Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Obituary: Bob Norrie (1977)

Obituary from the November 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glasgow members were stunned by the news of the sudden death of Bob Norrie. He was 72 years old.

Bob joined the party in 1940 and acquired an excellent knowledge of the Marxist case economically, politically and philosophically. His spare time was devoted mainly to the propagation of the SPGB case for Socialism and he did the job effectively and efficiently. Over the years he was a consistent attender of Branch and propaganda meetings and to the end he could often be found discussing with members of the audience long after the outdoor meetings had finished and everyone else gone. This activity increases the severity of his loss. He will be missed both as a man and as a Socialist. Our sympathy is extended to his widow and family.

50 Years Ago: Bugs are Capitalists (1977)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are fairly well acquainted with that type of anti-Socialist to whom all tools are capital and consequently all tool-owners are capitalists, no matter whether it be plain Bill Smith who has “set up on his own” as a plumber, or romantic Robinson Crusoe, when he discovered the utility of a hammer.

Sir Arthur Keith, however, presents us with a rather interesting variation of this fantasy.

According to him, any means of subsistence not immediately consumed is capital. Thus the bees which store up honey, fowls which lay eggs, our mothers when in a certain condition (with milk available) are all really capitalists, little though they may dream it. One can imagine the bosom of the speculative investor swelling with pride at finding himself classified with such time-honoured institutions.

We fear, however, that Sir Arthur has been too well brought up to be sufficiently comprehensive. For instance, he omits entirely to mention those interesting examples of industrious capitalists, the bug and the common flea. It is a matter of observation that they cannot pursue their activities indefinitely but make periodic retirements in order to consume the sanguinary fluid which they have so assiduously acquired and stored up within the appropriate portion of their anatomy.
(From an article “The Anatomy of Capital—Sir Arthur Keith’s Economics”, by Eric Boden. Socialist Standard, November 1927.)

The Conflict in the Middle East (1958)

From the September 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Another Middle East storm has developed. This time it is the Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq that occupy the centre of the stage, with Kuwait also stirring. Again oil is the mainspring of the eruptions and clashing interests. The struggles concern the rich oil lands and the routes to those areas, with other economic advantages for the privileged seeping in.

The revenues from oil are in the region of the fabulous. They are cherished by the privileged possessors, and sought after by privileged non-possessors who want a larger share of the plunder. The toilers who make these revenues possible nave no share in them. They only receive the customary payment for the work they do; some of the Arab workers receive hardly enough to buy the necessities of life.

In spite of the numberless pronouncements on peace, with which we have been deluged for decades from all quarters, armed force, or the threat of it, is always the final resource when capitalist sections feel that their sources of revenue are threatened.

Reality and Hypocrisy
The present flare-up, just as the recent Suez dispute, concerns oil and the interests of the mammoth oil companies. There is no secret about this. Reports, articles, and pronouncements concentrate on this aspect

As usual, the designs of those responsible for the moves in this turbulent quarrel are surrounded with a cloud of hypocrisy. The Western Powers claim to be concerned to defeat the pernicious intrigues of Russia; the Eastern Powers to put a limit to the imperialist designs of the West; the Middle East revolutionists to secure the freedom of oppressed nationals.

But each group of participants has internal antagonisms, and the members view each other with suspicion. They are uneasy unions in which each participant mistrusts the others and intrigues for the best vantage ground to press forward the economic interests of the privileged groups it represents. Hence they are always likely to fall apart and change sides.

It is an old oft-repeated story; littered with indecision, broken pacts, duplicity, intrigues and wars. In the final chapter the privileged always occupy the seat of power and the mass of people remain in subjection. It will be the same in the Middle East after the present turmoil has come to an end. At best the most the mass of the people there can obtain is a standard of wage slavery that is equivalent to what obtains in the so-called advanced countries.

When there is plenty to spend
When Western workers put forward wage claims recently they were fobbed off with the excuse that industry could not afford the outlay involved. Where they persisted in pressing their claims the employers entered into long and protracted negotiations. But when sectional capitalist interests are threatened thousands of miles away, then the might of the State goes into instant action, regardless of the outlay involved. The American State has transported munitions and men to the Lebanon at enormous cost, and the British State has done likewise to Jordan. This makes a mockery of the appeals to freeze wage claims in spite of rising living costs.

There is no excuse this time about helping oppressed people. Armed assistance has been sent to help tottering semi-feudal monarchies—in defence of oil interests.

Whet black becomes white
When the Russian Government sent troops to suppress the revolt against the Hungarian Communist Government, American and British statesmen and spokesmen could hardly find words strong enough to express their indignation at such an abominable action. But when the semi-feudal governments of Jordan and the Lebanon were threatened by revolting subjects the Western States lost no time in answering the call for help with men and munitions of war. Russia and China are now able to reciprocate the phoney righteous indignation. But then hypocrisy has always been one of the hall-marks of capitalism.

Those who only suffer
One of the tragic sides of the Middle East armed adventure is that soldiers are being sent there to risk their lives in a quarrel that does not concern them, and from which they will gain nothing, except the possibility of a grave or mutilation. In the Middle East itself masses of people are worked up to fury against the present groups that are oppressing them, but their struggles will only result in fastening other groups of oppressors on their backs in place of the present ones. They have not yet discovered the way to abolish all oppression.

U.N.O. again takes a back seat
Once again the futility and sham of the United Nations Organisation has been exposed. When the principal Powers deem the time has come to take armed action they treat this expensive Tower of Babel with contempt. Likewise, when the heads of State consider the issue important enough and they decide to meet their opponents in the game of political manoeuvring, the so-called united organs of peace take a back seat.

The present flare-up also throws light on the British Government’s determination to hold Cyprus at any cost. It is a strategic base for action in the Middle East in defence of capitalist interests there.

Futile “Hands off” processions
As usual in this country there has been an eruption of “Hands off” movements. Although these emotional demonstrations, in which dupes of the Russian Government always take a hand, have never accomplished anything, and never can, the supporters continue their bedraggled slogan-shouting processions. Instead of spending time and thought grappling with the cause of social disharmony, they waste their time and energy in useless protests.

Economic interests determine policies
In the Middle East external governments are solely concerned with the interests of their capitalist controllers and will fight against, or acquiesce in, internal changes according to their bearing on these interests. The internal States are torn with strife over which section of the privileged can occupy the seats of power and reap the harvest produced by the workers’ labour. In both instances the unprivileged do the fighting and reap the misery of victory or defeat

The only solution
So it will continue until those who do the work of the world realize that only when privilege in all forms, and class ownership of the means of living, have been abolished will it be possible for the people of the world to give in harmony.

When this is achieved exploitation and the hunger for profit will disappear and there will no longer be tragedies like Hungary, Suez. Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
(Text of leaflet now in circulation. Readers wanting copies should apply to Head Office.)

Obituary: Len Plummer (1958)

Obituary from the September 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we report the sudden death on 15th July of Comrade Len Plummer, from a heart attack. Comrade Plummer joined Wickford Branch a year after its formation, having transferred from Palmers Green Branch (he joined the Party in July. 1952). His work as Secretary, the free and open use of his house as meeting place, in addition to his sterling work in cooperation with his branch comrades made him a powerful influence in a young and struggling branch. That effort now blossoming into a promising and influential re-named Basildon Branch with increased membership, will remain a testimonial to the membership of our friend. His going will be sadly missed by Branch comrades, compensated by the knowledge that his last days were made happy by the encouraging results of the branch. To his relatives we extend our deepest sympathy.

Why Cyprus is important (1958)

From the September 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Should anyone have lingering doubts about why the British Government is making such determined efforts to keep control of Cyprus, the following remarks from an authoritative source may help to dispel the doubts.

Field-Marshal Lord Harding, previous Governor of Cyprus, writing in the Daily Express on 6th August about his meetings with Makarios, has this to say:—
  “I told him that we needed the use of the island for military purposes for an indefinite period because of our obligations to our Allies and friends and the unsettled state of the whole Middle East area, exposed as it was to the threat of international Communism."
Thus all the high-flown sentiments about helping its Greek and Turkish Cypriots is just diplomatic window dressing. The real soiled goods are in the shop behind.
Gilmac.

Behind the Race Riots (1958)

From the October 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recent disturbances in Nottingham and London have brought up the question of the attitude between people of different colour; as if there must always be a fundamental difference in outlook and conduct between people with differently coloured skins.

Although on the surface the feeling associated with the recent disturbances is anti-white and anti-colour, and the rougher elements on both sides have taken the opportunity to turn this feeling into an occasion for rioting, the origin of the feeling has a deeper cause than just anti-colour.

The origin of the conflicting attitudes is fundamentally economic. Out of economic relationships arise emotions that take many forms which do not appear to have any connection with the relationships and are transformed into a variety of beliefs; for example, the false belief in the mental and moral superiority of people with white skins.

The conditions of capitalism produce a mental, or intellectual, atmosphere in which many conflicting attitudes flourish and older attitudes are modified. For instance, a pro-war and anti-war, a pro-religious and anti-religious, a pro-nationalist and anti-nationalist, and so on.

When the West Indians and Nigerians first came here in force there was no particular antipathy to them: there was only some amusement and admiration of their liveliness and colourful clothing, as well as the customary patronising attitude that is generally displayed towards any “foreigner,” whatever his skin colour. Labour was scarce then and unemployment was practically non-existent. However, when unemployment began to grow and the housing question remained acute, sufferers, and prospective sufferers, looked around for something to blame their troubles on and newcomers, as always, appeared to them to be an obvious part cause of their sufferings. In these circumstances the general attitude towards coloured people began to change and they became scapegoats for a failure of capitalism to meet society’s needs. In earlier times when there were few coloured people in England unemployment was common and the country was cluttered with overcrowded and festering slums. In those days part of the blame was put upon the Irish, or the Jews, or “foreigners” with white skins. Once this kind of idea is set going it becomes enlarged and transformed into many kinds of absurd views that are finally accepted and taken for granted by otherwise intelligent and reasonable people.

An illustration in another field furnishes an example of how outlooks that have a source in social conditions can suffer transformation.

The economic rivalries of sections of the capitalist class brought about the last two great wars. They had a purely economic origin. Yet patriotic feeling and feelings concerning democracy and justice became so emotionally stirred up that, on both sides of the conflict, wealthy young men from the ranks of the capitalist class were prepared to lay down their lives in the struggle in a fervour of blind idealism.

West Indians came to England because times were bad in their home country and they thought they could do better here. On the same ground thousands emigrate from England to the United States or the Dominions because they think they can make a better living there. In England working conditions were easier than the emigrants met in places like Canada and the emigrant took time to acclimatise himself to the faster pace and other conditions. Consequently, he was not at first made very welcome and employers were inclined to think him lazy. But they had to put up with him whilst labour was scarce. Similarly, the West Indian, who has been accustomed to a slower labouring speed, is not now as welcome on the job as he was when there were more jobs than job-seekers. But in time all workers become integrated with the conditions of the country in which they settle.

When workers are struggling for homes and jobs anything that appears to stand in their way becomes a menace to be got rid of, particularly when they see coloured people overflowing with life and expressing it in late and noisy hours. Consequently, the unusual influx of people from overseas was bound eventually to appear in the light of a menace, notwithstanding the fact that about 100,000 emigrants have left this country annually since the war and only a total of 200,000 coloured people have settled here during that time. (See Evening Standard, 10th September, 1958.)

Mr. Norman Manley, Chief Minister of Jamaica, has come over here to try to smooth out the difficulties that have arisen. He has made impassioned speeches, urging England “to preserve her reputation for being able to maintain in England absolutely decent inter-racial relationships.” (Evening Standard, 10th September.) He has good reason for his passion. He got rid of a portion of his unemployed problem by the emigration of Jamaicans, and he doesn't want them back on his doorstep again.

It is worth mentioning another objection that has been urged, one concerning sex relationship. Many people are disturbed at seeing coloured men associating with white women. They base their antipathy on moral grounds, though the moral grounds do not appear to be so strong when white men associate with coloured women. The coloured man is at a disadvantage here because he is so easily distinguished, whereas his white brother associating in the same way with a white woman would generally pass unnoticed. However, on whatever grounds the arguments are based, the association has nothing to do with colour. It is still true that some white men, both at home and abroad, are pursuers of women of any colour. One has only to remember the antipathy here to American soldiers during the war on account of the sex question. Further, it should be remembered that white soldiers who brought home Malayan, Chinese or Japanese wives incurred no odium, in spite of the differences in colour.

Now let us glance at another aspect of the subject.

Amongst white people belonging to the same country there has been bitter, and bloody, antagonism, as instanced by the civil wars in England, the United States, Germany, France, Russia, and Ireland. This, apart from the wars between European nations. But amongst coloured people there has been similar strife: the massacres in the struggle between India and Pakistan; the antagonism between the people of Northern and Southern Nigeria, the recent strife in Ceylon between the Tamils and Sinhalese. No sooner was the new State of Ghana established than some of its coloured citizens were expelled. In South Africa and Kenya there is bitter antagonism between the Indians and black people. Again, there is everywhere oppression of poor coloured by rich coloured, just as there is oppression of poor whites by rich whites.

We may also note in passing that there are “wide boys” among the coloured just as there are among the white. One example will illustrate this. It is taken from a letter by a “London Landlady” that appeared in the “Manchester Guardian” for the 13th September. The landlady in question had been in the habit of letting her rooms to African, Indian, Chinese and European students and now and then had a bad tenant, which did not trouble her until she ran into the following difficulties:—
  "The trouble really started when I had to remind a certain African tenant that he was in arrears with his rent. This immediately drew the comment that I was discriminating against him—quite illogical in the circumstances. From then on both he and another African tenant consistently refused to pay their rent until it was considerably overdue. Occasionally one of them would go away and I would find a strange African in his room—and again, when I mentioned this I was accused of colour prejudice.”
The whites who bilk landladies are too numerous to count and bring no condemnation of whites in general. But when it is done by some coloured people it becomes exaggerated into a condemnation of the coloured in general. At the same time the past experience of coloured people is apt to make some of them walk about with a chip on their shoulders.

Another side of the question concerns accommodation. The fact that many landlords are reluctant to let accommodation to coloured people is not, in itself, an example of colour discrimination. Landlords are in business to make money and therefore wish to let their houses and flats as profitably as possible, no matter who desires the accommodation. Consequently they steer clear of impecunious, quarrelsome, drunken tenants; tenants who are disturbing others by frequent parties, or tenants who bring others in to overload the premises. They avoid these people because they are liable to drive others away and lower the letting value of the premises. Many of them are convinced that this would happen if they let to coloured people. The latter are lively, sociable and inclined to be noisy because they come from a part of the world where liveliness is common. Also, owing to the housing shortage, as they must find somewhere to live, they are inclined to crowd together in the only places available and put up with the discomfort.

Finally, we, of course, deplore attacks of workers on each other, regardless of the colour of their skins.

The root of the present problem is therefore not colour, but social conditions that are produced by capitalist society. Various solutions to the problem have been put forward, but these solutions ignore the root from which the problem grows. Present racial antagonism is bound up with the general conditions of capitalism. Like the other evils of capitalism it will only disappear when capitalism itself has been replaced by a social system in which all human beings will be able to move freely over the earth and live in harmony because their interests will be identical. This can only be a reality under Socialism.
Gilmac.

Party News Briefs (1958)

Party News from the October 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Autumn Delegate Meeting. A reminder that this is being held on Saturday, October 4th (2.30 p.m.) and Sunday, October 5th (11.30 a.m.), at Head Office, 52, Clapham High Street, S.W.4.

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Nottingham. Some time ago, provisional arrangements were being made for a debate to be held between the Party and the Communist Party. The paid Organiser of the local Communist Party Branch had agreed to the debate, subject to final arrangements, which was to take place at the Cosmo Debating Society Hall, Nottingham. Our Nottingham Comrades were surprised to learn later that the Communist Party had withdrawn from the debate —no clear reason was given. However. Nottingham Branch Members have arranged for us to hold a meeting at the Cosmo Hall and Comrade Wilmott is going there on Sunday, October 5th. He will speak on “Socialism—One World, One People.” Full details elsewhere in this issue.

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Denison House. The Propaganda Committee endeavoured to arrange a Central London meeting for October 5th after the Delegate Meeting. Unfortunately a hall was not available, but the Committee has booked Denison House for Sunday. October 12th, at 7.30 p.m. “Socialism has no Colour Bar” is the subject of the meeting. Further details are shown in a notice in this issue.

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Sunday Film Meetings. A new series commences on Sunday, October, 19th, at Head Office. Time, 7.30 p.m. List of titles of later dates appear on page 162.

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U.S.A. aid Canada. Comrade D’Arcy found a brief few moments whilst travelling by air from Vancouver to Winnipeg, that he is halfway through his tour, which is keeping him very well occupied. There is no doubt that our Comrades in the West have made great preparations to ensure that fullest advantage could be taken from this visit. Comrade D’Arcy hopes to fully report his tour when he returns and no doubt the November Standard will contain, at least, a précis of his report.
Phyllis Howard

The Cause of it All (1958)

A Short Story from the October 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The tiny triangular bedsitter at the top of the house was occupied by Mr. Winston Tobias. He was 45 years old, a mild, sad, yearning little man, as black as boot polish. No one knew very much about him. He was seen coming and going, but never there. At exactly the same time every morning he walked down the stairs to go to the office where he worked, and at exactly the same time every evening he returned with the evening paper and a small parcel of groceries for his tea. Neither the Carters nor the Fentons, who lived in the other two flats below, could ever remember him having a visitor, and he seldom went out. Most evenings he spent in his uncomfortable little room with its small window, divan bed, single arm chair, and gas stove neatly hidden from view by a plastic curtain. Here he read a little, dreamt a little, and wrote long letters to his family, full of loving, lying promises of their future together in England. Mr. Tobias possessed that virtue, so often extolled by the neighbours of “keeping himself to himself” and, of course, was a constant source of frustration to the avid curiosity of Mrs. Carter, immediately below him, and Mrs. Fenton, on the ground floor.

Mr. Tobias was a little afraid of his neighbours and avoided them, if possible. Mr. Carter he identified by the sound of heavy boots clumping up the stairs, occasional choruses of: “A white Christmas,” and shouted admonitions both to his wife and seven year old son. The Carters did not keep themselves to themselves, their trials and tribulations were the common property of the neighbourhood. Their son Jonathan was the fruit of one of their infrequent harmonies. He was affectionately known as Jonty, when he was affectionately known at all. Mr. Tobias felt sorry for the little boy, and would have liked to befriend him, but he was far too timid to attempt to climb the barriers of prejudice erected by the child’s parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Carter found it hard enough to be amiable to one another, but their friendship with the Fentons was a precarious thing indeed. The two families had antagonized each other from the beginning. They quarrelled mostly over the children (the Fentons had a daughter born one month before July, and nine months after her father’s works outing). The two children found themselves periodically separated while their parents furiously re-enacted a quarrel they themselves had completely forgotten. The regular screams of abuse between the two wives were so commonplace that they were accepted by the neighbours as part of the urban scene.

On the very rare occasions when they were friendly, then Mr. Tobias was really frightened, for he knew that the basis of their agreement was condemnation of him. He was well aware that they spoke about him, if not to him. Fearful of meeting their anger face to face he stayed in his room and felt cold, tight apprehension at every footstep mounting the stairs. He breathed a sigh of relief when the atmosphere in the house settled back into its simmering dislike. At least it was not of him.

Then one night came the final explosion. Mr. Tobias had gone to bed early and was almost asleep, when he heard a woman’s voice raised in hysterical anger. He sat up in bed and listened. From below came unmistakable sounds of battle. Heavy boots could be heard scuffling on the stairs, grunts and groans interspersed with shouted insults as the two men fought. Mrs. Fenton was screaming encouragement to her husband and Mrs. Carter whose spouse was apparently getting the worst of it could be heard shrieking for the police. A shower of milk bottles cascaded down the stairs, the dustbin on the landing was kicked over and the two protagonists began hurling the contents at each other. The din was appalling. Mr. Tobias felt vaguely that he ought to do something, but was too frightened to do so. Then came a knock at the door, be opened it fearfully and saw outside little Jonathan Carter in his pyjamas. "Mr. Fenton’s fighting my dad, and he’s made his nose bleed and I’m scared,” whispered the little boy. Mr. Tobias took the child on his knee to comfort him, and Jonty clung to him in tearful longing.

New voices entered into the play beneath them. The second act had begun with the arrival of the police. Their calm, matter-of-fact voices could be heard vainly attempting to sort out the confusion. Finally, they had to admit defeat and departed, taking with them the two men still arguing, and leaving their wives to remove the debris. Now that things were once again peaceful, little Jonathan left the security of Mr. Tobias’s embrace and went downstairs. As he emerged from the dark vacuum of the stairway, his mother, busily sweeping empty tins and broken glass into the comer, looked up and saw him. "Where have you been,” she shouted. "I got scared,” replied the boy. "So I went upstairs to Mr. Tobias and he gave me a drink and some biscuits.” His mother gave an offended gasp. "Why, you little devil,” she screamed, cuffing him on the ear, "I'll murder you if you go up there again. Didn’t I tell you not to have anything to do with them blacks. You know they’se always causing trouble.”
J. H.

The Welfare State: Have Things Changed? (1958)

From the December 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are always being told how different the world is from the world our fathers and grandfathers knew at the beginning of the century. That takes us back to the time when the Socialist Party of Great Britain began its activities. Nobody can deny that lots of things have changed, but just how much has the social system altered in those years? That is what the founders of this Party were concerned with. They looked on a social system in which the accumulated wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small minority, the propertied class; a world in which the workers' life was harassed with poverty, unemployment, bad housing, pauperism and the threat of war.

The S.P.G.B, has always maintained that you can't do anything useful with this social system: if you want something better it has to be a new social organisation, Socialism. Our opponents would not have this. They believed that, through social reforms, they could make things essentially different. These opponents, Liberal, Tory, Labour, have all had their chance to show, as the government, what they could do.

During the first years after the end of the second world war they found themselves largely in agreement in claiming the great change had already taken place, in the founding of what they called the Welfare State. This was to be the foundation on which would be built the progressively different and better state of affairs. Of course, they differed among themselves on some things, as the Opposition thought they could do better than the Government but they were all at first of one mind that poverty, unemployment and slumps had been abolished and deep foundations laid for something very fine to be built on afterwards. They were all agreed that slums were on their way out.

The Labour Party, being in office from 1945 to 1951, claimed that these six years were the crowning achievement of their political lifetime, the ripe harvest of all their strivings, the proof of how right they were and how wrong was the S.P.G.B.

But in the argument, Socialists always had and have one thing on their side: it is that nobody can prevent Capitalism from breaking through and showing itself for what it is. Let us look at some of the problems that were occupying the social reformers half a century ago, unemployment, slums, poverty, crime, war. They were all going to be abolished.

In the early years of the century there had been the British war with the Boers in South Africa, the war between Russia and Japan, trouble between the Powers and China, wars in the Balkans, and between Turkey and Italy; and a few years earlier, war in the Sudan, war between America and Spain and war between Turkey and Greece. Trouble was building up over Morocco and the Middle East. This belligerent chaos was accompanied by negotiations to settle the particular disputes; and to settle all disputes by international organisation through the Hague Court.

It all has a familiar ring. Nothing whatever has been solved. There have been two world wars and lots of smaller ones, means of destruction are vastly greater, and world tension is just the same as it always was. Everlasting peace talk, but no peace.

But how are things at home ?
Forced to admit this, the reformist will ask us to look at internal affairs, “the condition of the people” Well, let us do just that. There are now half a million unemployed, and the figure is officially expected to rise to 600,000 in the New Year. This is worse than it was fifty years ago, and the worst since 1945, though not nearly as bad as it became between the wars. True, we are assured by the Government (though how do they know) that things will later get better. But what has happened to the almost universal claim of ten years ago that the Keynesian-trained economists and politicians now knew how to manage things without those ups and downs of boom and slump?

Adding the dependents, there will now be a million people affected by unemployment, and this is not anything like the whole story.

The Annual Report of the National Assistance Board for 1957 shows that at the end of the year 1¾ million National Assistance payments were being made, and that, including dependents, there were nearly 2,400,000 people wholly or partly dependent on National Assistance.

This isn’t what the social reformers promised to do for us.

Most of the recipients of National Assistance are people too old to work. But they were all supposed to have been looked after by the Beveridge plan, the National Insurance Scheme enacted by the Labour Government. Yet in the House of Commons on November 11th, when the Labour M.P., Mr. Crossman, was showing why his own Party’s new scheme for additional pensions (and additional contributions) is better than the Government’s scheme, he declared that his Party’s objective “was to deal with the greatest social challenge to the welfare state, the existence of grinding poverty among old, retired people.” (Times, 12th November, 1958.) Has it a familiar ring? Of course it has. The phrase about the “grinding poverty” of the worker too old to work was being hawked round half a century ago by the late Lloyd George, the father of the first old age pension scheme in this country.

Surely not the children too ?
If the old are half-starving, at any rate the children are all bonny and well fed! But no, as the editor of the Manchester Guardian (21st April, 1958) was “alarmed” to discover. The evidence was provided by a report just published, carried out by the Population Investigation Committee.
  “A quarter of all families with children under five in 1950 may have been unable to provide a diet fully adequate for the children’s growth. This is the alarming conclusion . . . " (Manchester Guardian, 21st April, 1958.)
The Report, which was compiled with the help of local health departments, confirmed the conclusion of other investigations that “the poorest children were the shortest,” their growth stunted by under-nourishment. The Guardian could find no reason to believe that any changes since 1950 would have nullified the Reports’ conclusion. The reason for this inability to buy enough food was stated to be insufficient income just as it was 50 or 100 years ago.

And crime
Another benefit supposed to follow the reform of Capitalism was the progressive reduction and eventual elimination of crime. It has all gone according to plan, except that the progress has been upwards. The present Government is “going to do something about it,” and has been assured that the Labour and Liberal parties heartily approve of something being done. In the House of Commons on 31st October, the Home Secretary, Mr. R. A. Butler, had this to say:—
  “Crime was increasing during the 1930’s, but during the war the figures took a sudden upward leap and in 1945 they were more than half as much again as in 1939. There were 478,000 indictable offences known to the police, or 11 per 1,000 of the population in 1945, against a figure of 304,000, or 7 per 1,000 of the population in 1939. . (Col. 496.)
Mr. Butler went on to say that “crimes of violence and sexual offences” have increased, as also the rate of crime among young men. He said, too, that the total number of offences in 1957 was about 13 per cent. higher than in 1956 and that in the London area figures were available for 1958, showing that in the first seven months there was “a continuing steep rise.”

And all of this has to be taken in conjunction with the comparison with the beginning of the century. Sir Sydney Smith, formerly of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Edinburgh University, pointed out three years ago that crimes in 1953, at 500,000; were ten times as numerous as in 1900 (50,000), and that crimes of violence had increased from 3,500 to 23,000. (Manchester Guardian, 18th February, 1955.)

And what of the slums? This problem has been solved on paper many times, but there are now about a million unfit houses and the number falling into decay each year has been recently estimated at over 100,000. The total is far greater than it was between the wars.

The list of unsolved social problems that were going to be solved by the reformers could be greatly extended— the cost of living about four times what it was at the beginning of the century, in face of the pledge of every government to keep it from rising; the increasing drunkenness and drug-taking; the industrial disputes that were going to be smoothed away by arbitration, yet the strikes go on and the number has been increasing in recent years.

And, to go back to the basic question, the accumulated wealth of the country is still concentrated in the hands of the propertied class—which is where we came in.
Edgar Hardcastle

50 Years Ago: Why the Unemployed are Necessary Under Capitalism (1958)

The 50 Years Ago column from the December 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The position may be summed up as follows. As under present conditions, all commodities are produced for profit, production must cease with the cessation of profit. As profit and wages between them constitute and have their only source in the value created by the worker, profit can only appear while wages are prevented from consuming the whole product of labour. As wages, the price of labour power, are regulated by the relation of supply and demand, a surplus of labour-power (the unemployed), is necessary to prevent wages swallowing up all profit. Therefore the unemployed army is a vital necessity to Capitalist production, and there can be no solution under Capitalism. 
(From the Socialist Standard, December, 1908.)

Youth in the Modern World (1958)

From the December 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the features of English social life in the post-war years has been the ascendency of the adolescent age groups. Not only have entire new branches of the entertainments industries sprung from the enthusiasms and the spending-power of the young; a popular press exists for them as it has always done for the so-called middle class, and a small popular culture has grown round their emotions and their “rights.” At the same time, the spread of juvenile crime and hooliganism has alarmed the police and a good many other people. What has happened to the younger generation?

Before the war a school-leaver was lucky if he was paid fifteen shillings a week, and luckier still if he had any of it for himself. He was fettered on the one hand by the lowness of wages—especially his—and on the other by his new status in the home, bringing in money when it was usually urgently needed. More often than not he handed in all his pay; clothes and fares were bought from the family exchequer as in his schooldays, and he might have a shilling to blue on Saturday night.

It was largely on this little-to-spend dependence that the serious, character-training organizations for adolescents thrived then: Scouts, Guides, Boys' Brigades, and the like. They offered companionship, horseplay and games for next to nothing, and cheap camping holidays ad lib. Nowadays their membership above the school age is fractional and their influence on youth insignificant; the difference can well be seen in the fact that the pre-war Rover Scout movement for young men has had to be disbanded in recent times.

The changed circumstances of today hardly need pointing out. They are not universal, of course; plenty of adolescents can never grasp the well-known present-day educational opportunities because they are needed as wage-earners in the home. Nevertheless, it has been part of the economic conditions of the full-employment era that employers have had in general to woo the younger generation. There have had to be rewards and attractions to recruit typists and comptometer hands for the post-war volume of commerce and trainees for the new armies of engineers—and, correspondingly, greater inducements for the less-favoured jobs as well.

The adolescent has become, in fact, emancipated financially. He (as a matter of course, this includes she) has some money in his pocket, can buy his own clothes, purchase his own amusements. Two additional factors set the seal—within its limits—on this emancipation. First, older generations, mindful of their hard times and unyouthful youth, tend to gain compensation and pleasure from seeing their children “not going short.” And second, in a great many cases the adolescent himself knows that he is never likely to have so much money to spend again. The boy of eighteen earning a man’s wage may be fortunate; by definition, however, it is as much as he will ever earn when he has to keep a family.

But the shackle-breaking has not been just a question of income. That is one side of it. The other is the severance from tradition that changes in society’s superstructure have forced. In earlier times, and even for working people within the last sixty years or so, one generation’s experience was closely like that of another. In work, education and domestic detail, a son’s life was unlikely to differ much from that of his father; the traditions and ideals of the older generation were guides for the younger one.

What has happened in more recent times is that the development of new industrial techniques, greater specialization and division of labour, and with them changes in the education of the young, have led to the breakdown of these patterns. The adolescent of today does not have to learn his way of life from previous generations. He is emancipated from tradition, too.

There are innumerable reflections of this relative freedom, most of them reflecting also that American youth had it first. The absence of long-standing traditions in America, and the twentieth-century surge there of technical development, produced effects which were quickly communicated to this country by the cinema: the Andy Hardy films of the ’thirties gave clear glimpses of what was happening to adolescence. There have been the songs—"Too Young," "Teenage Love" etc—laying down the claim to earlier marriage; the TV programmes and picture-strip mags, for the under-twenties, often with the same slightly defiant don't-you-find-fault-with-youth overtone; the films concerned sentimentally with the adolescent's emotions, or noisily with his fun.

Is this a good thing? From the mass of newspaper, magazine and broadcast stuff about "modem youth," some evaluation ought to be possible. The fact is, however, that the commentaries are made from severely limited viewpoints, almost never from the social one. When they are not Christian pronouncements (or, occasionally, psychiatrical ones: the Sunday Pictorial recently advocated cuddly toys as therapy for mixed-up adolescence). they are heavily loaded either sentimentally or, culturally—either assuming that youth is necessarily admirable, or arguing from antipathy to rock 'n' roll. Nor is the sympathy disinterested: the emancipated adolescent is a source of income to all kinds of people.

And this leads to the real point. Has youth really gained in freedom? The modern teen-ager has, for a probable maximum of five year, some financial independence, and he is no longer bound by former conventions. On the other hand, he delivered whole to the greedy commercial class to dress up in, swallow, read and recreate himself with their gaudy mass-produced rubbish. The sad thing about such a phenomenon as rock 'n' roll is that the adolescents who jig and bound to its metronome rhythm think they are letting their hair down, whereas in fact it is being held down firmly in a fixed position by the film and record companies and other interested parties.

The belief that modern youth has generated for itself a separate culture is at bottom a mistaken one. True, there are all its appearances. Basically, however, adolescent behaviour is only the juvenile (and therefore cruder-looking) version of the culture-pattern of the grown-up world of modern Capitalism. Adolescents are given to showy display of dress and possessions: but this is the world in which conspicuous consumption is equated with “higher living standards.” They make and follow heroes of brash, hollow and ephemeral figures: are these different from the heroes of the world at large?

Indeed, the typical teen-age hero is the teenager's own reflection, a little larger and louder, and this complies fully with the requirement for political leadership remarked over forty years ago by Trotter in Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War:
  "He must remain, in fact, recognizable as one of the flock, magnified, no doubt, louder, coarser, above all, with more urgent wants and ways of expression than the common sheep, but in essence to their feeling of the same flesh with them.”
The place of violence and greed in the present-day world should be mentioned, too. It is fairly obvious that youth wanting to claim grown-up privileges will see physical and sexual prowess as the things to show; and equally obvious that so far as unscrupulousness, brutality, and general disregard for human personality go the grown-up world provides precedents and examples in plenty. One does not have to think only of the Bomb. There are the well-known facts of How to Get On in the World—the ruthless treatment of other people and the morality that ends can justify all means. It used to be pretended to the young that honesty was the best policy; now nobody tells them anything so patently at variance with the facts of life.

For all the attention demanded and given to him, the adolescent has not gained much. Release from one set of circumstances and conventions has led only to others which seem hardly more desirable; the "mixed-up" young person is a creature of his time. And the truth is that there can be no emancipation for anyone, in the real sense of the word, in the society in which we live. The emancipation of women, of slaves, of empire-trodden peoples, has meant in actuality only freeing them from one kind of bondage to secure them in another. What is the matter is not the young people or the old people, but the organization of society: the only freedom which can mean anything is freedom deriving from common ownership of the means of life.

It is worth saying also that only in Socialist society will it be possible for the first time for young people to develop freely towards satisfying and full lives. In the Capitalist world they are viewed not as people at all but as future wage-workers, soldiers, consumers, and adherents to this and that. Not long ago the Daily Mirror, in an article called "The Beanstalk Generation." claimed that the facts of physical maturity were changing in the emancipated-adolescent age. It goes to show how little is really known about youth, and how little can be known until the entire social environment is changed.
It is not the kids, but the world that is mixed-up and crazy.
Robert Barltrop

The British National Party: the symptom not the disease (1994)

From the September 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

A lot has been said about the BNP in recent months, none of it good. Apart from calls to ban the BNP in the wake of a three-fold increase in racially-motivated attacks in the past year, there has been a lot of scaremongering. Newspaper columnists have put forward nightmare scenarios, prompted by Derek Beackon’s victory in Millwall last September. Earlier this year an Observer article began: “The Right-Wing British National Party is poised to win another two council seats in London’s Isle of Dogs, giving it control of a budget of about £23 million” (6 March). And, in the May council elections, no part of Britain received as much media scrutiny as the East End of London.

The original BNP victory, however, had less to do with the racist views of the average voter in Millwall and more to do with local voters protesting at the inertia of the mainstream parties on matters such as housing and unemployment. This must be coupled with the turn-out that day. This May, Beackon was defeated in spite of his tally increasing by 500. [561 votes, in fact] The turnout this time round was 30 percent up on last September’s by-election. Neither is the fact that racist parties in England polled 6.8 percent of the vote evidence of a new rising tide of fascism. As far as racism goes in Britain, the tide never went out.

To give the average workers their due, few really believe the clap-trap the BNP leader, John Tyndall, spouts. For one thing, the mainstream parties, Labour, Conservative and the Lib-Dems, have been giving the public the same cant for years, albeit a watered-down version.

All racists now
John Tyndall, for instance, believes we should buy British and stop foreign imports, but his ideology is imported from Nazi Germany. He believes in the death penalty, but so do most Tory MPs and the majority of the police force. He claims his is the only party that “puts British people first in jobs and housing”, but in the past year Liberal Democrat and Labour councils have been taken to the High Court for pursuing racist housing policies. Last November the Guardian ran a headline: “Labour councils face race bias allegations” (29 November). A UNISON branch secretary commented that in 50 “disciplinaries” he had attended in eighteen months, only two of the workers he had represented had been white.

The BNP oppose immigration, but Margaret Thatcher secured National Front sympathies in 1978 when she said, musing at the prospect of 4 million Britons of “New Commonwealth” origin by the year 2000: “Now that is an awful lot and I think it means people are rather afraid that this country might be swamped by people of a different culture.” Ten years earlier, a Labour government had rushed through the Commonwealth Immigration Act in three days, introducing the racist concept of patriality and excluding thousands of persecuted Kenyan Asians in the process. That Act, however, was one of only eight racist Acts passed this century to restrict the flow of immigrants.

The BNP are anti-Europe and believe in British independence. On April 24, the Times reported on John Major’s xenophobic ranting regarding Europe. Major feared that opposition parties would surrender Britain’s “sovereignty” to Brussels, that they were “diluting” our national identity. He went on to tell supporters that “we must never forget the traditions and inheritance of the past”.

One would have thought that Major would have learned from Michael Portillo’s media wrist-slapping a month earlier, when he told students at Southampton University that “outside this country the standards of public life are way below what goes on in this country . . . Go to any other country and when you have got an A level you have bought it or you were a friend of the minister” (Guardian, 4 February).

Tyndall, though, not only passes off the hackneyed sentiments of racialism as his own to would-be voters, he looks upon the average voter with contempt and is on record as saying: “What we oppose is the method whereby the man in the street is called upon to pass judgements on aspects of affairs of which he has no understanding.” Not only does the BNP have no elected leadership, there are no women with pivotal roles within the party.

In reality, Tyndall is little more than a poor man’s führer leading an intellectually bankrupt party of shorn-headed bigots.

Pointing the finger
Workers should be aware that the only way to confront such fascists is on the battlefield of ideas, not with clubs and boots. The fact that so many “left-wing” groups believe they should be banned is evidence that they have yet to come up with the arguments to discredit them. It does not say much for allegedly socialist movements (such as the SWP and Militant) to call upon the state to pass laws proscribing fascist activity. If they really had the interests of the working class at heart, they should be pointing the finger of blame at the real perpetrator of racism — the capitalist system.

For instance, an Oxford University report published in December 1992 found that 7 out of 18 judges sampled sentenced black defendants more harshly than whites. This February, the Guardian (18 February) reported on how elements within the judiciary (Circuit and High Court judges) were resisting moves to be trained in race awareness. Lincoln Crawford, a Bar Council member, commented on how it was the educational system the judiciary were brought up in that “produced people who were self-confident, proud of their heritage and history and deeply grounded in their society’s basic values, but without any knowledge of the ethnic minority communities, their culture, sensitivity and sentiments.”

Newspapers last year reported several cases of racism within the army (in 1992 only 0.6 percent of recruits were non-whites) and the police force. In May this year, a black detective, DC Barry Thompson, won compensation and an apology from the police for racial abuse and discrimination he suffered while on a training course. In March an industrial tribunal ruled that black lecturer Stanley Jenkins had been subjected to “institutional discrimination and victimisation”. For eight years he had endured taunts of “wog”, “sambo" and “nigger” from students, while the governing body of Thanet College, Broadstairs, Kent, failed to take action to stop it. A report published the same month found that “solicitors are actually discriminating against blacks in recruiting trainees” (Guardian, 21 April). A survey of 4,000 law students found that white students had a 47 percent chance of getting articles with law firms, compared to 7 percent blacks.

In government, racism is just as rife. In December 1993, the Home Office attempted to pass legislation authorising the fire service to record the ethnic origins of fire victims. This was rightfully attacked by the firefighters’ union as an “outrageous monitoring service for racial purposes” (Guardian, 17 December). When it comes to immigration, the Home Office is a law unto itself. It believes it is entitled to detain asylum-seekers under the 1971 Immigration Act without giving reasons — a belief that does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which states:
"Everyone who is arrested shall he informed, in a language which he understands, of the reason for his arrest and of any charges against him. ”
A few months after the death of Joy Gardner at the hands of immigration officers and the police, because she had overstayed a six-month visitor’s permit, immigration officers at Gatwick detained 190 Jamaicans off one flight who were visiting relatives in Britain. Two days later, on Christmas Day, 27 were put back on board a plane for Kingston.

Politicians, however, appear to be the most vociferous in their nationalistic and racial rantings.

In 1964, the incoming Labour Foreign Secretary lost his Smethwick seat to a Tory who had used the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

Two days before the 1992 General Election, the Daily Express ran the headline: “BAKER’S MIGRANT FLOOD WARNING — LABOUR SET TO OPEN DOORS” (7 April 1992).

Likewise, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn pointed out a few days before the same election that a Labour victory would result in Britain being “swamped by immigrants of every colour and race and on any excuse of asylum or bogus marriage, or just plain deception”. (Runnymede Trust Bulletin, May 1992).

Racism, then, is not the poorly-thought-out doctrine of a few hundred bonehead supporters of the BNP. Neither will a ban on the BNP eradicate racist sentiments.

Scapegoats
Claire Dissington of the Anti-Nazi League recently remarked uncharacteristically, that “if you ban the BNP it does not eliminate the reason for racism. Racist groups have become popular because of the recession and people want to find a scapegoat” (Guardian, 28 September 1993).

William Rees-Mogg takes this a little further when he says “the essence of their propaganda [the Nazis] was to speak to the emotions and not to the reason of the people” (Times, 19 May 1993). Fascism, he asserts, “is always fuelled by the anger of the dispossessed”.

Workers will indeed feel more alienated during recession, more so in run-down areas like Tower Hamlets, where unemployment is high and housing policy a shambles. In 1992, Tower Hamlets had a housing stock of 67,000 houses, 45,000 of which were considered in desperate need of repair or unfit to live in.

Dispossessed, frustrated and alienated workers will always look for a short-cut to even up the imbalance between themselves and their masters. One only has to look at crime statistics. Is it any wonder workers are hoodwinked into believing ethnic communities are the cause of their misfortune, and so must bear the brunt of their frustration

In the past thirty years a host of racist organisations have sprouted up with the same utterings (League of Empire Loyalists, BNP, Racial Preservation Society, Greater Britain Movement, National Front, SS Wotan 88, Blood and Honour, Combat 18). Their impact on the political scene has been as insignificant as calls for direct action to confront them has been myopic.

Racism will only be destroyed through a change in society, not with physical force, nor with laws. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has done little to prevent the continuance of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. At the most, a ban on extreme-right groups will only make them martyrs in the cause of free speech and bring right-wing thugs flocking in to swell their ranks.

Racism has to be seen for what it is — a parasite on the back of nationalism, which is itself a disease of world capitalism. 

Bernard Crick puts forward the view that:
“racialism is not necessarily connected with nationalism, they are indeed formally opposed. Racialism is a myth of the body whose mode of expression is pseudo-scientific, nationalism is a myth of the mind whose mode of expression is cultural and historical” (In Defence of Politics, 1992, p.83).
It is a truism that not all nationalists are racists, and a paradox that xenophobia can exist without nationalism, as Crick points out. The task for socialists in their argument with racists is to convince them that workers have no nation and that there is more that unites the exploited members of the human race, all of whom have the same basic needs, than can ever divide us culturally or historically.

Racist ideas are a manifestation of capitalism in crisis, and will only be eradicated when the capitalist system itself is expunged — not through physical violence or laws, but by workers taking control of their own destiny, becoming conscious of their position in the relations of production and by democratically establishing a socialist society.
John Bissett

Why the Greens are wrong (1994)

From the June 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

People are right to be concerned about what is happening to the environment. Materials taken from nature are being transformed by human activity into substances which nature either can’t decompose or can’t decompose fast enough. The result is pollution and global threats such as the hole in the ozone layer and global warming.

There really is a serious environmental crisis. The issue is not whether it exists but what to do about it. The Green Party has one view. We have another.

The Green Party sees itself as the political arm of the wider environmental movement, arguing that it is not enough to be a pressure group, however militant, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth. Greens, it says, should organise as well to contest elections with the eventual aim of forming a Green government that could pass laws and impose taxes to protect the environment.

We say that no government can protect the environment. Governments exist to run the political side of the profit system. And the profit system can only work by giving priority to making profits over all other considerations. So to protect the environment we must end production for profit.

Pollution and environmental degradation result from the inappropriate ways in which materials from nature are transformed into products for human use. But what causes inappropriate productive methods to be used? Is it ignorance or greed, as some Greens claim? No, it is the way production is organised today and the forces to which it responds.

Production today is in the hands of business enterprises, all competing to sell their products at a profit. All of them — and it doesn’t matter whether they are privately-owned or state-owned — aim to maximise their profits. This is an economic necessity imposed by the forces of the market. If a business does not make a profit it goes out of business. "Make a profit or die" is the jungle economics that prevails today.

Under the competitive pressures of the market, businesses only take into account their own narrow financial interest, ignoring wider social or ecological considerations. All they look to is their own balance sheet and in particular the bottom line which shows whether or not they are making a profit.

The whole of production, from the materials used to the methods employed to transform them, is distorted by this drive to make and accumulate profits. The result is an economic system governed by uncontrollable market forces which compel decision makers, however selected and whatever their personal views or sentiments, to plunder, pollute and waste.

Governments do not have a free hand to do what is sensible or desirable. They can only act within the narrow limits imposed by the profit-driven market system whose rules are "profits first" and "you can’t buck the market".

The Green Party is not against the market and is not against profit-making. It imagines that, by firm government action, these can be tamed and prevented from harming the environment. This is an illusion. You can’t impose other priorities on the profit system than making profits. That’s why a Green government would fail.

Some Greens have already begun to realise this. Here is what Derek Wall, who was a national speaker for the Green Party in the last European elections in 1989, has gone on record as saying:
"A Green government will be controlled by the economy rather than being in control. On coming to office through coalition or more absolute success, it would be met by an instant collapse of sterling as "hot money" and entrepreneurial capital went elsewhere. The exchange rate would fall and industrialists would move their factories to countries with more relaxed environmental controls and workplace regulations. Sources of finance would dry up as unemployment rocketed, slashing the revenue from taxation and pushing up the social security bills. The money for ecological reconstruction — the building of railways, the closing of motorways, the construction of a proper sewage system — would run out" (Getting There: Steps to a Green Society).
The Green Party is right on one point though, when it says that pressure group activity is not enough. Where they go wrong is not in proposing political action, but in proposing political action to elect a Green government.

They fail to realise that what those who want a clear and safe environmental are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first.

If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this system must go. What is required is political action, yes, but political action aimed at replacing this system by a new and different one which will allow us to meet our needs in an environmentally-friendly way.

To do this we must control production — the way we interact with the rest of nature — but to be able to control production we must own the means of production. So we are talking about a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources.

That’s the only basis on which we can meet our needs whilst respecting the laws of nature. And it’s the only basis on which we can begin to successfully reverse the degradation of the environment already caused by the profit system.

What Greens should be struggling for is not a change of government but a change of society.
Adam Buick

The Nature of Work 
Under Socialism (1994)

From the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard

To some Mrs Thatcher was the anti-Christ, and there is some justice in this reprobation. But above all she was the arch anti-philosopher, the ultimate philistine, the unthinker, the stagnant pool of accumulated prejudice, a museum of reactionary forces. Yet the chord was struck, and the nation chimed to the note, as indeed the world even now still resonates from the impact of the seismic disturbance that swept through its economy, forcing all before it, and of which Thatcherism was a parochial part, neither particularly significant nor powerful in itself. But of true significance was the historical trend towards the fundamentalism of market theology, and the concomitant trend away from the values of human interaction and rational assessment and evaluation.

Socialist Thought
The re-evaluation of the present system of relations between people we may call socialist thought. Socialism asserts that the world changes in the sense that the currently-prevailing concept of human nature is not after all the absolute truth, but merely an historically contingent consequence of the equally contingent political and economic systems for the production and distribution of "goods".

Perhaps the most crucial component in all the socialist credo of alternatives is the radically utopian concept of work. All work in socialism will be voluntary. Voluntarism is to be extended not only to the choice of occupation but the the duration, intensity and all aspects of the organization of work. It is a curious fact that the greatest advocates of "freedom of choice" consider it the greatest affront to suggest that the producers of goods should have any choice in the matter of their own occupation.

Despite the oft-deployed transparent sophistry' calculated to show that Venezuelan gold miners and production-line workers in Eccles have freely entered into an open partnership with their employer, it is plain enough that starvation in the one case and insidious coercion in the other (e.g. the cheerful "back to work programme", the scheme for officially persecuting the unemployed) have been the most persuasive clauses in the arguments of employers.

No defence
For the most part capitalists do not even attempt this defence: the worker must do what is necessary for the market and for profits, and the individual choice must subserve this higher need. In this world, the luxury of choosing a life of fulfilling vocational work is the reserve of the lucky few; it is not the normal condition.

How has it come about that the most essential part of existence, that of what a human person is to do with their life by means of work, has been refused admission to those things that are left to choice? In a nutshell the received wisdom states:

  1. work must be done to furnish need.
  2. work is hated by all, therefore,
  3. work must be obtained by compulsion.
Concerning premise (2), the history of work has indeed been a succession of misery, drudgery and oppression.

Hell of toil
It may indeed be historically true that in certain stages of human development, it was absolutely necessary that the great majority of humans had to be cast into a hell of unremitting toil. But for socialists, work is not inherently unpleasant. On the contrary, the "hardship" of labour, or the production of goods, is no longer even to be sharply separated from their consumption, or the "reward" of labour, since both are necessary for the harmony of the human being. The mastication of food, the exertion of muscle and brain, are not only equally important for life, but equally desirable for any balanced person.

Work may have hitherto been extracted by a species of social contract whose terms are ones of coerced servility, where "the elevation of the few is founded on the degradation of the many" (T.H. Green 1881). But these terms are not characteristics of work itself, only of the contemporary capitalist arrangement and are insisted upon in order to ensure the pliancy of the workforce. Consequently, the socialist rejects the punitive attitude towards work, for in socialism work is to be made pleasant. And if work is pleasant, then the main objection to it being made voluntary is removed.

Curse of work?
Yet nearly everybody seems to agree that work is a curse rather than a gift, but they confuse the nature of work with the nature of capitalism. The capitalist conception of work is founded on a philosophy of human nature, according to which a human is a "rational" creature whose greed and idleness direct them respectively to consume as much, and do as little, as possible. The absurdity of this position is obvious (try to consume without doing, or try doing without consuming), but despite its falsity it is a powerful image, sustained from above by sinecured intellectuals, and from below by a credulous proletariat. The first are sustained in their belief by a mixture of fear and vested interest, the second by inarticulation and institutionalized stupidity. However in fairness, intellectuals have never been merely the paid propagandists of mill owners, rather along with the owners of the means of production they shared an interest in perpetuating the financial institutions that supported them, and a trepidation concerning the permanent threat of revolt. The comfortable bourgeoisie seems to have long felt disturbed by the possibility of herdish multitudes rising up and wresting their comforts from them, a fear no doubt exacerbated by the feeling that the "working classes" were essentially alien, devoid of refinement or the potential for moderation.

Grovelling animals
These Morlocks, the "other" species, were just a kind of animal "with sensual desire and grovelling thought; foul of body and course of soul" (Ruskin, Ad Valorem 79).

Among nineteenth-century thinkers who were human enough to be moved by the condition of the working people, yet not so moved to overcome their prejudices towards them, were Charles Dickens and John Stuart Mill. Dickens, the author of Hard Times, effectively quarrels with the characters Bounderby and Gradgrind for reducing workers to economic and material factors of production, but would he allow those workers the helm of society? The unrestrained multitudes that run amok in A Tale of Two Cities reveal the beast Dickens believed to lurk in the common man. Animals deserve an understanding protector rather than emancipation. J.S. Mill had a similar attitude. Mill’s own life of arduous creative work did not soften him to the view that a fulfilling active life was for the lower orders:
"It is a common error of socialists to overlook the natural indolence of mankind; their tendency to be passive, to be the slaves of habit, to persist indefinitely in a course once chosen . . . they . . . will not exert themselves to improve, and letting their faculties rust, will lose even the energy required to preserve them from deterioration." (Principles of Political Economy, 1848)
Mill was not stupid, but intelligence is a weaker force than prejudice.

Brilliant stupidity
The history of thought is littered with examples of brilliant men thinking stupid things. Another great philosopher who was twisted by bigotry was David Hume:
". . . the poor labour more, and really live better, than in years of great plenty, when they indulge themselves in idleness and riot". (Political Discourses, 1752)
A lesser figure, Arthur Young, preached the orthodoxy as follows:
"Everyone but an idiot knows, that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious." (A Farmer's Tour Through the East of England, 1771)
The most remarkable thing about these insights into the forces governing the behaviour of the toiling classes is how easily the authors exempt themselves from their operation.

Selfless devotion
"Human nature" is for others, not for the sons of the aristocracy who toil at art or criticism or at philosophical tracts on human nature, not for the aspiring middle-classes who devote themselves selflessly to public service or career. No, only the incontinent masses seem to be subject to the universal laws of the human species.

Yet the socialist, perhaps surprisingly also has allies amongst these comfortable intellectual classes. Strangest of them is John Ruskin (1819-1900), ("I am a Socialist of the most stem sort — but 1 am also a Tory of the sternest sort"). Ruskin, cloistered academic and critic, nevertheless had the intellect to challenge the received concept of human nature and labour.

That concept of the guzzler, the idler is the target of Ruskin's biting satire:
"It is proposed to better the condition of the labourer by giving him higher wages. He will either drag people down to the same point of misery at which you found him, or drink his wages away. He will, I know it. Who gave him this will? Suppose it were your own son of whom you spoke, declaring to me that you dared not take him into your firm, nor even give him his just labourer’s wages, because if you did he would die of drunkenness, and leave half a score of children to the parish. ’Who gave your son these dispositions — I should enquire. Has he had them by inheritance or by education?’ By one or the other they must come; anti as in him; so also in the poor. Either these poor are of a race essentially different from ours . . .  or else. . . we make them as continent and sober as ourselves — wise and dispassionate as we are " (Ad Valorem 79)
The notion of the shirking, propagating, drinking, working classes survives down to the present.

The Child Support Agency is clearly a descendant of the fear of feckless scroungers leaving "half a score of children to the parish". For "parish" read "income support" and nothing has changed.

The idea that better wages for workers will not ensue in a riot of drunkenness and fornication receives most surprising support from that guru of laissez-faire economics, Adam Smith (1723-90):
"A plentiful subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer, and the comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days in ease and plenty, animates him to exert his strength to the utmost. Where wages are high, accordingly we shall find the workmen more active, diligent and expeditious, than where they are low. " (Wealth of Nations, 1776)
This is not a description of an inherently lethargic creature. The tendency of humans to remain endlessly motionless has been greatly exaggerated. A life-time of meaningless slavery and overwork indeed gives an appealing aspect to the possibility of its permanent remission. But we look at life from a distorted position, one of battered submission and a routine of pointless drudgery.

The point of socialism is to remove the malignant influence of capitalism which poisons our attitude to production and alienates us from its purposes.

Satisfaction
The essential purpose of work is not to make profits, and consequently the act of labour is not essentially vile. Labour may indeed be a devil while encased in Mammonism, but freed from that prison, the purpose of work is revealed in a truer light, and is two-fold: firstly to provide the goods of life, whether food, tables, transport, health, books, music or knowledge; and secondly to provide satisfaction in the process of producing these goods.

No work which does not satisfy both these requirements will be considered necessary in socialism. The act of producing goods (as opposed to profits or "bads") is precisely what ensures this satisfaction. This being so, coercion, punishment or persuasion is not necessary for the securing of those human activities essential for the products of civilization. It is not beyond human wit to devise a system to combine our need to work, our need to be valued, our need for regard and for self-regard, with those things which need to be done. It is not beyond our wit to combine our freedom, i.e. our voluntarism, with our needs.

The paradigm shift required to understand the transition from capitalist work to socialist work may however be beyond many a great philosopher. Unfortunately many elderly philosophers suffer from a severe ease of hardening of the categories, and would rather stick to fox hunting than consider a novel idea. In many ways children are better philosophers than their long-robed superiors, since they have not yet become set in their ways.

Higher understanding
One small boy in particular, albeit a fictional one, demonstrates a higher understanding of people’s relation to work than a flock of Oxford dons:
"Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it, namely, that, in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers, or performing on a tread-mill, is work, whilst rolling nine pins or climbing Mont-Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service that would turn it into work, then they would resign." (Mark Twain: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).
Norman Armstrong