Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The mad world of capitalism (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again bricks are piling up, brick-workers are being laid off and brickworks closing down. All because the manufacturers can no longer find a profitable market. There are about 1.800,000 houses in England and Wales officially classified as “unfit”. But the fact that millions of people need better homes does not affect brick production for the simple reason that it is not profitable to produce bricks to build houses for people who would not be able to pay for them.

Meanwhile, in France the government are worried about there being “too much food". According to the Times (23 January 1970), the solution advocated by one group of academics and civil servants is that one-third of the present cultivated area of France should be taken out of food production. The Vedel Commission recommended:
Whatever rate of modernisation is adopted, agriculture will continue to build up surpluses if it continues to exploit the same area as today. Whatever happens, the excess land that will have to be withdrawn will be at least 10m. hectares.
To do this would be in line with what other governments, notably the American, have already done in a bid to prevent the production of food that cannot be sold profitably. It is not that people do not need the food—the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimate that up to half the world’s population go to bed hungry—but that because they cannot pay for it there is no profit in growing food for them.

Stockpiles of bricks beside slums; proposals to cut back food production in a hungry world—just two more examples of how capitalism cannot serve human needs.

Labour’s run up or run down (1970)

From the March 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard

The most casual readers of the daily press will have noticed that of late there have been two subjects which have occupied the attention of the forecasters. One is who will win the World Cup. The other is when Harold Wilson will call the next general election.

Now we all know that political journalists have to live. But this business of articles claiming to be authoritative probes into the Prime Minister’s innermost calculations on the timing of the election seems, like the sale of Christmas cards, to be starting earlier and earlier. Wilson, after all, has a whole year to play with — and in the absence of some sudden crisis or development he will probably need every minute of it.


Wilson has amply demonstrated during the past five years that, even though he had plenty of opportunity to do so, he is not a man to lose his nerve. One of the more fascinating spectacles of recent days has been the cool cheek of Labour’s campaign to refurbish their image. The mind reels at the assertion that Labour’s ideals—wage freeze, unemployment, implication in Vietnam and Biafra—are our ideals. It reels at the claim that Labour has soul. Soul in the panic racist legislation they have rushed through? Soul in their encouragement of industrial rationalisation — which means redundancy, upheaval and intensified exploitation?

The soul campaign was part of Labour’s effort to play a very old trick—and one which has often been successful. This is the trick of optimism. It need not be specific—indeed it is more effective for being as vague as possible—but it must set out to create an impression of wellbeing. This is the explanation for all the blabber which came frothing from ministerial lips a couple of months back about the Seventies. The conclusion we were all supposed to draw from all this was that December 31 1969 was the last day of a rather gloomy, unenlightened age while January 1 1970 was the beginning of a new, exciting expansion prosperity and conquest.

From the government’s point of view, the big drawback to this kind of campaign is that it needs quite a bit of time to work its magic. This may be all very well if no unforeseen crisis looms over the first horizons of the glorious Seventies and if the Tory onslaughts can be held at bay. In that event, the Labour government will be lucky to be judged solely on their failure to deliver the goods—an apt phrase, in view of the evidence that voters largely mark their crosses according to how a government’s term has improved or worsened their lives materially.

Last November, for example, New Society published a review of opinions of life in the Sixties and of what was hoped for in the Seventies. They gave over a thousand people a list of changes which took place in the Sixties and asked them to say which had pleased them most and which they objected to the most. Now the sampling method is of course very limited in its validity, especially when it is confined by a structured list of questions. But anyone who takes an interest in political propaganda will not be surprised to know that over half of those interviewed in this survey said they were most pleased with higher old age pensions and 18 per cent liked what they called their rising standard of living.

High on the list of dislikes were student unrest and coloured immigration—two issues which, in various disguises, are almost certain to appear in the election programmes of both the big parties. When the people in the survey were asked what they most hoped for from the Seventies they were still strong on material aspects. Their highest preferences were for keeping prices down, keeping unemployment low and "getting the country’s economy sound”.

Perhaps the government has managed to convince enough voters that the balance of payments problem, which not so long ago was the insistent reason for us all taking cuts in our standard of living, has been solved by a combination of economic wizardry and discovering a massive book-keeping mistake. In line with this, some of the pressure has been taken off wages and, as prices also climb, the Labour government seem to have resumed the traditional policy of most post-war British governments of continual, gentle inflation. At one time Wilson may have had ambitions to make his name by ending this policy once and for all but if he had he has been beaten, just like the rest and his defeat may be worth some votes from workers who have forgotten his promises to keep prices down and end inflation.

It will be harder for Labour to keep up a front on other issues. On unemployment, for example, it seems to have become accepted that each winter there should be something be 600,000 out of work; the figure for January was 629,000. Unemployment is largely a regional matter, being highest in the North, Wales and Scotland (although even in the "affluent” South-East there are hard-hit pockets like the Isle of Thanet.) The Labour Party answer to this, just like that of the Tories, is to offer financial inducements to industry to set up factories in the low employment regions, This sounds very simple and anyone who reads the official advertisements aimed at businessmen, telling them about the concessions awaiting any firm going to the development areas, must wonder how any sane board could resist the offer. But capitalism’s profit motive applies itself in many complex ways and in the event Labour’s policy, like others before it, has failed to end unemployment or to spread it evenly; the three worst regions still have about 4 per cent of their workforce on the dole.

Another hot political issue is housing. In the 1955 election Anthony Eden, who was then Conservative leader, made a lot of headlines with a promise that a Tory government would build 300,000 houses a year. Since then the bidding has crept up until now hardly a murmur is raised at Labour’s current promise to be responsible for 500,000 new homes a year. Performance has been rather different. The highest post-war figure was 413,715 in 1968—and last year there was a slump to 366,793, the lowest since Labour came back to power.

The Conservatives can of course be relied upon to make the indignant most of this situation—even if to do so they have to forget that they also failed to solve the housing problem. But anyone who is concerned with housing as something which affects human beings, and not just a convenient plank in a political party’s platform, must by now have come to the conclusion that any figures for homes completed, or not completed, is almost meaningless. To begin with, it takes no account of the rate at which old homes are decaying into slumdom. Then there is the fact that the lower a worker’s income the higher proportion of it be must spend on housing. The result of this is that a worker’s housing difficulties actually increase as he becomes less able to deal with them. And this is a developing trend, which threatens to overtake an increasing number of workers—to climb, in fact, up the wage scale.

The government will have to do a certain amount of agile capering to dodge this sort of issue and if past experience is anything to go by will obscure the real debate with statistics of homes completed, what the Tories didn't do and so on. It will also be helpful to them if they can divert attention from such problems by discovering new ones and sure enough there has recently been a great deal of fuss about pollution. Everyone now seems to be against pollution — even some of the firms who are responsible for so much of it. The knowledge of pollution has been available for a very long time, except that anyone who spoke out on it was always classified as a crank or trouble maker standing in the way of the advance to the age of white hot technology. Now that capitalist politicians have got hold of it, one is entitled to wonder what they have in store for us—what officially legalised pollution, what smokescreen to cover other issues.

Finally, there is the publicity campaign on Wilson himself who, after lying low for so long, is suddenly seen to be still Prime Minister. No opposition leader can ever hope to rival the publicity a Prime Minister gets when he is out and about on the great affairs of capitalism’s states. We can expect full coverage for everything Wilson does from now on, as we got it for his trip to America. If all goes well for him, he might even decide to start giving us some more of those straight-between-the-eyes talks on television.

In one way or another workers—even those who vote Tory—will accept this as right and proper and part of the natural order of things. Labour M.P. Raymond Fletcher wrote in a recent issue of Encounter that “. . . capitalism works and most people are quite content to let it.” What Fletcher is really saying, of course, is that the Labour Party has failed and he is fed up. There is a certain justice in this failure because Labour said they could make capitalism work; they called it Socialism, helping the confusion which makes workers support the system. But it is wrong to say that workers are content with capitalism. All around us, every day, we see evidence of their discontents, their struggles, their suppressions. If they are politically stubborn this is because they can see no alternative to capitalism. So they go on putting their cross down for Labour or Tory—in ignorance, or perhaps anger, or even despair.
Ivan

Straws: In Oil (1935)

The Straws column from the July 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

In Oil.
The Rt. Hon. G. N. Barnes was presented with his portrait in oils at Geneva, in recognition of his 40 years “international work.” In a sterner age recognition of his national “services” alone would have found expression by a disillusioned working class through the medium of boiling oil—minus the portrait.


Pensions—for ex-Soldiers.
“They will not get it while I am in office” (G. N. Barnes, 1916). The “they” included a big array of hopeless physical wrecks who had been “passed” for army service, the “it” being a pension. Ten years previously, as Chairman of the Labour Party, Barnes was warmly defending the “loyalty” of “Labour” to the Throne, and gaily voting additional grants to the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. In 1909 he gave his blessing to a Wages Board Bill, whose chief merit (according to Keir Hardie) was "to cheapen the cost of production.”


Paying Industries.
An Italian newspaper says that Sir Norman Angell “has made of peace a paying industry.” Rather neatly put.

The Salvation Army has made a “paying industry" of the down-an-out. Competition in the “Peace" line is now on the cards. General Evangeline Booth declares, “Never again can there be a real war in this God-hungry world," "which is coming it strong," whatever may be the import of “real" and "God-hungry," one thing is certain. The gold-hungry, oil-hungry, rubber-hungry capitalist may at any time succeed in making a pretty good imitation of the "real" thing, unless the working class remove the cause of war by abolishing its incentive—private property in the means of life.


Salvation—of Private Property.
In a foreword to the Salvation Army Social Report, 1909, it was asserted that the Army was building “a strong barrier against Socialism." It was probably for that reason that the High Priest of the Independent Labour Party of those days (James Ramsay MacDonald) said: "Whatever agency comes or goes, the country cannot spare one agency, and that is the Salvation Army."

The Salvation Army is being badly treated by the capitalist class. The work of their leaders is poorly paid in comparison with the fat incomes of "eminent" bishops. For exploitation of working class ignorance this blatant organisation easily beats the whole bench of bishops.
Augustus Snellgrove

New Premises. (1935)

Party News from the July 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

Appeal for Funds—£300 Wanted.
The special meeting held on June 15th, to consider the question of obtaining new and larger premises to meet the growing needs of the Party dealt with the question of raising funds to cover the increased initial outlay. It was decided to appeal to members and sympathisers for £300, which is the amount estimated to be required as a minimum.

Those who have watched the expansion of Party work in recent years and the hampering effect of restricted accommodation will understand what an advantage it will be to get into larger premises. In time, as our membership and activities grow, the extra cost will not be unduly burdensome, but at the outset we shall have difficulty in making ends meet out of ordinary funds. If the response to our appeal is satisfactory we shall be able to get over this difficulty and obtain a Head Office which will be adequate for several years. Our future plans are consequently dependent on the amount of donations and the promptness with which they are sent in.

Please forward donations to Treasurer (Premises Fund), 42, Great Dover Street, S.E.I.

Obituary: David Boyd (1979)

Obituary from the May 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
The death occurred in February of Comrade David Boyd, just three weeks short of his celebrating forty years as a party member. His son has provided the following obituary:
David Boyd was born in 1903 in Larne, Northern Ireland. Grandfather was a foreman at the local aluminium works and although a devout Presbyterian he supported Irish Home Rule—an unfashionable if not dangerous viewpoint. His was apparently the only copy of the Daily News to arrive each day on the ferry boat from Stranraer (the republican minority presumably taking more subversive journals). Dad remembered when the windows were tarred over and only my grandfather’s senior position in the local Masonic Lodge preventing real violence and loss of job. Amid the conflict and stupidity of the 1912 Loyalist gun-running, the War and the ‘Troubles’, Dad learned about socialism from a Scottish lodger at their home and from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. The Depression came early to Northern Ireland and Dad came to London. He took a variety of jobs and was sacked in about 1930 by the Co-operative Insurance Society for helping to organise a strike of fellow agents. A flirtation with the CP was followed by Orwellian disillusion and a home in the SPGB which he never left. “I thought about things’’, he told us “that’s why I am a socialist". Dad's ashes will rest in the local cemetery looking towards Mugsborough.

News in Review: Unemployment at Renault (1961)

The News in Review column from the January 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unemployment at Renault
“1900 workers sacked”. This was a news item in France-Soir of November. 3rd. The 1900 workers were employees of the French nationalised Renault motor car manufacturing concern. The discharges took place because the market has become overstocked and orders have fallen off.

This is a familiar feature of capitalist enterprise everywhere but the point to note is that Renault is a nationalised concern. Nationalisation has lost its appeal for most workers in Britain, but those who still think that it is a good thing should make a note that when the market becomes overstocked, even nationalised firms cannot continue to produce commodities for which there is no sale. They have to lay off the workers who have become surplus to requirements.

In the present case many of the workers at first declined to take their final pay packet and went to their benches as usual. They yielded, however, to the foreman's explanation that in view of the management's decision they could do nothing about it.

This brings to light one of the curious features of capitalism. Workers don't seem to object to slaving away week after week producing something, no matter what it is, so long as they draw a pay packet at the end of the week. They wouldn't mind if they kept on producing cars so that in the end there were so many of them that they had to run along on top of each other on the roads.

These contradictions are inherent in the capitalist order of society. Is it not time that workers started thinking about some other system—a system where goods could be produced to serve people's needs, where these needs could be assessed and production arranged accordingly.


Fact, Fact, Fact
Thirteen years ago, the Sunderland Corporation erected a lot of prefabricated houses. They were supposed to last for a few years, until better accommodation could be found.

Fact: These houses are now overdue for demolition—many of them are damp and cold. But there is no prospect of rehousing their inhabitants.

Fact: Sunderland already has its hands too full with its present slum clearance programme to pay much attention to the plight of the people in its prefabricated slums.

Fact: Sunderland has built 15,000 houses since the war. There are 11,000 families still on the Corporation's waiting list.

Fact: Capitalist politicians have always promised to solve the housing problem. The problem is in building a lot of the cheap-houses which workers can afford—and making their building pay. Under these conditions, society never even starts to solve the problem.

Fact: Workers in Sunderland—and the rest of the world—can end their housing problem by building a world where houses are put up for human beings to live in, and not for rent or sale.


Pay off
Did a lot of workers misunderstand that boom in hire purchase? Did they think that, because they didn't have to pay a deposit, they didn't have to pay anything?

Perhaps the salesmen forgot to make it clear when the contracts were signed. Apparently a lot of people took on commitments which they could not fulfil and have piled up a great heap of bad debts. Some hire purchase companies, caught in the fierce competition of the boom, are now seen to have fallen in with very uncertain clients. As a result, there have been rumours in the City about the stability of two of the finance houses concerned and much talk of setting up a central record of credit- worthiness, where the H.P. history of any buyer could be checked.

This may solve some of the problems of the finance houses. But the central problem—the thing which causes hire purchase and all the other makeshifts— remains. Workers want the better things in life, sometimes for the convenience of using them, sometimes because their possession carries social standing. But very few workers have the money to buy these things, unless the hire purchase salesman lends a hand.

So they accept a lifetime mortgage on a house, years of sometimes swingeing repayments on a car, washing machine and so on. It needs only moderately bad times to come along to upset this precarious scheme of things entire. And what has happened to the economists who assured us, in the post war years, that nobody would let a boom run away with itself again? The cut-throats in the hire purchase world have shown us that capitalism is just as unstable as it was in 1929.

There is no lack of experts—many of them officials in the consumer goods industries whose products are widely sold on H.P.—to tell us that the way out of this is to relax government restrictions. And there is no lack of prospective hire purchasers to support this view. In fact, the only solution is to have a world where things are made solely for use, not for purchase of any kind.


Footballers’ Strike
To many of the schoolboys who scuff out the toes of their shoes kicking an old tennis ball around a council school playground, the life of a professional footballer is a glamorous dream.

In fact, there is of course room at the top for only a very few, very good, footballers. These men can make a sumptuous living at the game. The rest have a hard time of it, on unremarkable pay and often under conditions of employment which an industrial trade union would not tolerate. Most footballers are looking for another job in their thirties, with little prospect of doing much better than a salesman or a shopkeeper. No professional player may publish a statement about the game without first having it vetted by his club —his employer.

The Professional Footballers' Association has asked to have the "slave" transfer system changed to abolish the ceiling on wages and to secure a share of a transfer fee for the player involved in the deal. To enforce these demands, the P.F.A. have threatened to call a strike. The bigger clubs can more easily afford to grant the players' demands, and foresee that to do so would help to defend their high position at the expense of the dingier clubs, many of which are already in deficit. It is, therefore, in the lower divisions that resistance to the P.F.A. is strongest.

Indignant fans, outraged players, angry club officials, have all had their say. Nobody, so far. has regretted that capitalist society makes a business of football and that the game is played, not for amusement and entertainment, but for investment. Like all the other superficially plausible criticisms of capitalism, the grumblings about the footballers' lot are as wide of the mark as a fourth division centre forward.


Bishops and Pawns
The Church of Rome takes every opportunity of informing the world at large that it is concerned with man's spiritual life and not his political one. Occasionally, however, its hypocrisy and cant blossom into the open, as was the case recently in Puerto Rica.

Governor Luis Marin of the Popular Democratic Party is noted for his support of birth control and easy divorce. This has aroused the ire of the Catholic Bishops of Puerto Rica, notably Bishop McMann, Bishop of Porce, the island's, second largest city. When recently the Governor stood for re-election, the antics of the Church were remarkable even for a country as backward as Puerto Rica. Early in the election campaign, Bishop McMann opened fire with a pastoral letter to be read in every church. He asked the Catholics, who constitute 90 per cent of the inhabitants, to throw out the Democrats and vote for a newly formed Christian Action Party. He also warned his brethren that to vote for Marin was a sin. During the election, the Bishop's efforts proved of no avail: the Governor was re-elected, and we would have expected the Bishops to quieten down. But not them. Having failed to terrify the Puerto Rican peasants by words, they are now literally putting the “fear of Christ" into them.

For a fortnight, at all Sunday Masses in San Juan Cathedral, the Pastor told his parishioners that they would have to confess to the sin of voting for the Democrats before they could receive Holy Communion. And what is more, before penitents could receive absolution. they had to promise not to vote for the Democrats again.

In this so-called enlightened age of ours it is important not to forget the power of the Church.

The Nature of the Universe (1961)

From the January 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard

Lucretius (about 100BC - 50BC)
The Nature of the Universe 

Nothing can ever be created by divine power out of nothing. The reason why all mortals are so gripped by fear is that they see all sorts of things happening on the earth and in the sky with no discernible cause, and these they attribute to the will of a god. Accordingly, when we have seen that nothing can be created out of nothing, we shall then have a clearer picture of the path ahead, the problem of how things are created and occasioned without the aid of the gods.

Learn, therefore that the universe is not bounded in any direction. If it were, it would necessarily have a limit somewhere. But clearly a thing cannot have a limit unless there is something outside to limit it, so that the eye can follow it up to a certain point but not beyond. Since you must admit that there is nothing outside the universe, it can have no limit and is accordingly without end or measure. It makes no odds in which part of it you may take your stand: whatever spot anyone may occupy, the universe stretches away from him just the same in all directions without limit. Suppose for a moment that the whole of space were bounded and that someone made his way to its uttermost boundary and threw a flying dart. Do you choose to suppose that the missile. hurled with might and main, would speed along the course on which it was aimed? Or do you think something would block the way and stop it? You must assume one alternative or the other. But neither of them leaves you a loophole. Both force you to admit that the universe continues without end. Whether there is some obstacle lying on the boundary line that prevents the dart from going farther on its course or whether it flies on beyond, it cannot in fact have started from the boundary. With this argument I will pursue you. Wherever you may place the ultimate limit of things, I will ask you: "Well then, what does happen to the dart?" The upshot is that the boundary cannot stand firm anywhere, and final escape from this conclusion is precluded by the limitless possibility of running away from it.
Extracted from the edition published by Penguin Books (2s. 6d.)

Capitalism defended (1983)

Pamphlet Review from the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is Socialism Impossible? by D. R. Steele (Libertarian Alliance Ltd, 50p).

If this constitutes the most effective assault on the idea of socialism which the apologists for capitalism can muster, then we can feel quite confident in our claim that there is no serious opposition to our case. The guiding inspiration for ideas presented in this pamphlet is Ludwig von Mises, a forgotten economist of the 1920s who, among other worthless achievements, was the tutor who taught the modern priest of monetarism. F. A. Hayek, everything he does not know about economics. Like Mises, Steele proclaims that “market prices are the only methods . . . for performing economic calculation in an advanced industrial society". The sole point in Steele's argument is that the market, with its price mechanism, enables society to know how much to produce in response to the demands of the population. In the midst of a crisis of overproduction, where food is being thrown in the sea while millions starve, houses stand empty while workers arc homeless and factories close while there is enormous deprivation among the world’s working class, one might conclude justifiably that only an idiot could assert that the market is anything like an effective communicator of needs. Under capitalism, the function of the market is to realise profit, regardless of human need.

Steele's sole point is based on a sole error — not his, but that of Mises. The latter dismisses the possibility of socialism on the grounds that such a society would have to regulate production and distribution on the basis of a central plan which could not possibly keep up with the varied and localised needs of a complex, industrial world society. As Steele says. "Mises always made clear what he meant by socialism . . . social production would be planned and managed as a single unit by a single supreme planning body” (p. 13). On the next page we are told that "Mises defined socialism in terms of ownership by ‘the community'. In passing he indicated that this could mean nothing other than state ownership . . .". So, like most devastating critiques of socialism, Mises and Steele have erected a model of state control of society and then, with effortless case, shown how such a society offers no workable alternative to the market. And they are right. Socialism, which can only be established when the vast majority of workers want it and understand what it entails, will be a classless, stateless, moneyless society where democratic conscious control of resources will have one sole aim: to produce for use.
Steve Coleman

A Killing (1983)

Book Review from the October 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tam Dalyell. Thatcher's Torpedo: The Sinking of the ‘Belgrano' (Cecil Woolf, 1983).

Tam Dalyell's book is not an analysis of why hostilities arose between the British and the Argentinian governments over the Falklands but an indictment of the strategy adopted by the Thatcher government. According to Paul Rogers in his introduction to the book a harsh campaign of economic sanctions could have been directed against Argentina but the British government “embarked on the killing war within 36 hours of the declaration of US political and economic support". Dalyell goes on to argue that although there was a possibility of a negotiated peace settlement through the intervention of the Peruvian government, the policy of the British government was in opposition to such a settlement:
  The charge laid at the door of the British Prime Minister could hardly be more grave. It is specifically that, along with her Defence Secretary and the Chairman of the Conservative Party, but in the absence of the Foreign Secretary, she coldly and deliberately gave the orders to sink the Belgrano, in the knowledge that an honourable peace was on offer and in the expectation — all too justified — that the Conqueror's torpedoes would torpedo the peace negotiations.
The reason for this seemingly calculated act of cynicism is seen by Dalyell as a means by which the nation would rally behind Thatcher and in order to secure Thatcher's continued leadership of the Conservative Party. Dalyell is not opposed to war; he says of the Falklands that “the conditions for a just war were not met". He does not explain what conditions would give rise to a “just war", given that he secs the first responsibility of politicians as avoiding war. What he does lament is the consequent cost of undertaking military action over the Falklands:
  The £880 million for Stanley airport is only the most dramatic item of expenditure in a horrendous list of costs associated with Fortress Falklands.
One important point that Dalyell does make, but does not develop sufficiently, is his argument that “we live, do we not, in an age of misinformation". His attempts to uncover the events leading up to the sinking of the Belgrano attest to that fact but more importantly it is the selective use of information that is fed to the working class in order to secure its support that should be considered.

The whole concept of democracy within capitalism comes into question when our view of the world is being dictated by the government in the so-called interests of the nation. The working class do not have the opportunity to negotiate whether they will fight and the Falklands emphasised the manipulation of the working class to gain its support. Dalyell argues that he raises the question of the sinking of the Belgrano because “I believe the good name of Britain has been besmirched". He should rather lament the spilling of working-class blood, both British and Argentinian, in order to secure economic influence over a group of South Atlantic islands.

Dalyell can lament the lack of parliamentary democracy in being unable to discover the facts behind government strategy but there are larger questions to consider. It is members of the working class who must fight wars on the instruction of their parliamentary leaders but it is the working class who will receive no benefit as a result of those wars.
Philip Bentley

50 Years Ago: Industrial or Political Action (1965)

The 50 Years Ago column from the April 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

The idea that the workers have "power over industry” is exquisite foolery. What "conceivable force” gives them any such power? That is a question the Industrial Unionists cannot answer. The most they can do is to come out on strike, which, instead of controlling industry, is mere cessation of industry. Let them attempt to carry on production against the will of the owners of the means of production and they soon find the "power which the workers daily have in their hands while in the workshop” is not much of a protection against the policeman's baton, or the soldier's bullet.

Human physical power is resident in the bodies of mankind. For collective economic purposes it requires organising on the economic plane; for collective political purposes it must be politically organised. But for military purposes it must be organised on military lines. Now the master class have organised this “physical force’’ on all three planes—for their own ends. Their economic organisation exists only to produce their profits; their political organisation exists to maintain their position and their interests; their military organisation exists as the supreme instrument for maintaining their privileged position.

To talk about the power of the workers in the workshops. . . . loses sight of the fact that it is precisely to prevent the workers getting or exercising power in the field of industry (which they can only do by seizing the instruments of labour) that the armed forces of the nation primarily exist. It is for this reason that the workers cannot look to economic organisation to supply the “physical force to back up the ballot”. The armed forces of the State are not to be opposed but are to be controlled, through the conquest of the machinery of government, and used for the overthrow of the capitalist system.
From the Socialist Standard April 1915.

Students in revolt (1987)

From the February 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nineteen sixty-eight was a year that made a deep impression on the French capitalist class. For them, its "second repetition" in 1986 must have come as a tragi-comedy (though for the Chirac government, it was decidedly a farce). Students, in the 70s and '80s, had been tagged (with relief?) as so many recycled zombies from the '50s: cynical. apolitical, self-centred, concerned solely with making it. Flattened out into a manageable crisis, in short. That the media (who either invented or borrowed the notion) were only busy making another of their identity-myths has since become all too evident.

But it was not clear on December 4 1986 (and much less so on November 27. when the first big student-organised demonstration took place in Paris). Considering how much hype was circulating about the apoliticism of the young, it comes as no surprise that the students themselves believed they were doing something apolitical. They wanted nothing to do with any of the official parties, yet they sought to affect the policy of a government.

This renunciation of theory can be explained as a resistance action (not at all distant in character from a trade-union struggle) that grew up around ruling-class efforts to cut corners on the cost of maintaining the country’s educational institutions. Students were actually lampooned (Nouvel Observateur, 5 November and 12-18 December 1986) for revolting in favour of the status quo. And it is quite true that in 1986 most of the reformist assumptions of the soixante-huitards were simply taken for granted by the lycéens and university students. They were, in effect, rising up in defence of a specific ideological configuration of capitalism, what we might call post-Gaullism. There is thus less irony than there may seem in the fact that an old Gaullist like Chirac should have spearheaded a Reagan-style. toothless-ideologue assault on the students’ position.

The issue was twofold: the Devaquet bill (which was moving toward the final stages of enactment) set out to reorganise (privatise) the university administration; the controversy centred around questions of degrees, admissions policy, tuition fees and school autonomy. The minister of national education, René Monory, sought to heighten the government's general de-nationalisation euphoria by introducing a parallel set of reform proposals (not a bill at that point) for the lycées. The most important effect of these proposals would have been to block future access to the universities for a significant percentage of lycéens. Hence, the impulse to contradict the government was a powerful and immediate one. Although the initiative was sparked by UNEF-ID. which was PS and trotskyist in its leanings, the student movement at both levels defined itself, on the whole, solely with reference to with drawing the reforms. (UNEF-ID was the coordinating committee among the university students).

And so it happened that a large body of "apolitical" opinion suddenly coalesced in opposition to the government, became transformed overnight into the Spectre of 1968. to the panic of an entire government; forced a delegate minister’s resignation (Devaquet’s); caused the Prime Minister (Chirac) to announce the withdrawal of the whole reform package; knocked the wind out of the sails of the liberal-conservative coalition's pointless efforts to turn back the clock and thus ingloriously aborted its nine-month état de grâce. And now everyone is talking about "politicisation" again.

How a paradox like this could have come about can best be explained by looking at the context in which the movement arose, which involves decisions about capital accumulation reaching all the way back to the Marshall Plan. Postwar investments in economic recovery and a policy of stimulating expansion in the "poor countries" at length bore their predictable fruit in the form of increased competition from the new accumulators in the developing countries. This generated a tendency towards capital flight into those same areas (where working-class organisations either did not yet exist, were liquidated or severely repressed so as to achieve a systematically under-valued labour-power). This was accompanied by the steady decline of reinvestment in basic heavy industry in the developed countries (with a few exceptions) throughout the 1970s, and it gave rise to an ever-increasing pressure on the developed countries' respective balances of trade.

This in turn ignited fears among the capitalist class in each of the developed countries for its own competitive standing in the world's markets, which has led to a period of relentless budget-chopping. As a result the capitalists currently raise the issue of whether the educational system they have been paying for is really serving its purpose to provide inexpensive (if not cheap) labour-power to keep their profits respectable. If not, then they must shake loose enough free capital from the educational budget (without of course having to retool industry, rethink their growth strategies or — horrors! — axe their precious military investments) to (supposedly) raise profits back up to an acceptable level — given that austerity (for everyone else) must be the order of the day. Throughout the developed world, the 1980s thus began to resound with public-spirited attacks on "outdated" educational systems.

Things were of course no different in France, even though it was a party of the left (the PS) that was commissioned to carry out the hatchet-job. Touted as the reincarnation of May 1968. the new regime of May 1981 fairly gushed with optimism and succeeded in blinding just about everybody, for a short while, to its patent inability to dictate terms to the international crisis. But the real mandate of the Mitterrand-Mauroy/Fabius team was identical (mutatis mutandis) to that of the Reagan administration, the Thatcher government and the Kohl regime. More importantly, however, nobody really seemed to care that a "socialist" party like the PS should be proposing to make a go of bringing back profits and jobs to French capitalism in the first place. The PS/PCF's état de grâce took only a year to hit the reefs, after which it rapidly disintegrated, as the realities of international competition took their remorseless revenge.

The Savary law reforming education thus came on the books in 1984; aspects of it affecting the private schools, however, caused as much of an uproar as Devaquet-Monory which presaged the PS's subsequent defeat at the polls. But the Savary law was itself only a symptom of the PS's underlying shift to the right (its abject caving in to the realities of capitalism), the premise being that the French educational system had become 'uncompetitive'. And so, après le déluge, the earlier Savary legislation still continues to apply by default.

What the "apolitical" students were therefore colliding with was none other than that dehumanising old fogey, the capitalist class itself, bent on extracting candlestick economies out of the school system merely to salvage its profits — even at the cost of flushing a large proportion of the high-school students out of the university system altogether. The students came very close indeed to realising that what were scraps for the workers are scraps for them too. They are all future workers in the end. or most of them are, and the fact that the lycéens had the support and encouragement of their parents indicates another burst of class struggle was in the making. Worry over the prospect of this was one of the principal factors which ultimately triggered the whole chain of events leading Chirac to the microphone to announce the withdrawal of the reforms.

On the other hand, any inkling that life is actually possible — and good — outside the wages system was conspicuously absent from this revolt of the students: for all their rejection of the system's catalogue of evils, their ideas nevertheless remained imprisoned within it. They may hopefully take the opportunity they have created for themselves to do some deeper and more independent thinking on the system's structural tendency to generate emergencies: they at least got off to a good start.

Failing this. 1986 will not turn out to have been so different from 1968 as they thought it was.
Ron Elbert (Paris)



Economics Exposed: Nation or class? (1987)

The Economics Exposed column from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. Nation or class?
If there is one thing British politicians love to talk about it is "the British economy". They all gleefully compete to outbid each other with the wonderful things they are going to do with it. They will control it, stimulate it, revitalise it and build it up for us. And yet the first thing we need to realise for a clear understanding of economics is that there is really no such thing as “the British economy" or, for that matter, any other national economic system. There are not any, and there cannot be any, truly independent or self-sufficient countries in the world today. The economic system we live under today is a global system.

The other main myth spread by politicians and economists is that within each nation there is some shared interest between all the people who live there, regardless of their role (or lack of one) in the "economy". This myth relates to the first, because their suggestion is that the key division in the world is that between various competing nations, with the entire population of each nation forming a "team" in competition with the entire populations of all other nations. The reality is very different from this. In real life, as opposed to the noisy but pointless speeches of politicians, the real division which counts is not that between nations. It is the division of class.

Consider for a moment the way in which you survive from day to day. Employers try to persuade us that the interests of the majority are best served by the growth of their enterprises, as this "provides jobs". But experience shows that whether we are in or out of work, the employing class will stop at virtually nothing in their efforts to increase their profits at the expense of the wage-earning class. Every strike, every demonstration, is a reminder of the constant and inevitable conflict going on between the two classes of present-day society. How can we sum up these classes?

The capitalist class consists of people who own or control substantial capital, or wealth used to generate more wealth. As individuals they are able to live comfortably and securely on unearned incomes. They do not need to seek employment. The great wealth of this minority — five to ten per cent of the population — is produced for them, from generation to generation, by those who do need to seek employment in order to survive. On the other hand, there is the working class. The great majority of people either work for a wage or salary, depend directly on the wage of a close relative, or rely on social security if they are unable to find a capitalist to invest in them.

In future months this column will explore in more detail the economics of capitalism, together with the alternative, socialist system of society which must replace it if the needs of the majority are to be met. To recap, however. on the points introduced this month: the present economic and social system, called capitalism, exists throughout the world. The key division is not between nations but between classes. Within each competing nation there are two classes. The minority class own, control and profit from the resources of each nation. We, the working class, do not possess "Britain": the British owning class "possess" us, as a vital part of their assets. And the competition between "nations" is a competition between national groupings of capitalist investors.
Clifford Slapper


Work. (1923)

From the September 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are told we do not work hard enough nor long enough.

Unemployment, and the evils resulting from it, are said to be due to the fact that the workers will not work. Stagnation in business is supposed to be due to the workers’ dislike for work. This is the piffle continually coming from the master class and their agents. Facts, however, prove the contrary to be true. The more we work, the greater our poverty becomes; the more we work, the greater the wealth of the master class becomes. We look back into the past history of society and see that there was a time when the people were only able to produce sufficient for their subsistence; thus it was essential that all should work.

As recently as the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was no such thing as unemployment through lack of work. Yet, in the days of feudalism, feudal slaves did not work so hard as wage slaves do to-day. Although working less, the people were better off; in recent times, though the workers work harder, poverty and its resultant evils have become greater. If we do not work hard, society would be short of the necessaries of life, ’tis said; but we know that food, clothing, shelter, and luxuries exist in great abundance.

The problem which the capitalist class cannot solve is how to dispose of the whole of the vast amount of goods produced. Factories, warehouses, stores, and shops are crowded with goods, and until these are sold, more will not be wanted. These goods can be bought with money only; money can be obtained by the workers only through working. Goods unsold mean no work for many; no work means no money. This state of affairs is brought about by overproduction, which proves that the workers have been working too much. But the irony of the position is that the workers, who have produced this vast wealth, are denied access to it. Why? Because it belongs to the capitalists. How have the latter gained control of this wealth? By robbing the producers. By this means the capitalist class have become the private owners of the means of living, i.e., factories, land, railways, etc., and they have made laws and raised armed forces to protect their property from the attacks of the workers.

Now, workers, you have the power to alter all this; you have the power to make life well worth living, by gaining control of the means of living. You have this power because the numbers of the working class far exceed those of the capitalist class. Riots, strikes, and bloody revolutions of the past have not given workers control of the means of living. To-day, these methods are still useless. But we have one method which is a sure method—the vote. To be able to use the vote to advantage requires knowledge. Workers, study Socialism, fight for Socialism, and bring about the Socialist Commonwealth which will free you from your chains and give a full and happy life to all.
E. W. C.

How they make their money. (1925)

From the September 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

You do not know Mrs. Scarfe, of course. That is unfortunate. Probably, as one of the wealthiest women in Australia, she and you have had little chance of meeting. The Daily News, August 20th, informs us she has just arrived in London. “ My money?” she said to that journal’s interviewer. “ Oh, the Scarfe money was made by hard work, and hardware—pots and pans, that is!”

Possibly a doubt assailed the interviewer as to the proportion in which the hard work and the hardware were allocated. Presumably he asked if the making or managing of so much money was a strenuous occupation. One is delighted to find a refreshing candour. “Oh, no! I don’t ‘manage’ my money—I just take my share of the dividends.”

O, Simple Simon, wake up !
W. T. Hopley