Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Plenty for Everybody (1970)

Book Review from the September 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Starvation or Plenty? by Colin Clark. Seeker & Warburg. 30s.

Colin Clark, the agricultural economist, is a controversial figure. He has been a fierce critic of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and what he regards as its exaggerations of the number of hungry and starving people in the world. He has always denied that overpopulation is, or is ever likely to be, a problem and has insisted that the world is quite capable of providing for many times its present population.

Clark has never disguised the fact that he is a Catholic and his critics have suggested that his aim is to justify his church’s opposition to birth control. It could be argued, on the other hand, that the Catholic dogma of “God will provide” brings a different approach to this question of food and population than the conventional capitalist dogma of solving the problem of plenty (in this case, plenty of people who could produce more food) by trying to abolish or prevent it (in this case, by birth control). We will merely record here Clark’s views and let people judge for themselves.

But first let us state our own view. We too say that population is not a problem and that Malthus was talking nonsense. The problem is rather the underproduction and waste that is built-in to capitalism through its profit motive (Clark, as a defender of free-enterprise capitalism, would disagree with us here). Only when the world’s resources are owned in common by all mankind can they be used rationally to provide abundance for all.

Clark estimates that the average consumption of people in North America and Western Europe is about 8 times the bare human subsistence level. How much land, he asks, would be needed to allow one person to live at the American level if the best agricultural techniques were applied? Only 2763 square metres or about two-thirds of an acre. Is there enough land in the world to allow the present world's population to live at this level?
  The potential agricultural area of the world . . . could provide for the consumption. at these very high standards, of 35.1 billion people, or over 10 times the world’s present population. This, it will be remembered, is on the assumption of the general use of agricultural methods already practised by the average farmer in the Netherlands or similar countries, without allowing for any further improvements in agricultural technology, for any provision of food from the sea, or for any extension of present systems of irrigation.
 
This. remember, is only a measure of what the world could provide if the most productive modern techniques were applied everywhere. To do this would take time and demand a massive technical and educational programme (of a kind only a rationally-organised socialist world could mount). But it does show that nobody need now starve and that overpopulation is just a myth.

And what about in the meantime? Even under capitalism (and Clark never steps outside the framework of this system), “for most of the world agricultural production is advancing substantially faster than population, and is likely to continue to do so”. He foresees that if this goes on and if agricultural productivity in the developing countries exceeds the demand there “there will be a most acute problem of disposal of agricultural surpluses in the export markets”. Clark blames the developed countries for hogging the world market in agricultural products and suggests they should give up part of this to the developing countries who could thus get the money to buy industrial products from them instead. Such a rational (from a capitalist point of view) re-arrangement of the anarchic world market is, we would suggest, most unlikely so that, if Clark is right here, capitalism will again expose on a more widespread scale than now its absurdity by producing food it cannot sell even though sonic people need it.

This short, easy-to-read book presents Clark’s views in handy form and should be read by all those interested in this question. It should challenge the prejudices of those who believe in the threat of overpopulation.
Adam Buick

Producing Plenty No Problem (1970)

Book Review from the September 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Population and Food Supply, ed. by Sir Joseph Hutchinson. (Cambridge University Press. 30s.)
Famine in Retreat? by G. Bridger and M. de Sissons. (Dent. 45s.)

Producing enough food to feed the world’s growing population is not a problem in itself:
  We have the technology to get the rest of the world into the position of food surplus that the West has enjoyed in recent years (Hutchinson).
 
  Producing more food is not the greatest problem, from the scientific point of view . . .  A world that is capable of sending men to the moon can surely grow enough food to feed itself. We believe it is capable of producing that food (Bridger and de Sissons).
The problem of course is poverty. The hungry people of the world — there are perhaps some 350 million on the verge of starvation — simply do not have the money to buy the food they need and so do not constitute a profitable market. Food production is limited to what can be sold profitably, and its rate of expansion is governed by the rate of expansion of the market for food. Both books accept this system and discuss "the problem of financing output" or “trade as a means of moving surpluses to areas of shortage". Bridger and de Sissons even argue that the rate at which food production grows should be limited to 3 or 4 per cent a year since a higher rate, without productivity increases. could lead to "unsaleable surpluses". If you accept capitalism this may seem reasonable but once you realise that Socialism is possible it only exposes the fetter that production for sale is. Hutchinson reminds us of another of capitalism's absurdities :
  a balance between supply and demand means no more than that there is as much food on the market as can be purchased with the money available. It docs not mean that there is enough food to meet all human needs.
The only framework for a rational solution of this problem is production to meet human needs on the basis of the common ownership of the world’s resources. This means an end to finance and trade, and the problems they bring, and the institution of the planned distribution of food to where it is needed.

Oddly enough. Bridger and de Sissons do come near to discussing the socialist alternative when they say:
  If all we had to do to maintain the world’s population in food was to measure now much we needed, apply scientific discoveries and then grow the food required, we would have few food problems.
In a socialist world this essentially is all we would have to do. Certainly some of the problems — the technical (including the training of farmers in modern methods) not the financial ones — that they go on to discuss would be inherited, but they too could be solved within a society geared to serving human needs instead of profits.

Hutchinson's collection of lectures given in Cambridge in 1966 and 1967 is a little pessimistic, one contributor even comes near to arguing that only birth control is the solution. Famine in Retreat?, especially the first part, is the better book. It is easier to read and discusses the problems, even those exclusive to capitalism, in a simple and sensible way.
Adam Buick

Automation Under Capitalism (1970)

Pamphlet Review from the September 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Automation and Technical Chance. T.U.C. 2s.

THE trades union congress published its first statement on automation in 1956. This was followed in 1965 by Automation and Technological Change, of which a revised edition has recently been published.

Within its limits it is a useful discussion of the problems and prospects of automation in its various shades of meaning and of other forms of technological change. It dismisses the wild assumptions that automation would quickly revolutionise workers’ lives under capitalism by providing abundance or alternatively by putting vast millions out of work.

It reaches the conclusion that the hitherto slow rate of introduction of automation is likely to quicken in coming years and increasingly affect clerical and managerial workers, not by reducing the total number of jobs but by destroying particular jobs and calling for new types of work and in this way causing great hardship to large numbers of workers forced to change their jobs, move to different areas and undergo new training, often late in life.

While generally favourable to technological change and emphasising the likelihood of higher wages in some industries it admits that conditions of work may be worsened by the introduction of more shift work and, in some fields, by Saturday and Sunday work, excessive overtime and by the replacement of men by women. It records that in offices it sometimes means an increase of tiring and boring jobs such as punch card work, with associated greater noise in the work rooms.

Its great defect is that it tacitly accepts the continuation of capitalism and assumes that the system is now capable of being planned and controlled on a “full employment” basis—the typical Labour Party attitude.

It tells us:
  Maintenance of full employment is chiefly the responsibility of the government. All political parties, the Confederation of British Industry and the TUC accept that this should be the case. There is agreement that the necessary techniques arc available to sustain full employment, although not everybody agrees as to when and how they should be used, or whether full employment is a principal responsibility of government or merely one responsibility.
It also tells us that “a high level of employment has been maintained in the post-war period”, a claim that reads rather oddly in face of the fact that unemployment in the past two years has been running at levels which are a record for post-war years and that the TUC has just told the government that they must bring unemployment down to 400,000 by the end of this year.

The statement barely mentions foreign competition and ignores the fact that a decline of world markets which are outside the control of the government, the CBI and the TUC, could drastically increase the amount of unemployment and undermine the safeguards the TUC proposes.

The obligations placed on the TUC by the trade unions exclude consideration of the possibility that capitalism could be replaced by Socialism, with the consequent abolition of production for the market and the wages system. So nowhere does the statement even look at the completely different standards from which automation and technological change would be regarded in a socialist system of society, when for the first time the wellbeing of all would be the only consideration. 
Edgar Hardcastle

China: Next in Lin? (1972)

From the September 1972 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent comings and goings among British politicians are as nothing compared to the convulsions that have been taking place over the past year in the ruling class of China. An official statement made by the Chinese Embassy in Algiers (see the Times, July 29) has confirmed that Lin Piao, formerly the officially-designated successor to Mao Tse-tung, was killed in a plane crash last September while fleeing to Russia after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Mao.

A “Communist’' from his young days, Lin Piao seemed to possess all the qualifications needed for the assumption of supreme power. He had taken part in the Long March of 1934-5, when the remnants of the Red Army marched eight thousand miles to a new base in the north-west. After the surrender of the Japanese, he was instrumental in defeating the Nationalists in Manchuria, thus paving the way for the Communist conquest of the entire country. Despite ill-health, Lin was in 1959 appointed Minister of National Defence; as spokesman for the army, he played a prominent role in the Cultural Revolution, when the Communist Party machinery was virtually destroyed. Indeed, with the disgrace of Liu Shao-ch’i, Lin became second in rank only to Mao Tse-tung: the high point of his power appears to have been marked by the draft of a new Constitution (which became available in Taiwan late in 1970), which declared Mao to be head of state and Lin Piao to be his successor.

This Constitution, however, was never adopted. From the later months of 1971, Lin’s name disappeared from public mention, and the Little Red Book of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, to which he had contributed the foreword, slipped into the background. If the recent Chinese reports are reliable, Lin, perhaps disappointed and impatient on account of Chairman Mao's longevity, plotted, with his son as accomplice, to assassinate Mao. When the plot was discovered, Lin attempted to escape to Russia: whether the fatal air crash was an accident or not, remains uncertain.

There is no doubt that Lin’s death is part of a continuing struggle between the political and military bosses of China. As far back as 1938, Mao had written:
  Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party. (“Problems of War and Strategy”).
According to Victor Zorza, however (Sunday Times, July 30), the real point at issue is whether or not the Chinese economy shall emphasize agriculture or heavy industry. The Chinese press has been criticising the Lin Piao clique for wishing to spend too much on modern-style armaments, and Zorza believes that such newspaper statements constitute “a new attack on China’s military industrial complex. . . . Were such policies to be applied, the authoritative Peking party journal Red Flag says, the upshot would be that agriculture lagged behind, while industry ‘especially military industry, could develop abnormally’.” So for the time being at least, it seems, Chinese capitalism will aim to devote more resources to feeding its wage slaves than to expanding its industrial production.

And the lesson of all this for socialists — and indeed for all workers? Only that quarrels within the ruling class, wherever they occur, are of no concern to ordinary men and women. While the Maos and Lins of this world do their best to run things for their own benefit, the workers may be able (perhaps even in a dictatorship like China) to gain short-term advantages by playing off one faction of the ruling class against another. But they should never forget that their real interests lie not in supporting one or other set of rulers, but in establishing a world-wide democratic system of society, where there will be no ruling class and no oppression of man by man.
Paul Bennett

So They Say: Prime Minister of Mirth (1973)

The So They Say Column from the September 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Prime Minister of Mirth
William Hazlitt wrote that the cause of laughter was “the difference between what things are and what they ought to be”. In that case, capitalist politics should be uproarious and Ministers hardly able to speak through their merriment.

On 29th July the News of the World had a headline We’ve never had it so good — Heath. The report began:
  You’ve never had it so good. That was the message Mr. Heath gave the country yesterday as he told of soaring standards of living and new prosperity being created at a record rate.
And ended:
  About two million people with special needs, like the chronically sick and disabled, the very old, widows between 40 and 50 and low-wage families with children, were being helped for the first time.
This remarkable paradox is found in practically all policy statements by the governing parties. If they have provided prosperity, why must they keep legislating for poverty? Heath’s audience must have rolled in the aisles as he said, in effect: Your ailment has been cured by us and, what is more, we are going to treat it. On 1st August the Evening Standard reported that the Inner London Education Authority provides 69,000 free meals to “children from poor homes”. Surely that should read “children from prosperous homes” if we are to keep to the spirit of the thing?


There it is. Gone
The chancellor of the Exchequer must be in fits, too. On 28th July The Guardian reported Barber still pledges growth. He said :
  To secure rising prosperity for the British people we have to sustain an expanding economy.
A week later, on 4th August, The Guardian summarized and quoted a report by the House of Commons Expenditure Committee:
  In other words hardly any of the direct benefits of economic growth over the next year are likely to go to the ordinary person. If the committee is right — and it has the guidance of Wynne Godley, a distinguished former Treasury forecaster — this could make the enforcement of Stage Three very much harder.
The Arabian Nights has an apt phrase for hilarity: “They laughed so much they fell over on their bottoms.” That is probably what will happen to Mr. Barber.


Help for the Aged
However, the financial page of The Guardian on 28th July showed that some of “the very old” with “special needs” are to get a share of “rising prosperity”. An article called “The Sharp edge of Taxation” invited sympathy for company directors:
  In spite of the popular, puritan prejudice, the directors and executives of any company enjoy very few tax concessions of any kind . . . Entertainment is no longer deductible, unless you are fattening up foreigners for an export killing.
The Government has come to the aid of these tragic figures:
  To end on a happier note: until now, the Inland Revenue would not approve any pension scheme for controlling directors. These are directors receiving more than 5 per cent of the shares of a company which is controlled by its directors . . . However, the current Finance Bill will largely lift this qualification so that most controlling directors will be better placed than sole traders or partners who have to provide for their retirement out of their own pocket.

Treasure on Earth
One road to prosperity has always been religion. Not for the simple believers, but for the promoters. If church collection plates are not laden these days, there is still plenty of money made through Christianity. Robert Stigwood Ltd., the company which owns the rights of the Jesus Christ Superstar musical, have announced a pre-tax profit of £1,250,000 for last year and expect this year to be better still. An interim dividend of 5.5 per cent. (7.5 per cent. gross) has been declared.

There is no addendum to remind shareholders that all this may make it hard for them to get into the kingdom of Heaven.


Sweet William
The Sunday People on 29th July reported the foundation of a new organization.
  A group of Englishmen — including a civil servant and a stockbroker — have set out to convince us that Kaiser Bill was really a good bloke . . .  He was, in fact, a fine, honourable and great man. That is the view of members of the newly-formed Kaiser Wilhelm II Society.
The Kaiser was, of course, the Hitler of the 1914-18 war: the militaristic villain “responsible” for the bloodbath, who was going to be hanged at the end of it.

The Society will find ample material in British papers and magazines prior to 1914. The Kaiser was a cousin of the British royal family. The weekly Sketch on 22nd November 1899 had two full-page portraits of him as “Her Majesty’s and England’s Welcome Guest”. It wrote of “tremendous energy and personal magnetism . . . ready courtesy and tact . . .  his real intimates are Englishmen”, etc., and told how as a baby he had “beautiful white soft skin and a very dear face”.

What research shows is not the Kaiser’s qualities but the cynicism of the press, which transforms heroes into monsters and back again to serve the interests of capitalism.


Explain or Re-punctuate
Lord Diamond . . . denied that it was nationalisation by the back door. ‘It isn’t nationalisation is it, because it is not going to the nation and isn’t by the back door, it is by the front door.’ (Details, page 7)” — The Guardian, 27th July.
Robert Barltrop

News from Australia (1974)

From the September 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard
The fake Labour Government has done nothing to ease the problems of Socialists in Australia. A comrade from the Socialist Party of Australia writes:
We battle along doing what we can to wake up the slaves who—under the Labour government—take an even greater interest in their masters’ problems—balance of trade, inflation etc. for which latter they, like their counterparts in the UK, blame the Unions and everyone on high salaries condemns the basic-wage slaves for demanding higher wages and so keeping the prices rising and further inflating inflation!

One would think that after a hundred years of Marxism there would be a greater understanding of these questions, but it seems that the younger generation do not respond any more than their fathers. Capitalism’s power of recovery and expansion seems to stifle the workers’ capacity to grasp the realities of the situation, so quickly does it pass from one crisis to another—bewildering those who don’t understand and hampering the efforts of the few who do.

Nevertheless the position is far from being hopeless and a developing opposition in Russia and China could easily serve to accelerate activity elsewhere. To enlarge on this would take time not available here.

The events in the Middle East, the happenings in Europe (Common Market) the fatuous vapourings of the Heaths and TU officials, and the “State of the Nixon Nation” provides propaganda points for Socialists and even though many workers feign disinterestedness at heart they must realise that what is happening is only what Socialists have been telling them for years is inevitable under capitalism.
W. J. Clarke
New South Wales.



Soviet Imperialism (1975)

From the September 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the slanging match between China and Russia for the ideological leadership of world falsification of socialism, China accuses Russia of being an Imperialist country and pursuing an imperialist policy. Like all so-called communist countries they rarely define what they mean by the terms they use. The Russians for their part deny that they are a capitalist country, and much less have reached the “stage” of Imperialism.

Marx wrote in Wage Labour and Capital:
 “Capital pre-supposes wage labour; wage-labour pre-supposes capital. They condition each other; and bring the other into existence.”
That Russian economy is based on wage-labour is undeniable — all workers receive wages — except perhaps those in the slave labour camps; therefore their system is capitalist. Now let us consider if Russian capitalism has reached the stage of “Imperialism — the highest form of capitalism.”

Lenin wrote a lot of rubbish and most of it was personal vituperation against Kautsky and others — in fact his method seems to have been to attack anybody and everybody who disagreed with him. He did however in his more lucid intervals write something worth reading. One of his books Imperialism — the highest stage of capitalism, gives a complete definition of Imperialism so that there can be no doubt whether Russia is an Imperialist country. The thesis conveyed in the title of the book is mistaken, in fact. Imperialism is not a phase in the development of capitalism in this and that country, but something which goes on all the time. Lenin was identifying it with its pre-1914 forms (so far as West European countries were concerned) of colonial rule.

Lenin defines Imperialism as five things which happen to be the headlines of the first five chapters of his Imperialism. These are: 1, the concentration of the production and monopolies; 2, the banks and their new rôle (that is the fusion of the banks with industry; 3, financial capitalism and financial oligarchy; 4, the export of capital, and 5, the division of the world among the capitalist powers.

Russia has long reached monopoly production and the state has fused the banks with industry. But the most important point is the export of capital for it is here that a capitalist country gains interest through exploitation of the workers of other lands. Lenin wrote in Imperialism:—
  As long as capitalism remains as capitalism, surplus capital will never be used for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses, for this would mean a decrease in profits for the capitalists; instead it will be used to increase profits by exporting the capital abroad, to backward countries. In these backward countries profits arc usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land relatively low, wages are low, raw materials are cheap.
In the present edition of the Statesman’s Yearbook 1974/75, page 1396 it reports: —
   After the second world war the USSR has become one of the biggest creditor countries in the world. Between 1945 and 1972 economic aid in the form of 2% or 2½% loans to be repaid as a rule over 12 years has been advanced for 786 enterprises in developing countries; the latter including loans (in one million old roubles), India 2,500m; Egypt 2,300m; Iraq 550m; Afghanistan 480m; Indonesia 443m; Argentine 400m; Ethiopia 400m; Indonesia 140m; Cuba 100m. US $. 76% of the aid is for industrial development and 14% for agriculture and transport. Over 400 industrial plants have been completed in these countries, and nearly as many are being completed; 200,000 native skilled workers have been trained by Soviet specialists and many thousands more in the USSR. Agreements for economic co-operation operate with 45 developing countries in all.
In addition to the countries listed above, there are the iron curtain lands, virtually Russia’s colonies. Some of these like East Germany, Russia stripped after the war of everything worth having, and since then has made enormous investments and built the Berlin wall to prevent their investments (and workers) from dwindling to the West. Russia has of course exported great quantities of armaments to her satellite countries. All this is Imperialism as Lenin understood it, and nothing to do with Socialism.
Horace Jarvis

Obituary: Margaret Morrissey (1976)

Obituary from the September 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrades in Dublin have reported the death a short time ago of Margaret Morrissey. She will be remembered as an indefatigable worker for Socialism. Against the heavy political odds in Ireland which most would have found overwhelming she consistently pitted the strength of her Socialist convictions. She distributed literature wherever she could and no conversation with her was possible without the Socialist viewpoint being put. A personal reminiscence is of a cycle tour some years ago which started with being met at Dublin Airport by Margaret on her ancient “sit-up-and-beg” gearless bike, on which she accompanied us back into town, and the Socialist soliloquy which started when we met and continued throughout the meal and the rest of our time together. In spite of failing health in later years, she was the mainstay of Comrades in Ireland. All Companion Parties will remember her generosity as every penny she could spare went to help the work for Socialism throughout the world. She will be sadly missed and long remembered by all who had the good fortune to know her.
Eva Goodman

So They Say: Dodging the issue (1977)

The So They Say Column from the September 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dodging the issue
A good number of people have been led to believe that the Labour Party has the interests of the working class at heart and its representatives have been careful to cultivate the idea. When this belief is questioned by pointing to the government’s failure to deal with social problems and hardship, the Labour Party explains—or more accurately, explains this away—by saying that they are bedevilled with other matters which in their estimation have to be seen to first.

In the face of growing discontent over wage levels, the government has chosen to associate the level of wages with the level of inflation as if the two were virtually the same thing and that the former will determine the latter. It is not a new ploy from them, two years ago they were placing announcements in the press urging “moderation” in wage claims under the headline “Inflation — we can beat it together." Perhaps wary of reminding workers of the earlier campaign, the current one takes the form of government ministers making speeches.
  The message is gradually getting across that moderate wage increases are the way to improve our standard of living . . .  In fact, we can now predict with confidence that for the next six months inflation will be brought increasingly under control. Whether or not it continues into 1978 is wholly dependent on the pattern of wage settlements during the next year.
Mr. Hattersley. The Times 13th August 77
The one new feature to note here, unlike all the previous and inaccurate predictions by the government on inflation, is that this one is made “with confidence.” The illogicality however is the same; inflation is caused by an excess issue of paper money and the note issue has risen by well over 50 per cent. under Labour. Contrary to the impression (the “message”) from Mr. Hattersley, the note issue is not under the control of the working class, or increased at their bidding. The note issue is determined by the government through the Bank of England.


Gold and silver linings
High unemployment figures give one indication that capitalism is passing through one of its periodic depressions. If we were to take the pronouncements of politicians at face-value, the only salvation lies apparently in “getting business back on its feet.” This impression of a down-and-out capitalism has led some “left-wing” groups, like the Oxford Street sandwich board man, to issue stern warnings that the end is at hand. Ironically, while awaiting the “end” they busy themselves by calling for the right to be employed. Even on their own analysis they do not see the contradiction. However, newspapers publish relatively believable items as well as political speeches: The depression may be serious, but the collapse of capitalism is not upon us.
  The net profits before tax of 229 British companies, whose annual reports are included in the Exchange Telegraph’s statistics service, reached a total of £1,444.1m during the month of July. This compares with £1,015.5m using the same companies for the previous year. The net profits before tax of 1,527 British companies in the seven months to July 31, aggregated £12,403.6m as against £8,953.3m for the same period, using the same companies.
The Times, 2nd August 77
The Times calculates “Company profits up by 42 per cent in July” and using the same calculation, this would put the increase in profit for the 1527 companies up by an average of approximately 38 per cent, over the seven months’ figure for last year. These companies at least have something to show for the Labour Party’s “socialism”.


Great expectations
British workers have a new group of friends, or at least it appeared so at first. The German news magazine Der Spiegel of 1st August says that British workers are a much maligned lot and cannot be blamed for the country’s woes. The magazine draws its conclusion after interviewing a number of German businessmen who are operating in Britain. The German director of a London lighting company had this to say:
  It is more important to (British) people to be treated right than paid properly. If you approach a British worker roughly he will down tools.
Daily Telegraph, 1st August 77
Only a cynic would suggest that treating people “right” is a good bit cheaper than paying them “properly.” The praise rolled on; the head of Klippon Electricals, a sister company of the Weilemuller Company, denied that German workers are better than British. In his own company for example
  Our profitability is so high that it’s the sort of thing others dream about.
No doubt the “others” he refers to are members of the British capitalist class. The workers’ rôle in all this, be they British or German, is simply to make the dream come true.


Still at large
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has an odd sense of humour. When he was talking about the government plans to restrict wage claims to no more than 10 per cent. per annum, he was asked whether negotiations on productivity deals would be permitted to go above this figure. Yes, he thought.
Provided they are genuinely self-financing.
The Times, 11th August 77
This recalled the dreadful beast sighted by Harold Wilson two years ago—“the recalcitrant employer, a rogue elephant” (we think he meant unicorn)—who was causing all manner of difficulty by happily agreeing to over-pay his workers. Sounds as if he must still be at large but we are not entirely surprised to learn that the Labour Party has so far failed to track him down.
Alan D'Arcy

Cheap lives again (1978)

From the September 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard

In May this year, the Socialist Standard commented on the case which revealed that the Ford Motor Company of America deliberately allowed cars on the road which they knew had a lethal design fault, which resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries. This happened because Ford, knowing of the danger, decided that it was actually cheaper to continue the slaughter and pay damages than to redesign the cars. This time though, their calculations went wrong; one victim of their diabolical attitude was able to claim such a high award of damages as to upset their entire calculations.

What is good for Ford, is good enough for British Leyland. The Guardian (13/7/78) reports that BL have been building Allegro cars with a fault which is actually liable to cause wheels to drop off! What is so astonishing (or is it?) is that BL, a nationalised industry be it noted (so much for the claim that nationalisation would somehow mean a different form of capitalism), like Ford, knowing of the danger, decided to sit tight and do nothing about it.

Indeed BL tried to shift the blame onto one of its distributors. They did not get away with it; two hapless victims of this cold-blooded decision sued the company after they had suffered horrible injuries when their car lost a rear wheel. In giving judgment against BL for the damages suffered as a result of the accident the judge said:
  They (i.e. BL) were faced with mounting and horrifying evidence of wheels coming adrift. Any of the cases could have had fatal results. In my view, the duty of care owed by Leyland to the public was to make a clean breast of the problem and recall all cars for safety washers to be fitted. They knew the full facts. They saw to it that no one else did.
One more example of the inhumanity of capitalism; the society that makes profitable production the chief aim, and treats human beings as expendable. Who’s ready for a change?
Ronnie Warrington

The chief task of our times (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

In these times of fast communications and well-organised news services, we are given the advantages of knowing fully and almost at once what the other half of the world is thinking. We find that they are thinking very much the same as we are. They are thinking that life is very hard, and the outlook very cheerless for the human race. If they are workers they are wondering why it is so difficult to get and to keep employment; why there is food and the means of producing food alongside idle men who lack a sufficiency of it; why it is that work is so drab, tedious and exhausting when obviously it could be made very much more agreeable; why the ingenuity of craftsmen, scientists, inventors and so on is being devoted so largely to producing and perfecting weapons of destruction; why the world’s statesmen all proclaim their brotherly sentiments, but cannot translate them into the practical form of abolishing or reducing the armed forces.

These and many other questions flow through the minds of the world’s workers as they set off to or return from their employers' factory, mine or office, or line up at the Labour Exchange or its equivalent, in New York, in London, in Tokyo and in Berlin.

Members of the propertied classes worry their heads too. They have their own doubts and difficulties. They wonder why the working-class animal is such a difficult, unaccountable creature. Why it will not accept all the soothing answers given to it by those in control. They wonder, too, why foreigners must keep on thrusting themselves into the markets, territories and investment areas in which capitalist interests are centred.

These cheerless signs are not novel, but they are more depressing for most people because many of the accustomed opiates have been taken away. It gets harder every year for an intelligent person to believe that he can safely leave the world’s intricate problems to the experts, politicians, journalists and so on. There was a time when, for the average man or woman, it was comforting, and not outrageous, to stifle doubts with the thought that the leaders know all about it — leave it to them. Confidence is a somewhat shop-soiled commodity these days, but those who set great store by it are now at a loss which way to turn. They would still like to believe, but there are too many awkward memories.

Socialists alone can look at the world without pessimism or despair. Socialists never built up false hopes, and have not been disillusioned. Seeing the world as it is we know how great the task is, but we know what can be done by determined, organised work towards a clearly-outlined goal. The world is out of joint because the social system is faulty at the foundation. The private ownership of the means of production and distribution is no longer necessary or desirable. It produces the evils of poverty, unemployment, competition, war and class hatred. It has got to be abolished. Instead of an anarchistic war of private owners seeking profit and permitting the workers to produce wealth only when profit is to be obtained by so doing, the social system needs to be refashioned on the new basis of common ownership. Society must assume possession of its means of life. The private owners must be dispossessed. Their private interests and their class privilege must not be allowed to stand in the way of social progress and the welfare of the whole community. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has taken on the great task of organising for that end. We concentrate on the one vital question, capitalism to be replaced by Socialism, private ownership to give place to common ownership, privilege to give place to equality.

Our aim is one to which the workers of the whole world can rally, ‘without distinction of race or sex’. The Socialist movement is the one movement in the van of social progress, able to face the present world troubles with understanding and confidence.
(An abridged version of an article from the Socialist Standard, December 1934.)


Blogger's Note:
The September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard was a special 75th anniversary, commemorative issue of the magazine. Hence the inclusion of both excerpts and reprints of articles from previous issues of the Socialist Standard.



Socialism or Trotskyism? (1995)

Party News from the December 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

A debate between the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Workers' Liberty ("Socialist Organiser") was held in the University of London Union on 25 October. Although nominally about the events in Russia in October/November of 1917, the debate widened as the evening went on to involve discussions about the nature/politics of the AWL and the Socialist Party in 1995.

Debates about the Russian Revolution have been one of the most common areas of disagreement over the years between Fake-Socialists and genuine Socialists. Fake Socialists of the Leninist-left have of course defended their "heirs apparent”—the Bolsheviks and their coup of 1917, whilst it has been the job of real Socialists to point out that Socialism can only come about when a majority of workers organise democratically for it to happen.

AWL speaker Mark Osborn began his argument by asking us to appreciate the historical conditions of Russia in 1917 and to subsequently try to understand the "real intentions" of the Bolsheviks. They didn't really want to ban opposition and shoot workers who disagreed with them—"Peace, Bread and Land”, that was their real programme. On one level Osborn is right, the historical circumstances meant that any new ruling class in that situation would be forced to act in a certain way that may appear draconian and repressive—but of course if we really understood the “real intentions" of the new "protectors” of the working class interest we would sympathise, wouldn’t we?

Well no actually. The Socialist Party speaker. Adam Buick, argued against this point by pointing out that Socialism can only come about when a majority of the working class want it. How could this come about in a society where only 10 percent of the population were working class?

The point is, that whatever the “real intentions" of the Bolsheviks were, the objective materialist reality was that a new ruling class with a state capitalist programme had come to power. Any attempt to rationalise this as being in the interests of the working class because “they said so" is to fall into idealist speculation. After one has defined a situation as being “of the workers" or “workers' party” or indeed “workers' state"—anything can be subsequently justified. This is because arguments of this sort are based around the "ends justifying the means" and this is precisely where Leninist logic comes unstuck.

However, the real rub is that the AWL propose a similar way of bringing about "Socialism" in 1995 as the Bolsheviks did in 1917. Despite the fact that the working class is now global, they still insist that workers are not capable of organising a democratic majority revolution. This idea for the AWL is "utopianism". Workers should treat these self-appointed "Saviours" with the contempt they in turn show the working class.

As this is just a report (as opposed to a full-scale critique of Leninist-Trotskyism), there only remains to briefly mention a few other aspects of the debate. Those aspects can only be described as a succession of parodies, half-truths and lies. According to the AWL the Socialist Party advocate a purely parliamentary strategy, oppose reforms that actually benefit workers and don’t organise in the trade unions. It doesn't seem to matter how many times we inform them to the contrary that they are not actually arguing against our case, they continue making straw-men out of the Socialist Party's case seemingly because with out these distortions they wouldn’t have any kind of argument at all.

There are supporters of Lenin and Trotsky who do actually know how to argue on the issues without deliberately distorting what you say (although such people are few and far between). The AWL once again showed themselves up for being poorly informed and demonstrating a poor standard of argument even by today’s standard of Leninist-Trotskyist politics. 
Dave Flynn

Nationalism—a dangerous illusion (1991)

From the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalism is at the top of the list of political illusions used to blind capitalism's victims. As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto in 1848, “the communists are reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working class have no country. We can not take from them what they have not got”.

From Cairo to the Cape there is hardly any sign of liberty, not even the capitalist brand such as exists in places like Britain where the working class is at least able to organise itself into trade unions and political parties. This kind of liberty in the West is interpreted by the newly emerged tin-pot dictators as "bourgeois democracy". For centuries the African continent was carved up among the powers of Europe, mainly England, France and Portugal as well as Belgium. Italy and pre-1914 Germany. Now most African countries have gained their independence, but you can hardly see any difference except the colour of the flag. There is no remedy for the oppressed class simply by changing white masters to black dictators.

So national liberation is an illusion for liberty and freedom. Religion and tribalism, sown by the former colonialists, cause wholesale bloodshed and killing. Consequently many people hate the system of oppression operated by their own governments (the tin-pot dictators) and have had to flee to save their own lives. That's why you can see today many refugees from Africa and throughout the world. These refugees are treated badly wherever they go and are classified as stateless. Therefore to “have a country or to belong to a nation" is absolutely meaningless.

In the struggle to win the minds of the working class socialists have to confront the strongest sacred belief, and one of the biggest obstacles to the establishment of socialism: nationalism—the loyalty felt by many members of the working class to "their country”, the political unit in which they happen to be born and live.

Feelings of loyalty to a nation-state are purely subjective, having no basis in reality. The working class in Britain has more in common with the workers in other countries than it has with the Duke of Westminster. Nationalist ideologies and movements represent the interests of the capitalist class.

Politically, nationalism is ambiguous, in that it can take on a “right-wing” or “left-wing" form. This depends on the position of the capitalist class at a particular time and place. If political power is held by the aristocracy or nobility, and the capitalist class is struggling to assert itself, then nationalism will have left-wing connotations. This was the case in Europe until 1848. when nationalism was a romantic revolutionary force against the traditional ruling class. However, once the bourgeoisie has captured and consolidated its power, then nationalism becomes a conservative and "right-wing" force.

In the advanced part of the world—UK, USA and Western Europe—nationalism is conservative, while in the Third World countries nationalists who are engaged in struggles against a foreign ruling class or home-made dictator are “left-wing". The World Socialist Movement opposes all nationalist movements recognising that the working class “has no country”.

Modern capitalism raised the setting up of nation-states to a fine art. As the first capitalist states expanded into other continents, they became accustomed to defining frontiers with a paper and pencil, as they did the map of Africa, which provided the borders for the new states they eventually set up. The motive for nationalism is to protect the interests of the dominant class in a nation state. But, because nationalism is important to the interests of a ruling class, there are problems when within a nation-state there is a minority group which fosters its own identity and traditions and which therefore may be perceived to owe its loyalty or at least a greater loyalty to the group rather than the state.

In Britain today, in a pub or social club at the weekend, we can hear all kinds of ideas being expressed, many of them picked up from the newspapers like the Sun, Mirror and Express or television. We hear the nationalist who announces that he is proud to be British. Yet 80 percent of the people in Britain own less shares between them than the richest 1 percent. Those who speak of “our country" usually have little more than a rent book, a mortgage or a UB40 card to show for it.

Then we can listen to the racists who will blame problems on blacks. Jews or Irish. Their racism arises from fear that someone else is competing with them for council houses and on the wage-slave market (labour exchange). Workers who are patriotic will readily sacrifice themselves when called upon to do so, either by allowing themselves to be exploited more intensely at work or by participating in a war against a group of foreign exploiters or dictators. The Gulf War is a classic example of this. So workers should reject the nonsense idea of nationalism and should unite for their common good to abolish capitalism and nationalism and work for socialism.
Michael Ghebre

Don't Grouse (1918)

Party News from the July 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “SS.” in being produced under great difficulties, therefore look cheerful when you find you have only four pages instead of the customary eight. Acquit us of profiteering, and if you must have eight pages, buy two copies, and plant one where it may bear fruit.

Readers who find it difficult or impossible to obtain the Socialist Standard through the usual channels should communicate with the Head Office, 28 Union St., W.C., 1., when regular delivery will be arranged.

Doctor's Dilemma (1949)

From the May 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gone are the days of the old family Doctor—the benign, all-knowing wizard with his little black bag, his morning suit, and his apparent limitless fund of patience, good humour and time for his patients. Only in remote country districts or on the films can he be found nowadays, for the modern General Practitioner has to be a skilled technician in, the gentle art of patching up worn-out and ailing' proletarians, just as the garage mechanic is employed to repair worn-out and faulty motorcars and to keep them on the road as efficient machines. The analogy is all too painfully obvious.

With the development of Capitalism, and the concentration of the productive forces and means of communications (factories, mines, steelworks, railway centres, harbours, etc.) in the areas most economically suited for them, huge cities and towns have sprung up in the last hundred years, with the consequent aggregation in the industrial centres of hordes of workers, tied by invisible, economic chains to the machines. The owners of these means of production and distribution, requiring an adequately fit and efficient working-class to produce as much surplus-value as possible, have instituted through their political parties (notably the Liberal Party at the beginning of the century), various social reforms to maintain their industrial geese in running repair to ensure rapid delivery of the golden eggs of profit

The "panel” system, whereby workers could obtain free medical attention, was one such reform, the doctors being paid capitation fees (an annual sum of money for each individual on the panel) and also an allowance to meet the cost of living, the so-called Betterment Factor. The Ministry of Health more or less dictated to the G.P.s the treatment they should mete out to the workers, and naturally the accent was on cheapness. According to one circular that was sent to panel doctors by the Ministry of Health, the main constituent of the various panaceas dished out in the form of coloured water, ointments, pills, etc., for the treatment of working-class ills was bicarbonate of soda. No wonder many doctors either adopted a cynical attitude towards the problem of curing their panel patients, or else they gave up their panels, in the hope of gaining more personal satisfaction in attending to private (paying) patients, to whom they could devote more time, and where expense was not so important.

In 1945, along came the victorious Labour Government with Aneurin Bevan trumpeting forth great plans for a streamlined National Health Service. The harassed G.P. had rosy visions of beautiful, spacious Health Centres, in which doctors would be able to co-operate in treating their patients. Specialists would be in attendance, all modern equipment would be available, and a secretarial staff would deal with all the paper work. Such dreams have so far not materialised—the accent is on the building of atomic energy plants rather than on Health Centres—and although promises are, as always, being made, the General Practitioner is still operating a glorified panel system, only now he has to try and cope with many more patients than before.

Unlike the old doctor, who required private means with which to buy a practice, the modern G.P. (usually straight from College with no such financial backing) is set up in practice by the Ministry of Health, and becomes another one of the vast army of civil servants, completely at the beck and call of a powerful and exacting employer—the State. Marx's words from the ‘‘Communist Manifesto" are being borne out by the inexorable drive of Capitalism:
  “The bourgeosie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science into its paid wage-labourers."
Capitalism, as well as making the doctor an appendage to the industrial machine in that he must keep the human element of that machine in good running repair, has also exploded many myths that surrounded the so-called professions. One of the greatest of these fairy stories was that doctors had a divine mission in working for the alleviation of suffering, and consequently such matters as trade unionism and strike action were completely out of the question for them. However, capitalist conditions have proven otherwise, and at a special representative meeting of the British Medical Association held on the 29th and 30th of March of this year, these very questions were discussed. (Times, 30th and 31st March—from which all subsequent quotations and data are taken).

At this meeting, it was decided that a central organisation to be known at the British Medical Guild should be formed by the B.M.A.
   “. . . .  to allow greater freedom of action in collective bargaining, and to provide compensation to practitioners who suffer financial hardship through participation in such action."
   "This move will provide doctors with a body for collective action of a kind from which the B.M.A. is at present precluded by its memorandum of association as a limited liability company."
Dr. Guy Dain, chairman of the council of the B.M.A. moved the formation of the Guild:
     “. . . for the better protection of the profession in disputes with public authorities and other bodies, and to finance collective action by the profession." 
It was also moved that the Minister of Health be asked:
   “. . . .  to include in the amending Bill a clause which would define registered medical practitioners as workmen for the purpose of the Trade Disputes Act"!
Such is the plight of the General Practitioner under this marvellous Health Service, that it was proposed that there should be mass resignation of G.P.s from the Service
   “. . . .  if an adequate capitation fee was not obtained at an early date."
A doctor from Manchester proposed an amendment
    ". . . . asking for an immediate interim increase of the capitation fee of 18s., so as to relieve 'widespread financial distress,' which he said, was very real whether it be a question of too little pay or too much work."
Among other amendments, there were demands for improvement of the Betterment Factor (cost of living addition to scale of pay) from 34 to 70 per cent., increase of capitation fee from 18s. to 35s., and reduction of the maximum number of patients of any one doctor from 4,000 to 3,000.

The doctors, like any other section of the working-class are forced, when conditions become intolerable, to take collective action to safeguard their living standards and conditions of work but we point out to doctors, as well as to their fellow-sufferers, the patients, that the cause of the overwhelming majority of their troubles is to be found in the system under which they live.

So long as Capitalism remains, so long will the doctors be overworked in the thankless task of patching up proletarians, whose chief affliction is not the ravages of some viruses, but overwork, anxiety and poverty, and so long will workers roll up in their thousands at the surgeries to be treated for the results of their well-known working-class ailments.

Away with all the quack remedies for patching up Capitalism—the coloured water, sugar-coated pills of reforms, and let the doctors, together with their fellow-workers in other trades prescribe the only scientific treatment for the ills of society—Socialism.
Michael La Touche