Saturday, July 28, 2018

Class struggle, ancient and modern (1988)

From the November 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The history of all hitherto existing society", wrote Marx and Engels at the beginning of the 1848 Communist Manifesto, "is the history of class struggle." To which Engels added the qualification, in the English edition of 1888. "all written history" to take account of the fact that humans had originally and for many hundreds of thousands of years lived in classless communistic conditions. So Marx and Engels were saying that the history of society since the break-up of primitive communism has been one of class struggles. 

But has it? Well, that depends what is meant by the term "class struggle". Certain historians, including some in the Marxist tradition, have understood this to mean struggles in which one or other of the contending groups recognises itself as a class and is consciously pursuing its interests. In other words, that class struggle has necessarily to involve an element of class consciousness. The drawback with this view is that class-conscious struggles have by no means been a permanent feature in all written history, thus negating the claim.

The Socialist Party, on the other hand, has always understood the class struggle to be a basic feature of any exploiting class society, whether or not those involved are aware of their historical role. The class struggle necessarily goes on whenever there is exploitation of one class by another; whenever, that is, part of what one section of society produces is appropriated by another section. It is the struggle between members of the two classes to maximise or minimise the amount appropriated.

The slaves who refuse to work hard and the slave owner who whips them are both engaged in the class struggle, even if neither consider they belong to one of two separate classes in society with antagonistic interests. So is the modern wage or salary earner who demands better working conditions, higher wages or shorter hours, or who resists having to work harder; or, indeed, who turns up late for work or takes days off. The class struggle — resistance to exploitation by the exploited class — is a daily, permanent feature in any class society.

One historian who has taken up this position is G.E.M de Ste Croix of New College. Oxford, in his 500-page book The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (1981). This is how he puts it in chapter II;
  Class (essentially a relationship) is the collective social expression of the fact, of exploitation, the way in which exploitation is embodied in a social structure. By exploitation I mean the appropriation of part of the product of the labour of others: in a commodity-producing society this is the appropriation of what Marx called "surplus value". A class (a particular class) is a group of persons in a community identified by their position in the whole system of social production, defined above all according to their relationship (primarily in terms of degree of ownership or control); to the conditions of production (that is to say. the means and labour of production) and to other classes. . . The individuals constituting a given class may or may not be wholly or partly conscious of their own identity and common interests as a class, and they may or may not feel antagonism towards members of other classes as such.
  It is of the essence of a class society that one or more of the smaller classes in virtue of their control over the conditions of production (most commonly exercised through ownership of the means of production), will be able to exploit — that is. to appropriate a surplus at the expense of — the larger classes and thus constitute an economically and socially (and therefore probably also politically) superior class or classes.
This is essentially the position we take up too, and why we say that class struggle is a permanent feature of any class society—governments continually seek to extract as much profit as they can from the wage and salary working class and workers resist in any ways they can. individually as well as collectively.

Applied to Ancient Greek society, this struggle over the level of exploitation went on mainly between slaves and slaveholders, but not exclusively. Ancient Greek and Roman society, it is important to realise, was not composed just of slaves and slaveholders, most people were in fact free (in the sense of not being owned by someone else) peasants who owned no slaves and lived by working on the small pieces of land they occupied.

At no time was the bulk of the wealth in ancient society produced by slave-labour, although Ste Croix estimates that in the early part of the period studied — which spans some 1300 years from the 8th century BC to the mid-7th century AD — the bulk of the wealth appropriated by the exploiting, propertied class was probably produced by slaves. As time went on. however — and this is the basic theme of his book — the propertied classes, identified by Ste Croix as those who had a sufficient income from their land owning so as not to have to take part in production themselves, came to more and more exploit the non-slave working population as well. This was done not by appropriating the product of their labour by virtue of being owners, but through rents (in money or kind) and taxes and through debt-bondage. By the end of the period under study virtually the whole working population of the Roman Empire (of which ancient Greece had been a part since the 2nd century BC) had the status of serfs, tied to the land and obliged to produce a surplus for their landlords, this included slaves, most of whom had by this time been settled on the land in small farms rather than working big estates in chain- gangs.

Since Ste Croix covers a period of 1300 years and an area comprising not just Greece proper but also modern Turkey, Syria, Palestine and Egypt — then within the sphere of Greek culture — his book could not be a chronicle of events. It is rather a history of the relationships between the three classes of slaves, peasants and the land and slave-owning propertied class and of how these changes affected the general course of history.

He argues that the increasing exploitation of the non-slave working population arose because, at a certain point, slaves had to be bred rather than simply captured in wars and raids. As breeding was more costly, the propertied class sought to maintain their standard of living — that is, the amount of appropriated wealth on which they lived — by taking a greater surplus from non-slaves. Ste Croix speaks of
  the fall in the rate of exploitation of slave labour consequent upon the widespread extension of slave breeding, and also an increased exploitation of humble free men. as a material result of the fact that the propertied classes were determined to maintain their relatively high standard of life and had all the political control necessary to enable them to depress the condition of others.
Thus did the class struggle — the struggle over the level of exploitation — determine the general trend of events in ancient Greek and Roman society and eventually led to its decline and replacement by a society based on serfdom rather than chattel-slavery.

Ste Croix's attitude to Christianity is refreshingly hostile. The Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its state religion in 313 AD and Ste Croix refuses to see this as an advance in civilisation, as we are taught, but regards it. if anything, as a regression. He points out that it introduced another layer of parasites — the bishops and higher clergy — who had to be maintained out of the labour of the working population, as well as instigating religious persecution (of other Christians regarded as heretics, rather than of pagans) which had not existed previously. Readers might find some of Ste Croix's comments here more in the rationalist than the Marxist tradition, but it should not be forgotten that Marx was an atheist and Jesus therefore an impossible bedfellow, whatever some might think.

But then, so is Mao. Which is why it is disconcerting to have to note that Ste Croix was a Maoist of some sort when he wrote his book. Just how a person capable of writing this excellent application of the materialist conception of history should at the same time have fallen for the ravings of a mad dictator like Mao, is difficult to understand. For a start, why didn't he realise that his analysis of class and exploitation applied equally to Mao's China as to ancient Greece?
Adam Buick

Sting in the Tail: The Birthday Girl (1989)

The Sting in the Tail column from the November 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Birthday Party
   "If you've got it, flaunt it, baby” seems to be th motto of Mr. Malcolm Forbes, the American financial magazine magnate. According to the Daily Telegraph (21 August) his 70th. birthday party in Tangiers was quite an affair.
  The party, with 800 guests flown in in his private charter of Concorde and Jumbo jets, and corks popped from 250 magnums of champagne had cost 2 million dollars and was greeted as a business bonanza. . . .  Mr. Forbes was In no mood to apologise for his party. "You couldn't call It modest but how can you apologise for extravagance?" he asked. If you have money Just be grateful and have fun."
The obscenity of a millionaire spending 2 million dollars on a birthday party should be noted by all workers when they hear the apologists for capitalism prattling on about people becoming millionaires through hard work and thrift


It's an Ill Wind
The news that British Petroleum is to shed 1700 jobs in Scotland was met with howls of disapproval from opposition politicians, Trade Union leaders and clergymen.

Universal condemnation in fact. Well, not quite, because the news was welcomed by the City of London. Disgraceful? Not really, It’s just that the City is above all concerned about profit and BP’s smaller wages bill means more profit for investors.

So It's daft to blame BP or the City for putting their own interests first, but what's even dafter is the working class refusing to look after its interests and get rid of capitalism.


Tomorrow's Enemies
The thaw in the cold war means that the CIA is shifting its attention from possible military conflict with Russia to new priorities.

CIA director, William Webster, warned that:
  Our political and military allies are also our economic competitors. The national security implications of a competitor's ability to create, capture or control markets of the future are very significant. Intelligence on economic developments . . .  has never been more important.
The Guardian 21 September.
So while US politicians are pledging undying friendship to Japan, West Germany, Britain, etc., the CIA will be stepping up Its spying activities on them and any other countries which threaten US capitalism's economic Interests.


Catch 'em Young
At an early age every human being has to be taught the awful truth about how capitalism operates. This was recently illustrated in the correspondence page of The Guardian.

Betty Robbins of The Vicarage In Newbury wrote:
   In the course of a Sunday school lesson recently I asked my group of nine-year olds if they knew what a prophet was.
  To my astonishment, since this is generally unknown territory, their little faces glowed with understanding - "money, money, money" they told me delightedly.
In view of the recent revelations about certain American evangelic prophets being caught with their hands in the cash register, it seems that "a little child shall lead them" has a certain validity.


Pity The Poor Capitalists
Pity the poor capitalists. One of their biggest headaches is, should they spread the risk by Involving their enterprises in several different Industries (become "conglomerates") or should they concentrate on one industry only?

The trouble with conglomerates is that they may be taken over by some asset stripper like Lord Hanson who buy them up, sells off the various parts and pockets the profit

But capitalists who put all their eggs in one basket will be in big trouble when the industry they have invested in hits a bad patch as have, for example, package holidays, house building and DIY.

So what are the poor capitalists to do? They have an army of economists, bankers and city editors offering them advice but this is so contradictory that they might just as well toss a coin.

Our solution is for the workers to save the capitalists from any such headaches by relieving them of their ownership and converting it into common property.


A Glimpse of Truth
Professor Robert Petersen of the University of Texas claims that only about a third of the American population can give a remotely accurate definition of the word "capitalism". He says:
  Our study shows that when people are asked to define the word, they are as likely to give a definition of socialism, communism, bureaucracy or virtually any other conceivable philosophy as they are to give a correct definition.
Hmm, mildly interesting, but just about what we would have expected although we would like to know what the profs "correct" definition would be. After all we've heard some funny ones from academics before. However, he also reveals that:
  Most of the 1200 people who responded to the survey associated capitalism with its negative excesses and with . . . the idea that large companies are indifferent to individuals.
Now that is interesting because it shows that even the constant barrage of propaganda glorifying capitalism couldn't hide from all those people at least part of the true nature of the beast.


Not So Greene
Graham Greene, the novelist, now describes himself as a "Catholic agnostic" in the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, 23 September.

He doesn't believe in an afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Devil or even almighty God himself, and only takes communion to please a friendly priest.

He supports contraception, rejects Papal Infallibility and says his only mystical experience was listening to a two hour sermon which seemed to last only half an hour. He’s lucky, for us it was always the other way round.

These heresies will not please 85 year old Mr. Greene's church, but socialists can be pleased he has finally junked so much mythology and shown that it is never too late to learn.

Obituary: Jack Thurston (1990)

Obituary from the November 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

We regret to have to report the death of our comrade Jack Thurston on 1 September at the age of 84. He had been a member since 1933 when he joined the old Wembley branch and was subsequently, successively, a member of the Chiswick, Ealing and West London branches.

Jack Thurston was born in that part of England where the borders of Surrey and Hamphsire meet. The area bristles with military camps and his father had been a professional soldier. At an early age, soon after the first world war to end all wars, he too joined the army. He was first sent to Ireland where, as he used to recall, he witnessed the atrocities committed by the Black and Tans, and then to Egypt and the Sudan where he witnessed the atrocities committed by the British colonial authorities as when they ordered the public hanging of scores of locals in reprisal for the killing of a British soldier.

When he left the army he got a job as a painter at the Watney's brewery in Mortlake. This was an anti-union firm and he probably got the job because he was ex-army but, unbeknown to the employers, amongst the workforce was a handful of socialists. Jack met one of them and eventually became a socialist himself. From that moment on he never ceased to argue the case for socialism, amongst both his workmates and his neighbours. For a while a Hounslow Group of the Party, composed largely of his neighbours, met in the large garage at the back of his house in Hounslow.

Jack Thurston will be remembered as a straightforward man who was an indefatigable campaigner for socialism.

50 Years Ago: Have we seen the last Millionaire? (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

In a broadcast talk on September 7th. 1941. Professor T. Jones spoke of the high rate of taxation now imposed on large incomes and prophesied that “we are almost in sight of the last millionaire". The professor is being unduly optimistic and perhaps he has not very clear ideas of the way in which millionaires are made. The big fish devour the little ones and each other, and always there is fresh accumulation from the exploitation of the workers. Even if under war conditions large incomes are heavily reduced, war, and the post-war ups and downs of industry lay the foundations for new fortunes and for the increase of old ones. While during the war the prices of shares on the Stock Exchange have generally fallen this has been accompanied by a big rise in the wealth of landowners (. . .).

As soon as investors believe that the end of the war is in sight with a defeat of Germany the prices of shares on the Stock Exchange will leap ahead and new millionaires will be in the process of creation. Already it only needs reports of moderate Russian successes to send up prices. Marshal Budenny's succcsful withdrawal of his armies from Kiev was sufficient to send prices “sharply ahead". (Daily Express, September 24th.) 
[From “Notes By The Way”, Socialist Standard. November 1941.]



King Market kills King Coal (1992)

Editorial from the November 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Even die-hard supporters of capitalism were stunned by the announcement. Over the next six months 31 of Britain’s 50 remaining pits were to close, throwing 30,000 coal miners onto the industrial scrapheap.

Michael Heseltine, once billed as the acceptable face of capitalism, spoke as if he were Margaret the Mad Marketeer herself. There was no alternative. It was a straightforward commercial decision. Gas had out-competed coal in the marketplace. "British Coal cannot go on producing coal that cannot be sold". To subsidise coal for power stations would be to keep electricity prices 3 per cent higher than they need be. British manufacturing industry had to "compete in an increasingly competitive world". That meant "we have to search for opportunities to lower costs". This was one and the government had seized it. The electricity companies were right to go for gas. British Coal was right to shut down more than half the British coal industry. The economic case for this was "unanswerable". Tough luck on the miners and too bad about past government promises of no compulsory redundancies. Well, to tell the truth, he didn't actually say this last. But that in effect was what he was saying.

In terms of the logic of capitalism he was right. Under capitalism production is in the hands of business enterprises, private or state, all competing to try to make profits. To stay in the race for profits you have to keep your costs down. If you don't then you go to the wall. Which is what happened to British Coal. They cannot supply coal to their main customers, the privatised electricity companies, at a competitive price, and they are suffering the consequences.

The Market has given its verdict and the sentence has to be carried out. As usual the victims are members of the working class. Not only the miners and their families, and the communities in which they live, but the tens of thousands of other workers employed in servicing the pits and in transporting the coal. They will join the 3,000,000 already on the dole in this, the biggest slump since the 1930s.

British Coal is crying "unfair competition" and some are saying they have a point. Nuclear power, originally developed as a by-product of the Bomb, is being subsidised, partly still for military reasons. Gas, it is predicted, will only temporarily be cheaper than coal. Maybe, but even if governments don't have to let so short-term market considerations apply as the Tories now are, they still have to take market trends into account. You can’t buck the market. But the way the market is going to jump can't be predicted very far in advance. The relative prices of the various fuels — coal, oil, gas, nuclear power — are continuously changing.

The fact is that the market nature of the capitalist system rules out the adoption of any rational, long-term energy policy. In the 40s and 50s coal was the cheapest fuel and the government based its energy policy on this. Then in the 60s the price of oil fell below that of coal and the Labour government of the day embarked on a massive pit closure programme. In the 70s oil prices again rose above that of coal and the miners were able to exploit the situation to win two national strikes over wages, in 1972 and 1974. The government turned to nuclear power. In the 80s oil prices fell again and the government took on and, as we can now see, completely smashed the miners union. Now gas has emerged as the cheapest fuel and a "dash for gas” is on. It is not difficult to see where this is going to end. Already the papers are talking about a "massive overcapacity in generation if all the plans for gas-fired capacity go ahead" and saying that "many of the new gas power stations face a limited life". (Daily Telegraph, 14 October)

So in a few years time some of the gas power stations will be closing because, just as with coal today, productive capacity will be beyond market capacity. The Market will be demonstrating its madness again.

The case against the market system is unanswerable. What we need is a society where all the means of producing wealth are owned in common, so that they can be used to produce what we need not what the market dictates. Only then, in the absence of market forces and vested capitalist interests, can a rational energy policy be adopted.

Anyone for the vanguard? (1993)

From the November 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

This month the SWP holds its Conference but it won't be like the Conference of a working- class organization, with delegates, resolutions and contested elections. The SWP is not that kind of organization. As a Leninist vanguard it is a top-down organization controlled by its leaders, not its members.

Power in the SWP is in the hands of a small Central Committee whose members are all full time officials of the organization. Nominally the Central Committee is elected by the Conference but in practice it is a self- perpetuating body whose membership is renewed by co-optation.

What happens is that the outgoing Central Committee proposes its own slate of candidates for the incoming committee. This allows them to continue in office as long as they like, while being able to exclude any of their number who may have become awkward and to include any promising leadership material they have spotted and consider worthy of elevation to their ranks.

The rulebook does allow Conference delegates to vote against, but this never happens. One disillusioned SWPer has complained:
   "Have you ever had a vote on who should be the leader of the SWP or on the Central Committee? The way this is decided on at SWP conference is very dubious. You 're given a list of the new proposed CC and asked whether you agree or disagree. I’ve never heard of anyone not agreeing"! (Republican Marxist Bulletin, Nov-Dec 1992).
So the official list is always rubber-stamped. Just like in Russia under Brezhnev and in the late unlamented Communist Party. This is how Bob Darke, who was a CP borough councillor in Hackney in Stalin's day, writing in 1952 described the way the local borough Secretariat was chosen:
   "Each year the existing Secretariat draws up its own panel of names for the new Secretarial. It does this after it has consulted with the London District Committee (which is the coordinating authority of all branches in the London area). The Secretariat is often so satisfied with its work during the past year that it suggests that it should be re-elected en bloc. Of course, the London District may not agreed, in which case changes will be made in the list.
   "The panel is then placed before the aggregate meeting and comrades are invited to vote on it. They have absolute freedom of choice. They may vote Yes or No. Of course No would be a wasted vote, for there is no alternative to the panel. They are entitled to reject the suggested panel out of hand and suggest an entirely new one. I say they are at liberty to do this — but I have never known of it being done." (The Communist Technique in Britain, p. 23).
The likeness is not accidental and explodes the SWP's claim that Lenin did not lead to Stalin. The fact is that the emergence of a self-perpetuating leadership is an inevitable consequence — indeed, is one of the aims — of Leninist organizational principles.

The SWP Conference is completely dominated by the Central Committee which, quite literally, sets the agenda. Once again, on paper branches have the right to put down resolutions but are strongly discouraged from doing so:
   "Branches can submit resolutions if they wish, and these may be voted on. But in recent years the practice of sending resolutions to conference has virtually ceased" (Socialist Review, September 1983).
What the delegates discuss are not resolutions coming from the membership organized in branches, but a report submitted by the Central Committee on the political "perspectives". This is a document of pamphlet length and is the main item on the agenda. It is discussed section by section; at the end of each discussion a committee is elected to draw up a report which the delegates then vote on. This is said to make resolutions unnecessary:
  "The advantage of this procedure is that conference does not have to proceed by resolution like a trade union conference. “
This is not the only trade union procedure that the SWP rejects:
  "Delegates should not be mandated . . . Mandating is a trade union practice, with no place in a revolutionary party."
The idea of deciding some important issue by holding a ballot of the whole membership is equally obnoxious to the SWP. In the first volume of his hagiography of Lenin, SWP leader Tony Cliff wrote:
   "In January 1907, Lenin went so far as to argue for the institution of a referendum of all party members on the issues facing the party — certainly a suggestion which ran counter to the whole idea of democratic centralism" (T. Cliff, Lenin, Volume I. Building the Party, p. 280).
It certainly did, but Lenin only proposed this because at that time he didn’t control the Central Committee.

Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership ballots are not just trade union practices; they are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organization control that organization and as such key procedures in any organization genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organized democratically — without leaders, but with mandated delegates — to achieve it.

In rejecting these procedures what the SWP is saying is that the working class should not organize itself democratically, but should instead follow a self-appointed, undemocratically organized elite. This is pure Lenin. According to him, left to themselves workers were only capable of developing what he contemptuously called a "trade union consciousness"; to go beyond this they had to be led by professional revolutionaries taking orders from an all-powerful centre. This is the model the SWP is following.

So, if you have a low assessment, like Lenin, of the intellectual and organizational abilities of your class, join the SWP! If you want to be in an organization where you’ll never mandate a delegate, put forward a resolution for conference or vote in a ballot of members, join the SWP! If you are prepared to be a follower in a leadership-run organization, join the SWP! On the other hand, if you want to organize democratically to get socialism, look no further . . . 
Adam Buick

Boom Without Bust: John Major dreams again (1994)

From the November 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

The present phase of the trade cycle in Britain is one of partial recovery and according to the Prime Minister this will stretch into long-term prosperity with recessions consigned to history. Under the headline “Major forecasts boom without bust”, he was reported as saying “Britain is at an historic turning point. This is a broadly based recovery set to last. The overall direction is clear. Britain is on course for long term economic recovery” (Independent, 20 September). Yes, we might say, we’ve heard it all before.

Major’s remarks are not made more convincing by his idea that a prime cause of recessions is inflation. Hence his stated determination to keep it down. “We are going to take no risks whatever with inflation,” he said. But most of the 19th century and early 20th century' were marked by regular boom and bust with no inflation at all. It appears that Major is trying to talk up confidence whilst having little understanding of the causes of boom and slump.

Marx not Major
It is doubtful if Major would ever bother to consider Marxian theory, which is a pity because if he did he would learn a lot. This knowledge wouldn't help him in his job but he would at least be better informed. In fact, present economic trends are entirely predicted by Marxian theory which states that "capitalist production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, over-trade, crisis and stagnation". It appears that at present we are in a phase of “growing animation” and, contrary to what Major thinks, this will eventually lead to further crisis and stagnation.

Marx also described the circumstances which generally cause one phase of the cycle to move to the next. For example, during a boom, industry and manufacture work flat out with each enterprise trying to capture as big a share as possible of the markets for its products. Inevitably, in search of further profits, this scramble leads some industries to produce too much for their markets and this leads to unsold stock; output is reduced and workers are sacked. Then, if the cut-backs are deep enough this spreads to other industries and this may cause a downward spiral of decline in which millions of workers become unemployed.

But just as a boom creates the conditions for crisis and recession so does the reverse eventually happen. The conditions of recession bring back the opportunities for renewed profit-making and growth. Many businesses go bankrupt and their stocks and equipment are bought up cheaply. This reduces competition. Those that survive are re-structured with fewer workers working harder for the same or less wages. Prices come down, or rise less quickly, productivity increases, interest rates are lowered and all these factors combine to improve the prospect of profit-making.

After a period of growth in the late 1980s the crisis struck in 1990 and, after two years of decline, the Central Statistical Office dates the trough, or the last low point of the cycle, as April 1992. All this took place under a Tory government so what happened then to their alleged powers to sustain growth? Since 1992 a range of factors which also have got nothing to do with so-called government management have come into play and tended to reverse the downward trend.

Profitability restored
The amount spent on wages and salaries to produce each unit of manufacturing output was 5.3 percent lower in May 1993 compared with May 1992. This was the biggest one year fall since records began in 1970. Output per employee in manufacturing was 5.5 percent higher in June 1994 compared with June 1993 whilst workers average nominal earnings were only 3.75 percent higher over the same period.

Interest rates fell. During 1992/3 base rates fell from 15 percent to 10 percent, then after returning briefly to 15 percent fell down to 6 percent after Britain left the ERM.

Output increased. National output rose by 1.1 percent during the second quarter of 1994 and in May 1994 industrial production was almost back to the pre-recession output of June 1990.

Profits increased in some sections, not least in banking. For instance the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, owner of the Midland, paid out less than expected for bad debts during the half-year to June 1994 and increased its profits by almost 25 percent to £1.5 billion. ICI gained half-year pre-tax profits up to June 1994 of £234 million, an increase of 40 percent. Hanson, the industrial conglomerate reported a 26 percent rise in pre-tax profits to £965 million over the same period.

With the unemployment figures discredited because of political manipulation, it is difficult to get an accurate picture but, to date with employed workers producing more and working substantial overtime, industrial growth has not resulted in a proportionate fall in the unemployed. Officially, the present figure is about 2.5 million.

According to governments, when the economy is in recession it is caused by factors which are beyond their control, but then when growth is resumed they claim the credit. They are right only in the first instance. The alternate phases of boom and bust are normal features of the capitalist system which operate both ways in varying degrees according to the circumstances of any given time. The only prospect for workers is that it goes on and on grinding through its cycle of exploitation.

Behind the particular features of boom and bust already mentioned there is a general cause which is the nature of capitalist production itself. In previous societies, what mainly happened was that productive resources were used to their full capacity and what was produced was distributed. Under capitalism goods take the form of commodities for sale on the markets and this means that the distribution of goods is limited to what can be sold and in turn this limits what is produced. The process is chaotic with rival capitalists producing for shifting markets never knowing what the market will buy. For example, in Britain 48 rival car-makers are selling cars and no-one knows what the capacity of that market will be at any given time. They are engaged in a scramble to get the biggest share of whatever is going. It is inevitable that, eventually, too many cars will be produced and it is at this point when things begin to spiral down.

The only way to end the boom-bust cycle is to abolish the capitalist system and replace it with socialism. Instead of the market determining what is produced, the community will decide this as part of caring directly for the needs of all its members. Unemployment, exploitation, profit-making and all, the destructive effects of boom and bust will be impossible. In their place, with production solely for needs, the community will be able to use all its productive resources in line with its policy decisions. This is what socialists mean by democratic control. 
Pieter Lawrence

Withdrawing willing co-operation (1995)

Book Review from the November 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Question of Judgement by Charles Derrick (May be ordered through Morley Books Library Service, Elmfield, Morley, Yorks.)

This unusual autobiography dealing mainly with the author’s wartime experiences will be of interest to Socialists. It gives a picture of life (and death) as it was in the trenches, on the minefields, as an escaped POW in Italy and Germany, and finally back home but still on the run, from an unusual point of view — that of a class-conscious worker unwillingly conscripted and sent to serve as a stretcher-bearer at El Alamein.

Having put the socialist case to everyone he encounters, from the Conscientious Objectors Tribunal to his captors in an Italian POW camp, he escapes and is sheltered for several months in the supposedly hostile Italian countryside. He is recaptured, sent to Germany, escapes again and finally arrives home where he decides to opt out of the British army as well.

For those who believe that the state can only be overcome by violence, there is a lesson here in how authority simply collapses when willing co-operation is withdrawn.

On arriving home and being given two weeks’ leave the writer is told to await notification of further duty. His orders arrive and are ignored, every month he writes off for his pay which is duly received. When the War Office finally write seeking an explanation for his absence, and then enclosing a rail pass and orders to return to his regiment in Perth, he informs them that he has been awaiting their instructions and applies for further leave. He is ordered to return immediately and arrives back at base nine days later after visiting the relatives of two missing army friends. Being sent to give an explanation for his long absence to the Commanding Officer, he is waiting to be seen when . . . 
"the RSM came along . . .
'What's your name?' he barked.
'Derrick, sir,' I replied.
'Have you had your embarkation leave yet?' he shouted.
'No sir,' I replied.
'Then go to the Orderly Room and get your rail warrant and pass,’ he shouted again . . . While I was on the train I decided that I had had enough of the army." 
How could the capitalist system possibly survive that kind of treatment from a majority of class-conscious workers? 
Nick White


Papering over the cracks (1996)

Theatre Review from the November 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wallpaper by Sophia Kingshill (Bridewell Theatre)

In 1913 Lenin, James Joyce and the founder of the Dadaist school of art all chanced to be in Zurich at the same time. And in Travesties Tom Stoppard imagines them becoming unavoidably involved in a production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest which is managed by staff at the British Embassy. The result is an irresistible verbal pyrotechnic in which revolutionary politics, avant-garde art and literature, and the day-to-day lunacies of so-called diplomacy are hilariously admixed courtesy of Wilde's play.

In Wallpaper Sophia Kingshill  attempts something similar and largely succeeds. She imagines that William Morris and Bernard Shaw "encounter one of Shaw's creations, Liza Doolittle the upwardly mobile flower seller (of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady) and try to turn her into a socialist". Wallpaper is described as "a Shavian melodrama portraying the adventures of Mr William Morris, Miss Eleanor Marx and Miss Eliza Doolittle". The title suggests that it is Morris and his popular image as a designer of wallpaper who is the focus of the play, but this is not the case. It is Shaw rather than Morris who stands at the play's centre.

Kingshill is clearly anxious to put the record straight and to acknowledge Morris’s activities as a revolutionary socialist, but in this she is only partially successful. The play fails to give the audience more than an inkling of Morris's political thinking and it avoids, almost completely, an examination of the way in which Morris's position as a social revolutionary stands opposed to Shaw's attachment to reformism And she is not helped in the latter enterprise by articles in the programme by Stan Newens MEP, Denis McShane MP and other Labour Party luminaries, which claim Morris as a key figure in their movement. It's rather like members of the Flat Earth Society enrolling Copernicus as an honorary member.

Kingshill is at her best when dealing with her characters as people rather than when dealing with their political views. There is a convincing truthfulness about the bluff, avuncular Morris, the mordant, ironic Shaw, and the selfless, benevolent Eleanor Marx, which allows us better to understand their behaviour. And Eleanor’s travails at the hands of fellow socialist(ic) Edward Aveling, should give us cause to ponder. How can those whose own behaviour is based on the selfish pursuit of their own inclinations act as credible advocates of a society founded on fraternity, cooperation and mutual self-interest?

If it seems odd to involve Eliza Doolittle in the seemingly real-life activities of Morris, Shaw, Aveling and Eleanor Marx, Kingshill uses Shaw's authorship of Pygmalion to good effect. Aveling seems a model for the fictional Henry Higgins, and Alfred Liddle (a friend of Morris) re-emerges as Freddie, Eliza’s rejected swain. Moreover, Kingshill parodies several of the songs and set pieces of My Fair Lady to stunning effect. Higgins's song in celebration of Eliza’s mastery of upper-class pronunciation "By gosh, she’s doneit", becomes “You've done it. You've really gone and done it", sung by three policemen before a chilling parody of the Ascot racing scene now transformed into the infamous Trafalgar Square siege of 1887. And who would have thought to hear "Get me to the church on time" turned into a celebration of the revolutionary potential of the international working class?

On the night I saw the play a small and inept audience seemed to miss most of the humour and sat silent and passive. Those on stage deserved better; perhaps especially Julia Stubbs who played Eleanor Marx with illuminating sensitivity. and Russell Churney whose reptilian Aveling was splendidly convincing.

People expecting a political polemic will be disappointed — but then perhaps the theatre is not the place for such an enterprise? This said, Wallpaper seems to me to be a considerable achievement. Given more attention to the ideas which inform the revolutionary and reformist positions of the major players, and a more sophisticated realisation of the text, what is already a drama of considerable merit might become a truly significant piece of theatre.
Michael Gill