Sunday, August 26, 2018

"The Sugar Pill" (1958)

Book Review from the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

“The Sugar Pill”—An Essay on Newspapers By T. S. Matthews Published by Victor Gollancz 

This serious, though lightly written, book is one of the most interesting that this writer has come across. The author, a retired American journalist, puts forward the thesis that the press—that is, the daily and weekly papers—are “not our daily bread, but our daily sugar pill.” By a character study of two newspapers, the Daily Mirror and the Manchester Guardian, which are considered to be representative of the whole range of the press, Mr. Mathews puts forward an argument that is more than convincing; not that we need convincing, we already knew.

He rounds off this 221 page book with a detailed examination of a day’s issue of the above newspapers which is extremely revealing.

There are not only two classes in society—capitalists and workers, but apparently two groups of newspapers, the quality press. The Times, Manchester Guardian and Daily Telegraph, and the popular press, the Express, Sketch, Mirror, etc. Not, of course, that these represent the conflicting classes, workers and capitalists, but rattier conflicting interests, that is, sectional ones, among the capitalists. This is true of the whole press in this country, with the exception of the Socialist Standard; from the Fascist paper Union on the so-called extreme right, to the Daily Worker on the so-called extreme left. They are all interested in perpetuating capitalism in one form or another. These two newspaper groups, like workers and capitalists, are in constant conflict, according to the author. “The real competition, in short, although it has not yet broken into open war, is between the popular press and the quality press. And the stake in that coming war will be survival. If the present trend continues—that is, if the more successful popular papers continue to capture more and more new readers—then the Popular Press will win, and eventually become what it already claims to be: the only press worth mentioning, the only press there is. It will first kill off ‘the more serious of the popular papers ’ and then turn its attention to the only competition remaining, the papers of the quality press. Perhaps it may be decided to let them live, as harmless traditional curiosities, like the Beefeaters at the Tower” (Page 170): All of which is quite illuminating, but is really all that one expects from this jungle world of capitalism, where dog eats dog, and the weakest always goes to the wall.

One thing that this writer finds most encouraging, although he has long surmised it, is that despite the seriousness with which all newspapers take themselves, apparently few of the millions of people who “read” newspapers in this country do more than glance at them. Front page, back page, comic strips, the body or bodies beautiful, and the odd eye-catching headline. The Mirror’s reading time is given as “six minutes a day.”

The Mirror, we are told, considers itself “a daily cocktail with fizz in it. Taken first thing in the morning (along with your dose of liver salts) at the start of another grey working day, it gives the reader a little spurt of liveliness—and makes him look forward to another cocktail tomorrow.” (Page 34.)

We are informed by the author that the press is part of the entertainment industry, and generally speaking, we would concur with that. For all that we should not underrate the power of the press; limited it may be, but along with other media it helps to mould and shape the opinions of the working class. We can be thankful that our journal is not of the shallow variety, and that our readers are not “skimmers.” We should not be complacent about this, though, for our readership is small, and the task of changing this society for one with free access, and full social responsibility, can only be brought about by a working class who have been weaned from their sugar pills on to a diet of Socialist literature.
Jon Keys.

From The Branches (1959)

Party News from the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bloomsbury Branch will not meet during August, but will be holding a discussion after branch business on Thursday September 3rd. C. Kilner will open the first discussion of the winter season at 8.30 p.m. Subject: “Hospitals —Why?” On Thursday October 1st E. Kersley will talk on “Who Pays for the Arts?” The Branch room is a comfortable one and Conway Hall is easily accessible and Comrades and sympathisers are assured of an interesting evening.

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Ealing Branch remind visitors that meetings will be held at The Royal Oak public house, Ealing Broadway (opposite Bentalls) on Fridays August 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th. From September 4th onwards, their meetings will be held at the usual venue—Memorial Hall, Windsor Road, Ealing W.5.

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Fulham and Chelsea 
Owing to temporary domestic difficulties the branch will not be able to meet at the usual address until the end of 1959 or early 1960. One meeting has been arranged during the summer at a public house. The address, and ways and means of getting there, may be obtained from L. Cox, 22, Victoria House, Ebury Bridge Road. Tel. Slo. 5258. The meeting place may only be temporary, that is the reason why it is not being given in the Socialist Standard. Comrade Cox, the Branch Secretary, will be pleased to answer any enquiries from the address given above.

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Nottingham Branch members are working energetically and during this outdoor season, are having excellent meetings, supported by Comrades from London whenever possible. The good weather has been a helpful factor of course, but the members are very keen. For example, during the week-end July 11th and 12th Comrades Baldwin and D'Arcy held meetings supported by the Branch members and other Comrades from London. Over two pounds worth of literature was sold and one of the London Comrades was particularly pleased to see Comrade Clarke, who as usual, had come along from Burton on Trent, to give his always welcome support.

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“Socialist Standard”
The second meeting of writers and others interested in the production of the Standard was held at Head Office on Monday June 29th. Not so many Comrades attended on this occasion, partly due to the fact that a discussion was being held at H.Q. on the same evening. However many good points were raised and useful ideas exchanged, although some articles on specific subjects were promised, they have not arrived to-date. The next meeting is being held on Monday July 27th at 8 p.m. and the Production Committee will be glad to receive ideas and articles!

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Denison House Meetings. On Sundays September 6th and 27th at 7 p.m., the Propaganda Committee have arranged two meetings. The theme of these meetings will be on War, and the September Socialist Standard will have emphasis on this subject. It is twenty years since the outbreak of World War II and as workers are likely to be reminded of this, the Party is making special propaganda plans to bring to their notice our attitude on this aspect of capitalism.

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Outdoor Meetings
The Propaganda Committee is considering running outdoor mid-day meetings at Leather Lane market (near the City). Any members who can speak at such meetings, or attend during the week to support or sell literature are asked to contact the Propaganda Committee and let them know to what extent they can assist.
Phyllis Howard

50 Years Ago: Russian Despotism (1959)

The 50 Years Ago Column from the August 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

The visit of Nicholas Romanoff will doubtless have taken place before these lines appear.

We deny that the Tsar is “Our Guest.” He is solely the guest of our enemies, the Capitalist Class, and the “Hand of England” (which, to-day, is that of the class who own and rule) can hardly be further or deeper stained by grasping the bloody hand of a brother in exploitation and repression.

The Capitalists of Western Europe are equally guilty with Russian Despotism. Germany in South West Africa and Poland; Belgium on the Congo; France in Morocco; England in India and Ireland; each can parallel Russian Atrocities.

The ruling class of each country use the surest and most deadly means of repression that are suited to their circumstances and the Government here would repeat the worst Russian Atrocities in England if it could thus strengthen its position.
From the Socialist Standard, August 1909.

The Passing of a Labour Leader (1960)

Editorial from the August 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not our purpose here to attempt an analysis of the career of Aneurin Bevan, but only to put one or two aspects of his progress from being a working class rebel against the tyranny and sordidness of capitalism to his occupancy of high office in the post-war Labour Government.

In particular we take an observation made by Bevan in an article of appreciation of Winston Churchill, published, after Bevan’s death, in the Daily Mirror (7/7/60). Bevan described Churchill as essentially a romantic, who “in his assessment of realities . . . is without the discipline that comes from personal knowledge of industry and of economic affairs.” He maintained that Churchill, because of the rank to which he was born, had been sheltered “from intimate insight into the concessions ideas have to make when they come to be transformed into the facts of a highly industrialised society.”

Bevan’s view of Churchill’s limitations is probably well founded, but the thought invariably comes to mind that Bevan was here not only measuring Churchill, but also explaining and defending much that happened in his own activities: throughout the years after he had begun to make a name in the Labour Party he was torn between the desire to be a rebel espousing certain ideals and the necessity of working out concessions to meet the needs of practical politics. Nobody can suppose that Bevan was happy about finding himself supporting war, supporting re-armament and making his belated decision to press for the retention of the H-bomb as a bargaining counter in the Labour Party’s plan to work for all-round disarmament.

But was he ever clear about what was happening and why it happened? Did he ever realise that his dilemma is one that necessarily faces all who take on the task of governing a capitalist country in a capitalist world? With or without seeing it clearly he, like the other leaders of the Labour Government, had come down on the side of the belief that as a present practical policy a Labour Government must face the workers as an administration trying to keep the British economy functioning and must face the world as guardian of British interests which necessarily meant in both spheres of action accepting and working within the framework of the capitalist social system. That he did so with some reluctance and occasional rebellious withdrawals show his resentment of the dilemma, but he never succeeded in resolving the problem. He would have argued, no doubt, that there was no alternative, and here we as Socialists insist that there was, and is, the alternative of leaving the running of capitalism to those who believe in it and of devoting efforts to building up an international Socialist working class with the consciously-held aim of putting Socialism in the place of capitalist society.

Branch News (1961)

Party News from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bloomsbury Branch will not be holding meetings during August as Conway Hall closes for that month. Meetings recommence on Thursday, September 7th at 8 p.m.

There have been several successful outdoor meetings at Earls Court. More support from members would be welcome as this is an excellent outdoor station, and experience proves that with such regular support these meetings will prove most valuable. Literature sales in particular have been most encouraging.

All members are asked to note that the Branch will close down for its summer break this month. There will be no Branch meetings on 18th and 25th August and 1st September. The outdoor meetings will be maintained during this period.

Kelvingrove Branch has been working very hard and taking advantage of the good weather. Nine outdoor meetings were held during June—four in Edinburgh. Average audience 125 with literature sales of £1 11s. 0d. and over £2 in collections. In Glasgow, five meetings were held—average audience 50, literature sales and collections over £2.

Wembley Branch will not be holding a meeting on August 7th but will resume their meetings on August 14th. A Branch lecture is being held on Monday, August 2lst.

Literature Sales
The new Literature Sales Committee has gone into orbit with great success. One of the first assignments was to have a group of comrades outside the Russian Exhibition at Earls Court. Comrades have been there all day, each day, armed with Party literature, in particular the pamphlet Russia Since 1917. On one day alone 120 pamphlets were sold—90 of the Russian pamphlet—and on Tuesday evening, July 11th, an urgent call was received at Head Office that they had sold out and urgently needed fresh supplies. A comrade was hastily despatched on his motor cycle with fresh supplies and a call was made for branches to return any spare copies they may have had of the pamphlet. The archives at Head Office were also raided so that all available pamphlets could he sent to Earls Court.

The Literature Sales Committee are now regularly attending political meetings with literature, and comrades are urged to contact them at Head Office giving details of when they are able to sell literature at such meetings. The hackneyed phrase ‘Nothing succeeds like success' certainly applies to this aspect of Party activity. As the written word is our major form of propagating Socialism, all comrades can participate in distributing Socialist literature and so help the Party and themselves to bring about a greater understanding of our case by our  fellow workers.
Phyllis Howard

50 Years Ago: Australian Labourism (1961)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour Prime Ministers and Labour leaders of Australia have been prominent in Great Britain of late owing to the Imperial Conference and the Coronation. . . .  All the enemies of Labour have gathered together to do honour to 'these men who have risen from the plough'. Amidst the eulogies of Asquith, Balfour and the rest of the holy capitalist family, they have toured the country urging the propertyless wage slaves to emigrate to the scene of 'Labour's triumphs', and so escape from the sufferings they encounter here.

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The State ownership of such services as are already nationalised has been a mixed blessing to the toilers. New South Wales is the State of Labourism's greatest advance, yet the capital (Sydney), will be remembered as the centre of the great strike of State employed tramwaymen for ‘a living wage'. State ownership is the refuge of the business man being crushed by the trusts.

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The taxation of Land Values is a prominent feature of the Labour programme. Its existence in the Commonwealth has led to it being boomed here, and in view of Australia being the pet example of the 'good' effect of land taxes, it would be well to show their real character and influence.

The great merit of land taxes is said to be the releasing of the land and bringing it within the means of the poor man. But the Labour Premier, Mr. Andrew Fisher, told a deputation from the London Chamber of Commerce that 'land sold at prices quite as high as, if not higher than, those realised before the tax was passed.' and the report (Manchester Guardian 14/6/11) goes on to say that 'he asserted that since the tax was passed Australian credit had been higher than for many years before.’
From the Socialist Standard, August 1911.

Obituary: Jack Law (1962)

Obituary from the August 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many members of the party will be shocked and grieved to hear of the sudden death, at the age of 67, of Thomas (Jack) Law, who was a member of Paddington Branch. During the First World War, Jack was with the Canadian Infantry in France. The shell-shock he suffered, and what he saw there, gave him some bitter food for thought. Jack became a Socialist and joined the party in 1934. He was a familiar figure thereafter at Hyde Park and elsewhere selling our literature and putting the Socialist case to everyone who came to hand. He was one of the stalwarts who built up the Paddington Branch. Many members remember with gratitude the encouragement he gave them when they first joined the Party, and with his help became able propagandists for Socialism.

He was deeply disgusted at the mass working class support for the Second World War; his experiences in the trenches had made him somewhat impatient of such ignorant acceptance of capitalism's bloodbaths. Jack dropped out of party activity after the war, although to the end he was a Socialist and made no bones about it.

He leaves a widow and two sons, one of whom is a member of Wembley Branch. To them we offer our sympathy.

Russo-Chinese Conundrum (1963)

From the August 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The newspapers are full of articles on the row between Russia and China, all “explaining" with greater or less obscurity the motives of the contestants. Apart from W. N. Ewer, who wrote in the Daily Herald that neither Khrushchev nor Mao really cares a comma what Marx said, because the row is not about Marxist doctrine but power politics, almost all the writers have treated it as if the two Governments really are concerned with the “holy writ" of Marx. Lenin, etc.

They are all trying to solve the wrong puzzle, yet the real one is far more fascinating.

It was Marx who wrote that in considering revolutionary changes and conflicts you have to distinguish between the real causes and developments on the one hand, and the “ideological forms" in which the people concerned saw and expressed the conflicts on the other. So looking back at the French revolution you don’t have to believe that it was about “liberty, equality and fraternity": or that the Reformation was about Henry VIII’s divorces, the corruption in monasteries and points of theology.

All the Russian and Chinese leaders must presumably have read Marx, or at least Lenin, on the gulf between the slogans and ideologies and the economic realities, yet here they all are posturing and manoeuvring about the sacred texts like medieval theologians. The intriguing question is have they all got their tongues in their checks while they work on the credulity of their faithful flocks, or are they just a living example of the truth of what Marx wrote about past history?
Edgar Hardcastle

Letters to the Editors: Sex Roles (1982)

Letters to the Editors from the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sex Roles

Dear Editors

I would like to comment on “Who Will Do the Dirty Work?” (Socialist Standard, July 1981). To support your theory that people will do “dirty work" happily under socialism, you use the example that women "sweep and scrub the floors, dust and polish, do the washing and the washing up, change the nappies and worse . . .  for nothing" and that they do it better because it’s motivated by social need and not money. What rubbish! Women don’t do housework “most” of their time as the majority go out to work in low-paid, unskilled and unorganised jobs and then come home and do all these things while men put their feet up.

Your failure to question the sexual division of labour (in any of your few articles on women) is a result of textbook Marxism both Marx and Engels failed to question “women’s role". Housework is boring, degrading, tiring, isolating and unpaid, considered to be only “women's work". The fact that those who can employ domestics (usually women) and that “wages for housework” is an increasingly popular demand, shows that women don’t do housework because they’re motivated by “social need” but because they have no choice in the matter.

There will still be work in socialism, and unless the sexual division of labour is questioned now women will be relegated to the mothreing/servicing roles in society, which plays a large part in their inferior status (even Marx and Engels recognised that). I was very surprised that a woman wrote this article (perhaps she doesn’t mind making the tea, washing up and typing at your meetings). Using unpaid housework as an example to back up your argument makes your case for socialism less than convincing, especially to women who otherwise are probably sympathetic to socialist ideas.
Ms. Y. Howard
London NW4

The article referred to by Ms Howard was not about the problems of women in capitalism but about the nature of work and people’s attitudes towards it. It implied neither approval nor disapproval of housework in itself. The point it made was that in socialism the conditions that make work of any kind a chore rather than a source of satisfaction would disappear.

The reason why housework was mentioned was that it seemed an appropriate example of something that most people regard as “dirty work” but that isn’t done for money. This showed that money was not the only motivation that will get people to do “dirty work" and that people will do it for “social need". Ms Howard disagrees and says that “women have no choice” about doing housework. We find this an overstatement. There is certainly a good deal of social pressure on women to engage in housework, but there is no absolute compulsion — any more than there is an absolute compulsion to be a conformist politically. It may be easier or more comfortable to conform, but this does not amount to there being no choice in the matter.

We feel too that Ms Howard seriously underestimates the number of women who actually choose to spend time and energy making their house look as attractive as possible, either because — rightly or wrongly — they feel it to be necessary for their family’s sake (“social need") or simply because they get satisfaction from it. Whether one approves of or looks down on this kind of satisfaction is beside the point. The fact is that they are willingly doing what most people consider to be “dirty work" without getting a wage for it.

The answer to Ms Howard’s view that “the sexual division of labour must be questioned now” is that it already is being questioned — by capitalism. Evidence of this is the increasing access women now have to occupations traditionally reserved for men. This is because capitalism needs to make the most profitable use of the human energies available. To push for something like "equality of job opportunity for women" within capitalism might indeed make women less bound to “mothering- servicing roles”, but only to the extent to which it suited the profit-making capacity of the system. And it would do nothing, absolutely nothing, to make people question why they have to hire themselves out for wages in the first place. It is only when people no longer have to work for a wage that they will truly be able to do the work they want to do. Nobody will be relegated to a particular kind of activity, because everyone will be free to choose. Nor will any kind of work bear any kind of stigma, so that — who knows? — the “mothering-servicing roles” might well become very popular among both men and women!

Passing Points

Dear Editors,

I subscribe monthly to your Socialist Standard. Frankly, I am very impressed by the honest “grass-roots” approach which you take towards such subjects as world nuclear disarmament, for example. However, there are a few passing points which I would like to be answered:

(a) In the light of your stance on War in general (Socialist Standard, February 1981 — "Refuse to be Sitting Targets”), how are pacifists wishing the foundation of a true socialist society going to overthrow hundreds of powerful capitalists in the world (who will definitely use the force of arms to protect their privileges) without the use of weaponry?

(b) How will unarmed socialists persuade “militia workers” — soldiers world-wide, and a potent force in themselves — to disarm and thus surrender their “livelihood”?

(c) Could you please in your reply put forward the SPGB’s argument against administration: i.e, without a representative administration, how will society be run smoothly and efficiently?

(d) How will socialists persuade workers brought up under the monetary system to accept the transition from the gold standard to a “new system of social organisation in which the means of production and distribution of wealth . . .  are commonly owned and democratically controlled . . ."  by all members of society?

Having said all this however, I thoroughly enjoy and approve of your journal: so, fellow socialists. carry on the campaign — there are not many of us in evidence.
Iain Campbell, 

(a) and (b) The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not a pacifist organisation. The reason we are opposed to violence as a means of establishing socialism is that we see no necessity for it. When the majority of workers want it, they will be able to use the already existing — machinery the vote — to bring it into being. And when that happens, what will "hundreds of powerful capitalists" be able to do against the conscious, collective action of millions of workers? The power of the capitalists comes from their political control and will exist no more once this control is taken over by a democratic majority of informed, convinced socialists. Nor is it easy to imagine members of the armed forces — who are also workers and would also be socialists — turning their arms against friends, relatives and fellow workers to defend a system the majority no longer wanted. Would they not rather surrender a futile, negative livelihood like soldiering for a life of voluntary cooperative work that will give them personal satisfaction and a sense of social purpose?

(c) The SPGB has no opposition to administration as such. We wonder what gave you this impression. Socialism will certainly need many and efficient administrators. Perhaps you are thinking of our opposition to political administrations, to governments. These are expressions of class division in society and will disappear in socialism. Government over people will be replaced by administration of things. Regarding “representative administration”, a socialist society will obviously have to delegate certain important organisational tasks to administrators; but they will have no special power or prestige over the rest of the community. They will just be carrying out socially necessary work and there is no reason to suppose that, if they have chosen this kind of work (all work will be voluntary), they will not carry it out smoothly and efficiently.

(d) We cannot hope that our efforts alone will be enough to make socialists of the millions of workers who have been conditioned by capitalism into thinking that the buying and selling system is necessary and eternal. Our argument is that from within capitalism itself come the forces (the SPGB is one of them) to convince workers that the present system, despite its immense productive power and continued raising of expectations, cannot solve the problems it produces and cannot operate in the interests of the working class. There is of course no absolute guarantee that this will happen but certain long-term trends make it increasingly likely. Capitalism, for its own needs, has already had to provide the premises for socialism — a large, organised, highly trained working class driven by its conditions to constantly look for alternatives; rapid worldwide communications and spreading of ideas; the possibility of a vast abundance of goods sufficient to satisfy all human needs; recurrent social problems which even under capitalism can often only be approached on a world scale (pollution, nuclear threat, terrorism, for example) and which thereby spread among workers a consciousness of the need for global solutions.

Ground Level

Dear Editors,

After reading your journals. I do not understand why you don’t “get stuck in" on the ground level, rather than stay aloof and say "it’s all because of capitalism". A point of view I cannot sec the "man in the street" understanding. I also think that due to this viewpoint you will lose votes to the Communist Party who will cash in by going out to the people, producing changes in the capitalist system and gradually working towards their goal. As I see your party, you are not gradualists, but expect people to take a complete change to socialism straight from capitalism. Rather than working for the people at ground level, leading to election and then the change. That’s my view anyway; but I’m only a dumb schoolboy!
R. Pullan 

You are correct in seeing that we want a complete change of society. However we can’t agree that we aren’t getting "stuck in on the ground level". All our activity is “ground-level" stuff—organising and addressing meetings, producing literature for people to read, distributing our leaflets, pamphlets and journals (often in the streets and pubs), putting our point of view to friends and workmates whenever possible. But perhaps by "ground-level" work you mean campaigning for immediate reforms and, if so, we must confess to non-involvement in this kind of activity. Unlike the Communist Party which you mention, and other left-wing organisations, we don’t try to get people on our side by dangling reforms in front of them. We’ve seen from experience that reforms never help workers as much as may at first seem likely and we’ve seen above all that the changes reforms produce in the system don’t point towards socialism. They don’t help people to work, gradually or otherwise, towards the goal of a society of common ownership and democratic control. What they tend to do rather is to divert people from this goal by consuming all available energies and to push socialism further into the future. It’s probably true that if we promised reforms we’d get more immediate support, but we’d be getting it on false pretences and defeating the object for which our organisation exists.

You seem to think that this object is too difficult for the "man in the street" to understand. Yet we, the members of the SPGB, are perfectly ordinary men and women and we’ve understood, and you, a "dumb schoolboy” as you describe yourself, seem to have got the message loud and clear. The fact of the matter is that you’re not “dumb”. Neither is the “man in the street". We’re just all part of a system whose effect is to give people the idea from an early age that they’re incapable of organising the world themselves and of understanding how things work and that they need superior beings called leaders to do their organising and thinking for them. Don’t be conned. The working class is perfectly capable of organising society (it does it already from top to bottom but not in its own interests) and of understanding the socialist case against capitalism. When it shakes itself out of the torpor and feeling of powerlessness that capitalism visits on it, it won’t be interested in “gradual reforms" or “changes in the capitalist system”. It will want the whole loaf—socialism. And it will take it. If you understand our case and agree with it, you should join us and help hasten the day.


Dear Editors.

I subscribe to the Socialist Standard and like you, consider that Marx’s labour theory of value provides the explanation for the origin of surplus value in general and profit in particular. However, I should be grateful if you were to clarify how automated production is accounted for by the labour theory of value. Do you think that the share of surplus value would be determined by the capital invested, notwithstanding the absence of humans from the productive process?
P. S. Maloney
London N13

Humans can never be absent from the productive process. They must always come in somewhere. If we take as an example the making of a car, even if this object can be built by robots from top to bottom, the robots themselves have to be conceived, built and maintained by humans. And even if these robots can be built and maintained by other robots, somewhere back at the end of this kind of chain human energies are necessary to think out the production process and to fashion the raw materials needed to build the original robots. As it is the socially necessary labour time spent in doing this that determines the value of the finished car, the labour theory of value still holds good.

It is tempting to think that automation necessarily means the use of less labour power overall. But what it really means is a shift from the need for unskilled manual energies to an increased demand for more skilled workers to design and think out the increasingly sophisticated methods of production that capitalists have to develop to be able to produce cheaply in competition with their rivals. This is the pattern we have seen and are continuing to see in all the advanced industrial countries.


Dear Editors,

In article 6 of your Declaration of Principles you declare that the working class must organise for the conquest of the powers of national and local government. Would you please elucidate as to the nature of the programme that you would embark upon if a member of your party were to be elected. As you have put up a candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, I can only assume that as a contingency you have defined a programme of aims.

I believe that the wording of article 8 is too ambitious. 1 refer to one specific word really: banner. As I understand, it, your party refutes any suggestion that it should have a banner as such, so surely the presence of this word in article 8 causes confusion and invites unnecessary criticism.
Stephen Shields, 

The need to gain democratic control of the state machine is based on the realisation that if the governmental powers are not conquered by the socialist majority they will likely be used against us. When a majority of socialist delegates are elected by class-conscious workers to the assemblies of local and national government throughout the world they will have only one act to perform: the abolition of all property rights and the transfer of the means of wealth production and distribution into the hands of the whole community. Socialist candidates stand in election for that revolutionary purpose and none other.

If an individual socialist councillor or MP is elected on the basis of socially conscious working class votes, he or she will do everything possible to further the interests of the working class as a whole. The state forum will be used to expound clear socialist ideas and all legislative proposals will be responded to from the angle of the working class interest. Socialist delegates will be accountable to the Party membership. 

As for the reference to mustering under our banner, we doubt very much that this is a significant reason why workers arc not joining the SPGB. The term is clearly metaphorical, as are many other phrases in the Declaration of Principles. If Stephen Shields attends any of the meetings of his local branch he will meet with political clarification, but no banners.


Dear Editors,

You rightly said on page 154 of your August issue that "We insist that the mess that is human society today can be changed if we all decide to change it”. This attitude should be applied by yourselves to the question of disarmament. Your journal has criticised the peace movement, saying that disarmament and peace are impossible whilst we have capitalism and that such movements divert workers from the task of fighting capitalism. The mental revolution in the way men and women see the world, which you mention as a prerequisite of political change is unlikely to happen overnight; socialist education is necessary and this may take time. Meanwhile disarmament must not be ignored. The world may be destroyed if we allow the arms race to continue. Socialists should not take an attitude of "the beginning of the world is nigh" and sit back waiting for socialism. The world will not change for the better unless people decide to change it. Neither should we, whilst attempting to create and mobilise support for change, ignore such a pressing concern as nuclear annihilation. Just as socialism can replace capitalism if people decide to act, so can peace replace the arms race if enough people actively support it. The peace movement is trying to build up this support.
Sharon McDermott,

The SPGB does not anticipate an overnight revolution because socialist consciousness, unlike reformist moralising, is not best developed in the dark. We agree with you that “socialist education is necessary", but we do not think that it is best to educate workers about the alternative to capitalism by feeding them with illusions about how it can be made safe and peaceful. We agree that the revolution in consciousness "may take time", but we do not imagine that it will take any less time if workers who agree with us refuse to join with us because they think that the rest of the working class cannot understand our case.

The SPGB has never urged workers to "sit back and wait for socialism”. Those who merely wait for socialism, and occupy themselves in the meantime with illusory and futile “short-term measures", are the ones who are perpetuating the cause of a potential nuclear holocaust.

We would like Ms McDermott to explain to us precisely how politically uneducated, non-socialist workers are going to be able to stop the threat of nuclear annihilation within capitalism. Until she does, she will find it difficult to convince us that we are the ones who are wasting our time.

Letters from M. Brown and G. Nesbitt will be published next month.

So that's it then (1997)

The Greasy Pole Column from the May 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

After the long campaign, the speeches, the manifestos and the voting we are under a new government. All over the country millions of people emerged from the polling stations on 1 May convinced that they had done something significant-like exercising their democratic rights, like deciding on how Britain will be run for the next few years, like choosing between two different policies about the best way of making us happier, freer, more prosperous . . .

Then it was back to business—business as usual, which was not surprising because all those eager, self-satisfied voters were actually taking part in a political charade, contributing to their own repression and exploitation. After the election nothing, except in the most trivial and insignificant way. will change. The problems which the big parties claimed to have solutions for, set out in their election programmes, will go on and on. If they are pressed, the politicians will explain their failure to keep their promises by reference to events outside their control—the perfidy of foreign governments, the obstinate greed of British workers, even perhaps some natural disaster.

Consider, for example, John Major's startling discovery that there are people in Britain who are underprivileged and who don't seem to be getting their share of all that wonderful prosperity which the Tory government swamped us in. This was a rerun of his "Brixton boy" theme—the honest lad from a simple background who understands, and agonises over, the plight of the more impoverished in society. It was all very well Major showing his sympathy in this way but this does not answer the point about what the Conservative Party has been doing since they came in in 1979, on the assurance that they could pretty well wipe out such problems. It doesn't tell us anything about what happened to Major’s talk, when he became Prime Minister over six years ago, about managing a kinder society, a country at ease with itself.

In 1979 the Tories told us that it only needed a few adjustments to society—like making the unions impotent, like privatising the railways, the mines and the rest, like denying state subsidies to ailing industries—to establish the kind of briskly efficient capitalism which would benefit us all. They had no reservations about this then: why should they have them now? And how much longer should we wait for them to get things right?

These questions can be answered partly by considering how the Labour Party have also made some discoveries. Not so long ago life for a Labour supporter was a lot simpler. On the one hand there was the Tory Party and the damage being done to the working class while they were in power. On the other hand there was the Labour Party; obviously their job was to undo the damage by following policies different from those of the Tories.

It was, as we say, simple except the Labour Party too made some discoveries and foremost among them was that the safest way to bid for power was to become as much like the Conservatives as possible. Of course this might upset a few stubborn dinosaurs in the party but they must either understand the necessity for the discoveries or join some other mob like Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. If the dinosaurs got too restless and could not be extinguished there was always the option of the party making what is politely called a fudge.

One who once seemed to be a dinosaur is David Blunkett who, in the days when he roamed in Labour's primeval swamps, became famous as the leader of Sheffield City council who cut the local bus fares. In those days he was a hero of Labour's left—a man who was staunch in his principles—so there was rejoicing in the City of Steel when he got into parliament and moved steadily upwards through the ranks of shadow ministers.

He seemed to be ideally suited, in left-wing Labour terms, for the part of Shadow Education Secretary because he left school without so much as an ‘O’ level and worked as a clerk at the Gas Board until, he took evening and day release classes and then went to university to study politics. So when he declared, to Labour's 1995 conference, his stolid faith in non-selective schooling he brought the house down:
   ". . .  watch my lips. No selection either by examination or interview under a Labour government."
But alas poor Blunkett, who had to discover that such dramatic declarations might not go down so well with voters in some key constituencies as with a bunch of disconnected Labour activists. Labour's manifesto put a different, more seductive line, saying they “ . . . will never force the abolition of good schools" (even if "good" means selective?) and that any changes in the admission policies of grammar schools (which are selective) will be decided by local parents.

If Labour—and Conservative—activists were embarrassed by this sort of thing how did they survive, with the knowledge that their parties were so close in their policies that at times the wording was almost identical like:

  • We will raise spending on the NHS in real terms every year (Labour).
  • We will, year by year, increase the real resources committed to the NHS (Tory).
  • We must crack down on dishonesty in the benefit system (Labour).
  • We will crack down on benefit cheats (Tory).

Labour suggested "parental responsibility orders" for the parents of young offenders: the Tories promised a "parental control order" to do roughly the same thing. Labour's "long-term objective” is "high and stable levels of employment": the Tories’ "priority is to create jobs”. Finally, Labour thinks "the British people are a great people” and the Tories say "Britain is admired the world over”.

Well they would say that wouldn’t they? They are hardly likely to conclude, looking at the sickness, the alienation, the homeless, the crime which characterises capitalism in this country, that the British people are anything but great and universally admired.They wouldn't say that because they rely on those same people to vote for them, ignoring all the evidence about their impotence covered by their cynical chicanery and ask again and again for the same again.

And that's what we have got.

Business as usual.

Lyndoe on Marx (1959)

From the June 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

A reader asks us to comment on an article from the pen of one Edward Lyndoe who is by profession an "astrologist."

In the November 1958 number of Prediction this writer has turned his attention to the "Chart of—Karl Marx." His article tells us nothing about Marx personally, and less than nothing about his ideas—which are what have made him so notorious, but concentrates entirely on trying to show that Marx's actions, in his practical everyday life, were the results of his "chart" or horoscope. In doing this, Mr. Lyndoe shows his utter ignorance of Marxism, but reveals unintentionally, quite a lot about the methods of fortune-tellers, crystal gazers and palm-readers who profess to reveal the future, for a suitable fee.

As Karl Marx died in 1883 the only thing Mr. Lyndoe can do in his case, is to try to show that Marx's astrological chart, that is the relative positions of the planets on his birth day, would confirm what Mr. Lyndoe puts forward as Marx's biography and "explain" his actions. His main contention is that Marx was a hypocritical old fraud who, in fact, had no "sympathy with humanitarian ideals," whose "poverty" in London was "largely a sham," and that when Marx became a revolutionary he was only "acting on the stage."

To make his otherwise very dull and boring article a bit more tasty, Mr. Lyndoe has thrown in, as a titbit, a further allegation, culled from the pages of the Vienna gutter press, that Herr Raab the Austrian Chancellor took with him to Moscow last year a recently discovered letter from the files of the Secret Police, purporting to have been sent to Frankfort Political Police by Karl Marx reporting on Austrian and German political exiles in London. He further alleges that Marx was actually living in London on £5 monthly paid to him by the secret police. During his life-time, on more than one occasion, Marx showed himself well able to deal with this sort of pin-prick when resorted to by those he crushed in controversy.

Regarding the alleged letter in the Vienna files, we should require more proof than the statement of Mr. Lyndoe. So far as the established facts of Marx's London exile are concerned, they are on record in the numerous biographies and biographical sketches. Let any reader in doubt consult Mehring's Karl Marx or the sketches by Liebknecht and Lafargue.

That Marx lived in the direst poverty, prior to Engels retirement, is so well known that we apologise to readers for repeating it. As a typical example, here is an extract from the Diary of Frau Marx, showing the suffering and hardship the Marx family underwent in London.
   "At Easter 1852 our poor little Franziska fell ill with severe bronchitis. For three days the poor child struggled against death and suffered much. Her small lifeless body rested in our little back room whilst we all went together into the front room and when night came we made up beds on the floor. The three surviving children lay with us and we cried for the poor little angel who now rested so cold and lifeless in the next room. The poor child's death took place in a period of bitterest poverty."
(Karl Marx by F. Mehring. Allen and Unwin page 217.)
In actual fact, he lost three children through infant starvation. At one period the body of his baby son lay on the table in a wooden box while his father strove frantically to find the small sum necessary for his burial. In fact, tragic though they were at the time, episodes such as the occasion when Marx found himself at Bow Street for trying to pawn his wife's valuable silver are now regarded humourously.

This, as Socialists, is not our main concern. What Mr. Lyndoe is completely ignorant of, and what he must do, to write about Marx for intelligent people is get some idea of what it was that Marx was advocating. Significant for the ideas of Marx is not that he was born in the conjunction of Uranus— Neptune, but in the early stages of a new kind of social order—Capitalism.

Incidentally Mr. Lyndoe cannot have it both ways. If the actions of individuals are not their own, but predestined by their "charts" or "stars," what is Mr. Lyndoe complaining about —fraud, hypocrite, spy or not, Marx was merely fulfilling his destiny—he couldn't have been anything else. But the critic makes these actions the grounds for moral strictures and homilies. He complains that "Marxian Communism is the religion which not only glorifies the ends regardless of the means, but glorifies the means themselves. We should not be too sanctimonious about some of the methods used in our part of the globe—but, at least we do not feel disposed to trumpet them abroad as a new morality." What all this has to do with Marx and his stars nobody will ever know!

Here, dear Mr. Lyndoe, are the important facts. A German philosopher, turned journalist, found himself unable to answer some of the questions his readers were asking about social conditions in the Rhineland in 1843. He resigned and resolved to study to try to clarify the position. This job of studying the social position eventually became a life-work, and led him through many strange unexpected paths making him many enemies, and not a few friends.

Now unlike Mr. Lyndoe, we would not hold that Marx or anyone else is a pawn in the hands (or beams) of Uranus. Within "well defined limits a certain amount of choice was his. He could either publicly renounce the inevitable logical conclusions of his researches and findings, or boldly proclaim his adherence to them. Marx unravelled the law of social development, he explained the rise of the new ruling class and saw within Capitalism the seeds of yet another form, Socialism.

In the Communist Manifesto he wrote explicitly of various class spokesmen and representatives and the fact that some individuals, though not born in the ranks of the oppressed and exploited, take their place among them.
  "Just as in former days part of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie—so now part of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariate. Especially does this happen in the case of some of the bourgeois ideologists, who have achieved a theoretical understanding of the historical movement as a whole." (Communist Manifesto. Page 38. Ryazanov edition.)
This "understanding of the historical movement as a whole" is a closed book to Lyndoe. So far as workers are concerned it is vital— it is their destiny as a class which is at stake. The action to deal with their problems will be taken by themselves, with the help of Marx's ideas.

So far as Marx's personal character and actions come into it at all, it only remains to add that Socialism was probably particularly fortunate to stumble across a man of Marx's mental and personal integrity. Whatever the consequences—whatever the outcome of his conclusions—he stood by them. They could not have been more unpopular with capitalists, those of wealth and power, who saw to it that if they couldn't physically maltreat and victimise him—at least they could take it out of his wife and children—which they did. Once he had signed the Communist Manifesto the author of the slogan "Workers of all lands! Unite" could not get a job as a Railway Clerk, degree or not!

Karl Marx, of course, is not the only instance of someone of genius whose explosive ideas have incurred the wrath of the powers that be—Bruno burnt at the stake, Galileo tortured on the rack, Hypatia cut to death with sharp shells.

Others like Lyell and Darwin have also been the target for vituperation though not physical outrage. In our own day there are those to whom Professor Pauling and Bertrand Russell are anathema because they do not support some suicidal war policy.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury can admit that the Earth is millions, not thousands of years old—that life has evolved and was not "created." But no capitalist can tolerate the idea that capitalism is obsolete and superfluous— that it thrives on exploitation—that its days (and his days) are doomed, that a superior and inevitable alternative, Socialism, is on the way.

All these things Marx proved. The best estimate of his personal character, was that of the man best qualified to make it—Frederick Engels, who at his graveside said "Marx was, above all, a revolutionary. The battle was his element."