Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shrapnel Splinters (1915)

From the August 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dilly, Dilly, come and be killed.

Why are all the labour crooks visiting “the front"?

Is it merely to run round telling us what a picnic it is?

War is hell — Capitalism is war — therefore, Capitalism is hell.

When are “we" going to dig the German Fleet out "like rats"?

Why has the gas-bag hero of Sydney-st. been so quiet lately ; is he waiting for it to come off?

When Mr. Churchill said : “There are worse things than bloodshed," had he a prophetic vision of losing his job?

Now that the value of physically fit men (such as shunters) has risen so, are we within sight of the adoption of automatic couplings?

Who are our merchant seamen most grateful to — the man who lowered the Plimsoll line “with a stroke of the pen," or the men who raise it with a torpedo?

Which is the easier death, to be “gassed" in a bleaching-powder factory, or "gassed" in the trenches? St. Helens chemical workers want to know.

Is it true that the miners who have enlisted don’t like trench warfare because it presents no change from the features of death by gas, explosion, fire, and earthfall of their trade?

What is to become of the mangel crop now that those patriots who cannot pull a trigger in the trenches have been frustrated in their noble endeavour to commence operations on the moors on the 5th instead of on the 12th?

“The enemy in their victors’ march know not what they are doing. Let them beware, for they are unshackling Russia."- (LI. George at Bangor, Aug. 5th, 1915.)

May we, then, be permitted to say ‘hock!" to those who are about to unshackle Russia?

"If right is worsted in this conflict civilisation will be put back for generations."- (Same speaker, same time, same place.)

May we, then, be permitted to assume that it is wrong that is unshackling Russia, and right, in the persons of Russian autocracy and its noble allies, that is preventing it from doing so? Or is the solution lo the riddle this—that Russia unshackled is civilisation put back?

The .lohnson-Jeffries fight was banned from the Cinema halls, but the Willard-Johnson fight was not. Is this change of policy due to the discovery both in France and England that the man of colour is morally fit to fight the white man (and therefore to give him a hiding) or to the fact that in the first case the black man won, while in the second case he lost? I only want to know where we stand on the colour question.
Bill Bailey



Is Martyrdom the Test of Truth? (1926)

From the March 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

Amongst the ideas which pass for argument with the Communists is the notion that their party is right because their leaders are imprisoned.

If this idea was sound, we should follow the crowd of various speakers and writers who have suffered imprisonment. Pacifists and Suffragettes, Anarchists and Syndicalists, and Reformers of every shade who at one time or another have been imprisoned.

If this policy were correct, the terrorists, nihilists, Social Revolutionaries, Menshevists, are the best parties to follow because they have suffered imprisonment and death in larger numbers than the Bolsheviks. In fact, the opponents of Lenin in Russia used that very argument. They claimed their parties had suffered untold tortures and exile under Czarism and therefore claimed they were most feared by the despots. Look again at the Anarchists and other propagandists of deed. Have they not been hounded and imprisoned the world over, from Kropotkin to Emma Goldman? Why not support them on that account ? The Industrial Workers of the World in the United States have been jailed and brutally beaten in great numbers. Did that stop the Communist International from declaring them reactionary? Did it stop the Communists in America opposing them outside and breaking them up from within?

This line of shallow reasoning so common with Communists now, is an example of their general shallowness. One minute they want to be with the masses, the next minute they “glory” in being picked out from among them and imprisoned.

But their cry of martyrdom is a thin cry. Their policy naturally invited prosecution in the same way as the reactionary policy of sabotage advocacy did years ago. It was likely to be a nuisance to the Capitalists or at least some Capitalists thought so.

The Communists differed in no way from similar elements in trying to get off. From an array of counsel to pleading they were out for higher wages, shorter hours, etc., and to seeking to put their theses in the background—these attempts to escape imprisonment take the edge off their cry of martyrdom.

It is not for us, however, to let the Capitalists choose our party for us. It is for us to examine policies and judge whether such policies will be effective for emancipation. We do not let the brutality of the Capitalists blind us to the futility of the C.P.

From The Eastern Front (1949)

Party News from the November 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

In East Ham South the preliminary shots of the election battle have been fired. All parties contesting are now busy with propaganda meetings and door-to-door canvassing. Unlike the S.P.G.B., however, the canvassers of the other parties are far more concerned with catching votes than spreading information. “Trust us” each of them say in turn, and in less than a month I have been invited to join the Labour, Conservative and Communist Parties. So long as you can write your name you’re in!

In connection with this recruiting campaign, the Labour Party have been parading their M.P., the Rt. Hon. Alfred Barnes, P.C., M.P., round to meetings in various school halls. At the one I attended there were twenty-three faithful followers and three S.P.G.B.-ers. Time was allowed for questions, but apparently not for answers. Upon being asked for a definition of Socialism, Mr. Barnes, recognising the politics of his questioner, said that he wouldn’t give it as we’d only disagree. Really, Mr. Barnes! After further questions we finally challenged him to a public debate. Proudly surveying his enormous audience he informed us that he had no intention of getting an audience for the S.P.G.B.! Could it be that Mr. Barnes has no desire to face a large audience himself?

The Tory rally was again like the vicar’s tea party, complete with pauses for applause at the mention of Churchill and the Empire. Between them, in spite of protests from S.P.G.B.-ers in the hall. Baker White, M.P., and candidate Jordan, referred no less than twenty-seven times to the Labour Party as “Socialists.” Ignorance or dishonesty? Questions were taken in writing and answered with facetiousness. Any attempt to speak from the floor was drowned by the slow claps and jeers of three hundred Tory democrats. While expressing ignorance of the S.P.G.B., Mr. Jordan agreed to debate with us. Whether, in light of his newly gained knowledge, that promise will be fulfilled, remains to be seen.

Last, and least, the Communist Party, who not so very long ago were urging the workers of East Ham to support the Labour Party, have entered the arena by giving their candidate’s life story to the local press. He is a local man; he is married; he has so many children; he is a lighterman; he is an expert on inland waterways. I wonder what it is all supposed to prove? They hold Saturday evening meetings at which S.P.G.B.-ers are especially unwelcome. A challenge to debate three or four years back earned us the title of "social fascists,” and a challenge made earlier this year was discreetly ignored. No doubt they remember Hornsey Town Hall.

So far as our own campaign is concerned, satisfactory progress can be reported. The door-to-door canvassing which began in January, has so far resulted in one hundred regular readers of the STANDARD, as well as well over ten pounds’ worth of pamphlets sold. Our difficulty now is keeping up with the “call backs” and offers from Tottenham and Wood Green Branch to open up new territory have been gratefully accepted.

Our outdoor venue at the Cock Hotel on Sunday evenings proved itself unsatisfactory, due to the local rowdies, both adolescent and adult, so we have moved to Heigham Road opposite East Ham Station. Audiences of more than a hundred, intelligent questions and good literature sales have caused both branch and visiting speakers to express satisfaction with the new station. At the other end of the constituency the new mid-week station at the Boleyn Hotel is showing promising results.

As the election draws nearer, the battle will no doubt intensify. Every house in the borough must be canvassed, every elector made aware of the S.P.G.B. To do this we need YOUR help. If you live within distance of the constituency and are prepared to lend a hand get in touch with the branch secretary or members for specific details..

The more seeds sown now, the greater will be the harvest of conscious working class votes for Socialism. Into battle!
Ronald.

Letters: Clique of Political Gangsters (1997)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Clique of Political Gangsters
Dear Editors,

Writing in the February Socialist Standard ("Militant Dishonesty”), Adam Buick comments: "Imagine what a Trotskyist dictatorship would be like; not too different from a Stalinist one. we would suppose." Very true.

Leon Trotsky was every bit as ruthless as Joseph Stalin. His only problem was that he lost out to Stalin in the inevitable power-struggle following the Bolshevik coup d'état in Russia, in 1917, and was expelled from the country, and ultimately killed in Mexico City by one of Stalin's henchmen.

It should not be forgotten, however, that Trotsky supported the dissolution of the democratically-elected Constituent Assembly on January 6, 1918, because the Bolsheviks were in a minority; that Trotsky, together with Lenin, argued that the trade unions should be subordinated to the government; and. following Trotsky’s appointment as Commissar of Military Affairs, he established the death penalty for disobedience under fire into the Red Army, and restored the saluting of officers, of whom many were former Czarist officers, and other privileges for senior officers. In December 1919 Trotsky submitted his proposal for the "militarisation of Labour"; and on December 27, the Soviet government, with Lenin’s approval, set up their Commission on Labour Duty, with Trotsky. as Commissar for War, as its President. Trotsky stressed that coercion, regimentation and militarisation of labour were not mere emergency measures; but that the Soviet state had the right to coerce any citizen to perform any work, at any time of its choosing. Just as Stalin did, with his forced labour camps, ten years later. In February 1921 strikes broke out in Petrograd and Moscow, after the government had announced that the very meagre bread ration was to be cut by a third. In the Kronstadt naval base, the sailors rebelled; and, on March 5, Trotsky issued an ultimatum, demanding the immediate and unconditional capitulation of the sailors, saying “only those who surrender unconditionally may count on the mercy of the Soviet Republic".

And so on . . .

Had Trotsky won and Stalin lost in their struggle for power, the outcome in the Soviet Union would most certainly have been the same: the emergence of a state-capitalist dictatorship (Lenin admitted that Russia had become a state-capitalist dictatorship even before he died in 1924). ruled by a privileged and parasitic minority of bureaucrats and apparatchiks. Even limited bourgeois democracy was anathema to Leon Trotsky.

And this is the man that the Militant Tendency, now masquerading as the Socialist Party, eulogise. Socialists must confront them, demand to speak in opposition at their meetings (as socialists allow opponents at theirs), and expose them for what they are—an anti-socialist clique of political gangsters. There is no alternative.

Leading members of "Militant/Militant Labour" might well argue that they were unaware of the existence of the Socialist Party. However, Peter Taaffe. editor of Militant since 1964. and now general secretary of their party, has mentioned us, as "Socialist Party" (without the "the") in writing, in his long and turgid tome. The Rise of Militant (Militant publications, London, 1995. Chapter 54. p.544). "Euro-Elections": "Militant Labour and Scottish Militant Labour decided to nominate Tommy Sheridan as a candidate for the European elections in Glasgow . . . He beat the Tories, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Socialist Party, Natural Law Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain” (emphasis mine).

So, there we are.
Peter E. Newell, 
Colchester, 
Essex


What’s in a name?
Dear Editors,

The news that the Trotskyite wing of the Labour Party is to call itself "The Socialist Party" has rightly caused consternation among true Socialists. But then, so many other bodies have adopted similar tactics this century. Even the New Labour Party, under Tony Blair, has many members chaffing at losing their "Socialist” identity.

The trouble is that nowhere in the world is that word “Socialism” recognised in its true meaning, apart from by an insignificant few, who ruffle no political surface anywhere . . . after ninety-two years of intensive propaganda.

The word "Socialism" in its true meaning has always failed to communicate itself, simply causing greater confusion.

Why not shut the door on this useless piece of baggage and let your objectives be your title? For example: “The One World Moneyless Society Party"?

In one stroke confusion is ended. Only true Socialists can follow you down that path. That word is made redundant. It has never served its purpose and has no future.
Sam Levitt
London, NW3

Reply:
We don't agree. While it is true that the word "Socialism" has become distorted this century to mean state capitalism even for most of those who consider themselves socialists, the word still does convey, better than for instance "moneyless society" which suggests a mere economic change, what we stand for: a society where productive resources are commonly, i.e. socially, owned and where people cooperate. i.e. act socially, to produce what is needed. After all, we say that humans are social animals, and what better name for a society where humans can develop their social potential to the full than "socialism".
Editors


Marxian purity?
Dear Editors,

I’ve been generally looking sympathetically at the website of your Canadian counterparts for a few months now, and have finally decided to write to you with some general enquiries vis your organization: some statistical and some theoretical, since what is said in the web-site intrigues me. If I may then, I have some questions to ask:

What are your general political activities? If you’ll forgive me, from the tone of the website you seem to adopt an approach of revolutionary predeterminacy (it will come when it comes) and of Marxian purity, gained at the expense of activity. It sounds like your general support for the abolition of property is your only goal, and that you do not work to oppose (by actions) capitalism as it stands but defer all action to the time of the "inevitable revolution". This rather strikes me as a theoretical purity gained by a loss of effectiveness.

Something that has happened to myself, when arguing for socialism and against vanguardism. is that I have been presented with two arguments: 
  1. That how will it be possible to bring the proletariat round to a revolutionary consciousness without a minority vanguard (and further what use then is such a party as yours?).
  2. That a world-wide revolution is not possible both because of the impossibility of the world-wide proletariat rebelling simultaneously, and further that the capitalist imperialist system has damaged the development of many countries, thus preventing them from having the infrastructure necessary to progress to communism. And I wonder how your party can answer these arguments, because my usual response is to bluff my way out of them, as I can't see a real answer (particularly vis the awakening of revolutionary consciousness of the people).
I would be grateful if you could help my curiosity—thank you.
Bill Martin
Lancashire

Reply:
Our general political activities consist in propagating the idea of socialism. This involves publishing leaflets, pamphlets and a monthly magazine, holding meetings, debating with other groups, contesting elections, all with the aim, at the moment, of spreading a knowledge of what socialism is and of inciting a desire for it. Later, when a majority have come to want socialism, the aim will be to dislodge from power, through democratic political action, the supporters of class privilege and the profit system.

We certainly do not believe in "predeterminacy": that all we have to do is sit around and wait for socialism to come. Capitalism certainly paves the way for socialism, but people make history and it is people who will have to make the transformation from capitalism to socialism. What socialists can— and must—do is accelerate this.

In one sense we who are already socialists are a "vanguard": we have become socialists before the rest. We are certainly a minority. But the question is: how should that minority act? Lenin’s answer (echoed today by the myriad Leninist. Trotskyist. Maoist, etc. groups throughout the world) was that it should seek to lead the workers; this was reinforced by his (mistaken) assumption that the mass of workers were not in fact capable of understanding socialism anyway and was accompanied by advocacy of a rigidly centralised and top-down form of organisation. This is what "vanguardism" generally means and what we mean by it when we denounce it.

The answer we give as to what a socialist minority should do is that socialists should seek to “agitate, educate and organise" workers for socialism. This is based on the assumption that not only can workers understand socialism but that a majority of them must before socialism can be established. It follows from this that seeking to be a leadership cannot advance the cause of socialism, only the spread of socialist knowledge can. It also follows that Socialists should organise themselves, not as an elite general staff, but as an open democratic party, so prefiguring the mass socialist party they expect to emerge and indeed so prefiguring the inevitably democratic nature of a socialist society.

Is the idea of a world-wide revolution realistic? Why not? After all, capitalism is already a world-wide system, in fact it is now more than ever a single world system. Even theorists of capitalism are beginning to recognise this with their talk of "globalisation". They are right. What it means is that if global capitalism is to be replaced it can only be replaced globally, by another global system, world socialism.

It is up to those who think it unlikely that when the idea of (world) socialism catches on it will do so more or less evenly in all parts of the world to explain why they think it will catch on first in some countries before others (and in which). To us, the more realistic supposition is that of an even growth, because conditions are essentially the same everywhere and because socialism is the idea of a world society (and also, of course, because the international socialist movement will be consciously working to try to ensure an even development of socialist ideas).

Capitalist-imperialist development has certainly held back the development of many parts of the world, but remember socialism is not something that is (or could be) established separately in different countries one by one; it is a world system. Like capitalism. When we socialists say that the resources of the world are (more than) sufficient to eliminate world hunger and poverty and provide a decent life for the whole world's population we are talking about productive resources on a world scale.
Editors

The Capitalist Never Learns - Part 2 (1932)

From the August 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard


The Crises of 1929 and 1873 Compared.
For the purpose of comparison with the present, the crisis of 1873 is probably the most interesting of the crises of the nineteenth century. It lasted for six years, from 1873 to 1879, and before it had fun its course its effects had been felt in practically every country in the world. The period before 1873 had been one of enormous expansion everywhere. New developments in communications, due to railways, steamships and the telegraph cable, had opened up new areas, had created a demand for capital equipment of all kinds, and had revolutionised the production of foodstuffs. Immense increase in wealth and business activity resulted from these developments and from the introduction of limited liability, which fostered the founding of companies for every conceivable purpose. European countries, such as Germany and Russia, which had lagged behind in economic development, began to make rapid strides. Loans to Governments and the flotation of private companies enabled machinery, plant, etc., to be imported into developing countries. "Between 1860 and 1876, more than £320 million was raised in the London money market upon foreign Government loan issues. In the same, period half as much again was raised upon the credit of the Governments of India and of other parts of the British Empire. £232 million was paid up in the same years on the shares and debentures of private companies engaged in railway building or other enterprises outside the British Isles.”, (See "The Migration of British Capital,'” by L. H. Jenks. Pub. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1927, page 280.) In every financial centre the values of securities, etc., soared. There seemed to be nothing that could hinder the growth of wealth, and industry and international finance seemed to have entered into the golden age.

Then, in May, 1873, the bubble burst in Vienna. Prices of securities had been run up by speculators on the Vienna Bourse, just as they had been on every other Stock Exchange in the world, and just as they were in Wall Street and elsewhere in the period preceding the crash in October, 1929. Finally, the speculation petered out and security prices tumbled more rapidly than they had risen. The consequence was, to quote Hyndman, “panic, chaos, wild despair, hopeless madness, collapse of confidence, complete crash in business.” These terms are to be heard to-day when the effects of the Wall Street collapse of 1929 and the failure of the Credit Anstalt in Vienna last year are discussed.

The depression soon spread to the neighbouring European States. By September, 1873, America was in the throes of the severest crisis of its history. In U.S.A., from 1869 to 1873, there had been what Hyndman described as a “marvellous boom in West and East alike,” owing to the rapid railway development that had taken place and the opening up of the West. Writing in 1892 of this period, Hyndman uses words which find an echo in the accounts of the boom in America that ended in 1929. He states :—
  Those who have been in the United States at such times know the sensation of general well-being and universal progress which is felt throughout the country. Nowhere is a period of prosperity more suddenly and surely exhibited in the lives of the people . . .  the whole nation thought itself on the full flow of continuous improvement, (p. 108.)
Finally the period of overbuilding of railways and rash financing came to an end. Half the railways fell into the hands of receivers, “banking house after banking house came down, and the New York Stock Exchange was closed, only opening again on 30th September. Great commercial and distributing houses were also obliged to suspend payments: Not a single industry remained unaffected by the collapse. There was a.glut in every department of trade. From a third to a half of the workpeople in the Eastern States were said to be without employment. The number of actual “tramps” during the winters of 1873 and 1874 was placed as high as 3 millions out of a whole population of little over 40 millions. All prices were down and yet goods were unsaleable. Cotton, wheat, wool, lead, iron, steel, leather were all selling from 20 per cent. and more below the prices they had fetched before the crisis” (pp. 116 and 117).

The likeness between the situation in the U.S.A. in 1873, as described by Hyndman in the sentences just quoted, and the situation to-day is sufficiently obvious for further comment to be unnecessary.

The 1873 crisis was not felt so acutely in England as in other countries, but this country did not escape unscathed. To the era of foreign financing that had preceded 1873 succeeded a period of insolvency and defaults. In this respect the history of the years 1927 to 1932 merely repeats that of the crisis half a century ago. In 1873 the bankers announced that the Honduras Government was in default.
   Costa Rica, Santo Domingo and Paraguay defaulted in the same year . . . . To relieve a desperate financial situation in Spain and keep King Amadeus on the throne, bondholders consented to a funding of the portion of the interest then due. There was, in consequence, a, heavy fall in Spanish stock, a 'collapse of credit, the abdication of King Amadeus, civil war and complete default in June, 1873. By this time foreign Government securities were tumbling madly downwards in price. . . .  In November, 1873, the Bank Rate in London was at a minimum of 9 per cent. and the recession in stock prices began slowly to spread into industry and commerce. In the following year all South America became depressed as the currents of capital, which had moved to that region, ceased to flow. Then . . . . the suspension of interest payment by Bolivia, Guatemala, Liberia and Uruguay. Insolvency spread to Turkey, Egypt and Peru." (Jenks, pp. 291 and 292.)
Finally, in 1875, defaults on foreign loans had reached such a point that a House of Commons Committee was set up to inquire into the whole position. The revelations contained in its report find a counterpart in those how being made before an investigating committee sitting in America which is inquiring into the question of foreign lending during the 1927/8 boom.

One other aspect of the 1873 crisis in England is worth referring to, because the same features loom large to-day. The price index in 1873 stood at 111. '
   There now set in a fall which continued without interruption until a low point of 81 was reached  in 1879 . . . . export values fell off dramatically, while quantities could, with difficulty, be increased. But there was more food, and more copper, and more iron and wool for which to pay. Great Britain did it out of the surplus which had formerly been available for foreign investment. For the twenty years ending in 1874, Great Britain had been exporting an average surplus of capital of about £15 million. She had done this in addition to re-investing abroad all of the earnings upon foreign investments already made. These, by the ’seventies, amounted to at least £50 million a year. At this time the surplus capital exports above this ran well over £30 million. Within the space of three years this item of the British balance of payments entirely disappeared and became, in fact, reversed. (Jenks, pp. 332/3.)
Jenks goes on to say that by 1876 Great Britain “could scarcely balance her requirements of food and raw materials with the manufactures she could export and the freights her merchant marine could collect. The export of a capital surplus was over.” He estimates that Great Britain’s capital surplus reached £56 million in 1872, and dwindled to £1½ million by 1876. From then until 1880 there was a deficit each year, amounting to £110 million for the five-year period. The deficit reached its peak of £38 million in 1877. When allowance is made for the expansion in wealth that has taken place since the ’seventies, these figures show that the “adverse balance of payments,” of which we hear so much to-day from economists and politicians, is not in any way remarkable.

Before leaving the 1873 depression, let us see how, at the time, it was explained. A contemporary writer, quoted by W. T. Layton in his “Introduction to the Study of Prices,” stated that the following causes were “generally regarded as having been especially potential ” :—
   “Over-production, ” “the scarcity and appreciation of gold," “restrictions on the free course of commerce,” through protective tariffs on the one hand, and excessive and unnatural competition caused by excessive foreign imports, contingent on the absence of “fair" trade, or protection on the other; heavy national losses occasioned by destructive wars; the continuation of excessive war expenditure; the unproductiveness of foreign loans and investments; excessive speculation and reaction from great inflations; . . . . a general improvidence of the working class.
The above "explanations” of the 1873 depression, which were current at that time, are identical with the popular attempts to explain the present depression. And yet we are told that the present depression is of a kind unknown to the past!

Given the time and the space, every single feature of the present crisis could be shown to have its counterpart in one or other of the crises of the nineteenth century. In 1931 the Bank of England borrowed from the Bank of France in order to protect the exchange value of sterling. It had done the same in 1839 and 1890. (See Andreade’s "History of the Bank of England,” p. 367.) The financial manipulations of Kreuger recall those of Nicholas Biddle in the thirties of last century. (See Jenks, Chap. III.)

Finally, the remedies now proposed are the same as in the past. To-day we are told that if trade is to recover, prices must be raised, and that for this purpose recourse must be had to bi-metallism or to a managed currency, of gold or of paper. These panaceas for our ills are as old as the ills themselves. Bi-metallism was being advocated in 1817. It was resurrected frequently during subsequent crisis, particularly in 1896, when W. J. Bryan, candidate for the American Presidency, made his famous speech in which he declared: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labour this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

In 1817, also, proposals for a gold currency system, under which "money contracts should be ‘corrected' by reference to a price index number,” were put forward by Lowe and Thomas Attwood respectively. (See "Financial Reconstruction in England, 1815-1822,” by A. W. Acworth. Pub. P. S. King & Son, Ltd., 1925, pp. 83-90.) The present schemes of our economists like J. M. Keynes represent little advance on these proposals of more than a century ago. They are of interest as showing how the present crisis lacks even the originality of provoking new proposals for its cure.

The foregoing only touches the fringe of the subject, but it may at least serve as a warning against unquestioning acceptance of the contention almost universally made that the present crisis is not part of the usual trade cycle, but is entirely different in kind from any crisis that has gone before. It may prevent those who stop to consider the matter, from being gulled into the belief that by currency manipulations and international conferences of politicians and business men a new era of permanent prosperity can be ushered in.

One further warning can, perhaps, usefully be given. It is frequently maintained that because commodity prices have fallen, because Governments and companies have defaulted, because investments in securities no longer yield the income they did three years ago and show a shrinkage in market value, and because established firms all over the world have failed, that the wealth of the world has diminished. In fact, the real wealth of the world to-day is greater than it was in 1929. It cannot be measured by the prices of shares and securities on the Stock Exchange. When fundamentals are considered, it is seen to consist in the accumulation of consumable goods and equipment produced by the expenditure of labour in the past, and in the supply of labour available to operate and add to that equipment in the future. Changes in prices of commodities and securities have not reduced this real wealth. This assertion runs so counter to what is usually written and said on the subject, that it may be worth while quoting the view of an economist whose ”orthodoxy” cannot be questioned. Professor T. E. Gregory of London and Manchester Universities, has written :—
  In so far as equipment and human labour continue to produce as fruitfully as before, society, as a whole, suffers no loss even if the market values of the securities representing the nominal value of the productive enterprises of the community undergo a decline, and society, as a whole, gains nothing if these securities rise in value. The real wealth of the U.S.A. was no greater as a result of the phenomenal rise in stock market values in 1928/9 and is no less because of the subsequent decline; for the real wealth of a country consists of the stream of goods and services which can be consumed and not of the nominal value of the securities issued by the enterprises producing these goods and services. (See Outline of Modern Knowledge. Victor Gollancz, Ltd. 1931, page 651.)
That capitalism does not secure a satisfactory distribution of the products of industry at the best of times, and that it imposes aggravated suffering on the workers in its periodical crises of "over-production,” is something that it is beyond the scope of the present article to discuss.
B. S.

The Wages of War. (1915)

Editorial from the February 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

Now that the glamour of glory and the frenzy of patriotism have evaporated somewhat and the east wind of Imperialism is becoming less satisfying, the workers may well pause to consider the serious problem of impending starvation.

The price of food and fuel rises, and the wages bill falls. It is an anxious question, too, for our masters, and one that becomes more serious as the cost of living mounts higher and the volume of jingoism declines.

That our masters will voluntarily deal with the matter only the politically blind will for one moment imagine. The Government will rush to the assistance of the shipping shareholders, who have taken advantage of the crisis more, perhaps, than any others; they will recompense owners for the destruction of their interest producing property, if destroyed by enemy warships; they will stand by the big banks and the vested interest generally; but the workers, hit the hardest because they have no reserve to fall back upon—they get short shrift indeed.

If ever adequate steps be taken to restore the standard of living to the normal, they will not be taken until it is feared that the hungry populace will become dangerous and threaten internal trouble.

With all the optimism of the Press and the glib assurance that “our” food supply is safe while Britain rules the waves the facts point clearly to a period of starvation in store for those who, in the best of times, are always short of the necessaries of life.

The August returns showed a drop in the aggregate of wages of 30.5 per cent., and a further fall of 11.4 percent. was recorded in Sept. October returns a recovery of 6 per cent., while November wages are still 5.5 per cent. higher.

Mr. J. A. Hobson ("Fortnightly Review," 1.1.15) records it as a serious fact that “the aggregate of wages at the end of November stood at 11.4 per cent. less than a year ago” The aggregate of wages is a far more important measure than either the figures of unemployment or the returns of rates of wages in a question of the standard of living, and in conjunction with this serious falling off in the average income of the worker must be taken the enormous increase in the cost of living.

The same writer says:
   "After the sharp rise in the early days of August prices of fool fell until by Sept. 12th they are found to reach a level of about 10 per cent. above July. Since then prices have been again rising, being. at the beginning of December, 17 per cent. higher than the July level in towns and 15 per cent in the country.”
Since then prices have mounted higher and higher, the most conservative figure being given by the “Board of Trade Gazette" (Jan., 1915) as 18 per cent. increase for December over the July (pre-war) prices.

The greater part of the workers' expenditure is upon food, but a large item is fuel. All kinds of fuel have increased in price. According to a circular issued by the South Metropolitan Gas Co., the contractors' charges on the transport of coal is equivalent to an increase of 10s. per ton, and whether your beverage be tea or beer, that too will "cost you more."

To that “third of the population continually on the verge of hunger” the conditions implied by these figures mean privations undreamed of by fair and foolish females who slobber over the horrors of war and help save a parsimonious government's expenditure, and incidentally starve some working girl by sewing shirts for soldiers in the trenches. If the pinch is felt now, while the "war trades” are booming, and the price of bread rises so readily while we are assured that there is more than sufficient wheat gathered and growing to supply the wants of the world, what will happen when the inevitable slump arrives, caused by the slackening in the production of war material and by a real scarcity of the crops to be gathered? The workers of the world will then receive in full measure the reward of war.

A Common Belief (1942)

Film Review from the January 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Well, why not?” With that question in their ears and with the appealing close-up of the old man in their minds, the audience saw the end of the film, "The Common Touch.

I had read only a few hours previously that this film was rather more intelligent than usual, but I doubt if the critic who made that remark saw it in the way that I did. It was a propaganda type of show and was certainly more intelligent than usual in its artful and subtle appeal to the mass of people to believe that all will be well with the world if things are left in the hands of the wiser and more decent type of master.

The film finished where the crooked director of a firm of builders had been caught trying to put a fast one over the owner of a doss-house. The brave, clean, young hero, son and heir to the late head of the firm and now its chief, promised, in a letter to the habitués of the doss-house, to find alternative accommodation for them while the old building was to be demolished. The new building, when erected, would contain some of the things that they now needed, but the atmosphere would remain the same. Titch, the odd-job man of the place, turned to the old man and asked, ” Do they mean it?” The old man replied, ”They mean it this time,” which caused Titch to exclaim that it would be heaven on earth, and the old man closed with, "Well, why not?” and I felt that the audience thought likewise, that it was meant this time, as also were the promises of better world this time after the present trouble is finished.

In so far as the film implied that the distress of these wretches was aggravated by the crookedness and selfishness on the part of some of the rich, and that it could be lessened by intelligent, understanding action by the "decent” ones of the upper class, the film was largely true. But we could not expect the film to show that the poverty and hardship was caused by the same system of society that made the rich possible, and that all the understanding and intelligence and goodness on the part of these rich could not abolish this wretchedness. Nor could we expect the film to show directly that in such a society as we now have there will always be plenty of causes and room for such crookedness, and that as fast as one evil had been dealt with more would arise.

Moreover, in practice there is nothing to determine that the enlightened rich could have their own way even if they did desire to make the workers’ lot any easier; it is just as likely that all their work would be lost in trying to get their ideas adopted by the other members of their class, and while such a hypothetical position lasted the workers’ troubles would continue, and supposing that the “decent ” ones were defeated, what then?

As all Socialists know, the only people who can alter the society in such a way as to remove the causes of poverty, not merely to lessen it, but to remove it once and for all, and with this the cause of war in the world, are the workers. They will do this as quickly as they understand the basis of the system of the society in which they live. It is therefore incumbent upon Socialists to spread this understanding, and anything short of this is a waste of time, which soon leads to a waste of lives, by malnutrition (a euphemism for slow starvation), and sooner or later, by war.
S. C. Greenwood

Political Notes: Unhappy Birthday (1982)

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

Unhappy Birthday
May 10 this year was for some the first birthday of socialism in France. It was on this day last year that Francois Mitterand was elected President. He has not stood, and does not stand, for socialism and of course even if he did decide to support the idea of common ownership he would be incapable alone, or with the help of his fellow government ministers, of introducing such a system.

As it is, capitalism has ground on during the past twelve months under the diligent administration of the “socialist” government. When Mitterand won the election there was some anxiety that dramatic social change was on its way and a revolutionary new system was to be introduced. Those who were anxious soon had their worries quelled as it became evident that the real goal of the new government was to re-organise the poverty of the working class, and to oil the machinery of the profit system, in order that it might operate more smoothly.

Minimum wages and family allowances rose by 25 per cent and pensions by as much as 50 per cent, but prices were running high, taxes and social charges were raised steeply and wage-earners suffered a special surcharge to help fill the widening gap in the social insecurity budget. Unemployment, which Mitterrand vowed would never reach two million, passed that figure last October: and as the government wrestles with the problem of running a system of exploitation while making pious remarks about socialism, its inability to deliver the goods it promised becomes more apparent.

Among the reforms that have been introduced by the government was the abolition of the guillotine. As the rich get richer while the poor remain poor, and with mounting discontent in the working class in France, perhaps that reform was one of the more cynical proposals of the regime.


Good Idea
In a recent interview Tony Benn was asked the question: “Would-be socialists are worried that we don’t see a socialist country anywhere in the world that is working perfectly. Does that worry you?” His reply was as follows:
  We’re not looking for perfection, are we? Can you name one capitalist country that is working well? If you want to see where socialism is, it’s in a comprehensive school and in the Health Service where people are dealt with without regard to their wealth.
 (New Musical Express, 1 May 1982.) 
With these beliefs, Benn could probably be accepted tomorrow for membership of the Liberal Party. Comprehensive schools and the National Health Service are badly-equipped, second-rate services run on the basis of skimping and making the best of a bad job. They were designed to be cheap methods of conditioning working-class children for a life of political conformity, adequately (but no more than that) preparing us for lives of wage-slavery and providing a “patch ’em up and send ’em back to work” service for when injury or illness befall us.

Meanwhile members of the ruling class pay huge sums of money to have their children properly educated for the lives of idleness and leisure that they are to lead, and there is no trace of the NHS queues, inadequate apparatus, or brusque treatment to be found in the exclusive private hospitals.

Tony Benn’s interviewer was almost right. In fact there is no socialist country in the world working perfectly or imperfectly. At present socialism is only an idea: but remember that all products of mankind whether technical devices, like the typewriter, or social arrangements, like the trade union were ideas before they were put into practice.


Economic Crime
The Deputy Fisheries Minister thought he was on to a good thing when he found he could arrange the export of caviar marked as herring. The buyer abroad paid the lower herring price then sold the caviar at an enormous profit which was split with the Minister.

But all good things come to an end and the Minister was found out. This was especially nasty for him because he was a Deputy Minister in the Russian government and as his was an “economic” crime there could be only one outcome. He was shot.

The episode was reported in a long article, by the Russian Chief Prosecutor, in a recent issue of Pravda, which was heavy with dire warnings of the consequences for any more economic criminals. In fact such offences—bribery, embezzlement, currency fiddles are said to be increasing in Russia. Recently, for example, the mayor of a South Georgia town was executed after making about £100,000 in bribes in exchange for illegally allocating apartments to his “clients". The Chief Prosecutor storms that such offences are costing the Russian state millions of roubles every year: “No clemency should be shown” he warns.

Clearly, it is necessary to ask one or two questions. If, as is claimed, Russia is a “socialist” country in which everyone stands equally, how can a person commit, and benefit from, an “economic” crime? How can such crimes exist? How can bribery be effective unless there is an inequality of access to necessary things like food and housing? How can caviar be sold as herring unless there is a caviar- eating class and a herring-eating one? Is it not proved, by such evidence, that there is in Russia a privileged class and therefore an unprivileged one?

There are no two ways of answering these questions. Apart from the fact that socialism cannot exist except as a worldwide system, all the evidence supports the case that Russia is an unexceptional capitalist state. This means that we will find there all the elements of class privilege, with the unpleasant, conditioned behaviour which goes with it.

The Future is Socialism (1976)

From the May 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

The socialist view of the future, our objective, is of the worldwide community having common ownership and democratic control of the earth and all of its resources. Common ownership of the machinery for production and distribution will make human need the sole motive for production. And because it will be the social intention those needs will be fulfilled to the very best of human ability. Problems will be tackled by the direct application of human skills to available materials unfettered by financial considerations.

It is not within our power to give details of how Socialist society will arrange its daily affairs. However we can show the broad scope of possibilities for human development when production is for use and people, without exception, have free access to what they require from what is socially produced. Socialism is not just about providing basic needs it is essentially a “whole life” concept.

A world community of common ownership and production for use will have quite different productive requirements to those of capitalist society, where the labour of the many is directed to the profit of the few. Gone for example will be the industries and activities concerned with war preparedness, the protection of private property, with buying and selling and the realization of profit. Nor will there be the waste of needless duplication of effort associated with commercial competition. It is likely that individuals will need to spend a comparatively small amount of time contributing to socially necessary work. Individuals will decide the nature of their own contribution.

Work will not bear any resemblance to employment now. There need not be a division between work and leisure. When Henry Moore, the sculptor, was asked a question about the likelihood of his retirement his reply was, that if work was not the one great thing in man’s life he did not see how he could perform the best that he was capable of. In contrast many people now mentally “switch off" and enter a fantasy world while at work.

In Socialist society work that is necessary and tedious or dangerous will be done by machinery, and in any case shared. Though where the only consideration is to produce the best that is possible some work that is now highly mechanized, e.g. in agriculture, may more effectively be carried out with the minimum of machinery.

There is no reason to project the existing division of occupational interests into Socialism. No one need be committed to one job for life! We will not be Dockers, Miners, Entertainers, Administrators etc. but human beings who will co-operate to work in the ways best suited to their own, and society’s, interest. Different kinds of work will have equal status. Those engaged in administration (“of things”) or acting as delegates will simply be making a necessary contribution to the well being of society. Even if there were any motive for them to act in an anti-social way they would be subject to the democratic control of those who appointed them. The needs of society will not be decided by miners, bakers etc. but by the community as a whole. In practice some decisions will have to be made on a world-wide basis, for example the co-ordination of food production, while others will be local. Any suggestion that workers acting in Unions or workers’ Councils should control society misunderstands the whole concept of Socialism. The category of workers will not exist.

The manner in which Socialist society will operate is inseparable from the means to obtain it. It could not be run without the conscious participation of its members. Such a system cannot be given like a present by leaders, however well intentioned. Nor can it arrive by accident, as it were, while workers are engaged in industrial strife. The great majority of the working class must come to the realization that it is the combined efforts of their class which runs capitalism, albeit in the interest of the capitalist minority. When they have acquired this mass understanding they will change society, not by downing tools but by taking positive political action to convert the means for production to the common property of all mankind.

Our enthusiasm for the Socialist future may appear to give a rosy picture, particularly when compared to the nightmare that is capitalism. We do not in fact claim perfection, only the infinite advantage of a social system geared to human need.
Pat Deutz

"We are all Socialists Now" (1933)

From the December 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is more than 40 years since the late Sir William Harcourt made his jocular remark in the House of Commons, a remark which Sir John Simon repeated the other day. During that 40 years the political scene appears at first glance to have been changed almost out of recognition. The old issues in the forefront of party controversies have given place to new ones. The names of parties have changed. At that time there was no Labour Party and no National Government. Labour Governments were hardly dreamed of. The world had not yet been made safe for Fascism by a war to defend democracy. For every person who then called himself a Socialist, there must be a hundred now; and those who would seriously admit being prepared to support what they regard as Socialistic and semi-Socialistic measures must have been multiplied a thousandfold.

Yet when we look below the surface what kind of foundation do we discover for all this talk ? Much as we would have liked to say otherwise, we cannot escape the admission that there is all but no foundation at all. When the Morning Post, in an unusually discerning editorial (“Is Capitalism Dying?” November 16th), chides Mussolini for his statement that capitalism is tottering, the Morning Post is right and Mussolini is wrong.

As the Morning Post justly points out, Laissez-faire, the early unregulated period of capitalism, has been largely done away with, but the surface changes of the past 100 years “have left intact the essential foundations of capitalism as generally understood, which are the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and private, initiative in economic enterprise.”

When, therefore, Harcourt and Simon, Hitler and Henderson claim that they are Socialists, we reply that they are nothing of the kind.

They are not all Socialists now. Sir William Harcourt’s death duties were not Socialism or Socialistic. Sir John Simon is not a Socialist. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald is not and never was a Socialist. Nor is Henderson. Nor are the parties represented by these men. Our institutions are not Socialistic. The Post Office is not Socialism. Nor are the municipal trams and water works and gas works. Nor is Mr. Herbert Morrison’s London Passenger Transport Board, in spite of his description of it as the typical modern form of Socialisation. We live in a capitalistic world, capitalistic through and through.

Lest it be said that we are avoiding the real issue, the alleged building up of Socialism in Russia, let us examine that claim also.

We are told by enthusiasts for everything Russian that a new non-capitalist world is there coming to birth. That never before and in no other place could be found such a multiplicity of successful State enterprises, such rapid social progress raising millions of people from a lower to a higher stage of development.

To all of which the answer is that it is not true. That industrial progress is being made in Russia is not disputed, but that progress is not unique or original, and it is not Socialism or directly in the path towards Socialism.

Let us make a rapid world tour in order to test the Russian claims by comparison with other countries. Russia has State enterprises of one kind or another. Is this original? England has State posts, telegraphs and telephones,, financed by huge interest-bearing loans just like the Russian State enterprises. Probably the majority of countries have either State railways and State ports and telegraphs or both. Australia has experimented at length in a large variety of State enterprises, including State shipping, State railways, State clothing factories, State banks, State woollen mills, State batteries. Prussia has had State iron mines, potash and salt mines. Many countries have had State forests, including Czarist Russia, which also had State coal mines.

At the present moment the Canton Government is setting up State factories for cottons and woollens, and the Government of the Dutch East Indies is also intending to go into cotton manufacture. Roosevelt is trying to encourage municipal enterprise of many kinds in U.S.A.

Has Russia been able to show a great increase in the amount of industrial production during recent years? So have Turkey, Latvia, India, and half a dozen countries in Europe and the East. Has this growth in Russia taken place under the control and with the direct encouragement of the State?—so it has in many other countries. Long before the war, India complained that Japanese exporters were able to undersell in India owing to the help and encouragement given by the Japanese Government to industry. Japan tried out the idea of State factories as a means of speeding up industrial development many years before the Bolsheviks thought of it. Thus in 1912 the British Consular Report (No. 5161, annual series) reported that the Japanese Government steel works had an output of 180,000 tons, “but with their new extensions they will soon be in a position to produce some 300,000 tons.” (See “The State in Business,” Emil Davies, p. 60.)

Between 1908 and 1918 the number of industrial establishments in Japan showed the startling increase of about 96.6 per cent (See Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12th edition, vol. xxxi, p. 644). Thus in 10 years the number of factories had been doubled.

It is interesting to notice, however, that although the Japanese Government led the way by means of State factories and State encouragement of industry, when private factories had found how to fend for themselves the State factories were allowed to go. Thus between 1908 and 1918 the number of Government factories fell from 196 to 161. (They employed over 150,000 men and women in 1918.)

Has Russia got rid of a monarch and established a dictatorship? So have Turkey, Poland, Germany, and Austria.

Did Russia break up the big estates and hand over the land to the peasants ? So have territories which were formerly Russian, and are now independent (e.g., Latvia), and also neighbouring countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Has Russia seen great social changes? So has Turkey. Turkish industry has made considerable strides in the past 10 years, and further development of industry is planned, partly under Government auspices (textiles, for example). In a period of a few years, 2,200 new factories have been built, and 1,200 miles of railways.

Turkish women, like their Russian neighbours, are now entering more and more into all kinds of public activities. They are now allowed to vote in village elections and to become town councillors, magistrates, doctors, civil servants, etc.

One great change carried out in Turkey has been the abolition of the Arabic alphabet and the use in its place of a latinised alphabet more suited to the needs of commerce.

The upshot of all this is that the changes brought about in Russia are not Socialistic, but part of the general development of the backward nations towards industrialisation and commercialism. With the changes at the base, the social superstructure, religion, political systems, the law and social conventions have also changed in greater or less degree.

The world has changed and is changing, but not yet towards Socialism. “We are all Capitalist now” is becoming day by day a more accurate description of the social system from Moscow to Buenos Aires, and from pole to pole.

The Fascist nations are, of course, no exception. Mussolini claims that his plans of a "corporative State ” are not State capitalism, but something new and different, but the claim is no better founded than the claims of Hitler and Stalin, that they are introducing Socialism., The chief thing to observe about Mussolini is that his “corporative State” is still entirely on paper. After 11 years, the “man of action,” who was put into office on the slogan of clearing out the mere talkers, now writes in the Morning Post (November 6th) soft-peddling on action like any other politician who racks his brains for new excuses for doing nothing to give to his impatient supporters. He has discovered that “Fascism has amply demonstrated that, in economic matters, it is necessary to act by degrees. .. . . Many situations have ripened and many minds have opened themselves to the new necessities.” .

After 11 years of dictatorial power, the “man of action" tells us we must "act by degrees"— and the action, the formation of the guilds, has for all practical purposes not yet begun.

The "man of action" turns out to be a Fabian, an apostle of gradualism.

No, we are not all Socialists now. The number of Socialists is still very very small, and the essential problem still remains before us. State capitalism, municipal enterprise, public utility corporations, "corporative guilds," and all the rest of the forms of capitalism have got to be cleared away before Socialism becomes a reality.
Edgar Hardcastle

Men of Property (1982)

Book Review from the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain Since the Industrial Revolution, by W. D. Rubinstein (Croom Helm, 1981).

Who are the capitalists? Are there any left? Have they been replaced by the big impersonal corporations? These are some of the questions dealt with in Men of Property, an academic study mainly based on official probate and income tax statistics.

On the first question the author supplies detailed identifications and wealth statistics dating from the early nineteenth century. On the second and third question, while pointing to the disappearance of the old “larger-than-life millionaire”, he notes the rise of a “smaller, less exalted millionaire”, the wealthiest of which species are “possessed of fortunes whose size, in absolute and even relative terms, far exceed anything in the past”.

The exact amount of wealth owned by these individuals however, is, as Rubinstein points out, hard to assess. He mentions the Duke of Westminster’s estimated £4,000m, the Pilkington glass family’s probable £200m or so, Lord Cowdray of petroleum and engineering with about £150m, property developer Harry Hyams’ likely £50m and many more examples. The precise figures he is able to give relate to wealth actually left at death. These show that between 1970 and 1979, after tax avoidance, shipowner Sir John Ellerman left £52m, Count Antoine Edward Seilern, an Austrian with an estate in Britain, left £31m, property developer Felix D. Fenston left over £12m, landowner Thomas 10th Earl Fitzwilliam left £11½m, and six other wealth holders left £5m or more.

If the number of such wealthy individuals as a proportion of the total population is small, the percentage amount of wealth they own is not. Rubinstein does not go into detail on this particular point but he does refer us to sources that give the full figures, in particular A. B. Atkinson’s The Distribution of Wealth in Britain (Cambridge, 1978) which estimates that in the early seventies the richest 1 per cent of the population owned 30-33 per cent of the total personal wealth, 5 per cent owned 52-57 per cent, 10 per cent owned 66-69 per cent and the poorest 80 per cent owned about 15 percent. These figures closely parallel those produced in 1980 by the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth which found the top 1 per cent owning 25 per cent, the top 5 per cent owning 46 per cent, the top 10 per cent owning 60 per cent and the bottom 80 per cent owning 23 per cent.

Finally it has to be said, for the author does not say it, that the personal fortunes discussed in this book and the power and privilege that go with them all stem from a common source—unpaid labour. The vast majority of the population—the wage and salary earners—receive as payment for their work less than the value of what they produce, the surplus going to their employer-exploiter. This is how capitalism works and why, under it, we will always have a small minority monopolising most of the wealth and the large minority—the real wealth—creators having to live as best they can on what remains.
Howard Moss

Running Commentary: Back to the Front (1982)

The Running Commentary column from the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Back to the Front
Racialist propaganda does not come exclusively from forthright racialist outfits like the National Front. A far more menacing and insidious variety often comes from “respectable” sources and for that reason is not always recognised for what it is. During the trial, last month, of the editor of Bulldog, the Young National Front magazine, for publishing articles which were likely to incite racial hatred, some interesting information was revealed.

The articles in question included phrases urging the “white” population in Britain to “drive the immigrant invaders out of the country” and put an end to the British way of life being “swamped”. The editor was being prosecuted under the Public Order Act, 1936 for making “threatening, abusive and insulting” comments. A surprise was in store for some when David Martin-Sperry, defending the Bulldog editor, rose to inform the court that the comments should be regarded as acceptable as they had been lifted, hardly altered, from the national press.

Martin-Sperry read out original versions of some of the articles which had appeared in the Daily Express, and then went on to say to the jury, “And don’t be put off by words like ‘swamp’. They’ve been used by the Prime Minister”. He later attempted to claim further credibility for the general policies advocated in Bulldog by pointing out that other political parties shared its belief in the need for import controls and immigration control. We wonder whether members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which has promoted both of these policies, will rally to the support of the fascists and give evidence to the English courts on the worthiness of such political measures?


Vive le Socialisme
If you believe the news bulletins and the papers then you will consider socialism to exist in France. How you would square your belief with various items of news from that country, we cannot be sure.

One person who probably isn’t all that bothered what political labels you attach to the French society is Marcel Dassault. He is usually known as France’s “most active capitalist”, and looking at some of his more recent exploits you can see why. Dassault, reputed to be the richest man in France, has just gone into partnership with a state company, after buying a 20 per cent share in Europe One, the continent’s largest commercial radio station, which is effectively controlled by a French state company.

Described on the French bourse as “the biggest share deal of the century”, Dassault will be hoping that his new investment, which carries with it interests in Tele-Monte-Carlo, several publications and a record company, will greatly boost his already gigantic unearned income.

If Marcel laughs himself into a fit when he hears people talking about socialism in France, then so must Yvon Gattaz, the new leader of the French Bosses Council. He has just concluded a deal with President Mitterand and the French unions and announced that he was pleased to find “that employers’ aims were the same as those of the government”. The most important feature of the trilateral agreement was that the unions had agreed to moderation in all their wage claims. Although the shared aims of the bosses and government were not explicitly stated a critical observer might describe the situation as ‘screwing the workers for the maximum profit’.

Before we leave France, just a couple of comments worth noting from Bernard Brune, the Minister for Social Affairs. Speaking about his new plans to fight climbing unemployment Brune said: “If all works well we shall have fulfilled our promise to keep unemployment stable at 2,000,000 this year” (Guardian, 8/1/82). Then on the subject of carrying the support of the bosses for his job training centre strategies, he proudly stated: “The employers are beginning to realise we are not a lot of bolshevists or a bunch of crackpots. We mean serious business". And “serious business” is, of course, exactly what he does mean.


God Help Us!
“Trust in the Lord and Sleep in the Street” is an old saying that his Holiness the Pope would not thank you for repeating. As a devout Christian he presumably believes that material matters in life are of less importance than ‘spiritual wellbeing’ and that your destiny is ultimately in the hands of that mysterious thing called god.

If we are humble and docile and meek, so the story goes, everything will be all right and we shall “inherit the earth”. F'or someone with such entrenched faith in the powers of beneficent extraterrestrial forces, Pope John Paul places an unusual reliance on down-to-earth man-made modern medical treatment. The Vatican has just had to pay £22,482 for the 77 days the Pope spent in hospital following the attempt on his life last May. We wonder whether it was this medical treatment which was responsible for saving the Pope’s life or divine intervention brought about by the prayers uttered to the skies by Catholics throughout the world?

Now that the Pope has recovered, we learn (Sunday Times, 3/1 /82) that he is to make his debut as a West End playwright next spring. The dramatic piece written by the Supreme Pontiff as a younger man is entitled The Jeweller’s Shop and examines attitudes about love and marriage. There were internal difficulties in persuading the Vatican to release the right, as catholic director Mike Murray explained: “The problem was that the Pope cannot be seen to be entering the commercial arena".

The author’s royalty will now be paid to the Vatican. Murray went on to elucidate: “There is nothing wrong with profit in the context of faith. Mediaeval tradesmen used to pin up a sign on their stalls which read: ‘For God and for profit’. That’s the trouble, capitalism without God is hopeless”. So the unemployed and the homeless and the thirty million people who are likely to die of starvation this year and those who are simply sick of being exploited can all take comfort in knowing that the only thing missing from their lives to make capitalism pleasant, is God


Any More Fares?
The Greater London Council’s experiment with cheap public transport, soon to fade away in a puff of diesel fumes, has been depicted in the media as a personal feud between Ken Livingstone and Lord Denning. All the clichés, however, obscure the real issues as effectively as an old-fashioned London smog.

High density urban living and modern commercial and industrial practice require that vast numbers of workers travel from their homes to their places of work at set times, and then travel back again approximately eight hours later. The means of transporting this army must be effective and reliable so as not to disrupt the profit-making process. The argument is really about how the total cost of transporting workers about is to be divided between different sections of the owning class, each of course wanting to reap the greatest benefit at the least possible expense.

The history of the bickerings over whether public transport should be made to pay for itself or be subsidised shows up party politics for the sham they really are. Ken Livingstone, the “red extremist”, turns decidedly pink (or is it grey) when compared to John Szemery, a Tory councillor on the Tory controlled GLC of 1970. Szemery wrote:
   It is six years since I first proposed to Conservative Central Office that public transport in London should be provided free as a public service financed jointly from the Exchequer and from the rates. With all the resultant savings in manpower and machinery, increased mobility of labour and utilisation of public transport and reduction in travel by private car, I still think there is a good case for this. (North London Press, 6 February, 1970.)
Szemery’s Labour opponents in Islington challenged him to say that he stood for a rate increase to make travel free on all London Transport buses and underground trains. Obviously pandering to what they thought were popular prejudices against the idea. All change please!


Our Winston
In a speech at Guildhall in November 1914, Winston Churchill said: “The maxim of the British people is ‘Business as usual’.” Even from his earliest days young Winston must have had a clear understanding of exactly what ‘business as usual' means in a class-divided society, and why for a minority there is every reason to try to convince the majority that the present order of society is worth preserving even at the cost of “blood, toil, tears and sweat”.

On 4 January this year the Public Records Office made available the census returns for 1881 and from them we find that our Winston, aged 6 and described as a scholar, was living with his parents at St. James Place in Pall Mall. His next door neighbour was Earl Spencer (occupation: Peer and Lord President of the Council).

The Spencers had 31 servants in residence, while Lord Egremont ‘next door’ on the other side only had thirteen. The Churchills had to scrape by with a mere eight servants, including the butler, the nursery maid and the cook. Hard times indeed, but he and his friends seemed to get a fair whack out of capitalism. What was it he once said, “Never in the history of class struggle has so much been taken from so many by so few”?
Gary Jay

Bigger Shares (2018)

Book Review from the July 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. Tom Slee Scribe. £9.99.

The Sharing Economy (with capitals) is Slee’s term for what some people call, among other terms, peer-to-peer platforms. Customers and suppliers are able to get in touch with each other by means of the internet and smartphone apps, with the platform company taking a cut of the price paid.

Airbnb, which is probably the best-known example, probably sounds like a reasonable idea, allowing people to rent out spare rooms to short-stay visitors. But in fact it has evolved into something quite different: most lets are of whole houses or flats and are made by landlords who own several properties. They do not need to worry about health and safety regulations or providing fire extinguishers. Those who lose business to them are not big hotel chains like Hilton but small independent hotels and B&Bs. There are even cases of tenants being kicked out because the owner can make more money from short-term lets via Airbnb. (For some other examples of bad experiences as visitors or landlords, see airbnbhell.com.)

Besides property letting, the other main area of the Sharing Economy is transport, primarily Uber. Earlier ride-sharing apps have fallen by the wayside, being unable to compete. Grandiose claims about the amounts Uber drivers can earn have been discredited, and they in fact earn little more than most taxi-drivers. They do not have to worry about providing access for blind passengers or those who use wheelchairs. As part of the gig economy, drivers are not paid when off sick and have to provide their own insurance; moreover, they do not undergo proper screening by Uber.

Slee says he wrote this book because ‘the Sharing Economy agenda appeals to ideals with which I and many others identify; ideals such as equality, sustainability and community.’ But capitalism undermines these ideals: even the Linux operating system, for instance, is now a commercial undertaking and is ‘no longer subversive’. Ideas of openness have led to powerful institutions backed by venture capital and dominated by Silicon Valley. Digital markets often result in a ‘winner-takes-all’ situation, with one massively powerful company in each area (Amazon, for example).

This book gives a clear and well-argued account of various aspects of the Sharing Economy, how the profit motive pervades most areas of life and how attempts to get round it can just lead to yet more profit-based industries.
Paul Bennett

Diary of a Capitalist (1979)

From the January 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

SUNDAY
Been making arrangements for my next little trip abroad, a three-month world cruise in the P&O flagship Canberra, starting on January 6. I’ve got one of the cheapest two-berth cabins for my wife and myself, for about £6000 (Observer, 19.11.78). I’ve got a good management team, and they’ll keep my businesses running nicely until I get back.


MONDAY
I keep reading of alleged incidents where companies have to pay compensation for “wrongful dismissal” to people they have sacked, or where they have to make “severance payments” when they close down a factory. All that the relevant Acts of Parliament do in effect is to help weed out the less crafty capitalists, which of course helps capitalism generally to run better for the capitalist class as a whole.

Why can’t these people remember that any worker on strike can be sacked forthwith, without any comeback? And any employer worth his salt can bring about a strike whenever he wants one. I’ve often engineered a strike when stocks have been high, and I have wanted to close a factory down for a spell without any labour costs, particularly where the shop stewards have been getting above themselves. Nothing is easier. If the weather is cold (as it is two-thirds of the year in this country) the manager goes into the works one evening or weekend, and unfortunately the central heating breaks down, and the defective part can’t be obtained under two months. Or the local team is having a cup replay one evening, and the manager tells everyone they’re on compulsory overtime until the match is over. Or you get a quality inspector to reject a whole batch of work from one assembly line, so bang goes their bonus.

Or the lavatories and wash-basins keep getting blocked up, or the tea-break concession is suddenly withdrawn, or the man who's just been elected an official of his union branch is by a pure coincidence moved to a worse job the very next day. The number of possible dodges is endless—it’s like taking candy off a child. Then, when your stocks have run down a bit, and the workers have been slated solidly as idle, good-for-nothing layabouts by the press, radio, and TV (everyone from ministers, MPs and editors down to flat-capped comedians getting into the act), you generously let them crawl back to work on your terms.

So to avoid any "wrongful dismissal” nonsense you just provoke a strike over any issue you want, and then sack the lot. You can't sack only some of them, because the Labourites put through an act saying that would be victimisation : so you sack every last striker— as George Ward did at Grunwick, or the Margolis family did in the Garners Steak House dispute, both struggles over whether the workers could be represented by a union or not. (They had to find out the hard way.)

What I love doing as I issue dismissal notices is to say how much I would have liked to take the strikers back, apart from one or two ringleaders, of course, but unhappily the Act of Parliament passed by the very Labour Party their union supports makes it quite impossible. Then I make some crack about most of them being good chaps at heart, but sadly misled by their shop stewards, who have inveigled them all into a strike which has only had this sad result — the sack. That’s a shrewd blow at all the union enthusiasts.

The pleasures of being a capitalist are not limited to merely grabbing all the profits!


TUESDAY
Talking of provocation, I was in two minds about the pronouncements recently made in Washington by John Toland. the historian (Daily Telegraph, 1.12.78). He said that President Roosevelt enticed the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbour in 1941, thus beginning the American-Japanese War. Now we members of the ruling class all know that a country goes to war to defend its interests as a capitalist state, and that the carefully prepared story that it has no option, in face of the foul and unprovoked aggression committed by the bestial enemy (a story put out by both sides, and equally firmly believed by the populations of both countries) is so much bunkum. I know Toland went on to say that Roosevelt had done it for the best of reasons, getting America into the war in a way that circumvented the objections many Americans would have had, but, even supposing Toland’s theory is correct, should one ever be so frank? My friends tell me that it doesn’t matter now—it was nearly forty years ago, and the workers are too stupid (after undergoing their brainwashing in our educational system) to draw any parallels the next time it happens. But I don’t know, I don’t know. Some workers may be brighter than we think.


WEDNESDAY
Another old friend of mine in trouble! He is a wealthy entrepreneur in his fifties, owning a number of London restaurants, and “living in style” (Daily Telegraph, 1.12.78). Part of the style was a model and actress in her twenties, who agreed to become his mistress. He bought her a £25,000 house, paid her bills, and made her regular payments of £75 a week (at 1973 prices). Then she became pregnant. To my friend’s dismay, she made the ungrateful decision that she wanted to have the baby, instead of disposing of it by an abortion. Here was a rich man paying her for performing a certain role (which is one of the fundamental relationships of our society), and she was allowing her maternal desires to spoil the whole thing. She was putting humanity before her rich friend’s interests. That kind of thing is immoral, in my opinion. Naturally he stopped his weekly payments, and tried to get her out of her home. She went to the High Court, and asked them to say the house was hers. My friend told the judge he was “very upset” about the pregnancy; "there was no reason for her to go on and have the child” (Daily Telegraph, 2.12.78). However, his ex-mistress has been given the right to stay in the house—until she marries or finds another man who will support her.

As I always say to my friends: enjoy your pleasures, certainly—it’s your right as a capitalist in a capitalist society, where everything is available, thank God, to those who can afford it —but make sure you can clear off without trouble when the time comes. In the same circumstances, for example, I always fix up a rented flat, rather than buying a house.


THURSDAY
I’m still getting together a few sticks of furniture. At the sale-room today there was rather a splendid table—the so-called Combe Abbey Library 'I'able, made in 1754, and attributed to Thomas Chippendale. I bought it for £100,000 (Daily Telegraph, 2.12.78). If you want the best, you have to pay for it

Saw Harry Hyams, the property man (Centre Point and all that), at the sale. He bought a 1740 giltwood chandelier for his place down in Wiltshire. He only gave £59,500 for it. I condoled with him on having to go for the cheaper stuff, and offered to lend him his trainfare back home. Jokingly, of course.


FRIDAY
At the Dorchester this evening for the unveiling of a new portrait of the Queen commissioned by the officers of the 16th/5th Queens Royal Lancers (Daily Telegraph, 30.11.78). The painter was telling all and sundry that when he turned up for the first sitting, he said the regiment had asked him to paint the Queen in a green dress. “I was taken to see her wardrobe, and there were at least 110 green dresses.”
 
Now we all know that the Queen has a large wardrobe—if she has 110 dresses in only one colour, how many has she altogether?—but this affair was badly managed. The painter chap should have been shown say a dozen or so green dresses—a normal kind of number for a well-dressed woman about town, when you allow for other colours and other kinds of outfits. Then he wouldn’t have been making such a sensation of it in the Dorchester. Even there some inky scribe might hear of it and put it in the papers. Then workers might be tempted to calculate that the whole lifetime’s earnings of a skilled man—if he never bought any food, or clothing, or housing, or anything else, for himself or his family— would hardly be enough to buy what is currently in the Queen’s wardrobe.

It’s not what we do that we have to worry about: it’s what people get to know that we do.


SATURDAY
Got an unostentatious little gold necklace with carved lapis stones for the wife’s birthday, £575 (Daily Telegraph, 22.11.78). Then bought myself a dozen bottles of Chateau Lafite 1945 (Daily Telegraph, 1.2.78). for £1900, or about £158 a bottle. It really is splendid stuff. How can so many people drink this cheap rubbish one sees about, at £10 a bottle or even less?
Alwyn Edgar