Thursday, September 27, 2018

Northern Propaganda Tour (1977)

Party News from the April 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

New Branch Formed
In the last week of February a group of London members toured West Yorkshire and Lancashire and, with the help of local members, staged five indoor meetings with great success.

The first two meetings were held in Bradford, at the University and the Textile Hall: the subjects were "Introducing the SPGB” and "Socialism Yes — Labour No!” There were good-sized audiences for both. At the second one several vociferous opponents from left-wing groups and the Labour Party were present. Our Central Organizer wrote in his report: “The way in which the speaker dealt with them left me in no doubt that this meeting was one of the finest I have ever attended.”

On the following days meetings were held in Bolton and at Keele University. Both roused considerable interest. We have several members in the Stoke and Keele area, and there are good prospects of a discussion group and further activity there.

The final meeting of the tour was at the Crown Hotel in Manchester. Because of the size of the audience, the landlord turned customers into another bar to provide a larger room. While it may be too early to start talking about the reconstitution of a branch in Manchester, members round the city are doing a lot of useful work. We look forward to hearing more from there before long.

It was a hectic five days, covering 800 miles, and a tonic to the members who went as well as the local members. The specially stimulating outcome is the formation of a new branch of the Party, to be known as the West Yorkshire Branch. Details of its meetings can be found on the Directory page; Socialist Standard readers in that area, take note!

Nationalism—an enemy of the workers (1977)

From the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The nation state was created as the political unit for capitalism in a series of changes which began four or five hundred years ago. It was accompanied by the growth of national consciousness. People were half encouraged and half forced to identify themselves with the countries they lived in, not simply in a territorial sense but as “subjects”. The national myths appeared — Saint George and his ilk, the idea of special traditions and virtues which other countries did not have. In a remarkably short space of time each nation produced its exclusive dedication to “my country, right or wrong”, and has sustained it as an active force into the present day.

The overt symbols of nationalism — flags, slogans and silly songs — are by no means the only ones. Because it is made a general outlook, it intrudes in almost all fields and pervades the upbringing of the young. At random from boyhood can be recalled the cigarette cards which showed British wild flowers, birds and butterflies (as if foreigners were, rightly, denied such beauties); the Scout game called “British Bulldog” in which the players battered one another in increasing numbers (native durability and grit); the depiction in comic-books and school-books alike of other nations as “types” comic or villainous, or both. And the casual pejoratives incorporated in everyday speech—“double Dutch” for incomprehensibility, “French” for whatever smacked of indecency, “Chinese torture” for diabolical and unjustly-inflicted suffering.

If none of these is very sinister in itself, all produce a condition of mind. Moreover, the other nations all have their own equivalent versions. Each country has its popular account of history which would be startling to people who have learned the rival views: transposing victories and defeats and presenting saintly heroes as infamous rogues. A recent German work showed Queen Victoria not as a dotty old lady, which is sentimentality tolerable in Britain, but as a drunkard. The nearest thing to a foreign account of history that can be read in English is a Roman Catholic textbook, where a good many episodes appear altogether different.

The fiercest jingo nationalism today is to be seen in the new nations. In crude militaristic and patriotic preaching the Tory Party in Britain is almost outclassed by the Russian and Chinese governments; and their language is echoed in turn by the leaders of the “third world” countries. Clamouring for a place in the capitalist world, these new ruling classes vie for whatever gives prestige and is good for business. At the same time, they have to impress the natives with the importance of nationality: history is rewritten, “alien” defined and condemned.

The Social System
Before the nation-state, partisanship was related to small-scale economic interests. Wars were fought between cities, tribes and the proprietors of rival domains. The peasant population took part only to the extent that it was tempted or compelled to. The armies and mailed knights of the Middle Ages were mostly mercenaries — an outstanding example was the Janissaries of the Turkish Sultans: as youthful captives from Christian provinces they had no attachments to the Muslim empire, but they nevertheless provided its military strength for several centuries.

Capitalism has existed as a fully-developed system for two hundred years. Before that, for another two hundred years, the growing capitalist class struggled — consciously — towards political power. Commodity production forced the nation-state into being, on the lines of good-sized geographical units in which the powers of government were to legalize private ownership and ensure the freedom of the commodity. Capitalism means the ownership by a single class of all the means of producing and distributing wealth, and the directing of all activity to the single end of sale at a profit.

This was the end of barons, domain-holders and twopenny princes (though, development being uneven, some of them held on until the 1914-18 war). But the rise of capitalism meant also the creation of a vast single class of non-owners: the “free” working class, with its own commodity labour-power to sell, and indeed unable to survive as persons in any other way. On one hand the working class was (and remains) doomed to insecurity and varying degrees of poverty by the economic laws of capitalism. On the other, production for market in a world of nation-states has led inexorably to national and international crises and to wars on a different scale from any in previous history.

It is a world-wide system into which more and more regions and peoples have been drawn swiftly throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In each one, that class division and the associated problems have been reproduced because they make the organic structure of capitalism. This is the fundamental issue in modern society — yet it is obscured by the banners of nationalism. It can be seen as a test for those who say they believe in Socialism. When the choice has to be made, do they declare for the working class or “the nation”? In all the wars of this century the world’s social democrats and “radicals” have chosen the latter without hesitation. In the present economic crisis they are all talking about getting “the country” out of trouble. It is logical, because they support capitalism.

Frauds of Nationalism
The Germans were hated and caricatured in Britain before 1914 because they were rivals in trade. Through nationalist eyes all other nations are different from “us” and actual or potential rivals. Every event is in some sense a contest, demonstrating that one’s own side is better than some or all of its rivals. “Our” country is superior to all the others in art, literature, sports, military power, inventiveness, the character and physical beauty of its inhabitants, climate, scenery and cooking—and must remain so. Plenty of working people hold this belief; “my country, right or wrong” was parodied by G. K. Chesterton as “my mother, drunk or sober”.

The political claims of nationalism build on this. They argue that the problems of workers in a given country will be solved, and a golden age for them begin, by recovering or enlarging the country’s supremacy. This is the promise of nationalist leaders in new countries, and is also being made by the Scots Nationalists with reference to the oilfields off the Scottish coast.

Unfortunately there is not a shred of evidence that this could be or has ever been so. In The Other America, published in Britain as a Penguin Special in 1963, Michael Harrington investigated the assumptions of Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. Using figures from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, he estimated that the poor—families with “inadequate housing, medicine, food and opportunity”—numbered between forty and fifty millions, or between 20 and 25 per cent of the population of the United States. “As technology has boomed, their share in prosperity has decreased.” The period when Britain was industrially and commercially supreme was also the time of Marx’s indictment of capitalism, of Engels' Condition of the Working Class, of horrifying reports by reformers like Chadwick and Booth.

Nationality is an accident, and national causes are frequently accidents too. In February this year The Guardian published reports on a possible “trade war” between the EEC and Japan. On 8th February it said the Japanese Prime Minister was “strongly inclined to draw parallels” with the 1930s, and went on: “Last week he gave warning that efforts to restrict Japan’s export flow could create the same chaotic conditions that led to World War Two. If there was a ‘trade war’, as he predicted, the blame would be with Britain and every other country contemplating limits on Japanese imports." It must have been surprising to many to learn that, if war with Germany had not broken out in 1939, war with Japan was on the cards.

A further example is Namibia, which is due to become an independent state in 1978. The present collection of tribes and ethnic groups are about to become Namibians; they will have a flag and a national anthem, and the nationalist “ours” will centre on diamonds—it is one of the richest parts of Africa in minerals.

Whose ?
“Ours” is the deceitful word in nationalist propaganda the world over. In a newly developed country, nationalism is the demand of native capitalists to exploit the workers and peasants lest somebody else should do it and have the profits. What kind of “ours” is being talked about? In Britain and other industrialized countries workers talk about “our” trade, “our” reserves, “our” jobs allegedly taken by immigrants. They are not. They are all at the disposal of those who own the means of living. The worker has no claim on them: he owns nothing but his labour-power.

The working class have no country. By persuading workers that they have a stake in “the nation”, capitalism obtains their support at critical times. What they should bear in mind is that the nation-state is the political institution of the capitalist system: its raison d'ĂȘtre is to keep the working class propertyless. Nationalism can do nothing for the workers except confirm or worsen their position. Pleasure in a locality or its culture has nothing to do with the matter; it is a reasonable sentiment on which nationalist fraud builds, but which capitalism will destroy without compunction.

There is a different affinity to recognize. This is the identity of interest of all those who live by selling their labour-power. The working class is worldwide, and as members of it become conscious of the nature of capitalist society and their position in it, they open the way to a different social organization based on common ownership. Just as capitalism has produced a world of nations in conflict, Socialism will mean the end of nationalities and frontiers—and classes. What will bring it into being is you thinking for yourself instead of letting them think for you.
Robert Barltop

Lab-Lib: A rabble (1977)

From the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is an old saying that if you lie down with a dog you get up with fleas. No doubt it has dawned on the leaders of the Liberal Party that the idea of projecting themselves as an alternative government to the Labourites and Tories is a non-starter. With thirteen MPs and a discredited minority government, their only way to power is through the side door.

With no ideas to put to the working class, the only alternative to a future in the political wilderness and possible extinction was to do a deal. But, such are the fortunes of opportunism and reformism, they could be cutting their own throats either way. The price they will inevitably pay for “dealing" will be to forfeit the phoney image they have built up over twenty or thirty years — that they had distinctive policies and independent ideas. For them to line up openly with one of the parties they have claimed to be so different from can only lose the support of those who had turned to them, having despaired of the other two.

In an effort to have his cake and eat it Mr. Steel, the Liberal leader, sought to pose as champion of the motorist and pledged himself to vote against Budget increases in petrol prices and road tax. He argued that these increases fell outside the arrangement, and as there had been no consultation on them the Liberals were free to vote against them. After the by-election massacre at Stetchford the motorist did not seem to matter so much. A more urgent need instantly asserted itself: avoiding a General Election, with the threat of annihilation. The great and courageous leader had to find a way out while still trying to sound plausible, at least to the gullible. So he discovered that the increases in motoring costs would not be voted on as a separate resolution in Parliament, but would be tied to other proposals; so it might be best to let the thirteen Liberals make up their own minds, and lead from behind.

The Labour Government are like drowning men desperately clutching at anything in the agony of their disastrous attempt at running capitalism. Having repeatedly declared against coalition, they turned to the Liberals to survive. The one-time “firebrand” of the Left, Michael Foot, will solemnly sit down each week in consultation with the Liberals to keep his mob in power a little longer, unless the whole thing blows up in their faces. Then they will blame each other and fail back on any feeble excuse to try to save their political hides. There is no expediency too shabby for any of them.

The IMG, WRP, IS and the CP, who urged workers to vote Labour and now go round muttering demands for “socialist policies”, get the policies of the Labour Party which they voted for. The policies which these Lefties hold to be Socialist are in fact just as useless and reformist as those of the Labour Party.

When Mr. Steel claims that his deal with the Government will mean no more nationalization in this session of Parliament, is he really silly enough to believe he is saving capitalism? Is he unaware that his own Party, when in power, carried out Acts of nationalization? He only displays his ignorance if he thinks a Labour Government represents any threat to capitalism, or that nationalization has anything to do with Socialism. It is a shame that questions like these never occur to people like Robin Day during those boring mock-interviews on television, like the one on polling day for Stetchford. But of course they would not keep their cushy jobs for long if they did.

Mrs. Thatcher and her Tory tribesmen can get as indignant as they like, but under Heath in 1974 they were quite willing to talk coalition with the Liberals. The readiness of the Liberals to co-operate with either of the “major” Parties, shows how little there is of fundamental difference between any of them. In fact, Steel said it is his belief that people “will find the artificial Party battles irrelevant to the problems of the day” (Guardian, 24th March). It is the parties that are irrelevant, Mr. Steel. The problems arise out of capitalist society, and you are all dedicated to its preservation.

For the Tories Mrs. Thatcher said: “We believe in capitalism and democracy”. What about the other combinations, Mrs. Thatcher? Capitalism and war? Capitalism and poverty? Capitalism and crises? Capitalism and unemployment? Even Callaghan said in the same report: “I would not like to guarantee that the decline in unemployment will continue in the next few months”. None of them can guarantee anything. But while the system lasts the misery and political trading it has always produced will continue.

Enoch Powell pledged not to bring the Labour Government down and abstained on the crucial vote of confidence. Callaghan and Co. had been just as prepared to deal with the Ulster Unionists as they were with the Liberals. Just to show that they all have the same priorities, seven Liberals voted against cuts in war potentials in the first vote after the deal.

The working class trust any of them at the expense of their own interests. Apart from war-time coalitions when Tories, Labourites and Liberals joined forces with “Communist” support to pull capitalism’s chestnuts out of the fire, there have been deals between the Labour Party and the Liberals from the very early days of the Labour Party. The 1924 Labour Government was voted into office on Liberal votes. As early as 1910 there were electoral “arrangements” between these two reformist Parties.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has one objective, Socialism. This can only be achieved when a majority of the working class reject the squalid expediencies of opportunist politics.
Harry Baldwin

How we shall get Socialism (1977)

From the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Speaker! Do you seriously believe that your little party, just a few hundred, talking to this crowd in Hyde Park every Sunday, can bring about Socialism? And if it could, do you really imagine that the capitalists with the army, police etc. would allow you to do so?


Short answer : NO! we do not think that our small party will establish Socialism: the working class will — and YES! the capitalist class cannot prevent the working class establishing Socialism.


Long answer (explanation): The careful reader will observe that the question (or questions) contain a contradiction. If the small Socialist Party is the only threat to capitalism, the capitalists have nothing to worry about. But the questioner, having pre-supposed that the workers will never become Socialists, in the next breath is predicting what the capitalists will do when they have. Questioners and opponents frequently put questions in this mixed-up way.

Now the first question. To establish Socialism the majority of the electorate (who happen to be workers) have got to become Socialists. If they don’t, capitalism continues. If there is one lesson the last hundred years has taught it is, above all, that no “seizure of power”, “blind revolt” or General Strike can abolish capitalism.

The majority have got to break with social reform. This, for many workers, is quite difficult. The pioneers of Socialism, including Marx and Engels, could have had little idea of the potency of modern “social security”, which siphons off much working-class discontent and seriously retards the growth of class-consciousness. In spite of this, the fact remains that capitalism is a revolutionizing system: compelled by its very nature to organize, train and educate a revolutionary working class.

It is not true that rebellion only proceeds from destitution. On the contrary, Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders quotes a professor of sociology, Bernice Allen: “We have no proof that more material goods (cars, washing machines) has made anyone happier — in fact the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction’. In some cases, the more “prosperous” workers become, the more dissatisfied they are. In trying to buy off discontent the capitalist class is on a slippery slope with no return. In 1930 Franklin D. Roosevelt told the New York Bankers Guild: “We’ve got to give them bigger crumbs — to stop them taking over the table”.

How long it will take the workers in their millions to see through the reformist racket is impossible to say — except that, small though we may be, it partly depends on us. As with any idea, it has to be explained. Sheer disenchantment of itself leads nowhere but to smashing windows, rioting etc. Discontent is the rich soil of Socialist propaganda, but without the seed of Socialist theory — no new world will bloom.

It is the Socialist who provides the catalyst. It is the Socialist who makes precise the vision of a future society, to turn mere rebels into conscious revolutionaries. The Socialist transforms the miserable degrading requests of Claimants Unions for a few more pennies, or of trade unions for longer tea-breaks, into the dazzling vista of a new world. It is the Socialist who raises mere destruction of the old into construction of the new.

For the Socialist, whether many or few are immediately espousing the cause does not absolve him from the duty to put forward his proposition. The mere raising of it elevates public discussion above the saloon-bar level at which so many self-styled “experts” pitch their fallacious nostrums. “Whether we like it or not — and most of us don’t — recent events have forced us to take some interest in economics” said the Radio Times recently. Exactly! We think Socialist economics provides the answers, and to evade the responsibility of explaining it to our fellow-workers would be criminal.

Even so, this is no mere academic exercise but a matter of life and death — Socialist life or capitalist death. What the questioner does not grasp is the urgency of Socialism: without it, the crises and calamities of capitalism will continue inexorably.

As for the second part of the question: the colossal preponderance of the working class numerically today — its immense technical knowhow — and the operation of sophisticated modern productive processes — make the idea of attempts by rebellious capitalists ludicrous. What about the armed forces? They are 90 per cent. working class.

Next question!
Horatio.

SPGB Meetings (1977)

Party News from the May 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cyril May is the sharp suited man in the middle of the picture.

Capitalism is . . . (1977)

From the June 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalism is a torn garment.
A torn garment is shabby and ugly
And can no longer be worn with pride.
Good tailors don’t attempt to patch up
And match with similar cloth.
Torn garments must be discarded
And new ones produced.
You and I are the tailors of Socialism
We must discard Capitalism
That we may live with pride. 
Capitalism is a decayed wall.
A decayed wall is not safe.
Good builders don’t attempt to patch up
With new plaster on crumbling brick.
The decayed wall must be demolished
That a new wall may be built.
You and I are the builders of Socialism.
We must demolish Capitalism
That we may live in safety. 
                                                                Paul Breeze

50 Years Ago: Is a socialist policy applicable to America? (1977)

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

The widespread ignorance of class interests among workers in USA offers no permanent hindrance to our socialist policy. That ignorance is due to certain causes, and the lack of interest in revolutionary ideas amongst the masses is a phase which is true of every country for a time.

★ ★ ★

The comparatively recent industrial growth and commercial expansion of the USA offers one reason for the so-called ‘better conditions’ of labour. This is partly responsible for the lack of interest in social change amongst the workers there. This lack of interest, however, is not simply a reflex of ‘better’ conditions but a result of capitalist propaganda by press, priest and schoolmaster, which is more powerfully and carefully used in American life than perhaps any other country, to mould the working class millions to capitalist views. The extremely careful selection of and control over teachers in school and college to avoid any advanced political views being taught, is notorious.

★ ★ ★

The primitive and highly-organized and well-financed religious bodies of America still have a remarkably large influence in USA. These agencies of propaganda employed to keep the workers submissive, are effective because temporarily the conditions in the United States have not caused deep and lasting discontent.
(From an article by Adolph Kohn, Socialist Standard, July 1927.)

A Look Back (1977)

From the July 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently there has been a good deal of looking back, recalling the events and atmospheres of the past quarter-century. Most people find pleasure in it because of personal associations — friends and places which have vanished now. In the clutch of present-day inflation it is remembered that everything was laughably cheap twenty-five years ago (without remembering that wages were correspondingly lower and bought no more). Society is the sum of relationships within a given structure. Has it altered? Did many hopes of 1952 come true? What kinds of fruit were borne by changes of government, technical advances, reorganizations, plans? We make our own brief survey.

War and Peace
Although only a few years old the United Nations was looking a little tarnished in the early 50’s. Formed after the devastation of the 1939-45 war, much lip- service was given to the concept of peace. But good intentions and pious talk are not enough it seems, for during its existence war has never ceased in parts of the globe. Korea, Malaysia, Aden, Hungary, Cuba, Congo. Israel, Egypt, Nigeria, Chile, Cyprus, Angola, Vietnam. Lebanon—that list is still not complete. The world is divided into three power blocks all armed to the hilt, and each possessing the ultimate weapon—the H-bomb. Many of these struggles have been civil wars with a rising capitalist class striving for power against the entrenched rulers, or between rival groups of capitalists for control. They have thought it worthwhile to expend their labour force to gain their ends, notwithstanding the terrible modern weapons that industry and science have produced. Sadly, they have been able to persuade deluded peasants and members of the working class to fight for them. The USA and her allies, Russia and satellites, China and SE Asian block stand by, interfering with arms or men in order to gain influence as each new flare-up occurs. The thought should not be overlooked that one of these could ignite another global war.

British troops, like others, have not been retained just for ceremonial purposes. By 1952 they had seen service in Palestine and Korea and were being used in Malaysia. They have since been involved in several of the conflicts as parts of the former Empire have broken loose, including the role they are performing in Ulster at the present time.

Health
In 1952 the National Health Service was in its infancy but there were already rumblings of discord. The alleged object of this reform was that treatment would be available to all on the basis of need only. It was assumed that under those circumstances health standards would so improve that in the course of time expenditure on the service would decrease. The image of a “free health service” was sacred to certain Labour Party notables. Aneurin Bevan resigned in protest at a shilling prescription charge.

By now charges for dentistry, spectacles, and prescriptions are well established. While waiting lists for hospital treatment grow these establishments are being asked to reduce the length of stay of patients, hospitals are being closed as “uneconomic”, and there are cutbacks in building and modernization. The largest group of sick people are those whose malady can be loosely termed as mental illness—suffering from stress, anxiety, depression. Every year there are 20 million prescriptions (not pills) for barbiturates issued, and 6 million Phenothiazine tranquillizer tablets swallowed (Sunday Times 30th Jan. 1977). Relative health standards generally have not improved. The better-off still have better health, live longer, and spend more time in consultation with doctors than the poorer social groups. Medical research is hampered by lack of funds, and some of the advances made involve equipment and methods that are costly in money terms. Doctors have the harrowing decision of whether or not to give expensive treatment to patients. Some people die because the NHS cannot afford to save them.

Education
By 1952 the 1944 Education Act was coming into full swing. One of the catch-phrases of this Act, which was regarded as a great step forward, was “secondary education for all”. It was argued that this would lead to better realization of abilities among the working class. The Act was enforced by raising the school-leaving age to 15 after the war, and by literally rubbing out the word “elementary” on the existing schools and painting in the word “secondary”. The type of education offered, and the status of the new secondary school, hardly differed from what had existed before. An 11-plus selection procedure was used, and it did not take long for the idea to develop that those “selected” for the Secondary Modern school had failed. It is interesting to note that the number of children thought suitable for a grammar-school education always exactly tallied with the number of places available, and whether or not a child passed the 11-plus depended on the area in which that child lived.

Comprehensive education was then devised to avoid the 11-plus selection, although whatever label it receives there is usually streaming inside the Comprehensive school. The school-leaving age has now been raised to 16, but learning skills have not risen in proportion to those extra years spent in school. Educationalists, unable to see further than the ends of their noses, have cast around for reasons, tinkering with different teaching methods.

Nobody is happy about education today, teachers, parents, or pupils. The false hopes of the early 1950s are gone. Now there are protests from some large employers about the educational standards of young people approaching them for jobs. Here they are contributing hundreds of millions a year to prepare their future work-force and their reason for education is being overlooked!

There are two changes which are of some significance. Teachers have become “militant”. One did not expect to see teachers going on strike twenty-five years ago. Once the conventional, respectable pillars of the establishment, they have learned that their position as salaried employees in “safe” jobs is no more sacrosanct than that of other workers. They are being forced to acknowledge their part in the class struggle. Secondly, their pupils have become more difficult to handle. Young people are no longer submissive, they are reflecting the pace and turmoil of life today.

Housing
This perennial problem was flourishing in the 1950s. It had been increased by the destruction in the war. Squatting had taken place in the late 1940s. when homeless families took over army nissen huts that were scattered about parks and open spaces. There were long waiting lists for council housing, and in 1951 the Conservative Party came to power with a promise to build 6 million new houses and solve the housing problem.

Their success can be measured by looking around today. Prefabs erected in the early 1950s with an estimated life of ten years have done stalwart service. Some are still in use! The foundations were laid for today’s detested tower-blocks. Council housing lists are longer than ever. Rent legislation has succeeded in drying up the supply of private rented accommodation. Workers who have managed to become owner-occupiers have crippling mortgages and high interest rates. According to the latest Shelter report the number of homeless people has trebled in the last ten years.

Everywhere you look
Other aspects are unemployment — there were those who claimed that the problem had been solved in the 1950s — industrial strife, pollution, inflation, racial tensions, crime. Not only have the measures taken by successive governments failed, many of their attempted remedies have thrown up further problems.

Is it then a catalogue of woe and nothing else? No. All through, there runs the desire of the great majority of working people to make as decent a life as they can despite the odds. The disharmony and mess are not their choice. On the contrary, they seek almost universally to make unpromising surroundings agreeable, to be good neighbours, to provide the best possible future for their children. It is precisely this desire for something better that makes them vulnerable to promises and enticements: only give me your vote today, says the Honest Man or the Strong Man or the Amazingly Clever Man of capitalism, and you shall have jam tomorrow.

The gap in realization is very small. Workers are not fools. Often they more than half know they are about to be sold again; but — it is thought and said — what else is there to do but take the least of three or four evils? Often too they are aware that an alternative does exist, but hang back from going against what appear to be stronger forces of opinion. Only a little more understanding and a little more will are required: and the next twenty-five years can bring a life altogether different.

The problems of society lie in its structure. While ownership of the means of life remain in the hands of one class it means the consequent enslavement of the non-owning class. There is a continual conflict of interests between those who produce wealth and those who possess that wealth. The solution to that conflict can only come by converting the means of production and distribution to the common ownership and democratic control of the whole of society. The understanding required to abolish capitalism and institute Socialism is within the capability of all workers; and the working class who run society from the top to bottom for the capitalist class now, are more than capable of running Socialism for themselves. The quickest way is the only way to Socialism, and that is by a majority of the working class understanding and wanting that change in society, organizing politically for the capture of the powers of government, and using that instrument for its own emancipation.

Turn your backs on despair and disillusion; and join with the world’s Socialist Movement to sweep capitalism from the face of the earth!
Alice Kerr

Economics and reforms (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The case of the SPGB against reforms is based on the fact that reforms of all kinds involve the working class in political action which is detrimental to the cause of Socialism. Since the middle of the 19th century many reform measures have been introduced, some of which have benefitted both capitalism and the worker. If reforms make capitalism more tolerable for the worker, they make it more secure for the capitalist.

In addition to supporting new reform measures put forward by non-Socialist parties, the working class find themselves involved in other types of political activity such as campaigns against unemployment (the “Right to Work” campaign) and for price restraint; or attempts to prevent the erosion of reforms previously granted, and the extension and up-dating of existing reforms. At present there are protests against the cut-back in the National Health Service, delays in building new hospitals, and proposals to allow doctors to charge consultancy fees and for charges to be made for hospital in-patients; and against the restriction on spending on education, closing teachers’ training colleges, withdrawal of free school milk, and in substantial increases in university fees coupled with reductions in grants in real terms. A further example is opposition to the proposal to remove subsidy from council housing, and cut-backs in housing repairs.

Capitalism is never at rest; the gains of yesterday can be dissipated by the events of the present. There are no safe reform anchorages or havens which afford permanent shelter. The battle demands to be fought over and over again, as events in the past have demonstrated.

In the 19th century, at an early stage in the development of capitalism, the ruling class was dominated by the landed aristocracy, who held political power. Owning the land, they were the main food producers. To protect their monopoly and keep up prices they forbade the import of foreign corn. As a result workers had to pay high prices for bread. Consequently, those workers who were employed in industry were compelled to press for higher wages, which the industrialist had to pay if he wanted to keep an effective labour force, but the increase went into the pockets of the landlord and the landed aristocracy.

The immediate reaction of the industrialists was to form the Anti-Corn Law League in 1839 in Manchester. This was a very wealthy organization under the control of Cobden and Bright, the Liberal Party leaders. In the four years up to 1843, the League distributed over 10 million copies of pamphlets and newspapers calling on the workers to protest against the high price of corn, which they claimed was responsible for working-class poverty. Every working-class organization at the time was saturated with the propaganda of the Anti-Corn Law League. The workers duly responded, and after much agitation Peel repealed the Corn Laws in 1846. Foreign corn was allowed in, the landlords’ monopoly was broken and the price of bread fell. But wages also fell, and the worker was no better off. The industrialist had won his battle against the landlord.

130 years later nothing has changed. The working class are still called upon to support campaigns to keep prices stable—a fruitless exercise, but one which nevertheless takes up its time and energy. The Social Contract, which the Labour Party and the trade unions entered into to keep wages stable and prices down, has been a complete failure, and the very people who were its chief advocates like Hugh Scanlon, Jack Jones and other TU leaders are row turning their backs on it. According to the official figures, living standards are back to what they were four years ago (The Times, 9th July 77). The worker has to fight harder to stand still. The same process operates with regard to statutory reform. The government departments concerned, broadly speaking, have to operate with a budget set by Parliament. As prices rise through inflation it does not follow that adjustments are made, or that an increased allocation of money is made available.

Most workers believe that the choice of introducing social reforms or dealing with major social problems is a matter for the government of the day. This is not the case. Governments of all varieties represent the interests of the ruling class. Reforms have to be paid for out of taxation, and the burden of taxation rests on the employers. Taxes mainly are paid out of income, and the income of the capitalist employer or shareholder is derived from the surplus-value created by the worker. The rate of taxation can never exceed the level of profit, any more than the part can be bigger than the whole.

Social reforms are not within the gift of the government, even a Labour government which is ostensibly committed to giving the workers a better deal. There is a certain amount of room for manoeuvre, but it is capitalism which has developed the powers of government, not the politicians. If its basic function is to secure the capitalist in his privileged position, it cannot contradict the basis of its own existence. It cannot ignore the economics of capitalism and the capitalist’s right to profit. Experience has shown that to the extent that the capitalist introduces reforms which “benefit” workers, so are these taken into account when wages are negotiated. Subsidized rents, subsidized food, free medical treatment, children’s allowances, and any other “benefits” are taken into account by both trade unions and employers when dealing with wage claims.

The final position is stated in the basic Marxian economic law that the worker, generally speaking, only receives sufficient wages to sustain him and his family at any given time in his particular job, from week to week or from month to month.

The idea that prevails amongst the “militant left” that agitation for reforms will provide the worker with sufficient experience to demand Socialism has not stood up to an historical examination. It simply has not worked, despite the ceaseless reformist and trade-union action carried on over the past 150 years or so. The capitalists are in control over the working class so long as reformist ideas form the mainstream of political thinking. The only way to counter the propaganda of the reformer is to show that it hasn’t even achieved the limited objectives of making capitalism tolerable, let alone advance Socialism. The difference between Socialist society and capitalism is that social requirements would be dealt with and carried out as soon as the community became aware of the facts of the problem, and as a matter of course. There can be no question of reformers begging social reforms from useless parasites for and on behalf of the deprived useful members of the working class. We do not want their charity now, and we will not need it later.
Jim D'Arcy

Grunwick or an exercise in opportunism (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Humbug and hypocrisy will never be found absent when the “militant left” set about discovering new principles. The latest discovery, notwithstanding it is 150 years old, is that workers should have the right to form trade unions. They have been reminded by the events now taking place at the Grunwick factory in north London that the employers also have the right to resist trade unions. What’s more, the capitalist state will always back up the employers’ right with the coercive forces at its disposal, in this case the police. What both trade unions and the left militants have ignored is that this same state is under the control of the Labour Government—a Government which was supported and is still supported by the trade unions and the left-wing organizations, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Tribune Group, and all the others taking part in the picketing.

Is it not hypocrisy that people like Jack Jones, Scargill and McGahey and other trade-union leaders who have entered into a social contract with this Government to keep wages down, should now be clamouring for Grunwick to increase them? What kind of humbug is this when Ministers and MPs of the same Government, including those Ministers and MPs sponsored by the trade union in the dispute, APEX, ostentatiously place themselves in the picket line (taking good care to warn the press well in advance of their arrival)? How can these people represent the interests of the working class and serve their capitalist masters at the same time?

The National Union of Mineworkers, who couldn’t afford to pay their members strike benefit, are bringing coach-loads of miners from Scotland, Wales and all over England at union expense to join the picket. What a waste of working-class funds and efforts! Len Murray, the General Secretary of the TUC, the right hand of the Labour Government, has warned all the political elements to stay out of an industrial dispute—his member unions having invited them in. We would advise Murray and the TUC to stay out of politics and do the job they are paid to do, and leave the running of capitalism to the capitalists.

The Grunwick affair is proving to be a very useful diversion for the trade-union leaders and their sterile policy of keeping a Labour government in office. Together with Labour, Communists, the Tribune group, and other self-appointed militants, they have demonstrated once more their total ignorance of how capitalism works. Everything they have touched has crumbled. Joining the picket line, they think, may redeem their image. This utterly discredited collection still continue to mouth the word “socialism” and pay lip-service to the class struggle.

The dispute itself is the old story of a capitalist employer who does not want his workers to join a trade union, and has sacked those who made the attempt. The majority of workers in the factory unfortunately will not support their fellow workers and have continued to work. The trade-union movement has dealt with many similar situations over the years, and has evolved procedures for dealing with them. By quietly and patiently negotiating with the workers concerned they have been able to show that membership of a trade union was in their interest. It is a measure of the incompetence of APEX, the trade union involved, that they are unable to persuade workers where their interests lie. Instead they have tried to impose trade unionism from above, and are enlisting the aid of the courts in the process. They may be sure that the foxy Labour Government will keep them fully occupied with High Courts, Courts of Enquiry, Courts of Appeal and other legal procedures which are meat and drink to the employers, just as they are expensive for the workers. Standing behind the employers is the reactionary National Association for Freedom subsidized by other anti-union employers.

It is absurd for the union to maintain a picket for over eleven months when quite clearly it is ineffective and must cause considerable hardship to all the workers concerned. They are being used as a pawn in the present attempt by APEX to enlarge its membership and possibly enforce a closed shop—which is not in the interests of the working class.

The trade union movement seem determined to present this affair as a major issue in the industrial struggle. It is not a major issue—the major issue in the class struggle is Socialism. We do not want sweat-masters or enlightened employers. We do not want capitalism on the best terms unions can obtain: we want to end it. Nowhere in the dispute has any time been devoted to the issue of Socialism versus capitalism, which is the only thing which matters. Trade unions at the moment have no time for Socialism or the Socialist Party of Great Britain, but the class conflict between employer and employee can only be resolved by abolishing the conditions which give rise to that conflict. If workers in or out of trade unions refuse to give their support to the SPGB they must not be surprised that capitalism hurts them.

We stand for the abolition of the wages system. That objective can be obtained now providing workers give their minds to it. If the workers can show an atom of the interest in Socialism they have shown in the Grunwick dispute we would be well on the way to building up a strong Socialist movement.
Jim D'Arcy

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mr. Speaker! You claim that yours is a Marxist party aiming to establish Socialism by peaceful means, i.e. elections. And yet Karl Marx advocated “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, which, whenever it has been established, has always resulted in a reign of bloody terror. Now then—answer that one!

Okay, pal. We’ll have a go!


Your first point is quite right. The SPGB does work for the establishment of Socialism by peaceful, orderly, sensible means, i.e. elections (Parliament).

Next, wherever K. Marx used the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” he could only have used it to mean the conquest of political power by a majority of the people. Implicit in the whole concept of Socialism is democratic operation, because it can only be run by a majority. There is overwhelming evidence to show, from the whole of Marx's and Engels’s writings, that Marx’s meaning for this phrase (or slogan) was democratic taking of power by a free majority.

We all know, of course, that this question had been enormously complicated by the Russian Bolsheviks, especially Lenin. Finding themselves unexpectedly in power in 1917—in a vast backward country where public administration (due to the disastrous defeats in the 1914-18 war) had collapsed—Lenin and Co. were faced with the problem not of the “proletariate” but the stubborn, obstinate, ignorant Mujik, the mass of the population: peasants.

Confronted with this dilemma, Lenin adroitly invented “the dictatorship of the proletariate and peas- antry", which would have made poor Marx spit blood. Marx’s perfectly sensible straightforward proposition that capitalism converts peasants into a majority of wage-workers, who then democratically assume political power, became a complex mumbo-jumbo of the Party leading the workers, leading the peasants, leading nowhere!

In the sixty years since then, the question has settled itself because the European Communist Parties (including the British one) have all renounced the "dictatorship” rubbish—it loses votes! Another little paradox the Commies have never explained is why you have to run election candidates to establish illegal dictatorships.

The SPGB has never advocated or even used this phrase “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. Its Declaration of Principles stipulates the capture of the political machinery by conscious democratic vote.


Many very well qualified scholars have rigorously examined the whole of Marx’s writings on this question, and come up with indisputable proof that his use of the phrase was for the proletariat as the majority.

Lucien Laurat in his book Marxism and Democracy wrote: “The phrase ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ is to be found in three places in the works of Marx, and two in those of Engels . . .  it is quite clear that for them, this ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ was synonymous with democracy.” Laurat gives an example from Engels, written on 29th May 1891:
If anything is certain, it is that our Party can only come to Power under the form of the democratic Republic. Precisely this is the specific form for the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariate’ as the great French Revolution has already shown.
Since Laurat’s book was written some other examples have been found, but the use of the phrase by Marx and Engels was very scanty. Michael Harrington, who is chairman of the left-wing committee supporting Jimmy Carter and therefore (like Laurat) could not be accused of supporting the SPGB, says in his book Socialism:
It was during this ‘ultra-left’ period that Marx used the fateful phrase 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. It is, alas, of little political moment that it can be demonstrated that when Marx wrote this he did not mean ‘dictatorship’, at least, as the word is now commonly employed.

Whatever Marx did or did not say, the position of the SPGB is the only feasible one for 1977: Socialism through democratic political action. Regarding the questioner’s third, and last point: apart from Lenin’s and Brezhnev’s Russia, regarded by most as a phoney today, the only place and time claimed to have been ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ was Paris in 1871.

The majority party in the Commune were followers of August Blanqui, the secret conspirator and godfather of dictatorship. “They started out from the viewpoint that a small number of resolute men would be able to seize the State, and draw the mass around a small band of leaders.” (F. Engels, Introduction to Civil War in France.)

And yet, when these same “Blanquists” issued proclamations to the rest of France, what did they propose? The free-est, most democratic administration France had ever heard of. In the words of Engels: “They proposed a free Federation of all Communes with Paris.” Marx added, in Civil War in France: “The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage, responsible and revocable at short notice.” That is obviously what he called the proletarian dictatorship.

Even the correspondent of the London Times reported that the change in Paris was astounding. For the first time since 1848 the streets of Paris were safe at night without a police force, therefore no dictatorship.

If the questioner wants to blame the working men’s City Council of Paris for the reign of terror which followed its bloodthirsty suppression in 1871, he might just as well blame the unfortunate street girls of London for being murdered by the psychopath Jack the Ripper.


And the NEXT question, please . . .
Horatio

Revolution and reality: Why Left wing organizations are anything but revolutionary (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is unique among political parties in this country because unlike all others we propose a revolutionary change in the basis of society. We stand for the establishment of Socialism, a society in which the means of wealth production and distribution will be owned and controlled in common in the interests of the whole of society. Such an idea is not new, but this does not detract from its value and relevance. We argue that a system of world-wide common ownership can only be introduced with the conscious political action of the vast majority and to achieve this a revolution in thinking must first occur. We make this point because other political parties who claim to represent working class interests seem not to regard it as important.

The social system under which we currently live, capitalism, is popularly portrayed by spokesmen for the so-called left and right wings, as an entity which can be modified in such a way as to meet both the requirements of that minority who own the means of production and distribution; and the vast majority who must work for the owners in order to live. Such a picture may be likened to a group of car salesmen who each promise that their particular model can travel forward and in reverse at the same time. In fact the economic interests of the owner are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the non-owning worker.

The capitalist requires a profit from the production of commodities and will not allow production to take place unless there is a good chance of success in this. The workers, on the other hand, need not worry about the extent of their personal profit—they get none. Instead a worker receives a wage, referred to in more genteel circles as a salary, which basically accords with the amount it costs him and his family to live. It needs hardly be said that the standard reached by workers compared with that of the owners is a poor one.

A point worth emphasizing here is that a worker is one who depends on a wage in order to live. Some self-styled “socialists” regard the “middle class” as a group with interests other than those of workers. They offer no evidence to support this moonshine, but it is used by them as a justification for their playacting as minority vanguards who are going to lead the workers along the chosen path. The SPGB has always opposed the idea of a leadership.

Social problems which confront all workers are not imaginary ones; poverty in all its multifarious forms is literally a fact of life for the great majority. But it should be made clear that we are not arguing for the fanciful “redistribution of wealth” as proclaimed by the supporters of capitalism. The profit motive which is the mainspring of capitalist production in fact restricts production to that which can be sold in the markets. The removal of this “incentive”, far from removing the motive to produce, will mean that production will become unfettered and goods and services will become freely available. Whether ownership today rests in the hands of the state or “private” employers is an irrelevance, for the basic pattern remains. Anyone who doubts this may look at the Post Office Chairman’s recent comment that “Profit must be the heartbeat of the economy”, or on the other hand consider how different are the lives of telephone operators and engineers from his. The necessity for profit means that there is a constant struggle between capitalist and worker over the division of wealth. Workers must attempt to resist pressure from employers to push wages down, or to hold them in check, while the owners attempt to increase their share of the wealth which has been produced by the labour of the working class alone. It is accurate to say that members of the capitalist class have no need to work, and play no part in the productive process as such. It is their ownership of the means of production which puts them in this position, and it is a position in turn preserved and defended by the capitalists’ executive — the State and its coercive forces.

It is at this point that the “left wingers” go completely wild. Having no Socialist understanding to guide them, they hit out wildly and seize sporadically upon the effects of private-property society without appearing to recognize the cause of social problems. They, like the proverbial empty vessel, make noise. Workers are advised “to take away the property of the capitalist class at the point of production” (IS): to “Smash the State” (IMG) and to “Smash the Bosses” (ALL). Apart from displaying a dangerous ignorance of the capitalist world, people who go in for this sort of empty sloganeering reveal themselves as essentially half-hearted about the need for social change. They have not thought the thing through. This becomes even more obvious when considering that all the “left” parties support the Labour Party at election times, and spend most of the time in between advising it on the day-to-day tactics of capitalism, usually critically.

Far from adopting the revolutionary stance of the Socialist—the abolition of property ownership whether private or State—they seek minor modifications within a system founded upon private property ownership. The essentially non-revolutionary attitude of the “left” really begins to show when they attempt to define an independent object of their own. The Socialist Workers’ Party, who among other things stand for “the abolition of capitalism”, tell us that in “socialism” workers (yes, there will still be a working class apparently) will be paid something called socialist wages; and their right to strike will be defended by a Workers State. They appear not to recognize that with the abolition of capitalism goes the abolition of wages and the means of exchange, because wealth will be owned in common. The fact that they envisage strikes (against whom and for what?) taking place underlines their confusion.

The International Marxist Group, whose aim sounds similar ("the overthrow of the capitalist system”), appear no less muddled. Their candidate for Islington North at the May elections went about his part in this “overthrow” in a most peculiar fashion:
I stand for a socialist solution. Inflation proofing of wages and social services . . .  A national minimum wage of £50 a week, payable to the unemployed, sick, infirm and pensioners. Freeze all prices, rates and rents. Cut the working week, with no loss of pay, to end unemployment . . . etc. etc.
So much for their revolutionary aspirations; these measures are aimed at “improving” capitalism. One other thing emerges, and that is that IMG candidates do not trouble to read Marx. If they had, they would at least be aware that wages are prices. The ill-named Workers’ Revolutionary Party are no better. Their revolutionary demand earlier this year was uncompromising “Full employment now!” which is again a utopian plea for an “improved” capitalism and is precisely what they are all about. No Socialist argues for full employment; we argue for an end to the wages system.

A questioner at one of our meetings the other day chided the speaker for seeing things as black and white. We can only comment that if things are black and white, it is no bad way to see them. The choice before members of the working class is a straightforward one — capitalism or Socialism. While the “lefties” may pretend to have a foot in both camps, it only conjures up a picture of the man with one foot on the shore and the other in an unfastened boat; and the consequences for them are likely to be the same.
Alan D'Arcy

The meaning of Socialism (1977)

From the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Today's society operates what is known as the capitalist system, which is based upon the entire productive wealth of society being owned and controlled by a small minority. The rest of society, being thus separated from society’s wealth owns nothing but its ability to work and, in order to live, must sell this ability to the owning, capitalist class, by whom it is applied to reduce commodities and increase capital. It is true that the working class receives wages and salaries in return for its ability, but these represent not the value of work done but only the maintenance of the working class.

As a consequence of this basis an elaborate economic and social structure has developed. Private ownership requires a legal system which defines and protects rights in property. Ownership implies selling and buying, and this requires a means of exchange, money, which today has whole industries devoted to its management, for example, the banking and insurance industries. The vast Civil Service handles the taxation, social security and state industry departments on behalf of the government. While any modern system would require some form of administration, the resources and labour used in administering capitalism are immense in proportion to the productive base. And the expense (or waste) does not end there. A feature of capitalism is economic competition, whether it be between individual nations or international alliances, or between separate companies or groups of companies. Such competition is claimed to be beneficial in that it promotes high efficiency, low costs and therefore low prices. In practice it leads to duplication, high promotion costs and wasted resources. Since the capitalist class, as such, exists only to make profit, production and marketing are geared to this end, regardless of the real needs of society. Witness the burned-out wheat fields and coffee plantations of the Americas, the milk-filled mine shafts of England and the butter-mountains and wine-lakes of Europe.

The great majority of society, the working class, are always on the losing end of capitalism, and as a result of this conflict of interests the two sides are involved in a continuous struggle. The owning class naturally wishes to maintain its supremacy, using its control of the machinery of government, the armed forces, the police and the legal system to do so, while the working class resists the pressure as best it can. What the working class ultimately must do is take this power from them and use it to abolish the divisive system of capitalism.

Whereas the working class has this single interest however, the capitalists are divided amongst themselves, each faction wishing to own and control as much as it can of the available wealth, and to administer capitalism in its own way. It is helped in this by use of its political parties, all of whom claim to represent the whole of society. The British Conservative Party, for example, openly supports the capitalist system, but claims to speak for the entire nation; the Labour Party is thought to support the working class, but in fact maintains the system of private property; the British Communists speak against private property but also advocate that wealth be in the hands of the State. (State capitalism, not common ownership.)

Socialism will present quite a different picture from chaotic, wasteful and inequitable capitalism. Since the means of living will be owned by society as a whole, buying and selling will be unnecessary. The technology already exists to produce more than the world’s material requirements, and has only to be organized. With an abundance of production, goods and services will be freely available to all. In the absence of money, the present complex of industries and administration that it entails, and the inherent waste of labour and resources, will also go. Welfare benefits, pensions, wages and salaries and taxation will become words in history books. Armies to procure and protect land and property will no longer be necessary, nor will the prisons and police forces that are used now against people who offend against property-based laws.

So far no part of the world has established Socialism in spite of the claims of the so-called “Communist” countries. They practise a capitalist dictatorship of the few over the many, but in a more obvious and extreme way than the “free world” uses. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, together with its companion parties elsewhere in the world, exists to bring about Socialism for the first time. This is its sole purpose. The new society having been established democratically, through the ballot box, the Socialist Party will cease to have any function and will disappear as the last trace of capitalist society.
Alan Sears



90 per cent (1977)

Quote from the August 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
My Dad was a miner—my Mum and Dad had nothing—like 90 per cent of the people in this country.
Kevin Keegan, footballer.

Strikes: An unchanging pattern (1977)

From the September 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many people seem to think that strikes and similar disturbances are caused by laziness, intransigence, stupidity, a willingness to be led, greed, resentment, a want of foresight—in short, for moral failings on the part of employers and their employees, chiefly the latter.

This is odd—because all sorts of people have been involved under different circumstances and at different times—miners, civil servants, policemen, bank clerks, doctors, school teachers, shop assistants. Have they all suffered from lack of fibre? It is even more odd that the pattern does not change, repeated again and again since the early days of capitalism, and well recorded. Recently Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South has been reprinted (Penguin 1976). Much of the central part of this book is concerned with the strike in a northern manufacturing town in the mid-1850s. Although it is not the main theme of the novel, and though Mrs. Gaskell was sympathetic to the workers both in her narrative and in real life, religious and individual issues were more important to her—as they usually were in nineteenth-century novels. Her account, though fictional, is clearly based on her own experience and closely observed.

She describes the—by now—familiar features — workers goaded to strike, the struggle to maintain a standard of living, union leaders trying to keep the issues clear and to hold the reins, some strikers —against their union’s advice — trying to force the issue by direct confrontation, collision with the police, broken heads, the threat of prison, attempts to make the closure total, employment of foreign labour (in this case, Irish).

When scientists find in circumstances which are varying a constant pattern they assume an underlying cause. In this case we do not have to carry out research to discover what it is. Discord is at the base of capitalism. A worker will try to sell his labour-power for the best price and in the best possible market. His standard of living depends on it, and with his standards his way of life itself. He cannot live out of society. There are always blandishments to induce him to spend his money—even, in fact to owe it. The capitalist, on the other hand, his employer, seeks to buy labour-power as cheaply as possible—profits depend on it. These are the seeds of struggle. There is bound to be contention. When it leads to strikes or other conflict then—since capitalism hasn’t changed—they are likely to run to type. It has nothing to do with moral dereliction. It has everything to do with the economic and unavoidable nature of capitalism.
C. Devereaux

Are we militant? (1977)

From the October 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The SPGB is not and never has been “left-wing”, nor is it “right-wing"; it is revolutionary, and that is something quite different. Its position is unique, being totally opposed to capitalism and all its political adherents including the “left-wing” parties. It is also unique in being the only Party to consistently advocate and work for the establishment of Socialism to the exclusion of everything else. It would be naive to deny that other parties talk about “socialism”, but when you analyse the realities behind their words it is clear that they are no more interested in Socialism in the SPGB’s sense than is the Conservative Party. In fact the most reactionary conservative and the “far left” have more ideologically in common with each other than they have with the revolutionary Socialist. The left acts as a kind of guilty conscience for capitalism, and provides a meeting point for those morally indignant about the effects of capitalism. A kind of safety-valve which always has plenty of steam and hot air to let off.

One of the commonly held ideas of the “left” is the notion that increasing militancy among the workers will lead to a growth in socialist activity, with the eventual overthrow of the capitalists. This is fine as long as the workers are militant about understanding and wanting Socialism. However, the kind of militancy the left has in mind is the kind that does not require Socialist understanding. That is smashing other organizations’ meetings, marching for “the Right to Work”, telling the government what reform legislation it should bring in, latching on to every trade-union dispute whether asked to or not, supporting squatters, student sit-ins and many other activities.

The left can never show how this activity leads to Socialist ideas, but more important, the reality of capitalism shows that after many years of militancy Socialist ideas have not automatically resulted. The point is that so long as workers are only encouraged to think in terms of an immediate problem or demand then they will look no further than that particular problem. And there are always plenty of these immediate problems about, things for which instant answers must be found, the result being that Socialism is forever pushed into the background as an “ultimate objective” whilst “more pressing” things come first. Militancy in itself is no guarantee of growing acceptance of Socialist ideas. Certainly when Socialist ideas spread the workers will be militant, but their militancy will be directed towards the establishment of a new society and not the futile blind alleys of the left.
Tony D'Arcy

What is Revolution? (1977)

From the October 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The word revolution is almost as misused as the word Socialism. If a government is changed, a political leader is replaced, a coup takes place, the media shout “revolution!” Indeed, if this usage of the word were correct, then revolutions occur every year and sometimes every month!

What is meant by “revolution” and why is this concept so important to the future of the working class? Revolution means a transformation in the object to which the term is being applied. If it is being used about society, then it means a total change in economic relations. The easiest example to understand is the revolution that took place to transform feudalism to capitalism. In feudal society the majority were tied to their superiors. Over and above what they produced for themselves and their families in order to live, the serfs were compelled to produce for their feudal masters and the Church. That form of society was transformed by a revolution into a society—capitalism—where there is no direct ownership of the lives of people by other people in the same way.

Capitalist society is organized on the basis that the worker sells his labour-power voluntarily to an employer for a wage or salary. In theory, no one is compelled to work for another. In practice, the majority must do so. They have no other means of living, since legally they do not own sufficient of the means of wealth production to enable them to live without this form of selling known as wage-labour.

In all forms of society, minorities have owned the means of living, with the result that the other classes have had to submit to the dictates of the minority whilst that particular form of society existed. Feudalism depended on agricultural production and personal subservience by the majority to clearly defined groups. Privilege in capitalism depends not on accidents of birth (though these can be of importance to the individual) but on the ownership of capital. Whilst in feudal society by and large it was birth that determined into which class one fell, in capitalist society it is purely a question of ownership of wealth however obtained.

The revolution that will change capitalism into Socialism will involve the replacement of all the relationships of capitalism. Instead of the primary characteristics of capitalism—production for profit, the buying and selling of all things including labour-power, and private (or state) ownership of wealth, society will be characterized by common ownership and of free access to that wealth. Production will be for human satisfaction only, hence no money nor all the paraphernalia that goes with it, and will be based upon voluntary co-operation by all in the interests of all. To get to that form of society involves a transformation—a revolution. It is only in Socialism that man will solve the major problems he now faces. That is why the SPGB is a revolutionary party.

Because the next revolution must be the work of the majority consciously co-operating in the work that it will entail, a transformation in men’s ideas is the pre-requisite to its successful implementation.
Ronnie Warrington

Is human nature a barrier to Socialism? (1977)

From the October 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The answer to this question will depend on how human nature is defined. The commonly-held belief does not often go further than to describe human behaviour, or some aspects of human behaviour, mostly the worst, which are summed up as aggression, violence, selfishness and greed. The other aspects of human behaviour—cooperation, self-sacrifice and concern for others—are not so often mentioned. Of course, human behaviour is a part of human nature and cannot be separated from it, any more than elephant behaviour can be separated from elephant nature or anthropoid-ape behaviour from athropoid-ape nature. But whilst elephant or ape behaviour cannot change beyond the limits set by the sum total of an elephant’s or ape’s biological attributes, changes in mankind’s behaviour are limitless.

All individuals as a species have in general the same combinations of physiological features common to the species, and it is this that determines the nature of the organism. It is this that is relatively the constant part of an organism’s nature as distinct from the relatively variable part of its nature: its behaviour. The nature of a species and its behaviour or behaviour-patterns are part of a single whole, in the same way as one end of a stick is contiguous with the other end but separated from it like the south pole from the north pole.

All animal species other than mankind are prisoners of the limits which biological specialization has set. Mankind is a unique organism in the animal world. The upright standing position with the hands (which have fingers and opposable thumbs capable of a very elaborate range of manipulation) quite free, stereoscopic binocular colour vision, the power of speech, and above all, a brain of a size and quality possessed by no other animal species alive or since extinct. It is this unique combination of biological attributes (the nature of man) which has enabled mankind to leave the animal kingdom as far as the continued determination of evolution by natural selection is concerned.

There is no evidence to suggest that there have been any significant changes in the biological make-up of Homo Sapiens during the last 40,000 years, but there is overwhelming evidence of great changes in human culture and behaviour and, therefore, in man himself.

What is usually called human nature is human behaviour. Class consciousness is greatly determined by social experience, but social experience includes ideas. In fact, mankind is the only species which has been able to accumulate knowledge, systematize it and hand it on culturally, making it unnecessary for succeeding generations to re-learn anew everything which has gone before. It has been pointed out many times that capitalism brings into being its own grave-diggers; the working class. The inability of capitalism to create conditions which would enable the working class as a whole to live full and harmonious lives in line with social potentialities will lead inevitably to the realization of the need for a new social system. This process needs the intervention of the accumulated knowledge of human society systematized into ideas; not ideas which interpret everything in terms of what is necessary for the continued existence of capitalist society, but the ideas, on a class basis, of what is necessary for the emancipation of the working class; in other words, Socialist ideas.

An existing social system cannot be destroyed unless it is at the same time replaced by another, otherwise this would mean that society would cease to exist altogether. Working-class consciousness means therefore a realization of a positive as well as a negative understanding, and this can only be developed by the spread of Socialist ideas. When the working class as a class adopts these ideas and brings into being Socialism as a working system of society, this will be the beginning of changes in human behaviour in line with the change in social relations.
Harry Walters

Should the Unions back Labour? (1977)

From the October 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is not often that the Socialist Standard finds food for thought in the News of the World. Exception is made for the issue of 4th September 1977. The News of the World usually sets one feature article on its centre spread, as a bluff that it is a serious political paper. Its writer on 4th September was Paul Johnson, a fugitive from the New Statesman—the former editor, in fact. Mr. Johnson expatiated on the recent TUC Congress, and asked: “What’s in the Labour Government for the rank-and-file members of the trade unions?”

He gave a very definite explicit answer—“Nothing!” he said, and proceeded with expertise and despatch to analyze the situation. The union leaders, he said, have it made:
  They are wined, dined, cajoled, cosseted and flattered. They can have a life-peerage for the asking, and fat Quango-jobs are showered upon them.
But what about the members? What has support of the Labour Government done for them?
 Nothing. In fact, worse than nothing. Unemployment, which directly undermines trade union bargaining power, is at its highest since the Thirties, and now creeping to the 1,700,000 mark. Standards of living have fallen, with real wages per average family now £8 a week less than when Labour took office. At the same time, the so-called "social wage”—that is, the benefits ordinary people receive in welfare services—has also declined, as a result of public spending cuts on hospitals, schools, housing, roads and public amenities. Life, then, is hard under Labour: harder than most people under 40 have known it.
And the Callaghan theme-song continues to be “Look for the silver lining”, which he has been singing for two years now—without the sympathetic magic working. Now! says Mr. Johnson, for those reasons:
  It is not in the interests of trade union members for their leaders to give unqualified backing to a particular party and government . . . The only proper task for the trade union leader is to engage in tough negotiations about pay and conditions on behalf of his members . . . The sooner the rank-and-file tell their bosses to get back to their true work, the better for everyone’s wage packets.
Thus the News of the World to its 9 million readers! Naturally we are not unaware that it is busily endeavouring to ingratiate the Tory Party with the trade unions. (It has indignantly rejected Sir Keith Joseph’s support for George Ward, of Grunwick ill-fame.) We wrote in the Socialist Standard in 1904, before Mr. Johnson was born, that the nascent Labour Party “should not receive the adhesion of working men”. But our reason was a socialist one. The only party working men can reasonably support is a Socialist Party.

Mr. Johnson (like most erstwhile Labour politicians) suffers from Leader-disease. When the rank-and-file “tell their bosses”—the trade union leaders—“what to do”, they cease to be their bosses.
Horatio.