Sunday, November 18, 2018

‘Fairness and Simplicity’: Who Benefits from Universal Credit? (2018)

From the April 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
An account of how it works from someone who has been on this ‘benefit’.
When Iain Duncan Smith, as the Work and Pensions Secretary, announced in 2010 that Universal Credit would replace six welfare benefits, he said that this would ‘restore fairness and simplicity’ to the system. Nearly eight years on, few would agree that Universal Credit has been either fair or simple.

One aspect of Universal Credit which has been anything but simple is its introduction since pilot schemes began in the North West during 2013. Then, it was expected that the new benefit would be fully implemented by 2017, a target which has since been put back five years. Given the problems many people have experienced claiming Universal Credit, it’s probably a relief to others that the rollout has been delayed. The benefit is being introduced in stages, going by postcode area. By the end of this year, in every area, new claimants or existing claimants of other benefits with a change in circumstances will have to apply for Universal Credit. Then, it’s planned that all remaining people receiving the benefits being replaced (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits) will be transferred over by 2022, unless there are any further setbacks. The number of people already claiming Universal Credit was 700,000 as of 14 December 2017, a rise of 6 percent on the previous month.

One of the main stated goals of Universal Credit is to encourage its claimants to find jobs. In December 2015, the government boasted that ‘Universal Credit claimants are eight percentage points more likely to have been employed in the first nine months of their claim – 71% for Universal Credit versus 63% for Jobseeker’s Allowance’ . Amazingly, another of its aims is to heal the sick. When it was first announced, the then Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling said he hoped it would get at least half of the 2.5 million people claiming sickness benefits back into employment. But before Universal Credit can work its magic on someone, they first need to set up a claim.

The state prefers people to make their claim online, which immediately makes the process far from simple for those who lack computer skills or easy access to the internet. After entering your details on the government website, the system requires your ID to be verified by another organisation. This involves photographing your ID and yourself (face-on and in profile) and uploading the pictures to their website. This stage in the process may not be easy for any claimants without sufficient paperwork or a smartphone; the system isn’t designed to be accommodating to those most vulnerable and in need, such as homeless people. The initial online form also has sections to type in what kinds of jobs you are looking for and how you will do this, unless you have a medical condition which prevents you from working.

An appointment will be set for within a few days to attend the job centre. Then, staff make further checks of ID, and your ‘commitments’ of what you’ll do to find work are clarified. These may be ten hours a week trawling through websites, fifteen hours writing applications, two hours travelling to the job centre appointment and back, eight hours compiling a CV and so on, as long as they add up to 35 hours each week.

Waiting Days and Assessment Periods
Once your claim has been set up, the next hurdle to overcome is the delay before payments start to come through. Until February, when a new claim was made by most job seekers, no payment was given to cover the first week, a period called ‘waiting days’. However, you would still be expected to spend 35 hours looking for work during this time. No reason is given for this rule in official documents, and no reply was received to a request for an explanation. It would be easy to assume that this policy was there just to reduce costs to the state and deter people from making a claim.

When Universal Credit was designed, it was decided that the first payment would be received 42 days after making a claim, including the waiting days. In February this ‘Assessment Period’ was reduced to 35 days, still far too long to manage without being able to buy necessities. The 42 day limit was often not kept; during June 2017, for example, around one in five claimants waited even longer for their first full payment. In comparison, people claiming JSA or ESA during 2015 and 2016 had to wait a relatively easy two weeks before receiving any money.

From the beginning of the claim, it’s a requirement that claimants regularly update their online records (called the ‘journal’) with details of what has been done to look for work. The website also allows messages to be sent between the claimant and job centre, and checks that notifications about rules have been read. Weekly ‘Work Search Review’ appointments at the job centre are set, when the ‘Work Coach’ offers some guidance about ways to find employment. More importantly, they review what’s been written in the journal and decide whether sufficient effort has been made looking for work. Twice I was accused of not doing enough, just because the adviser hadn’t clicked on the box showing what had been written.

If it’s decided that not enough has been recorded, or if jobs haven’t been applied for, or if appointments have been missed, then payments can be stopped or reduced, known as a ‘sanction’. How much and how long sanctions last depend on what you’ve been judged to have failed to do and how often you’ve been sanctioned in the previous year. A sanction can last between seven days and three years, with a perplexing set of rules specifying which offence brings which punishment. For example: ‘Do all the activities you’ve agreed with your work coach. If you don’t, your payment will be reduced until the day before you do as you agreed. Once you’ve done this, your payment will be reduced for an additional 7, 14 or 28 days.’. During March 2017, 6.9 percent of claimants were having their payments reduced through being sanctioned, more than the 0.4 percent of people claiming JSA , suggesting that the new system is stricter.

The difficulties which come with Universal Credit described above are faced by claimants willing and able to look for employment. Different problems are faced by claimants with health conditions. After completing a medical questionnaire and sending in a Med 3 form (what used to be called a ‘sick note’) from the GP, they will have to undergo a ‘Work Capability Assessment’ at the job centre. This is a medical examination to judge if they are too unwell to manage a job, with the decision made by a benefits assessor overruling that of the GP who signed off the Med 3 form. Failing a Work Capability Assessment is what Chris Grayling meant when he said Universal Credit would help half of those claiming sickness benefits back into work.

When the Payment Arrives
Five or six weeks after making the claim, and if there have been no sanctions, then the first payment should arrive. A single claimant aged 25 or over receives £317.82 each month, with additional amounts paid to people with disabilities or children and to cover rent. The government says that Universal Credit provides ‘every financial incentive to stay in work, because work will pay’, a euphemism for the benefit payments being less than people need. The Minimum Income Standard website says that a single person requires £765.48 each month (excluding rent and council tax costs) for a ‘decent standard of living’, based on April 2017 prices (www.minimumincome.org.uk).The government says that Universal Credit’s approach ‘enables people to take much more control over their own lives’, although it’s not explained how you can have control of your life when you can’t afford basic necessities.

A difference between Universal Credit and the benefits being replaced is that it is supposed to be paid monthly to the claimant, rather than fortnightly. Ostensibly, this is intended to prepare claimants for budgeting over a month, as most employed people do. Another difference is that this monthly payment includes the component to cover rent. Under the old housing benefit system, money for rent was usually paid directly to the landlord, which didn’t prevent arrears building up due to delays or complications with a claim, but gave more assurance to the landlord that their rent was on its way. Not all of someone’s rent may be covered by the benefit anyway, for example when a single person is living in a property judged too large for them. The consequences of all this are that some claimants have been unable to afford rent or have spent the money intended for it on other things, leading to arrears building up. In Southwark, Universal Credit claimants renting social housing were each in arrears by an average of £1,178 in the first few months of claiming. The state has back-tracked on some of its policies about the rent component, and from April it will be easier to have this paid straight to the landlord.

Many new claimants aged between 18 and 21 don’t get the rent component of Universal Credit at all. Presumably, the reasoning behind this is to deter young people from trying to find state-subsidised housing, which ignores the needs of many young adults who, whether through overcrowding or fraught family relationships, can’t or shouldn’t live with their parents.

For claimants with a mortgage rather than a rented property, there is very little assistance towards housing costs. It’s possible to receive money to cover interest on a mortgage (rather than the mortgage itself), but this is at a flat rate of 2.61 percent rather than the actual rate, and a claim needs to be in place for nine months before this is paid. The rules are even harsher from April, when any payments for mortgage interest will be a loan rather than a benefit.

Once a claimant finds employment and declares it to the job centre, Universal Credit is still paid after they start work until the first wages are received, which at least balances out the unpaid ‘waiting days’ at the beginning of the claim. The job centre will know when wages have been received even if the claimant doesn’t advise them of this, as the computer systems for tax and national insurance contributions are linked to that of the job centre.

Universal Credit claims can continue if you’re employed and on a low income, as long as you are looking for more work. Just over two fifths of claimants are in employment, many will be on zero hours contracts or irregular shifts, or be self-employed. This means they are likely to be earning different amounts each week, or even nothing, and trying to maintain a Universal Credit claim to top up wages is far from straightforward, or lucrative. Self-employed claimants have fallen victim of the ‘Minimum Income Floor’ clause. This refers to an amount which the state assumes a self-employed person will earn each week, based on their particular trade. This amount is then deducted from the amount paid to the claimant, even if they haven’t earned that much, leaving many claimants short of enough money to survive. According to the state, ‘this will encourage you to grow your business and make sure it can support you’. From April, when a self-employed claimant earns more than the threshold to qualify for Universal Credit, any surplus is taken into account for six months, meaning they won’t receive benefits until this surplus is reduced through subsequent months earning less. This leads to a complicated situation where they re-apply for Universal Credit knowing they won’t receive any, but just so that the declining surplus is logged. According to the Resolution Foundation thinktank, roughly 2.5million households in employment but on a low income will be over £1,000 a year worse off by transferring to Universal Credit (Guardian, 20 November).

Consequences
The bureaucrats who devised the rules behind Universal Credit don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions. The restrictions, confusions and delays in receiving Universal Credit are forcing its claimants into poverty. The long wait for the first payment has left thousands of people without the means to buy food and other basics, and with rising debts from unpaid bills. Private sector landlords may not want to wait to receive their rent, and so either may evict someone or refuse to house them in the first place. Among the issues discussed at the job centre appointments are how to apply for advance payments and where to get budgeting and debt advice, as the staff realise that people will get into difficulties, especially early on. Staff may be able to issue vouchers to receive supplies at a food bank, or refer claimants on to another agency to get a voucher. According to The Trussell Trust, which operates Britain’s largest network of food banks, demand for its parcels has risen by 30 percent since last April in areas where the rollout of Universal Credit is most advanced (Guardian, 7 November).

Predictably, Universal Credit has attracted a barrage of complaints and criticisms. The government opened up an online consultation, and of the 55 responses left on their website, only one was positive. Respondents described the benefit as ‘inhumane’, ‘an absolute shambles’ and ‘disgusting’, with many people writing about how scared and poor claiming Universal Credit has made them. Even Tory ex-Prime Minister John Major, writing in the Mail on Sunday joined the backlash, saying that the benefit ‘although theoretically impeccable, is operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving’ (7 October). Iain Duncan Smith promised us ‘fairness and simplicity’, remember.

Regardless of any guidance given by job centre staff, the way that Universal Credit ‘encourages’ people to find employment is by its brutality: the long wait for not enough money, the constant threat of a sanction, the confusing, obstructive rules. Wage labour is less harsh by comparison, so claimants are pushed towards it, or to the desperation of trying to maintain a claim longer-term. This reminds us that the state isn’t there to support people, it’s there to support a system which needs wage labour. The pressures, both financial and emotional, on claimants are like a punishment for falling outside the system’s expectations.
Clive Hendry

Lenin Twists Marxism (1969)

From the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx and Engels, as anyone who has read their writings knows, used the terms ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ interchangeably to describe what they stood for. They did not think of them as separate systems of society but merely as different names for a system based on the social or common ownership of the means of production. Why they used one and then the other was explained quite clearly by Engels in one of the prefaces he wrote to the Communist Manifesto. Nevertheless the myth still persists that Socialism and Communism are not just different names for the same system of society.

Most of the common distortions of Marxism can be traced back to Lenin, and this one is no exception. Until 1917 Lenin and the Bolsheviks regarded themselves as Social Democrats and called the stage in social evolution that would follow capitalism — a wageless, moneyless, stateless society based on common ownership — Socialism. If pressed they would have agreed that another, if somewhat dated, name for this society would be Communism.

The support given by the rest of Social Democracy to the first world war came as a shock to Lenin and led him to decide that a complete break with them must be made. On returning to Russia in April 1917 he suggested that the Bolsheviks change their name to ‘Communist Party’, and that they prepare to seize power for Socialism in the immediate future.

In the course of explaining his proposal to change the party’s name Lenin advanced a curious argument. Our aim, he wrote, was not just Socialism but eventually Communism also:
  From capitalism mankind can pass directly only to socialism, i.e., to the social ownership of the means of production and distribution according to the amount of work performed by each individual. Our Party looks farther ahead: socialism is bound to pass gradually into communism, upon the banner of which is inscribed the motto: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs (Selected Works, Vol. 6).
This was the first hint that Lenin saw any distinction between the meanings of the two words, but this theme was to be developed in more detail in his abusive, dishonest, and confused pamphlet The State and Revolution, written: in August and September of the same year.

However, the part of his April Theses, as they were called, which attracted the attention was not this but his call for the Bolsheviks to get ready to seize power and establish Socialism. Until then the immediate political aim of the Bolsheviks had been the establishment of a democratic republic in Russia, not Socialism. Like the more orthodox Social Democrats, the Mensheviks, they had accepted that, on any understanding of Marx’s theory of social evolution, Russia was not ripe for Socialism.

This sudden about-turn did not go without comment from Lenin’s opponents. “In aiming at power for Socialism now”, they told him, “you are abandoning Marxism; anybody can see that the economic conditions for the establishment of a socialist society do not yet exist in Russia”. Lenin’s reply was ingenious but typically dishonest. “You are talking about Communism”, he told his critics, “but we have never said we were going to introduce that; our immediate aim is only Socialism”. Till then, however, nobody else who called himself a Marxist had been aware of any difference between Communism and Socialism. Lenin’s reply, in which he redefines Socialism so as to be able to call the Bolsheviks’ immediate programme ‘socialist’, reads:
  Actually, when a learned professor and following him the philistine, and following him Messrs the Tseretelis and Chernovs, talk of unreasonable utopias, of the demagogic promises of the Bolsheviks, of the impossibility of ‘introducing’ socialism, it is the higher stage or phase of communism they have in mind, which no one has ever promised or ever thought to ‘introduce’, because it generally cannot be ‘introduced’ (The State and Revolution).
Without batting an eyelid at his trickery Lenin went on: “and this brings us to the question of the scientific difference between socialism and communism . . .”! How Lenin got away with this is difficult to understand, especially since in the earlier part of his pamphlet he himself falls into his old habit of using ‘socialism’ when, according to his own distortion, he should have used ‘communism’.

Three phases
Let us now have a look at Marx’s views on this question since this will expose Lenin’s twisting better. Marx held that capitalism paved the way for a classless society based on common ownership which, as we saw, he and Engels called either communist or socialist. Marx also held that this new society could only be set up by the political action of the working class. The period between the winning of political power and the final establishment of common ownership (or Socialism) Marx sometimes called “the dictatorship of the proletariat”, because during it state power (dictatorship, which had not yet come to have its modern meaning) would be used by the working class (proletariat). During this period the workers would be using the state to transform society from capitalism to Socialism by taking various measures, depending on the circumstances of the time, aimed at abolishing private property in the means of production. This done, Socialism had been established and the need for a coercive state machine gone. Marx also suggested that in the early stages of Socialism there would have to be some restriction on the amount of wealth people could take from the common store. Eventually, however, when the means of production had been sufficiently developed, Socialism could go over to the principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

Thus, for Marx there were three different circumstances:
  1. A political—i.e., with the state still existing — transition period between capitalism and Socialism.
  2. An early stage of Socialism, i.e., with the state gone, without full free access.
  3. A later stage of Socialism with free access according to needs.

We must add here that further political and economic developments since Marx’s day e.g.—and we give a fairly full list so you can get some idea how far-reaching these have been — universal suffrage, political democracy, continuing centralisation and concentration of industry, vast technical advances like the development of electricity, the motor vehicle, aviation, radio and TV, plastics, computers, automation, nuclear energy, and space travel have, in our view, meant that Marx’s political transition and his early stage of Socialism can be passed through very quickly.

Marx’s first stage of Socialism was still Socialism. The political transition period from capitalism was over so that class property, the state machine, money, buying and selling, wages, and profits had already disappeared. The basis of society was the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life and the aim of production was solely to meet human needs. Only, for a time until plenty for all could be produced, there would have to be some democratic social control over the amount of wealth individuals took from the common store in order to ensure that the temporarily limited supplies were shared fairly. This, and only this, was the difference between Marx’s first and higher phases of Socialism/Communism.

Lenin’s so-called Socialism (which was supposed just to be another name for Marx’s “first phase of communist society”) was radically different from this. For under it, Lenin explained, the state would still exist:
  All citizens are transformed here into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of a single nationwide ‘syndicate’. All that is required is that they should work equally, do their proper share of work, and get equally paid (The State and Revolution).
Lenin’s trick should now be obvious. He has deliberately confused Marx’s political transition period and his early stage of Socialism, trying to make out that they were one and the same. Only thus can he reach the absurd conclusion that in Socialism there would still be a coercive state and still be employees getting wages. What Lenin was advocating the Bolsheviks should introduce in Russia in 1917 was actually a form of state capitalism, though ironically this phrase too was to cause him trouble later when he made state capitalism yet another stage in the supposed transition from capitalism to Communism!

Once you realise that Lenin was not a Marxist and that the Russian social system is state capitalism then there is no difficulty in recognising, along with Marx and Engels, that Socialism and Communism are just two alternative ways of referring to a society based on common ownership.
Adam Buick

50 Years Ago: Andrew Carnegie, brain sucker (1969)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the 12th of August the death of Andrew Carnegie was reported, and all the capitalist newspapers united to diffuse an odour of sanctity around the man whose fortune—like all other great fortunes—was built up by the sucking of other men's brains.

It was on the shoulders of others that Carnegie climbed to affluence. Unscrupulous, alike in his dealings with his fellow capitalists and his workmen, he crushed out all who stood in his path, until he came up against a more powerful combination than his own, then he stepped quietly down and out of business, leaving Morgan, Rockefeller & Co. a clear field.

Carnegie came at the first flush of the era of speculation and "high finance" in America, and the tide swept him along with it. The keystone of his success was his ability in appropriating the product of other men's brains (as well, of course, as the product of their hands), or, as he himself repeatedly expressed it in relation to his managers, finding better men to look after his interests.

The man who is set up as a model of "self-help" was helped by others all his life. The only direction in which he exercised self-help was in helping himself to the the product of the work of others. A quotation from the full-page effusion on Carnegie's life in the Daily Telegraph (Aug. 12th) gives in a nutshell the story of his life and the cause of his success.
He began the world without a penny. He retired from business sixty years after one of the richest men in the world—to put it no higher—with a fortune of some £90,000,000 . . . It was won by a man who had no training for his life-work. The greatest of iron masters knew nothing of metallurgy.
(From an article 'The Passing of a Brain Sucker' by G. McClatchie in the Socialist Standard, September 1919).

20 plan to launch 'Socialist Party' (1969)

From the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

A conference of May Day Manifesto supporters held in Leeds over the weekend of July 19-20 passed a resolution by 20 votes to four (with eight abstentions) which commits them to initiate “the formation of the Socialist Party and the organisation of a coherent socialist candidature at the next general election." This represents a clear advance on earlier positions taken up by the May Day Manifest groups when many of them saw themselves as little more than dissident members of the Labour Party. Now they recognise that “the source of Labour’s repeated failures as an agency for Socialism" lies “not in the personalised betrayals of leaderships, nor in the abstract virus of ‘Right- Wing Labour', but in the concrete limitations of Labourism"; in other words. Labourism must be broken with entirely and an independent Socialist Party organised.

Confused demands
This view was, of course, pioneered by the Socialist Party of Great Britain and we are pleased to see that other workers are now coming to accept it. But nevertheless the May Day Manifesto supporters do not intend to join the Socialist Party. In fact, their rejection of what they call the ‘subordinate reformism' of Labour is linked with a criticism of ‘maximalist revolutionism’—by which they mean the confused, reformist demands touted by the various trotskyist sects! What they propose as an alternative is a "strategy of graduated ends", a fancy name for yet another reform programme. Little wonder then that a visitor from Bradford asked in bewilderment at one stage of the conference, “What in this new party means it’s going to be different from other parties?”

Supporters of the suggested new party also seem to be firmly under the spell of the other common leftist delusions. During the conference breaks members of the Socialist Party discussed these issues with some of the May Day Manifesto members. Their most frequent objections to our Party were that we are too small to be taken seriously and that by preaching pure Socialism in the form of 'abolition of the wages system’ we are out of touch with the working class. Now as a matter of actual fact the Socialist Party of Great Britain completely dwarfs the May Day Manifesto groups, and as for the proposed new ‘Socialist Party’, at this stage the chances of it reaching triple figures seem infinitely remote. Of course, what really makes us unacceptable to all shades of leftists is not our admittedly tiny organisation but the fact that we do not pretend that we are going to ‘lead the masses’. But their other objection is richer still. Socialists certainly have no illusions about the difficulties involved in getting ideas like a world without money across to workers steeped in capitalist values, but at least we recognise that Socialism is a simple idea which it is quite possible to express in simple language. Contrast this to May Day Manifesto phraseology. The documents they were debating at their conference bristled with passages like:
  Further, it demands that the goals be articulated together in a strategic vision, and that as the struggle progresses, pressing on to the structural limits of the system, it gains not only in breadth, but also in depth. Such a dialectical development of the struggle presupposes a pre-existent socialist intention among the masses, (etc. etc.)
And they say we are out of touch with the working class!
John Crump

Socialists and the Irish question (1969)

From the September 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
  So far as the working class were concerned all that was accomplished by the achieving of national independence and self-government for 26 of the 32 Irish counties was a change of masters.
  Only Socialists can give a clear-cut answer to the “Partition question” and be consistent in it: the removal of “the Border” will not remove one social evil from which the working class suffer; and so, it is obviously not a problem which concerns the working class.
— Manifesto of the (World) Socialist Party of Ireland, 1949.


The Failure of Civil Rights (1969)

From the October 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Report from Belfast
Few people with an ear to the ground in Northern Ireland could have escaped the growing evidence of murder, well organised and equipped, lingering in the political shadows. Yet when the murder guns added their fury to the flying stones, bottles and petrol bombs during the mid-August days of terror, most people were struck with a condition of profound shock beyond the limits of anything they had previously experienced.

It was not simply the fact that eight people had died and hundreds of others had been injured. Rather was it the realisation that the agents of death, people consciously organised to extend the more-or-less usual stone-throwing into an orgy of killing, were so many. Even more were people stunned by the absolute assault on their illusion of physical security; huge buildings and rows of working class houses burned fiercely, often without the attendance of a single fireman and the cherished notion of the ubiquitous power of ‘law and order', whether hated or admired, was dispelled — for its admirers by its impotency and for its haters, by identification with the mob.

In a violent society eight human lives are but a week-end road accident statistic and people in the familiar role of fleeing refugees are constant T.V. fare that merely plucks the conscience to offhanded sympathy. But the dead were not Jews or Arabs; the queues of terrified refugees, whose homes had provided illumination for the carnage, were not Vietnamese, Biafrans or any of those 'foreigners’ usually engaged in the practice. They were Belfast people: people who spoke as we do . . . walked the same streets . . .  knew the same problems.

The strife was confined to working class areas. The back-to-back houses of Derry's Bogside—among the most miserable slums in Europe — Belfast’s Falls Road, Shankill Road and Ardoyne area. Those who died, those who were wounded, those who were burned or terrified out of their homes were members of the working class. It was members of the working class, too, that did the killing, wounding and burning. No upper class casualties were reported.

The Catholic worker puts the blame on the Protestant worker and the police. The Protestant worker puts the blame on the Catholic worker. The politicians, too, viciously and vigorously, reflect the bitterness and prejudice of their supporters: each blames the 'other side' as well as the police, B Specials, Paisleyites and the I.R.A.—some of the more fanciful even advance the notion of an international anarchist or communist conspiracy.

It is pointless here to deal with the accusations and counter-accusations that have mostly been tailored to the prejudices of the people making them. As Socialists, we are less concerned with the battles than we are with the material conditions that brought them about. By this we do not mean the various provocations, demonstrations, government bans, lunatic clergymen, police viciousness that go to make up the events of Northern Ireland’s recent history. We don’t so much want to know who pulled the trigger—rather do we wish to examine the reason for loading the gun.

That reason is to be found in the facts of working class life in Northern Ireland today. It is to be found in unemployment, in slums, in homelessness and all the other poverty features of working class life. These are the things which breed the notion and the reality of discrimination, that create divisions within communities, that determine the economic priorities that go to make up the stock-in-trade of all the politicians and political parties claiming ability to run an insane economic system in a sane way.

It is the failure of the politicians and their parties that drives the workers in despair to street protests and demonstrations. But the people who organise and partake in these demonstrations are as ignorant of the economic facts of capitalism as the politicians whose failure creates the desire for direct action. What they fail to understand is that the system we live under, the system which they vote for at elections is by its very nature incapable of meeting working class needs; that poverty, slums and unemployment, are a natural and permanent feature of the capitalist scheme of things; that the politicians, even if they are eager to, simply cannot solve these problems. Their job is to administer the system of capitalism, to legislate conditions for the smoothest possible functioning of the system and to ensure that the rights of property are preserved and protected. The political complexion of the party running the system is irrelevant; while society is organised on the basis of profit rather than human needs, the system dictates to the party in power.

Ironically, the protesters and demonstrators see the problems against which they militate in the same terms as the politicians who run capitalism. Their '‘demands” are always “realistically” anchored to the standards prevailing among the more fortunate section of the working class. Never would they dare to 'demand' for the workers they claim to represent the mode of life enjoyed by members of the owning class. In other words they accept capitalism; they respect its title to ownership of the resources of the earth; they bow to its class structure. What concerns them is not the fact of slavery but the condition of the slave.

In the case of the Civil Rights movement, the struggle for the establishment of standards for all members of the working class based on the conditions of those workers who have jobs, homes and votes has tended to divide the working class and facilitate the Unionist clique in their efforts to play on the old fears which their political forbears manufactured to suit the needs of the propertied class at the turn of the century.

True, the C.R.A. tried to avoid this at the outset but the Unionist bosses, through the medium of their Party's police, the R.U.C., more and more succeeded in confining C.R.A. activities to Catholic areas and branding those activities 'Catholic' and 'subversive'. It was then only a short step to police violence as demonstrators refused confinement to Catholic areas and Unionist politicians, both ‘extreme' and 'moderate', verbally or by silence, encouraged the more violent Orange extremists into the punch-up between the police and the civil rights demonstrators. History—the political manoeuvreings created to suit the needs of the propertied class, expressed in Ireland in a particularly torturous complex of religious subterfuge—had ensnared the Civil Rights movement: to the Catholic they were now an organisation struggling to win for the most downtrodden section of the Catholic working class the conditions enjoyed, or endured, by the more prosperous section of the Protestant workers. To the latter they seemed a threat to the illusion of his security. Not that they wanted to, but because they failed to understand the real nature of the problem, C.RA. had been forced into the role of another sectarian movement.

Of course the Civil Rights organisations could protest this analysis: they could indicate many speeches and statements in which leading members of their movement made it clear that Protestant workers, too, would benefit from the implementation of the Civil Rights programme in Northern Ireland.

This is true. Not only that, but a few of the Civil Rights spokesmen—sometimes played down by the more 'respectable' elements of the movement—even expressed the Northern Ireland problem in class terms and declared the need for social revolution. Even the latter, however, played the game in accordance with the rule laid down by the political gamesmasters of capitalism. They led the workers on to believe that their poverty—and homelessness and unemployment are expressions of poverty, as is the lack of a local government vote —was the result of Unionist government.

Inevitably, given this thesis, the struggle at local level deteriorated into a slang-match on the relative misery of Catholic and Protestant applicants for jobs and council houses—with, very often, Civil Rights spokesmen extolling a Catholic workers' service to the armed forces of capitalism in support of his claim!

It might be argued that at least the Civil Rights movement have achieved the Unionist Government's commitment to some reforms. Let us examine this accomplishment.

A 'points system' for allocating local government housing. This may ensure that the number of houses which are available will be distributed according to a given formula which purports to measure 'need'. It might rule out religious discrimination in the allocation of houses; it will certainly not rule out the fact of discrimination for no legalistic formula can access personal needs and when there are two applicants for one house, one of them must be discriminated against. Nor will a 'points system' solve the housing problem. The root of that problem is this: in capitalist society, homes, like everything else, are produced for profit and not the needs of the homeless. Those with money don't have a housing problem; it is only the members of the working class that need to enlist the assistance of government and local government councils in an effort to find a place to live.

What is required is not a 'points system' for the allocation of houses but a Socialist system of production for use in which the vast resources of society can be brought to the task of providing homes for all.

And what of that other 'great reform', the extension of the local government franchise? Socialists obviously will greet this as a welcome broadening of the basis of local democracy. But will it solve any working class problems? Certainly, if there was mass understanding of capitalism’s inability to solve the problems of the working class allied to an understanding of the Socialist alternative to the capitalist scheme of things, the additional votes might help Socialists to achieve an earlier local government platform to assist in the final assault on capitalism at central government level.

But the working class does not suffer from the fact that workers who are not ratepayers have no votes in local government elections. The poverty and degradation of working class life stems from the worker's position in capitalist society and the working class have the electoral strength now to overthrow capitalism and institute Socialism. It is not the lack of votes that delays the change; it is the misuse of the overwhelming superiority of those votes which the workers already have. The Civil Rights movement, like all movements for the reform of capitalism help to ensure the continuing misuses of those votes by directing the attention of the working class away from the real source of their problems. Part, too, of the tragedy of the bitter struggle led by the Civil Rights movement for puny reforms is that these have been won at the cost of even greater divisions within the working class—divisions which help to keep capitalism, the very basis of all working class problems, longer in power.
Richard Montague


A Bit of Sanity in Belfast
Every Thursday evening from 8 to 10.30 p.m. the Belfast Branch of the WSP holds informal discussions at the branch room, 13 Queen’s Square Belfast (beside Albert Clock). You are cordially invited,

Enquiries and free specimen Socialist literature from General Secretary, WSP, 13 Queen’s Square, Belfast.



Lutte Ouvrière: Workers Struggling for What? (1969)

From the October 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many ideas which are basic to Socialism are accepted among far wider circles than the ranks of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Indeed there are many organisations throughout the world which would appear to endorse whole areas of the socialist case. These groups (who often tell us that ‘we are all socialists’) would generally argue that our aims are identical and that it is only on the question of means to achieve the ultimate socialist society that we differ. One such case is Lutte Ouvrière — a group based in France which, on the face of it, appears to share many of our ideas. Their programme socialiste (Lutte Ouvrière — June) correctly summarises the principal features of capitalism:
. . .  the capitalist system, based on the private ownership of the means of production, organises production for profit, without caring about the real needs of men, but on the contrary subjecting man completely to the needs of profit.
and points out why Socialism has become possible and how it will differ from capitalism:
. . . with the development of technology and science it is possible to give to all men a decent standard of living under conditions of total liberty . . . What stands between us and socialism is not scarcity of technical resources but simply the political system (des entraves politiques) which throws the economy into anarchic production, full of contradictions and resulting in insecurity, the destruction of wealth and the alienation of liberty.
But between Socialism and capitalism, argues Lutte Ouvrière, there must be a transition period during which the workers’ state will have a double goal: “to raise individual salaries (as long as the wages system lasts) but above all to develop free and collective facilities (housing, transport, education, public health, sport, leisure, etc.)." This, of course, is merely a rehash of the old Bolshevik maxim that “an epoch of proletarian dictatorship must inevitably intervene between a capitalist and a communist society.” The twin tasks of this transition period or ’dictatorship of the proletariat', said the Bolsheviks, were to boost production through industrialisation and above all to crush the “resistance of the sometime capitalists, landlords, bankers, generals, and bishops. . .” This is obviously a perspective shared by Lutte Ouvrière since they write that workers’ power will involve such measures as an “embargo on the banks, the finance societies, the insurance companies . . .”

To the Socialist Party this seems a completely false assessment of the problems that will face a socialist working class. With Marx we recognise that one of the first priorities for society after a victorious socialist revolution will be to develop rapidly the forces of production. But with Marx too we also understand that this will be achieved within the framework of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production—in other words within the framework of the moneyless, wageless society of Socialism. This is not the ‘transition period’ but a stage in the development of socialism itself. Hence Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he partially deals with this question, refers not to a ‘transition period' but to different phases in a communist (or socialist) society. And, of course, the idea of the workers applying terror during an entire ‘epoch’ to “sometime capitalists, landlords, bankers, generals, and bishops . . .”, which is central to Bolshevik thinking, becomes ludicrous when it is set against the Marxist concept of a democratic revolution by a majority of conscious socialists. We cannot say how fierce the struggles will be at the time of the socialist revolution but it should be clear that once the capitalist class has been stripped of its wealth it will certainly pose no kind of threat to “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority” (The Communist Manifesto). It is the Bolshevik fetish of leadership which still makes groups like Lutte Ouvrière cling to their ideas of a ‘transition period’. In the Bolshevik plan of things one minority, the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, holds down other minorities, such as the former ruling class, while the workers are attaining consciousness. The whole scheme might have some slight merit as a rather ingenious fairy tale except that it has always masked the rise to power of a new ruling class.

Lutte Ouvrière are also deeply influenced by Boshevism in their attitude towards parliament. Elections are a ‘masquerade’:
  A masquerade first of all in the goal which is given to them. To elect for seven years a president of the Republic . . .  is no more nor less than choosing the man who for seven years will have the right to send the CRS and the police forces against struggling workers and peasants, against demonstrating lycéens or students.
   . . . They ask the elector to put his trust for seven years in a man who for one month will have come out with beautiful promises as bait, but who once he is elected, will not have to answer to anyone.
Obviously, many of the points made here are valid — but how they can lead Lutte Ouvrière to the conclusion that elections are a masquerade is beyond us. When a capitalist party gains a majority in the national assembly or when a capitalist candidate is elected as president, this indicates that a majority of workers look upon the capitalist system as the only practical method of organising society. This was well illustrated in the presidential elections in France recently when the vast majority of working men and women voted for one or other of the capitalist contenders. Behind the ‘masquerade’ of the millions of votes for Pompidou, Poher, Duclos etc. stood a working class committed to capitalism.

But Lutte Ouvrière claim that this election was different from others because a ‘revolutionary' candidate (the trotskyist Alain Krivine) was standing.
  It is in this sense that the elections are a barometer. That Krivine should obtain 20, 300, 10,000, or 50,000 votes is not a matter of indifference. His score will permit us to estimate approximately the influence of left ideas among the population . . . the trotskyist candidature allows revolutionaries to count themselves . . .
Once again there are valid points here. A revolutionary candidate is useful as a thermometer of support for Socialism — but, as the Socialist Party has always emphasised, this is only achieved if he runs on an exclusively socialist ticket. A reform programme, such as Krivine embraced and which caused Lutte Ouvrière to support him, defeats the object of the whole exercise. Our criticism of Krivine’s programme is well summed up by this passage from Le Prolétaire (Programme Communiste):
  The ‘socialism' of the trotskyists does not cause the economic categories of capitalism to disappear: the wage slave remains a wage slave, the product remains a commodity. Nothing is changed . . . Mr Krivine and his friends then have nothing in common with the historical programme of the proletariat, nor as a result with the struggle of the working class and the revolutionary and scientific socialism of Marx and Engels.
Another hangover from the bourgeois ideology of Bolshevism in the programme socialiste of Lutte Ouvrière is their idea that the socialist revolution will be essentially a national affair, the workers gaining power country by country.
  The workers’ power will maintain economic and political relations with other countries by giving in the first place its support to the exploited of these countries.
It seems that they seriously imagine that Socialism will be achieved in France while Britain and Germany, or America and Russia, or Japan and China remain gripped by capitalism. But ideas today are international. When a group like Sheng Wu Lien in China points out that China is a capitalist country and explains that the so-called cultural revolution has merely enabled the ‘red capitalists’ led by Mao to tighten their hold on the means of production, they are talking a language which radicals in every continent can understand. Or when a tin-pot capitalist revolution on a small island in the Caribbean led by unoriginal political thinkers like Castro and Guevara is successful, its repercussions echo round the world. So Lutte Ouvrière should ask themselves what would be the likely effects on the world working class of a mass socialist movement starting to appear in any one country. The Socialist Party of Great Britain suggests that by the time the workers in France or anywhere else are turning to Socialism and preparing to take power they will be doing the same in every other advanced industrial country. World Socialism will be the outcome of a world socialist revolution..

It is on these grounds that the Socialist Party urges the members of Lutte Ouvrière and the many groups like it to examine their strategy and tactics. Like them we think that “world communism which will co-ordinate in a harmonious fashion the sum total of human activities yet also protect the peculiarities and customs of each section of the population” is an aim worth struggling for. But the Socialist Party also maintains that means and ends are indissolubly linked. A world socialist community can only be achieved by a majority of conscious socialists capturing political power in order to reorganise society on a basis of common ownership and democratic control. Attempts to apply Bolshevik or syndicalist techniques to the struggle for Socialism are self-defeating because inevitably such means cause those who use them to arrive at a different end from Socialism.
John Crump