Saturday, November 24, 2018

How Not To Save Democracy (1948)

From the November 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

"Candidus,” who writes for the Daily Graphic, had an article on October 6th on the need for all the friends of democracy to unite and save the world from Communism. His theme is that the Communists are and always have been against democracy and free speech; whereas “Tories believe in liberty. So do capitalists," and so do "bogus socialists" (meaning the Labour Party) and "genuine socialists" (meaning the S.P.G.B.). After some flattering remarks about our pamphlet, ‘‘Russia Since 1917" (referred to elsewhere in this issue), he summed up thus:—
   “A fact which the democracies have got to face is that the world is now divided into two camps—the Communist and the anti-Communist. All true Socialists should range themselves with the anti-Communists, for if Communism should ultimately prevail, Socialism (genuine or bogus) would be among the first casualties."
In these troubled times we shall be hearing a lot of propaganda on these lines, so it is worth while to examine it.

"Candidus" chides his readers with having short memories or else they would, he says, remember “that in the elections of 1929, 1931 and 1945 the Bolsheviks made a point of breaking up Tory meetings if they could. The Socialists looked on benevolently."

The reference here to "Socialists" is meant to refer to the "bogus" ones, not to the S.P.G.B., as we think “Candidus" knows that we do not break up any meetings. It is also worth mentioning that it is very rare for any of our opponents (including Communists) to interfere with our meetings, and for a reason worth noticing. Because we are not in favour of suppressing any point of view in any circumstances, and because we act up to it by inviting questions at our meetings and allowing our opponents to state their case on our platform, the good sense of the audience is usually sufficient to discourage any who may intend to interfere with the meeting.

On this question of good memories, may we remind "Candidus" not of 1929 and 1931, but of 1933 to 1939 and of 1941 to 1945. In the first period, though all moderately well-informed people knew that the Fascists and Nazis stood for a brutal totalitarianism, there was quite a widespread conspiracy by public men and the Press to whitewash those enemies of democracy, and they used as one of their excuses the need to save the world from the Communists. In the second period a slight change had taken place, and there was an almost universal conspiracy of public men and newspapers to hail Russia and the Communists as men and brothers, and as good democrats standing side by side with Britain and America in the struggle to save democracy from the Fascists and Nazis. Now we are being asked to return again to the earlier phase. We do not charge "Candidus" personally with having shared in these somersaults, as we do not know, but we can confidently predict that if the anti-Communist crusade progresses it is not unlikely that white-sheeted ex-Fascists may be found sharing in the honour of saving democracy once more.

There are two things wrong with "Candidus" and those who think like him. One is that they believe that class conflicts and wars between the nations are caused by "ideologies." The second is that they do not see where the real danger to democracy lies.

Wars occur because trade rivalries, inescapable from Capitalism, give the ruling class groups something real and important to fight about, important to them, that is. They do not fight about ideas though they find them useful to stir up enthusiasm. As soon as one enemy is defeated the Powers immediately start regrouping to fight the never-ending conflicts all over again, and if that involves appealing to some different set of slogans and lining up with former detested enemies, well, so be it And if some thick coats of whitewash are required the politicians and the Press are always there to lay it on.

And here we may emphasise the point by referring to something published in the Socialist Standard in November, 1914. ("Candidus" will appreciate this because he compliments the S.P.G.B. on its longsightedness about ’Russia). At that time, before Germany was defeated, before the Czar was overthrown (his autocracy, by the way, was then the good ally in the fight for democracy), before the man in the street had heard of the Communists and several years before the British Communist Party was formed, the Socialist Standard prophesied that when Germany was defeated we might expect to see Russia elevated to the position of principal commercial and territorial menace to British capitalism. The S.P.G.B. did not foresee the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, but it did, that early, recognise that Russia was on the way to becoming a powerful rival to British capitalism, and it is out of that development that the war threat arises, not out of the political philosophy of the Communists.

The second error touches all those who think that democracy is something that can be saved if its self-proclaimed friends all get together. Democracy is not in danger from the numbers of convinced Communists or Fascists in this country, or from their theoretical case for dictatorship. What puts democracy in peril is the discontent of the mass of the workers with the kind of existence to which they are condemned. The evils that create their discontent are the unescapable outcome of the capitalist system, and because the workers do not clearly comprehend this they might, as in Russia. Germany and Italy, express their discontent by giving their support to some group or other that promised a seemingly different programme. For the friends of democracy to unite with each other to run capitalism —that is the only basis on which they could unite— is just the way to drive the despairing workers into the hands of the avowed enemies of democracy. The S.P.G.B., by continuing its independent work for the achievement of Socialism, really does help democracy, in a way no other party can.

Workers who doubt the value of democracy when it appears to them merely as a cloak for Capitalism do not doubt its value when they come to understand the need for Socialism and perceive that democracy is necessary as a means to Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Accumulation of Capital (1948)

From the November 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Capitalism is a system of production in which commodities are produced. Commodities are articles that are produced for the purpose of being sold at a profit – in other words goods that are sold on the market. When goods are sold they have realised their values represented by certain quantities of money.

All productive concerns commence with the investment of money in certain ways. The conversion of a sum of money into means of production and labour power is the first step taken by the quantity of value that is going to act as capital. This conversion takes place on the market, within the sphere of the circulation of commodities, that is within the sphere of buying and selling. The second step, the process of production, is complete when means of production have been converted into commodities whose value exceeds the value of all items used up in the productive process, and thus contains the original value (or capital) advanced plus a surplus value. This whole process is constantly repeated and forms what is called the circulation of capital. Money into commodity into money, the latter being greater in quantity than what was originally invested.

Capital invested in production takes two forms – Constant capital and Variable capital. Constant capital comprises all those things whose value reappears without change in the new article; such as raw material, machinery, buildings, etc. Variable capital consists solely of the physical and mental energies of the labourers; it is labour power whose value plus a surplus appears in the new article-because the consumption of labour power, the activity of the labourer, adds more value than is incorporated in its cost of production. Means of production can never add more value to a product than they originally possessed. Further, means of production only become capital under certain conditions. A machine is not capital because it is a machine. It only becomes capital when it is used to extract surplus value, unpaid labour, from the workers.

The rate of profit given in the returns of commercial companies does not by any means give the real picture of the amount of unpaid labour wrung from the workers employed by those companies; the rate of exploitation is far higher. The rate of profit is the relation between the surplus value and the total capital, but the rate of exploitation is the relation of the surplus value to the amount of capital invested in labour-power, wages and salaries, because it is solely the labourers’ work that has produced the surplus value. Let us suppose that capital to the amount of £1,000 has been invested and that this investment has taken the form of £500 for machinery, etc., and £500 for wages and salaries. Let us further suppose that this investment has resulted in the production of goods to the value of £1,100. The rate of profit is the relation of the extra £100 to the £1,000 capital invested, that is 10 per cent.; but the rate of exploitation is the relation of the £100 to the £500 invested in wages and salaries, that is 20 per cent. Thus the rate of profit conceals a much higher rate of exploitation.

The capitalist concern engaged in the production of surplus value shares this surplus value with landowners, moneylenders, and others; for the purpose of this article, however, we assume that the original capitalist owns the entire surplus value. The way surplus value is split up into rent, interest, profit, etc., has no bearing on the particular matter we are discussing.

If the surplus value produced serves only as a fund to provide for the capitalists’ personal consumption then it is only simple reproduction, there is no industrial expansion. It would be just as if a farmer only sowed enough seeds each year to provide for the needs of himself and his family. This of course is not the way capitalist production works or the gigantic trusts of today would not have come into existence. It is the constant reconversion of surplus value into capital that is the basis of capitalist expansion. Accumulation of capital resolves itself into the reproduction of capital on a progressively increasing scale. Accumulation of capital is really accumulation of surplus value—unpaid labour.

In the productive process the worker is not paid until after he has produced; he produces his wages at the same time as he produces surplus value. Thus it is the labourer’s own labour, realised in a product, that is advanced to him by the capitalist in the form of a wages fund. Under Feudalism the peasant worked, say, three days on his own land and three days on his lord’s land. The first three days kept him and the second three days kept his lord. When the lord took away the peasant’s land, cattle, etc., the latter had to work as a wage labourer, but still three days covered his own keep and three days his lord’s. From the moment when forced, or customary, labour was changed into wage labour the labour fund took the form of capital advanced as wages by the employer.

The amount of capital originally invested by the capitalist disappears after a time and his declared capital only represents surplus value, accumulated unpaid labour. The surplus value has been capitalised and served to buy means of production and labour power to produce further commodities and at the same time surplus value. Thus the ownership of past unpaid labour has become the sole condition for the appropriation of living unpaid labour on a constantly increasing scale. The more unpaid labour the capitalist has accumulated the more he is able to accumulate. This entirely disposes of the claims made by capitalists that their wealth is the result of their own efforts.

One of the conditions of commodity production was the exchange of equivalents but it has become the very opposite because there was only an apparent exchange of equivalents. In appropriating the surplus value the capitalist is taking without equivalent a portion of the labour of the workers. The laws of property that are based on commodity production work out as the right, on the part of the capitalist, to appropriate the unpaid labour of the workers and make it impossible for the latter to own their own products; these laws have converted the workers into a propertyless class.

Accumulation of capital is obtained by increasing the mass of surplus value produced by the worker and therefore that portion of it that is capitalised. To attain this end wages are forced down as much as possible; piece work is introduced with a progressive lowering of the price paid for work done; hours of factory operation are increased by shift work which lessens the proportion of constant capital needed to provide a given amount of surplus value; new machinery and methods are introduced which results in more production at the same cost. The greater productivity obtained means, however, a greater quantity of raw material worked up in the same time and hence more machinery, larger factories, improved means of transport, and so forth. This in turn means that a smaller quantity of labour is required in proportion to the means of production. As the capitalist is not concerned with the production of useful articles but only with the accumulation of surplus value he forces the productive powers to the limit and also builds up ever greater masses of constant capital to offset the shrinking number of labourers required to produce a given quantity of products.

The accumulation of capital, with the introduction of improved machinery and methods, involves the periodical growth of the unemployed army, at the same time this unemployed army is a necessity. In order to meet the needs of accumulation the capitalists must have at hand a reservoir of labour upon which they can call at any moment for the purposes of expansion and can discard when no longer required.

Accumulation of capital means growth in the wealth and comfort of the capitalists and growth in the misery and degradation of the workers. In the course of history it has developed the means of production to a point where the needs of all can be met without involving unhappy toil, insecurity, degradation and misery for the worker. It only remains for the workers to take possession of the means of production and use them to provide comfort for all instead of surplus value for an idle and useless class.

The Hard Left: A 21st Century Anachronism (2018)

From the September 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

The conservatism of the Hard Left
One of the things the Socialist Party is often accused of by what is loosely called the Hard Left is ‘utopianism’. We are ‘utopian’ for wanting to establish an alternative to capitalism where goods and services are no longer produced for sale but to directly satisfy human need, where the class division of society into employers and employees, along with the whole system of waged labour, has ceased to exist and where the productive resources of society are owned in common by everyone.

This is indeed a utopia in the strict sense of the term – meaning ‘nowhere’. A socialist society does not exist, and has not existed, anywhere. But that does not mean it cannot exist.

True, on the Richter scale of political insult being called a ‘utopian’ ranks fairly low down. One could be called a lot worse in the colourful lexicon of the Hard Left.  We could have been branded as ‘revisionist’ or an ‘imperialist stooge’.

All the same, there seems to be something a little odd about this charge of ‘utopianism’; it has the ring of cognitive dissonance about it. After all, aren’t these assorted grouplets of Trotskyists, Stalinists, Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, Hoxhaists, Castroists and the like, supposed to have as their ‘ultimate objective’ precisely what the Socialist Party stands for? Are not the ‘iron laws’ of history, in their view, relentlessly pushing us in that direction, anyway?

Well, it seems not. It seems that the Hard Left – we can forget about the Soft Left who don’t even pretend to have socialism as a long term goal – have hit the pause button on history and that is where they intend to indefinitely remain. It seems that the pragmatic necessity of campaigning for reforms is always going to take precedence over the need for social revolution. Their reasons for thinking this will be examined later

Preconditions of Socialism
It should be obvious that to bring about a socialist society you have to have a significant majority who want it and broadly understanding what it entails. That is because socialism constitutes a radical change in the ‘rules of the game’, so to speak – meaning the norms and social expectations that govern human behaviour.

For instance, in socialism, since the very notion of economic exchange will have disappeared as a logical consequence of making the productive resources of society the common property of everyone. Exchange, after all, denotes an exchange of property titles and, hence, the existence of private property – what this means is that labour in a socialist society could no longer be coerced by the need to sell our working abilities for a wage; it must necessarily take a voluntary form. It also means that products of our collective labour – the goods and services we consume – would be made available to all on a completely free basis without any kind of quid quo pro exchange being involved.

In fact, these two things – ‘free access’ and ‘volunteer labour’ – hang together as social practices inasmuch as the one implies the other. They constitute the very essence of what is meant by the old socialist slogan ‘from each according to ability to each according to need’. But, clearly, in order to implement this, people have to know what to expect of each other. We need to feel the sense of security that stems from a shared vision of how society ought to function and a common set of values to guide and motivate us. Otherwise, the result will, very obviously, be chaos and societal breakdown.

Equally obviously, this social arrangement can only be implemented where there exists the technological potential to produce enough to satisfy the needs of the population.

Otherwise, chronic material scarcities would undermine and subvert the cooperative ethos upon which a socialist society depends. Self-interest, instead of complementing altruistic values (as would be the case in a healthy, balanced society), would increasingly work to crowd out the latter, as individuals scrambled to grab what they could regardless of the consequences for others.

Socialists contend that this technological potential has long been in existence; the barrier to its realisation is capitalism. Not only does capitalism deliberately curtail production to what can be profitably sold but a very large and steadily growing share of economic activity under capitalism is devoted, not to meeting human needs, but to meeting, instead, the systemic needs of capitalism itself – a prime example being the entire financial sector of the capitalist economy.

This massive wastage of human and material resources (from the standpoint of meeting human needs) will abruptly come to an end in socialism. These resources will be freed up for the purpose of significantly increasing the overall output of socially useful wealth while also, paradoxically, helping to mitigate the enormous and unsustainable pressures currently being exerted on our global ecosystem – simply by changing the basic purpose for which wealth is produced in the first place. That is to say, by changing the nature of the society we live in.

Supporting Capitalism
Where do the Hard Left stand in relation to all of this? Since they are not really interested in talking about, let alone advocating, socialism – because it would be ‘utopian’ to do so in their eyes – how is a mass socialist consciousness ever going to come about, in their view? When precisely will it no longer be ‘utopian’ to talk about socialism – if ever?

They frequently cite in their defence that famous quote by Marx in The German Ideology (1845), completely misunderstanding the point Marx was getting at, and interpreting it as justification for their lack of interest in promoting a genuine alternative to capitalism:
   ‘Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.’
A major premise to which Marx was alluding here was precisely the existence of a sufficiently developed technological potential to make communism (aka socialism) realisable. While socialists contend that this potential has long been around, the Hard Left, on the whole, tends to deny this and, in doing so, inadvertently and unnecessarily helps to prolong capitalism.

For them, it is not really capitalism that is responsible for the persistence of needless poverty. Though they may rail against ‘greedy corporations’ and how these prioritise profits over people, the problem, they suggest, is that we still lack the necessary technological infrastructure that could make socialism a material possibility. In short, we still need more in the way of capitalist development.

For instance, absolute poverty, defined by the World Bank as a condition of severe material deprivation in which individuals are compelled to live on an income of less than $1.90 per day in 2011 prices, continues to affect hundreds of millions of people around the world. Overwhelmingly the absolute poor are concentrated in the Global South. From this it is inferred that the problem boils down to the unequal relationship between the ‘rich world’ and the ‘poor world’ – as if poor people don’t live in the former and rich people don’t live in the latter.

For many on the Hard Left this unequal relationship is a function of ‘imperialism’ rather than capitalism as such. Consequently, what is required is a struggle against imperialism and the imperialist nations – in particular, the United States. This entails supporting ‘national liberation struggles’ in the Global South and the efforts of these poor countries to develop themselves economically, freed of the malign influence of this First World imperialism. In this manner do the Hard Left partisans of ‘Third Worldism’ align themselves with the interests of local capitalisms in the Global South.

The problem is that capitalism is a global system; it is everywhere driven by the same logic. That is a logic that works to block the realisation of the enormous productive potential we already possess and it is only by establishing a global alternative to capitalism that we can hope to release this potential. You can hardly do that if you are an advocate of Third World nationalism. Nationalism is no threat to capitalism; on the contrary, it is an ideological prop to capitalism.

Not only that, the Hard Left naively assume that ‘material abundance’ is something that must become an empirical fact, an experiential reality for everyone, before we can even begin to talk about socialism – a sociologically inept idea, anyway, given capitalism’s compulsion to constantly induce in us, through the power of advertising and the like, a chronic sense of deprivation, even when our lives are already cluttered with often useless gadgets and our fridges are stuffed to overflowing with packaged food. Until then, argue the Hard Left, capitalism is still needed, albeit under the tutelage of the benevolent state and dressed up in the trappings of socialist terminology.

Such backward and distinctly non-revolutionary thinking stems from their deep attachment to the state capitalist model of capitalist development such as was implemented in the early decades of the Soviet Union. At the time this model did indeed seem to permit a comparatively rapid rate of capital accumulation in international terms. A case can certainly be made that state capitalism was better suited (from that point of view) to an earlier period of capitalist development than rival models (such as laissez faire capitalism) – what the economist, Walt Rostow, called the ‘take off’ stage of economic growth in his influential book, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960).

Later, however, as the Soviet economy grew in size and complexity and shifted from an extensive to an intensive form of economic growth, this state capitalist model with its built-in structural rigidities and inefficiencies, increasingly became an impediment to capitalist development, resulting ultimately in the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. But the fundamental conservatism of the Hard Left, with their obsessive preoccupation with ‘productivism’ and GNP growth for its own sake, makes it difficult for them to relinquish their blind faith in state-led capitalist development. It is as if they are trapped in a 1930s time warp when good old Uncle Joe Stalin ruled the roost and so called ‘central planning’ was all the rage.

Since (state) capitalism is still needed, in their view, a corollary of this is that there is no point in working to put in place that other major premise upon which the establishment of a socialist society is predicated – namely, majority understanding of, and the desire to bring about, socialism. Such talk, they say, is premature and ‘utopian’. Their stock defence of this position is that they are ‘materialists’ so putting forward the case for socialism is ‘idealist’. We learn not through ‘abstract propaganda’ but ‘practical experience’.

Hard Left idealism
Actually, this betrays a crude, mechanical and completely reductionist view of what materialism is actually about. Ideas are part of our social environment, not something separate from it. There is no dichotomy between ‘ideas’ and ‘experience’. Ideas are the means by which we make sense of our experiences. In the Communist Manifesto there appears the following passage:
  ‘All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority’.
The emphasis on ‘self-consciousness’ here is deliberate and intentional. You cannot logically separate the notion of a working class that has become aware of its status as the dispossessed productive class in capitalism – Marx’s ‘class-for-itself’ as opposed to a ‘class-in-itself’ – from the collective desire to make the means of wealth production the common property of all. The one thing implies the other. In other words, putting forward the case for socialism – what the Hard Left dismisses as ‘utopianism’ – is actually a key part of the development of proletarian self-consciousness.

In the Hard Left’s mechanistic conception of what ‘materialism’ is about, the desire for socialism is somehow supposed to magically spring out of the material conditions in which workers find themselves without the active intervention, or propagation, of ‘ideas’. But how is this possible since we don’t live in a socialist society and can only anticipate it in our imagination? Yet it is precisely the role of imagination that the Hard Left is intent upon deriding and downplaying in its mechanistic conception of revolution.

In Capital, Marx touches on precisely this point when he distinguishes between the instinctive labour of (other) animals and human labour:
  ‘A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.’
(Volume 1, chapter 7).
Precisely the same argument can be applied to the establishment of socialist society. And yet, the process of imagining such a society as a precondition for establishing it is dismissed by the Hard Left as ‘utopianism’. Tellingly for them it is only when the vanguard (which – presumably – alone possesses this ability to envisage an alternative to capitalism) has captured political power on behalf of the workers that the latter can be instructed or socialised into the ways of socialism.

In short, their mechanistic view of materialism goes hand in hand with their own elitist, social engineered conception of revolution.

A self-fulfilling prophecy
Thus does the Hard Left’s entire thinking on this matter help set in motion a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that fundamentally hampers the spread of socialist ideas. The mere fact that the socialist cause continues still to attract comparatively few supporters is cynically cited by them as the very reason for spurning it. In this way, the Hard Left joins hands with the overt supporters of capitalism in striving to ensure socialism remains firmly off the political agenda.

But as long as the socialist cause is spurned, so long will it continue to attract few supporters. Its lack of support is somehow equated with a lack of credibility – though ironically many of these groups that ridicule us for being ‘utopian’ are significantly smaller in size than the Socialist Party itself.

However, the basic assumption being made here – that if an idea attracts little support it must therefore be lacking in credibility – seems questionable. In an ideal world size shouldn’t matter. An idea would stand or fall on its own ground and irrespective of the support it attracted.

After all, Hitler came to power on the back of the electoral support of literally millions of German workers. Are we then to infer that Nazi ideology had much to commend itself for this reason? Conversely, Nicolaus Copernicus advanced his heliocentric theory in the 16th century in the face of near universal opposition, even outright hostility. Should he have abandoned that quest and caved in to the prevailing consensus? Some historians suggest that Copernicus’ ideas are what helped to kick-start the subsequent scientific revolution.

Without wanting to stretch the analogy too far, socialists today are in some ways the political equivalent of Copernicus back in the Renaissance era. What is scorned and mocked today can become the common sense and convention of tomorrow and more rapidly than we can ever imagine in a world in which the pace of change is accelerating

Socialism is an idea whose time has come and, small though the number of socialists may now be, it only takes the logic of the Butterfly Effect to make a real and cumulative impact on the world we live in.
Robin Cox

Political Notes: Bad Timing (1981)

The Political Notes Column from the August 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bad Timing
How many more ex-Labour ministers can we expect to denounce the policies they supported when they were in office?

Tony Benn, as we all know, is about the most prominent in this: he makes no secret of the disenchantment which he says he suffered but claims that he was persuaded not to resign by his constituency party.

Now Benn is getting some competition, the latest being former Agriculture Minister John Silkin. Speaking to his constituency party in Deptford (Guardian 29/6/81), Silkin “ . . . declared himself opposed to voluntary as well as statutory incomes policies and accused Mr. Benn and Mr. Healey of remaining chained to discredited ideas.”

And as if that was not enough to prove his sudden enlightenment, Silkin “ . . . insisted that there was no evidence to show that inflation was caused by wages, least of all in a low wage economy like Britain's.”

Is the man, we may well ask, quite well? Of course he is frantically vying for attention with his more famous rivals in his seemingly doomed attempt to win Labour’s deputy leadership, but there must be limits to the lengths he will go.

The last Labour government, like all its predecessors—like the present Tory government and all its predecessors—was continually absorbed by its efforts to impose, by one means or another, what was called an incomes policy but which was actually a fight against wage rises. This battle to lower working class living standards was justified by Labour ministers on the grounds that higher wages caused inflation.

Of course that was—and is—nonsense but truth is always the first casualty in any government's war against working class interests. Is then Silkin’s abrupt concern for reality a case of bad timing? Or bad memory? Or just desperation at the prospect of failure in his attempt to lead the same party he now so fundamentally criticises.

We ought to be told.

Too Simple
Left wing, progressive, enlightened clergymen, with ready made instant remedies to all of capitalism’s woes are among the persistent targets for the barbs of right wing, reactionary Daily Telegraph satirist Peter Simple.

Of course Peter Simple is only joking, isn’t he? Only turning out word caricatures? Nobody like his Dr. Spacely-Trellis really exists, frothing out their compound of wet reformism and denatured religion, do they?

Well yea, actually they do and some of them emerged into the light of day with their tedious, predictable comments on the recent city riots. Like the Reverend Norwyn Denny (who, in spite of having a name like that, is not an invention of Peter Simple) leader of the Methodist Church in Merseyside.

Speaking in a debate in the recent Methodist Governing Conference, Denny blamed the riots onto the police, “this government”, the Home Secretary. The Conference responded by demanding a plan which, modestly, called for more policemen from “ethnic minorities”, better housing, less unemployment, a fight against racism . . . Need we go on?

There is a danger, in these troublous times, that normally peaceable but perceptive workers will feel like staging their own riot against soppy reformists who naggingly propound the same weary remedies whenever capitalism spews up some of its characteristic problems.

These remedies are usually phrased in terms dramatic enough to persuade their hapless targets that they have some relevance to the problems. In fact they evade the central point that social sores like racism, police harassment, urban decay and poverty are troubling us regardless of pious decisions from reformist conferences. They can be abolished, but only by getting rid of their cause—the capitalist social system.

But that seems too difficult a concept for people like Norwyn Denny to grasp. Or perhaps it is (no pun intended) too simple.

Sits Vac
When the last General Secretary of the Labour Party retired, it was said that there was a long queue of his colleagues at Transport House, all waiting to shake him warmly by the throat.

This gentle tale might be borne in mind by anyone thinking of applying for the job, when it comes up in a few months’ time. This is a bad time in Labour Party affairs to be trying to organise them from the top.

So any lefty-unemployed-manager type who is desperate enough to get off the dole queue to apply for Ron Hayward's job had better look pretty closely at the terms of reference.

Of job satisfaction there can be little. If the workers elect another Labour government (and helping that to happen will be a prime concern of the new General Secretary) Labour Party headquarters, will need to be extra busy as a factory of deception.

One priority will be to excuse policies which arc daily repressing the very people whose interests Labour claim to represent. Another will be to operate a sort of Orwellian memory hole in which inconvenient history becomes lost and a Ministry of Truth where they rewrite the dictionary so that poverty means abundance, war means peace, repressive, parasitic, conflict-ridden capitalism means free, cooperative, harmonious socialism.

If anyone can work their way through that without wanting to blow their brains out for very shame, the wage is enough above average to offer some consolation. Twenty thousand pounds a year is a fair amount of money but it comes with responsibility for one of capitalism’s dirtier jobs so it is probably considered well spent.

Those concerned with truth, or human welfare, or with abolishing capitalism and replacing it with the sane, secure world of socialism need not apply.

Chinese Take On
The illusion that the people of China enjoy a socialist society is gradually fading. The Chinese State Council has been introducing a series of reforms which seem not only to allow for a more efficient exploitation of the Chinese working class, but also to abandon general policies which encouraged ideas of equality.

For the past twenty years most Chinese workers have been on an eight-grade wage scale which offered a rate based on time, irrespective of output. So not only was there the sharp division between the wealthy bureaucratic capitalist class and the exploited working class, but there was also state-graded inequality of workers. But somehow there was seen to be a notion of egalitarianism in paying every worker the same wage (which, like all wages, would amount to less than the value of what the worker had produced) regardless of his output.

Now. the Chinese State Council, in an attempt to increase the exploitation of its working class—or to use its expression, “improve productivity”—has decided that millions of workers will not be paid by the day or week but by the amount of goods they produce. Reporting the new measures the Chinese Workers’ Daily actually complained that despite bonus schemes introduced after the Cultural Revolution “there is still a tendency towards egalitariansim” and that “we ( a bit of a giveaway as to who actually writes the Daily Worker!) throw a lot of money into bonuses without adequate results.” (our emphasis)

Letter: Questions (1981)

Letter to the Editors from the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I would like to know how the SPGB would solve the fighting in Northern Ireland with better results than the Tories have had; also how would you deal with the Scottish wish for independence when you come to power.

How many SPGB candidates are MPs and how long do you believe the capitalist system will exist. When the SPGB come to power will there be changes in working hours and leisure hours, and what would happen to charity organisations and fund raising appeals?
Davye Barton
Par, Cornwall

The SPGB is basically different from the parties of capitalism, who seek power on promises to deal with problems like the Irish troubles; who cadge for votes on issues like Scottish independence and who in practice fail to solve those very problems. We stand for a social system which can only be established by the political action of workers who understand socialism and the need for a revolution to end capitalism. There is no room in a socialist party for policies of trying to reform capitalism. At present workers concern themselves with matters such as Scottish independence under the delusion that it is possible to run capitalism, with some alterations, in their interests. In fact it is not possible and all experience bears this out; by taking sides in these disputes workers are supporting one section of the ruling class against another.

No socialist candidate has ever been elected to parliament. In the last election 78 workers voted for the SPGB candidate in Islington South—a sad measure of working class understanding of socialism. We can’t set an actual time on it of course, but capitalism will last for as long as that lack of understanding persists.

There is today a distinction between work and leisure time because under capitalism the vast majority of people have to get their living through employment. The latter is measured in time because it is the process in which workers expend the labour power they have sold to employers by the hour, minute, day and so on. When socialism is established there will be no employers and employed; people will work freely and in co-operation to produce whatever society needs, and all will have free access to that wealth. Work, then, will be pleasurable, creative activity inseparable from leisure.

Socialism will be a moneyless society. The social scars of capitalism, such as poverty, which are sometimes very slightly soothed through charity, will no longer exist. There will therefore be no need for charities. 

50 Years Ago: Labour Government Fiasco (1981)

The 50 Years Ago column from the September 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have just witnessed the inglorious exit of the second ‘Labour’ Government after more than two uneasy years of office—two years of deserted principles, political bargaining, and cowardice. During that time the cherished theories of the Labour Party have been tried, and every one found wanting, and abandoned. The Labour Party was to be a “high wage” party. More than four million workers have had their wages reduced since Mr. MacDonald became Prime Minister in June 1929. The Government confessed its inability to prevent the reductions, and indeed played an active part in some of them—notably those affecting its own employees. It was confident that unemployment could be reduced by means of its schemes of development. Yet we have seen unemployment mount to a record figure, 2,700,000; the percentage of insured workers on the register equalling the highest previous figure (23%), attained under Mr. Lloyd George’s government in 1921.

[From an editorial The Great Fiasco—Contemptible ‘Labour’ Government, published in the Socialist Standard, September 1931.]

From the stars to socialism (1981)

From the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the beginning god did not create the earth. What probably happened was that about 5-6,000 million years ago, all the mass and energy of the Universe was concentrated in a single great globe which exploded into a cloud of fundamental particles.

A few hundred million years later the temperature had dropped from hundreds of millions of degrees to below zero and gravity between particles merged them together. The cloud broke up into billions of units that became galaxies, all travelling outwards and becoming independently denser. The increased density resulted in concentrations which raised temperatures as stars formed.

The secondary condensations became planets and satellites which established themselves by gravitational attraction in families or planetary systems about their comparatively massive central stars. We shall concentrate our attention on the galaxy Milky Way, and the star we label the Sun. There, radiation pressure drew the large hydrogen envelopes away from the terrestrial planets, leaving their rocky cores exposed. Hundreds of millions of years later the planet Earth possessed an atmosphere of hydrogen, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, water vapour and carbon dioxide which combined to form hydrocarbons and their simpler formations. Ultra-violet rays from the Sun provided energy for the reactions that formed amino-acids, which themselves combined to form complex proteins which are the building blocks of living matter.

Finally, self-contained and self-reproducing bodies evolved, at first one-celled organisms. From these simple forms developed all plant and animal life. Homo Sapiens (humans), however, did not appear until sometime between 25 million and 1 million years ago, when there existed many forms intermediate between ape and human. By about 500,000 years ago an early species of human, the Heidelberg species, had appeared.

These people were in existence, in either Africa or Asia, at least 250,000 years ago and had reached Europe by about 150,000 years ago. This species was very similar to human beings today. Their brains were the same size as ours, though their bones were considerably heavier. In other words there was little biological evolution between that period and the modern day.

From roughly half-a-million years ago to about twelve thousand years ago, humankind was a food-gatherer, constituting a gathering economy, also termed paleolithic savagery. No class monopoly of the means of living existed then, and the period represented a good 98 per cent of human existence on the planet. Then, sometime between twenty and twelve thousand years ago human beings, most specifically in the Near East, actively and co-operatively increased their food supply by cultivating plants and breeding animals. This was a food-producing economy, also known as neolithic barbarism.

Then—about 8,000 years ago—came an economic revolution, particularly in the alluvial valleys of the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, and the Indus. Farmers produced a surplus, which supported an urban population of craftsmen, merchants, priests, officials and clerks. Class society was born. The next two thousand years saw the Bronze Age, so called because copper and bronze were the only metals used for tools and weapons. The social surplus, primarily created from subsistence agriculture, was concentrated in the hands of priests and officials.

Then followed the Early Iron Age which, thanks to a cheap method of producing wrought iron, popularised metal equipment at a time when the alphabet popularised writing, previously reserved to a few privileged clerks. Financial transactions w'ere aided by the circulation of coined money (about 800 BC). The social surplus, now derived from specialised farming, mainly supported a class of merchants, financiers and capitalist farmers. The next major economic revolution in history was feudalism, which tied to the soil the previously-nomadic cultivator, now a peasant, yet liberated the latter from chattel slavery. The guild system secured to the artisan, as well as to the merchant, not only freedom but economic status. Agriculture became more intensive and saw the arrival of water power; a population boom resulted. With the discovery of the New World and of seaways to India and the Far East, Atlantic Europe had opened a world market. Capitalism developed, sucking the peasantry from the rural economy into the industrialising cities, turning the wealth-producers into the wage-workers we are today.

From the time the Galaxy was formed to the emergence of life, to the appearance of intelligent life in the form of human beings, change was continuous. Our species crept out of their caves to challenge the threatening world and in a flash came to fly through the clouds in machines, communicate across the world in an instant, and travel to the Moon. Yet as long as we are bound as a majority to slave for a minority’s capital, we shall never realise our potential. We can have a decent, healthy, comfortable world, yet our very social organisation creates endless miseries and poverty and—final worry—a weapon that can destroy the planet.

Message for school leavers (1981)

From the July 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

What do you feel about the school year which is just ending? “Stand up . . . Sit down. . . Do up your tie . . . Don’t run in the corridors . . . ". Did you find it daft to traipse into School Assembly to sing hymns to the skies and then file out into a history lesson to be told about how superstitious they were in the Middle Ages? Were you bored by having to learn the French for ‘My house is small' and ‘My pockets are empty’?

It is while you are at school that you are supposed to learn how to behave when you ‘grow up’. You are being prepared for a certain lifestyle which awaits you when you leave. If you can get a job when you leave school, your boss will want you to be obedient to him. He will expect you not to challenge what he says. At school they will try and teach you to obey a whole set of rules and not to dare question why the rules were made. They want to get you in the habit of obedience so that you will not be likely to start asking awkward questions later on in life.

At school you must wear the correct uniform, the same as all of the other pupils. In this way you are conditioned to see yourself as someone who is no different from all the other pupils. Together, you are just one large unit of people, you must look the same, behave the same and have the same general ideas as everyone else. They are trying to mould you into just another brick in the wall.

Outside of school the usual punishment for people who break the law is deprivation of liberty. You are put in prison. If you have no spare money but take food from a shop anyway, because you are hungry, you can be locked in a cell like an animal. Schools try to train us to accept the idea of being deprived of liberty for breaking rules, by punishing rule-breakers with ‘detentions’.

Almost the whole of school life is spent being made to do things you don’t really want to do. Eventually, if you are not strong-willed enough to resist, the process will grind you down. Then you will have been well prepared to spend the rest of your days swimming with the tide, and accepting all sorts of problems without any stroppy opposition, because — like the teachers say — “that’s just the way things are”.

At a first glance there are certain aspects of life which seem absurd or terrible, but which most people never make a fuss about. In order that these strange things can carry on without coming under attack, people have to be taught to look at the problems in a very distorted way, and most of the teaching is done in schools.

From time to time wars break out and we arc told we must go and slaughter millions of The Enemy, the French, the Germans, the Russians, whoever they happen to be. If Britain declared war on Russia tomorrow it would not be because British people had fallen out with Russian people. We do not know Russian people, most of us can’t even speak their language. In fact, wars are really fought over the arguments of a few wealthy and powerful people, but it us who have to bear the brunt of all the killing and destruction. Yet, most people are leaving school believing that in the event of a war it would be right to go and murder the enemy of ‘Britain’.

Again, we are living in a world where a small minority are able to enjoy great wealth while the majority of us are generally hard up. It is obvious that we could produce enough for everyone to have what he or she wants, but we are told we only get what we deserve. How did the very wealthy people get what they’ve got? If you start asking questions like this in school you will probably be sneered at as a “communist” and if you persist in asking unsuitable questions you may be branded a “disruptive element”.

This may have been your last year at school and finding someone to buy your abilities for a wage or salary might not be easy, as there are over 2½ million people looking for jobs. Thatcher can’t solve the unemployment problem, she doesn’t even seem particularly bothered. But neither could a Labour government. In fact, the last Labour government was thrown out of office in 1979 after the number of unemployed had risen to over 1½ million while it had power. The problem is that so long as we all agree to run Industry for a profit, then no boss will want to employ us in a time of ‘economic crisis’ if he can’t actually sell his goods to make a profit.

If the school has done its job properly you will ditch your uniform when you leave only to clothe yourself with another uniform: the invisible uniform of the School of Social Conformity. This uniform is handy because it can be worn quite comfortably over even the most bizarre of the latest rebel fashions, and will slip nicely over political badges like ‘I Didn’t Vote Tory’ and ‘Save the Whale’. The School of Social Conformity has many mottos including “Rich and Poor, Forward Together”, “Let’s Follow Leaders” and “Rely on Reforms”.

If you have refused to swallow the teachings of the school you may decide to simply disobey some of the present laws but this is not a solution to the problems you face and you run the risk of ending up behind bars. On the other hand you may decide, as Socialists have done, that the only way for us to get a society fit to live in, is to get a majority to change the whole set-up. You might be going back to school next September to be put on the anvil once again for the hammer to try and knock you into the right shape. How much you resist is up to you, and remember, they cannot stop you from thinking questioningly about anything they teach you. If you have got awkward questions, they cannot stop you finding out the answers for yourself.
Gary Jay

Computers under socialism (1981)

From the June 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Under capitalism market forces hold production together in a haphazard and inhuman fashion. The complexity and uncertainty inherent in the profit system make methodical and rational organisation impossible. But in socialism the nature of the task of production changes: demand (or needs) become comparatively predictable and stable, but increases in volume. The multiplication in competing productive units and the vast financial, legal and governmental organisations fall away. We are left with the task of providing for many times present consumption of roughly the present variety of products—a task simplified to the extent that a rational approach is possible, but one still too complex for unassisted human management. What is required is a system of communication through the entire productive system, capable of sensing and reacting to needs, planning and monitoring production, reflecting, recording and analysing every event. It will co-ordinate but not control, recommend and comment but not dictate, being subordinate but complementary to human decision-making.

The latest advances in computer technology facilitate such a communication system. The incredible “number crunching” power of computers for scientific, engineering and design applications may or may not be important in socialism, but paradoxically it is in the area of commercial data processing that there are trends towards the sort of system we would need to set up.

The earliest commercial computers were employed almost exclusively in financial systems — the first commercial machine in the UK, the LEO I (1951), worked out the payroll for the Lyons tea shop chain. Each system was distinct and peculiar to the organisation for which it was set up. Each required forms to be filled in, punched onto cards or paper tape, processed to update a file in a specific format usually recorded on magnetic tape, and generated miles of computer print-out. The computer instructions for carrying out this processing were very “low level” that is, they were simply memoric codes for actual machine instructions and were therefore very long, detailed and complex, and required skilled programming.

As the application of computers extended into areas such as stock and production control, reservations and distribution (as well as into more sophisticated financial systems, particularly banking) radically different techniques were developed. Forms, punched cards and computer print-out gave way to video terminals, magnetic tape files to disc files, rigid serial organisation of data to random-access and database management systems, low-level languages to high-level English-type languages, detailed specific systems to general purpose “packaged” software.

Our minds have long since stopped boggling at such wonders as 64,000 bits (binary digits) on a memory chip or a processor capable of five million instructions each second or a magnetic disc holding 1,200 million bytes (letters or numbers) a spindle. The really significant advances are not in computer hardware but in software and in teleprocessing, which now make possible systems of computers distributed world-wide, capable of “talking” to one another over data networks linked by satellites. The latest software can take all the hard work out of programming and require the minimum of instructions in languages designed for non-technical people to use. “Friendly” interfaces with computers such as voice recognition and special synthesis and handwriting interpretation have been developed.

Many of these advances sit uneasily with the present economic system. There is much concern over the privacy and security of data crossing national boundaries. There are still commercial difficulties about the agreement to standardise procedures for access to public data networks. In a socialist society there would be no such problems this is one area of technology which could almost have evolved with socialism in mind.
Chris Marsh

Obituary: Sid Pettit (1981)

Obituary from the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Regretfully we have to report the death from cancer of our comrade Sid Pettit of West London branch, in late March. Sid had a quiet and unassuming manner and looked much younger than his 70-odd years He joined the Party shortly before the second world war, becoming a member of the then Kingston Branch. Although by trade a printer, Sid transferred to engineering during the war and remained in that occupation until his retirement.

In his later years he was a member of the Executive Committee, but he will probably be best remembered for the valuable help he gave with the production of letterpress printing at Head Office. Shown a printing machine of any sort, he never forgot his earlier training and skill. While others (including the writer) tried to emulate him, he set to work and got the job done. The machine which had been donated to the Party must have been a very early descendant of Caxton’s. Nevertheless Sid would motorcycle to Clapham on a Sunday afternoon and set to work, producing completed leaflets, handbills or circulars.

He will be missed by us all. We extend our sympathy to his family.
E. Guy

Marx, according to the Telegraph (1981)

From the October 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Earlier this year the Daily Telegraph carried an article by Robert Miller entitled "The Unacceptable Face of Marx". In this article Karl Marx was depicted as a racist, a sexist, a proto-Nazi and an advocate of revolutionary terror. Although the Socialist Party of Great Britain has no sacred texts and makes heroes of no-one, we do hold that Marx has made a significant contribution to humanity’s understanding of the world and we have always been prepared to defend him when his views have been distorted or unjustifiably belittled.
  We therefore wrote to the editor of the Daily Telegraph asking that, in the interests of fairness and objectivity, he publish a reply to Miller's article from the SPGB. This request was refused, on the grounds that our reply was sent too long after the appearance of the article. This is true; the article was published on April 19 and our reply was sent on July 20 but we wonder, from our experience of the press, whether had we been prompter, we would have been given space. We doubt it.
   At all events, we think it worthwhile to publish a slightly edited version of our letter to the Daily Telegraph so that our readers can judge for themselves how acceptable was Marx’s face.
#    #    #    # 

On April 19 the Daily Telegraph contained a "Personal View" of Karl Marx written by Robin Miller. It portrayed Marx as a racist: a proto-Hitler figure who wished to sec "reactionary peoples" such as the Slavs physically annihilated and who hated Jews to the extent of viewing capitalism and all tyranny as a Jewish conspiracy. It claims that he considered negroes as “degenerate human beings” and advocated the nationalisation of women. It ended by making Marx a supporter of revolutionary violence. We should like to set the record straight.

It is true that in 1848-49 Marx and (in particular) Engels did speak of “reactionary peoples” who were destined to disappear from the face of history. But all their comments and advice on “revolution” at this time refer not to the socialist revolution but to the bourgeois-democratic revolution which was then being attempted in Germany. Marx and Engels thought this should be supported as it would establish capitalism as the dominant European system and would quickly be followed by a workers’ revolution. As their model for this bourgeois revolution they took the French Revolution, especially the Jacobin phase after 1793 with its emphasis on revolutionary wars, terror and a strong centralised state. Their remarks on “reactionary people" applied to the people mainly Slavic speaking - who did not support the bourgeois revolution but who lined up behind, or allowed themselves to be used by, its opponents. Needless to say. they were to “disappear” not by being physically liquidated but by being absorbed and assimilated into the German nation-state.

Taken in its context this is the meaning of the statement about “reactionary' peoples" disappearing “from the face of the earth” which Robin Miller considers worthy of Hitler and which was not in fact made, as Mr Miller confidently asserts, by Marx but by Engels (in Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 13 January 1849).

The “national question” is one of the issues on which socialists totally disagree with Marx, but we can understand why he regarded nationalism as a progressive force in nineteenth century Europe. He saw it as helping the development of capitalism at the expense of feudalism. What he failed to see was how powerful a reactionary and anti-socialist force nationalism was to become once it had helped capitalism to become the dominant world system. Looking back now we can see that it was a mistake for socialists to have encouraged it in its early stages.

Marx the anti-Semite is a more common criticism than Marx the Slav-hater but is equally baseless. Marx’s writings on the Jewish Question from which Miller quotes are a philosophical critique of the Jewish religion and in any event support the political emancipation of the Jews — the granting of the same civil rights to Jews as to Christians within capitalism. Modern socialists too are critical of the Jewish religion just as they are of every other religion, but this by no means makes them anti-Semites and supporters of fascism, any more than criticism of the Catholic religion makes us supporters of Ian Paisley.

The passage about “every tyrant backed by a Jew" comes not, as Miller implies, from the Jewish Question but from an unsigned article in the New York Herald Tribune of 4 January 1856, which was not written by Marx but has been wrongly attributed to him.

It is true that in his private letters Marx sometimes used a language quite unacceptable for a socialist and which we can only condemn. To call Lassalle a “Jewish nigger” is quite inexcusable (even if Marx was something of a “Jewish nigger” himself, being descended on both sides from long lines of rabbis and, for his dark skin, being nicknamed “the Moor").

His view of blacks is in fact far different from that portrayed by Miller. Marx did read Pierre Tremaux’s Origin and Transformation of Man and Other Animals (1865) and did say, quite mistakenly, that Trcmaux had taken "a very significant step beyond Darwin”. But this was not in support of Tremaux’s supposed argument that negroes were “degenerate human beings" (what Tremaux actually said was that modern negroes had degenerated from a higher race of negroes) but for his view of the influence of geological elements (especially the soil) on human development which Marx considered interesting for a materialist explanation of evolution.

As to Marx’s attitude to the emancipation of the slaves in America, he was an enthusiastic supporter of this and, from a retrospective socialist point of view, a too enthusiastic supporter of Abraham Lincoln and the North in the American Civil War. (The socialist attitude is that this was a war between two sections of the ruling class in America, in which the working class had no interest in taking sides and certainly not in killing one another.)

Marx’s support of Sir Henry Maine’s quoted statement about “the separation between the Aryan races and races of other stocks” is not particularly significant either. It merely reflects the confusion which existed at that time, in scientific circles, between language and “race”. There is no suggestion that those who speak Aryan languages (who include by the way the majority of the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent black people) were superior to those who speak non-Aryan languages.

Marx was quite opposed to racialism and always insisted that “the emancipation of the productive class is that of all human beings without distinction of sex and race” (1880 preamble drafted by Marx to the programme of a French workers’ party). And if he was opposed to negroes, why did he not object to his daughter marrying Paul Lafargue who, as Mr Miller informs us, “had negro ancestry”.

Marx did indeed have an illegitimate son with his servant. But what has this to do with what Miller terms "extreme male chauvinism”? As to Miller’s claim that Marx advocated the nationalisation of women, the passage he quotes is not Marx’s view but a summary of the view of those Marx himself called “crude communists”, which he roundly condemned (sec the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in Marx’s Early Texts, ed. David McLellan, Oxford, 1971, p. 146).

Finally Marx’s reference to revolutionary terror, which, according to Miller, "makes him still one of the great enemies of civilisation”, is quite definitely not to be taken as the ultimate expression of his views. Indeed it reflects an early immature phase of his thought which, as all serious students of Marx know, is far removed from the attitude he adopted later when he had fully worked out his theory of society. The mature Marx was quite clear, as are socialists today, that where electoral machinery exists a class-conscious majority can use the vote to take over the state preparatory to a changeover from private ownership and commodity production (capitalism) to a system of common (not state) ownership and free access (socialism).

The real “enemies of civilisation” are those forces, from Lenin and the Bolsheviks onwards, who have created their own vulgar forgeries of Marx and in so doing have thickly obscured the important implications for social progress contained in his thought.
Howard Moss

The BBC: A Clumsy cover-up (1976)

From the December 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

A member of the Socialist Party wrote to the BBC about its persistent refusal to allow broadcasting facilities to us. The following reply on behalf of the Director General, dated 18th October, was sent to him.
  You are in fact suggesting that the BBC is biased against the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The answer to that charge is that this is one of a number of very small political organizations, with no members in Parliament and only a very modest number of parliamentary candidates in the field at any General Election. It may from time to time merit some mention on the air on its news value, or when we are doing a programmme about minority political organizations in general, but it is unrealistic to suppose that it will receive anything like the coverage given to the major parties, unless and until it begins to compete with them on an appropriate scale.
  I hope this will explain the position to you and can assure you that there is not, as you seem to suppose, any ‘ban’ on the SPGB being mentioned on the air. The test is purely one of news value.
Yours sincerely, 
What does “from time to time” mean? It conveys, we think, that the SPGB might expect some coverage once a year, perhaps; if that is over-optimistic, once every two or three years. We should like the chance. The facts are as follows. Despite continual representations, the first mention of the SPGB in a BBC programme was made in 1958—fifty-four years after the foundation of the Socialist Party, and thirty-six years after the beginning of broadcasting. This was also the last occasion, and apart from election results the SPGB has not been mentioned on BBC radio or television again between 1958 and 1976. “From time to time” is quite untrue.

What are the programmes about minority organizations in which the SPGB “may merit some mention”? Such programmes have appeared, but we have never once been invited to take part or been mentioned in them. Our exclusion is all the more remarkable when it is from programmes dealing with Marxism. Without referring to correct and incorrect versions of Marxism, the position is that the SPGB has been in existence far longer than any other organizations which makes use of Marx. Yet radio and TV discussions of Marxism and “dissent” have allowed recently-sprung-up groups, some smaller than the SPGB and all lacking MPs, to make statements.

The apparent implication of “news value” is that the BBC prefers trivialities to serious interest and arranges programmes in that frame of mind. Otherwise, there are many respects in which the SPGB is thoroughly newsworthy. In 1974 the 70th anniversary of the Party’s foundation, and an exhibition of material from our archives, were notified to the BBC and the press but ignored by the BBC. (For comparison, in 1953 there was a radio programme on the 60th anniversary of the ILP, a “very small political organization” which has now ceased to exist as a party.)

The SPGB's analysis of Russia from 1917 onwards, our attitudes to the Welfare State and nationalization from the outset, our publication of a pamphlet on the race problem in 1948 might “merit some mention on the air”—but did not get it. Currently, the SPGB can claim to be unique in having over many years shown the fallacies in Keynesian economic doctrines. We have also, alone among commentators on society, consistently rejected the ideas of hereditary inequality allegedly proven by tests now found to have been fraudulent. Our record in countless matters is of a lone voice which turned out to be right, but still not “news value” for the BBC.

The statement that we cannot expect coverage because we are a minority is particularly interesting because it flatly controverts the views of official committees on broadcasting. The Beveridge Committee of 1949, after recommending a “Hyde Park of the air” (Para. 257) went on to state precisely what it had in mind—that opinions should not be kept off the air “either by simple calculation of the numbers who already hold such views or by fear of giving offence to particular groups of listeners. Minorities must have the chance by persuasion of turning themselves into majorities” (Para. 259; our italics). The letter on behalf of the Director General says in effect that he rejects this, and in the BBC run by him minorities shall not have the chance by persuasion of becoming majorities.

We would add that the BBC alone takes this attitude. Earlier this year London Broadcasting allowed our GLC election candidate radio facilities with the other parties. When two SPGB speakers went to LBC for an hour-long programme in September the interviewer asked if it were “really true” that an organization with our reputation and history had never been given “exposure”. And, of course, our companion parties abroad are able to broadcast regularly via the arrangements in their own countries.

It is therefore not surprising that members and supporters of the SPGB should draw conclusions. The BBC’s reply does more to confirm than to rebut them.
Robert Barltrop