Friday, September 21, 2018

Mitterrand wins again (1988)

From the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

The last time Mitterrand won, in 1981, there was dancing in the streets. Not as much, it is true, as in Bastia when their team won the cup but there was still some popular expression of hope that things were going to get better. This time there were some celebrations but only by party workers without any spontaneous popular participation as all illusions on this score had been shattered by the failure of the left-wing government that ruled France from 1981 to 1986, with, until 1984, the participation of Ministers from the French Communist Party (PCF).

This Government had tried to reduce unemployment and end the economic crisis by a policy of what it called "increasing popular consumption" which involved giving people more to spend by increasing social benefits. The gains people got from this, however, proved to be very temporary as within a year a balance of payments crisis developed and the franc had to be devalued. As a matter of fact the franc had to be devalued three times, and each time the Government had to back-track, slashing benefits and freezing wages. In the meantime unemployment continued to rise uncontrollably. As a result, in the 1986 general election, the left-wing Government was kicked out and replaced by a conservative one under Jacques Chirac, the leader of the Gaullist RPR party.

There then began a peculiar political experiment known as "cohabitation": a left-wing president working with a conservative prime minister. Actually, this arrangement wasn't as peculiar as all that since Mitterrand and Chirac were both equally solidly committed to maintaining capitalism and so there was no reason at all why they should not collaborate to run the political affairs of French capitalism. If the result of the election is anything to go by, French electors even prefer this arrangement, especially as they suspect that to give Chirac and the RPR a monopoly of power would lead to a resurrection of the Gaullist practice of filling the top posts in the civil service, courts and nationalised industries with party hacks.

To tell the truth, it was the first round of the elections at the end of April that was the more interesting. Not the campaign itself in which the three leading candidates Mitterrand, Chirac and another former prime minister, Barre, employed political techniques pioneered by Hitler and Mussolini to project themselves: mass rallies with music, rhythmic clapping and spotlights. It is hard to believe that the candidates who were the subject of this treatment were not slightly deranged in so obviously enjoying it: after all, they are only human beings like the rest of us, not the demi-gods they were treated as being.

What was interesting was rather the distribution of the votes between the other candidates: Le Pen (National Front) 14.38 per cent, Lajoinie (PCF) 6.7 per cent, Waechter (ecologist) 3.77 per cent, Juquin (dissident Communist) 2.09 per cent, Laguillier (Trotskyist) 1.99 per cent and Boussel (another variety of Trotskyism) 0.38 per cent.

The press, rightly, concentrated on the spectacular rise of Le Pen who obtained well over four million votes. At the last presidential election the far-right was so fragmented — like their equivalent in Britain today — that Le Pen was not even able to obtain the 500 signatures from local councillors to be a candidate, while at the one before that, in 1974. he had obtained less than one per cent of the vote. What, apart from the strong anti-immigrant (anti-North African) prejudice that exists amongst sections of the French population, prepared the way for this breakthrough was the system of proportional representation that was first used in the elections to the European Parliament in 1984 and then for the general election in 1986.

This allowed the National Front to send 10 representatives to Strasburg — as many as the PCF — and to obtain representation in the National Assembly for the first time. (De Gaulle had abolished PR for parliamentary elections when he came to power in 1958 but Mitterrand and his left-wing government of 1981-86 reintroduced it.) This gave Le Pen credibility and he became a national political figure appearing regularly on television; not even his various anti-semitic faux pas have harmed him.

The other significant feature was the decline of the PCF vote to 6.7 per cent. Even if the votes for Juquin, a former Politbureau member who stood against what he regarded as the current sectarian line of the PCF, are added, this still gives a figure of under nine per cent, the worst result the PCF has ever had. It will probably now never recover from this and can be expected to be kicked out of many of the town halls it still controls when next year's municipal elections come round and to never again provide any government ministers.

Le Pen described the results of the first round as a major shift in the French political landscape. To a certain extent he was right: the National Front seems to have succeeded in replacing the PCF as the recipient of the anti-Establishment protest vote. Indeed, it has been suggested that some voters switched directly from the PCF to the National Front. This wouldn't be too difficult, since the PCF has a by no means clean record on immigration. It is in favour of immigration control and on occasions has not hesitated to exploit anti-immigration prejudices, including during the run-up to the last presidential elections when, amongst other things, a local council it controlled on the outskirts of Paris sent a bulldozer to demolish a hostel for immigrants it wanted transferred elsewhere.

Not so long ago too, to publicise its way out of the economic crisis the PCF ran a poster campaign saying "Let's Produce French", to which the National Front stuck its own specially printed addition, "Yes, but with French workers". So, in peddling nationalist prejudices the PCF in a very real sense paved the way for the rise of the National Front. It must never be forgotten that racism is only nationalism's ugly sister and that socialists must oppose both equally.
Adam Buick

Co-ops and capitalism (1988)

From the November 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Co-operatives are usually portrayed by their proponents as more satisfying business arrangements than those found in the hierarchical power structures of corporate or state capitalism. Some have even argued that, if allowed to develop, they would fundamentally alter capitalism in favour of the working class and simultaneously facilitate the instigation of new forms of social ownership and economic democracy. For example, a recent pamphlet produced by the Tower Hamlets Co-operative Development Agency claims that co-operatives are "owned and controlled by their workers" allowing "no outside shareholders' and no “bosses". While a more politically motivated supporter writes:
 The co-op seems to me to demonstrate that ordinary working people in the UK . . . can evolve democratic enterprise structures which have a fair chance of success; they can come to recognise that professional management is just as necessary in a co-op as it is in a capitalist operation: they can come to behave with unusual forbearance and responsibility in the matter of wage rates and to identify quite closely with the longer-term enterprise goals. (Oakeshott. R. The Case for Worker Co-ops. P.113)
What both of these two claims conveniently hide from workers is the uncomfortable fact that capitalist notions of profit-making and commodity production are intrinsic features of co-operatives, which have to function within a world capitalist market. If, for whatever reason, Robert Oakeshott is prepared to misrepresent their character and function — and it is noticeable that he supports the wage system and therefore the exploitation of the working class — Tower Hamlets CDA at least realises that co-operatives have to make a profit if they are to survive. In a recent advertisement in the above mentioned pamphlet entrants were urged to attend a series of lectures on finance, commodity production and competition. In many respects their content was no different from that of any bourgeois management or economics course.

In the advertisement for the first course applicants were told that production of the commodity is "the background of your business plan" because "its concerns are getting customers and satisfying them", and that "any business unable to do both will not last long". Discussing the development of a Business Plan, the pamphlet states that it is imperative "to persuade potential funders that you understand the market, that you have sufficient skills and that you will generate enough cash to pay back the money you have loaned". These warnings are made more forcibly by Richard Macfarlane, another supporter of co-operatives, who reminds his readers that:
  The questions you ask during financial planning raise questions about every aspect of the business; about markets and marketing; about people and employment; conditions; about equipment and premises; about sources of money and the legal arrangements under which it is obtained and repaid.
(Macfarlane. R.. Financial Planning and Control, a Practical Guide to Workers Co-ops, 1986. p. 5) 
He concludes:
  Failing to get these forecasts right and failing to record, read and respond to financial information in the operating of the business has led to the failure of many initiatives. (Ibid, p.5)
It is because co-operatives raise capital from financial institutions, pay rent to landlords, produce commodities for profit, and pay wages to workers — as well as face all the problems inherent in a market economy — that socialists reject the claim that they either represent the Utopian idealism of Robert Owen or are organisational forms approximating to socialism. Co-operatives are in practice no different from any other form of capitalist venture: if profits cannot be secured, if interest or rent cannot be paid on time, then bankruptcy and unemployment are the end result. A high failure rate throughout the twentieth century has shown quite clearly that their life-span as profit-making businesses is often very short.

But underlying all the rhetoric in support of co-operatives is an unquestioned assumption that capitalism, in which co-operatives have to market their commodities, is crisis free. Co-operatives are not "productive islands" distinct from other forms of capitalism but part of a chain of production and distribution, buying and selling commodities with no other reason but to make a profit. So when an unpredictable crisis erupts — and they are unpredictable precisely because of the anarchy inherent in the commodity production itself — it can hit co-operatives as hard as any other form of business.

But what of the apologists themselves? Most support for co-operatives emanates from academic economists and sociologists, journalists and politicians, all of whom see in the co-operative movement a means to mitigate or play down the class-struggle. It is not an oversight that these writers fail to urge workers first to abolish capitalism and then to set up co-operatives. The truth is that for the academic or politician the wages system is taken as an article of faith; a perennial economic arrangement never to be questioned. All their pronouncements about co-operatives are couched in the language of commodity production and exchange.

This is clearly demonstrated in the book Revolution from Within, by two Social Democrat "theorists". Unusually for political writers defending capitalism, they actually admit that the class struggle is "not just something Karl Marx wrote about . . ." but is "part and parcel of the everyday experience of most workers . . . "(p.23) and "The bitterness of the class struggle is now in evidence not so much in politics as in industry" (p. 140). However, instead of urging workers to end the class struggle by abolishing capitalism they argue that all that is needed is a change of heart or mind by those involved. They end their book with the following pitiful plea for a reformed capitalism;
  The purpose of co-operation is not just to run a successful business, though successful of their kind they have to be, but to elevate the dignity of labour, to give more choice about how work should be done, to make paid work more fun; to give a new sense of independence to people who have always been told what to do, to realise the creative talents and imagination which bureaucracy has suppressed; to convert conflict in industry into a friendly partnership between management and members; to make work into a school for altruism, of people's sympathies for each other; and to bring out more altruism by giving more opportunity for it to be expressed.
(Young M & Rigge M. Revolution from Within Co-ops and Co-operation in British Industry, 1983. p. 151)
The insidious Oakeshott is a little more candid:
  By making the workforce the owners of profits as well as of wages and by assigning to it ultimate responsibility and control we will induce positive feeling about at least a partial and modified market system among much larger numbers of working people (Ibid, p.7)
It is evident that these writers are aware of the class struggle and do not deny its existence, but they do not explain why it exists in the first place and on what grounds it is based. As such their propaganda is of a more subtle and debilitating nature as compared to that found in the writings of Hayek or Friedman, who are quite prepared to defend capitalism in all its sickness and squalor and do not hide their contempt for the working class. Instead, the advocates of so-called worker co-operatives argue the classic reformist line that the interests of capital and labour can somehow be reconciled.

The class struggle exists because the interests of wage and salary earners, on the one hand, and the imperatives of profit and accumulation dictated by capitalism on the other, are antagonistic and diametrically opposed. Co-operatives do not give workers security of employment; do not free them from exploitation; and do not allow the luxury of producing goods outside the parameters of commodity production. Co-operatives under capitalism cannot be organised in any other way. The products they make are available only to those who can afford them — what workers can pay for and what they want are two completely different things. Only the capitalist class get all the services they want. The profit system, whether unquestioned or defended by apologists for worker co-operatives, acts as a restraint on production.

Given the sordid and competitive environment in which the working class are exploited, it is quite understandable that some are seduced by the idea of co-operatives. Why, after all, should we not produce socially useful products to the best of our ability and be involved fully in the production process? But it is a mistake to believe that workers can achieve this by retaining the wages system and commodity production. As Tower Hamlets CDA rightly points out, co-operatives have to produce for markets and are therefore dictated to by them. If workers really wish to work co-operatively, freed from the constraints and pressures of the market, then the only way to do so is within a social system conducive to co-operation. Capitalism plainly cannot provide this framework and workers should realise this fact and organise politically for its abolition.
Richard Lloyd

Obituaries: Jim Peterson and Cde Hollingshead (1942)

Obituaries from the September 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Old timers of the S.P. of Canada are rapidly passing away. News has come to hand of the death of Jim Peterson, of Vancouver, and Comrade Hollingshead, of Calgary.

Jim was taciturn, well informed and faithful; his place will be hard to fill. He spoke little but always to the point, and never failed to be on hand when help was needed.

“Holly” was of a different type, blithe and lively. He always met a comrade with a welcoming smile. His house was ever open, and, together with his wife, he did a lot to encourage members of the Party during periods of strain. We extend our sympathy to Mrs. Hollingshead in her bereavement and to Canadian comrades in their great loss.
Charles Lestor

Letter: "The money, price and profit system" (1993)

Letter to the Editors from the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors.

I notice that in all your literature. meetings and indoor lectures you loosely use the term "capitalism" as though people already know what capitalism is.

Most people today do not think of living under capitalism. They think of the system as a money, price, wage, salary and profit system—simply as they are engaged in things associated with buying and selling.

To most people I have met capitalism is just a word—it could be a name of a race horse. In the March issue of the Socialist Standard the frontispiece states “Crime—no solution within capitalism". This should read “Crime—no solution within the money, price and profit system (what is known as capitalism)".

When you phrase it like this you are telling people at the outset what capitalism is (i.e. a system of buying, selling, wages, etc) and classes.
D. Brooks 
London W9


Hope you liked "profit system" on the front page of the April issue—Editors.

Morality and hunger (1993)

Book Review from the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

International Justice and the Third World. Ed. Robin Attfield and Barry Wilkins. Routledge. 1992.

This is a collection of essays by moral philosophers on the apparent dilemma raised by the plight of the Third World: have the people of the developed capitalist parts of the world a moral duty to cut back on their personal consumption in order to prevent starvation in the Third World? Does wealth have to be taken from Paul to feed Peter?

Archbishops and Greens answer “yes", but some of the contributors to this book show that the dilemma does not exist as the world could produce enough food for everybody. “For the foreseeable future", writes Kai Nielsen, “we have plenty of available fertile land and the agricultural potential adequately to feed a very much larger world population than we actually have. Less than half of the available fertile land of the world is being used for any type of food production". This means that starvation in the Third World could be eliminated without having to reduce the standard of living of workers in the First World.

This, however, requires a change of economic system, to one variously described by the best contributors as “an economic system whose underlying rationale was production to meet human needs and which was controlled democratically" (Kai Nielsen), which achieves “emancipation from the world market" through the "global common ownership" of “planetary resources” (Andrew Collier), a global “participatory-democratic control of production to serve collective human good" (Geoffrey Hunt).

The other contributors have less interesting things to say.
Adam Buick

Colour barred (1993)

Book Review from the January 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Never Counted Out! By Michael Herbert. (Dropped Aitches Press. Manchester. 1992. £4.95.)

This book recounts the boxing career and political activity of Len Johnson, one of the best middleweights of the 1920s. Despite meeting, and sometimes beating, some of the best boxers in the world Johnson was not allowed to compete for British or Commonwealth titles because of an official ban on “coloured" boxers.

As Herbert points out:
 The need to maintain the myth of European superiority in social as well as political life becomes apparent. A contest between black and white in the boxing ring could too easily become a metaphor for the stability of the Empire should white boxers be regularly defeated.
As part of the small black community which had settled in Manchester after the opening of the Ship Canal in 1894, Johnson, born of an African father and an Irish Mancunian mother in 1902, faced hardship and racial discrimination.

He experienced boxing at its toughest—training in the back yard with a skipping rope made from a piece of clothesline—and earning only £1 from his first professional fight.

In a professional career which spanned twelve years— from 1921 to 1933—Johnson had 127 contests, of which he won 92. lost 29 and drew 6. But despite his prowess in the ring he was only able to make a living wage from the sport and financial difficulties forced him to make a come-back in 1931 despite suffering from rheumatism in both elbows.

Towards the end of the second world war Johnson joined the Communist Party and this marked the start of his political activity. He was a founder member and secretary of the New International Society which was formed in Moss Side, Manchester in 1946. The society’s fight against racial segregation abroad and discrimination at home soon led to the Communist Party trying to control it. A policy document dated 2 December 1948 states:
 Apart from the Society, there is no effective means of winning the support or neutralising colonial individuals or groups which, for a variety of reasons, do not join the Party.
In the 1950s, Johnson campaigned energetically on behalf of the singer Paul Robeson who had had his passport withdrawn for Communist activities in the USA. He also stood as a Communist Party candidate in Manchester local elections on six occasions, his small vote dwindling each time as Cold War conditions hardened.

In 1962 Johnson seems to have dropped out of political activity completely, possibly due to ill health because he remained a Communist Party member until his death in 1974.

This account of the machinations of the Communist Party in trying to manipulate and control groups which could serve its interests, combined with meticulous research to discover the boxing career of one of the sports forgotten heroes makes fascinating reading, but it needs to be stated that it is the barbarity of capitalism's economic system which forces workers to risk injury to earn a living. It was also a complete waste of Johnson's considerable abilities and energy to campaign for a politically dishonest organization such as the Communist Party and its now discredited state-capitalist policies.
Carl Pinel

Between the Lines: chasing the dragon (1994)

The Between the Lines column from the June 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chasing the dragon
Aaah! Just when you thought it was safe to come out in the dark, she’s hack . . . and Nicholas Broomfield was out to make a documentary about her whether she wanted him there or not. (C4, 9.30pm, Thursday, 19 May.) The subject in question is Margaret Thatcher, a one-time Prime Minister who said that there was no such thing as society. See the Postcards from Hell on other pages for a more vivid guide to her preferred habitat. Broomfield, who is used to following around confirmed fruit and nutcases (it was he who made that superb documentary about the mad Boer, Terre Blanche), was as welcomed by the Thatcher groupies as a cockroach at a cocktail party. It Is good to see just how small and foolish "the mighty" really are.

In the same week the BBC was chasing the story of the Chinese political prisons where countless detainees are locked up for speaking out against the government. Down at the BBC they have no need to lock up the journalists who are vetted by MI5 before they can have a job and then only allowed to interview those whose words have not been banned by government edict. That’s what they call capitalist democracy, that is. On Newsnight (BBC2, 10.30pm, Wednesday, 18 May) Jeremy Paxman interviewed a smarmy businessman who insisted that human rights abuses should not interfere in commerce. Paxman put it to him that to trade with a state that can do this makes him and his fellow capitalists collaborators. Quite so. And what’s new about that? When have a few camps filled with tortured victims ever stood in the way of a healthy profit? Perhaps next time Paxman interviews Douglas Hurd he would care to ask him whether as a major arms-seller to Indonesia his government feels just a tiny bit like collaborators in the slaughter of the people of East Timor.


What’s all this then, Arfur?
ARFUR: 'Ang on Phil, I’m reading this ’ere election manifesto.

PHIL: Reading? You goin’ soft or something Arfur?

GRANT: You want me to sort him, bruv. That’s how we do things in the East End see. We put the boot in first and ask questions later. Right?

ARFUR: It says ’ere in this ’ere Socialist Party manifesto that all politicians are out to take us for a ride. Now, I’m only a simple bloke, as you well know, but 1 can’t ’elp thinking that they might have a point. What you think Michelle . . . I mean, you’ve been to that there university, ’avn’t you?

MICHELLE: Well, according to what I’ve been reading this totally leaves out of account the post-modernist critique of metatheoretical discourse. I mean, haven’t these socialists ever read Lyotard? Anyway, I’m off to tell my daughter that’s she’s really my cousin.

GRANT: Yeah, and I’m off down the Arches to sort out some geezer with a shooter who reckons Minder was just a comedy.

[Enter an old drunk with a blue suit and a political rosette who looks a cross between that dodgy lawyer used by the Mitchell Bruvvers to get them off at their last court appearance and at least half the members of the House of Commons]

SWINDLER: Hello there, jolly working folk. I’m your candidate . . . 

ARFUR: Ah, perhaps you can ’elp us. I was just reading this Socialist stuff about the likes of you being a lot of useless leaders. They reckons ’ere that the emancipation of the working class can only be the . . . 

SWINDLER: Put it away, my good friend. Subversive nonsense. Pure idealism. You can’t run your lives without us. Any chance of a G and T?

PHIL: You saying we can’t run the world without being led by a load of old duffers like you?

GRANT: Want me to sort him, bruv?

SWINDLER: No . . . what I’m saying is that the likes of you — decent working chaps that you are — need the likes of me — educated at Jesus and the bar, you know — to do a few things to improve life for you. A couple of new beds in the local hospital, for example. And free chiropody for all those of ninety-five and over. Jobs for everyone . . . 

ARFUR: Well thank you very much indeed. I’ll put this socialist stuff away right now. And buy this man a large G and T on me.

DOT: Did somebody mention Jesus?

BIG RON: Did somebody mention a late bar?

MICHELLE: Oh, hasn’t anyone ever told them that they’re just pathetic caricatures of workers invented by people who drink in wine bars. No wonder they’re stupid enough to be taken in by another bloody politician.
Steve Coleman

Seven steps to becoming a Socialist (1994)

From the June 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

(1) Become aware of how capitalism works
Can't pay — can't eat.
No profit? — no production and no work. 
These are the laws of capitalism's economics.
Profit comes from paying back workers only a fraction of the value they produce. 
Those who own the capital and employ wage and salary workers to make the profit are the ruling capitalist class.
Once you have understood this there is no going back.
It cannot be unlearned.

(2) Understand that the profit system won't last forever
Capitalism is only about three centuries old.
Before that there was feudalism. Before that, slavery.
All were — and are — class forms of society. Capitalism is no more inevitable and permanent today than feudalism was three centuries ago.

(3) Realise that reforms don't solve the problems that face us
Most workers still support the system which exploits and oppresses them.
They think there is no alternative.
They hope capitalism can be reformed to prevent the slumps and wars it causes. They believe it is possible for workers to get a better deal.
Three hundred years proves otherwise

(4) Come into contact with socialist ideas
Understanding and criticising capitalism are not enough.
Rejecting capitalism, "dropping out" or joining the Moonies, solves nothing. 
Realising that a radical change in society is the only solution is part of the change itself.
Become aware of the other Socialist parties around the world devoted to the same objective.
Become aware of the overwhelming power of the world's working class once they make up their minds to act in their own interest.

(5) Don't be afraid to question the socialist case
Socialists (unlike some "Left Wingers") are not fanatics.
We think a careful scientific approach is essential.
The capitalist media and the churches have a vested interest in telling us all that "you can’t change the world".
They insist that society is like it is because of "human nature".
They claim that socialist society could not work.
Such unscientific rubbish can easily be disproved.
But is does need careful thought and discussion.

(6) Resolve those doubts
Realise that there is no such thing as "human nature".
There is human behaviour — and it changes according to circumstances.
Pygmies in the Congo jungle don't behave like London office workers.
Modern factory workers don’t behave like Roman slaves.
When we have established socialism we shall behave differently because the basis of society will be different.
When we all own society’s means of living we shall have a different attitude to each other.
When we each have democratic power to influence conditions we shall behave differently.

(7) Join the socialist movement
When you realise that capitalism cannot be patched up, or cured by a "change of heart" -
When you can see that the immense changes in technology will force society to change in some way — Then — even though it’s an enormous task you’re taking on — You will decide that joining the world socialist movement for the abolition of capitalism is the only practical step.

The Socialist Standard Readers’ Survey (1995)

Party News from the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following the survey of our readers' opinions in the November issue — and we thank the 15 percent who replied — we have decided to take various steps to improve our coverage and presentation. As from the this issue the number of pages will be increased to 24 and the number of regular columns and features will be expanded. 

This improved, more weighty Socialist Standard will increase our postal costs, so the normal subscription rate (which has remained unchanged for the last five years) goes up to £10. The lower rate for the unwaged, however, stays at £5.

Some years ago we introduced a higher, supporters' subscription to allow those who so wished to pay more on a voluntary basis in order to help us spread Socialist ideas by, for instance, sending free copies to public libraries up and down the country and to first-time contacts. We know that many of our readers have been prepared to do this — and we take this opportunity to thank them again — and no doubt there are others of you too who have not yet considered this easy way to contribute financially to spreading Socialist ideas. The new figure we suggest for this higher voluntary subscription is £15 but the exact amount, hopefully more, is entirely up to you.

Metamorphosis (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Friday night: a boar
On the lookout for a whore
To use as he likes 
Saturday reptile
Sits at the bar with a smile
A smug lounge lizard 
Sunday man is sloth:
Prays for spiritual growth
Then nests down early 
Monday man’s absurd
Bustling along with the herd:
A sheepish workhorse
Alan Marston


Have a Mice Day (1995)

From the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Grinning like a Cheshire cat,
spreading like the black plague rat. 
Piper of the cold brass band
leading us down Mousehole land. 
Where the wild winds never blow
and the candied cockerels crow. 
"Apple pie folk march this way
past the low-paid dwarfs at play. 
Catch the wicked Queen at work
trained by mice in snow white shirts. 
Feel the thrill of Cinder’s squeal
at the plastic slippers feel. 
Watch the knights with Colgate teeth
slay the dragon when they breathe. 
Hear young Billy chirp once more,
who's the smartest on the draw?" 
“Them," the Frog Prince gives a croak
from his well of charm-free coke. 
"Listen, sugarlumpen tribes
swallowing the Beastie's bribes. 
Too much cheese can make life scream
when the micemen trap your dreams".
David Bishop

50 Years Ago: Tory-Labour agreement on capitalism (1995)

The 50 Years Ago column from the January 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Everybody knows that the Conservative and Liberal Parties stand for capitalism and have no intention of seeing it abolished or undermined, but many people are confused about the intentions of the Labour Party. They think that the Labour programme of nationalisation or public utility boards under Government control and the programme of social reforms mark off the Labour Party from the others and prove that it is a Socialist party. Socialists are under no such illusion, nor are the more astute representatives of capitalism. (. . . )

It suits the [Daily] Express always to refer to the Labour Party as the Socialist Party, although the latter is not its own chosen title — (indeed, a resolution to adopt that title was many years ago not accepted by a Labour Party conference) — and although the Express is fully aware that the Labour Party does not stand for Socialism. 
(From the Editorial in the Socialist Standard, January 1945)

Letters: Carmageddon? (1992)

Letters to the Editors from the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Carmageddon?

Dear Editors,

In the introductory piece in your January article reference was made in passing to the “modest” economic requirements of a typical worker including a car and an annual holiday. The question is could these be provided under socialism (or any system) for the population of the entire world, currently over 5 billion and likely to double in a few decades?

The latest figures I have seen for the world car “population" are 450 million, or slightly less than one car for every 10 people. These are said to produce directly and indirectly 30-40 percent of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions. In Britain the car population is roughly two to every five people. If the world's population of motor vehicles were raised to the same level this would come to 2 billion vehicles, over four times the present level.

My contention is that even if it were possible to produce the vehicles (and the roads, etc to go with them) the Earth's environment could never stand it.

The point is, of course, that under a world socialist system, anything that could not be produced for everyone would not be produced at all, so I think we can rule out mass car ownership and for that matter annual holidays involving jet flights for everyone.

In the advanced capitalist countries most workers aspire to and, to a large extent, have these things, which means they are unlikely ever to vote for socialism. True, capitalism probably cannot sustain its present level of luxury production without causing ecological catastrophe and the workers of the “advanced" nations may then change their attitude. But socialism, capitalism or any other system will be irrelevant on a ruined, possibly dying planet.
J. Wood 
London E1

Reply:
It is capitalism, not overpopulation as you state, that is the cause of present-day pollution, resource depletion and environmental degradation, and, even if population growth were to become a problem in terms of putting pressure on the Earth's resources, it would only be within the framework of a world of common ownership and democratic control that such a problem could be tackled.

Similiarly, if your pessimism were to be confirmed and capitalism really did bring ecological catastrophe, then socialism would still be relevant as only a global approach treating the Earth's resources as the common heritage of all humanity would provide any chance of minimising the damage and saving what could be saved.

With regard to cars, you overlook two things. First, it is technically possible to produce cars that don't pollute the atmosphere. Secondly, that access for all to means of individual transport could be provided without this having to involve everyone having their own car. Non-polluting cars, such as electric ones, are not produced on a mass scale today because of the profit considerations and vested interests that exist under capitalism.

Access to a car offers house-to-house flexibility that no other form of transport can provide. So it is a reasonable demand, and we can envisage it being met in a socialist society by free taxis and mini-cabs as well as by individuals having access to a pool of cars kept available in their neighbourhood for use without charge as and when needed for specific journeys. Also, the situation would be transformed in that the need for car usage would be reduced by the existence of a comprehensive and efficient public transport system.

Capitalism is constitutionally incapable of tackling the transport question in a rational way since under it production is carried on by profit-seeking enterprises all competing to maximise their profits. Individual car ownership is encouraged because there is more profit in this than in providing an adequate transport system. Cars run on petrol because for the time being, and by the short-term perspective that capitalism takes, this is the cheapest fuel available. Competition forces manufacturers to produce as cheaply as possible, so the best anti-pollution devices are not installed in cars. None of these anti-social considerations would apply in socialism.
Editors.


Socialists and partial struggles

Dear Editors.

I would like to enquire as to your party's attitude to struggle and participation in broad campaigning movements.

I think I understand your view that the only effective and proper way to remedy the ills giving rise to such movements is the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by socialism. The argument being that such movements merely respond to the effects of capitalism, expressed in various forms of injustice and oppression, and ignore the basic underlying cause, the class exploitation inherent in capitalism.

Given this, I wonder what is expected of members of the Socialist Party. Do they participate in such movements as Anti-Apartheid and CND but argue from within that fighting for their limited objectives at best diverts from the important task of winning workers for socialism and at worst sustains capitalism by generating illusions about improving it? Or should they stand well apart from such reformist diversions and rely solely on the platforms offered by Socialist Party meetings and publications like the Socialist Standard?

I can see how the latter option has the advantage of principle and avoids possible confusion about the role of party members should they be active in broad movements. But it could be argued that by adopting this purist approach, the Socialist Party is unnecessarily isolated from important arenas of struggle and depriving itself of access to those who, through their own experience of struggle against the effects of capitalism, should prove more susceptible to the case for replacing it completely with socialism.

If you do not expect Socialist Party members to participate or support these broad movements, does the same apply to the relevant trade unions at their place of work? Although trade unions are wholly limited and defensive, they do have a definite class basis in the sense they seek to organise workers selling their labour power to a common employer or group of employers. If party members are expected to join trade unions, how do you summarise their role within them and how does this differ, if at all, from playing an active part in the broad movements mentioned above?

By joining a trade union, one is implicitly endorsing the struggle to defend wages rather than seeking the abolition of the wages system itself. How docs the Socialist Party resolve this contradiction? I find it difficult to imagine how a party advancing the interests of the working class can stand aside from such key mass working class organisations and yet I do not see how any alternative position could be consistent with your approach to other broad movements.
Andrew Northall
Kettering

Reply:
The Socialist Party exists to encourage the working class to establish socialism by democratic political action. We are a political party which advocates socialism and nothing else. Members join on this basis and we are in effect a body dedicated exclusively to spreading socialist ideas by all available means—meetings, pamphlets, leaflets, phone-ins. personal conversations.

As a political party our field of operation is the political arena. Here we oppose all other political parties since they all seek to reform or manage capitalism in one way or another while the only form of political action we support is political action for socialism. This is why we also do not support or join what you call “broad campaigning movements” which, without aiming at winning political power themselves, aim to bring pressure on governments to adopt certain policies or enact certain reforms. In this sense they too are reformist, and the argument we put against them is the one you outline in the second paragraph of your letter.

This does not mean, however, that we "stand well apart" from such organisations in the physical sense and rely solely on our own meetings and publications. We attend their meetings and demonstrations to make contact and discuss with those involved in them, with a view to pointing out that only in a socialist society will the problems they are rightly concerned about be able to be solved. Indeed, many of our own members first came into contact with socialist ideas in this way.

Trade unions, on the other hand, are not political organisations but organisations formed by groups of workers to negotiate their wages and conditions with employers. Workers in employment have to bargain over the sale of their productive skills and it is clearly better that they do this collectively rather than individually (“unity is strength"). Members of the Socialist Party do participate in trade unions (and similar bodies such as tenants associations, student unions, parents associations, claimants unions), but as individual workers directly affected not as party members carrying out some "Party line". We do not practise "entryism" like the Trotskyists who infiltrate organisations with the aim of taking them over. On the contrary in fact; our members always insist that such organisations should be run on a fully democratic basis and on the need to avoid being manipulated by politicians and politically-motivated groups. We are, for instance, opposed to unions being affiliated to the Labour Party.
Editors.

Your money or your life (1992)

From the January 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Money: the curse of our lives. Waste your week working for it. Rush round the stores looking for the best ways of spending it. Waiting for the thud of the bill through the letterbox—now you have less of it. Dreaming of winning the pools. Dreading debt. Watching the newsreader talking about the basket of European currencies and the pound being weak against the mark. On the streets kids beg for it. Women sell their bodies for it; so do boys. Families break up over it. Street assaults to grab it; bitter strikes to drag out of the boss a few more pounds of it: the knock on the door from the bailiff to tell you the consequences of not paying it. Money stunts our lives until they are hardly lives at all but treadmills of money payments. Money cripples the creative into being “financially sensible”: mean and dull. Money afflicts the many and makes affluent the few.

The morally pure warn us of the perils of caring too much about money. These warnings are issued from tree-shaded vicarages where well-fed men in frocks eat full English breakfasts, read The Times editorial and then proceed to the study to write of how Jesus cared not for the things of this world. Newspaper editors, operated from strings held by millionaire press barons, urge us to abandon the path of greed and pull in our belts. The parasitic rich live in expense-account luxury, thinking little of a few hundred pounds for a business lunch. Mothers anguish over how to buy shoes for three pairs of children's feet. It is a sick set-up.

There can be no doubt about the answer. It is the only answer; the one workable alternative; the sane way forward which this journal will not shut up about. We must abolish money. More precisely, we must abolish the need for money. Money is only needed when some possess and most do not. Most must buy from some. Workers who produce must buy the necessities of life from the capitalist few who possess the worlds wealth. The right of the minority to own and control must be ended. Class division must be ended. Buying and selling must cease. Money will then be done away with. We will produce for use. The ingenuity of administering money madness can be devoted to the infinitely saner and worthier cause of organising world production to satisfy human needs.

Money must go
In a moneyless world there will be an end to the hardships which are faced by millions today as if they were a natural plague. No more starvation or homelessness or debt or repossession or cheap and shoddy bargain lifestyles. Humanity will gasp a collective sigh of relief.

The sadness which pervades this system—the money-mad world of paying to live—is that so many people have forgotten what it is to be truly human. In fact, we, the victims of this money-wrecked epoch, are all alienated from our humanity. The capitalist, with all his unearned fortune, does not know how to live as a decent social being. Because if he did he would have to confront, both economically and emotionally, the anti-social essence of his vulture-like existence as a robber of other people's creativity. The capitalist is forced to deny his social nature and surround himself with the mythology of "independence"—of needing no-one and caring for no-one. At best, he will drop a few pounds into the charitable begging bowl of those whose pockets he has systematically picked. At worst, he will be a callous, useless. self-indulging pig, sucking in profits and spitting out hatred for the “greedy” wage slaves who dare to challenge his might. Visit any gentlemen's club or Chamber of Commerce and see these rich humans turned into piggy banks; a sorry sight.

But we shall not romanticise “the good old horny-handed worker”. We members of the working class also are conditioned to know ourselves only through a slave consciousness which fights against trust and collectivity. Old are turned against young and white against black and men against women and fit against disabled—and all of these the other way round as well. The struggle to survive makes petty-minded money-fighters out of the best of us. The Great Class Struggle, so praised by left-wingers as if it is some kind of Heroic Drama between Good and Evil, makes us workers adopt the meanness of spirit and factional hatreds of our oppressors.

Freedom from money will mean freedom of access to all that we need. But it will mean much more. It will mean the freedom to be freely human; to explore our natures and to nurture our behaviour without pound signs forcing us to Keep Off the better areas of our potential beings. We shall be free to work not for money, but because we are social beings who express ourselves best through the expenditure of useful energy. We will be free to be more than just postmen or just mothers or just doctors or just painters: we will be free to be all of those things. The alienating division of labour will come to an end. It is humanity which will look after humanity, not a class whose function is to service higher (i.e. richer) forms of humanity.

Return to humanity
The struggle for a new system of society—for social revolution and nothing less—is more than a struggle for workers to "get more" out of society. A revolution carried out to let the homeless have shelter and the starving eat and the families on income support have video machines would be a huge step forward, but far less of a step than the leap which we socialists advocate. Ours is not a struggle for a few more “things"—or even a lot more. We do not seek a new world system which is just like capitalism only with more of everything for everyone. We seek—we demand—the freedom of all humans to have full control over society, for only then will we have full control over our humanity. We do not want more money, we want no money. We are not demanding welfare for the poor, but an end to the condition of buying and selling which necessitates poverty. We seek not a better-off working class but an end to the working class. We are workers who want to be humans, victims of wage slavery who will be satisfied with nothing less than an end to all slavery in all of its forms. Only then will we be free to live as true social animals: co-operatively, consciously, happily, in dignity.

Far from being some sort of dull economic determinist. as he is celebrated as being by so many narrow-minded leftists, Karl Marx understood that revolution will be more than a matter of changing the signs on the front of the banks. Consider these extracts from his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts:
  The supersession of private property is, therefore, the complete emancipation of all the human qualities and senses. It is such an emancipation because these qualities and senses have become human, from the subjective as well as the objective point of view. The eye has become a human eye when its object has become a human, social object, created by man and destined for him . . . Communism is the positive abolition of private property, of human self-alienation, and thus the real appropriation of human nature through and for man. It is. therefore, the return of man himself as a social being, i.e. a really human being, a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development.
Why should not the working class—the overwhelming majority who are treated as profit-churning idiots—demand the "complete and conscious return" of our own humanity? To demand less is an undignified submission to an inhuman rule of money-power. To become human we must abolish money: nothing less, no compromises.
Steve Coleman