parties of capitalism, a sham fight based not on principle but expediency. Anyone concerned with a democratic society needs to look farther than that for the real issues.

No More Mister Nice Guy (1996)

The Greasy Pole column from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Like watching the sun rise, inch by inch, beyond a distant hill the idea is beginning to dawn that John Major is not, after all, the Very Nice Man he was once supposed to be. Not the simple, relaxed chap you’re pleased to have a chat with over the garden fence or a pint with at the local. Not the concerned family man with the homely wife and the nice kids who do well at school and who are always polite and respectful.

When Major first got the job of Prime Minister, after the men in grey suits had done their duty over Thatcher, it soon became apparent that his background was so obscured as to defeat the most penetrative of media hacks. We were told he came from Brixton, in those innocent days before it gained a reputation for hyperactive police and hyper-reactive rioters. He went to grammar school locally and then failed to become a London Transport bus conductor, which did not seem to have affected his later career at a bank, where he mysteriously scaled the promotion ladder. This must have stood him in good stead when he began to claw his way up the greasy pole of politics, from the local Young Conservatives to MP, to junior minister to Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister.

This was highly unsatisfactory to all those frantically excavating hacks. They could not exhume anything like a scandal about Major, except for still-born stories about a long past relationship with an older woman and a non-existent extramarital affair. Meanwhile Major made soothing declarations about the desire to build a classless society and to lead a nation at ease with itself. A bewildered population began to ask itself whether it could be true: were we about to be governed by a Very Nice Man?

Well, Major himself has answered that question, with evidence that he is as ruthless a political operator as he needs to be. He may lack some of the skills required for this—for example he has not mastered Harold Wilson's knack of never completely leaving all his boats burned—but he is trying hard. Any problem which attracts publicity is explained away as if the past sixteen years had been spent under some other party in government. If necessary ministers who get in trouble are sacked, after an initial period when Major ritually declares they have his complete support.

Poll Tax debacle
This would have been a shock only to those who had failed to appreciate the steely edge of Major's ambition. For example, when Thatcher was confronted with the ominous result of the first leadership ballot in 1990 she turned to the two most powerful people in her cabinet—Douglas Hurd at the Foreign Office and Major at the Exchequer—for support in the second ballot. Hurd agreed, according to Thatcher, "at once and with good grace”. But Major was different. This was the man clearly chosen byThatcher as her eventual successor; it might even be said that he owed it all to her. How did he respond to her, in her hour of need?
  “I asked John to second my nomination. There was a moment's silence. The hesitation was palpable . . . Then he said that if that was what I wanted, yes. Later, when urging my supporters to vote for John for the leadership, I made play of the fact that he did not hesitate. But both of us knew otherwise" (The Downing Street Years).
There are other examples of Major’s careful duplicity. As Financial Secretary to the Treasury and later as Chancellor of the Exchequer he was closely identified with the Poll Tax. From the outset this was a very unpopular measure; multitudes of workers saw it as a blatant attack on their incomes and they showed how they felt with their votes.

It was only when Thatcher had gone and the fact that the Poll Tax was a monumental vote-loser became obvious to all but the most stubborn or stupid of Tories that Major changed his line. During his campaign for the Conservative leadership—and this was partly to undermine Heseltine’s appeal—he promised to review the tax, which really meant to abolish it. It was as if he had never supported it in the first place, just as if the whole mess was someone else’s fault.

Lucky Lamont
That was how it was again over the issue of sterling and the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Again, Major was a supporter of this policy, arguing that it would result in lower interest rates, a stable exchange rate for sterling—and so a big political advantage for the Tories.

Well it didn’t turn out like that and it all came to an end on that September day when interest rates were raised three times within a few hours and the Chancellor of the Exchequer wearily told the assembled media in Downing Street that sterling had been withdrawn from the ERM.

This withdrawal was, apparently, in order to achieve the very conditions which membership of the ERM was to bring in the first place. It was such an abject collapse of a policy that it might even have persuaded some politician—the Chancellor, the Prime Minister—to confess their impotence to control capitalism and fall on their political sword. What happened was that Norman Lamont, who was Major’s choice as Chancellor, took all the blame. He it was who stood mumbling into the microphone in Downing Street and he, some time later, who was sacked by Major. Again, it was almost as if the policies had nothing to do with Major. Not surprisingly, Lamont now sulks on the back benches, sniping at Major’s Teflon-coated image.

So far Major has got away with such breathtaking betrayals of what he claimed were his principles. If the day comes when he is finally, unavoidably, exposed as yet another political trickster we may be sure that we shall be encouraged to believe it matters whether our leaders are nice or nasty. We will be told we can really have a classless society, at ease with itself, if only we have a nice, unassuming, sensible person in charge at Number Ten. When that happens we should remember the cynical, disreputable history of capitalism of which John Major is a part.
Ivan

50 Years Ago: Polish Troops Against Strikers (1982)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Early in February there were rumours in Eastern Europe of various governments massing troops for war. One of the rumours said that Poland was mobilising troops on the German frontier in Upper Silesia. This, to the newspapers, was a “disturbing" rumour. But re-assurance soon came. The troops were not for the purpose of threatening German capitalism. but for the purpose of dealing with a strike which was likely to break out. (News Chronicle, February 6th.)

Needless to say. the Polish Government was not sending troops to intimidate the employers, but to keep the workers in subjection.
(From the Socialist Standard. April 1932.)

50 Years Ago: Hurrah for Inflation (1982)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The General Election in October last was fought largely round the fear of inflation. The national government leaders waved worthless German 100,000 mark notes before the eyes of their listeners and told horrifying stories of the hardships inflation and rising prices would bring in their train. Now, six months later, inflation is all the fashion.
The Sunday Express, one of Lord Beaverbrook’s papers, says:
   How rapidly the situation has developed! How swiftly minds have moved! Inflation is now no longer left to Lord Beaverbrook. Or, in the House, to Mr. Boothby. The movement is growing and spreading. Most public men are now in favour of inflation. Practically every Member of Parliament speaking in debates is an inflationist. (Sunday Express, 15 May 1932.)
(From an editorial “The Campaign for Inflation" published in the Socialist Standard, June 1932.)



Strikes — and General Strikes (1973)

From the May 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

May Day has been chosen as a day of trade-union protest, arising out of a decision reached at a special Trades Union Congress held on 5th March. Some unions are making it a one-day strike, others are limiting it to shorter walk-outs and others again are merely holding protest meetings, or standing aloof. The strikers may number several millions and the event was widely reported in the press as a TUC General Strike.

In fact it bears hardly any resemblance to the planned and purposeful organizing that a serious General Strike would call for. Its timing alone shows that the General Council of the TUC is well aware of how little effect it will have on the Government, whose wage policy it is designed to change. The resolution carried on 5th March reads:
Congress calls upon the General Council . . .  to invite affiliated unions to join in a day of national protest and stoppages against the wage control policy and increase of food prices.
It also called upon the General Council to organize this “as quickly as possible”.

On 5th March the government’s wage policy (The Counter-Inflation Bill) had not become law; it was still  being debated in Parliament. If they believed in the effectiveness of the day of protest as a means of forcing the Government to drop its policy, the TUC could have organized it without delay. Instead, they waited until after the Bill became law at the end of March and then chose May Day. Had they chosen a date before the Bill was passed their bluff would immediately have been called — because it would have been demonstrated at once that the Government had not been deflected from its intention to enact the new law, any more than the Government was deterred from going on with the Industrial Relations Bill against which the TUC organized a similar day of protest on 12th January 1971.

Compromise
Discretion has been the order of the day for the TUC, and with some reason. In nearly two centuries of trade-union history it is impossible to find a single occasion on which a government and Parliament have been prevented by strike confrontation from passing a law they were set on. The reason for this is a simple one. Governments calculate that their legislation has the backing of a majority of the electorate, or at least will be accepted by them at the next election; and nearly three-quarters of the electorate are not trade-unionists.

While the unions have not been able to use confrontation to prevent laws being passed, they have been able to influence the laws in which they are particularly interested in another way. The workers need trade unions, but so also do the employers: under modern conditions the relatively orderly functioning of industry without organizations with which employers can negotiate pay and conditions is unthinkable. The government and the employers need trade-union law. But so also do the unions, if only to give them access to the courts to protect their £140 million funds. (In the early days and again from 1859 to 1871 this protection did not exist and the unions were at the mercy of those who misappropriated their funds.)

So, on numerous occasions, the unions have been able to “do a deal” with government or opposition, Tory, Liberal or Labour, for relaxations of the laws in return for the offer of trade-union concessions or support at elections. The last occasion was in 1969 with the Wilson government. The bargain then was that the Government, while not dropping their intention to go on with their Industrial Relations Bill, cut out certain clauses offensive to the unions in return for a TUC pledge to deal with “unofficial strikes”; at Wilson’s insistence this was written into the TUC Constitution.

The latest move of this kind is the suggestion by Scanlon of the Engineering Union that if the Government would amend the Industrial Relations Act the way would be open for the TUC to seek agreement with the Government on inflation and wages policy. He expressly disclaimed any intention to challenge Parliament.

More Effective Ways
All of this is a far cry from the idea of a serious General Strike. The purpose of such a strike, as with any other strike, should be to use the stoppage of work to hit the employers financially by stopping the production of wealth and profits. Its method would not be to create chaos by bringing all workers out but to bring out the smallest number that would be effective in the industries where the impact would be greatest. (In the 1926 General Strike the strikers called out to help the miners numbered under 2 million.)

As Marx showed and as experience supports, strikes are most effective when capitalism is expanding, factories are working to capacity and profit prospects are good — for it is at such times that the employers least want to interrupt production and are most likely to make concessions. Indeed, provided that the employers know the threat is a serious one, the concessions may be forthcoming without a strike or with one of very short duration. It was the weakness of the 1926 Strike that government and employers looked at the TUC General Council and decided that the threat was bluff. The same is true of the TUC decision of 5th March, which was so little regarded that it caused hardly a ripple on the Stock Exchange. It would have been very different if the threat had been taken seriously.

The 1926 General Strike has another warning: the absurdity of leaving such matters to the TUC General Council. The TUC General Council (unlike the central body in Denmark, where a General Strike recently took place) is not a trade union, does not engage in the ordinary wage-negotiating functions of a union, and is rather a kind of political organization for the big trade-union supporters of the Labour Party. Action by, say, half a dozen unions, under rank-and-file control, would be the appropriate way.

Careful Decision
The approach of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to strikes has always been based on the facts of capitalism on which our whole principles are framed. Those who control the machinery of government, including the armed forces, dominate society — hence the necessity for a Socialist working class to use the vote to gain that control for the purpose of achieving Socialism. It follows that the employers with their wealth and the backing of the State can always win against strikes if they think the issue important enough. As it was put in the Socialist Standard in April 1919:
   On the economic field the masters are in a far stronger position than the workers and can beat them any time they decide to fight to a finish.
It is for the unions therefore to weigh up carefully at a given time whether the employers will be likely to make concessions in order to prevent production being interrupted. Strikes should not be "on principle” and fought to a finish, but for what in the circumstances appear to be attainable objects.

The "illegality” of strikes is not itself a deciding factor. The unions, in their two hundred years, have often been expressly illegal or outside the law and have often been able to ignore laws which are on the statute book but which employers and the government tacitly allow to be ignored. It is, however, essential for unions when weighing up a situation to decide whether in the particular circumstances the government will actively intervene and decide to carry the fight to a finish against the unions, with their certain defeat.
Edgar Hardcastle 

Pictures of Racism (1982)

Book Review from the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Women under Apartheid, IDAF, 1981.

This book is published by the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa—an organisation opposed to racial oppression—in co-operation with the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid. It consists of some 100 photographs from an exhibition commissioned by the UN. accompanied by a sketchy analysis of apartheid and its manifold consequences chiefly from the perspective of black women, and an account of their bitter and protracted struggle against the system from 1913 onwards.

At the heart of apartheid is the migrant labour system, a consequence of the government’s policy of “separate development”; the territorial division of South Africa into a developed “white” area comprising 87 per cent of the land, and the various tribal homelands or bantustans to which the African 70 per cent of the population belong. Roughly two-thirds of the 9½ million Africans in white South Africa are migrant labourers on annual contracts; the remaining one-third qualify for the right to reside in black townships or “locations” under the stringent conditions laid down in section 10 of the Urban Areas Act.

Influx control is the means whereby the system is maintained, ensuring an adequate supply of cheap labour. Those “economically superfluous” to the requirements of the white area are denied entry or are “re-located” to a homeland called their “country” to which they may never have been before. Indeed, since 1948 over 3 million Africans have been forcibly removed in this fashion and dumped in the homelands, compounding the desperate poverty there.

This basic pattern of black existence applies with particular force to women. More women (6.1m) than men (5.2m) live in the homelands since male migrants cannot take their families with them. As a result broken marriages and desertion are common and it is chiefly the women who bear the cost.

Sexually discriminatory laws deny women any right to land, though government appointed chiefs may allocate them areas for use. With overcrowding and poverty intensifying, increasing numbers of women are being forced off the land and into the migrant labour system. Like the men they are accommodated either in single quarters belonging to their employers or single sex, barrack-like hostels into which they cannot bring husbands, boy-friends or children.

As a group, black women earn considerably less than even the low wages paid to black men. For the most part they work as domestic servants for white women. According to the author Hilda Bernstein, after childbirth “the primary role of a white woman becomes that of consumer and living display, through leisure and adornment, of her husband’s wealth”, and the possession of a domestic or two enables them to fulfil this role.

Black women are discriminated against by residential laws in many ways. For example, the stipulation in the Urban Areas Act that the right to reside in an urban area is dependent on whether one has worked for a single employer in the area continuously for at least ten years, or lived in the area continuously for at least 15 years, works against women who stay with their parents in rural areas for the birth of their babies. Neither can women be registered as tenants in townships or stay in urban areas if widowed or divorced.

Some of the photographs are particularly poignant. An old woman in socks sitting against a wall mending her skirt with gnarled hands; another prostrate on the ground beside her scanty belongings, waiting for a train to some settlement camp. On the other hand, the picture of a crowd of black demonstrators bearing posters “WE STAND BY OUR LEADERS” certainly won't arouse sympathy in any socialist; indeed, one of the failings of movements such as the ANC is its elitist outlook. Apart from anything else, the existence of a hierarchical structure enables the authorities swiftly to immobilise protest by arresting its leaders. A rigorously democratic organisation would be much the stronger for not having to rely on “leaders”.

Finally, the book fails to discuss the sort of society which the struggle against apartheid seeks to bring about. It also tends towards generalisation and exaggeration and serves to obscure understanding of the structure of present society. An example is the statement that “through the apartheid system the wealth and resources are controlled by the ruling white minority”. This is not true. There are black capitalists and impoverished white workers, as well as white capitalists and black workers. Anyone who imagines that changing the colour of the ruling class will make a significant difference to the lot of black workers need look no further than the various despotic regimes of the homelands, such as Matanzima’s Transkei or Sebe’s Ciskei, which flaunt their corrupt opulence in the face of black starvation.
Robin Cox

The Last Word: A tale with two characters and two endings (1997)

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
The Last Word column from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arriving home after a weary day of canvassing for The Extremely Normal Common Sense Party, Mr Cedric Opinion-Poll climbed out of his Ford Average, entered his regulation-size, semi-detached house in Ordinariville, and settled down to read the morning mail. He had left home early for his day as a financial mystifier for Inter-Useless, where he shares a desk with Ernie Smalltalk, a card-carrying non-voter who is tempted by those nice people with their yogic flying, but is ultimately of the view that you just can’t trust any of them.

Straight after work Cedric had thrown himself, with the moderate passion of a non-fanatic, into doing his utmost to return to parliament the same man who had represented Ordinariville East for the past ten years. He had met on the doorstep the usual stimulating responses: “Yes, I’ll be voting for him”; “No, I don’t think I’ll vote for him this time”; “Bugger Off, I’m watching Telly Addicts.” Cedric took all this in his stride. That’s politics, he concluded: everyone is entitled to their own point of view. Cedric himself was a man of no deep enthusiasms— but he knew what he liked, and The Extremely Normal Common Sense Party was for him.

I hope I have told you enough about Cedric to make it clear that he was not a man of extremes. Sometimes he would jest that the one thing he was extreme about was his hatred of extreme views. Stick to the middle ground, he concluded, and you’ll not go far wrong. For example, on the question of Europe Cedric took the view that it was good for Britain to be in, but there was no sense in going too far and all having to speak French. Cedric often found the newspaper editorials arriving at the same views as his.

Had I not seen it with my own eyes I would have thought I was looking at a different man. You see, it so happened that I had reason to call on Cedric recently with a view to borrowing a spanner. The man who came to the door was hardly the Cedric I have described to you.

“The bastards!” he shouted as he saw me, pulling me into his regulation-size living room. Now, it was not Cedric’s habit to use bad language. Something was clearly up. So I said, “What’s up, Ced?”

“The bloody little shits!” he shouted, holding out three envelopes as if about to perform a magic trick. All talk of spanners was off the agenda. Cedric was angry and as he showed me the contents of the three letters it was clear why.

“Nineteen years I’ve worked for the thieving little company. Nineteen lousy years of collecting my average salary and waiting for my nationally-mean pension. I was even invited to the directors’ Christmas party three years ago. And then they send me this. Don’t even have the nerve to tell me to my face. They just send it to me. Downsizing, they call it. Compulsory redundancies. They’re offering me unemployment counselling. I don’t need counselling. I need money. And I need it more than ever now.”

“Why?” I asked, as he thrust the second envelope at me.
“The bloody bank. All right, I admit I got a bit behind on the mortgage. All that money on a private health plan had to come from somewhere. A few months late on the mortgage and . . . “

Nobody likes having their home repossessed. It was enough to lead even Cedric to pour himself an extra-strong shandy—and kick the coffee table.

“So, what’s in the third envelope, Cedric?” I asked, almost as if I were a stooge in a political parable.

“It’s the latest election leaflet. They want me to go out and deliver two thousand this weekend. What a load of crap! ‘Those without jobs need to be given incentives to find new skills . . . every tenant deserves the right to buy their own home . . . ‘ I’m not handing out this old tripe. I don’t want a bloody job, anyway. I want work which is useful. Why spend my life making profits for a crowd of thieving directors who never lift a finger to produce anything. And why should I lose my home when there are thousands of empty homes they can’t sell and tens of thousands of building workers who want to build new homes.”

“You know, you’re right, Cedric,” I conceded.

“Am I really right?” asked Cedric, calming down and muttering, “Perhaps I’d be better off going down the Job Centre and seeing if they can find me a new job. Even if the salary’s lower, it would be something. And I suppose a house isn’t everything. As a matter of fact, a couple of rented rooms for me, Sheila and the nippers would certainly save on electricity. And I can always forget about that private health plan. The main thing is to get our man elected; he’ll see that these sort of problems are knocked on the head once and for all.”

It was then that I knocked Cedric over the head with his spanner. He fell unconscious: the perfect citizen of capitalism.
Steve Coleman

The Difference. (1915)

From the May 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “Daily News and Leader” (24.4.15) quotes the following from a German Conservative organ, the "Post":
  “The reform of our domestic policy will mainly depend upon whether a fruitful co-operation between the Government and the non-Socialist parties, on the one hand, and the Socialists, on the other, is possible. This, in its turn, will depend upon whether Social Democracy will finally abjure the class war and its aims. The Leibneckt Ledebonr group is ruled out in advance. It remain unchanged. Hence it deserves, after the war, to be treated in the same way as it was treated before—and preferably in accordance with Bismarckian methods. It is different with the majority of the Socialists, whose representatives in Parliament have voted for the war credits and the Budget. But even so, their future conduct is uncertain and one must wait and see."
“It is different with the majority of the Socialists.” As we have endeavoured to show all along, the parties in this country claiming to be Socialist while not organised on the basis of the class war (the I.L.P., B.S.P., and the like), only practise fraud when they impose such a claim on the working class. The latter accept their statements too freely; they evidently think it does not matter much either way. The capitalists, however, are better instructed and know how to discriminate between the genuine and the spurious, as we see from the above. In this connection an anecdote illustrating [the same point was told in “Reynolds's" of August 30th last. The Kaiser for some time before the outbreak of the war had been endeavouring to conciliate German Socialists. While travelling in Switzerland his train was conducted by a well known Socialist representative of the Cantonal Labour Party. The Emperor bad a long chat with the guard. It is said that he afterwards overheard some of his entourage commenting on his having received the Socialist, and that he replied : “One must distinguish between what a man is and what he chooses to confess. My son also will come to that conclusion when be is older.”

The nature of the “Socialist” organisations on the Continent is easily seen from the decisions of the "Confidential Session” of the Austrian and German "Socialists" held at Vienna in the week ending April 17th. What could be more childish, for instance, than their demand for the “ transformation of the courts of international arbitration into compulsory institutions for the solution of all conflicts between the different States"? There can be no compulsion at all without either the display or the exercise of physical force, and if the capitalists of every country could trust each other sufficiently to set up such a force for the purpose of keeping the peace, they could quite conceivably employ the simpler and lees expensive method of the arbitration court.

The demand of the Session for “international limitation of armaments by treaties, with general disarmament in view" is equally unattainable for similar reasons. While national groups of capitalists dictate the national policy, the nations will always be at loggerheads over markets. The friction and mistrust between these groups will not permit them to disband, the tendency being rather in the direction of greater friction as the backward nations enter into keener competition for a share in the world's market. Quarrels may possibly become lees frequent with the advent and progress of a genuine Socialist party in each country. But such a party will certainly not follow the example of the International or the “Confidential Session" and make itself ridiculous by demanding disarmament. It will know why armed forces are maintained.
  "Furthermore, the representatives of the Social Democratic parties of Germany, Austria, and Hungary declare: The fact that the Socialist parties of the belligerent countries are defending their country and their people must not constitute an obstacle to the maintenance of international relations among the Socialist parties and the continued working of their international institutions."
In other words, the German and Austrian "Socialists” plead for reconciliation with the labour decoys of other countries after the war, it being impossible to meet while the conflict is on, “less on account," as Mr. Bruce Glasier says, "of the difficulty of getting together a representative delegation from the belligerent countries than from the fear lest national animosity should burst forth in the congress, and the danger of prejudicing the political and military situation."

So little do these so-called Socialists understand the class war and its aims. True, the International sometimes passes pious resolutions about the “tried and victorious policy based on the class war,” but in the main their deliberations are confined to such impossible demands as have been quoted above, and to capitalist reforms, most of which are already in operation in one country or another, or are advocated by the Liberals or Tories themselves—which is sufficient in itself to condemn them as harmful to the working class.

The difference between the Socialist and the anti-Socialist is just that emphasised by the “Post” Stated clearly, the Socialist is one who takes up the prosecution of the class war to its final aim: the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. He who, claiming to be a Socialist abjures this, is therefore no Socialist and of necessity must be anti Socialist
F. Foan

Obituary: Albert Grayson (1996)

Obituary from the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Albert Grayson joined the SPGB in 1953 and was active in the Manchester area, supporting meetings, selling literature at outdoor meetings and demonstrations, and patiently explaining the party's case wherever he went. He did not seek the limelight, but will be remembered by Manchester members of that time for his reliable and steadfast support at all party activities.

In 1971 he left to live in New Zealand where he joined the SPNZ and became an active member of the Wellington Branch.

Albert will be remembered as a loving father and grandfather, a good friend, and a comrade.

The Material and the Tangible (1996)

Theatre Review from the January 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Park by Botho Strauss. The Pit Theatre, Barbican Complex.

The engine of modern capitalism is commodity production. Goods are produced and services made available because it is profitable to do so. “Things” are a potential source of profit with the result that capitalism elevates the material and the tangible to positions of exclusive supremacy. That which is measurable and which has currency in dollars, marks and pounds, etc. is—by definition—more important than attributes and experiences which are not so quantifiable.

Capitalism is disconcerted by beauty, truth, dignity, generosity of spirit and so on, because these are intangible and elusive. You may have to pay ten pounds to buy a record of a Mozart symphony and perhaps a million times that amount for a landscape paining by Renoir, but in neither case does the cost reflect the beauty sublimed in the experience of listening to the music or looking at the painting. On the contrary it is the scarcity of the two artefacts which is crucial. If only one record of a Mozart symphony was available but several million paintings by Renoir existed, we would expect the prices of the record and the paintings to reflect these facts. Capitalist economics might now make the record a million times more expensive than any one of the paintings. To paraphrase Marx: in capitalist society their price is related to scarcity and not to intrinsic value.

What value can be attached to a Mozart symphony, a Renoir painting, the exhilaration of a sunny day in May, a mother’s love, a teacher’s power to enthuse, the integrity and conviction of a stunning piece of acting, the sense of being a respected member of a team, congeniality, generosity and fraternity? Capitalist economics has nothing to say about such matters. It is as though they were part of another world—a nether world remote from the “real” world of buying and selling and the market. Because they are not the subject of commodity exchange they are—in capitalism’s terms— capricious and unimportant, insubstantial and trivial. Yet for most people they are the essence of what makes life worthwhile.

I was reminded of such matters by Botho Strauss’s play The Park, which is loosely based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Park is an enigmatic, often confusing, play. It is made the more inscrutable because Strauss also makes reference to a Greek mythology and the story of Pasephae who, like Titania in A Midsummer’s Night's Dream, falls in love with an animal, and then (unlike Titania) she and her half-man/ half-bull offspring, the Minotaur, are hidden by her enraged husband in the Labyrinth. Perhaps Strauss is drawing deliberate parallels and for this reason the story is also labyrinthine? But whatever, it would certainly help people who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s play if they read a digest of the story before viewing Strauss’s play.

Oberon and Titania appear in The Park as flashers: Shakespeare’s lovers are a pair of ill-matched, mean-minded bourgeois couple; Puck is a latter-day artist intent on making a killing: the fairies are homeless punks, and the mechanicals rapacious businessmen. But if the story line is enigmatic, it is very clear what Strauss is saying. A society obsessed with markets, with buying and selling, with profits before all else, transforms humankind, and in doing turns potentially creative, altruistic and sociable people into materialistic monsters.

C. Wright Mills, the American sociologist, suggested that a key question to ask about any society is: "What varieties of men and women now prevail in this society and this period? . . .  In what ways are they selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted?" (C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination). In this dense, complex, often funny and always interesting play it is very clear what kind of people Strauss sees as being "formed" in western capitalist society and. by implication, the revolutionary potential that exists for a different kind of society people by different kinds of human beings. The Park is exhilaratingly staged in the enveloping intimacy of The Pit. If the last few minutes are especially inscrutable the play is presented with such great skill and panache that these last moments did not spoil what for me was a splendidly iconoclastic evening.
Michael Gill